Is winter hard for you, not because of the cold, but because of the blahs or blues?
My favorite thing about homesteading is the constant motion and interaction that is required to care for the plants and animals. There is no way to automate or get around those responsibilities; and so even when you don’t ‘feel like it’, you have to go outside, sweat a little bit and start to feel better.
Gardening: Cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!
The ultimate granddaddy of all winter projects is a hotbed.
If you have animals you have manure, and if you have manure you need to find a way to put it to work.
Composting is labor intensive and has to be done at specific times in order to ‘cook’ and then mellow so you can use it in your garden. Not so with the hotbed. With the hotbed, you build the bed, pack in the manure and carbon, water it a little bit, heat it up, and then plant into it.
You have a mellow motion for weeks out of this one simple methodology. You build over the course of about 6 weeks starting in January, and you plant in the middle to end of February. Viola! A tall, self-fertilizing, easily watered bed.
In the beginning, I tried to plant in rows but, in the winter, the mice found hotbeds a great, warm place to live. If seeds were in rows, they would just go down the aisle eating all of the seedlings. By broadcasting with lots of different cold hardy seeds, the mice seemed to have a harder time tracking the new plants down. In our greenhouse, I had to add traps and bait to get rid of the mice. They were tunneling in the hotbed and setting up shop for more babies. I don’t like to use traps, but it was them or me. You can only imagine what would’ve happened to my greenhouse if I let the cats in to get the mice.
The greenhouse also kept the quail warm and dry, and, in turn, they ate any bugs they came across…no pests the second year. The first year, we had so many pests that it was a wonder we had any harvest at all.
Because the ground was made up of large river rocks with no soil in between, we couldn’t plant in the ground of the greenhouse. Instead, I did what I always do; I loaded the ground with cardboard and then wood chips. After doing this for two years, the soil is a foot deep on top of the rocks, and we could plant in the soil rather than the raised hotbeds.
The advantage of a raised hotbed is that there are no weeds, and it is a great way to camouflage ugly cardboard, old 2×4’s that can’t be used for construction, and dirty sheep’s wool. They all turn into soil inside this lovely box of food. Doesn’t it just make you tingle with excitement?!