The time between late October through late December is filled with holidays, family gatherings, and school vacations. Instead of the work slowing down, the workload doubles, and instead of enjoying the holidays and time with friends and family, we often find ourselves caught up in the holiday rush, at wit’s end, wishing everyone would just go home. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a plan and a schedule, your winter months can not only be enjoyable, but productive and profitable.
Traditionally, late fall and winter have been the least profitable months for homesteading. Summer gardens have played out, egg-laying slows, livestock consumes more than they produce, and the farmers markets that allowed you to sell your wares are usually closed until the summer. At the exact time income is waning, you find yourself hosting family gatherings, having holiday parties, buying holiday gifts, and making needed additions and repairs to the homestead before spring. Don’t panic. The old saying “Plan the work then work the plan” is correct. All you need to do right now is make your plan.
Your homestead is where you live, work, and play. It must come first on your list of priorities. Make a list of all the repairs that need to be done. This is everything from farm equipment, to your roof, to the coop roof. Don’t forget to check your fencing and winterize coops and pens. Add to that list your general maintenance chores. Fall and winter maintenance include, but aren’t limited to, building your hoop houses, mulching the fall garden, and pulling out your row covers. Finally, include any additions you want to make to your homestead the following year, such as a new garden plot, organic certification, beekeeping, or a new market animal.
Once you have a list, go through and prioritize it into needs and wants. From there, prioritize by what would make the most difference to your homestead in profitability and joy. Are there any adjustments you need to make to better align your homestead with your values? Did you find the past year was too difficult because you did not have the proper tools or equipment for certain projects? Consider all of these things and create your master list of homestead chores in order of importance.
Carve out time on your calendar to complete these chores. Ideally, most of them will be done before mid-November when the holidays and out-of-town family are upon us.
Early October is a good time to do the things you were too busy to do during the busy growing months. Schedule a block of time to make preserves from the fruit you froze this summer. Any fresh or dried fruit can start soaking in rum for your holiday fruitcakes, or to use in flavored alcohols to give as gifts – or to enjoy yourself. Apples are in season, so make enough homemade applesauce and apple butter to last the year. Don’t forget apple cider, which is great served warm to holiday guests.
If you set aside a few days, it is easy to make a large batch of bath soap. By the time gift-giving rolls around, your soap has cured and you have a thoughtful, handmade gift for anyone who drops by. It is possible, and a huge time-saver, if you make enough soap for the following year. This applies whether you are selling your farmstead soaps, or using them yourself. The same holds true for DIY cleaning supplies and laundry soap.
Sewing, knitting, and other fiber arts are another thing you can work on throughout the colder months. Winter is a good time to make grapevine and straw wreath bases, as well as collect natural materials such as pine cones and magnolia pods for future wildcrafting projects.
For a homestead to be profitable it needs to make money year-round. Some of your income opportunities slow down during the winter, but where those end, others begin.
Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas food packages, and fall/winter CSAs are some of the most reliable sources of income for small homesteads. Early October is the time to remind your customers of these opportunities, whether you mail individual reminders, post to your social media, or send out flyers. Ideally, you will have a realistic count by mid to late October and can continue to promote accordingly.
If you participate in holiday markets or have an online farm shop, decide what exactly you will offer, make sure you have all of the necessary materials, and create your holiday posters and social media banners. Start making your products now, if you haven’t started already, because you can’t sell what you don’t have. Your goal is to have a large inventory of product before the first market. This means setting aside time to work on your products every day. Be sure to keep track of your expenses and sales, so you will be able to see which products are successful and which are not.
You may be able to find local farmers markets that operate year-round. If so, offer some holiday items to your product line: traditional preserves (like this Crazy-good Cranberry Sauce), chutneys, and fruitcakes are all appreciated. Consider offering gift baskets in various sizes and themes for one-stop shopping.
October is a good time to offer homesteading classes. If you can find a way to frame them around the upcoming holiday, attendance will soar. Soap-making classes are great if you allow them to take the soap they make to give as gifts. Pie-making classes are also popular, as everyone imagines themselves baking pies from scratch for their family gatherings. Don’t forget to put your crafting skills to work with wreath, ornament, or basket-making classes.
The work you need to do on your homestead is the same work many people need to be done at their homes. Handyman skills can bring in quite a lot of extra money, as many people do not have the know-how, time, or inclination to get out in the cold. Pet-sitting is another moneymaker during the holiday season. Many people who travel to visit relatives do not want to take their pets but do not want them to be kenneled either. A chance for their pets to spend a few days on a farm is perfect.
Your community is important to your well-being, as well as to the success of your homestead enterprise. It is important to recognize that, appreciate that, and give back to the community that supports you. If you have a pumpkin patch, invite the local homeschool group over and send each one home with a pumpkin. You can host a group meal for the community; you provide the main course and have your neighbors bring the sides and desserts. Don’t forget the elderly and shut-ins in your neighborhood. There are chores they need to be done that you or your children could easily do as a community service. Only you know the needs of your neighborhood. Think about what you are able to do and then do it for someone!
As the holidays approach, keep in mind: less is more. No one will enjoy your dinner if you are filled with anxiety. Do as much as you can ahead of the big day and save some jobs for your guests. People love to help and it is a lot easier to entertain if everyone has something to do.
Gift-giving holidays are one of the hardest things to change when you become a homesteader. If you do not want to participate in the “Buy Nothing” holiday, consider giving more handmade gifts than you previously have. Project-based gifts are also great, as long as the recipient is as interested in the project as you are! If your children believe in Santa Claus, consider marking the big present from you and the smaller, less expensive presents from Santa. Many children do not live in families that can afford Santa, and there’s no reason to turn such a loving holiday into something competitive. As with all other aspects of your life, holiday blowouts and gift-giving occasions should align with your homesteading values.
The winter months are the perfect time to plan what’s next for your family and your farmstead. Order seed catalogs, read homesteading books pertaining to your particular interests, read to yourself and to your kids for fun. Puzzles, board games, and other indoor projects are fun to do as a family when it is too cold to spend much time outside. As you are working indoors, tune in to some of the great homesteading podcasts that are available.
Winter homesteading has a different rhythm to it. There is still an awful lot of work to get done, but it is enjoyable work that, if planned right, can bring family, friends, and community closer together. Enjoy the falling leaves and the snow. You’ll be planting your spring garden soon enough.