The Dark Days of Winter
There’s lots we can do to forward our preparedness even during the dark days of winter. There’s a whole article about the things our patterns of snow, rain and wind can tell us that will help us assess and plan our homesteads and small lots, and while some can be done in a few minutes just by looking through a window, some require us to test out our gear and go out. Good news on that front: At least there are fewer ticks, flies and mosquitoes for most of us.
Happily, there’s also a whole host of prepper projects we can do inside. Some of them relate to food production, some to increasing our efficiency, and some are little off-the-wall tasks that don’t get as much attention as they otherwise could. The cold and wet days of winter and early spring are ideal for the tasks we tend to put off the rest of the year.
Make a Plan
If you don’t have a plan, you really don’t have much. Without that plan written down, family and partners are left in a lurch if we’re incapacitated. We’re also relying on our brains. The article about outdoor winter assessments covers ways we can use winter and spring winds, snows, rains, and melt runoff to better plan a homestead, but if we’re not writing down those trends to later weigh and prioritize alongside security and convenience, it’s not going to do us much good. If Stevens Jobs and Hawkins take notes…
Having notes is what lets us make a good plan. Whether it’s knowing what our real weather conditions are like and being able to make predictions based on past cycles, or knowing which roads end up under water or jammed in normal years with everything functioning and thus should really be avoided in a state of chaos, our notes feed into a plan that has a better chance of surviving the first and second hit.
Another aspect of planning might be to sit down and write out our goals. In one case, we might solely focus on our big fear. In other cases we start with what the government is telling us to do via FEMA and the Red Cross (3-14 days by agency and ad cycle) and then we look at the most likely things that can happen to us.
Job loss, cut hours, big bills, medical emergencies, house fires, regional storms and natural disasters, school closures, road closures, chemical plants and train wrecks that instigate no-boil orders or require evacuations – there’s lots that can happen and that does happen, daily, that can affect us. In many of those cases, we’re also still going to be expected to be at work (showered and groomed), have our children at school or grandma’s, need or want to keep our internet and electricity and daily tea/coffee habits, and pay our auto insurance and mortgage/rent. Once we have those covered with varying financial and physical insurance, we might make our plan for the bigger, more widely devastating possible disasters.
Meanwhile, maybe we also want to start gardening (please do) and raising livestock, or expand.
We need to balance the “now” against the time it will take our sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle’s orchards to grow, and we also want to be prepared for self- and home-defense, especially if we’d like something to be grandfathered should current laws change.
That’s a lot to balance in the head and only in the head. That’s a lot of supplies, money and future budgets to keep track of. Some can probably do it. Most of us would be better off writing it down.
It’s a big project, a lot of steps. So is a marathon. We finish it by taking one step at a time, whether we’re entering training or stepping off on the race itself. We set ourselves a little time daily or weekly, even just 10-20 minutes at a time, and we work through it, goals and inventory through budgeting for now and the future.
Smaller Projects for the Dark Days
Making a plan doesn’t give us an incredible tangible. Tangibles and checking off lists is good for the head. There are lots of things to forward preparedness that we can do from the comfort of our couch, kitchen table and our sheds, whether we’re just getting started or are experienced. Some of them can be done any time, but some of them really are winter specific. Here’s a few of those tangible projects and goals.
- Locate the sunniest windows in the house for indoor growing – soda bottle towers, sprouted fodder systems, microgreens and shallow veggies in trays and pots, seed starts for the next growing season. This is the time of year we’ll be desperate for fresh, crunchy and flavorful and least able/willing to grow them outdoors. Sunlight changes in intensity and quality as well as taking a different arc winter to summer, so if we plan to grow winter supplements and start our tomatoes without using electricity, now’s the time to figure it out. Get started with growing indoors in the cold and dimmer days.
- Locate areas warm enough for sprouts and sprouted grains or beans
- Test out non-powered winter clothes drying capabilities
- Find the ideal winter angles and locations for solar lights and collection panels
- Prep tools for thaw – scrub rust, sharpen shovels and rakes and mower blades, hit shovels and hoes with WD-40 or kitchen oils (snow shovels, too – less will stick to your shovel and boots that way), oil and clean pruning tools
- Check tires – In most places, tire centers end up overrun when the weather drops hard because things contract. They also get harder and less malleable. That can reveal pinholes and tiny irregularities in our wheels that lead to leaks. We also want to make sure our tread is up to slick rains and snow over ice, that our sidewalls are in good shape for when it turns out there’s a curb or something in the road and not just a drift and end up chirped, and that we have fix-a-flat or patching kits or that our travel air compressor is working.
