When we think of homesteading, visions of backyard chickens, bountiful veggie gardens and jars of home-canned foods lining pantry shelves are usually the first things that come to mind.
We think of pulling weeds and planting seeds; Of long, hot days gardening and farming livestock; Of evenings spent steaming up the kitchen windows while the canner runs steadily.
We think of collecting fresh eggs on a dewy summer morning and snapping green beans on the front porch on a warm summer night. And of course we think of eating fresh food, made from scratch with ingredients grown and plucked from our own land.
Indeed, these are all noble homesteading activities in the fair-weather months, but what about when winter sets in?
What happens once the first hard frost comes to claim any life that remains out in the garden? What do we do when the snow starts falling and the hens stop laying? How do we fill our days and nights after the canner gets put away?
Homesteading is a Year-Round Lifestyle
For whatever reason, homesteading is most often thought of as a three-season “activity.” Planting season begins in the spring, gardening and farming season runs from spring through the summer and canning and preserving season takes us from summer into fall. Winter often only gets mention when we talk about how best to use the other three seasons to prepare for it. So much of homesteading centres around preparing for winter. But what happens when winter finally arrives?
Sure, we could just hunker down and relax, enjoying the fruits of our labour and resting until spring returns and the really busy seasons begin again. But the very nature of most homesteaders is that they tend to enjoy keeping busy, working hard and creating as much as possible with their own two hands. In other words, they go a bit stir crazy sitting around on the couch.
Now, let me just make this clear before we continue: I am not at all suggesting that you shouldn’t take a well-deserved break in the winter. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to take time to rest whenever possible so that you can feel rejuvenated and be more productive when you really need to be.
But if you’re looking for some (mostly relaxing) homesteading activities that you can do throughout the winter months to help keep you occupied, save you money, ward off cabin fever and keep the pioneering spirit alive all year long, I’ve got a few suggestions for you.
Let’s begin with my personal favourite…
1. Cooking & Baking
Although it could be argued (with sound reason) that cooking and baking are year-round activities, there’s no time like winter to fire up the oven, the slow cooker or the wood stove and create amazing comfort food to fill the belly and warm the soul on cold, snowy days and nights.
Related: Easy, No-Knead, Homemade Bread
Winter is all about cozying up and filling the house with the warm, comforting smells and tastes of home-baked breads, biscuits and desserts. It’s about creating hearty soups and stews, slow-cooked roasts and meals that stick to your ribs.
It’s also the perfect time to put some of that home-canned food you worked so hard to put up to good use. Use your home-canned green beans in a comforting green bean casserole. Enjoy some home-canned tomato sauce over a hearty pasta bowl. Bake pies and crumbles with ease using the home-canned fruit pie filling you put up in the summer. And of course savour every pickle, preserved fruit and jar of jam, jelly, relish, chutney, salsa and sauce you worked so hard to preserve in the summer and fall. After all, there is no better way to enjoy the fruits of you labour than to literally enjoy the fruits of your labour!
2. Winter Gardening & Farming
While many plants won’t survive the winter, there are a handful of cold-hardy veggies that you can grow throughout the winter.
Greens like kale, collards, bok choy and Swiss chard grow well even in cold, snowy conditions. Although you will still need to protect them from getting crushed by the weight of the snow. You can do so by building your own DIY Hoop House. Or better yet, you can use a heated greenhouse to extend your growing season right through the winter and keep your root vegetables growing while extending the life of summer veggies and getting an early start on spring planting.
And of course if you have livestock they will need to be cared for all throughout the winter. Be sure to keep them safe, dry and warm with extra bedding and always make sure they have enough liquid water to drink as water can easily freeze during winter. Now may also be the time to harvest any animals you don’t want to continue feeding throughout the winter. Christmas dinner???
3. Knitting & Crocheting
If you like to keep your hands busy, there is no better way to accomplish this in the winter months than to start a knitting or crocheting project.
If you’ve never knit or crocheted before, there are some great videos on Youtube to help you get started. That’s where I began, and although I’m still not great at either, it’s a skill I’m working on. It’s also something I find I only have time to do in the winter when I have more time to sit and devote to it.
November is a great time to get into knitting and crocheting as we start to look toward Christmas. Homespun scarves, hats, sweaters and blankets always make great gifts!
4. Sewing & Quilting
Winter is also the perfect time to engage in the other fiber arts. If you’ve been wanting to try a new sewing project, finish a quilt that’s been sitting in your closet for ages or even just mend some clothing, winter is a great time to break out the sewing machine (or simply a needle and thread) and get to work!
Again, November is a great time to start some sewing projects that are either seasonal or that you could give as gifts for Christmas. You could start by sewing a simple stocking, a Christmas pillow or a homemade advent calendar. The options are truly endless though depending on your skill level. If you’ve never tried sewing you can learn for free with Youtube videos or on craftsy.com. Sometimes you can even sign up for an in-person class at your local fabric store.
For the homesteader, candles are often not just beautiful luxuries, but actually essential items to have on hand during the winter months in case the power goes out or if you’re living off-grid. They also make beautiful homemade Christmas gifts for family and friends.
Related: DIY Scented Soy Wax Candles
But store-bought candles can cost a pretty penny and are often made with ingredients that you might not want to be burning and breathing in. By making candles at home, you control exactly what goes into them and do so at a fraction of the cost of buying store-bought.
The best options for homemade candles are beeswax or soy. You can make them scented or unscented. Using essential oils is usually your best option as the fragrances are natural, but you can use fragrance oils as well. I have used both and enjoy each for different reasons, but the choice is yours.
Click here for a full tutorial on How to Make Soy Wax Candles at Home.
