Even though winter officially started only a few days ago, I started what I refer to as my “winter practices” on the farm the day after Thanksgiving. December days on my southwest Ohio farm can be sunny and mild one day, then cold and gray the next. And that pattern continues on through March.
Since I have to be outside for daily livestock chores anyway, I’ve outfitted myself with warm clothes and boots, gloves and hats. As such, I’m able to do farm work outdoors comfortably during the winter. I can spend a good hour or even two before a really cold day drives me inside to household chores.
And I hate household chores!
Smaller Chores Add Up
My favorite and most productive outdoor winter farm activities are not major projects. Rather, I prefer smaller practices that produce big results. These include tree/woods management, frost seeding pastures and clearing invasive trees and shrubs.
Bare branches make it easier to cut invasive small trees and shrubs like Asian bush honeysuckle, autumn olive, callery (Bradford) pear and multiflora rose. All of these non-native invasive species grow in my woods, fence lines and pastures.
I prefer not to use herbicide to control these plants (with one exception—see below). A sturdy pair of pruning loppers and a sharp pruning saw can make short work of the smaller growth.
For medium-sized shrubs and small trees, a battery-powered chainsaw is easy to manage and works on a charge for a couple of hours. Leafless trees makes it easy to cut and/or drag fallen tree limbs into piles in the woods.
I don’t recommend burning. These smaller trees and shrubs break down and rot away in a year or two to feed a plethora of good microbes in the forest soil. In the meantime, the piles provide shelter for wild animals, birds and insects.
About Asian Bush Honeysuckle…
The exception to my herbicide rule? Asian bush honeysuckle. This plant is the most invasive of all the non-native trees and shrubs on my farm. It sets leaves early in the spring and is the last to shed its leaves in the fall.
In December the Asian bush honeysuckle is the only plant still holding its leaves. (Though, admittedly, this late in the month they may be gone.) So early winter is the best time to effectively kill Asian bush honeysuckle around the farm by spraying the leaves with a very light application of glyphosate herbicide.
Use no more than a 3 percent solution of glyphosate in water in a backpack or other sprayer. You will not notice any major change in the plant until spring. Glyphosate is a very dangerous herbicide and if you choose to use it, wear full protective clothing so it does not come in contact with your skin or is breathed.
Even the Nature Conservancy follows these guidelines. See this factsheet for more information.
Frost seeding begins the middle of February in zone 5 and 6. This method of seeding pastures is a good routine method for insuring a diverse mixture of pasture grasses without using any major equipment.
I order pasture mix from my local feed store around the end of January. It comes in 50 pound bags. The feed store manager can help you determine how much to buy for your fields.
You can also buy mixes for specific types of livestock.
By the middle of February the days are usually above freezing but nights are generally in the low to mid 20s. A natural heaving of the soil helps the seed work into the ground.
I frost seed no more than 5 acres at a time and I walk it with a hand-cranked broadcast seeder. On a cold sunny day or a milder overcast day it’s pleasant exercise.