When winter is on the horizon, it is well worth preparing your small farm in anticipation of colder weather. As soon as the summer has peaked and you feel fall in the air, it is time to get things done. Gone are the days when I want to push tree guards into frozen ground or pull carrots in a light snow!
Here are six top tasks for the winter for small farms.
1. Install Rodent Guards on Trees
All fruit trees need rodent guards over the winter—especially young and establishing ones. These can be pressed an inch into the ground and wrapped around the main stem, up 12 to 36 inches depending on the height of the tree.
We often take these off in the summer to let the bark harden underneath. It’s important to remember to put those back on, though.
Don’t leave this job to late in the fall, when it’s too easy to forget or miss some trees. Skipping this important task can be disastrous if a heavy snow fall drives rodents way up into the trees seeking protection.
2. Store & Ready Hay
Have you cut or purchased enough hay for the winter? If so, now’s the time to place it in a protected, easy-to-access location for winter livestock feeding.
We have a pole barn beside the main winter paddocks where we can easily access bales and where the snow cannot blow in on them.
3. Plant Garlic
Do you plant garlic? If so, it is time to get going.
You need to have your garlic beds prepared well in advance so that, when it is time to plant in early October, your beds are already made. You also need to have your garlic bulbs on hand and ready. Organize your labor now to do all the cracking, planting and mulching with a good straw.
Don’t leave these jobs til the last minute! Doing so risks planting into cold soil or scrounging for seed or supplies when they are less available.
4. Bulk Harvest
Fall is the time for bulk harvesting winter vegetables. Just because you put in a big patch of potatoes, carrots or squash doesn’t mean you are ready to handle them all! Know when the best harvest week will be for this crop based on its days to maturity and the season. (Watch the plants for signs of maturity.)
You will need to have crates, bags and bins on hand to help with harvest and the right spaces for curing and storage. If you leave crops too late, they can suffer freeze damage, overmature or get green shoulders.
Harvest crops in a timely manner. Cure them and move them into your root cellar or dry cellar as needed.
5. Clean Up
I cannot stress enough how important it is to spend time in the fall cleaning up all those little things. Stuff left always gets left out on a farm, and these items need to be put away before they get lost in the snow and sustain winter damage.
Make a purposeful trip around the farm with a truck and/or tractor to collect supplies and put away equipment and tools.
6. Freeze Damage Prevention
Lastly, I always ask myself what will be damaged by freezing temperatures, then make trips around the farm to winterize against this.
Hoses should be unhooked from hydrants and drained and rolled up. Sprayer backpacks need to be emptied—I often store these in the basement so no water in little parts freeze up. Water catchment from roofs should be unhooked.
All frost hydrants should be unhooked from hoses and shut properly in good working order. I also remove batteries from tractors to store in a warm location over the winter.
This is my short list of key items to make sure we are ready for winter. You may discover additional tasks to attend to, but this list provides a good place to start.
Remember to complete these tasks well in advance so you have time to get to everything without making mistakes. On our farm, we start this process in September and finish it by end of October—plenty of time before winter sets in.