February Garden To-Do List for Zones 9-11

february garden calendar

February is prime vegetable season for much of the warmer regions in the US. So despite some of the frosts and mild freezing this year, there are still many enjoyable tasks ahead in the garden. Plus, it’s the perfect planning season for the food forest. As soon as the danger of frost is past, orchards and agroforestry rows will be popping, so if you don’t have a design and long-term plan for your site… this is the best time to do it! This Garden To-Do list for February will help you cover all the bases on your homestead in order to be ready for an abundant spring. For the To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8, CLICK HERE.

In the Garden

  • To Transplant: Greens, arugula, beets, brassicas, cabbage, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
  • To plant by seed: beans (all kinds), melons, corn, cucumbers, okra, onions, radish, squash, turnips, watermelon.
  • Bulbs: Ginger and Turmeric can go in now. We recommend spiral ginger, blue turmeric, and galangal for a bit of exotic variety. There is a great company in Central Florida (who ships nationwide) that has organic ginger, called A Natural Farm. Let them know we referred ya!

Annuals to Plant

  • Sunflowers
  • Snapdragons
  • Violas and Pansies
  • Nasturtiums

Perennial Flowers and Around the House

  • Mulching! This is the optimum time to mulch and start applying a layer of compost to your garden and food forest areas (especially end of February). Many regions have tree service companies that will deliver wood chips for free if you call and ask them. Get ready for a dump truck load!
  • Empty and Sterilize Bird Houses (and feeders): You want to have this completed by mid-month, so you are ready for the spring nesting season. To disinfect, I use Shaklee Basic H and/or G. You can find it by clicking here
  • Start ordering your organic soil amendments for spring (compost, mushroom compost, manure, etc.)
  • Finalize your seed orders. Use companies that have organic and non-GMO seeds. I really like Baker Creek and Seed the Stars.
  • Dig new swales and cover with straw or winter wheat seed to prepare for spring gardens.
  • Get a permaculture consultation to help you plan your property, food forest, and homestead. Don’t wait until spring!

Food Forest & Orchard

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Lots of compost and manure applications by the third week of February.
  • Fertilize blueberries
  • Plant cold hardy trees and shrubs while they are in (or close to dormancy). In Central Florida, this is the perfect time to plant peaches, plum, nectarine, mulberries, elderberries, persimmon, peach, etc. Always plant (and water well) when they are dormant. Never plant trees when they are in the flowering phase. You want as much energy as possible to go to the root system. First year fruit trees should NOT be allowed to bear fruit (pick them off), but it’s ok to allow some berry bushes to fruit the first year.
  • NOTE: Wait to plant tropical trees like avocado, mango, strawberry tree until Easter.
  • Cover Crops: Durana clover (or other clover mixes) can be planted during warm spells, and red winter wheat can also be planted for chicken forage. There are also other cold season cover crops that can be interplanted, like radish, turnip, beet, etc.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, and fish emulsion. Get ready for spring foliar spraying.

Pasture

  • Plant lespedeza, millet (last half of month if weather is ok), could possibly plant corn or sunflowers for silage.
  • Some clovers can be planted at this time, if there is a 5-7 day window of warmer evening and rain.
  • Dormant comfrey (bocking 14 variety only) can be planted now for minerals.
  • Turnips and radishes (especially daikon) can be planted in food plot areas as well. Just be sure to water until they are established.
  • GOATS: If you have goats, you can feed them used Christmas trees for an extra boost of vitamin C and antioxidants. Deworm using Basic H (see next note).
  • CATTLE: Deworming can be done using Joel Salatin’s method of using 1tsp of Basic H per gallon of water or 1/3 cup for a 50 gallon watering trough. I prefer the original Basic H instead of the Basic H2 though. It comes in a 5 gallon bucket, which is a great opportunity to go in with another farmer to purchase. It will last for YEARS! CLICK HERE TO ORDER

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents. This time of year it is common for mice to start having babies, especially in the greenhouse.
  • TIP: Make a tool oiling bucket by filling it with sand and adding a pint or two of oil. You can use old motor oil from your car or even olive olive. Put shovels and spades in this to remove rust and keep oiled.
  • Look for estate sales that might have garden tools. The best tools are often the old wooden handled ones – skip the new ones. Most of the time, they are overpriced and not made with the quality standard they used to be.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their own recovery season.
  • Do NOT let a hen go broody yet. Wait until the end of February. The weather fluctuates too much this time of year and that can make it a hard hatch for your girls.
  • Consider hatching eggs indoors in an incubator. Use a reputable company for ordering OR use your own fertilized eggs. Collect hatching eggs and store in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours before putting in the incubator.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
  • Deworm using Joel Salatin’s suggested organic method, using Shaklee’s Basic H. 5 drops for chickens in 1 gallon of water. Click here for order info. NOTE: He recommends using the original Basic H as opposed to Basic H2.

Winter Ideas for Kids

wood ear mushroom
  • Go on a hike and look for deer runs and fallen deer antlers.
  • Look for wood ear mushrooms! They love the warmer winter days this time of year and are absolutely delicious. Not to mention, they have no “inedible” look a-likes, so are a safe variety for new mushroom hunters to harvest.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Schedule a property consultation to get a professional plan for your property!
  • Have kids help you pick out seeds for next year in the seed catalogues. Consider giving them their own section of the garden to plant in the spring. Have them cut out pictures from your seed catalogue to make a collage to inspire them to plant with you in the spring.

February Gardening To-Do List for Growing Zones 3-8

February Gardening To-Do List

For USDA Growing Zones 9-11, CLICK HERE.

Cold Temperate Climate Property To List

February Garden To Do List

Late winter is the time when the gardener in each of us starts to get restless. We start frantically searching for things we can do on the sporadic warmer days in hopes that spring will come just a little bit sooner this year.

At the same time, we are secretly enjoying the winter time of rest, healing, and renewal. There is something innate inside of us that is programmed to enter into a season of rest, but even in these times, we dream of fruitfulness and abundance. We long for the days we can go barefoot outside again and feel the grass between our toes. We anticipate the coming growing season and make countless garden layout sketches to satiate ourselves.

So, as we each do what we can to embrace the late winter time of rest and healing, here is a list of activities you can do to keep your green thumbs happy until the crocus start to bloom and the soil wakes from its slumber.

Here are just a few things you can add to your February Gardening To-Do List.

