Permaculture in Winter

Reader Contribution by Jason Akers

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate winter.  People can try to convince me all they like about the cycles or death and life.  Yeah I understand the cycles I just don’t care for winter.  So I’ve spent several of them trying to reconcile my desire to make progress on my homestead while essentially most of the “fun” activities are off limits just due to the harshness of the weather or its ability to completely block my efforts on some accounts.

Almost a year ago I wrote an article for BackHome Magazine and did a subsequent podcast on conducting permaculture activities in winter (you can find the podcast here:  It was a good way for me to put in words my efforts to ignore winter and just go about my business making my homestead into what I wanted it to be.

So what can you do in the winter?

*Observing – Observe and Interact is one of the key permaculture principles (there are 12 total).  This principle posits that the best thoughts and designs come from just simply observing nature and even your own systems to see how they are working and what can be improved.  So why do this in the winter?  Well for one, many things become quite obvious. 

For one thing, a good deal of the vegetation will be gone, allowing mostly unobstructed views of your property.  You can clearly see how contours run and judge spacing more accurately.

For another you see the actual patterns that occur in winter.  If you aren’t actually out there during the harsh times you might not realize how harsh they can be on your plants or livestock.  Its important to get an idea of the big pictures. 

Lots of things change in winter – wind patterns, precipitation types, sun angles.  You need to know these things.

*Clearing – The absolute best time to cut trees is in the winter.  If you are going to leave them lay and you want them to rot quickly you need to do it before this in early fall.  But in winter sap is dormant which means less chance of disease in trees and less stress on root systems for coppicing or pruning. Plus there are fewer worries about poison ivy or venomous snakes – both are prevalent in my area!

*Learning – Curl up with a seed catalog or good book (hear which book I recommend wholeheartedly).  A garden plan never survives contact with the actual garden.  So this is the ultimate time to plan and replan and then plan some more. You probably aren’t planting much so this will both quench your thirst for garden activities and it will make the resulting garden a better one.

*Building – All the equity and none of the sweat equity.  I love to build in the winter.  No insects landing on me and stinging or biting and I can concentrate.  When there’s too much green I get distracted.  There’s little else to do so why not utilize the time to build structures so you can avoid the heat in summer?

That’s my list.  I’m sure there are more things I’m forgetting.  What’s on your winter activity list?

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