With the kids back in school, and the first blush of color spreading across the forest canopy, it’s time to think once again about winterizing the farm, garden or homestead. As a life-long Maine resident, I’ve seen my share of hard winters and can imagine what it might be like for newcomers to the northern hemisphere. For beginning farmers especially, the list of winter preparations can seem daunting, or perhaps you’re not sure exactly what needs to be done. To help you on your way, I’ve assembled some pretty basic guidelines, along with a printable checklist to take offline with you.
Winter preparation on the farm, in the garden, or around the homestead, is two-fold. It involves both, cleaning up and putting the farm or garden “to bed”, as well as gearing up for the snow and cold ahead. Each homestead and farm is as unique as the people who manage it, so the challenges that you face may be very different from those that I have to cope with at Runamuk. The suggestions I’ve compiled for you below are by no means comprehensive, but hopefully they will help to steer you in the right direction, generate some ideas, and help you to brainstorm how you might best prepare for winter conditions.
Please feel free to download a copy of the (Winterizing the Farm) checklist I’ve assembled, print it out and get to work!
Make a List
Start by taking a walk around your farm with a notepad in hand. Write down everything you see that needs to be done to put your farm to bed for winter, and to prepare any livestock, equipment, and your homestead for the weather to come.
If you are farming with a partner─such as a spouse or significant other─I would strongly encourage you to take this walk together. Since we all bring different perspectives to the table, your partner may see tasks that you might overlook, or vice-versa.
Organize & Prioritize
Personally, I find that a bit of organization can stave off that feeling of farm-overwhelm when the list of chores seems daunting. For example, at Runamuk, I’ve divided my to-do list into the following categories: Livestock, Apiary, Garden, Farm, and Homestead. I prioritize them in that order, too, wanting to ensure the well-being of my animals first and foremost.
Tasks that have a sense of urgency about them, get printed on the chalkboard in red. I tend to start with those that are most important to me, and work my way systematically through the list.
Not only do you need to ensure the animals and their housing is in order, but you also need to have the foresight to plan for winter management of those animals. Snow, ice, wing and bitter cold temperatures will make your daily chores more difficult, so think ahead and prepare accordingly!
- Ensure all of your animals are healthy, their hooves and feet are well cared for, and that they are all up-to-date on their immunizations.
- Winterize barns or livestock sheds by stopping drafts, while at the same time ensuring adequate ventilation.
- Store summer critter-tractors, electric net-fencing, solar chargers. Take care to clean or fold, coil, and stow equipment neatly in barns or storage sheds to help extend the life of those tools.
- Consider how you will keep your livestock supplied with fresh water in below-zero temperatures.
- Stock up on feed and bedding so that you won’t run out in the middle of a 3-day blizzard event.
The Farmers’ Lamp has all the details about Getting Your Chickens Ready for Winter and MomPrepares writes here about How to Prepare Livestock for Winter. Are you thinking about how to care for your pigs through the winter? Learn how to create a DIY Pig Shelter for Extreme Cold from Discarded Materials over at Spring Mountain Living. And for more about Winter Animal Care Preparations in the mid-Atlantic, stop over at Timber Creek Farm.
Preparing beehives for winter begins well in advance of the first cool temperatures, with careful management of hives all season-long, and timely treatments for Varroa mites. To ensure successful overwintering of hives, I’ve found one of the biggest factors to be simply to maintain healthy bees, with strong colony populations, though, it is equally important to provide moisture absorption, as well as adequate ventilation.
- Summer equipment (ie-honey supers, Queen excluders, pollen traps and boardman feeders) should be removed and stored so that rodents cannot get at them. I recommend either storing them in plastic bins, or keeping them in the wooden bee-boxes, but settle those boxes in an inverted telescoping cover, stacked one box on top of the other, and topped off with another telescoping cover.
- Install winter equipment such as entrance reducers, mouse-guards, and moisture absorption materials. I can’t stress enough how important some kind of moisture absorption is!
- It’s optional, but I recommend─especially if you live in an area that receives lots of snow–to have an upper entrance on the hive so that air can continue to circulate, and the bees can emerge for cleansing flights even if the lower entrance should become blocked by snow.
- Wrap hives according to the local practices. Here in Maine beekeepers typically use roofing paper (aka: “tar” paper), but there is growing popularity for commercially available plastic insulating “sleeves”.
- Ensure hives are protected from driving winds–either you’ve located the apiary against a natural wind-buffer such as a grove of conifer trees or a building, or you will want to stack bales of hay around three sides of the hives, leaving the southern side open.
If you’re worried about your girls and feeling like a more involved explanation would be helpful–check out this post I wrote about Preparing your Beehives for Winter.
- Remove and drain irrigating equipment, store away neatly out of the elements. Taking care to coil hoses, or roll drip tubing can significantly extend the life of your equipment.
- Take down any stakes or t-posts, trellising, etc. and store for the winter.
- Collect any tools that might still be outside, clean and store them away in some kind of orderly fashion.
- Process and store the bounty of your harvest.