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Continue cover the soil with organic matter. This time of year, I use a lot of straw, specifically the stuff that comes out of the chicken coop or duck house. Then, over the next month, I will start adding a 3″ layer of wood chips to the top. Just make sure to keep compost and wood chips away from woody stems (The goal is to have donut shapes not volcanos around the stem / trunk).
  • Remove any remaining dead plant matter from last year. Tomato wilt and fungal diseases can stay in the soil, if it doesn’t get cold enough over the winter. Add to compost pile or burn if diseased.
  • Do controlled burns on new garden areas. Check areas again after it rains / snows to see if you have burned it down far enough or need to do it one more time.
Controlled burn area that will end up needing a second burn to get to the roots and destroy old seed heads.
  • Turn the compost pile every few weeks to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
  • Plant brassicas (early in the month): cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc. These can be planted in the green house mid-month OR indoors in seed trays.
  • Plant a few night shades (later in the month): tomatoes, peppers, and egg plants. Use heat mats, grow lights, etc. This will keep the seedlings from getting too leggy over the next two months. If you do not use supplemental heat / lighting, you might want to wait until early March to start indoors.
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
  • Start ordering seeds and root stock.
  • Brainstorm garden plan ideas and draw them out, so you are ready once the growing season starts.
  • Consider using new companion plants this year and rotating your usual crop layout.

In the Food Forest

  • Prune all fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and bushes. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Prepare to start tapping for maple syrup. Get your hooks and spouts ready, check the sugar drip lines (if you have a tube harvesting system). The best time for tapping is usually mid-February through mid-March.
  • Remove all rotten or hard fruit (still on the trees) and put in the compost pile.
  • Make bone sauce for deer repellant (recipe coming soon) and apply “spots” on the warmer days. This bone sauce recipe will actually keep deer away from orchard trees for 10+ years.
  • Pack the snow around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole and rodent tunnels.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, and fish emulsion. Get ready for spring foliar spraying.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents. This time of year it is common for mice to start having babies, especially in the greenhouse.
  • TIP: Make a tool oiling bucket by filling it with sand and adding a pint or two of oil. You can use old motor oil from your car or even olive olive. Put shovels and spades in this to remove rust and keep oiled.
  • Look for estate sales that might have garden tools. The best tools are often the old wooden handled ones – skip the new ones. Most of the time, they are overpriced and not made with the quality standard they used to be.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their own recovery season.
  • Do NOT let a hen go broody yet. Wait until the end of February. The weather fluctuates too much this time of year and that can make it a hard hatch for your girls.
  • Consider hatching eggs indoors in an incubator. Use a reputable company for ordering OR use your own fertilized eggs. Collect hatching eggs and store in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours before putting in the incubator.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Keep water unthawed
    • Use an electric water heater (OR)
    • Use two watering containers and bring them in at night / rotate them
    • Note: The salt water bottle in the container does NOT work outside of 1-2 degrees below freezing and only for a short time. This can work as an addition, but should not be your primary means of keeping water unthawed.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
  • GOATS: If you have goats, you can feed them your used Christmas trees for an extra boost of vitamin C and antioxidants.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Start planning your online orders for barefoot perennial flowers. Consider a company like Hartmann’s where you can order in bulk at a much cheeper price.
  • Winter seed new wild flower beds. If you have an edge area in your yard, this could be the perfect solution for that area. Plus, the less you need to mow, the better! Use a company like Prairie Moon Nursery to order native perennial seed mixes specific to your site needs.
  • Dig new swales and cover with straw or winter wheat seed to prepare for spring gardens.
february swale digging
Swale digging during a warmer winter day
  • Water house plants carefully and start adding a 1/2 dose of nitrogen fertilizer (starting the last week of the month). If you have a fresh water fish tank, you can also use that water when you do water changes. It’s rich in nutrients and fish poo.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

Winter Ideas for Kids

wood ear mushroom
  • Go on a hike and look for deer runs and fallen deer antlers.
  • Look for wood ear mushrooms! They love the warmer winter days this time of year and are absolutely delicious. Not to mention, they have no “inedible” look alike, so are a safe variety for new mushroom hunters to harvest.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Schedule a property consultation to get a professional plan for your property!
  • Have kids help you pick out seeds for next year in the seed catalogues. Consider giving them their own section of the garden to plant in the spring. Have them cut out pictures from your seed catalogue to make a collage to inspire them to plant with you in the spring.

How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter | by Kris Edler

frozen eggs

How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter
How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter

If you live in colder climates, it can be challenging to keep chickens warm and insulated in the winter.  The fact is, learning how to keep chickens warm in the winter is NOT the same as how we would keep ourselves warm.  Heat lamps, space heaters, and candles are not a good idea in a dry chicken coop full of hay, straw, and feathers.  And yes, that even includes bitter cold location – heaters in a coop are a terrible idea and flat out dangerous.

For some reason though, many people try to heat nature the same way we would our house, however we forget that these birds have survived for thousands of years without electric heat lamps.

Here are 5 simple ways to keep your chickens warm during the cold wintery days:

1 – Feed extra calories and protein

Keep feeding the chickens their regular food, but add a little cracked or crimped corn to their diet on the colder days.  If you know the night is going to be extra cold, feed the cracked corn later in the afternoon, so they can digest it a little before roosting that evening.  This will give them the extra calories needed to produce body heat in the coop.  Don’t overdo the corn, just like with everything else, you can easily get too much of a good thing.

2 – Allow proper air flow, while minimizing drafts

As a general rule, do not have any vents open in the winter that are within 18″ of your roosting areas.  This will allow the birds to comfortably roost together and share their body heat.  Maintain good airflow in the lower levels of the coop though, because you do not want the air to get stagnant.  Remember, do not create an air tight coop.  If you are using the deep bedding method in the winter, maintaining proper airflow will also keep out the smell and keep things dry.  When I lived in Kansas City for 15 years, I would open extra (larger) vents in the summer to keep the coop cool, but cover them with cardboard in the winter to insulate the coop.  However, it’s important to always have good airflow.

3 – Feed a little extra fat

Around the holidays we all like to have a little comfort food to help us cozy up in the winter months.  Your chicken are the same way.  Here are a few easy comfort foods for your girls.

  • Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (great protein, healthy fats, etc.)
  • Suet Cakes (use ones with >6% protein)
  • Meal Worms (great protein source and especially helpful just after molting season)
  • Left Over Spaghetti (trust me, this occasional treat is hilarious to watch)
  • Left Over Meat / Fish (any cooked meats that you have for dinner are generally ok for the birds)

NOTE:  Do NOT use chicken sweaters.  These are a novelty and are horrible for the birds.  They damage feathers and prevent the birds from “fluffing”, which creates warm air pockets in their coats.

4 – Use extra bedding

Extra straw or wood shavings in the coop provide insulation, reduce smells, and absorb excess moisture.  If you are in doubt, add another sleeve of straw just in case.  Not only does this provide insulation, but it helps chickens have something fresh to scratch through, which prevents winter boredom.

5 – Keep water and food fresh

Using a heater in your coop is always a bad idea, unless you want fried chicken.  Just suck it up and change their water 2x a day.  Using warm water and keeping it fresh helps keep the birds hydrated and warm.  I typically use two waterers and bring one inside to thaw while leaving the other one out until it is frozen. Then all I have to do is switch them out during the day.  Adding a weekly tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and honey in the winter can also help boost their immune system.  Always keep the water out of the coop when possible, though.  The spilled water will create moisture in the coop, increasing the risk of frost bite.  Food should always be kept dry, so either feed inside the coop or create a “lean-to” outside of the coop to keep the snow and rain out of the food container.

