The Winter Homestead

Winter is a strange season in the temperate climate of the wet coast.  Despite predictions of one of the coldest winters on record, so far this has been quite a mild one.  We’ve had many frosty, icy mornings; many nights we’ve brought the chicken’s waterers indoors overnight so that we can replace the frozen ones in the morning.  But we haven’t had any snowfalls materialize as yet, and we’ve had many weeks of dry weather.  The fall was so dry, in fact, that I actually started to worry about whether our ground would get saturated enough to get through the summer drought!

The shortened days of December were tough; it’s a tiring time of year for me.  But it was brightened by the fact that we were still eating 90 % of our food out of the garden and out of storage, and I made it though the darkest night of the solstice.

As we hit the middle of January, our produce habits have reversed–I’m down to my last few small onions, the potatoes are already sprouting (not in a cold enough spot), I dug up the last turnip today, and the Skipper came up with what he thinks were the last 2 parsnips earlier in the week.  The chickens finally got underneath the row cover veil that has kept the salad greens safe for the last few months, and they demolished the last of the arugula and spinach in a matter of hours!  I didn’t begrudge them their opportunity for a last real feast of greens; I’ve resigned myself to the reality that our own foods have become the supplement to the store-bought staples for the next few months.

But as the days steadily get longer, marked by the extended times that the timer to the automatic door of the chicken coop get set to, the spring chores are looming, and the countdown to the planting season has begun.

I’ve done my seed inventory (taken stock of what I have on hand from the previous 2 years), and made my list.  Thankfully, this year my list is quite short–I just need to top up a few veggies that gobble up seeds like peas and spinach and add some of the crops we want to expand, like everbearing strawberries and asparagus.  I’m thinking the most efficient way to meet my needs this time might be heading to a local Seedy Saturday rather than paying shipping charges for just a few seed packets.  Although I love the idea of the big seed swap meet-up, I found the one in the city way too big and overwhelming a place to actually buy seeds the year I went.  But I needed a lot of everything then; now I’m just looking for a few specialty items.

The sun shone today, and I wandered around the yard trying to assess everything that I want to do.  There is lots of pruning to get to, lots of clearing out and digging up.  We want to take out a couple of trees, and there are some large trellises that are falling apart that we will likely just take down as well.  I have a feeling that those large moves will change the whole feeling of the garden’s space so much that I’m reluctant to plan any more until I actually see the new layout.  It’s exciting to get really stuck in and feel how much space we really may have here, but it’s a dauting amount of work, too, especially tucked into weekends.

So it’s an odd time, winter here; not really a season for rest–though there is a month or so of that, thank goodness!–more of a time of a delicate tension between indoor work, eating lots of soups and slow-cooked meals from the foodstuffs in storage, and feeling the pull of spring just a few weeks away.  Our first year here, February was really fine, as it can be, and I planted peas under cover in the first week!  I likely won’t be that eager again, but at the turn of the month I will need to get digging out anything that needs to be moved, spreading manure and compost, and starting the early seeds on the heat mats in the greenhouse.

With 2 years under my belt, I feel like I’m settling into the seasonal cycles more fully.  I’m no longer disappointed to be eating from the grocery store, as I know with some more practice that will become less necessary.  I can feel that window of dependency shrinking each year, and though I know we won’t be fully meeting our needs again until May or June, the fresh food will start to creep back into our diets much sooner than that.  Asparagus, chives, parsley, rhubarb, nettles…there’s so much to look forward to in the coming months.

We culled a rooster last weekend, and that felt like a primal winter thing to do as well.  As the core flock settles in for the winter, we’re also thinking about what broody hens the spring might bring!  We have no specific plans for chicks, but we’ll see what happens…our neighbour today was talking very soundly about allowing the hens to hatch out whatever chicks they like and then using the results either for replacement layers or for meat birds.  Which means strategizing about our space again…Oh to have 3-5 flat, green acres! 🙂

So here I am, in the dreamy paradox of a west coast winter evening.  We’re warm by the woodstove fire inside; the chickens have their feathers puffed up and are snuggled up together in the coop.  We’re measuring out the winter staples for a few more months, while wishing for a few warmer days in the coming weeks so that we can work outside getting ready for the burst into growth that’s just around the corner.

How about you?  Can you smell the spring yet?  Or are you in one of those strange places that has yet to see winter yet?

5 thoughts on “The Winter Homestead

  1. Our supplies are actually more robust than last year so I am actually going to be pushing later this spring to use up the remaining items – rather than trying to eek through with dimished supplies. Nice feeling but it does not happen every year. We have the same basic weather patterns as you and are also enjoying an open winter this year. We are supposed to get a few inches of snow today and tomorrow but it won’t last based on the high temps forecasted. I always do projects in the garden usually in mid February through mid March in preparation for the growing season – it keeps me from crawling the walls with cabin fever and it also sets the garden up for the growing season about to really get underway. We will be removing a few trees from our perimeter area (big ones!) and intend to do some of that each year for the next several years as budget permits in an effort to open up and lower the tree line on the edge of our property permitting (hopefully) alot more sun to regularly reach the garden and the side garden in particular which is in part shade for a good portion of the morning. We want to retire in this house but the sun exposure is going to be a problem (increasing as the trees get taller) so we have decided to try and address that over the next few years. It is very expensive to remove really tall trees though (near buildings and fences) so it will be a long term project for us. Like you I will also be in spreading compost and doing my annual broad fork aeration of beds in the months to come – all so the beds will be ready for the plants I am starting indoors now through the latter part of spring. I love our seasons because it does afford us to be outside for the majority of the year. There is only so much winter down time I can stomach.

  2. As your resident farmhand, I am looking forward to all the pruning and tree removal and preparing of garden bets. I’m just looking forward to slightly warmer weather!

  3. Over here, we’ve been alternating between days that seem very much like spring interspersed with snowfall – a few days off and a few days on, really. Given that for the past goodness knows how many years it’s been almost straight snow from December until March, if not longer, this feels wrong, and I have to admit to finding the weather rather unsettling.

    Planning for spring and summer is still a bit of a ways off here, but I’m trying to get an early start on it this year. With a bit more time on my hands, I’m hopeful that some of last year’s good intentions will actually happen this year. There are seeds to be sorted and ordered (and I’m really looking forward to our local Seedy Saturday), books to be read, and I need to figure out how to best grow things on a shady patio or where I can get a bit of land of a community garden plot. The list is long – not only for growing, but also for a variety of different food-related tasks – and I’m looking forward to getting down to it. I think I’d just feel a bit better if there was a bit more winter first, so I wasn’t constantly feeling like it was coming in for a sneak attack.

  4. Hi Toni, Just doing some catch-up reading and shaking my head all the while. Hope your “winter” went well. We’ve not only been doing a “Groundhog Day” since December, but are now abruptly launched into the end of April (May/June?) and, bizarre as this weather is, i can’t help but pray we don’t suddenly revert to “normal” temps with catastrophic results.
    It’s just too weird: when we should be listening to spring runoff and cursing the frost coming out of the lane; the snow banks never happened, the frost, what there was of it, is long gone, the spring Peepers are calling, I’m pretty sure I heard a tiller running yesterday and we’re sleeping with the windows open on the Equinox. Oh my God…

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