Winterizing Your Home and Garden: Autumn around the urban homestead

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What Autumn means to you is probably influenced by your climate.  Some people are already getting snow while others are still fanning the sun off their faces.  Here in Oregon it’s turning cold and rainy.  While Autumn is not my favorite season (winter is) I do love this time of year.  The past several years I spent most of my autumn canning apples, pears, and the last of the summer tomatoes.

I love the change in seasonal produce, seeing the winter squash get piled in my local produce sections and in the farmer’s market stalls for the last couple weeks of market.  I love cooking with potatoes, celery root, and cauliflower.  Soon my local market will have giant stalks of locally grown brussels sprouts and I’ll want to buy more than I can cook.  My CSA will have them too.  Soup is my favorite food and there are endless varieties of soups to make with the produce on hand.

In your garden you are probably harvesting the last of your tomatoes, squash, and beans.  What now?  Here are some things you might do in your garden:

  • Spread compost on your vegetable beds to overwinter.  The fall is the best time to amend your soil because then it is ready for you to use in the spring.  If you have chickens and some beds you won’t be planting in until spring, cover the beds with the hay you clean out from your chicken run.  Chicken manure is excellent for the garden but needs a few months (preferably six) to mellow because it ‘s a “hot” manure and spreading it on a bed with plants could cause the plant roots to burn.  Overwintering your chicken waste gives it plenty of time to mellow and will be safe to plant in by spring.
  • Rip out all the dead vegetable plants from the garden.  I never do this because I’m too lazy but fall is a great time to tidy up your garden and tuck it in for the winter.  Just be sure not to prune anything unless you have extremely mild winters.  Prune in the spring when most of the winter frost damage is done already and you can prune to the undamaged parts.  If you prune now you could lose more of your plants.
  • Winterize your more tender perennials if you live in a climate with a hard winter such as wrapping your roses or your potted fruit trees in insulation or with burlap stuffed with mulch to keep them warm.  In my climate the winter damage is usually pretty mild and fruit trees don’t need to be wrapped.
  • Bring in any tools or garden furniture that might get ruined by the weather.

I don’t do a lot with my garden during the fall but I live in an old house and one of my concerns right now is winterizing my house so that it will retain heat longer and use less energy to keep comfortable.  Last winter we had our kitchen door constantly opening and closing for our dog and cats and often it was simply left open for hours at a time.  We don’t mind a fairly cold house but every late afternoon the temperatures would drop and we’d put the heat on.  This summer my husband installed a dog door and we’ve been training our cats and dog to use it.  It’s harder for the cats to use it because it had to be installed fairly high off the floor level, yet they learned to use it faster than the dog.  Chick was really frightened of it for the last two months.  At last, just this week, all the animals are using it without coaxing and we’re practicing keeping the kitchen door shut. 

Just in time too because this morning was so cold I had to put the heat on for the first time in months!
One of the things people with old houses often do is replace old windows with new ones.  Unfortunately the old wood windows are almost always replaced with vinyl or aluminum windows and though these supposedly come with a warranty far exceeding wood windows I have known fewer old wood windows to leak than vinyl or aluminum.  If you have to replace your windows, consider replacing them with new wood windows.  They cost a lot more but look a million times better and with just a little care I promise they will last longer than your other choices.  I believe in maintaining the integrity of the old homes in our country so I’m passionate about this.
There are other things you can do to reduce the energy use in your house during winter:

  • Curtains.  A lot of people have thin curtains if they have curtains at all.   Consider making or buying lined heavyweight curtains to put up during the winter months.  Even a sturdy cotton will keep out a surprising amount of cold.  Just be sure the curtains completely cover the window when they’re closed.  You can open them during the warmer hours during the day and close them near evening as the temperatures outside drop.
  • Storm windows.  Around my town many old homes have storm windows as an alternative to replacing antique windows.  If installed correctly they serve to make your old single paned windows double paned.  It creates an extra barrier between the wet weather and your windows as well.
  • Weather stripping.  Check all the outside doors for gaps near the floor.  Weather stripping is inexpensive to buy and easy to install.  Our kitchen door which leads outside has gaps so big at the floor that light can be seen to flood through the openings in the morning.  I bought some weather-stripping  for it.  The door is fairly narrow so I’ll either need to cut it down to size or see if my hardware store carries the correct size.
  • Put insulation around any exposed water or sewage pipes if your area gets cold enough to freeze water.  It doesn’t always get that cold here but last winter it got cold enough to freeze one of our pipes and we were without kitchen or bath water for two days.  (This won’t actually reduce your energy usage but is simply a good thing to do before it’s too late.)

If you have the time, now is also a good season to clean your house and get it really well organized.  During the wet and cold months all the little things that irritated you all summer will become more irritating when you’re also having to worry about mud, coats and scarves everywhere, the holidays looming up, and when so much more of your time is centered around indoor activities.  This week end my husband and son agreed to clean up our living room and put everything away.  It was such a huge relief!  We have so far to go getting things around here running smoothly but that is what I’m thinking about now.  Putting things away, making more counter space, cleaning off high piled surfaces, solving little house problems that aren’t a huge deal but add a little constant irritation to my life.

What I am going to do today,  right now,  the second I get done posting:  Our under the sink cupboard, where we keep our kitchen garbage can, doesn’t latch shut.  For months now our dog has been rooting around in it daily for any tasty little crumbs she might find.  She drags empty cracker bags to the already ratty looking lawn and shreds them up and comes back for whatever else she can find.  I’ve been in such a flurry of work and scrambling to get other bigger things taken care of that I have continually put off taking care of this problem.

The funny thing is that it’s a simple fix.  I bought the magnetic hardware already.  It is ridiculous that it’s taken me this long to get around to it.  So I will do that today and not have to get angry when I see this week’s trash spread out across our yard.

What are you doing to winterize your home and garden?

2 thoughts on “Winterizing Your Home and Garden: Autumn around the urban homestead

  1. miss lila

    it’s so funny that here in Florida, almost all of these are tips for “summerizing” your home — the same tricks are used to keep heat out, too! High summer is the fallow time for gardens down here… instead of putting our gardens to rest for the winter, ours are just waking up and getting ready for the cool-weather crops.
    on the other hand, I’m eagerly awaiting the first cold front of the season (it’s still in the nineties during the day, augh!) and have been trying to decide on curtains to insulate my little house against nighttime chills.

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