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Winter on the farm

Our first seed catalog arrived yesterday.  And man, am I stoked.

Winter on a farm isn’t a time for too much resting.  There’s still a lot to be done.  For one thing, our animals don’t disappear with warm weather.  They actually require more work than they do in summer.  In the summer, we can let our chickens roam the yard, hunting bugs and worms.   It’s kind of awesome, because they keep the ticks and mosquitoes down.

snow day

If you’ve ever lived through a bad tick season, you’re feeling me.  Those little buggers are vicious.  And sneaky.  They’re like mini Viet Cong sneaking up on you in the jungle.  Or forest.  Whatever.

In the winter, though, if we want eggs we have to keep the hens penned up.  They have a nice, large yard to run around in, but most of the time they choose to stay in the cover of their building in a large crowd, staring out dolefully at the world and waiting for the slightest bit of cloud cover so they can go to sleep.  No kidding, those birds might be the smartest animals on the planet.  When it’s dim outside, they go to freaking sleep, by God.  Just sit and daydream about that for a minute, won’t you?

hens looking out

Because the hens are penned up, we have to feed them more.  We have to make sure they’re getting protein so they can create eggs.  Winter costs more than the heat bill, let me tell you.  We also have to keep a light on in the hen house for 14 hours a day, or those ladies will snooze all day and not lay any eggs.  Their water freezes, so we have to break that up.  Unless it freezes completely, then we have to search around for a second water trough and start over.  When it’s below freezing for several days in a row, you start to run out of troughs.   We should invest in one of those heated troughs, and (I swear) we talk about doing so every single winter.  Talking doesn’t really solve the problem, though.

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog


Our miniature donkey needs a lot of the same care.  His pastures are winter-dead, so we have to provide him with hay and feed so he doesn’t sink in on himself and stand by the road, looking longingly at every car that passes with his thumb out.  At least he doesn’t need a light.  But his water does freeze.

Leo the Lop

In the winter, my free-range rabbits have to be put into pens so they don’t mate all the time and produce litters that die in the cold before they even get fur.  They’re a little easier, because we just use dog food bowls for their feed and water, and they pretty much empty them before freezing can happen.  But it breaks my heart to see them locked up like that.  They’re rabbits.  They should be nibbling grass, thumping, and digging burrows.


I don’t know if you know this, but doves mate like rabbits.  One of our females is sitting on an egg right now.  The baby won’t survive the cold.  They never do.  But we always give them a chance, because there might be that one that makes it.  We could put the egg in an incubator and try to raise the baby in the house, but song birds are harder to care for than chicks, and I honestly wouldn’t know what to feed the little bugger.  I keep asking them to stop mating, but they just coo at me condescendingly.  I think it means, “Yeah, right, lady.  Not on your life.”

I don’t know which one is the male.  So I can’t separate them.  They know that, and they laugh at me every morning when I feed them.


The red golden pheasants pretty much take care of themselves.  They have a beautiful aviary (built by the most beautiful man in the world), and they just hang out and flap their wings at me when I’m changing their water trough, letting me know I have no control over them and that I’m so beneath them they can’t even be bothered to attack me.  They are majestic birds with a lot of attitude, so I have to agree with them.  I mean, I can’t fly.  So they have that on me.

We have had winters when we raised cattle, pigs, goats.  They demand so much more when it’s cold outside and they can’t take care of themselves.  So winter keeps us hopping around here, even when we don’t feel like it.

burpee seed catalog

But the seed catalog… Oh. Yeah.

January hits, the catalogs start pouring in, and we start planning the spring garden.  We sit at the table together, Martin and I, and go through the catalogs, dreaming about what goodness we’ll grow.  It’s the best part of winter on the farm.   The Littles even get involved, as we decide what we’ll grow from seed and which yummies we’ll buy as seedlings from the local nursery.  We start looking at our soil, to see what nutrients need added where.  We plot the year’s design, so that we’re being sure to rotate things and to plant ‘friendly’ plants next to each other.   We get out graph paper and draw up several designs.  By the time we’re satisfied, it’s time to plow, then time to till.  The greenhouse goes up and I start growing the seeds we ordered.  And suddenly winter is over and it’s time to get all that goodness in the ground.

I can rest easy knowing the Littles are learning how to take care of themselves when the zombie apocalypse comes.  If you ask them, that could be any day.

