Perhaps when one thinks of homesteading they have images in their mind of digging in the garden on a warm summer day or perhaps putting in fence posts while sweat runs down your brow and no doubt these scenes are common on the homestead but in the winter homesteading looks completely different. On today’s podcast episode I discuss homesteading in the wintertime, what’s different about it and the things you can do to keep homesteading when the regular warm weather activities just aren’t an option.
Winter Animal Care
This is one of the things that can’t stop just because it’s cold outside but rather get more difficult and urgent in the wintertime.
Shelter – Your animals absolutely must have a place they can go when it gets really bad outside. Large livestock for sure are more resilient to bad weather but smaller livestock need to be able to escape the moisture and the wind at the very least. Make regular checks of your animals shelters to make sure it is doing the job and that there is plenty of bedding material for them to stay warm in.
Food – Animals need more nutrients in the winter because their body uses more trying to stay warm so they need the right food. With some livestock this is more critical than others but make sure when feeding your animals you take this into consideration.
Water – No doubt this can be one of the biggest challenges of caring for livestock in the winter. If you have heated tanks, dishes and bottles it’s not to big of a deal but if not than keeping ice broke and waterers thawed can be a lot of your wintertime homesteading activities.
Is there such a thing? There can be if you want it bad enough, It just takes a little planning, work and maybe a little creativity.
Greenhouse – This of course is an option if you work on it ahead of time. This will be my first winter with a greenhouse and can already tell it’s going to be a large part of my wintertime homesteading. This doesn’t have to be an expensive option, there are several DIY inexpensive greenhouse ideas out there to get you extending your seasonal growing. Here is an article with 3 of the best DIY Greenhouse Videos to help you make this a reality on your homestead.
Cold Frames – Cold frames are an easy way to get a little winter gardening in outside in the frigid temps. These are great for keeping leafy greens going through much of the winter. Building a cold frame can be as simple as squaring of a section of the garden with some straw bales and laying old windows or glass storm doors across them creating a greenhouse effect or it can built with wood framing with angle to maximize sunlight.
Indoor Container Gardening – If you have a few south facing windows in your house than setting a few pots in front of them in the winter can be a great way to continue gardening through the winter months.
Grow Lights – If you’re limited on south facing windows than grow lights are another option for indoor gardening. Check out a previous podcast I did on everything you need to know about setting up indoor grow lights.
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you have to stop building soil. Winter time is a great time to work on making compost it just has to be done a little differently than when it’s warm out.
Outdoor Compost Piles – The bacteria in compost piles do slow down when the temperatures drop but with a little help they will continue to remain active and break down the material into a rich garden compost. Your compost will need less moisture in the winter in order to let more oxygen work into the pile so tarping your compost pile is a good idea in the winter, this will also hold the heat in that is generated by the pile and have a bit of a solarization effect which will help the pile get even hotter. Having a finer shredded material in the pile also helps to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes. You may still have to turn your pile, just less often than in warmer weather.
Vermicomposting – This is a great way to compost your kitchen scraps in the winter and can be done by setting up some storage totes or bins in a basement or heated garage. Composting with worms is a slower process but the end result is some of the best garden materiel that you could ever have, worm castings (waste) is pure garden gold.
Compost Tumblers – Having a compost tumbler in the garage is a great way to keep composting in the winter. Again the process will be a little slower because of the colder temperatures but it will work, just don’t tumble it quite as often.
Homesteading In The House
This is great time of the year to focus more on those indoor homesteading activities.
Food Preparation – Cooking is no doubt one of the most important homesteading skills you can acquire and the wintertime is a great time to hone those skills. We especially love baking bread this time of year.
Making Herbal Medicines – This is also a great time to learn how to and make herbal medicines in the form of teas, syrups, oils, tinctures and salves to have on store the entire year, especially for when you need them and you don’t have time to make them.
Make Homemade Soaps, Cleaners and Supplies – There are many household and personal cleaning items that can be made at home that are much healthier and even cheaper than store bought items. Wintertime again is a great time to make and stock up on these things.
Crocheting, Knitting and Sewing – This is not something I do (not yet anyway) but many folks look at the winter months as a great opportunity to catch up of these activities.
Organizing and Minimizing – This is a great time of the year to work through closets, dressers, junk drawers and any place else where clutter gathers and get it organized and even get rid of a few things if necessary.
Homesteading In The Workshop
If you’re fortunate enough to have a heated outbuilding of some sort this can be a great place to spend some time in the winter doing some projects that may get put off during the warmer weather.
Work On Small Building Projects – This is a great time for me to fire up the old wood stove in the workshop and work on small building projects. It’s also a great time to do repairs on smaller things that can be taken into the shop to work on.
Stock Up and Organize “Hardware Store” Supplies – I like to organize tools and stock up on supplies like bolts, screws, nails and other things this time of year. One of my pet peeves is having to stop in the middle of a project and run to the hardware store to pick up something I should already have. I wrote about some of the things it’s good to keep in the homestead shop in this article, “Build Your Own Homestead Hardware Store“
Equipment Maintenance – Wintertime is also a great time to maintenance your equipment, especially if you can bring it in the shop. Tractors, lawn mowers, trimmers and chainsaws are just a few things that need to have regular maintenance but who has time in the warmer months for that!
Work On Basic Preparedness
I’m not talking about preparing for the apocalypse here I’m just talking about being even more prepared than you already are for whatever may come your way.
