Although it’s hard to believe right now, winter will be here before you know it. There’s a lot to do to prepare your homestead for winter, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard by a freak snowstorm or early frost. Stay organized with this helpful, month-by-month planner, and you can be sure that your livestock, harvest and machinery will be safe and snug for the winter.
When Is Winter, Anyway?
Technically, winter begins around Dec. 21, the day of the year with the least amount of sunlight. This is by no means the coldest part of winter – it’s only the beginning. Consider this your deadline.
The following tips are assuming a USDA Zone 5 or 6 climate, which cuts through the center of the country from California to New Jersey. It also assumes a first frost in mid-October. If you live in a colder region, research your zone and frost dates to adjust your schedule accordingly.
Attend to your harvest. Now is the time of year when you need to stay on top of picking fruits from the orchard, veggies from the garden and grain from the fields. To catch produce at the peak of freshness, you need to pick at least two to three times per week.
Process and preserve your harvest. As food comes in, your other main task this month is to preserve it. Whether you are canning, dehydrating or freezing your produce, you must take care that you process your harvest without delay to maintain proper food safety.
Stock up on firewood. Whether you order wood from a local supplier or manage your own wood lot, splitting and stacking seasoned logs now will save you a lot of effort when the snow flies.
Inspect and repair outbuildings. Before it gets too cold, check the exterior of all your buildings – barn, chicken coop, greenhouse, etc. – for damage. Replace any missing shingles, re-caulk around windows and seal any air leaks with spray foam. Check roofs as well – they’ll be much easier to fix now, not after the snow flies.
Protect the orchard. Mice are notorious for snacking on the bark of fruit trees, and the damage they cause can be severe. Protect trees by painting the trunks with white latex paint or wrapping them with hardware cloth. You should also rake up and dispose of all dropped leaves and fruit to minimize risk for disease.
Mulch plants for overwintering. Cover plants like strawberries, rhubarb, garlic and asparagus with a layer of clean straw to protect them from the cold weather to come. Root vegetables that you haven’t yet harvested can also be protected this way to delay a hard freeze, which will give you more time to enjoy them fresh before the serious cold sets in.
Clean up the garden. After the killing frost, pull out dead and dying annual fruits and vegetables. Compost all disease-free waste and rake soil flat. Consider adding a layer of finished compost and turning it into the beds to prefertilize the soil for next spring.
Inspect and repair machinery. With most harvesting now complete, take time to inspect large machinery. Fix tire pressure and patch any paint as needed. This is also a great time to have a professional tuneup done on farm equipment before you store it for winter.
Clean and organize tools. Hand tools take a beating during the growing season, so take the time to clean and dry them thoroughly. Sharpen the edges of spades, hoes and knives and coat metal edges with petroleum jelly to prevent rust.
Inspect livestock. Before bedding animals down for the winter, inspect your flocks. Any animal that looks sickly should be seen by a vet before disease has a chance to spread in the close quarters of the winter barn. If you plan to cull unproductive poultry, now is the time.
Erect a windbreak for beehives. Though insulating a beehive can inadvertently cause high levels of moisture and mold in the hive, building a windbreak is an easy way to give your bees some cold protection. Try setting up a short line of fencing in the path of the prevailing winds to stop snowdrifts.
Organize and order seeds for spring. Label any seeds you gathered from the garden and organize into envelopes in a box or file folder. If you have room, consider storing your seeds in the refrigerator to increase shelf life. Make a list of seeds you need for spring and spend the next month browsing seed catalogs at you leisure. Ordering early mean you’ll have first pick of all your favorite varieties.
Once you’ve battened down the hatches and prepared your homestead for winter, you may not be sure exactly what to do with the extra time on your hands. Try picking up a good book or learning a new hobby. If you just can’t stop thinking about the homestead, winter is the perfect time to lay out your plans for spring planting and improvements.