Find Out What 2017 Has In Store For Our Little Farm!


Howdy! Hope the winter blues aren’t getting you down. Winter is always prime for one very important component of farming… goals and planning! Though the growing season is months away for us, it is never too soon to start thinking about what’s ahead. I always find January to be the worst of the winter months, but when this month is over it feels like spring isn’t really that far away, and it’s important to be prepared. In today’s post I would like to share our 2017 goals and plans for Willow Lane Farm. Our aspirations for the coming year are certainly ambitious. We hope to achieve most of these things, but we are also prepared to accept that some of them might have to wait until 2018 and beyond depending on variables such as weather and our other time commitments.

Shortly after the new year arrived we sat down and had a brainstorming session to start

This year, we are focusing on infrastructure and self-sufficiency.

thinking about where we are headed this year. Since we live in Alberta, much of the work and production happens in the spring, summer, and fall months. Sounds pretty good, right? Well not really, when you consider that our winters can last for six (or potentially more) months of the year! Our average last frost date here in growing zone 4a is May 24th, and we can see frost virtually any time after about mid-August (though not typically until the end of that month or early September.) In other words, we really and truly have to make hay while the sun shines! And the key to a short growing season/productive season is to be organized and plan ahead while being flexible at the same time. You can read more about the goal setting process for the small farm & homestead here.

This is the abridged version of our goals. I’ve broken them into categories and tried to explain each one to provide some context. Listed are (most of) the projects we have on the books for this year and the foreseeable future. This post is long – my apologies, I prefer to include excess detail rather than not enough – so feel free to skim through to sections or specific bullet points that interest you.


In 2016 we had great success with raising 31 Cornish Giant broilers from day-old chicks.

Raise 25 – 30 broiler/meat chickens for personal use.

Action Items:

Plan to butcher in late August at around 7-9lbs live weight

Raise 25 egg layer chickens for personal use and to begin selling eggs to friends and neighbours. The pullets will come into lay in the fall months at about 5-6 months of age.

Action items:

  • Decide in the coming month what breed/variety of egg layer we would like to raise
  • Order day-old chicks from Miller Hatcheries about mid-February and request a delivery date of May 1st
  • Prepare coop for chicks’ arrival the week of April 24th
  • Build  and install roll-away nest boxes during the summer or early fall to accommodate 25 pullets
  • Begin selling eggs in the fall ($5/dozen seems to be the local going rate for farm eggs)

Notes: Once grown, we plan to split the hens into two chicken coops. 15 in the larger coop and 10 in the smaller to ensure that there is adequate space for that many birds. The coops will need to be prepared and winterized by late September.

Our Light Sussex laying hens, a lovely dual-purpose Heritage Breed chicken.

Raise 5-10 commercial turkeys for personal use.*

Action items:

  • Research raising turkeys: feed, ideal temperature, how to butcher, etc.
  • Prepare a house and space for the turkeys in early May
  • Purchase started poults locally or at a farm sale in May or June
  • Plan to butcher in the fall at around 25lbs live weight

*Disclaimer: turkeys are a goal with a big “if” this year! This goal might get shuffled to 2018 but we also may feel ambitious and ready to tackle the challenge this year.

Buildings and Infrastructure

Yard Expansion – we would like to expand our yard area to encompass more space for projects we have planned in the garden and for livestock.

Action Items:

  • Wood rail fencing materials have already been purchased and will need to be installed
  • This project should be one of the first ones completed this year (spring – April or May, weather and conditions dependent) as many of the other projects will require using the expanded space
  • We will need to borrow a post pounder from a neighbour or family member
  • Research and possibly implement some predator-proof fencing (electric?) around the perimeter of the garden and poultry pens

Plant a Windbreak – to the west along the natural ridgeline to shelter the yard and garden from the elements.

Action Items:

  • Research required – which prairie-hardy trees and/or shrubs would work best for our purposes? Where can they be purchased? How much will these plants cost?
  • Plant the windbreak during the late spring/early summer months
  • Care and maintenance will be required after planting to ensure they get a good start and become well established

Build a Greenhouse – last year we converted one of our raised beds into a makeshift greenhouse by covering the hoops with plastic. This year we would like to build a proper greenhouse for our hothouse plants as we feel it would make things easier and the plants would do better.

Action Items:

  • We have plans to adapt a garden shed kit into a greenhouse (approx. 10 x 12ft)
  • Accumulate materials, including rot resistant wood and special ridged plastic siding
  • Begin assembling in the next 2-3 months (possibly indoors in the shop) so the greenhouse will be ready for this year’s growing season
  • Finish greenhouse interior – build a workspace, plant beds with soil, and possibly storage shelves

    Setting up the raised beds in the garden: spring 2016.

Build a Wood Storage Shed – we would like to build a structure as a storage area for building materials and seasonal tools to free up space in other areas and be more organized overall for future projects.

Action Items:

  • We need to draft a plan and blueprint
  • Try to find inexpensive materials such as free used pallets to keep costs low
  • Begin this project during the winter months

Move Chicken Coops and Build Outdoor Runs – we would like to have all of the animal shelters and houses contained in the same area.

Action Items:

  • We will need to borrow a tractor from a neighbour to move the coops to the desired area
  • Ideally we would like this to occur in the month of May
  • Plans for outdoor runs will need to be made (with a focus on predator-proofing)
  • Materials for outdoor runs will need to be accumulated

Notes: Containing the livestock within a centralized area helps to expedite daily chores and keep things accessible to our water and electricity sources. We would like all the poultry to be close to the garden area (within the expanded area of our yard) for the mutual benefit of the animals and the garden (weed control, bug control, vary the diet of our poultry). This also will help us to predator-proof one centralized area.