So there you go, a few easy tips to keep those birds warm in the cold winter months.  If this was helpful to you, be sure to like the article and share it on your favorite social media outlet.  Keep warm and drink some extra coffee!

Short Video:  chickens in cold

What Plants Should Be Protected in a Freeze

In subtropical regions where frost is likely during the winter months (USDA Zones 9-10 especially), it’s imperative to protect certain plants during a frost. The two most common questions are these:

1. What plants should be protected during a freeze?

2. How do I protect my plants during a freeze?

Knowing what plants to cover and how to do it will help ensure the success of your garden and food forest. Keep in mind that sometimes plants only need to be covered when they are younger (under 6′ tall) or newly planted. Once plants are more established, they are less likely to die back during a hard frost, and they can take a little more beating from the elements. However, until they are established, they need to be protected with a little extra care. So, which plants (in USDA Zones 9-10) should be protected during a cold snap?

Here is a list to help you determine what needs the extra protection with a few notes on each species.

Frost cloth from A Natural Farm with Christmas light underneath to keep new mango trees warm

What Plants Should Be Protected During a Freeze

  • African Blue Basil: Cover at 33 degrees. Will die back in a freeze, but do not remove damaged leaves. It will often rebound from the woody parts in the spring. Prune after possibility of frost has passed.
  • Atemoya: Needs protection from temps under 35. Much hardier once established.
  • Avocado: Needs protection from temps under 33 while young. Not necessary to protect until 28 degrees once they are established. May loose leaves, but will come back. Check the hardiness of your exact variety, as there is quite a difference in cold hardiness.
  • Banana: Protect base and truck. Leaves will die back below 32 degrees. Leaves should be left on the tree until after April 1. Clean up dead leaves after the danger of frost has passed.
  • Barbados Cherry (Acerola Cherry): Only protect younger plants (under 5′ tall). Hardy once established, but may loose leaves in a hard frost / freeze.
  • Bilimbi: Must protect from freeze below 33.
  • Canistel (egg fruit): Must protect below 32.
  • Cashew: Protect below 33 until established. Larger trees are often hardy down to 28.
  • Cassava: Leaves will die at 32 degrees. However, at that point, it’s generally time to dig up and harvest each plant. Save cuttings of the stems to propagate more later. Dried stems can be used up to three months later (even without water).
  • Cattleya guava (strawberry guava): Hardy down to 24 degrees. Cover at 32 to protect leaves. Usually will readily rebound after leave damage occurs.
  • Carambola / Star fruit: Needs protection from temps under 35. Much hardier once established.
  • Chaya: Cover younger plants below 32. However, once they are hardened off and established, they will come back from the older growth. Great to chop and drop after April 1.
  • Cherry of the Rio Grande: Cold hardy once established, but protect if under 3′ tall.
  • Citrus: Protect below 33
  • Coffee: Protect below 34
  • Custard Apple: Protect younger trees. These may defoliate for the winter, but leaves will come back fresh in the later spring. Hardy once established. Leaves tend to get powdery mildew when the turn brown, so be ready to spray with neem and basic H.
  • Dragonfruit: ones growing up the south side of trees are often more protected. Otherwise, cover below 33.
  • Guava: Cover young plants below 33. Hardy once established and will not need covering.
  • Hibiscus: For roselle and cranberry hibiscus, it’s better to save seed and regrow in the spring time. These are actually a self seeding annual / tender perennial. Prone to powdery mildew in cooler weather.
  • Ice cream Bean: Protect below 34.
  • Jaboticaba: Young plants need protection under 35 degrees, but older plants may be much more hardy.
  • Jackfruit: Protect trees under 10′ tall at 33 degrees or below. Normal to loose leaves in a frost.
  • Longan: Protect younger trees. Hardy once established. May defoliate, but leaves will return in the spring.
  • Lychee: Protect younger trees. Hardy once established. May defoliate, but leaves will return in the spring.
  • Mango: Protect trees under 10′ tall to the best of your ability. They are hardier once established, but cannot do temps under 28 very well.
  • Miracle Fruit: Often grown in a pot in the winter so it can be taken indoors to a sunny window. Then returned outside in the warmer months in part shade or full shade. Cannot tolerate under 35 degrees.
  • Moringa: Hardy once established. Leaves will drop for the winter, but will come back in the spring. Great time to prune and shape while dormant.
  • Nasturtium: Cover or save (and dry) seeds for replanting.
  • Nightshades: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, ashwagandha, etc.
  • Pandan: Leave planted in a pot where frost is likely. Then bring indoors under 40 degrees. They prefer full shade when outside and a sunny window when indoors.
  • Papaya: Protect under 33 degrees. Remember, it’s a fast growing and short lived tree anyway.
  • Pigeon Pea: Will get leaf damage at 32 degrees. If leaves get crunchy, just “chop and drop” them around the base of another fruit tree. Cut back 1/3 of bush only, and they usually rebound in the spring. They are a short lived tree anyway, and mostly grown as a living fertilizer and soil builder. Easily grown from seed in pots.
  • Soursop: Protect under 33.
  • Star Cherry (pitangatuba): Protect younger bushes. Hardy once established. Cover under 30 degrees.
  • Strawberry Tree: Protect younger trees. Hardy once established. Cover under 32 degrees. Will often loose leaves for the winter. Prune in early spring to remove dead and give desired shape.
  • Sugar Apple: Protect younger trees. These may defoliate for the winter, but leaves will come back fresh in the later spring. Hardy once established.
  • Sugar Cane: Protect under 30 if possible. Will come back from roots if it gets frozen a bit.
  • Surinam Cherry: Only protect younger plants (under 3′ tall). Hardy once established.
  • Toilet Paper Plant (Blue Spur): Cover at 33.
  • Tropical Spinaches: Best to take cuttings of these and replant in the spring. Not cold hardy. Recommended to take cuttings in early December and protect in pots over the winter (transplant April 1). Examples: longevity spinach, Okinawa spinach, Surinam spinach, Brazilian Sisso, Jewels of Opar, etc. CLICK HERE FOR 5 TROPICAL PLANTS TO TAKE CUTTINGS OF BEFORE A FREEZE
  • Vanilla Bean Orchid: Bring indoors under 37 degrees.
Tropic Beauty Peach
Tropic Beauty Peach – NO PROTECTION NEEDED

No Protection Needed

  • Apple
  • Apple Cactus (Peruvian)
  • Bay
  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Brassicas: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.
  • Elderberry
  • Fig
  • Ginger
  • Loquat (Un-pollinated blossoms may need some protection)
  • Mulberry (all varieties)
  • Nectarine
  • Olive
  • Peach (Tropic Beauty pictured above)
  • Pear
  • Persimmon
  • Plum
  • Pomegranate
  • Raspberry
  • Turks Cap Hibiscus
  • Turmeric

TIP: For online ordering of some of these plants, here is a great local place we recommend, who also ships nation-wide: https://www.anaturalfarm.com/live-plants

How to Protect Tropical Plants During a Freeze

There are several methods of protection that you can offer your tropical and cold sensitive plants during a freeze. Sometimes, layering these methods will help provide that extra bit of peace of mind.

