Winter Preparation on the Homestead: Garden and Food

We are in the midst of a n’or easter here on the south west tip of Nova Scotia on our little island. It has made for a wet and windy week but has forced by necessity, a lot of general preparation and garden take down.

We have very mild winters here. We just had our first hard frost, and just before I harvested zinnias, summer squash, and some tomatoes from the garden. Crazy in mid November in Canada I know!

Stored garlic hangs in the barn for the winter.I think its a beautiful sight.

However, it is time to get serious. I am not what I would consider a prepper. I focus on building a community, and doing everything we can to have sufficiency for our household. Supply chain issues aside, preparing food for winter is a lot of work but is a priceless peace of mind.

Food and General Storage

  • I assume because you are reading this, you have been keeping your eye on seasonal food harvests along the summer season. But maybe you just started. It’s not too late to begin. Just start small to avoid overwhelm. But just start.
  • What are you lacking? This is the time I go through my shelves and purchase anything I haven’t grown or haven’t been able to source locally. For me, I’m looking for sweet potatoes, and cabbage.
  • Baking supplies (also keep in mind any Christmas baking you may be going to do).;
  • Take note what you use daily (tea, coffee, etc) and ensure you have at least three months if you have the space and don’t have a local supplier;
  • Potatoes, squash, beets, and carrots are stored in wooden boxes lined with straw in our unheated barn. They are cured for two weeks then layered in and checked on frequently through the winter to use up any ones that may be going soft. I have found this to be a very cost effective and easy way to store bulk root vegetables through the winter without a root cellar.
  • I buy in bulk and store in tubs. There are a ton of online groups that you can learn from to store just about anything. One of my favourites is Stocking Our Shelves run by Mini Slice of Farm.
  • A three month supply of cleaning, and personal hygiene products ( for me, easy stocking of cleaning supplies is bleach, vinegar and baking soda-You can do a lot with those three products.)
  • This is a good time to take inventory of your skills as well-What do I NOT know how to do? What is one thing I can learn to ensure I am more self sufficient for the winter? For me, it was simple cheese making.
  • Berries, Fruits, Vegetables- I have a whole freezer dedicated to berries, pesto, homemade butter and any vegetables I haven’t canned or fermented. If you don’t have a lot of space, dehydrating is a wonderful option. A small dehydrator for $40 can do amazing work.
  • Have you lined up or butchered all your winter meat? I do a freezer inventory this time of year to ensure I have fish, scallops, turkey, chickens, pork, beef, duck and any wild game we have bartered for. As much as space allows, I have rendered leaf lard and also have some frozen as well. If you aren’t raising livestock yourself, and have no room for storage, the most important thing for you to do is keep your supply chain as short as possible. Find yourself a friend of a friend who’s a farmer or a homesteader, if you haven’t already. And support them as a regular customer now, don’t just wait till an emergency or winter storm arises.
  • We keep chickens and I prefer not to supplement with light so this means planning ahead for eggs in the winter. Chickens usually slow down with the slower days and hens older than a year go into molt, meaning they lose all their feathers, and their energy needs to go into making new ones, not laying eggs. In the spring we hatch out about 20-25 new chicks. These new chicks will start laying by fall when the others are slowing down, and chicks under a year, called pullets, don’t go into molt.
  • We also harvest the excess roosters that hatched for stews and make big batches of chicken bone broth to nourish us all winter.
What we use frequently gets stored here. The rest is stored on racks in a cool place.

Prepping the Garden For Winter

  • First and foremost, plant your garlic. Get your garlic cloves in the ground after soil temps are down below 10 degrees for about seven days . Cover the garlic beds with straw, and if you have chickens, cover the straw with pine boughs too so they do not dig the cloves up.
  • Cover asparagus beds with manure compost to allow nutrients to sink in over winter .
  • Cover any parts needing extra weed control with cardboard and layer on 6-8 inches of compost. This saves so much time the following summer.
  • A permaculture friend and I were speaking about growing co-ops. Do you just want to grow one crop well and have other friends who will each do the same? If you do, that’s a wonderful way to sustain several families well. Planning with friends plantings over the course of the winter is a great way to prepare for next year.
  • We live on a tiny island where winds can reach up to 100km/hr easily. Therefore I am taking down any structure that is not going to withstand a winter blizzard, and putting away anything that could blow all around the yard potentially injuring someone or an animal. I remember my first winter here with my tiny plastic greenhouse. It was in the neighbors’ yard before I had a chance to even plant in it. Live and learn-I now use temporary hoop houses made from cattle panels, greenhouse plastic and t-posts so it can easily be taken down each fall.
  • Let the chickens have their day. I let my chickens who have been fenced out all spring and summer in to turn the ground over. It does a homesteader’s heart good to see them enjoying their best life and adding benefit to next year’s garden.
  • Add your wood ash to the garden all winter. I use our wood ash on our rhubarb in particular as my grandfather did, but much of the soil in the garden can benefit from wood ash.
  • I have also covered my fall carrots which were planted in August with straw and chicken wire to keep the chickens from accessing them. They will be harvested in late winter, early spring.
  • My cold frame which houses my winter lettuces and spinach is covered with tree boughs for extra insulation from the cold. I had a new one built last year so I am going to be watching it closely for what it needs. One more thing to do, but fresh greens all winter is worth it. ( For more information on growing food year round, check out award winning Nova Scotia Author Niki Jabbour. She’s amazing!)

Please do not become overwhelmed by these lists, especially if you are a first timer. I have literally been doing this for decades (age is a number) and only wish to inspire you and empower you to do all you can to prepare. Having said that, focus on one thing, do it well, then add on. I certainly wasn’t doing everything when our four children were under ten, and I was working full time. I did what I could, and took pleasure in it. If it is stressing you out, you need to focus on your “why”. Preparing food and the garden is hard work, but there is great joy in a job well done.

I wouldn’t lie to you.

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