Spring on the Hilltop

Things have been a little tamer on the homestead the last couple of weeks, and that’s something we’re extremely grateful for.

The land surrounding us is carrying hints of green, and before we know it, the color of these hills will be completely transformed. Geese have made their home along the creek in the valley, deer have traipsed through the fields that have yet to be plowed and planted (and had a stand-off with me in the driveway), and the promise of a new season and a fresh start is palpable.

We’ve been doing the work we can to get spring officially underway here. The garden has been planned, seeds have been started indoors, chicks have been purchased, and the entry of our home has been transformed into a brooding room.

I’ve scaled way back on what we’ll grow this year. In years past, we’ve done a little of everything. This year, as we have to entirely change our gardening approach and methods, I’ve made the call to not grow some of our staples.

No tomatoes this year (instead, I’ll buy them by the box from the produce stand in town), no dry beans (we have plenty from previous years that I have yet to can), no broccoli or cauliflower (take up too much space for too little yield), no brussels sprouts, no beets, no radishes.

I’ll grow one zucchini plant for fresh eating only. I’ve still got zucchini taking up too much freezer space from previous harvests. One pumpkin vine, one butternut squash vine, and maybe two cucumber vines, in the hopes of an ample harvest for making pickles.

Otherwise, the majority of our gardening energy this year will be put into potatoes, onions, carrots, celery (the soup-and-stew-staples!), green beans, peas, bell peppers, heatless jalapeƱos, and fresh leafy greens. Oh, and the garlic I planted in October before the first cold snap hit.

I’ll grow ground cherries and hopefully transplant raspberry and blackberry bushes here as far as fruit. And… if I can get them started successfully, I have plans for a big asparagus patch on the southeast side of the house. But we’ll have to wait a few years before we can reap the harvest of that precious spring veggie.

There are two mature chokecherry trees near the house, and I’m thankful to be able to continue making our favorite jelly from their fruit, provided I can beat the birds to the berries.

Last fall we planted two apple trees as well, and while I know one of them bore fruit last year, I think it will be a meager harvest, if at all, this year. Thankfully I have an apple source in town until these trees start pumping them out.

As time goes on, we’ll add more raised beds and expand our crop types and quantities, but this year, we’ll keep it simple and strategic.

Somehow this summer, we’ll raise our own meat birds (just have to figure out their shelter situation) and load the freezer with their bounty. If situations present themselves favorably, I hope we’ll be adding sheep to the property this year as well, to graze down the grass (and help keep this acreage as less of a prairie fire hazard) and give us wool, meat, and even milk.

Right now, however, I need to get back to chick duty. One of the chicks is much weaker than the rest, and I’ve been doing everything in my power to keep her hydrated and encouraging her to eat. She’s already made it longer than I originally thought she would, though I still don’t have much hope she’ll pull through long-term. But as long as she’s got fight in her, I’ll give her a life worth fighting for.

I know…. I know. You might be reading this thinking, “I never would have guessed this would be Val’s life one day….” and I’m right there with you. But surprising or not, I can’t imagine life without the homesteading duties.

I once thought freedom came with more zeros and commas in an annual salary.

I’ve since learned, however, freedom for me comes in homesteading. It’s work, absolutely. But I love it. I can’t imagine anything different. And whether I’m keeping chicks alive, keeping hawks away from hens, fighting grasshoppers in the garden, or standing over the stovetop waiting for another batch to finish in the canner… I will always appreciate the freedom I have to do all of this and more.

So here we go, spring. Let’s do this.

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