  1. Bring younger potted plants indoors or against the house. The radiant heat from the house, concrete, and protection of a covered pool area is often enough to protect them. Some sensitive plants (like Vanilla Orchid) are better off being brought indoors for the night when frost is eminent.
  2. Cover younger plants and trees with frost cloth. This is one of the best methods for younger trees, plants that are in the ground, or if you are working on short notice. The wraps that go around individual trees are often more expensive, so frost cloth is cheeper when purchased in a longer roll.
  3. Turn on a sprinkler or misting system. The running water will help keep things moving and prevent the damage to the trees up to a certain point. Let it run all night over your food forest and into the morning until after the temps are above freezing.
  4. Start a campfire or two. The smoke and heat from the fire burning overnight can help keep the food forest warm. This does, however, require safety measures to be taken.
  5. Use old Christmas lights. Wrap sensitive trees with filament style lights, because the heat produced by the bulbs can protect the trees, especially when used under frost cloth.
  6. Spray the plants with probiotics the day before the freeze. Probiotic and microbial activity can help prevent frost damage on sensitive plants. There are some great scientific studies on this, for those who like this sort of thing. Click here for the probiotic we recommend.
  7. Mulch extra heavy with wood chips, leaves, or straw. The extra biomass is not only good for the soil, but the blanket will help protect the soil and root ball from the colder temps. The biomass will also give off radiant heat throughout the colder temperatures.
  8. Wrap small banana trunks with towels. Bananas are going to look “ugly” this time of year with a lot of dead material. Leave it on! This will serve as additional insulation until the spring arrives, and keep the plants protected.

What NOT To Do During the Cold Snap

A. Water well the few days before. It’s actually best to have LESS water in the plant leaves and stems. So do NOT water for a couple days before the frost. Let plants rest.

B. Use tarps or plastic to cover plants. The plastic does NOT breath enough and increases the humidity and formation of frost / ice crystals under the covering. In addition, the plactic will prevent plants from breathing and daytime heat will literally cook the plants, which can be more dangerous than the frost itself. Use a breathable material like an old bed sheet or frost cloth instead.

C. Leave the frost protection on the next day. Always remove the covering first thing in the morning, so the moisture can be released and the plants can slowly warm up in the morning sun. Leaving them covered can actually cause the plants to get “cooked” under the material.

D. Fertilize. Never fertilize in the weeks before or after a cold snap. Let your plants harden off and do not force new (sensitive) growth. Generally during the winter months, stop fertilization in general (only use light compost or foliar feeds).

Final Notes

If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out to us on social media or contact a local greenhouse. Get insight from other organic fruit tree and berry bush growers in your area, because they will have familiarity with your microclimate.

NOTE: We also offer several personal property consultation services. Check those out HERE.

Best of luck in the cold and we’ll see you in the garden.

Please share this post with others in your gardening network who might find this helpful.

January Garden To-Do List for Zones 9-11

january garden calendar
Winter campfires with farm friends and fam.
In the food forest, it can really vary depending on the winter, so in the south we really have to be willing to flex from year-to-year, but that’s what makes it interesting and keeps us on our toes. If you are reading this from a cold climate zone, however, please CLICK HERE for your January Garden to-do list. Now, without further rambling… Here are some our hit list items on the January Gardening To-Do List for Zones 9-11.

In the Garden & Greenhouse

    • Plant from seed: Onions, beets, radish, carrots, corn, cucumbers, winter peas, squash, gourds, zucchini, turnips, watermelon. You can also keep doing many greens like arugula, lettuces, mustards, and komatsuna greens (or bok choi).
    • From Seedlings: Cabbage, collard greens, eggplants or peppers, Swiss chard, tomatoes. If it’s a warm winter, then I also plant potatoes and sweet potatoes now. If we are honest, I would still plant them on a cooler winter (just because).
    • Harvest: All tropical spinaches, ginger, turmeric, African potato mint, galangal. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as they ripen. If you have extra, leave a few on your neighbors front porch.
    • Bring in cuttings from tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Surinam, Bele, South Sea Salad) so you have “insurance” if they freeze off during the winter. Also, save slips (cuttings) from your most successful sweet potato vines and and start rooting them in water indoor.
    • Watch tomatoes and squash for any signs of powdery mildew. If you see anything, give them a quick spray with Basic H and organic Neem Oil and you’ll be all set.
    • Turn the compost pile every week to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
    • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (We use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
    • Start planning for your first time fertilizing in late February or early March (order compost, fish emulsion, etc). Typically I do my first foliar spray at the end of February and the compost and/or soil amendments in early March.
Tyler, Victoria (“Linda”), and Rachel harvesting ginger and turmeric in the food forest at A Natural Farm.

In the Food Forest

    • Plant: Loquats, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, figs, persimmons, and other cold hardy trees.
    • Prune existing peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, etc. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting. This is the most optimal month for pruning (all trees except mango and avocado).
        • First Year Flower / Fruit Removal: Personally, I always remove the flowers / fruit from trees the first year or two they are in the ground. This allows all the energy to go to healthy root and branch development. If you leave even a few flowers / fruit, then the tree will automatically take up more phosphorus and potassium, instead of focusing on getting established.
    • Grafting Scions: Get avocado cuttings and start grafting. This is a great month to graft avocados in most (subtropical / tropical) areas. CLICK HERE FOR A TUTORIAL
    • If you slacked off this winter and did not refresh your wood chips, then this is your last chance to do it before spring. 6-10″ deep, go out as far as the drip line of the tree, and keep chips and mulch a few inches away from the trunk.
    • Do NOT fertilize fruit trees until mid-February.
    • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.

In the Shed

    • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
    • Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
    • Refinish and moisturize wooden handles of tools with Danish oil.
    • Spray out old plastic pots and clean up the corners of the shed.
    • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
    • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
    • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
    • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
    • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
    • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
    • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
    • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
cup and saucer vine flowering in January
Cup and saucer vine flowering in January.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

    • Dead head spent perennials (i.e. purple coneflower, laitris, or hibiscus), and either save seed OR scatter / cover them for new plants in the spring.
    • Plant native perennial wildflowers. If you are in central Florida, look at Green Isle Gardens in Groveland. Or check out the native wildflower seed mixes at Hancock Seed Company.
    • Apply BioAg probiotic spray the day before a rain (to the soil) in order to inoculate the soil with healthy microbes. This will help prevent a lot of common diseases and pests.
    • Water house plants sparingly.
        • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
        • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
        • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

In the Pasture

    • Plant Rough Pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), which is a high quality protein (especially for beef cows), helps maintain a healthy gut microflora.  High quality digestible fiber.
    • Winter wheat, Burmuda grass
    • Radish, turnips, or clover
    • Plant bamboo, Muberry, Napier grass, and Elderberry on pasture edges for chop-and-drop foraging or privacy.

