Getting Ready for Winter on Our Urban Farm

Reader Contribution by Deanna Tworivers
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Our farmers market was put to bed the last Saturday of September, and we got busy getting ready for winter. The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts for our area “Winter will be cooler and rainier than normal, with above-normal snowfall.” To quote a popular television show, “Winter is coming.”

After a long, unusually hot, dry summer our Pacific Northwest, weather tried to make up for it in one weekend. On Halloween night, In six hours, our area received more than 2 inches of rain. In the city center, light rail, street cars and buses were delayed. One local Twitter user recorded video of a light rail car with water rushing through the inside. We weathered the storm in comfort in our little 800-square-foot concrete block house (built in 1950 with very little improvement or maintenance since) thanks to a snug new roof (raccoon damage on Thanksgiving day 2013) and a rebuilt chimney.

Starting with a Home Energy Audit

Soon after we moved in on Halloween of 2013, we signed up through our local public utility for a home energy audit (it took two years to make our way to the top of the of the list). Technicians came and evaluated our house and made recommendations of how to make it more energy-efficient. On this plan, we were able to get several things updated or installed for the first time for a small percentage of the cost. I strongly recommend looking into the energy audit program in your area.

This week, the adventure with contractors began. (Our very social dog loves this – yes, I keep him on a leash will they are working.) On one day, they were seriously challenged, several times, by the concert block/lath and plaster construction, mostly wearing out drill bits and saw blades. They have installed vent fans and an attic fan and rewired the hot water heater to bring it up to code. Next will be insulation in the attic and under the floors, wrapping pipes and door sweeps to keep the winter wind on the outside.

We are working to make our fireplace more efficient by adding a cast-iron fire back to reflect and retain heat. That and a few portable “radiators” are our main heat source. Upgrading the heating system is on our wish list.

Preparing a Greenhouse and Fruit Trees for Winter

The greenhouse survived the intense storm, but we were surprised to see the roof bowed down and must remember to get any accumulated water off the roof. Husband estimates there was almost 100 pounds of water on the roof. Now we are aware and prepared to deal with it. Nighttime temperatures are dropping into the mid 30s.

The greenhouse is doing it’s job, but it is time to wrap the orange tree and bring other delicate plants in from the garden. We have flats of salad greens, broccoli, and cauliflower along with rooted cuttings of Lavender grosso, Winter Savory, and ARP Rosemary tucked in with pots of Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Chocolate Mint and Tarragon soon to be joined by a large Fuchsia plant. It is wonderful to sit there and listen to the rain on the roof. I can look across the garden into the kitchen where my husband is busy putting up the fall harvest.

Autumn Food Preservation for Winter Food Security

The autumn food preservation marathon is starting to slow down a bit. Eric (husband and Master Food Preserver) has canned tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa – both red and green — ketchup (spelt “quatsup” in our house), green chilies, green enchilada sauce, applesauce, apple juice, apple-pie filling, dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, meat balls, taco meat, chicken stock, pickled plums, pickled garlic and has dried pineapple, pears, beet chips, orange and yellow sweet potato chips and onion.

He will be canning sweet onion jam, deviled ham and several kinds of soups and chili con carne in the weeks to come. I have dried Lavender, Parsley, Chamomile, Purple Sage, Pineapple Sage, Peppermint, Chocolate Mint, Lemon Balm, Oregano, Winter Savory, Tarragon, and Marjoram all of which we grow. Sometimes eating well is the best reward.

If you have livestock, you must be certain that they have suitable shelter for whatever winter may bring: a tight roof, clean bedding and a source of water that will not freeze, or make preparation to carry water to them as needed. They may require higher-energy feed during very cold weather.

The next step is chimney cleaning, finishing a new knitted blanket,raking and mulching leaves, putting a few bags of kitty litter in the back of the truck and checking it’s fluids and we will be ready.

Let the wind blow, rain come and the snow fly.

Checklist for Winter Preparation

1. Check for drafts around doors and windows – add caulk as needed or make draft protectors at doors
2. Drain and put away hoses
3. Wrap exposed pipes
4. Prepare greenhouse for cold weather
5. Move tender plants to greenhouse
6. Plant cold weather crops
7. Rake and chop leaves and add to garden
8. Pull up and compost dead plants
9. Clean chimney
10. Food storage
11. Prepare shelter, feed and water for your livestock
12. Winterize your vehicle
13. Clean and prepare winter blankets and clothing

Deanna Tworivers is a wife, mother and grandma, and also an urban farmer with permaculture leanings. She grows and preserves most of her family’s yearly food, supplemented by trips to farmers markets. Read all of Deanna’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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