Time Management Tools for the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Mary Lou Shaw

I’ve heard people say that they want to homestead but “there’s too much work for a single family.” I agree that an ideal situation might include two or three families farming cooperatively so no one has too much work and everyone gets vacations. But waiting for an ideal situation keeps people from taking the first step. A few time management tools can help a homestead run smoothly and enjoyably.

My husband and I grow most the food we eat on our 13 acre homestead with the help of our garden, orchard, bees, poultry and cows. I admit that it can feel a bit like a three-ring circus at peak season, but we’ve figured out some tools for making our work manageable and enjoyable.

Allow each season to be unique: Perhaps most importantly, we do only the work that best fits our Ohio seasons. Having each season unique allows us to be refreshed by constant variety. In springtime, we realize our workload will accelerate sharply, but that comes after a restful winter. It’s a treat then to begin some of our vegetable seedlings in late February. The orchard is pruned in March and the beehives examined. The first calves of our small dairy herd are born in April and the pace sharply accelerates as milking begins. At the same time, chicken and turkey eggs are hatching and the little ones are then cared for in their “brood houses.” Adding one or two new tasks each week allows us to best fit them into our schedules.

Summer requires the steady pace that we have rehearsed for the last decade. The planting and weeding in the garden is quickly followed by summer’s harvesting and preserving. We have meat chickens in one chicken tractor and the young heritage birds in others. We don’t extract honey until all the calves are born and we can again sleep through the nights.

Summer is a preparation for an easier winter. Cheddar cheese accompanies fruits and vegetables into storage. Butchering chickens, making apple cider and shelling dried beans belong to the shorter days of autumn.

Winter provides a slower time for resting, visiting, hobbies and reading. We intentionally no longer milk and let the calves take the mothers’ milk. We don’t use a hoop house to extend the growing season. The food that was preserved in summer provides easy meals for winter. Remembering the slower pace of winter also makes it easier to keep going during the longer days of summer.

Then, after three months of short, slower days, we are ready for springtime to arrive with the return of moist soil and beautiful baby animals. Enjoying the seasons makes homesteading much more fun.

Not only does each season have its unique work, but it also has its unique “treats.” We only make ice cream and fresh mozzarella cheese in the summer. Likewise, summer is the only season we stand in the garden and munch on fresh vegetables. Hauling out the cider press goes along with the shorter days of late summer and autumn, and the smell of food cooking on the wood burner is unique to winter. I love all the seasons because of their uniqueness.

Have a weekly routine: Besides respecting the uniqueness of each season, I’ve found another time management skill that helps me through each day and week. I’m sure I took this from Laura Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods,” but having specific tasks for different days of the week gives me the reassurance that routine tasks will get done.

On summer Mondays, I make cheddar cheese and do laundry. That still allows mid-afternoons for other projects. Tuesday is the day I attend to the garden’s needs which vary through the summer. The chicken and ducks’ houses are cleaned on Wednesday. Thursday morning is when our house should be cleaned so that Friday the grass will get cut.

It may not work out quite like this, but this keeps certain tasks from being neglected. It also frees up my brain from making “to-do” lists.

Share tasks: Creating meals from garden produce takes more time than eating highly-processed food. To make best use of our beautiful produce, we fix one “big” meal a day, usually at noon. To give time for other chores, or to have more free time, my husband and I have different days of the week that we’re responsible for the noon meal. Having this variety to our days is fun. Besides, I love staying out of the kitchen until it’s time to eat on his cook days!

Time management tools are only helpful if they make work more enjoyable. Because homesteading requires flexibility just to keep up with the animals, weather and seasons, time management tools need to be modified to suit the individuals and their situation.

There’s no reason to fear the work of homesteading when there are tools to allow the work to remain enjoyable and rewarding.