Winter Bird-feeding for the Entire Family

    • Bird feeding is the perfect kids activity this month! My favorite bird-nerd store is Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU), which is found nationwide. They are not only knowledgeable, but often give free feeders to schools and libraries. Not to mention, the quality of their feed is far superior to box stores. Customize your feeds with different seeds for different birds. Each feed needs a different style feeder, but you can learn more about this by taking your kiddos to WBU.
    • Nyger and Sunflower Chips: For finches, vireos, and smaller birds
    • Safflower: Great to keep squirrels away, but cardinals and bluejays love this seed (especially in a hopper feeder)
    • Shelled Peanuts: For bluejays and woodpeckers
    • Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds: Everyone loves these! A must have for the feeder. Woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, titmouse, etc.
    • White Millet: Indigo or painted buntings
    • Suet: Woodpeckers (ladder back, downy, hairy, red headed, etc.)

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees are mainly dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. So make a cup of nice winter tea, open up your sketch book, and start brainstorming. But please reach out if we can help you in the process! If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND virtual consultations (for those out of our area). These come with varying levels of property designs, maintenance plans, and even recipes for using the items in your food forest! CLICK HERE to learn more. We offer a wide variety of consultation types to fit an array of budgets and project sizes.
Winter Foraged Tea
Winter Foraged Tea: White pine needles, roselle calyx, and olive leaves. Great for anti-oxidants and immune health.

If this content was helpful to you, please help inspire other gardeners by sharing the link on social media or with your favorite gardening group.

What’s included with your Patreon Membership

    • On-going permaculture / property mentorship
    • 1st Week of the Month LIVE Q&A
    • 2nd Week of the Month Practical Permaculture PDF
    • 3rd Week of the Month Permaculture Class
    • 4th Week of the Month Farm Interview & Spotlight
    • Ad-free videos
    • Behind-the-scenes content
    • Digital downloads
    • Exclusive content
    • Earlybird ticket pricing for in-person events
    • Early access to all events
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    • Live Q&As
    • Livestreams
    • Video tutorials & lessons
    • Private community
    • Exclusive voting power
    • Quarterly Online Classes – EXCLUSIVE
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NOTE: Membership offerings vary depending on the level of patron support.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

january garden calendar

how to get ready for an ice storm

In cold climate regions, January is a time of deep rest. After the holidays end, it’s like our body exhales and realizes that the deep of winter has finally arrived. Instead of dreading it – lean into it. Enjoy it. It’s the perfect time to curl up with a warm blanket, read a new permaculture book, look through seed catalogues, and start planning the garden for next year in sketch books. Not to mention, it’s a great time to review the January Garden To-Do List. However, if you are in USDA Zones 9-11, we have a separate (specific) list for you. CLICK HERE for the warm climate to-do list.

It’s a great time to watch a few permaculture documentaries, catch up on our Patreon classes (if you are a subscriber), take an online course, or even look into local permaculture events in your area. For many of us in cooler climates, the winter can get a little depressing if we just hide away in our caves. So, be sure to get out and connect in your local community and spend nice days outside enjoying the changing of the seasons.

But when the slightly warmer days pop up, be sure to get out into the garden, because there are definitely things that can be done in the food forest and garden in the deep of winter.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8 

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Continue to cover the soil with organic matter. You can use chopped up leaves (i.e. picked up with the lawn mower), straw, compost, etc. Better yet, use layers of each!
  • Continue to plant garlic and spring bulbs. CLICK HERE for a list of what you can plant between snows.
  • Take soil samples on warmer days and have them tested at your local extension office. Personally, I don’t use their “fertilizer” recommendations (because it’s rarely organic), so instead I see what nutrients are lower and improve in those areas. Honestly, in 99% of cases the regenerative answer is almost always COMPOST and more organic matter. By adding compost, you automatically improve NPK and build soil structure.
  • Check seeds that are cold stratifying outside or in the refrigerator (chestnut, paw paw, acorns, etc.)
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray to compost piles (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO). I always have this on hand to spray on the soil or trees / shrubs during warmer spells in the winter months. I shoot for every other month, because it will prevent many of the pests and diseases that can come in warmer months. Be proactive!
  • Sort through your seed inventory and reorganize when possible.
  • Look through seed catalogues for what you want to plant this year. Use heirloom seeds when possible, because these have not been modified or hybridized since before WW1. Often, heirloom varieties produce a healthier fruit and have much better flavor. One of my favorite websites is rareseeds.com for veggies and an Etsy Store called Seed the Stars for some tropical edibles that can be grown as annuals in cold climates..

In the Food Forest

  • Wait to prune until the end of January or early February. Let the trees rest for now. Most fruit trees should be pruned during a cold / dry period. The colder temps make the sap stop flowing, and the dry weather helps prevent immediate fungal or bacterial infections. When you prune, take no more than 1/4 of the tree off in a given year, and NEVER apply a wood sealer. Let the tree heal on its own.
  • Watch for rabbit or pest damage and protect trees accordingly.
  • Check for deer damage (eating branches, buck rubs, etc.) weekly. Save some deer bones from hunting season to make bone sauce for deer repellant (recipe coming soon). Pack the snow around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole and rodent tunnels.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).
  • Water compost piles during dry periods.

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Repair garden tools. Sand down wooden handles and reseal them (I like a good Danish oil or non-yellowing varnish).
  • Sharpen all tools (pruners, cutters, shovels, etc.)
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Keep water unthawed
    • Use an electric water heater (OR)
    • Use two watering containers and bring them in at night / rotate them
    • Note: The salt water bottle in the container does NOT work outside of 1-2 degrees below freezing and only for a short time. This can work as an addition, but should not be your primary means of keeping water unthawed.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8 Continued…

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Continue to plant spring bulbs every time the soil thaws. This can be done all winter. Click here for some of our favorite bulbs to plant in the winter.
  • Pay attention to windows and address any drafts immediately. Older winters should have plastic over them (purchased at a local hardware store), which will help save $$ on heat bills. Pull blinds to keep heat inside at night and open them during the day to let natural light inside.
  • Water house plants carefully.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.
  • Mid-Winter Banana Fertilizer for Houseplants: Soak 3 banana peels in a large jar of water for 3 days (make sure they stay submerged). Remove the banana peels and add 1 cup of the mineral rich banana water to one gallon of water. Use this ONCE this month to give your house plants a mid-winter boost.

