It’s that time of year again!
As the year winds down, it’s time to review the goals we’d set, see what worked, what didn’t and what we want to accomplish next year.
Among the goals we had:
Starting a cordwood shed to use as an outdoor bathroom, with a composting toilet, to replace the outhouse over a pit.
Well, that didn’t happen. Which is turned out to not necessarily be a bad thing.
The location we want to build it is in that open space behind the compost ring. One of the things I did this past summer was go through the spruce grove and mark most of the dead spruce trees I found. I marked almost 2 dozen, and there were several others I didn’t bother marking, or couldn’t get at. These were trees that were intended to be used for the cordwood walls, however priorities have changed. They will now be used to build high raised garden beds. Right now, the space we want to build in is going to be needed to drag logs out of the spruce grove. Thanks to my mother, we now have a wood chipper that we can use to break down the branches, so we’re not adding to all the branch piles, and will have plenty of wood chips for mulch.
Until we can build the outdoor bathroom, we do still need something to use the next time we have plumbing problems, so the inside of the old outhouse was fixed up and made pretty (the photo here is from before it was finished). A goal for 2022 is to remove the old, moss covered shingles, extend the roof to create an overhang above the door, re-shingle it (or use some of the left over bits of metal roofing we still have in the barn), and do any repairs on the outside before giving it all a final paint job.
We did find that a groundhog had got into the pit and dug a den under the floorboards somewhere. Sadly, if we get an average amount of snow, this will likely result in a drowned groundhog. Our first two springs here, we found that snow melt would form a large puddle in front of the outhouse, and I could see in the hole under the door, which is now fixed, that the pit filled completely with water. There is nothing we can do about this. Hopefully, the groundhog will wake up early enough and leave the den before this is an issue.
Another of our goals is to have the branch piles chipped. While we now have this awesome new wood chipper, which can chip branches up to 3 inches thick, it is very slow going. The branches have to be trimmed of any sticky-outy bits, and be straight, or it won’t go through. For the sake of efficiency, it will be better to hire the tree guys and their massive chipper. When we got their estimate, they figured it would take 6 hours to chip all our wood piles. For our budget, I’m hoping that we can have them come out for three hours in the spring, to get at least the big pile in the outer yard done, and maybe the little ones in the maple grove. Then we can see about hiring them again, maybe in the fall, to do the remaining big piles. With the new wood chipper, we should at least not be adding more to the branch piles, as we clear dead trees out of the spruce grove!
Another goal that we once again failed to meet, was hiring someone to haul the junk pile away to the landfill. This irritates me, because that pile is getting so large, and we are getting to a point where we need to start cleaning up on that side of the chain link fence. If our budget allows, I’m hoping to at least have smaller loads removed, as we can afford it. The name I have for a guy that hauls junk uses a pick up truck, so if we can get him to come by a few times throughout the year, even that would be a help.
Our gardening goals were mostly met, as far as drought conditions allowed. We used poplars we’d cleared out of parts of the spruce grove to build trellises, and those will be used for another year. We planted in areas far from the house, partly to prepare the soil for permanent plantings. The corn and sunflowers were potentially there to provide privacy screens, too, but the drought and poor soil conditions prevented that. Having to use 300 feet of garden hose to water things, and still just barely being able to reach some corners, during a drought and heat waves, was something we could have done without! Add in damage from deer and groundhogs, and it’s a miracle we had as much produce as we did.
For 2022, our garden plans will continue, and this year we will start with the permanent plantings. We are pouring over websites and looking over what bushes we will be planting in those far flung areas. In one section, we will be closing off a gap in the hedge along the north fence line that the deer go through. My mother had been planting lilacs along this fence, but we are looking to plant berry producing shrubs and bushes, instead. We will also be planting them along the east side, both to help keep deer out and to create a privacy screen. We still need to make sure we can access the east fence line, and there has to be a lane kept open, over where the telephone wires are buried, so we will use other methods to close that off to the deer. We’ll have a better idea of what we can buy in January, when many of the nurseries will have their new inventory available. We might be going with sea buckthorn, if the other varieties we were looking at don’t come back into stock.
Other things we intend to order for 2022 are raspberry canes and, if all goes well, Korean Pine. These require shade for their first 5 years, so they will be planted just north of the spruce grove. If budget allows, we’d like to get new Saskatoon bushes, too.
We will have to take out more of the crab apple trees, to remove diseased trees. There are two trees that produce the best apples. If I can protect those, I will be happy. However, we will also be getting other types of fruit trees including, hopefully, a hardier variety of mulberry tree to replace the one that we bought last year, that got killed off by that one cold night that also killed off all the flowers that would have given us fruit and berries this past year. I’m not sure how many we will be able to squeeze out of our budget this year, but the more fruit trees we get, the better, as they can take many years before producing fruit. Berry bushes are also high on our list, as they will start producing much faster.
This past year, we expanded our garden plots significantly, but with our long term goal of growing as much of our own food as possible, we will need to continue to expand and prepare new ground. Now that we have a working chain saw, we’ll be able to clear dead trees out of the spruce grove and clean that up faster. Many of these dead trees appear to have no rot in them yet, and we plan to turn many stumps into benches and tables. We will also need to clear out the fallen rotten trees, and other fire hazards. Once things are cleared out, we will be planting more spruces in the spruce grove, as well as fruit and berry trees that require more protection from the elements. We’re also looking at getting some Rugosa roses, though they will likely be used more as a deer barrier!
