Updated: Nov 9, 2022
Oh my, Spring, Summer, Fall, they all went by in a blur and it’s (probably beyond) time to prepare the homestead for winter weather. The leaves have all changed and begun to drop, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder.
Fall really is my favorite season, I always love unpacking the sweaters and getting ready to get cozy. But it also means that winter is fast approaching. There are fewer hours of daylight to get stuff done and it’s officially crunch time if we want to beat the weather and be prepared for the potential harshness of the Colorado Winter.
Fall is often times a hectic season for homesteaders. There is so much that needs to be done before the weather turns bad. Here is a list of some things that need to be done to prepare for winter on a typical homestead.
Be Prepared for Winter Storms
Winter storms can be unpredictable and just when you least expect it mother nature will dump 3 feet when the weatherman promised 3 inches. Get ahead of the chaos that a big storm can bring by making sure your shovels are easy to access and still in good working order from the previous season. Even if you have a pitched roof, it’s a good idea to have a roof rake just in case. A sudden dip in temperature can block up the snow and make it stick to the roof when it should be sliding off.
Be sure that you have plenty of ice melt or sand on hand to take care of icy patches. And, if you are responsible for snow removal to, from, and on your property make sure your plow is hooked up and ready well before the flakes fly. There is nothing worse than waking up to a heavy snow and finding out you aren’t capable of plowing yourself out. For us, since we are in the Colorado mountains we actually have a plow truck, a plow fitting for our vintage Bronco and a plow for one of our four-wheelers as well. It’s best to have a backup for your backup when you live at the top of the mountain!
Get Your Fireplace Cleaned and Ready
Before you ever consider lighting that first fire, it’s best to call out a chimney cleaning company to perform annual maintenance, cleaning, and repairs. A creosote buildup or any kind of unknown blockage could turn your cozy fire into a lot more than you bargained for so always have it professionally inspected each season to keep your family safe.
Get the Firewood Ready
If you have a wood stove or a fireplace as your primary heat source, you should have got your firewood cut this spring and summer, so it could be drying for a few months. If so, make sure you get it all split, stacked, and ready to use. If you weren’t able to prep this spring, you should opt for buying your wood this year, as wet wood won’t burn well.
We have our stacked in several places and tarped off to protect them from the weather and we have dry storage on the porch for easy access. No one wants to head out in the freezing cold to reload, so make sure you have what you need close at hand for those really chilly days.
I also make sure we have plenty of fire starters at the ready. We make our own each year, (post coming soon!) and keep them in a box near the stove. That way they’re readily available.
Prepare a Back-Up Heating System
If a fireplace or wood stove isn’t your primary heat source, be sure to plan in advance for a backup heat system, particularly if you rely on electricity for your heat. You never know when a storm could knock out power and leave you without heat for days or weeks.
We use our fireplace as our primary heat, but we also have propane in a pinch, plus a backup generator, and failing those we have small indoor safe propane heaters that run off those little green bottles you use for camp stoves. Again, we like to make sure we have backups for our backups. If this Fall has taught me one thing it’s that things will fail at the most critical moment and if you aren’t prepared you're going to be left in a scramble.
Food & Water Stores for You and Your Animals
This is a big one heading into winter. On the human front, depending on how far out your homestead is, it’s possible to see storms big enough to keep you housebound for days. Be certain that you have enough food and water for each person in your home to live for a full week or more. This means bottled or canned water, if you don’t know about canning water, you can learn more about it over at practicalselfreliance.com. It really is the best method for storing water long term. As for food, you need to have a good supply of non-perishable dried or canned foods, and it’s always a good idea to have a few freeze-dried or dehydrated meals as well. These are simple to prepare with water warmed on the fireplace or woodstove if you are cut off from electricity.
Where your animals are concerned, keep in mind that will be harder for free-range and foraging animals to find enough food during the winter months so you need to be prepared to supplement their diets when the snow piles up. Depending on what animals you keep, water supplies can become an issue in freezing temps. For chickens and smaller animals, heated water dispensers are a good investment, or, you can DIY one with this great tutorial from thechickenchick.com but for larger animals that require troughs of water, you need to be prepared to keep the tanks free of ice. Some helpful tips can be found over at thehorse.com.
Mind and Mend Your Fences
If you have any livestock, you’ll want to be sure that all of the fences are mended before winter hits. You don’t want your animals to be able to escape in the middle of a storm. Livestock caught outside of protective fences can easily be caught by predators or risk injury from freezing temps without shelter. To say nothing of the potential risk to you as you brave bad weather looking for lost animals.