Food Storage – As much as I see the importance of healthy eating of good organically grown foods, eating in general is more important than having nothing to eat. So I do believe this is a great time to stock up on emergency foods such as store bought canned foods and things like beans and lentils.
Water Storage – I keep a good amount of water stored up at all times because you never know when your going to need it. I save old milk jugs and wash them out and fill them with tap water for an emergency. This is a great time to take inventory of what you have and decide if you need more or not. I store things like this in the basement, under beds and in the bottoms of closets, it’s amazing how much you can store in your house and never see them unless you’re looking for them.
Backup Power – If putting up a backup power source is on your to-do list then this is a great time to work on that. A battery bank is a great resource to have in an emergency so why not work on that while things are a little slower around the homestead.
Emergency Heat and Light – Having a way to provide these things is crucial in an emergency and there are a lot of options, so rather than discuss all those things here I’ll just say that this is a great time to work on whichever way you decide to go. For us candles, oil lamps and kerosene heaters are a great backup.
Homestead Education and Planning
There are a million things you can learn to make your homestead better and to help you be more self sufficient and self reliant and this is a great time to do just that.
Great Time To Catch Up On Reading – So many great books, magazines and blog posts and so little time to read them, until now that is. Why not take advantage of this little bit of downtime to learn a few things by reading.
Take A Course – Many extension offices and local universities offer homesteading related courses than could be taken this time of year. There are also an endless number of very good online courses that you could take on just about anything you want to know.
Homestead Layout Planning – This is a great time of the year to start next season’s homesteading plans. How are you going to layout the garden, what will you add to the homestead in the upcoming months, what income streams will you add, what will you do differently, these are all things you can work out now.
Rest and Relaxation
Let’s not forget what may be the most important wintertime homesteading activity of all.
Kick Back In Front Of A Fire and Look At Seed Catalogs Spend Time Doing Family Things
Go Play In The Snow
What did other folks say they do on their homesteads in the winter?
Gathered from a thread in our Facebook Group the “Homestead Front Porch“
Quilting. Making soups and stews. Shoveling snow. Reading seed catalogues and wishing for a few more acres.
Reading up, seed saving, sheet mulching before a true freeze.
Fodder and sprouts for chickens. Shovel, shovel and shovel. Snow storm hitting us with possibly 14 inches today! And crafts, studying, deep cleaning the house. One thing I should be doing is sharpening tools and sanding/preserving the handles.
I piled snow up around all the fruit trees to protect their roots from the cold, and at some point they’ll need pruning. There always needs to be a big clean up before things end up lost in the snow. We start lambing in a month!
Shovelling, splitting kindling, knitting, reading, switching out water for animals…
This winter I want to assemble my bee frames and make up some more boxes to expand our hives next year. Also, I plan to make a pair of moccasins for my newborn daughter for Christmas and may try making a pair for my wife and myself. Baking breads is on the list as well as cookies.
Oh and stoking the fire at night…we’re a tiny off-grid homestead?
Sit by the fire Lol. I don’t like the cold at all lol
Research. learning. planning. practicing other skills.
Winter time is knitting & crochet time!
Ami Beth W.
Canning and sewing
LOVE all the GREAT activities people are doing in the winter time!!! Our main chore is keeping fresh water for all the birds…my husband is supposed to heat tape some water jugs? (has anyone ever done this? He explained it will be like heat taping a pipe.) The fruit trees need a good pruning and mulching! Our indoor plans is to finish out basement this winter.
Will split wood for the fireplace and mill wood for spring building projects. I do more woodworking in the woodshop since the nights are longer and I can’t do anything outside. Always have our annual farm meeting in January to review costs, profit areas, and discuss with the family what new things we want to try the next year.
Winter is the time we finally get to “sit” (I know that’s a relative term…) so it’s when we do all our dreaming and researching and planning for the next year. 🙂
We enjoy each other’s company! We play a lot of board games and cards (I HATE TV) and catch up with what’s happening in the lives of family members.
Helen de P.
Board games are huge in our family too and now we have the neighbours hooked so I anticipate some fairly riotous and silly evenings over the festive holidays?
Unfortunately I have to build a bigger barn for my ostriches since they’re growing so fast. I work full time so it’s only one wall at a time. And there’s only so much daylight in the day.
Keeping split wood up at the house…catching up in the house from the summer/fall…
Helen de P.
Feet up by the fire with a whiskey and a seed catalogue dreaming about the yummy things I’m going to grow next summer! Also, cleaning up my spare bee boxes. It’s so much easier to scrape off propolis and crud when it’s really cold. Pruning and planting bare root trees.
In coastal CA, winter is my time for digging and fencing projects. Most of the year the ground is too hard and dry to be able to do those things easily.
Fermenting/canning Crafting, tinctures, keeping warm by the fire.. Looking to relearn crochet and knitting
Baking or craft like knitting.
In the winter when I’m not shoveling snow or keeping the wood stove going and all the regular chores. When i do have some free time i like to plan out new gardens.
Jaret N Jennifer W.
Cleaning, hunting, breaking ice, planning. I like to gather manure add it to garden and turn beds over every couple weeks.
Crafting cooking and sleeping
I plan on doing some whittling
Cheryl Steve B.
Shovel snow. 😉
Winter prepping the bees and worms. Stacking firewood.