Stay Busy with Winter Permaculture
Winter isn’t the signal for rest: it’s just the signal to get ready for spring. Any grower or farmer knows this fact. You will be looking at seed catalogs by the time Christmas comes and I will already feel behind. So, get ready to do some permaculture work in and out of your home!
Don’t leave soil bare
Winter gives you the time to walk around and observe your ground. Look for any bare soil. Winter snow can make this difficult, so getting out before the snow is key. When you find any bare areas get them covered up with some of that great mulch you have been working on. Straw works great for a cover and is usually easy to find. I like to put a good layer of my rabbit and goat manure down first then comes the thick layer of straw.
Even with our cold Pennsylvania winters the goat and rabbit manure stays warm under the mat of straw. It’s warm enough that I can sometimes find worms under the straw during the winter. The mulch will also keep that needed moisture in the soil. The cold winter air just draws out all the moisture from the top soil and erosion will blow away your nutrients.
Create heat traps
I like to try and create heat traps for my trees. I do this with a battery to catch heat. Then, trees and plants will try and hold the heat by cutting down on wind. Heat traps can keep plants from dying in the cold and give them an earlier start in the spring.
My usual heat sink is a big rock or a bunch of rocks. The darker the color the more heat they will draw in. Painting your battery black will help maximize the heat it can draw. Then for hours after sundown your rock (battery) will release the heat. Burying rocks partially will also release some of that heat into the ground.
My winter project is to make a “U” shape out of large stones with the opening facing south. The sun should heat these stones up during the day. I’ll plant trees and other bushy edibles on the outside of the “U” to catch and hold heat. Luckily, this will also trap water because of the way my property slopes. Not only will my plants like the added warmth but so will my fantastic worms.
Trim down dead plants chop and drop
This is the time of year that I trim all dead branches and vines. I get up in my tree canopy and prune my tree branches to let some sun in the underbrush. Keep in mind what they will look like full of leaves. These branches become my cob oven fire wood and future Hugel ingredients. Nothing should get wasted. Remember to keep permaculture in mind when trimming. Every opening to the sun causes loss of moisture, but you will also need a balance of light needs for specific plants.
If you do a lot of trimming, consider saving the wood shavings and place them around your berry bushes. All my pine branches go to berry bush mulch, they like the acidity that pine needles have.
Clean up debris
Winter makes cleanup easier. With more open areas from missing plants we can really see the underbrush. Pick up any branches, plant tags and waste that may be laying around. You would be surprised on what you may find laying around or blown in from your neighbors.
Fix any posts or trellises that may be insecure or falling apart. Secure your garden fences and even take them into the garage to get them repaired. Don’t forget about your livestock fencing and housing. I’m sure you will find that you have plenty of repairs to do. This is the time to get the yard cleaning and repairs done so your spring is focused on planting.
Prep for new Hugel beds
Prep for Hugel building! Take advantage of the off season to design and layout Hugel beds. After designing a new bed, I go out and mark the area. Once marked, I lay about 3’-4’ of mulch over the area until spring. This really warms up the under soil and keeps it moist. I believe this helps focus bacterial growth in the area bringing all sorts of goodness to the ground. When spring rolls around the corner I just pull back the mulch and dig up the Hugel trench. Build up the Hugel and pull the mulch back over the top.
Plan your spring
Planning for spring is exciting and daunting. Think about what changes you need to make in your food forest. I keep a journal and write what worked and what didn’t in the permaculture garden. Sometimes you have awesome success, but experimentation also brings failure. Write it all down, and you can cut down on some repeat failures.
Know what seeds produced well and which ones didn’t, so you don’t waste time and energy on crops that don’t grow well for you. I have over 30 types of plants in my ¾ acre permaculture garden. I also save most of my own seeds (a benefit from heirloom seeds.) But I do buy a few new varieties every year. It’s important to document how different varieties grow and taste.
Organize seeds and plants
If you are like me, you have saved all the seeds you could from your garden. I’m not the neatest at keeping my seeds in order. In January, I order any new heirloom seeds I want to try out. When they come in I start organizing my seeds.
I get my seeds in order using a “seed packet template” I made then box them up. Put them in any order that works for you. This keeps your work organized and easy to keep track of. I can also toss out old seed so I don’t waste time with bad germination.
Keep your seeds in a cool and dry place. Put them in a zip lock bag with a silica gel packet in the back of your refrigerator for best results. I just keep mine in my pantry which stays cool and dark all year long.
Run your chicken and small livestock through the garden
Last, I use the winter to run my chickens and other light livestock through the garden. They cause a little bit of damage to my mulch, but they do so much good mixing things up and eating small pests. They also make some deposits that help the plants out in small amounts since the manure is hot. Just don’t leave them in an area more than a day or two if you plan on penning them in.
Enjoy the off season and make the best of it. This will make your spring and summers even more enjoyable and productive!