If you live in an area that sees a lot of snow and rely on electric fencing be sure to prep them by hot grounding or installing kill switches on the bottom lines so that they can continue to function even when the snow piles up.
Winterize Your Equipment
Most homesteads have equipment. A tiller, lawn mower, chainsaws, tractors, backup generators, log splitters, etc. It is important to winterize this equipment to protect its longevity.
This doesn’t take a lot of work, but it is essential. At the very least, you’ll need to run your equipment until most of the gas has been emptied, you don’t want fluids sitting in there all winter long. It is also a good idea to have your equipment serviced prior to putting it up for the winter.
Then place them in a covered area and add an additional coverage if needed.
Winterize Pens and Coops
This means making sure that every animal on your homestead has a safe, dry, clean place to shelter from storms. Give your coop a thorough cleaning and a fresh layer of deep bedding. If there are any holes, gaps, or drafts in the coop be sure to shore them up before the temps get too severe. If you live in an area that sees extreme cold, it may also be a good idea to wrap all or part of the chicken run in plastic to keep out blowing snow and cold winds.
For larger animals, most will be fine with simple 3 sided shelters to get themselves out of the worst of the weather but make sure to add a nice deep layer of straw so they have a warm place to snuggle into that is off of the cold, frozen ground.
Put the Garden to Bed
There are a lot of garden chores you can do in the fall, to improve your season next year. Remove all dead plants or turn them into the soil if they’re not diseased (the plants breaking down into the soil actually helps the soil). Give the garden area a good cleaning and raking.
Add in your soil additives such as compost, worm castings, and Bio-char now then mulch them in heavily to overwinter. These will help to amend the soil, and mulch will protect the beds from erosion and nutrient loss.
A garden that is well cared for before winter hits will mean less work next year. As an added bonus, when you look out on your garden through the winter months it just feels better to see a nice garden waiting for planting rather than a mess that used to be a thriving space.
Do a Thorough Outside Cleanup
If your homestead is anything like ours, it collected a lot of debris over the summer. Now is the time to clean it all up before it gets buried under the snow. Put away the summer toys, lawn chairs, and patio tables. Move all the random tools to safe storage. Bring in patio furniture cushions to dry storage for the season, (you can still pull them out when you need to use them).
Rake those leaves, and give it one last mowing if you have grass. All of that can be added to your garden beds to compost over the winter!
Winterize your House
Rove any window air conditioners, close up all the windows, and check to make sure there aren’t any drafts coming through. You may need caulking, weather stripping, or even plastic over the windows. Be sure to check your doors as well.
Give all heaters, ducts, and vents a good cleaning, and make sure they’re in good working order. You may want to have s professional come out and give the furnace some seasonal maintenance to reduce the risk of experiencing a breakdown right when you need it the most!
Stock Up on Medicines and First Aid Supplies
Fall is a great season to beef up your medicine chest. Cold and flu season is just around the corner. Particularly if you live far from the nearest town or at the end of a treacherous drive you want to do everything you can to be prepared for when injury or illness hits so you don’t have to rush to the store when you’re sick and run to the doctor for minor injuries.
If you like many homesteaders make your own medicinals from plants and herbs, now is the time to get those tinctures and teas prepared and stored. You don’t want to have to make your own medicine when you’re sick.
Make sure your first aid kit is fully stocked, around our house, the most important thing we have on hand is extra burn cream. Between managing a cozy fire to cooking soups and stews my clumsy butt has a strong tendency to face a lot of burn in the winter.
The same goes for any animal first aid kits. Make sure you are stocked up on all the essentials, you never know when you’ll find yourself with a sick or injured animal. You don’t want to have to brave bad roads in a mad dash to pick up something silly like extra baking soda for your goats. If you're not sure what you need for a chicken first aid kit, we have a printable version for you here.
Wishing You a Warm and Cozy Homestead
Truthfully, it never feels like we are 100% ready for winter. With all the issues we’ve faced recently from broken vehicles, malfunctioning equipment, a dry well, a broken washer and dryer, and the list goes on and on… I’m not even sure we were 100% ready for Fall!
But one way or another we’ve managed to get the key pieces of winter prep under wraps this season. How about you? What projects do you do in the fall to prepare for winter on the homestead? Tell us all about it in the comments below! And, as always: