Growing up on a farm in Iowa, I have vivid memories of my hard-working dad. He was up every morning to milk the cow, then tending to the rest of the of the livestock, and finally… the rest of the chores in order of importance. This cycle repeated itself every day. It didn’t matter of it was early summer or the dead of winter. He was outside working from dawn till dusk.
As an urban-dwelling adult, I have settled into my own routine. You see, I live on an urban homestead. Now while my acreage is significantly less than what my dad tended to, there is still plenty of work to be done… even in winter.
Now while we don’t have a cow, there is livestock to deal with. For us, that means backyard chickens. Every morning, we take out fresh water, feed them their morning scratch and layer mash. We also check the nest boxes for eggs just in case there is an early layer. Repeat checking for eggs in the afternoon. (This prevents missing any eggs from a late layer that may then freeze overnight.) If the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the teens or colder, the heat lamp is set up (safely and securely). Once dusk arrives, that means one more trip to the chicken house. This time, it is to shut the doors on the coop so all the chickens are inside for the evening. Then once a week, the nest boxes as well as the straw on the floor of the coop are cleaned out and replaced with clean straw. Sanitation is still important during the winter.
Tying into chicken chores is our compost system. During the winter months, we continue to add dirty straw from the coop as well as add vegetative kitchen scraps. On warmer days, the compost piles are turned to help promote the break down of organic material into compost. Then when spring rolls around, we have compost ready to be worked into our garden beds. It has become brown, smells earthy, and there are no recognizable bits of organic debris… it simply looks like soil.
Oh… let’s not forget about the hives. On warmer days, we gently tap on the hives and listen. What we are hoping to hear in response is the buzzing of bees. But on occasion, we have been met with silence and that means a dead colony. If our straw bales around the hive have shifted, we re-stack them (the straw bales act as a windbreak). Another bee-related task is repairing any of the wooden ware: nailing frames that have started to come apart in the honey supers, laying new wax foundation in frames, and if we are encouraged with our success at raising bees… ordering more bees for the upcoming season.
Let’s not forget about machinery. The quieter months of winter provide time to catch up on maintenance. Blades need to be sharpened, worn belts replaced, spark plugs cleaned, oil to be changed, and flattened tires refilled with air. When spring finally makes an appearance, we are ready for tilling and mowing.
Since raising produce is a big part of our urban homestead, planning and preparing are done during winter. A big, fabulous summer garden just doesn’t happen on its own. In order for us to reach our vision of a successful garden, we do the following: create a spreadsheet to track our seed inventory, sort through seed to make sure what we have on hand actually matches the spreadsheet, order seeds if needed, purchase seed-starter soil,make pots for seedlings, setup shelving and lighting system (and check to make sure lights still work), and then sow seeds based upon seed packet recommendations and/or the average frost-free date for our area. We also set out our cold frames in late January. By doing this, we are helping warm the soil up directly under the cold frame which allows us to start seeding in the cold frame (such as spinach, radish, and some lettuce) in mid to late February.
Another area that requires our attention during winter months are the products we make ourselves… typically organic cleaning supplies as well as health and beauty products. Since we make our own, it takes planning as most items take approximately 30 minutes or longer to create. Items are made in large batches not only for a cost savings, but we have more spare time to prepare these items. And since we always have them on hand, we are not tempted to buy them from the local stores. Examples of items we make include: laundry soap, dishwasher detergent, bar soap, lip balm, salves, lotions, non-toxic floor cleaner, glass cleaner, and gentle bath tub and glass stove top cleaner.
We also have fireplaces which we use to help keep the house warm during the winter. Fireplaces are work. There is wood to be split and stacked regardless of how much wood we split in the late summer. Kindling needs to be gathered. Ash to be removed from the fireplace. And the glass of the fireplace door to be cleaned in between each fire as soot builds up on the surface.
You may ask yourself if it is all worth it? To that, we definitively answer yes! We love our urban homestead and realize that it is a year round commitment, not whenever the mood (or weather) suits us. Our hard work is repaid with backyard fresh eggs, raw honey from our own hives, organic and earth friendly cleaning supplies (and HBA products), fresh produce from our gardens come springtime, and many cozy fires on cold winter evenings. Homesteads are not just work, they are a way of life.