It's Spring on the Homestead - And About To Get Busy

Whether a person lives in an area that gets a ton of snow or in an area that gets no snow, the transition from winter to the spring season is one that is anticipated every year.  It is a time where life returns to the land and a person takes on a whole new sense of purpose and anticipation.  But the age old battle between  Old Man Winter and spring is not one that is easily won and Old Man Winter likes to flex his muscles.  As winter slowly but surely softens his grip,  from what was frozen ground just weeks earlier, things awaken and come to life.  And so do I!  I start to make plans and the to-do list grows, with maybe loftier goals than what is reasonable, and things start to get done, one item at a time.


The Spring Equinox

As everyone knows, the first day of spring was March 19, 2024 and although the weather was seasonable, there was an expectation of storms ahead.  After all, it is March on the prairies and as the expression states “If March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion”, the reverse being true as well.  March 2024 came in like a lamb in my part of the world  and so it was expected that a storm of some sort would happen at the end of March.

There is another expression that is used to forecast weather in these parts, and perhaps elsewhere too, that states that “Whatever the weather is on Good Friday, so shall it be for the next 40 days”.  Although the weather leading up to Good Friday was quite nice with daytime temperatures hovering just below freezing, the 28th of March saw temperatures above freezing.  It was quite nice.  But then the storms moved in on the 29th and  the weather for Good Friday was totally unsettled with a combination of  rain, snow, wind and colder temps. A prediction of what was to occur until May 8, 40 days following.  But the weather of the 29th could also be considered the fulfillment of the March expression as March came in like a lamb.

But the Good Friday expression definitely held true as the weather was all over the board, warm one day, cold the next, snow one and rain the next, sometimes with all the weather in one day.  Old Man Winter and spring were certainly having a battle.  After the storms on Good Friday it stayed cooler for a day or two and then it warmed up and the melt was on.  On April 1 the melt was starting to form a creek through the yard.

Spring 2024 - April 1 creek forming

The dugout was starting to accumulate water on top of the ice.  The water had dropped last year so this run off will definitely help rejuvenate the dugout.  I use this dugout for a lot of things as I discuss in Rainwater collection - essential water for use on the homestead.

Spring 2024 - Dugout water

The driveway was starting to fall apart and have water accumulate.  

Spring 2024 -  Driveway in spring

But yet the garden maintained it's snow load.  I typically never remove the plants in the fall as they help feed the birds and insects.  But  in addition, it helps trap  snow for added moisture to the garden.

Spring 2024 - Garden on April 1

It stayed quite nice for the next while and got so warm that the neighbors honey bees came for a visit on April 7. They obviously found something they liked in the piles from my compost pail I had dumped on the garden all winter as every “mound” was swarming with bees.  

Spring 2024 - Honey bees on April 7

For the next days it was very spring like and some days even saw afternoons that would be considered t-shirt weather.  On April 11 I noticed that the trembling aspen (Populus Tremuloides) started filling out the bush on the other side of the dugout.

Spring 2024 -Poplar trees filling out

And it had dried up enough that I was able to get a load  of hardwood mulch on April 11 to use in the gardens that I am slowly transitioning as I discussed in Achieving a Permaculture Design Principle with the Back to Eden Gardening method.

Spring 2024  - Mulch delivery on April 11

But despite the promise of spring and the thought of doing some gardening in the raised beds, Old Man Winter decided on April 17 that he was going to show his face.  It started with a bit of rain, then freezing rain followed by a combination of wetter type snow and wind  that totally enclosed my chicken run.

Spring 2024 -  chicken run on April 17

In all the years that I have had this run I have never had this happen.  Sure, I have sections in front of the main coop build up, but  never a total encapsulation.  The run has a roof of one inch chicken wire to protect the birds from aerial predators and somehow the snow  started accumulating on that thin  wire and kept building till it formed a complete cover of snow.  In some cases the weight of it caused the wire to let go.  When the storm subsided I did have to go in and knock the snow down or it would have collapsed the entire run. 

The  driveway certainly had a bit of snow in it, somewhere in the 6 inch (15 cm) or more range.  It was a bit of a skating rink as well! 

Spring 2024 - Driveway after April 17 storm.

