Trees, Shrubs, and Bears.. Oh my!

A county tree order form and gummy bear molds…  How could they possibly relate to each other?  Hang with me for a minute..  (if you already figured it out, I think we would get along grand!)

It is that time of the year again, time to start planning out what plants we will be putting in the ground this Spring.  April is only a little over two months away… and this was us last April 12th:

That is right, we were planting trees!    Hard to image right now, looking outside and seeing snow covering the ground.

Spring came pretty early last year.  This year, we will be ready for the thaw, whether it comes in early April or late May.

When planning out our gardens, yard landscaping, and tree planting, I like there to be multiple purposes behind each choice of plant whenever possible.  Some choices and their resulting benefits are obvious, like apple trees are planted for their flowers, fruit, and firewood, blueberries as a natural hedge and obviously, their berries,…  Others, may not be so obvious, at least to the average suburbanite eye. For instance, this year we have some landscaping to do in our yard.  Naturally, we want it to look pleasant, but we also want it to be edible, both for ourselves, our animals, and the area wildlife (not to mention our honeybees).  We have ordered elderberry, juneberry, and several other varieties of plants that fit into our plans of transforming our yard into a food forest. Before choosing a plant, I first do a quick search online to see if we can eat it or if it has known medicinal uses.

There was nothing worse than being a kid and being told not to eat any berries or fruits growing around the yard or house.  That will not be the case on our homestead!  While most of what we plant can be eaten raw, we will take the time to educate our children on what can only be eaten after processing, like acorns and elderberries.

For trees, we will be adding a few more apple trees to our existing small orchard.  Who doesn’t like a good apple tree?  Last year we planted plenty of white oak, plum, cherry, and sugar maples.  This year, in addition to the apple trees, we are adding some pines and willows to provides some quick shelter and privacy.  We also purchased some walnuts for a great free source of protein in the distant future.

So here is where that county tree/shrub form comes into the story.  Contact your county soil and water district office before ordering your trees.  You may find you can save some significant money purchasing them through the county than you would through a nursery or big box store.  Most trees cost less than $1, purchased in bundles of 25.  If you are a homesteader or are into preparedness, why not pick out some edible variates when filling out the form.

So with the potential for so much fruit available, I latched onto an idea that was brought up by some fellow homesteaders on steemit.

Besides the common juices, wines, jellies, and such, how about making some gummy candies?  I love chewy candies but avoid purchasing them as I know they have no nutritional value.  So, how cool would it be to combine the homesteading activity of growing berries with the kitchen activity of making healthy gummies from fruit juices, collected right here at home.  So this year, I purchased some gummy bear molds as a family Christmas gift.

The possibilities are endless, from teas to strawberries, nothing will be safe from being transformed into cute little bears.

We will be sure to update you on any good recipes that come from our own, picked-fresh-from-the-homestead berries!

Have any good (edible) plant suggestions?  Have you stumbled across any good gummy recipes?  Let me know!

Happy tree, seed, and shrub planning!

-Jeremy

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6 Early Spring Homesteader Activities (and some 1st year lessons learned)

Spring has no shortage of tasks for the homesteader.  Here are six homesteader activities we have been up to lately.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it hits on our big ones.

Barn Cleaning

Yeah, this ranked as my least favorite task this Spring and my most favorite to see completed!  It was a bit easier than last year, but still an effort.  Last year, we had to clear out the manure and straw with a wheelbarrow.   This year we had a lawn tractor and trailer to assist us.  This made life much easier, but still no cakewalk.

Ah, those floors almost sparkle!  By the end of Saturday, we had everything but the duck coop clean.  Boy was I sore and tired come Sunday!!  That was a full-body workout for sure.  What a relief, now we can focus on the fun stuff!

1st year lesson learned:  Make the indoor goat pen smaller next winter!  We gave our goats way too much space (and grass bales) in the barn this winter which equated to over a foot of manure, straw, and uneaten grass on the floor to haul out for composting.  Not fun!

