Fall gardening is every motivated gardener’s last hurrah before winter hits. This weekend for me, it’s time to finish up the garden. I have decided that my ground isn’t very fertile, so I’m planning a cover crop. I also want that cover crop to be useful in the short-term as well. I have lots of animals to feed, so I want to grow some things that I can feed them with also, to lower the feed bill. This is my first fall garden, so I only hope that I’m not getting started too late. Our first frost (we’re in zone 7a) is just around the corner!
Fall Gardening for Beginners
I ordered oats, Austrian Winter Peas, beets, and turnips from Baker Creek Seed Company, and they sent me a package of purple carrots as well. We get very intensely hot, dry summers, so there are a few things that we can’t grow very well in the heat of summer. They do better in the spring or fall garden.
Here are some things to consider putting in a fall garden. Be sure to check your hardiness zone so you know they willwork for your particular weather. If you don’t know what your hardiness zone is, you can check it HERE.
1. Cover crops.
Cover crops are crops that you plant to cover the soil. They protect the soil from erosion and aid in weed control. Then when they die off, you either till them into the soil or “chop and drop”, or mow the plants down and leave them as mulch. Normally they have nutrient-fixing properties or help break up hard ground so they benefit the soil.
Peas, clover, and beans are nitrogen-fixing. They have nodules of nitrogen on their roots, and these transfer back into the soil as the plant decomposes.
b. Grasses and grains.
Grasses like oats, wheat, and rye prevent the soil from erosion and compaction.
Oats in the fall garden
They have long roots that break up and aerate the soil.
Most of these can also be used to feed your animals as well. Winter peas, like what I’m going to grow, have peas and greens that animals love. Oats and wheat produce grains that you can thresh to give to your animals as well. You could also put animals like pigs or chickens in the garden when your cover crops are winding down, so they can clear it up for you some. They will also help themselves to any leftover goodies, as well as deposit some of their own “fertilizer” in the garden. Again, this will help when you till the plants into the soil, or chop and drop.
Brassicas, like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli do much better in the cooler weather than in the heat of the summer. These should be planted in the spring or fall in order to keep them from bolting (going to seed). Just make sure you have enough time for them to mature before winter really hits. Fall gardening brassicas will help give you food into the fall months, and also supplement as animal feed as well, when the veggies aren’t “pretty” enough for human consumption.
3. Root vegetables.
Lots of root vegetables, like carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets, do very well in the cooler weather. They actually get sweeter after a light frost, and it doesn’t seem to bother them as much if the leaves get a little frost damage. Above-ground plants, in comparison, usually die at the first hint of frost.
For example, with tomatoes, if you plant them just a little too early and they get a light frost at the end of spring, you will usually have to replace those plants. That happened to me this year. Root vegetables give plenty of greens to give to your animals (or eat yourself!), and they may even like the veggies too!
4. Leafy greens.
As long as you choose a fast-growing variety, lettuce and spinach are great choices for the fall garden. These also tend to bolt and get bitter in hot weather, so the cooler weather is just better for them. Kale and collards taste much better after they get a little frost. Kale really likes cold weather, and is very tolerant of it. Mustard greens and arugula grow fast but die in hard frosts. I’m going to have to grow some of these greens for my rabbits this year.
5. Onions and garlic.
Onions are very cold hardy, especially if you mulch around them. You can still harvest them in winter, even under snow, as long as they are not frozen solid into the ground. And garlic needs nearly a full year to grow, so it has to over-winter with a thick mulch. Both onions and garlic are used both in cooking and in medicinal home remedies, so are great to grow.
Fall gardening can be a very beneficial, last-ditch effort to get some good food growing. Although I’m sure you’re tired from the summer garden and all the accompanying summer chores, I hope you’ll take advantage of this last little bit of decent weather before winter hits.
As much as I hate to admit that summer is gone, it is. Fall is here. It’s time to prepare for winter on the homestead. Leaves are changing, the nights are getting colder, and there’s been lots of rain. I enjoy fall, it’s really my favorite season, but it also means that the days are getting so much shorter. When I get home from work I only have about an hour and a half of daylight left. I have to do my farm chores right away if I want to do them without using a flashlight.
How to Prepare for Winter On the Homestead
Watching the leaves turn to gold makes me realize that winter is not too far behind. That’s what makes fall a very busy season for homesteaders. There is so much that needs to be done in the fall before the weather turns bad. Here are some of the things that really need to be done to prepare for winter on the homestead.
