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Homestead Winters

If you heed the advice in the adage, “you need to make hay while the sun shines”, you had better make sure that your tractor is up to the task during the wintertime.

The truth is, that unless you have a greenhouse or indoor garden, there isn’t a lot that you can do on the homestead in the winter other than to plan ahead for the next year and make sure that your equipment is running in tip-top shape.  Here is what we are planning for in these cold, dark days of winter.

Homesteading in winter | Simple Bites

Ordering chickens

When our Northern city was recently hunkered down in the middle of a bitter cold snap, a friend asked me, “Where do you keep your chickens in the winter?” Without missing a beat, I answered, “in our freezer”.

From a productivity standpoint, our chickens this year were sub-par.  I think we averaged one egg per chicken per day last year, and this year, we only got 4 eggs for 5 chickens per day.  I think that one was a dud, but we didn’t take the effort to isolate them individually to pinpoint which one it was.  This year, we’ve already gotten a lead on a different chicken farm, which we’ll be trying out with a co-worker of mine.  I’m hoping they have some Ameraucana birds, as I’m sure Aimee would love to have blue eggs. We need to investigate and get our order in now if we want the hens to be 19 weeks (laying age) when we pick them up in the spring.

Chicken Coop

We are currently looking to extend our chicken coop to something that can house a few more chickens, as well as possibly keep some through the winter.  Our municipal regulations do not allow more than one additional “structure” on the property other than a shed, so this would mean that the coop still needs to be considered moveable.

Winter homestead | Simple Bites

Garden Shed

As I had mentioned in a previous post, we’re looking to get a bigger shed.  One of the best tips was from Pippa, who recommended finding an old one and re-use it.  I say the best, because it just so happens that there is an abandoned house on our street that has an amazing, large, well-built shed.  I got all kinds of excited to appropriate this shed, but ran into a few problems: 1. The owner went bankrupt, and I’m having trouble finding someone at the bank who will legally allow me to buy just the shed; 2. the shed is larger than municipal regulations (it’s illegal); 3. there’s no way to get the shed to our backyard without cutting down some rather large trees, or my immediate neighbour’s cedar hedge.

Raised beds

After our July disaster, we no longer a tree overhanging our garden and it will get much more sun, I want to build cold-frames for at least half of our raised beds so that we can plant early and extend our growing season.

Homesteading in Winter | Simple Bites

Deck

This is where I am currently focusing most of my backyard planning efforts. Do we want to have any future harvest parties on the deck, or are we happy to keep doing those on the lawn?  Do we want to find some recycled wood for the decking, or go new?  Stain vs. paint? Where to put the BBQ?

Luckily, I’ve helped my dad build a few decks, and he has a few deck design books that I can refer to.  Plus there’s always Pinterest, right?

Maple Syrup

This is something that we really haven’t had to remind ourselves to prepare for, as our boys have been reminding us about this for quite some time.  “When do we get to drill the holes again?” and “We each get to drill our own holes, right? And we can drink right out of the tree?”

We learned a lot about making our own maple syrup last year. We will have to get new taps, as the ones we used last year got destroyed when we pulled them out of the trees.

Ordering seeds

We’re actually already too late for this, but if you are the kind of person who orders special seeds for their garden, you should get your order in NOW! There are quite a few farms in the area, and Aimée is planning to source organic seeds from their stores.

That’s it for us. What are you getting ready for in these winter months?

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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Comments

  1. I’m confused about your chicken experience. The average egg cycle (for a young, healthy hen to produce one egg) is 25 hours. So if you averaged one egg per day per chicken, you were getting the best possible results. Why were you expecting more? Did I read your article incorrectly?

    • Daniel Bourque says:

      Hi Susan,
      The first year, we got about an egg a day per hen, which matches what you said above. The second year, we got at most 4 eggs a day for 5 hens. That was the disappointing part.
      In both cases, we purchased young hens at around 19 weeks, which should be in their prime.