Although I didn't do much outside on this day other than necessary, it certainly made things look quite clean again.  And because I know  the snow was not going to stick around for long and we needed the moisture, I dare say it was kind of pretty!

Spring 2024 - April 17 storm

And as typical spring storms do, by April 20 it had warmed up again and things started to melt making the water run again and things to get sloppy.

Spring 2024 - April 20 water running

The following warmer days and cooler nights made for some beautiful nights doing chores, especially when the light of the full moon on April 23 made things shimmer.

Spring 2024 - full moon April 23

Over the next days, the snow melted, thing started to grow again and I was thinking that perhaps spring was actually here.  But that feeling was short lived as May 2 saw another snow during the night.  It wasn't much, but the battle of Old Man Winter and spring continued.

Spring 2024 - May 2 snow.

The warmer days that followed this snow definitely got things going and growing.  But as the 40th day approached, spring decided that even if it  was late, the expression “April showers bring May flowers” should still apply.  For two days, May 6 and 7, it rained pretty much steady giving us about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of warm rain.  And then, almost on que for the 40th day, it cleared up and May 8 the sun came out.  But what a difference that rain made.  The grass sprung to life and the trees leafed out adding a green tinge to the landscape.  It would appear that spring is here!

Spring 2024 -springtime May 8



Whether the old expressions hold any truth or not,  it would seem that a few of them  do have some  credibility.  And although Old Man Winter could pay us another visit in these parts, springtime means that life has returned to the homestead and with it means that I have a never ending list of things to get accomplished while the weather is good.  The first of which is always cleanup.  With having to run tank heaters to keep troughs from freezing during the winter, the extension chords can now be picked up and put away.  The hundreds of feet of baler twine that litter the yard from the bales fed through the winter can be picked up and thrown away.  Last year's stalks in the garden can be mowed down for incorporation into the garden.  This is just a few of the cleanup things that have to happen around the yard. Despite the cleaning and tidying, one of the more specific jobs that needs to be done is to prune the fruit trees in the Food Forest Orchard Garden.


Pruning Fruit Trees

With establishing the Food  Forest Orchard Garden within the last couple years, as I discussed in Establishing a Food Forest Orchard Garden - But Will it Save Me Money, I have a number of young fruit trees and a few older trees planted in the space and scattered throughout the yard site.  I have apples, crabapples, cherries, pears and plums that according to most, should be pruned.  But being that I have always thought that it was better to just let them “do their thing”, the extent of my pruning was to remove dead branches.  However with further research over the last while I am thinking that maybe they have a point.   

Orin Martin in his book Fruit Trees for Every Garden stated that “Although studies have proven that trees in the everyday environment have a calming affect on people, the average backyard gardener may feel anxious, overwhelmed, confused, even defeated by the seemingly daunting task of pruning.”.  I would have to say that this is a good description of myself as I looked at my fruit trees.  But as I continued to read articles and watch video's of the various pruning techniques, I came to the decision that Orin Martin was right and that "With pruning and training, you're trying to do a number of things at once:

  • Create a logical permanent branch structure on which fruit is borne.
  •  Create a form that allows sunlight into all portions of the tree, especially the lower and interior portions, and allows optimum exposure of the leaves to sunlight for photosynthesis.
  • Create a branch structure that is mechanically sound and self supporting to bear the collective weight of wood,  fruit, leaf and sap.  Pruning strengthens branches.
  • Allow human access for all aspects of operation, including observation, spraying, training, pruning,  thinning,  picking and working on a ladder.
  • Allow penetration of spray material, as needed.
  • Create a tree form and shape that is aesthetically pleasing.
  • Remove the four Ds - diseased, dead, damaged and disoriented branches.
  • Keep the tree a manageable height (6 - 12 feet).
  • Oh, and did I mention we want to grow good fruit?"

