Although Spring officially arrived a couple weeks ago, we are still getting snow here in western Montana but that isn’t stopping us from starting to tackle our long list of spring chores on the homestead! The ground is slowly thawing and the snow that falls doesn’t stick around long. This means we’re able to get out and start working on projects around the homestead. There are so many spring chores to be done on the homestead to prepare for the growing season and to clean up after a long, cold winter on the homestead.
Spring Garden Chores on the Homestead
In Autumn at the end of our gardening season, we leave as much of our dead and decaying garden plants intact over winter. Why? This provides important habitat for pollinators to create cocoons, insects to overwinter in the plant debris or decaying leaf piles. (You can read more about this philosophy of garden care to help the pollinators at the Xerces Society website)
Since we leave plant debris in place over winter, we have a big clean up chore to do to prep our homestead for the spring growing season. Here are the spring garden chores we are tackling on our homestead:
1. Clean up the gardens
This involves removing old, dead plants from last year’s growing season. Cut back any perennial herbs and flowers that need it.
2. Add compost
I harvest compost from our worm bins every spring and fall to add in to our raised bed gardens. I sprinkle the worm compost on the garden beds then turn it into the soil by hand.
3. Cut berry canes back
Our raspberry canes from last year will need to be pruned. This encourages growth and a more abundant berry crop.
4. Put in new raised garden beds
I mentioned in our homestead goals for the year that we wanted to expand our vegetable gardens this year. We have three new raised garden bed frames that my husband built all ready to install. We’ll be following the steps I wrote about on how to build a raised bed garden to get these new beds all ready for this year’s gardening season.
Thankfully one portion of our giant pile of composted chicken bedding, grass clippings and garden debris is all composted and ready to mix with soil to fill our new raised garden beds!
5. Plant Perennials
Last fall I bought several big pots of perennial flowers on sale at a local greenhouse with the intent of planting them before winter. Unfortunately I had an unexpected surgery and my recovery was slower than I hoped so those perennials didn’t get planted. Instead they spent the winter tucked up against our garden shed for a little protection until I can get them planted this spring.
6. Start seeds
We start seeds indoors in late winter/early spring to help us get a head start on our short growing season. We also direct seed early cold season seeds in our garden beds as soon as the ground starts to thaw.
7. Weed the garlic
We plant our garlic every fall so it has time to slowly start growing over winter. As the soil thaws and the garlic starts growing, so do the weeds. I’ve learned to weed our garden beds at least once a week to stay on top of the weeds. Otherwise the weeds can get too big and too overwhelming to tackle!
8. Create a garden plan
Each year my kids and I draw a map of our garden and note which plants we are going to plant in each garden bed. We consult the previous years’ garden maps to ensure we are rotating crops in each garden bed.
9. Make a plant list
One of the downsides of living in a cold climate is that sometimes our perennial plants do not survive the winter. Each spring I make my rounds to check out all the garden beds we have throughout the property on our homestead to assess what survived the winter and what did not make it.
Spring Tree and Shrub Chores on the Homestead
1. Prune fruit trees
Fruit trees are best pruned while dormant. This is the time of year when we need to assess the growth of our fruit trees and do any needed pruning. A few years ago I took a class on how to prune fruit trees. I also read the handy book “The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden.” (you can read my book review here)
2. Prune other trees
We have a wide variety of trees on our homestead, some are native species and some are non-native planted by the former owners throughout the 55 years they lived on this homestead. There are some trees that have had branches snap in wind storms over winter that need proper pruning.
3. Weed and mulch around fruit trees
We have tall wire cages around our fruit trees to protect them from nibbling deer. Unfortunately the cages make it tricky to keep the weeds and grasses cleared from around the tree since the mower can’t get very close to the cages. I’ve started clearing out dead grasses and weeding from around our young trees. Once this is done, we can add more mulch that helps to keep the weeds down and retain moisture in the soil around the trees.
4. Clean up down fall
We had some strong winds gust through the area throughout the winter which resulted in a lot of downfall sticks and branches. We have numerous big, old willow trees along the creek on our property and these are known for dropping a lot of sticks and branches.
We gather sticks and branches from around the homestead and put them in a pile by the creek next to our fire pit. We use the sticks for campfires but the stick pile also serves as excellent natural habitat. We see various song birds taking cover in the branch pile as well as a family of quail who nested there one season!
5. Finish Boiling Sap and Clean up Tree Tapping Supplies
We tapped our maple and box elder trees to make syrup last month are wrapping up our sugaring season here in western Montana.
To clean up our tree tapping supplies, I scrub out each bucket and lid with hot, soapy water and let them air dry. I soak the taps and tubes in hot soapy water, scrub around the taps then run hot water through the taps and tubes to rinse them out.
Once everything is air dried, the supplies will be packed away until next year’s sugaring season. As I write this, the last round of the sap is in pots outside boiling down on our old camp stove. Hopefully by this evening we will have finished cooking down our last batch of sap into syrup.
