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Happy Easter everyone! The birds are chirping, the sun is out, the snow is (mostly) gone, and although I’m facing an enormous pile of mud that will make our gardening tasks pretty slow going for the next few weeks, it seems as though spring has finally arrived.
If you’re like me, spring on the homestead can be an overwhelming time. There’s so much to do – and all of it comes with a timestamp. With a limited amount of time to get everything done before summer sets in, you may find yourself wondering how you can prioritize to get the most important tasks done right away.
Consider these items as you enter these next few glorious months, and try to put them at the top of your to-do list.
Start by mapping out exactly where you want to plant your new crops, flowers, and other plants. Making a chart of where everything should go can help you feel less stressed – or forgetful – when it comes time to plant. I start by listing all the plants I want to grow, and then I draw a map of my garden that includes the exact location of where each plant will go, along with seed starting or transplant dates and any special notes.
If you are planning on starting some or all of your plants as seedlings (and not sowing them directly into the ground), you will need to start your own roughly twelve weeks before you plan on putting them outside. While some plants have a shorter window than this (like mustard), others, like celery or tomatoes, need a substantial amount of time. Consider your local climate and how much space you have to start seeds when you are beginning this process – and don’t forget to block in time for hardening them off, too.
If you plan on incubating chicks, now is the time to start. It will take you a few days to a week to collect enough eggs to start the incubator, depending on how many laying hens you have, but remember that a set of chicks will always take three weeks to hatch in an incubator. If you have a broody hen, you may be able to hatch eggs beneath her, too.
If you don’t plan on hatching chicks, ducks, or other poultry, but do plan on raising them, now is also the time to submit an order with a hatchery. And don’t wait until the last minute! Many hatcheries have strict windows in which they will ship, so you want to make sure you’ve planned everything out to give yourself enough time.
We turn to chicken tractors as our go-to method of housing and rotational pasture grazing for our chickens. Many people also use these for other animals, too, like rabbits, ducks, turkeys – even pigs! We build our tractors in the spring so that they are ready to go as soon as the grass has greened up and the animals are old enough to be outside.
Most baby animals are born in the spring, and if you artificially inseminated or bred sheep, goats, pigs, or other creatures in the fall or winter, chances are they are going to be ready for labor soon. Get all of your supplies ready to go and consider making a homestead medical bag that you can grab at a moment’s notice. Our lambing bag contains items like shoulder-length gloves, syringes and needles for vaccines, Blu-Kote, and towels. You’ll also need to stock any birthing stalls with fresh straw, water, and feed.
Here in the Great White North, it takes us a long time to prepare for winter and seemingly just as long to clean up after it, too. We have to take down materials that we use to winterize our chicken coop, animal pens, and bee hives, and you’ll likely need to do this, too.
Get your lawn tidy by cleaning up debris like sticks, leaves, and other decaying plant matter that may have been left behind in the fall. Our lawn tends to look like a war zone after the snow has melted, so I try to get everything cleaned up in the spring (and before I need to start mowing!).
Take a few moments in the spring, too, to get everything organized. A rainy day stuck inside offers a great opportunity to do this. Get everything together, stocked, and labeled so that you’re ready to go and don’t have to hunt for materials during the frenzied business of the summer.
Hopefully, you were working on building up your compost all winter, but if you neglected it during the snowy months, make sure you take the time to turn the pile and add any used animal bedding or kitchen scraps.
Winter sure does put a beating on the homestead! We always find areas where fences are down or damaged, or where limbs have fallen on buildings and caused small amounts of damage, that need to be repaired in the spring. Make sure all fences are working and in good shape before you need to put animals inside their limits, and do any repairs to roofs, siding, or structural damage before the weather gets hot.
You will also need to repair any locks, doors, or latches that were damaged over the winter – as well as those that are rusty or simply not working properly.
Now is also the time to maintain and upgrade any equipment you might own, particularly if it lay dormant over the winter months. Sharpen your lawn mower blades, make any tiller or tractor repairs, and so on. If you need to order any replacement parts or machinery, now is also the time to do so.
We all know how rainy springtime can be – now is a great time to start a water containment unit. These will help conserve water and will save you energy in that you can use them to water the garden or provide drinking water to your animals.
This is one of my favorite springtime tasks! I always start hunting Craigslist at this time of the year for materials like old water barrels, tractor tires, and galvanized tubs that can be used at impromptu raised beds, but it’s also important to make plans to build new raised beds or hoop houses if you need them, too. You may need to repair damaged or aging beds, and you’ll almost always need to topdress them with soil or compost to replace what was lost last year.
If you have any equipment or furniture that you store inside during the winter months, now is the time to haul it out and give it a good cleaning. Maintaining an outdoor living space is a great way to get full enjoyment out of your homestead, and you’ll want to take the time to get everything ready to go now.