- Build on our emergency winter housing options (closing off rooms to make smaller spaces to heat, taking a page out of history with tapestries and tented beds, adding insulation below as well as blankets on top)
- Test winter cooking options – test out pre-soaks on grains and beans and pasta, note fuel consumption for morning coffee and biscuits, figure out racks in the oven for using small candle and Crisco cookers, note any difference in time between yeast rises in summer and winter for breads, figure out how to keep a consistent heat for pressure canners)
One of the things you hear growers tell others to do is to get started, especially in the preparedness and homesteading fold. It’s not always all that easy, and there’s a big curve between bags of soil and established beds and breaking new ground.
The same can be said of planning for gardens.
I flinch every time I read or hear “I’ll stash *that* back for spring” in response to landscape planning of any kind. I hope it’s early, pre-planting spring, at best. Something that doesn’t cost a valuable chunk of growing season when we could be learning what does and doesn’t work well and running our variety and yield tests.
Winter and early spring are ideal for a lot of information gathering. It’s detailed further in the outdoor article, but any slope of our land, water movement and collection patterns, frost pockets, and the winter-spring and summer-autumn wind and sun patterns all affect our plantings, whether it’s food production, preventing water damage to foundations, preventing erosion and pasture destruction, making it easier to dig out vehicles and buildings, or planning winter bug-out and water-collection routes and methods.
When it’s food and fodder production, or the production of inputs for our gardens like homegrown mulches and straw, compost, and fertilizers, we then take all that information we gathered, and we combine it with other information: our seasonal traffic patterns around the home, pests, pets, temperatures, growing season length, any hoops or screens or netting we may need.
From that we build a plan for where our garden beds, herbs and kitchen cuttings, orchards, wind screens, water catchments, livestock, cooking areas, waste and compost deposits, drying/curing sheds and stations, living hedges, paddocks and pastures, helpful wildlife attractants, wildlife deterrents, and a dozen other aspects of our homes and homesteads should go to maximize efficiency.
Winter is an excellent time to research gardening and production methods. Permaculture sectors and zones are one aspect to consider that will apply to anyone, regardless of size or readiness level and their intentions. If power is limited, the pro’s and con’s of no-till methods, forager’s patches, and livestock on shrub-tree fodder and forage and native or biomimicry pasture might be a focus.
Sweltering or Frigid
There are all kinds of little projects that can be done anytime the weather is unpleasant. Any search engine will yield hits, from TPJ to Google. I’ve covered a fair number of general projects as well as some specific garden hacks like seed tapes, dibbler boards and wheels, and planting tubes – many of which can be prepared over the winter to make spring planting faster and easier. We can also devote the time we are no longer spending outside and prefer to be snuggled under a cat and a blanket to things like internet hunting and gathering.
There are other projects we can add immediately and maintain throughout, things that make us better no matter what our baseline is.
- Add a commercial break to our physical fitness – stand, move legs or arms, twist core bodies with arms in various poses, stretch (really, stretching is good for you), hold arms or legs out unsupported
- Add another one
- Add weight to it – hold a milk jug or use it for curls and jugs and lifts; use a wrench, a book, a vase, anything at all
- Learn to knit, crochet or sew, or add it to TV time; if you already do, find a dexterity game to keep and build strength in the hands and fingers, especially one that also works hand-eye coordination.
- Use our beloved electronics to find mind-builder games and aps – Programs exist that increase concentration and memory, or that hone our visual awareness and anomaly recognition. The various brain games handheld game units can help us while not burning up data or internet if that’s an issue, and older devices can be had relatively cheaply.
- Work immediate reaction drills – From responses to fires and fights, to draw-point-aim practice, a lot can be done without even getting up from our lap blankets. We can use all kinds of random timers or cue words/songs from radio and TV, or have a partner or family member text, call or shout various threats and situations. Mentally playing through them is helpful, although we do need to physically lift those extinguishers, snag our gear, and learn to step into shoes at some point.
Whatever our preparedness level, there are things we can do, even in poor weather, that can make us better prepared for daily life as well as disasters. From our health to our gardens, little things that take a few minutes to major chores we chip at bit-by-bit, our readiness doesn’t have to hibernate over winter.