Homestead Life: Cash Crops, Chicken Tunnels and Feeling the Burn

by Charlotte Walker
Hardneck Garlic Planted in Autumn

Homestead life is certainly at its busiest in the spring. We’ve got fresh ideas, renewed energy and a list that goes on for miles. In the autumn we planted our first cash crop and it’s going to be an ambitious year for us with all of the extra work this will bring to our already busy homestead.  We have fresh ground to break and fields to prepare,food to plant, grow and preserve, things to repair, firewood to cut, and well, I am going to be offering a free homestead fitness boot camp. I will boss you around and you will get fit and sleep like a baby at night. Haha, kidding of course, but who needs a gym membership when you live on a homestead.  It is the ultimate get fit program.

As I walked around taking photographs, I found myself reflecting on just how much we have achieved this past week. My muscles know how hard I have worked but sometimes our achievements get pushed aside with our focus directed on the long list of what still needs to be done. It’s always a good idea to take a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished.

Garlic & Umbels: First Cash Crop

Homestead life: Garlic Bulbils

Thousands of little whisps of green peek out from the straw mulch. A cash crop in the making.

In the autumn we laboured hard planting thousands of garlic bulbs and umbels, it was really back breaking work. Seeing them peek up from the ground, healthy and strong has been incredibly satisfying.  Garlic does not like wet feet so I am hoping and wishing for drier days to arrive soon! We planted most of it on a sloped field but we still ended up digging an emergency swale to rescue all this lovely garlic from the lake of water it was sitting in. Its working like a charm. Sadly, we have another full week of rain on the forecast. I supposed you can say that I am getting my first real taste of how it feels to be a farmer who is at the complete mercy of mother nature.

The Sad Greenhouse

Homestead life: Repairing the greenhouse

Winter really did a number on the greenhouse. I could see parts of the greenhouse sticking out of the 4ft snow drifts over the winter. We are slapping band aids all over this structure to get it ready for planting. We’ve done a pretty good job of rescuing this old building. There’s only a few weeks to go before it will be filled with peppers, tomatoes and other delicate plants!

The Forest

Life on the Homestead: The trails on our property

The trails on our property. Some big trees need to be removed.

Ryan has been busy cleaning up the woods, cutting down dying or fallen trees and re-creating paths. Winter storms took down a number of really nice (and big) trees, which will provide plenty of firewood. There is a nice open grove that we are thinking about planting mushrooms in. When cleaning up he added some really quirky elements along the path that I just love. They  give the path an old world kind of feeling as you walk along it.

DIY Chicken Tunnel

Homestead life: Chicken run made from wood found on the property

Rustic chicken tunnel, leading from the coop to the pasture

I decided to be frugal and use wood from the forest clean up to make a chicken tunnel. This tunnel  leads to the pasture where the chickens can go wild eating bugs and weeds all day long. It was an interesting project and really time consuming but I learned a lot along the way. It’s quirky but it does the job and the chickens love it! Read about it here!

The Farm Fields

Homestead life: The farm fields

The small field is going to be expanded over the summer. The back field behind the fence is just under an acre.

 

 

We’ve also been busy preparing the fields for planting, and I am on the hunt for a broadfork to make our work a bit easier. I had initially been looking for a rototiller but when I posed a question about them on a group  forum, I  soon discovered that this was not going to work for us.  Although we have a tractor to break ground we are moving over to a no till method to help us improve our heavy clay soil. We will be planting buckwheat in a  few areas as a green manure. This will add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

We have an acre or so ploughed up in the back, and a small field (as shown in the photo) but we need a LOT more growing area for the garlic while allowing for crop rotation and other food for the household. Breaking ground is such a big job. Once the tractor has ripped it up, there is still the task of collecting big rocks, removing sod and getting the bed ready to plant in. The best part of this front area is that it sits on a gradual slope which is ideal for drainage.

Perennial and Overwintered Food

Homestead life: Over wintered kale

Food production is so much further ahead than ever before and this is such a reassuring thing to see. We overwintered some kale and carrots, and the perennial fruits and vegetables and producing wonderfully. Perennial vegetables are a wonderful and important feature of a self sufficient garden. Read more about perennial vegetables and fruit.

The garden beds are ready for planting and the cold weather seeds (kale, lettuce, spinach, parsnips, carrots, beets turnips) are in the ground. We’ve got  several weeks to go before the rest of the seeds will get planted. It’s such a gloomy and cold May!

Seed Starting

Homestead life: Seed starting indoors

Seedlings happily growing in the temporary nursery (dining room)

We have racks of seedlings growing in the dining room, it’s been a bit tricky this year. The peppers just don’t want to germinate. We’ve never had this issue before but I am on my second try. The basil and tomatoes are flourishing and with the cooler than typical spring I still have plenty of time to grow some flowers and speciality seeds that have been in the refrigerator for the past few months (seeds that need stratification). Read more about seed starting basics.

There is always something new to experience around here. Sometimes planned and sometimes in reaction to the unexpected.   Two weeks ago I didn’t imagine that I would be digging post holes and building a fence on my own, but it happened, and I really loved doing it. This morning I certainly didn’t expect to be digging a swale in pouring rain in my pyjamas, but we got it done and it felt good to be capable of solving a problem and saving our crop.

Homestead life. Always interesting. Never boring.

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3 comments

Anna @ NorthernHomestead May 10, 2017 - 7:21 pm

Wow, you have been busy and it all looks so nice. I love spring , but would second that it is a busy time of the year. We are building a Geodesic Dome greenhouse this year. We had one before and loved it. It’s just so stable in wind and snow. Hope your greenhouse can be repaired to be useful another season.

Reply
Charlotte Walker May 11, 2017 - 1:26 pm

Hi Anna, so nice to hear from you! We’ve been talking about building a new greenhouse beside the old one (maybe next year). I think we will get a few more years out of this one, maybe longer … but the foundation is all rotted out and its such a big job to repair. I saw a photo of your Geodesic Dome greenhouse on your website and it really interested me. Are you building it from scratch? I would love to know more. The way the climate is changing I think eventually all of my gardens will end up under big row tunnels or greenhouses!

Reply
Anna @ NorthernHomestead May 11, 2017 - 10:19 pm

Yes we do build it from scratch. It is a bit tricky but so worth it. There is lots of info on our blog about the GeoDome and more to com.

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