This one isn’t necessarily on my to-do list, as we don’t grow any crops that can survive the winter months (besides things like asparagus, horseradish, and garlic, of course). However, if you live in a warmer climate where you can grow vegetables throughout the winter, now is the time to harvest vegetables like carrots, beets, or radishes.
Make sure your garden is nice and tidy before you need to start planting. I always tell myself I’m going to be better about cleaning things up in the fall, and to be fair, every year I get a little more efficient. However, there’s usually at least a few old trellises, paint markers, cages, or vines left in the garden after the season has ended. It’s best to pick these up in the fall, before disease, snow mold, or pests can set in, but if you have any remaining after the snow has melted, take care of them now.
You should also take the time to lay down black plastic or mulch in any areas that need to warm up quickly. You can also work the soil by tilling it or adding a few layers or organic matter like compost. Tilling is not necessary, but if you plan on doing it, try to get in there as soon as the soil is workable and not prone to compaction.
Do a quick inventory of your kitchen and make sure your pantry and freezers are fully stocked with the essentials. A good spring cleaning will involve cleaning out and defrosting your freezer, too.
You likely still have a few months before you need to start thinking about canning, but make sure all of your canning equipment is clean and in good working order before you actually need to use it.
Water bath canners, in particular, tend to develop an unattractive layer of sediment around their edges as the result of hard water stains. Even if your canners were clean when you put them into storage, they’ve likely collected dust since then and could really use a good scrubbing! Replace any equipment that is old or damaged and stock up on lids. They won’t be as expensive now as they will in August.
If you have a wood stove, make sure it is clean and ready to use next winter. Clean out any ash (you can spread this on your garden!) and get rid of any buildup so that you don’t have to worry about a dangerous fire. You can also start cutting firewood now, while it’s cool, so that you don’t have to worry about it in the heat of the summer.
Automatic feeders and waterers are absolutely lifesavers on the homestead. If you don’t have some already, consider adding them this spring. You can easily make a livestock waterer out of a fifty-five-gallon drum with a pipe fitting and a few drinking nozzles. This will save you a ton of time and effort in hauling endless buckets of water out to your animals!
The cleaning aspect of this point tends to be the most important for us on our homestead, as our hens really get their money’s worth out of their nest boxes! Spring is a good time to build additional nest boxes if needed, or to clean out or fix those that you already have.
Tidy up your pantry to make room for a new harvest. And get it organized! Winter can really wreak havoc on a pantry, so take the time to clean things up. Make sure you pay close attention to expiration dates and move older items to the front so you can use them up right away. Cleaning up your pantry will also give you room for a new harvest.
I try to stock up on staples when they are on sale, buying things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies in bulk. Stock up when you have extra cash or when you find a good deal, and in the spring, take some time to figure out what you have and what you still need to purchase.
It’s called spring cleaning for a reason! You’re going to have a lot of tidying up to do, and not just in your house. Your pens, coops, and animal yards begin to take on a unique aroma as the snow melts, so you’ll want to take the time to thoroughly muck out stalls and other animal enclosures.
This should be done on your house as well as on any other outbuildings you own. Make sure you clean your gutters and downspouts to prevent expensive repairs later on. You should also repair any other equipment or features like air conditioners, tanks, gas lines, or deck boards.
If you implement any solar equipment around the homestead, make sure everything is in good working order. Winter can be quite stressful on solar equipment, and you may need to replace batteries or other parts in order to be successful this summer.
If you grow fruit trees, this is an absolute must. You’ll also need to prune or maintain your perennials and shrubs to make sure they are healthy and ready to embark on a new growing season.
And a bonus…watch for the last frost!
The most important – yet the most difficult! – task on your springtime to-do list involves a lot of patience. As you wait for the warm weather to arrive, you may find yourself growing impatient. However, paying attention and watching for the last frost is important. You’ll need to direct sow any remaining seeds or begin hardening of your indoor seedlings as soon as the weather starts to warm. It can be tough to wait, but it’s important that you do!
Your work is never done on the homestead, and spring is certainly no exception. Keeping a list of everything you need to get done is crucial to being successful and not falling behind. I like to maintain an ongoing to-do list of springtime tasks so that I know exactly what I need to accomplish – and I get to enjoy the all-so-rewarding feeling of being able to check off items as I complete them!
You can use any old piece of paper to write your notes, but I made this planner that I want to share with you all because it helps keep me organized. I find it very easy to get overwhelmed, even if I’ve accomplished a lot in one day because I still keep thinking about everything I haven’t quite finished yet. This list helps keep everything in one place and lets my mind remain free to focus on other things.
What other tasks do you try to check off on your spring to-do list? Be sure to weigh in by leaving a comment, and subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!