Cleaning out the coop in preparation for deep litter.
I use the deep litter method in my chicken coop. About twice a year, in the spring and in the fall the coop gets a thorough cleaning, with some natural disinfectant, and a sprinkling of DE. Then I layer pine shavings all over the coop. About once a week or so, I remove excessive droppings, then fluff up and turn the wood shavings. Then I add another layer of new pine shavings over the top. You can read my post on the deep litter method here. Deep litter is pretty low-maintenance, and is great for the cooler months. You want to get the litter deep to prepare for winter.
Chickens in coop
Making sure all of the animals have shelter from the cold.
Don’t leave your animals out in the cold. Make sure they have adequate housing too. Our goats had a nice 3-sided wood shelter last winter, but we moved them this spring to a larger area. It is attached to a large shed. Really soon I’m going to have the hubs turn this into a barn. I’ll have him open a doorway into that side of the shed, and put a door on it. I want to allow the goats to go in there when they want, or when I want them to. I will give them half of this shed, and put plywood or something similar in about the middle of the shed. The other half is going to be my indoor rabbit colony.
Right now, I have a big outdoor colony where the rabbits can dig and burrow, but I think I will want to put some in the barn area, with access to a fenced-in dog run. This will give them a good mix of shelter and open run. This shed/barn has concrete floors, so I will do a variation of the deep litter method for the rabbits and goats as well.
Buy or DIY freeze-resistant animal waterers.
Get ready for the freezing temperatures of winter by investing in or making freeze-resistant animal waterers. Right now for the rabbits, we have those small pet rabbit waterers. These have been a pain ever since we got the rabbits, filling one at a time and hanging them by those cheap wire hangers. I recently wised up a little and put in a 3 gallon chicken waterer in with them. Now we can go a couple days without giving them more water. This waterer will be a little more freeze-resistant, but I’ll probably figure out something even better.
Last winter for our chickens, we built a little wood frame on the floor and mounted a light socket in the center of it. We put a regular light bulb in it, and kept the plastic waterer sitting on the frame just a few inches above the light bulb. The light was on pretty much the whole winter, there was no problems with it and the water never froze. I’m thinking we might do something similar for the rabbit waterer, or maybe a drop-in water heater with a 5-gallon bucket and nipple waterers. Have to have my brilliant hubs figure out something that will work good.
Purchase and haul the hay that you will need.
Trust me on this one, you need to buy your hay early in the season. Hay prices are already going up, but I promise you it will be cheaper right now than in the winter. You might need to do some calculating based on how many bales you need per day or per week, multiplied by how many days or weeks of winter and spring you normally have until hay is back in season. While it may be a bit of an investment all at once, it really is the cheapest way to do it (besides growing your own!).
Take advantage of the lower hay prices to prepare for winter. Make sure you have your hay up off the wet ground (pallets work great for this), and try to protect it from the rain and snow with a heavy-duty tarp. You don’t want your hay to get moldy and ruin your investment.
Plant a fall garden.
If you didn’t get enough gardening throughout the summer, why don’t you try gardening in the fall? Depending on your gardening zone, you may be able to get a couple more harvests of cold-hardy vegetables before winter really hits. Or you can start plants to move inside, or keep in a cold frame. You may want to consider growing a cover crop or two to improve your garden soil. It’s a great way to supplement a little animal feed,plus improve your soil for your own garden in the spring. And last but not least, get your garlic planted in the fall, to be grown until next summer. You can read my post about fall gardening here.
If you don’t do a fall garden, put the garden to bed.
Harvest all of your leftover vegetables. Remove the dead plants or turn them in to the garden if they’re not diseased (the plants breaking down into the soil actually helps the soil). Give the garden area a good cleaning and raking. It’s also very beneficial to put compost and mulch down on the garden before winter. Compost helps amend the soil, and mulch protects the soil from erosion and nutrient loss. They both also help with weed control and will help with your spring gardening.
While you’re putting the garden to bed, think about what you’re going to do with the compost throughout the winter. If you haven’t used all of it on the garden, you can keep your pile going into the winter as well. In the fall I’m usually starting a new compost pile with the deep litter that I cleaned from the chicken coop and rabbit colony.
Mow the lawn for the last time, and do a thorough outside cleanup.
There is always clutter on the homestead. Make sure you take the opportunity while it’s still nice out to clean up the yard and sheds. I love to do an outside fall cleaning, as well as an inside. Put up the summer toys, lawn chairs, and the pool. Move all the random tools to storage. Chair cushions should go in the shed so they stay dry (you can still pull them out when you need to use them).
