Cold weather is once again on our doorstep. Farmers and homesteaders alike are racing to finish their winter preparations before the first snowflakes fly. We have gardens to put to bed, livestock to prepare and equipment to get ready for the long season ahead of us. If you’re new to farming or homesteading, the list of chores for winterization can seem overwhelming, or perhaps you’re not sure exactly what needs to be done. To help you on your way, I’ve assembled some guidelines here, along with a number of links from my fellow bloggers over at the Homestead Bloggers’ Network. And be sure to print out the “Winterizing Your Farm” checklist from the link below!
Several feet of snow, driving winds and bitter cold can make life bothersome for just about anyone, but if you’re a homesteader or farmer the day to day management of animals and property becomes downright arduous. Which is why it is critical to plan ahead and prepare for the long winter months 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 the next guy (or gal) will have to cope with. 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 your homestead or farm for winter. And if you still find yourself in doubt, there are a number of links at the end of each category–go see what other homesteaders are doing to get their farms ready for the winter ahead!
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 cold.
If you are farming with a partner–such as a spouse or significant other–you might consider taking this tour together. Typically men and women’s views of what should be done will differ somewhat, since we each tend to come at farming from different angles.
My husband, Keith, and I have fallen into somewhat traditional roles on our farm–I manage the household, care for the children, the livestock, and tend the garden; while Keith constructs sheds and buildings, performs maintenance on the truck, tractor and other equipment, and wields the power-tools and chainsaw that I am reluctant to handle. So while I am focused on putting the garden to bed, he is busy working on the tractor–etc.
Organize your list & delegate
This may seem trivial, but I’ve found that a bit of organization can save me from feeling overwhelmed when the list of chores seems daunting. Because we’re creating a diversified farm, I have divided it up into different categories, for example: the garden, the apiary, the livestock, the homestead, etc. And so when I make plans I always group various projects, supply lists, investments, etc. into the category that it falls in. But that’s just what works for me–perhaps you have your own method of organizing–feel free to share in the comments section below.
It can be difficult to relinquish control; I admit freely that this is something I struggle with. I want to see a job done well, and I know that another person may not do the task the way I might; that’s not to say that that person’s method is wrong, it just doesn’t match the picture in my mind. But that’s my problem and not theirs–if everything on the list is to be accomplished in time, it’s important to accept help where you can get it. Assess the list, determine which chores you must absolutely do yourself and which can be done by another person, and then delegate those chores accordingly.
Onto the winter preparations!
Whether you’re a homesteader with a garden just for your family, or a farmer that maintains a 1-acre market garden feeding a 20-family CSA, the tasks are generally the same.
- Remove and drain irrigating equipment, store away out of the elements.
- 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; but garlic can be sown as late as November depending on where you are located).
- Sow cover crops like oats or winter rye to protect the soil throughout the winter.
- Perform a soil test and add necessary amendments.
- Gather and store any garden tools or other implements (cleaning your tools before storing them helps to increase their lifespan).
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!
If you’re so lucky (and of course I’m admittedly biased-I believe every farm and homestead should have at least 2 beehives!) as to have an apiary on your homestead or farm–no matter if that apiary consists of 2 hives or 20–you’ll need to ensure that your girls are well prepared for their long incarceration.
- Summer equipment–like honey supers, Queen excluders and pollen traps should be removed and stored (be sure to store your drawn honeycombs in a way that mice cannot get at them! I speak from experience when I say that rodents can decimate your beautiful combs. 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).
- 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.
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, and bitter cold and wind make all your 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 and ensuring adequate ventilation.
- Water is critically important during the winter–consider how you will keep your livestock supplied with fresh water.
- Stock up on feed and bedding so that you won’t run out in the middle of a blizzard.
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.
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!
- Locate shovels and snow-scoops and have at the ready.
- Perform routine maintenance on vehicles and tractors.
- Add anti-freeze fluid if needed.
- Check tires.
- Put your plow on before the first snow fall.
It’s a wonderful feeling when the snow is falling outside, the critters are bedded down for the night, and inside the homestead is warm and snugly. Be sure to double check the following just to make sure you’re well prepared.
- Check your heat-source and have it serviced.
- If you use a woodstove or other such wood-burning device–inspect the chimney or flue–and clean it.
- Weather-strip and caulk around exterior doors and windows, along with the openings for pipes, wires, vents, and ducts.
- Inside the house, clean heat register, vents and duct openings to keep them free from dust, lint, and pet hair.
- Protect exposed pipes to prevent frozen pipes in January.
- 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).
- Gather your winter survival equipment (ie-flashlights, radio, etc.) and store them where they are readily accessible.
- Pull out the family’s winter gear and assess it–has anybody outgrown their boots or jackets? 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 and things begin to slow down, you may wonder What Gardeners Do in the Winter–stop by MomPrepares for some ideas!
Last weekend Maine saw the first nor’easter of the season, and some parts of the state received a sizable amount of snow. Here at Runamuk Acres we were fortunate to get less than an inch, and that was gone by the time the sun came up the next morning. My plan had been to have the farm put to bed and ready for the winter by Thanksgiving–next year I think I will strive to have everything done before Halloween!
Download this free printable checklist to help you on your way to winter preparedness.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section–likewise if you have a tip or suggestion that you think new farmers and homesteaders aught to be aware of as they prepare for winter. We’re all at different stages in our pursuit for a more self-sufficient life, but we’re all in it together!