Where the trellises are now will eventually be converted to our food forest, except for the lane that needs to be kept open over the buried phone line, but we will use them where they are for one more year. We ordered quite a lot of seeds already, from Vesey’s (including replacement seeds) and Baker Creek again, plus two orders from Heritage Harvest, which is a new company for us this year. The only seeds we’ve ordered that are still en route are the kulli corn. The only other seeds I still plan to buy are peas, but I will pick those up from a local store when they come available, rather than ordering them in. We will also be making use of seeds from our inventory left over from last year. Which means we will need to build more trellises, once we decide where, because we’ll have quite a few vining plants, and there’s only so much we can plant along the chain link fence. 😉
Along with the saplings, canes and root stock we plan to order, we will be ordering potatoes and sunchokes. This time, we will not try to grow potatoes in bags, but will use the Ruth Stout method again, as part of preparing new areas for either more garden plots, or permanent plantings, the following year.
At this point, we have three low raised bed boxes built, and one high raised bed. Next year, we will continue to use the current beds in the main garden area. The goal is to cut the dead spruce trees to size so that, after things are harvested in the fall, the remaining beds will be converted to high raised beds before next winter. With how much watering we had to do during the drought, filling the beds hügelkultur style will be an important part in moisture retention. Even under normal conditions, high raised beds are notorious for drying out too quickly, but with how we fill them, coupled with the judicious use of mulch, we should be able to prevent that from being a problem.
We will also be making new beds for corn and the many types of squash we have for this coming year, but those will be in areas that will eventually have trees planted in them. Ultimately, we will be building accessible high raised beds in the outer yard to the south of the house, where they will get more sunlight. Eventually, we intend to build a greenhouse or polytunnel out that way, too. It’s not something we’ll be able to start building in 2022, but we should be able to start preparing where they will eventually go. The renter plans to build new fences next year (maintaining the fences was part of the deal they’d originally made with my late father), since their electric fence has been not working as well as intended. I hope to talk to them again about putting a new fence line across the old hay yard, which will be much shorter (therefore, cheaper) than rebuilding the existing fence, but also takes away an area of pasture. We would need a gate in there, though, so that we can eventually haul away those old vehicles to the scrap yard. As that would not be something they’d normally include, I’d be offering to pay for the gate portion. If they are willing to do the new, shorter fence line through the old hay yard, we will be able to get rid of some old, messed up fences and a shed that looks ready to collapse pretty soon. Then we can start building new garden beds out that way. This is also the general area where we want to build the outdoor kitchen, as well as planting a wind break. None of which are worth starting, while there is a chance the renter’s cows can get through. There are also old, collapsing fences around the inner yard we want to take out completely, rather than repair or replace, but again, it can’t be done until the outer yard is fenced in. Long term, though, we won’t have an inner and outer yard anymore, but just one really big yard.
Which means that, on top of continuing our work in the inner yard and garden, we need to get more work done on cleaning up the outer yard. There’s a limit to what we can do, without heavy equipment, but we can at least get a start on it. That was something we should have worked on this past year, but accomplished very little. Hopefully, this coming year will not have the drought and heat waves that made heavy manual labour a very bad idea!
With what we’ve learned from the past year, we know that this year, we will need to focus on protecting our plants from deer, groundhogs and racoons. We will also be focusing on permanent plantings that are drought tolerant and can handle poor soil conditions, even with the amendments we’re working on. We are also looking into planting forage trees and fodder well away from the house and gardens, to give wildlife less reason to invade our yards, looking for food.
As we build our raised garden beds, we will also be ensuring they will all be the same size at the top, so that any covers we build can be interchangeable. The low raised beds are boards and are 3′ x 9′. The high raised bed is 4′ x 9′, and we plan to build them all that size. With the thickness of the logs, the actual growing space inside is closer to 3′ x 8′. So if we build covers to fit the low raised beds, they should also fit the high raised beds.
While most of our goals are going to be expanding or continuing previous goals, a new goal I want to add is to have chickens. For our egg needs, we would only need about half a dozen birds. The problem is, we don’t have anything to keep them in. I am wanting chickens to be part of our soil reclamation progress, which means being able to move their coop and enclosure regularly. Buying a new chicken tractor is well beyond our budget, but we don’t have the materials to build one, either, and with the cost of building materials right now, it’s as out of reach as buying a new one. Of the many, many videos I’ve looked at for making quick, easy and inexpensive coops and shelters for chickens, none of them are suitable for our climate. Oh, they could be temporary structures for the summer, and I do plan to build versions of them that will fit over our raised garden beds, but none of them would keep chickens alive during our winters.
That is something I need to work on. I’d love to get able to get chicks this spring, but if we can’t shelter them once they’re big enough to leave a brooder, there’s no point.
So there we have it. We did accomplish some of our goals for 2021, but many of our goals are multi-year things, so it’s more progress than accomplishment.
Now we’ll see how much we manage to get done next year!