Winterize your house.
Take the window air conditioners out, close up the windows and make sure there are no drafts coming in through them. You may need caulking, weatherstripping, or even plastic over the windows. The door needs to be done as well. Give all heaters a good cleaning and make sure they’re in good working order. You don’t want to run into a heating emergency when it’s really cold out. If you’re lucky enough to have central air, you may want to consider duct cleaning in the fall. Since we are inside so much more when it’s cold, it makes sense to clean the air ducts so we’re breathing cleaner air. Winterizing the house to prepare for winter will result in lower power bills and a warmer, cozier home.
Get the firewood ready.
If you have a wood stove, hopefully you got all of your firewood this spring and summer, and it’s been drying for a few months. Make sure you get it all split and ready to use. We always have ours stacked in a metal storage shed. About once a week or so, we load up the wheelbarrow with wood and take it to a dry area on our front porch. This way we can reach out really easily to get more wood whenever it’s needed. I also make sure we have plenty of newspaper nearby, and firestarters. I make our own firestarters (post coming soon!) and keep them in a box near the stove. That way they’re organized and readily available.
Cozy up the house.
Fall is the perfect time for any home, on the homestead or not, to cozy up the house. Put down some rugs. Add lots of blankets. Put flannel sheets on your bed. Diffuse fall-blend essential oils (or candles if you must) to bring in the ambiance of fall. Essential oils smell fabulous and have medicinal qualities, such as immune boosting, germ killing, or congestion busting. A lot of the fall blends, especially, help ward off the inevitable cold and flu bugs.
Stock up on medicines, or make your own.
Fall is a great season to beef up your medicine chest. With cold and flu season looming, it is a great idea to be prepared with common medicines so you don’t have to go to the store when you’re sick. You definitely don’t want to have to make your own medicine when you’re sick, either, so try to prepare those beforehand as well. It is a great idea to boost your immune system to prepare for winter, as well.
One herb that I always forage to prepare for winter is elderberry. Elderberry syrup is a great immune booster, and it’s anti-viral. Not many medicines work on viruses, but elderberry does. That means it is great for colds and flus. It may even help keep you from getting sick. As the knowledge of elderberry’s powers spreads, elderberry has gotten in high demand. Last winter, and I think the winter before that, herbal shops ran out of elderberry. Commercial versions like Sambucol were flying off the shelves. There just wasn’t enough for the increased demand. That’s why I’m so glad that I have this amazing natural resource readily available to me. You can read my post here about a few other of my favorite home remedies.
Whatever size homestead you have, you will inevitably have a big list of chores to do to prepare for winter. It may be helpful to make a checklist so you don’t forget the important chores.
What do you do in the fall to prepare for winter on the homestead? Please share in the comments!
This post has been updated and is done in collaboration with other amazing homestead and natural living bloggers. I would greatly appreciate if you would check out their fall posts as well, and let them know you found them from me!
Growing your own food is a big venture that usually takes quite a lot of effort. So why do people do it? While I can’t answer for everyone, I know why we do it. We want to get to the point on our homestead that we are growing over half of our own food. While that’s a lofty goal, it’s achievable! Keep reading to know the 9 reasons why you would want to grow your own food.
Grow your own food
1. To eat healthier.
Homegrown food, especially when you grow your own organic food, is always fresher and more nutritious. Too many people don’t eat as many vegetables as they should. But I promise you, when people take the time to grow their own, they will ALWAYS try to get the most out of it, and will most certainly eat it! Try to focus on foods that you like to eat, or know you should eat, and learn new ways to make them even better.
2. To save money.
Growing your own food usually results in saving a lot of money. Yes, it is more time-intensive, but you get paid back with cheaper, more natural, food. Gardening can actually be a cheap hobby that provides you with loads of healthy food, if you are resourceful with your materials. Seeds to grow your own vegetables are very cheap. Scour websites like Craigslist or Freecycle to get cheap or free building materials for raised beds or garden fences. I have even found
Save money by growing your own
cheap or free garden plants on Craigslist. Take your time, plan, and be resourceful to save lots of money on your food.
On the same token, buying baby animals to raise yourself is an inexpensive way to get started raising meat. We bought Jersey calves one year ago for $20 each, and they are now big, beautiful cows that are ready to butcher. Each one should provide our family with about 400 pounds of meat. Of course, you have to factor in the cost of the feed that you put into them, and it will also cost money to butcher them, but I still think that is an awesome price for homegrown beef!