Gophers

Once the snow melted, our field looked like an inverted mine-field.  Instead of craters, it was littered with bumps.  Soft tripping hazards placed conveniently, everywhere!   Grr, those nasty little hill-billy buck-toothed rats are going to destroy our alfalfa.  What if they find the vineyard?  They all have to die!!  Okay, a bit over-dramatic, but you get the idea, the gophers have invaded!

Gophers are considered a nuisance animal in the state of Minnesota (and probably many other states).  They dig tunnels, kick out dirt into large above ground piles, and eat the roots off of your cherished vegetation.  They cause so much damage, that most townships in the area pay $2-4 per gopher.

Thankfully, armed with a shovel, some flag markers, death-clutch gopher traps, and metal rods, we can take them on and save our plants from destruction!

After some mentoring and encouragement from myself and a friend last summer, Stephen has officially removed this chore off of my to-do list.  Last week, he caught his first gopher, with no help from me!  He dug the hole, set the trap, and staked it out.  He even cuts the feet off (you need to provide the feet as proof of catch to the township to collect payment) and puts them in a jar in the freezer.  Sweet!

1st year lesson learned: We found this was a great way to teach Stephen about investments and renting.  Since I bought the traps, we split the earnings 50/50 (rent).  He has discovered that if he invests some if his earnings into purchasing new traps of his own, he will collect 100% of the earnings from his own traps.  It was an easy way to show him that the money he makes can be used to make more money, a simple wealth building concept.

Fencing

En garde!  Time to defend the garden, pines, shrubs, and saplings from the mischievous goats.

Spring is a great time to put in new paddocks while the bugs are tolerable and the grass is not overgrown.  We increased our garden space and extended the fence around the newly broken ground to keep out our ducks, chickens, and the wild rabbits.

In addition to the garden fence, we are also in the processes of adding a new goat paddock so we can start rotational grazing with our goats.  Rotational grazing will allow the vegetation in the unused paddock to recover and should also curb parasite problems.

1st year lesson learned: Wait for the frost to fully give out, it makes driving posts in the ground immensely easier!

Garden Preparation (and even some planting!)

The plants are doing well under our grow lights.  The strawberry plants are greening up and the chive is ready for harvest.

We have been adding compost to the garden and are now ready to start some early planting.  Note that many plants can be planted before the last frost, some examples include kale, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, and spinach.

Lesson learned: We always wait until the last frost and plant everything at once.  This year we will be staggering our planting, starting with cold weather crops over the next few days, and the rest after the last frost.

Tree Planting

Now is an excellent time to plant trees.  The sooner, the better.  The rule of thumb I have always went by was to get them in the ground before Mother’s day.  However, the best time is once the soil is workable. If you wait too long, prepare to put out much more work into nurturing and watering them.

We put two more apple trees in last weekend and planted 150 pines and deciduous trees on Wednesday.  Last weekend we marked out the trees we planted last year and added a thick 3-4 inches of cold compost (rabbit and goat manure + straw) around each tree to build up soil nutrients, maintain soil moisture, and help the trees access sunlight.

Lesson learned: Mark out the smaller trees and shrubs with flag markers until they get a little more visible to prevent them from getting mowed over, stepped on, or baled up.

Prepare the Hives

This is a new one for us, but I am extremely excited about it.  It is time to assemble and prepare the new bee hives for the bees we pick up in early May.

We put in our bee order with Mann Lake this week.  Two packages of bees, each with a queen, for two new hives!  I was hoping to build some more bee hives and honey supers, but I opted to order what I need right now as there is no way I will have time to put anything together from scratch before May 🙁

I also plan to setup a few bee traps in the woods.  Who knows, I might just get some free native bees and then in turn, add another hive to our homestead.  It only takes a little investment and minimal time, so, why not?

Now that you know what we are up to, how about you?  Do you have any fun (or not so much fun) Spring projects going on?  We’d love you heard from you!

-Jeremy

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