- Sow fall crops. If you grow crops for winter harvesting, such as brassicas or leafy greens like kale, mizuna, claytonia, spinach and lettuces─you would sow these in August. Garlic can be sown as late as November 1st depending upon where you are located.
- Sow cover crops like oats or winter rye to protect the soil throughout the winter. Be sure to schedule these early enough in the fall that the crop will have enough time to establish itself before the onslaught of the Persephone Period. If you don’t know about Persephone, check out this article I wrote a while back: Know Your Persephone Period.
- This is a good time of year to perform a soil test and add amendments to your garden plot or crop fields.
See how Homestead-Honey is Preparing the Garden for Winter. You can learn more about Winter Composting from MomPrepares or read about Indoor Gardening in the Winter. If you’re still not sure, check out this post from Little Sprouts Learning about How to Put Your Garden to Bed for the Winter to see how they do it!
Before the snow starts to fly make sure your equipment is ready to go. There’s nothing worse than facing a foot of snow only to realize that there’s a problem with your plow-truck or the snowblower won’t start!
- Cleaning and organizing spaces prior to the onslaught of winter can seriously help stave off the feeling of cabin fever later on. It also makes those spaces much more enjoyable to use when conditions outside might be miserable.
- Locate shovels, snow-scoops, ice scrapers for the car, and the roof rake if you need it. Keep them at the ready in a place of prominence.
- Dig out the winter clothing, or stock up. Appropriate attire can make working outdoors during the winter a much more enjoyable experience. Things like long-johns or leggings, snowpants or coveralls, winter jackets, good boots (with some kind of thermal rating), wool socks, mittens and gloves, hats and scarves, even a pair of goggles (trust me!).
- Perform routine winter maintenance on vehicles, tractors, and snowblowers. Consider replacing and hoses or plugs that might already be worn or leaking; those tend to be the first to go in brutally cold temperatures. You may need to add antifreeze to the engine, put those winter weights to the tractor, or get the snow-chains out and into the truck so they’re there when you need them.
- Check your tires! I can’t stress enough what a difference a good set of tires on your vehicles will make in winter driving. Here in Maine, many folks like studded snow-tires in the winter, but a good set of all-seasons will be a hellova lot safer than a set of bald tires for sure. I’ve been running winter snowtires (not studded) on my Subaru all year for a good 5 or 6 years now, and find myself replacing them only every other year. Having lived in Maine my entire life, I’ve experienced a few incidents on treacherous snowy or icy roads,and I’ve learned to religiously replace my tires in October, well in advance of any potential snowstorms.
- Put your plow on before the snowstorm. If you haven’t already, make it a habit to watch the weather forecast so as to not be caught unawares. It’s much easier to get that plow on the truck without snow and wind in your face.
- Heating: have your heater or boiler serviced. Get your chimney cleaned. Order heating fuel, or stock pile enough firewood for the upcoming season.
- Weatherize: use weather-stripping and caulking around exterior doors and windows, along with the openings for pipes, wires, vents, and ducts. This will help reduce drafts in your house, preventing heat from escaping, and saving you money in the long run.
- Clean: inside the house, clean heat registers, vents and duct openings to keep them free from dust, lint, and pet hair to reduce fire danger.
- Protect: keep exposed pipes warm enough to prevent frozen pipes come January. You can also cover them with snug-fitting pipe insulation.
- Stock-Up: be sure to have a minimum of 3-days’ worth of food and water on hand in case of an emergency situation (most homesteaders do this anyway).
- Winter Storm Preparedness: Designate a specific spot for emergency supplies. Gather your winter survival equipment (ie-flashlights, radio, candles, oil lamps, etc.) and check to see that everything is in working order. Store your supplies where they are readily accessible in case of a power outage. It’s a good idea to also have on hand plenty of batteries, lamp oil, spare lamp-wicks, and matches, etc.
- Gear-Up! Pull out the family’s winter gear and assess it─has anybody outgrown or worn-out their boots, jackets, or snowpants? Do all of the mittens have matching mates? Make sure everyone has proper clothing before the first snow falls because I can just about guarantee that kids are going to want to play in it (and if you’re like me, the adults may just want to play too!).
One Ash Farm and Dairy Homestead asks “Are You Ready for Winter?” And here’s another free Winter Preparation Printable at Finding the Story. Stop over to see how Idlewild Alaska is Winterizing the Homestead or pay a visit to The Homestead Lady, who has some suggestions too, about how to Prepare the Homestead for Winter. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with it all? If that’s the case I suggest you visit The Farmers’ Lamp for help Dealing with the Stress of Winter Preparations. And then, after you’ve tucked in your farm for the winter, you may wonder What Gardeners Do in the Winter–stop by MomPrepares for some ideas!
─>Download this free printable checklist to help you on your way to winter preparedness.
Safe & Secure
It’s a wonderfully cozy feeling to be tucked up inside your home when the snow is falling outside, knowing that your farm, garden, or homestead is safe and secure. When we take the time to plan accordingly, winter can be a more enjoyable season on all levels─a season for family and tradition, time for self-reflection, and even a little self-indulgence. I hope these guidelines will help you (or someone you know) to prepare for winter wherever they are.
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