Winter is a hard time to farm. The ground is often too wet or frozen to work, the days are short and cloudy, and the temperatures are hardly inviting. But then spring comes and suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed with projects. However, there are plenty of helpful things you can do during the colder months to prepare for spring planting, many of which don’t require getting into the soil at all. They’re easy enough to do in nearly any weather, and when the spring comes, you’ll want to send yourself a thank-you card.
1. Soil Mix
If you don’t already make your own soil mix for seed-starting, winter is a great time to start. Homemade soil mix helps improve germination but also allows you to add important nutrients to your garden every time you plant. Soil mix is typically one part soil, two parts compost, two parts sand and three parts peat moss with a handful of amendments, such as lime, greensand, fish or crab meal, and rock phosphate—all finely sifted, of course. Follow one of these recipes or look to gardening books like Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2nd edition, 1995) for tips and ideas on how to make a soil mix that best suits your practices.
The winter is an excellent time to mulch your garden, especially if you want to try no-till gardening in the spring or summer. Mulch (especially wood mulch around shrubs) sucks up nitrogen from the soil. Laying it in winter prevents it from robbing plants of this important nutrient and preserves some of it the nitrogen through the wet winter. Right as the plants begin to grow, the mulch will start to release the nitrogen. Something fun to try is inoculating your mulch with wine cap mushroom spawn in late winter. Wine caps are edible, but they also make great companion plants—er, fungi—by helping increase yield, protecting soil structure and providing fertility.
3. Mushroom Logs
Speaking of mushrooms, use your winter downtime to inoculate mushroom logs. Order a mushroom-supply catalog, such as Field and Forest Products, to find what mushrooms would fit your climate. It’s a fun, easy project you can do in the comfort of a shop or barn. If you don’t have logs available for this project, don’t worry. You can grow oyster mushrooms on straw in or wine caps in mulch instead. Mushroom logs require a few tools, but shiitake and oyster mushrooms need very little attention and will be great sellers on your market table.
4. Garden Fencing
If you get a dry spell during the winter months, erect a garden fence to protect against rabbits, moles, voles and gophers. Dig down 6 inches or so under the fencing and bury woven chicken wire. The barrier should last several years and will save you a lot of frustration throughout the growing season.
5. Cold Frames
You will definitely thank yourself later for anything you do to help extend your growing season, whether it’s building small cold frames or putting up a small greenhouse or high tunnel. Use these season-extending structures in early spring or late fall for growing lettuce, carrots, spinach and other small greens. You can also use them for seed-starting in the spring.
6. Clean and Organize
This activity cannot be overstated. Sometimes so much—OK, too much—of farming is spent searching for the tools you need. Take the winter as an opportunity to get all of your tools, seeds and amendments organized and to make a garden plan, so that by the time spring hits, you aren’t left frantically trying to find your tools in the mounting weeds and grass.
Turning your compost pile is a great way to provide oxygen to your compost (and all the microorganisms in it) and to redistribute the heat so that you’ll have a soil conditioner ready for spring planting. It’s also an excellent opportunity to examine your pile to decide if you need to add any carbonaceous (hay or straw) or nitrogenous material (plant, animal matter, food scraps). If you’re like so many farmers and only get around to turning your compost once a year, the winter is as good a time as any.
Get more winter farming tips from HobbyFarms.com:
- 6 Winter Tips for Your Flock
- Calculate Your Winter Forage Needs
- 6 Winter Ground Covers You Never Thought to Grow
- 7 Winter Activities to Improve Your Garden
- 7 Market Crops You Can Grow in a Greenhouse