Winter Ideas for Kids

  • Bird feeding is the perfect kids activity this month! My favorite bird-nerd store is Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU), which is found nationwide. They are not only knowledgeable, but often give free feeders to schools and libraries. Not to mention, the quality of their feed is far superior to box stores.
  • Customize your feeds with different seeds for different birds. Each feed needs a different style feeder, but you can learn more about this by taking your kiddos to WBU.
  • Nyger and Sunflower Chips: For finches, vireos, and smaller birds
  • Safflower: Great to keep squirrels away, but cardinals and bluejays love this seed (especially in a hopper feeder)
  • Shelled Peanuts: For bluejays and woodpeckers
  • Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds: Everyone loves these! A must have for the feeder. Woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, titmouse, etc.
  • White Millet: Indigo or painted buntings
  • Suet: Woodpeckers (ladder back, downy, hairy, red headed, etc.)

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees and gardens are dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND virtual consultations (for those out of our geographical area). CLICK HERE to learn more.

What’s included with your Patreon Membership

  • On-going permaculture / property mentorship
  • 1st Week of the Month LIVE Q&A
  • 2nd Week of the Month Practical Permaculture PDF
  • 3rd Week of the Month Permaculture Class
  • 4th Week of the Month Farm Interview & Spotlight
  • Ad-free videos
  • Behind-the-scenes content
  • Digital downloads
  • Exclusive content
  • Earlybird ticket pricing for in-person events
  • Early access to all events
  • Live event VIP
  • Live Q&As
  • Livestreams
  • Video tutorials & lessons
  • Private community
  • Exclusive voting power
  • Quarterly Online Classes – EXCLUSIVE
  • Monthly Practical Permaculture PDF

NOTE: Membership offerings vary depending on the level of patron support.

December Garden To-Do List for Zones 9-11

december gardening calendar

In the northern states, they are wrapping up their vegetable gardening season, and in the south we are just getting started! This month the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash are ripening. We are harvesting mid-season crops like mustard greens, bok choy, komatsuna greens, lettuce mixes, and a plethora of herbs.

Chickens and ducks are resting their bodies in order to restore nutrient levels after a busy laying season and fall feather molting. Fallen leaves and plants are starting to decompose a bit and returning important nutrients to the soil. Fungal networks are expanding underground to strengthen the soil web. So even though the fruit trees and berry bushes are slowing down for the season, we are doing an abundance of vegetable gardening right now! So, in between holiday functions, be sure to get organized with your monthly gardening list. (Click here if you are in a colder climate for your tailored list)

Here are some our hit list items on the December Gardening To-Do List.

Food Forest at A Natural Farm & Educational Center in Howey in the Hills, FL

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Remove “shade cloth” from greenhouses and put up the greenhouse plastic to protect seedlings from the occasional cold snap.
  • Plant: Onions, greens, kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, beets, radishes, turnips, and snow peas.
  • Harvest sweet potatoes planted in the spring, and finish harvesting tropical spinach.
  • Bring in cuttings from tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Surinam, Bele, South Sea Salad) so you have “insurance” if they freeze off during the winter. Also save slips (cuttings) from your most successful sweet potato vines and and start rooting them in water indoor.
  • Watch tomatoes and squash for any signs of powdery mildew. If you see anything, give them a quick spray with Basic H and organic Neem Oil and you’ll be all set.
  • Turn the compost pile every week to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (We use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
  • Test soil samples and begin making amendment plans for springtime. Bring them into your counties local extension office for testing. Be sure to minimally test NPK and organic matter.
Okinawa Purple Sweet Potato

In the Food Forest

  • Plant: Peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, figs, persimmons, and other cold hardy trees.
  • Prune existing peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, etc. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Harvest: Enjoy the last hurrahs from your tropical spinach trees. Save seeds and cuttings.
  • Make sure that every fruit tree and berry bush has 6-8″ of wood chips around the base (from the truck area to the edge of the drip-line). Keep wood chips a few inches from the trunk (to prevent rot), and never allow the soil to be bare or covered in grass.
  • Do NOT fertilize (fruit trees) again until the end of February or early March.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
Jamacan Sorrel / Roselle Calyx. Seeds will be saved and the red part will be dried for winter tea.

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
Luc (owner of A Natural Farm) teaching how to plant a fruit tree

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Harvest pine cuttings for natural winter decor, garlands, and wreaths
  • Apply BioAg probiotic spray the day before a rain (to the soil) in order to inoculate the soil with healthy microbes. This will help prevent a lot of common diseases and pests.
  • Water house plants carefully.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

In the Pasture

  • Plant Rough Pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), which is a high quality protein (especially for beef cows), helps maintain a healthy gut microflora.  High quality digestible fiber.
  • Plant bamboo, Napier (elephant) grass, or mulberry, or hibiscus on pasture edges for animal fodder and forage. Watch our two part teaching on this, filmed by Ad Astra Gardens on their YouTube!

Winter Ideas for Kids

Natural winter decorations
  • Take nature walks on nice days.
    • Have kids look for interesting textures and shapes
    • Look for buck rubs or signs of animals
  • Put out bird feeders and make fun food treats for wildlife. Consider a natural Christmas tree outside for the birds with all edible ornaments and garland.
  • Visit a nature center or arboretum in your area and let the kids pick out a new house plant to take care of.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Visit a local farm. Many offer family friendly activities.
  • Have kids help you pick out seeds for next year in the seed catalogues. Consider giving them their own section of the garden to plant in the spring. Involve them in the entire process of planning as well as planting and maintenance. It’s amazing the veggies kids will eat when they picked it out, planted it, and grew it themselves.

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees are mainly dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. December through early February are the BEST months to come up with a design for your property so you can hit the ground running in March. If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND virtual visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more.

And yes, we offer a variety of packages that fit a range of property sizes, project scopes, and budgets!

Many blessings to each of you this holiday season, and as always…

I’ll see you in the Garden!

December Gardening To-Do List for Zones 3-8

december garden calendar

December Gardening To-Do List

Even in the midst of our winter hibernation, there are still things we can be doing outside as we look back on fond memories of the last growing season. For those in a cold-temperate climate, the winter season offers us something unique – a time of planned rest. If you are from a warmer climate (USDA Zone 9-11, CLICK HERE for a list specific to subtropical climates).

Winter is a time of restoration, rejuvenation, and healing. It’s like a divine pause for us to reset. During this time there are still crucial things happening that our eyes don’t always see easily.

Sometimes though, we have to see more with our eyes closed than our eyes open.

Chickens and ducks are resting their bodies in order to restore nutrient levels after a busy laying season and fall feather molting. Fallen leaves and plants are decomposing and returning important nutrients to the soil. Fungal networks are expanding underground to strengthen the soil web. The cold is killing off bacteria and disease in the soil and helping with insect control. The roots of trees continue to grow deeper, even in depths of the winter months. Winter is indeed a time of unsung activity, but should also be a time of rest for you and your garden.

Here are just a few things you can add to your December Gardening To-Do List.

