Urban homesteading: what can you do in the winter?

All of us COVID-gardeners who discovered (or rediscovered) our love for gardening during 2020 may be feeling a bit of empty nest syndrome right now. The garden is well and truly over unless you have a greenhouse or live in a non-freezing zone. And if you’re like me, you’ve already planned the hell out of next year’s garden.

There are still plenty of gardenish or at least homesteading-related activities you can do during winter, though.

Growing Indoors

The most obvious move is to bring some of the garden vibe indoors. I’ve never started seeds indoors, but in March I plan to start a bunch of hot peppers and exotic tomato varieties. So I already had a grow light and a setup for doing that. Why not get some practice in ahead of time?

So right now I’ve got a pot with 2 peach ghost pepper seedlings, and a second pot where a Count Dracula pepper JUST poked up out of the soil. I shall name him Vlad the Poker. Come spring, these peppers should be nice mature plants, and can either go out into the garden, or just stay indoors. But growing them has already helped me get the hang of setting my light timer and using a heat pad.

I could have started with herbs and I do actually have a little herb garden I planted out today. But hot peppers are nice to do this with because one or two is a significant harvest, so a single plant is all you need.

Canning

You don’t have to wait for your own harvest if you’re new to canning and want to practice. The first time I made rosemary peach jam was with a bunch of peaches I got at Costco. You might even be able to find canning supplies such as mason jars and lids, that were in short supply this year at the height of the season.

Dehydrating

It’s nice to run the dehydrator during the cold months. Not only is the drier air helpful to the dehydrating process, the heat generated by the dehydrator helps warm my kitchen. I’ll be making a batch of beef jerky this weekend, and just finished a batch of dehydrated marshmallows (not sure I’m a fan but the dehydrating group I belong to was going crazy about them so I had to give it a try. If nothing else, they’ll be good in a hot cup of cocoa.

Learning

Reading, research, schooling. I’m spending the off-season on YouTube, and planning to take the Joe Gardener Master Seed Starting course. There are so many great gardening books, too, and my book collection is growing during this time when my garden cannot.

Plan for Next Year

Pretty much as soon as the garden season ended, I was in Excel and various gardening apps, planning out the garden for 2021. It’s a smart move to do this as much in advance as possible, so that you can order any special seed varieties you’ve got your eye on BEFORE the spring rush.

That being said, a lot of the details planned over the winter go out the window come planting time. And that’s OK! The important thing is that you’re learning things, and having a way to keep your gardening flame alive throughout the winter.