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In the world of homesteading, autumn is a busy time. Though spring gets the most press with regards to cleaning and summer brings about the big harvests, many of us nonchalantly account for how important it is to prepare ourselves for the winter. In fact, autumn chores are what keep us warm and fed through the winter months, as well as help us make the most of nature’s gifts in the spring.
Of course, we live in a modern world in which things are less dire – there’s usually a supermarket or store nearby – but there is still something to be said for being a little more self-reliant. For those of us pushing towards a greener, more sustainable way of living, even in the suburbs, we can definitely benefit from adopting a fall checklist of tasks that’ll keep us a little safer, satiated, and self-sufficient.
1. Seed Harvesting
Nowadays, it seems almost second nature to head to a nursery or big box store every time we need seeds, but that’s a mistake. Most seeds need only be purchased once, and after that, we can allow a few healthy plants to flower and supply the seeds for next season. Not only is this a money saver, but also, when we harvest from plants that thrived, we naturally encourage our crops to evolve to the exact climate of our garden. This will mean higher yields in the years to come.
2. Apples, Pears, and Other Crops
A lot of crops are reaching maturity in the autumn, and these are the local fruits and vegetables that we need to put away to get us through winter. Apples and pears are great for storage, and they can be used to make hard cider, as well as cider vinegar. Root veggies, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, and so on, can be stored for a long time to provide food in the less abundant winter months. Other fruits and veggies can be canned. Finally, we should get some seeds in the ground, ideally by early September, because we can potentially produce fresh greens all winter long.
3. Prepping a Compost Pile
Something that is often overlooked when making compost piles, particularly suburban ones, is that the whole thing works better if it is compiled on the same day. In other words, when a pile is built from nothing to completion in one day, the decomposition works better. Instead of slowly building compost piles with a few kitchen scraps at a time, if we can put them together all at once, the compost will heat up much more. For those who do this before the winter freeze, they will get a good compost for spring, right when it is needed most.
4. Opportunistic Leaf Hoarders
Fall is the time for foliage. Though most of us hear this and think of the colors changing, gardeners are out waiting with their rakes. Not only can they be used as the carbon part of the compost bin, but all those extra leaves are useful, too. By piling up all those fallen leaves, it’s possible to make leaf mold, which is an absolutely fantastic garden mulch. The leaves can also be used as mulch for protecting plants in the winter.
5. Mulching for Winter
Speaking of mulch, this task is definitely a good idea for those aiming to grow their own food. Gardens should be a good, thick layer — about four inches — of mulch before the winter. This protects the soil and soil life, providing habitat, warmth, and nutrients through the frigidness. In some climates, a plump layer of mulch will prevent the soil from freezing, which will enable growers to continue harvesting cold-hardy vegetables through the winter.
6. Pipes and Other Winterizing
With the temperatures poised to drop below freezing, we have to think about protecting our home and other things. Water pipes are a massive concern, as it only takes one freeze to burst them and create a huge expensive mess. It’s also a good idea to consider other items, like garden hoses, patio furniture, barbecue pits, and potted plants, all of which will suffer greatly in the harsh weather. Also, check on the weather stripping to reduce energy costs and get out the winter necessities: snow shovels, blankets, etc.
7. Back-Up Power Sources
Lastly, setting up backup power supplies, especially for those in more remote areas, is a good idea. A couple of days without power can be a serious problem in the winter. It’s not a bad idea to have a propane-run space heater somewhere or, for those with fireplaces, a pile of wood. Some folks might go so far as getting themselves a small generator or solar set-up to keep the bare necessities powered if need be. In a pinch, one warm room can mean the difference between freezing and sleeping snugly.
Admittedly, this will be a different way of looking at the autumn for many, but if things are going to change, it is important to begin looking at things in a new way. That isn’t to say we can’t still stop and enjoy the beautiful colors or the awesome weather. However, maybe these are ways we can do it a little more in tune with the planet, as active and responsible participants in the seasonal changes.
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