Research/Implement Solar Power Electricity

Action Items:

  • Speak with a friend who is an electrician about how to set up a system for solar power
  • Gather research materials and make decisions about what would work best for us
  • Establish a savings account dedicated to saving toward a system

Notes: this may be more of a long term goal to work toward on the road to self-sufficiency. We would need to research types of solar (grid tie-in or off-grid systems), costs, upkeep & maintenance, track and measure our current utility consumption, establish a plan to reduce our consumption (ie. build a clothesline, gather rainwater for use in the garden, etc.)

Install a Clothesline – this goal will help us to reduce energy consumer during the summer months.

Action Items:

  • We found a plan in our copy of The Backyard Homestead book of Building Projects page 252-4
  • Gather building materials and begin assembly (this can certainly be a winter building project)
  • Determine where in the yard it would be most convenient and effective to install the clothesline
  • Install the clothesline sometime during the spring or summer

Notes: Alex would like to beautify a clothesline by planting climbing vines or climbing roses next to the structure.

Irrigation Projects – collecting rainwater will reduce our well water consumption (and therefore electricity consumption) and establishing an irrigation system for the garden, flower beds, and livestock will save time and reduce water waste.

Action Items:

  • Purchase one or two water totes or tanks for the garden area and rain barrels to collect gutter runoff from our buildings
  • Design an irrigation system
  • Purchase materials to build the irrigation system (ie. ½ inch and ¼ inch hose tubing material)
  • This will be established in the spring months as we are beginning to plant the garden

Notes: Combined with mulching, irrigation should help reduce the amount of water needed to sustain the garden. Better plant growth as watering will be more consistent and regular.

Garden & Food

Build a Root Cellar – we would like a root cellar to effectively store produce throughout the year. We would like to dig our cellar into a hill close to the house for convenience.

Action Items:

  • Mid-summer project to complete prior to harvest
  • Decide on a design (ie. cinder blocks or new septic tank)
  • Decide where exactly we would like the root cellar to be and mark it out
  • We will need permission to dig from utility companies
  • Purchase materials needed for the project
  • We will need to borrow digging equipment from a neighbour (ie. backhoe)

Establish a Pantry – right now we have a mouse-proof closet in our unheated attached garage that we would like to convert into a pantry. It would be a great cool, dry, dark spot to store food!

Action Items:

  • Clean out the closet
  • Install usable storage shelving and bins
  • Determine a way to keep the pantry above freezing in the winter
  • To be completed during the summer or early fall months

    Cucumber crop 2016.

Garden – last year one of our big projects was building and installing predator-proof raised bed garden boxes in our garden area. We grew a variety of vegetables and were pleased with the outcome. We would like to expand and improve upon last year’s success – including building a greenhouse.

Action Items:

  • In February and March determine what and how much we would like to plant this year. Make a detailed planting schedule with dates and plans (what will be planted where).
  • In March, take a seed inventory (lots left from last year) and begin purchasing what is needed.
  • In early April (weather permitting) prepare the soil for planting. (Dig in rotted manure, compost, peat moss, etc.)
  • Begin planting seeds and seedlings in mid April through early June.
  • Tend and harvest throughout the summer
  • Final harvest in mid September (weather depending)

Preserving – last year I had big plans to preserve some of the produce we grew. Unfortunately, I ran out of time – the only things I made were refrigerator pickles and beans. This year I really would like to learn how to can, make jam, and freeze some of the things we grow here on the farm. I already have canning equipment, thanks to some awesome family members!

Action Items:

  • Talk to my mom and grandma about canning advice and perhaps even enlist their help to get me started
  • Research canning and freezing directions
  • Decide what items I want to preserve this year and how much we need
  • Find and clean canning equipment in preparation for preserving
  • Begin putting up home-canned and frozen products in late August and September

Compost – we currently have a compost bin for household waste but would like to build an additional compost pile for the garden area. This will be more convenient because we use the compost in the garden.

Action Items:

  • Assemble supplies needed
  • Build the compost bin
  • This will be a summer project

Grow Grain Crop – we currently purchase all of our grain products, including feed for the animals. It would save money and increase self-sufficiency if we were to plant and harvest a few acres of grain. We would harvest by hand and crack the grain ourselves for the animals and grind into flour for our own consumption.

A test patch of wheat Alex planted spring 2016.

Action Items:

  • Decide on a ideal area to grow a small crop
  • Determine which varieties of grain we would like to grow
  • Decide how much to grow
  • Fence off the crop area
  • Research methods of how to harvest and thresh grain
  • Research how to store and use farm grain
  • Collect harvesting equipment

Hunting – we have a lot of wild game in our area (elk, moose, deer, waterfowl) and Alex would like to get into hunting so that we can fill our freezer with local, all natural wild meat.

Action Items:

  • Receive proper certification (online Alberta Hunter’s Education course)
  • Apply for hunting draws/tags for our area
  • Purchase hunting equipment (second hand from friends)
  • Learn about hunting techniques
  • Learn how to butcher and store game meats

Berry Bushes/Plants/Trees for a Prairie Orchard – we would like to begin a prairie orchard by establishing some hardy berry bushes and trees (raspberries, saskatoons, strawberries, apple trees, beechnut trees, and maple trees).

Action Items:

  • Determine the best area for our prairie orchard
  • Decide where to purchase plants, bushes, and trees
  • Plant & establish the plants, bushes, and trees

Establish a Beehive – a source of honey and bee products (ie. beeswax) on the homestead would be wonderfully important in terms of self-sufficiency.

Action Items:

  • Take an apiculture (beekeeping) course
  • Budget costs and research time commitment
  • Determine best location on the farm to keep a hive

One thought on “Find Out What 2017 Has In Store For Our Little Farm!

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