Orin Martin has some compelling reasons for actually going ahead with the pruning of my trees.  After all, I want the good fruit!  But I also have a problem with pruning them into shapes that are not natural, especially when they are located in the yard as part of the landscape.  And although I know that trees come in many forms, committing every tree to one specific pruning form is problematic for me.  So when I read that it's okay to let the tree dictate the form it takes coupled with my pruning personality, the art of pruning started to sit better with me.  Letting a tree dictate whether it wants to be an open center form or a modified central leader made more sense to me, although I do find that I like the looks of a modified central leader more.  As described by Orin Martin, “The open center form mimics the geometry of a cone, with wide circular top and a relatively narrow base.” whereas the modified central leader is “narrow at the top and wide at the base.".   The modified central leader more resembles a tree in my books.  Although Orin Martin advocates for these two forms, there are some that state that one should never top the central leader.  In the podcast on The Prairie Homestead, Bob Osborne, author of Arctic Apples discusses this.  After listening to this podcast I am thinking that it all boils down to letting the tree dictate the pruning style coupled with my personal desires.

Orin Martin also writes that “there are two basic pruner personalities:  whackers and haircutters.  Whackers practice the age  old adage: when in doubt, cut it out. They don't think, just cut.”  whereas the haircutters “snip a little here…and, after some gut wrenching decision making, a teeny bit there as well.  They tend to overthink.”.  I think it is safe to say that I fall into the haircutter category for fruit trees but in the whacker category for most everything else I prune.  So if I am going to prune these trees, how do I embrace this information.  Well I decided that I would let the trees dictate that to me, at least for now.  I'd go with my gut.

Working up the guts to make the cuts and with the knowledge to support my decisions, I started with the Rescue Crabapple on a nice spring day, April 7.  Overall, I liked the form of this tree but I am a little concerned with the three branches that are growing close together at the top.  I know two of them  should probably be removed because of the steep angles, but decided that I  would leave them for now and just cut back the side branches to ensure dominance on the main stem.  I just gave it a haircut.

Spring 2024 - Pruning rescue crab

The Gemini Apple was next.  For some reason winter before last I had four apple trees that suffered from sunscald and frost cracks.  An article from the Manitoba Agriculture department in the article Winter Sunscald and Frost Cracking: Tree Bark Damaged from Winter Bite explains that “Sunscald and frost cracking of trees can occur in any winter, but the effect of dramatic temperature changes can also lead to the occurrence of these problems. These conditions are rarely fatal to trees on their own but could lead to further problems, due to the additional damage caused by invading decay organisms.”.  As the summer passed, it became evident that these four trees, including the Gemini Apple, would not heal and that major pruning would need to be done.  The main stem of the apple would need to be removed and the lateral (side) branches would need to be pruned back to accommodate a modified central leader pruning technique.  There was also some what I believe to be water sprouts occurring from above the top of the graft union and although I left them for now, I am thinking I might remove them.  After all, most literature recommends to not take more than ⅓ of the tree in a pruning session.  Granted, with the top being dead, I could take more from the live portion of the tree, but this is what my gut said to do. 

Spring 2024 - Gemini Apple pruning

The next tree affected by sunscald and frost cracks was the Parkland Apple and it needed a very severe pruning to take it back to live wood.   I made some cuts to encourage lateral branching and hopefully a new bud will come that I can train into a new central leader.  However, I think this tree will be more of a open center form.  Time will tell.  I had also damaged this tree at ground level with the whipper snipper so it is struggling.  But the tree pruning paint I used seems to have sealed it off.

Spring 2024 - Parkland Apple pruning

The third tree affected by sunscald and frost cracks was the Norland Apple.  Like the others, the central leader died back to a union and so some severe pruning was required to hopefully rebuild the structure of this  tree.

Spring 2024 -Norland apple pruning

The fourth tree to be affected by  sunscald and frost cracks was the Golden Spice Pear.  It was planted as a cross pollinator for the Early Gold Pear that died back to just above the graft union the first winter.  I dug it up and transplanted it in another spot and replaced it with a Paul Pear.  The Early Gold Pear appears to be recovering.  So when I lost the top ⅔ of the Golden Spice Pear winter before last, I was disappointed and so this spring pruning is just the first steps to rebuilding the structure of the tree.  Hopefully it works.

Spring 2024 - Golden Spice pruning

The rest of the crabapples and cherry trees were pruned only to remove dead branching and the Heyer 12 was not pruned at all.  It is a straight whip of a tree with some lower laterals and although I realize that a good heading pruning would result in some healthy lateral branches forming, I just can't bring myself to do it…at least not yet.

