Early Spring Update

Lots of projects have been underway here at the Homestead over the last several weeks. I figured it was time to update everyone on their progress.

The first thing we did was start our seeds in the basement growing room. This has had great success! We did start out with one hiccup, which is that the timer I set to turn the grow lights on and off never turned them off! It took a good two weeks to notice, too, because they were set to go off well after my bedtime. Ugh. So I was afraid things were going to get leggy and stupid, but nothing really seems to have been affected that way.

We took the advice of Dax from Beets Workin’ Farm and abandoned the celery we started. It didn’t seem like a good use of our time and space for just a 20 x 20 garden. So, forgetting about the celery, we have our herbs (thyme, basil, mint, cilantro, oregano, parsley), broccoli, cabbage, onions (yellow and red), chives, and tomatoes. And everything is growing except the mint and chives.

I’m really not sure what happened there, because the other seeds in the same seed tray (so subject to the exact same conditions) are all growing and thriving. I have heard that mint needs lots of light to germinate, but given our issue with the light timer, I don’t think that’s the problem. If anything the seeds got too much light. But since everything else is doing well, I am going to assume it was one of two things: the seeds required conditions other than what I gave them, or the seeds were duds. Luckily, the plan was for these guys to go in the handy dandy herb boxes the Handyman made me for Valentine’s Day, so I will just either try to plant seeds there directly or buy one or two plants from my favorite local garden place. I’m thrilled with the rest of the plants. I need to start trimming the onion greens back to around 3″ to make sure that the plant is growing down, not up, and I really need to thin some others out again, but overall I’m really happy with the way things are growing.

The next project we had was protecting my bird feeders from the dreaded squirrel. This was wildly successful … at first. Instead of emptying my bird feeder after only two days, I had nine glorious days of squirrel-free bird watching before the feeder had to be refilled. Then again, nine days of freedom. Until one day, while washing dishes, I looked out the window and saw this …img_0566.jpg

Just as I feared, the squirrel got a taste for the seed sauce and it stopped scaring him away. The next day the feeder was empty. I guess it’s back to Square One. I spoke with my local Wild Birds Unlimited store, and they’ve invited me down to talk to them about keeping the squirrels away. So I guess it’s time to revoke my endorsement of the seed sauce from my previous post.

The next project was the chicken coop. There’s not a lot to add to this, except to mention that the 400 square foot chicken run is being constructed as I type this! Look for a detailed post in the near future.

As far as progress on our homestead, The Handyman got the John Deere out and moved our old burn pile, sort of “breaking ground” on our new garden. How exciting!

Once that was done (including moving an ENORMOUS wood log that was buried in there) the Handyman marked out the location of the garden and used the front end loader to back drag the ground and get down to the top layer of dirt.

Finally, we got a silage tarp and covered up the patch that will soon be the garden. This will kill off the grass that the John Deere didn’t get, and also warm up the soil to draw the earthworms up to help do some decomposition and aeration for us. Thanks for the suggestion, Dax! This tarp was purchased from Do-It Best for around $16. It’s durable enough to last several years, as long as we don’t tear it. If you decide to prep your garden with a silage tarp too, just remember to get a light-blocking one. Some of them are labeled as UV blocking, but that’s not the same thing. Believe it or not, a great place to figure out what you need is any website with instructions for how to grow pot. They’ve got that down to a science!

Now we wait!

Lastly, we pruned our peach and apple trees. Unfortunately our peach tree had horrible fungus last year, so we had to prune back quite a bit. The apple trees just needed general  pruning to improve air circulation and keep the fruit-bearing branches down low where we can reach them better. Here are some before and after pictures.


Other than that, it’s basically been your standard early spring in rural Pennsylvania. We got about 20″ of snow, and then two weeks later it’s 65 degrees and sunny. Little signs of life are visible around the homestead, the perennials are starting to poke up through the earth, and it’s getting even more exciting to imagine where things are going to go. This is Year Two for my perennial garden, so I’m anxiously watching the ground to see signs of things returning. So far I can see the hostas poking up, the peony shoots starting, the bee balm is coming back, there are leaf buds on the yellow barberry, the sunflowers are popping up, the St John’s Wort is getting bigger already, and all the sedum varieties are visible! I can’t wait to see my rudbeckia, echinacea, evening primrose, lavender, and purple salvia. And probably more that I forgot I even planted. It’s really an exciting time to be a gardener: that magical week when the plants are coming back but the weeds haven’t kicked in yet.

Please like and subscribe to get a notice when my latest post is published. Up soon is going to be another Ask the Expert post, the construction of our 400 square foot chicken run, and a cool product review for one of my new favorite things! I’m even trying to orchestrate a giveaway! Stay tuned.

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