  2. Danny,
    I’ve just wrapped up writing some #AppetizerWeek posts for next week’s event and one of them touches on Community Supported Agriculture–CSA–farm shares. Now is the time to research farm shares nearby and sign up for a share of the harvest during the growing season. Last winter our farmers purchased a potato harvester with the influx of funds thanks to us subscribers, and we are still enjoying the potatoes and sweet potatoes harvested with that new-to-them machine.
    I don’t need to research CSAs–I’m happy with the farm we chose before we even moved here to Ohio–but I hope to get the word out to folks who look at the lovely produce in August and say “how can I get in on that?”. Now is the time!
    Kirsten’s last post: Pickled Pork and White Bean Sliders (With Yellow Squash Pickles)

  3. I do need to get that seed order in! I was thinking about chickens but I think we’re going to wait a year. I’m not feeling brave enough yet. I mean, I have no problem with the animals, it’s the matter of building a coop. I’m doubling my garden, I already dug up some space and three some compost in before the snow hit, so I have lots of planning to do :)
    Hanna’s last post: 21 Day Sugar Detox: Week 1

  4. Hello,

    Just a note about wanting Americauna chickens………if you’re hoping for an egg a day from your Americaunas, that will not happen, they are quite finicky in their requirements for optimum egg production. We had 2, among a bunch of regular-type chickens, and we were lucky to get 5-6 blue-green eggs a week from the two together. They are also quite shy and skittish and our kids could hardly get close to them. My sister’s family down the road had the same experience with their americaunas………just letting you know:) We live in Ontario, where temps are cold in the winter, and we are still getting eggs from our chickens! and the coop isn’t heated (other than by the chickens themselves:)

  5. A couple thoughts:

    If you make your cold frame out of a lovely glass French door found at the recycling center and carried off for free, it will be very heavy. It will be a nice big cold frame, but having to move the cold frame from the sunny spot to a spot safe from the snow plow, the fuel delivery man and anybody walking in the yard – that will be a bit of a trial.

    I believe Elliot Coleman has a fairly nice plan for a moveable coop which he used for ducks. I don’t know if it would work for chickens.

    I remember reading about someone who repurposed a used Little Tykes playhouse into a chicken coop. Is that too small? Definitely something that might pass the city regulations and be low-impact.

    Lastly, while I’ll never have chickens, I’ve always been entranced by the colors available by this company: https://www.omlet.us/shop/chicken_keeping/

  6. Good Post Danny, we converted an old shed into a chicken barn. are you thinking of a storage shed/ chicken barn? why not add a little greenhouse space on the south? seriously !! Do you have any builder friends? you could store bikes, start seedlings and have year round hens. talk to me about heat/light for the chickens in winter. we’ve got it down pat.

  7. OK Danny, I thought I’d speak my mind and offer up a bit of unsolicited advise. Have you thought of a paver patio vs. a deck? We did this several years ago as a winter project when our children were approximately 3 and 5. Everyone helped and we love our 16×40 ft patio that goes right out of our walkout basement. Yes, it was a bit of work to get the old broken up patio out and the site prepped (lots of online help, essential to do good prep), but we have a very usable space that goes right into our 6 raised beds (easy access/wonderful atmosphere). You can source used pavers or stones and it is virtually maintenance free. We didn’t want to use any funky chemicals around our raised beds.

    Now onto the shed and chicken coop. Is it possible to use one structure for both, thus getting around some of the regulations for shed size. Or could you somehow craft a shed/playhouse? I have seen others do similar. Our neighbors have a shed/chicken coop, but I have chosen not to raise chickens because our house backs a creek/wooded area and is home to far too many fox, coyote and raccoons. Fighting with predators is not something I find worthy of my time and resources. I see other postings are offering up some excellent ideas as well.

    Thanks for Simple Bites! It’s about the only blog this gal from Ohio reads these days.

  8. Winter is the time for plotting and dreaming, isn’t it? We’re planning some changes in our barn, and planning a garden in a new location, so we’ll have a busy summer. I always find I have to revise my winter dreaming downward to match our actual summer energy :)

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