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Continue cover the soil with organic matter. You can use chopped up leaves (i.e. picked up with the lawn mower), straw, compost, etc. Better yet, just use layers of each.
  • Continue to plant garlic or root crops (Jerusalem artichokes, strawberry root stock, etc.)
  • Remove any remaining dead plant matter from last year. Tomato wilt and fungal diseases can stay in the soil, if it doesn’t get cold enough over the winter.
  • If you are preparing any new garden beds, you can cover the grassy areas with black tarps for the winter to start killing off the grass and weeds, so it’s easier to work in the spring.
  • Turn the compost pile every few weeks to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
  • Plant seeds that need to be cold stratified (pawpaw, acorns, etc.)
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
  • Test soil samples and begin making amendment plans for springtime.

In the Food Forest

  • Prune all fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and bushes. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Remove all rotten or hard fruit (still on the trees) and put in the compost pile.
  • Check for deer damage (eating branches, buck rubs, etc.) at least weekly. Save some deer bones from hunting season to make bone sauce for deer repellant (recipe coming soon). Pack the snow around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole and rodent tunnels.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).
Winter Gardening List at BRFE
Blue River Forest Experience – Permaculture Property in Stillwell, KS that hosts after school programs for kids

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Keep water unthawed
    • Use an electric water heater (OR)
    • Use two watering containers and bring them in at night / rotate them
    • Note: The salt water bottle in the container does NOT work outside of 1-2 degrees below freezing and only for a short time. This can work as an addition, but should not be your primary means of keeping water unthawed.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Continue to plant spring bulbs every time the soil thaws. This can be done all winter. Click here for some of our favorite bulbs to plant in the winter.
  • Pay attention to windows and address any drafts immediately. Older winters should have plastic over them (purchased at a local hardware store), which will help save $$ on heat bills. Pull blinds to keep heat inside at night and open them during the day to let natural light inside.
  • Water house plants carefully.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

Winter Ideas for Kids

Natural winter decorations
  • Take nature walks on nice days.
    • Have kids look for interesting textures and shapes
    • Look for buck rubs or signs of animals
  • Put out bird feeders and make fun food treats for wildlife. Consider a natural Christmas tree outside for the birds with all edible ornaments and garland.
  • Visit a nature center or arboretum in your area and let the kids pick out a new house plant to take care of.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Visit a local farm. Many offer family friendly activities.
  • Have kids help you pick out seeds for next year in the seed catalogues. Consider giving them their own section of the garden to plant in the spring. Involve them in the entire process of planning as well as planting and maintenance. It’s amazing the veggies kids will eat when they picked it out, planted it, and grew it themselves.

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees and gardens are dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND virtual visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more.

November Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

November Garden Tasks

Home, Garden, & Food Forest To-Do List

Finally – the summer heat has ended and there are slightly cooler temps in the forecast.  While some fruit trees and berry bushes are finishing up their production, the annual vegetable garden is ramping up and starting to produce.  In the cooler climates (USDA Zones 3-8), the gardening season is just ending, but here in the south we are just getting started.  If you are looking for the “November To-Do List” for USDA Zones 3-8, click here.

For those of you in USDA Zones 9-11… here is your November property to-do list.  Be sure to share it with friends on social media and let’s get out into the garden together!

In the Garden

  • Things to Plant by Seed:  radishes, turnips, beets, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy, komatsuna greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers, and onion sets.  
  • Harvest:  Greens, kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, okra
  • Fall Tea:  Jamaican sorrel (Roselle) calyxes can be used for tea.  You can also use leaves from olives, moringa, Spanish needle, cranberry hibiscus, and lemon balm for refreshing teas and tisanes.  Enjoy these teas over ice and add organic raw honey from a local bee keeper.
  • Mulch:  Keep bare soil covered completely to prevent water evaporation and protect microorganisms.  Add a little more compost and wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes (wood chips create a fungal dominated soil, which trees prefer).  Add another layer of straw around garden veggies, because straw creates a bacterially dominated soil, which is preferred by annual veggies.

Winter Mexican Avocado is a late season cultivar. Ripens November through January.

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: cranberry hibiscus, roselle, surinam spinach, longevity spinach, etc. Save cuttings in a protected area for your “insurance policy” in case we have a hard winter.
  • Trees to plant: peach, plum, pear, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, loquat, moringa, pecan, persimmon, black surinam cherry, yellow star cherry, etc. A Natural Farm, located in Central Florida has an incredible selection of certified organic fruit trees and berry bushes for Zones 8-11 and they actually ship nationwide.
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and unused pots
  • Set mouse traps to control critters in sheds and greenhouses
  • Hang up yellow jacket traps
  • Prepare to remove your shade cloths, and have your solar tarps put back up
  • Move orchids, vanilla, pandan, and other cold sensitive plants into the greenhouse

Time to start moving orchids indoors on cooler nights

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest Berries: dwarf ever-bearing mulberry, Barbados cherry, strawberry tree, etc.
  • Harvest ripe fruit: Sugar apple, star fruit (carambola), java plum, June plum, winter Mexican avocado, Apple cactus, dragon fruit, pineapples, Jaboticaba, persimmon, etc. Many varieties available online at A Natural Farm.
  • Plant cold hardy fruit trees: Peach, pear, plum, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, tropical cherries, loquats, etc. Use our FREE GUIDE on “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush” as a quick tutorial.
  • Probiotic time! This is an excellent time to refresh the probiotic in your soil, spray fruit trees, berry bushes, and help activate compost piles before winter. We recommend using BioAg
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest the last of the moringa, legumes, and pigeon pea for chop-and-drop. Chop and drop your pigeon peas and Mexican sunflowers.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with cool air and moisture, fungal issues can pop-up overnight. Trees that are the most susceptible: sugar apple, sour sop, June plum, kratom, ginger, and coffee.
  • Bananas: leave all the dead leaves around the truck for winter insulation. Do not cut the dead matter back until Easter.
  • Hold off on fertilizing and composting until February. Focus on mulch. Plants need to focus this time of year on root growth and hardening off (instead of new foliage growth).
  • Pastures: Plant wildflower seeds (in small batches) to make use of the last of the rainy season. Plant black oats, winter wheat, daikon radish, turnips, clover mix, and sunflowers.
  • TIP: When your neighbors rake their leaves and do their fall yard clean-up, ask for the bags of leaf litter (usually out at the road) to add to your compost pile. That’s free organic matter to help build your soil! Their trash is your treasure.

Persimmon are best when fully ripe or after falling from the tree.

