Spring is a busy time of year in nature; grass is coming out of dormancy, buds are swelling on trees, and bugs materialize from seemingly every fissure of earth. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that Winter isn’t that bad, our hearts can’t help but burst with excitement from the promise of Spring. As nature accelerates at break-neck pace, we too must find a higher gear to get ahead of this season’s farm chores. Spring has always been a joyously busy season at our house, but this year feels a little different. We are actually going into the season with a plan, so we thought we’d share what’s going to be happening on the farm this Spring!
First things first, we are two days away from having somewhere in the ballpark of 100 baby chicks in the brooder. We’ll have a dedicated post on the brooding process, but we want to emphasize the importance of having your brooder set up BEFORE you bring home any chicks. We got our brooder all set up on Saturday and will be firing up the heat lamps today to make sure everything is working and warm before the chicks show up. We have it set up in two sections, one side for the meat birds, and the other side for the layers and heritage roosters. We dropped the incubator off at Arlo’s classroom this morning, so we’ll report back on how many of the 50 eggs in it were successful.
Going back over the past month (technically not Spring, but it’s all part of gearing up for Spring) we have pruned back the suckers on our fruit trees, cut back our rose bushes, and ripped out any old growth in the garden. We’ve also started onions, microgreens, all of our brassicas, a variety of flowers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes in our makeshift greenhouse….errr Shannon’s art studio. Later today we will be cutting up our seed potatoes in order to have them cure before planting them out next weekend. One thing that we haven’t gotten to yet is tilling up the garden, so hopefully it won’t rain before we can get to that! In the future we plan on tilling the garden under in the fall and covering it with silage tarps over winter. This will prevent wind erosion and then will encourage weed seeds to germinate in the spring under the heat of the tarp, but then die from lack of sunlight. We didn’t get around to acquiring the tarps this winter, but we may give that method a try this summer in unused parts of the garden.
Getting back to the chickens, we need to do some minor maintenance on the A-frame coop that will house first batch of meat birds. One of the wheel hubs broke, so we need to replace that along with a new tow-rope since the puppies used the old one as a chew toy. We will also be bolstering the hoop coop and getting a new tarp to cover it. The biggest chicken-related task we will undertake early in the season is building a new, larger coop for our laying hens. As we mentioned in our Coop Design blog post, we’ve been pondering how we want to manage our laying coop. We were really leaning toward making another mobile coop that could be rotated with our future ruminants, but we ultimately decided it would be too cumbersome to navigate on the two roughly 4-acre pastures we’ll be using. We recently decided that we would build the new coop next to the dog house and just allow them to range in the pasture from there. Our plan is to use a deep-litter method of management and only provide feed and water inside the coop so they won’t be congregating around the feeders and waters out on the pasture, thus minimizing their impact on the land. There will be some level of degradation outside the coop, but our past experience suggests it will be a relatively small area and we should be able to manage that through mulching. That coop needs to get built sometime in the next 3-4 weeks, so wish us luck ☺ Once we have sheep on the farm we will be pursuing NRCS grant funding to aid in the construction of additional fencing projects to convert the old crop ground into additional grazing pasture.
Once we get the new coop built we will probably shift our focus to building fence in one of our pastures. Before we built our house we had our land surveyed and staked out so we could build fence, but our tenant farmer ran over all of our stakes with his hay mower and plow, so we need to have the surveyors back out before we start setting posts. Since we plan on eventually fencing two separate pastures along with most of our woods, we are going to set corner posts at each corner of our property and multiple line posts along all of our property lines, so that if we don’t get to the rest of the fence for a while, we’ll at least know where the fence line needs to go. With the property surveyed we will fence in our North pasture using a combination of woven wire and high tensile electric fence to make the area secure for sheep and our Livestock Guardian Dogs. We will be rotating the sheep through this pasture with portable internal fencing and our chickens, turkeys, and ducks will have free range over this area during the day.
Over in the garden we will start planting some of our early season veggies (carrots, radishes, lettuce, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and potatoes) out next weekend. We’ll be adding peas the following weekend along with additional weekly succession plantings of carrots, radishes, and lettuce. We’re going to play it a little safe this year and not plant out our tomatoes, peppers, okra, cucumbers, edamame, squash, melons, and corn until the first weekend of May. Since we aren’t trying to be first to market with anything and are still in the trial phase of a market garden, we want to make sure we’re past any frost danger. Our long-term plans include playing with some season extension tools like caterpillar tunnels, tarping, etc., but this is where we’re at now. Perhaps more important, though, is we need to build a small raised bed area for each of our boys to plant their own gardens in. We planned out 4×4 plots with them this winter and they chose a few things they each wanted to grow.
As we get the garden going, we also need to focus a little attention on where our turkeys are going to live. We currently have one end of the winter chicken run that is framed as part of the run, but doesn’t have any fencing or net over the top. We plan to wrap this area in welded wire fencing up 8’ high and cover the top and top half of the walls with some material (likely tarp) to keep the turkeys out of the elements while they roost. Once the turkeys are about 2 months old, they need very little in the way of protection, so this should suffice. We will add a door to that area and plenty of roosts, so they can go in there to roost at night and be let out to forage the pasture during the day. The turkeys don’t arrive until May and will stay in the brooder for 6-8 weeks, so we have some time on this project.
Well, there you have it. If experience has taught us anything, it’s that this list will likely grow exponentially as the days tick by. What’s on your Spring to-do list?