Spring 2024 - Heyer 12

I am no pruning expert that is for sure and so depending on how these trees react to these pruning cuts will affect my next steps.  But I also realize that it is also possible that the selection criteria I used in Planting an Apple Tree Orchard and Fruit Tree Orchard with goal of a Self Sustaining Food Forest to decide on the varieties I chose may need to be revisited.  It is conceivable that different tree varieties may need to be planted to replace my current varieties.  Only time will tell!


Seed Starting

The garden is a huge component of the springtime activities.  Although there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the spring, there is also a lot of work that needs to occur leading up to planting the garden.  I need to get everything started indoors that requires the extra growing time. I typically start the first seeds the end of February and then throughout the next months start more seeds as I draw closer to the time I can put in the garden.  My two big south facing windows are full of plants.

Spring 2024 - seed starting living room

And a spare bedroom I converted to a grow room is converted from growing greens during the winter months into a seed starting room.

Spring 2024 - seed starting grow  room

Although there is some investment into the lights and racks, I normally find this to be an advantageous endeavor for me.  But this year, I didn't pay attention to my gut and used some soil that I thought was maybe subpar.  It was super wet and appeared to be sour.  By using this soil,  I not only had an infestation of white flies move in, the starts were very poor.  Finally, I decided they needed some new soil and I went through everything that was looking poorly and replaced all the soil.  Learn to listen to your gut is my take away from this experience or it will cost me in the end.  Hopefully the peppers I salvaged from this mess will produce something.

Spring 2024 - seed starting peppers



At first, it might seem like preserving is a strange thing to be doing in the spring.  However, it is during this time of the year that some of the vegetables that I have been storing all winter are starting to degrade.  Squash are starting to rot, the potatoes are starting to sprout and turn softer, and if I have storage carrots they are starting to grow.  So to not loose the last of the previous years harvest, I preserve it into convenience meals like soups and stews but also pressure can it up as a stand alone vegetable.  Canned squash cubes, canned carrots and most recently canned and freezing potatoes, as I  explored in Preserving Potatoes - Best Ways to Preserve Potatoes, are a great way to save the harvest.  Recently, in addition to some frozen potato wedges, I canned up 50 jars of potatoes for the pantry.  As I explore in The journey continues - Pressure Canning quarts of Vegan Beans reusing Odd shaped jars and reusing jar lids, whether I pressure can using  reused jars and lids or I use new lids, it is extremely beneficial to have these jars on the shelf for use over the next years.

Spring 2024 - Preserving


Hatching Eggs

With new chicks and turkeys arriving from Rochester Hatchery on May 29, I decided that it is a good opportunity to try out my Havabator incubator again.  As I explored in I finally had some success hatching chicken eggs and Pastured chicken I have had some issues with this particular incubator.  I am not certain if it is the incubator itself or the operator so I decided to incubate another incubator full of eggs from my hens to see what happens.  I have the incubator where I can see it multiple times a day and am documenting everything this time in hopes I can better figure out what is going on.  Hopefully, I have a good hatch!

Spring 2024 - hatching eggs


Final thoughts

Although this is only a small part of my to-do list, I can safely say that it has been an interesting spring to say the least.  But despite all the strange weather, spring is returning as it has for centuries.  It may not be a “normal" spring  but that's the cool thing about it too, it keeps one guessing.  Working with nature and adjusting your to-do list is the key to not getting frustrated or overwhelmed.  The to-do list may be long, but if I remember to take a moment or two from the to-do list and simply  enjoy the moment and the beauty as it happens, it has an overwhelming ability to rejuvenate me as well…the warm evenings with the frogs singing, the greening of the landscape and/or the return of life to the dugout can certainly serve to breath new life into me.  A new life that invigorates me to keep going and get done what I can. It can be a busy time, but spring on the homestead can also be a very romantic time.  Maintaining the balance of both is key I figure.  Figuring out how to do it is the question.  But at the end of the day, I  do the best I can.   It's what get's me out of bed in the morning!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into what spring on the homestead means for me.  If you did, please consider joining the My Boreal Homestead Life community.  By supplying your email address at the bottom of the page and hitting "sign up" or by clicking Join the community, you will ensure you get an email notification when I post new blogs to the My Boreal Homestead Life site.

Thank you for joining me on the front porch of My Boreal Homestead Life as we explore this Homegrown, Homestead life, In a Modern World.


Additional Resources

Spring 2024 - pinterest link