In the Shed

  • After heavy summer use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors). Use SeaFoam in each power tool to help clean things out a bit.
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust.
  • Check for holes in the walls or along the floor to prevent mice from entering over the winter. Fill or patch accordingly.
  • Bleach all storage containers to sterilize them for the winter.
  • Plug in ultrasonic mouse deterrents to prevent nesting during winter months.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Feed extra protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins this month. Birds are finishing with their fall molting season, so they need the extra boost to help replenish their feathers and energy reserves. You can help them out by feeding them live minnows, meal worms, canned tuna, etc.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Coop clean out: On a sunny day with a breeze, clean out the coop in the morning. Use Basic H organic cleaner and spray everything out. Leave the coop open all day to dry it out with good airflow. Clean out all waterers and feeders using a bleach solution.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • Add BioLiveStock (probiotics) to all animal waterers this month to help their microbiome and gut health as they enter the winter months.
  • Plant winter cover crops on previously foraged areas: clover, radish, turnip, sorghum, sunflower, and lezpedeza.
  • Feed spent pumpkins and fall gourds to the chickens and goats. they might need to be cut open first, but this highly nutritious snack is perfect for the barnyard friends!
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Open up the windows on cooler days to help air out the house and let in fresh air
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Wash windows (inside and out). Use a product like “Invisible Glass” to avoid streaks.
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent winter damage
  • Slow down or stop fertilization from November – February (especially nitrogen). Instead, use kelp to help stimulate uptake of remaining minerals and stimulate root growth.
Bring gourds, pumpkins, and squash indoors are “store” on your table as an edible decoration until you are ready to eat them. Collect dried grasses and branches while out on nature walks, but always ask for permission if you don’t own the land yourself.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Only cut back perennials with “soft stems” that will rot over the winter. Leave as many seed heads and spent flowers as you can for winter homes for insects and food sources for wild birds. Wait until early spring to cut them back.
  • Cut back any spent annual flowers and begin planting winter flowers (pansies, snapdragons, violas, cosmos, zinnia, etc.)
  • Take cuttings of cassava, Mexican Sunflower, chaya, etc. Store indoors OR start them in a protected porch.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Before a rainy day, add probiotics to your soil for the winter months. This is a great way to help balance out nematodes in the soil, build soil structure, and improve overall soil health. You can purchase organic products like BioAG (that’s what we have used for over a decade), which will store on the shelf for years and has a fantastic probiotic blend.

Fall is a great time to plant native wild flower seed mixes

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

See you in the Garden!

November Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

November Garden Tasks

 

The outdoor air is now officially crisp and has the smell of autumn.  The mornings require jackets and scarves, and the evenings are perfect for snuggling under a blanket next to a campfire.  It’s time to finish cleaning up from the growing season and get ready for winter rest and winter planning.  This November Garden To-Do List is geared toward those in cooler climate areas (USDA Zones 3-8), but if you are looking for a list for this month for USDA Growing Zones 9-11, CLICK HERE.

For those of you enjoying “true fall”… here is your November property to-do list.  Be sure to share it with friends on social media and let’s get out into the garden together!

In the Garden

  • Things to Plant by Seed:  Garlic and spring bulbs.  For a list of what you can do all winter for spring bulbs…click here.  
  • Harvest:  The last of the winter veggies… kale, cabbage, fall turnips, Swiss chard, and greens.
  • Mulch:  It’s time to cover those gardens for the winter.  NEVER leave soil exposed to the winter elements in the garden, food forest, or flower beds.  Add wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes (wood chips create a fungal dominated soil, which trees prefer).  Keep the chips away from the stems and trucks though.   Add another layer of straw around garden veggies, because straw creates a bacterially dominated soil, which is preferred by annual veggies.  These will decompose slowly over the winter and make things nice and rich for you in the springtime. 

Enjoy the last blooms of the native asters before they go into dormancy. Save seed to spread other places too!

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: If you are planting in the ground, it’s time to start greens like radishes, turnips, and beets. If you are planting in raised beds or tray in the green house, you can do much of the same and even microgreens!
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and unused pots
  • Store pots in a shed or garage with cardboard between them to prevent winter cracking
  • Set mouse traps to control critters in sheds and greenhouses
  • Stop fertilizing all houseplants until spring

Cold season flowers and cover crops can be grown in the greenhouse or polytunnel all winter long! This calendula pic was from December in Kansas.

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest ripe fruit: Persimmon, last of the paw paw, acorns, nuts, and other final forest gifts.
  • Plant cold hardy fruit trees: Peach, plum, pear, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, goji berry, lingonberry, aronia berry, hazelnut, pecan, persimmon, and appleUse our FREE GUIDE on “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush” as a quick tutorial.
  • Probiotic time! This is an excellent time to refresh the probiotic in your soil, spray fruit trees, berry bushes, and help activate compost piles before winter. We recommend using BioAg, by SCDProbiotics.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest the last of the legume trees (honeysuckle, Japanese pagoda, Siberian pea, Russian Olive, etc.) and drop them at the base of your fruit trees.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with cool air and moisture, fungal issues can pop-up overnight, so a nice fall application can help prevent this damage over the winter months.
  • Pastures: Sow wildflower seeds to improve pasture health.
  • TIP: When your neighbors rake their leaves and do their fall yard clean-up, ask for the bags of leaf litter (usually out at the road) to add to your compost pile. That’s free organic matter to help build your soil! Their trash is your treasure.

Persimmon are best when fully ripe or after falling from the tree.

In the Shed

  • After heavy fall use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors). Use SeaFoam in each power tool to help clean things out a bit before fall storage.
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust while they are stored for the winter.
  • Check for holes in the walls or along the floor to prevent mice from entering over the winter. Fill or patch accordingly.
  • Bleach all storage containers to sterilize them for the winter.
  • Plug in ultrasonic mouse deterrents to prevent nesting during winter months.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Feed extra protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins this month. Birds are finishing with their fall molting season, so they need the extra boost to help replenish their feathers and energy reserves. You can help them out by feeding them live minnows, meal worms, canned tuna, etc. Do NOT heat your coops over the winter. Instead, follow this guide on “How to Help Chickens Stay Warm in the Winter.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • Add BioLiveStock (probiotics) to all animal waterers this month to help their microbiome and gut health as they enter the winter months.
  • Feed spent pumpkins and fall gourds to the chickens and goats. They might need to be cut open first, but this highly nutritious snack is perfect for the barnyard friends!
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Open up the windows on warmer days to help air out the house and let in fresh air
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Have chimney cleaned and inspected before starting for the first time in the winter
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent winter damage
  • Slow down or stop fertilization from November – February (especially nitrogen). Instead, use kelp to help stimulate uptake of remaining minerals and stimulate root growth.
Bring gourds, pumpkins, and squash indoors are “store” on your table as an edible decoration until you are ready to eat them. Collect dried grasses and branches while out on nature walks, but always ask for permission if you don’t own the land yourself.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Only cut back perennials with “soft stems” that will rot over the winter. Leave as many seed heads and spent flowers as you can for winter homes for insects and food sources for wild birds. Wait until early spring to cut them back.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Before a rainy day, add probiotics to your soil for the winter months. This is a great way to help balance out nematodes in the soil, build soil structure, and improve overall soil health. You can purchase organic products like BioAG (that’s what we have used for over a decade), which will store on the shelf for years and has a fantastic probiotic blend.

Fall is a great time to plant native wild flower seed mixes

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

See you in the Garden!