Spring Beekeeping Chores on the Homestead
Beekeeping over winter is a slow hobby but things really start to get busy in the spring. Here are the beekeeping chores we are working on this year on our homestead:
1. Clean up Dead Hives
This winter we wrote about our discovery of two dead bee hives and our dead bee hive “autopsy” to discover what may have killed them. It was too cold and snowy to do anything with the bee hives then so we let them sit where they were.
To clean up the dead hives, we take apart the hive, brush out the dead bees and clean off the bottom board. All the hive parts that are clean and in good shape are put into our beekeeping storage shed for future use.
The honey frames we keep in a storage box in our beekeeping shed since we will use those to feed our new nucs we pick up in a month.
2. Paint weathered bee hives
We built our original bee hives in 2014 (here’s how we built our hives for only $17!) and they haven’t been repainted since. Some of the bee hives that have been used more often are starting to show wear and weathering. Paint is starting to chip and peel off.
The paint helps to protect and preserve the wood so it’s important to stay on top of the upkeep of our bee hives. My kids and I visited the local paint store last month to pick out cans of brightly colored paint from the discount bin in preparation for painting our bee hives this spring.
Once we sort through all our woodenware in the beekeeping shed, my husband will sand the wood to prep it for painting. Then my kids and I will have the fun project of painting the bee hives!
3. Prepare new hives for spring nucs
We ordered two new nucs this year that will be picking up the first week in May. This means that we have a couple weeks to get their bee hives ready.
We prepare for the new nucs in the week before pick up by getting out all the parts and pieces we need to make a complete bee hive. Then we set the new bee hives up, put the frames of honey inside and then hive our nucs once they arrive.
Spring Animal Chores on the Homestead
We’ve had a long, cold winter that started early in the fall and we are still getting snow in early April! Lots of snow and freezing temperatures means not a lot of opportunity to keep animal manure cleaned out to our usual standards of cleanliness. Here are the animal chores we’re doing on the homstead this spring:
1. Deep cleaning chicken coops
Deep cleaning the chicken coops after a long winter is always such a big chore! Here’s how we clean our chicken coops and keep a happier, healthier flock.
2. Deep cleaning water troughs
When it’s warm out, I scrub out the water troughs on a regular basis. During the winter I’m not able to scrub the water troughs as often as I’d like due to the icy cold temperatures. Our main focus in winter is keeping water troughs filled with clean water and no ice on top. To clean the water trough, I dump out any remaining water then use a rag to give the inside of the trough a good scrub. Then it gets refilled with fresh water when I’m all done.
3. Manure clean up
We aim to clean up our pony and horse manure daily when we can. During a long, cold winter with lots of snow that didn’t happen. Cleaning up the horse manure is what we call “mucking”. We had such a cold winter that the manure would freeze to the ground not long after it was dropped.
We would go out to muck and even when using a shovel, we couldn’t get the manure off the ground. Once the temperatures finally started warming up, we started tackling the build up of manure.
We don’t have a tractor like some people to scoop up the manure so my kids and I have been tackling it a little bit every day. Some folks use a manure spreader to spread the manure on their pastures. We made sure we bought hay that was not sprayed with any herbicides this year so we put our manure in the big compost pile to sit and compost for a year or two to break down any seeds in it. Then we’ll put the compost in our gardens around the homestead.
4. Fix fence
Over winter the ground is frozen so fixing a fence post was impossible. Each of our breeding flocks of chickens has a large fenced pasture area around their coops to forage. We use a net poultry fence around our coops and it works great except when a post comes out of the ground and the ground is too frozen to push it back in.
The corner stakes also need repair since running kids and dogs accidentally hit them and popped them out of the ground so our poultry fencing looks like a mess right now!
5. Move corral panel fencing
We practice rotational grazing in our pasture with our equine. We have portable metal corral panels to fence off a large portion of pasture. As the grass is eaten down in one area, I move the fence panels to a new area to ensure rotational grazing.
We had so much snow over winter that the fence panels were snowed in and frozen to the ground so I haven’t moved them in months! In the summer I move the fencing every couple weeks depending on the level of grazing.
6. Clean and load the incubator
Spring means chick season! We have two incubators and love to hatch chicks in our incubator (here’s our tutorial on how to hatch chicks in an incubator). We usually sell fertile eggs from our breeding flocks of chickens but pause selling them for a week or two to collect enough to fill our incubators.
7. Prep for chicks
We brood our chicks in our garden shed in a variety of chick brooders. To prep for chicks, we clean out the garden shed and clear a space in the center, directly underneath the hanging heat lamps.
We need to get our chick brooders out of the barn storage and clean them out. Then the chick feeders and waterers need to be set up and readied for chicks. We bought a bag of chick feed at the feed store a couple weeks ago so we are all ready!
Wow, that’s a long list of spring chores we need to do on the homestead! We woke up to snow the last two mornings so some of our spring chores will be delayed. Thankfully the daytime temps have been warmer so we can be outside more without freezing so we can start tackling our spring homestead chore list.