Winter on the farm is expensive, both in finance and in work.  It’s different from the work we do in summer, and it’s cold, and breaking up all that ice is a pain in the ass.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the city.  Not even if they have heated water troughs.

Love wins,


25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool: Day 7 Winter

omvcxIt’s sweltering outside.  But at least it’s not raining, right?  Nevertheless, I’m doing that weird human thing where in the midst of the season I was praying for in January I am looking forward to the cool-off.  Why can’t we just be happy with what we have?  Well, I don’t know.  Sometimes it’s too hot and sometimes it’s too cold and sometimes it’s too wet and sometimes it’s too dry… We don’t live on a perfect planet.  And that’s okay.  Because it gives us something to look forward to.  In honor of that, today’s book recommendations are going to be good additions to a winter study.  The season, ice, snow, snowflakes, hibernation and other animal habits–all of those things make great science studies.  So how about a little literature to go along with it?


The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

My favorite thing about winter is the very first snowfall.  I don’t care if it happens in the daytime or the dark of night, I always go for a walk in it and listen to the hush of it, the silence of the earth as it welcomes the flakes, the stillness that happens at no other time, ever.  I always take these walks by myself.  Later, after the snow has really accumulated, that’s the time for Littles.  The Snowy Day is about that littles’ time.   It’s about a little boy’s day in the snow, and the wonder he encounters in a totally transformed city.  You’ve probably read it.  Read it again.  It’s a great celebration of the winter season.


The Mitten by Jan Brett

I’m totally smitten with The Mitten.   (Like how I did that?)  This story is not only a good winter tale, it’s a wonderful reminder to share and be good to others. As all the animals pile one after another into a single mitten, your little will giggle and wonder how they all fit.  And when a sneeze tumbles them all out into the snow, you’re sure to get an outright laugh.  Brett’s wonderful illustrations are heartwarming, helping to keep the chill off of this wintry tale.


A Bird in Winter by Stepanie Girel and Helene Kerillis

This book combines two of my favorite things–Literature and great art.  It’s based on Pieter Breugel’s painting The Hunters in the Snow.  The premise is that of a young girl who nurses an injured bird back to health.  It is also a good introduction to the Renaissance and to Breugel’s artwork.  If you don’t know Breugel, he was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands who was known for his landscapes, especially peasant scenes.  I have long been fascinated with his work because it is so simple and true.  The book contains a reproduction of the original, a picture of which I’m posting below.  Because it’s amazing.

hunters in the snow

Frost (Book 1 of the Frost Chronicles) by Kate Avery Ellison

Frost is the first book in a superb YA series set in a world that is entirely immersed in winter.  Monsters lurk in the wintry woods, and Lia, the protagonist, has to discover their secrets in order to protect her younger sister and her crippled brother.  When her sister discovers a fascinating stranger who needs their help, Lia is forced to go against everything she has ever been taught to keep them all out of danger.  Listen, there are 5 books in this series, and every single one of them is worth the read.  Each book has its own twists and turns and the overall story is well-planned.  Full of action, romance, and mystery, I think it will suck in any teen you gift it to.  Oh, and it’s about winter.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Well.  I had to include Dickens.  You’re not really surprised, are you?  (And The Shining by Stephen King .might not really be appropriate here.)  I know, I know, there are about 10 million films out there based on it, including a Muppet version, and you’ve seen them all.  It. Is. Not. The. Same.  Even the Littles agreed that reading it exceeded watching it on film a million times over.  Since it is set at Christmastime, every scene is in winter. And it’s Dickens.  So you can’t beat it.  Read it.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Set in Russia, Tolstoy’s epic novel of love gone wrong (and right) is a long read, but well worth it.  It’s at the top of my list of all-time faves because of its close look at Russian classes and life and the numerous story lines that tie together and unravel so beguilingly.  Believe me, in the end Anna isn’t even the star of the story, though she is, perhaps, the most tragic part.

Even if you’re just craving a cool-off right now, all of these books are excellent for bringing winter into your mind so that you can almost feel it.

Now if you can excuse me, I’m going to go get in the pool. And pretend I’m a polar bear.  In the Arctic.

Love wins,


Day One: Donkeys             Day Two: Summer            Day Three: Water

Day Four: Insects              Day Five: Owls                 Day Six: Bears