3. To make sure the food you eat is safe.
Too many times I’ve seen recalls on different types of food. From e-coli outbreaks in spinach or lettuce, to mad cow disease, there is just too much that can go wrong when we don’t really know how our food is grown. Have you ever wondered what chemicals have been sprayed on and around the food you eat? I have, and that’s one of the big reasons I choose to grow my own food.
I have complete control. My garden gets only natural fertilizers and bug sprays. My cows, goats, chickens, and rabbits are very healthy, have never had antibiotics or steroids, and I don’t use chemical fly sprays or dewormers, so I know that my meat, dairy, and eggs are safe for me and my family.
4. To get more variety.
Growing your own food can give you more variety. Most stores don’t sell heirloom variety vegetables, so if you want any “specialty” varieties, you’ll need to grow them yourself (or buy them at the farmers market). There are delicious and beautiful heirloom vegetables, like yellow tomatoes and purple carrots. I have never seen these varieties at the grocery store, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t either. These vegetables have a different flavor than the “standard” varieties. If you like them (or would like to try them), chances are you’ll need to grow them yourself. Check out Mary’s Heirloom Seeds for a great selection of open-pollinated, non-GMO, non-hybrid heirloom seeds.
5. To get outside.
When the weather is nice, I like to spend all the time I can outside. That’s the beauty of gardening for me. It gets me out there during nice weather! Just the act of watering, weeding, or just watching the veggies grow is very
Farm fresh carrots
therapeutic. Getting lots of sunshine is one of the best things you can do for your health. Your body absorbs Vitamin D from the sun’s rays. Vitamin D allows your body to absorb calcium and promotes bone growth. It also helps regulate the immune system, and even helps boost your mood.
A few years ago, our doctor told me that me and my teenage son were both low on Vitamin D, and suggested we take a supplement and get more sunshine. I then told my son that he needed to spend an hour outside every day. I didn’t care what he did, I just wanted him outside! We started feeling better when we spent time outside. Sunshine is so important!
6. To get some physical activity.
Growing your own food forces you to be active. From tilling to weeding, there is never a lack of physical work to be done in the garden. Experts suggest that everyone needs to spend 3-5 hours per week doing physical activity. Gardening easily gives you that amount of work, and it’s enjoyable! Who needs a treadmill??
The fresh air, the sunlight, the sounds of the birds chirping, the smell of the dirt, all build a greater connection to the world around us. Gardening is especially valuable for older people, since it is a great low-impact activity and gets them outside to get the benefits of the sun.
7. To cater to food intolerances.
When you grow your own food, you can avoid things that your family has intolerances to. For example, if your family is gluten-free, you can grow barley or amaranth to replace the wheat (ugh, don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t have gluten!). If your family has dairy intolerances, you can try other alternatives, such as goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is more easily digestible and causes less issues in lactose-intolerant folks than cow’s milk.
Fresh homegrown milk
Luckily most of my family doesn’t have any food allergies, but my son is lactose-intolerant. Even though goat’s milk DOES have lactose, he can handle goat’s milk. And we can also make other dairy products that are just as easily digestible for him. Yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream made from goat’s milk has the same gentle form of lactose in it.
8. To be more self reliant.
How amazing would it feel to walk into your backyard and gather all of the food you need for many of your meals? That’s how it can be when you diversify our food growing. Our little farm provides us with vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy. My vegetable garden has been a little sparse due to not weeding enough, and we don’t have any fruit right now, but that is something that I will change next year. Raspberries are at the top of my list!
With the right planning and effort, you can provide a good amount of your family’s food supply, and not have to rely on the grocery store as much. What a relief that is when there is an emergency, or there’s just too much month left at the end of the money!
9. It’s easy and fun!
While some foods have a learning curve in growing a good quality product, for the most part, gardening is easy and fun. It only takes a little bit of internet research, or talking to seasoned gardeners to get all the info you need on growing a particular food. I love to work in the dirt, and watering by hand is my favorite (and cheapest) therapy! If you haven’t gardened before, you should definitely try it!
Growing your own food is fun, rewarding, healthy, and a great thing to do in the warmer months. As you get a little practice, you can even extend your gardening season by fall gardening and experimenting with earlier-season crops. I hope you will put some effort into growing your own food. You won’t regret it!