6. Making Soap & DIY Body Products
Just like candles, you can whip up your own homemade soap and body products at home in your kitchen (mostly). Of course if you are making soap with lye you will want to go outside due to its caustic nature. But otherwise everything can safely and easily be made in your kitchen.
Choose from cold-process or melt & pour soaps, DIY body butters, salves, lotion bars, salt and sugar scrubs, bath salts, perfumes, shaving cream, milk and herbal baths, bath bombs, lip scrubs, chapstick… the list goes on and on. In fact, anything you can buy at the store you can pretty well make at home, including most makeup.
The basic ingredients for some of these projects can cost a little bit of money up front, but will almost always save you money in the long run while using safer, healthier, more natural ingredients. You can even make some things with a few simple ingredients you probably already have in your home pantry, like white sugar and olive oil. Just mix these two ingredients together and add a few drops of essential oil to make a beautiful homemade sugar scrub!
7. Making Homemade Cleaning Products
Winter is a great time to restock your cleaning supplies by making your own safe and natural homemade products. Just like bath and body products, the list of cleaning products you can make at home is seemingly endless!
Make your own laundry soap at home using a few simple ingredients. Infuse white vinegar with the rinds from citrus fruits that are in-season in the winter and make your own multi-purpose surface cleaner. Or blend together some baking soda with some dried, grated lemon peel and lemon essential oil to make a homemade sink, tub and toilet cleaner.
You can even make your own potpourris with dried herbs and flowers and chemical-free homemade room sprays with essential oils and alcohol. These double as Christmas gifts as well!
8. Building & Crafting
Whether you’re a skilled carpenter or just enjoy breaking out the hot glue gun and getting creative, winter is a the best season to devote some time to all of those DIY projects you’ve been wanting to tackle but never seem to get around to.
Having a basement workspace or a heated garage is handy when it comes to woodworking and other building projects in the winter, but a simple craft room or even a dining room table is enough to do most DIY-ing. Whether you’re making your own homemade Christmas ornaments or building a bookshelf, winter is the time to break out the craft supplies and get making!
9. Reading & Writing
I have always loved to write, which is why I chose to start this blog. The winter is always my favourite time to write. The peace and stillness of winter combined with the spirit of the holiday season lends itself to being a great time for reflection and contemplation, which is best expressed in writing. The quiet of a winter’s evening is the perfect environment to let your thoughts flow onto paper (or a keyboard).
Likewise, the same qualities about winter make it a great time to get some reading done as well. I’ve never understood those people who lay by the pool all summer reading their books. Even before I began homesteading, I still never had time to read in the summer! There was always so much else to do. But in January, after the rush of holiday madness has passed and the long-haul of winter really begins, I love to curl up with a hot cup of tea and a good book.
Whether you use the time to write your autobiography, start your own blog, get lost in a story or learn something new from a non-fiction book, winter (January specifically) is the best time of year for busy homesteaders to slow down enough to really sink into some reading and writing. To feel extra “productive,” pick up a book on homesteading, gardening, cooking or crafting and learn a new skill while you’re at it!
10. Playing an Instrument
This is one thing I don’t do but really wish I did. There’s something about playing an acoustic instrument for entertainment in the winter that harkens back to times of old.
Whether you play Christmas carols on the piano, strum folk tunes on your guitar or organize a sing-along with the whole family, making music with your own voice and hands, without the need for electricity, follows in the tradition of the pioneers. I always think of “Little House in the Big Woods” when Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her favourite time of day: When Pa comes home and strikes up his fiddle.
Playing an instrument is truly old school entertainment, and definitely something you should consider learning if you ever plan on living off-grid!
11. Seed Shopping & Garden Planning
Winter is also a great time to do a little dreaming. Usually by January or February, we begin longing for the warmer, brighter days of spring to return. One way we can help get out of the dark, winter mindset and brighten things up a bit is to browse through seed catalogues and start planning our spring and summer garden.
February is usually the time when we begin starting some of our seeds indoors as well. Let the summer dreaming begin!
Winter and the New Year in particular is THE time to reflect on what’s working and what needs improvement in our lives, and to set new goals for ourselves to improve some areas of our lives that need some attention.
Whether you want to quit a bad habit, start a good habit, improve your physical body, get your finances in order, organize your home or learn a new skill, the New Year is the best time of year to set new goals, make plans for the future and take the time to focus on yourself and your dreams.
I love to start each new year by creating a vision board full of things that I want to do, be or achieve. I hang it somewhere where I will look at it every day (like in the bathroom) to help keep my goals and dreams fresh in my mind each day. It’s amazing watching the things on my vision board materialize!
I truly believe in the power of visualization and the law of attraction, and this past year alone I achieved many of my New Year’s goals that I made and put on my vision board, including quitting smoking, publishing my writing and getting a new car. Visualization and goal setting combined with intentional action is a winning combination for achieving anything you set your mind to!
13. Family Time
I almost didn’t add this one as family time should be a priority all year long. But winter allows us the time to reconnect with family and friends and the seasonal celebrations and traditions to do so.
It’s the time of year when we open our homes to extended family, friends and neighbours or when we travel to see relatives we don’t visit with every day. It’s a time to make merry and celebrate the love we share with others. It’s the time to let others know we love them and to make plans to get together and enjoy their company. And of course it’s a great season to spend quality time with our immediate family playing board games, building snowmen, going skiing, reading books and enjoying hot chocolate in front of the fire.
As homesteaders, spending time with our families is often at the top of our list of priorities. But throughout much of the year, that time is often spent working together. While that is excellent bonding time, it’s also nice to take a load off and simply enjoy each other’s company and revel in some good fun together. Winter and all of its seasonal celebrations offer the perfect time of year to do just that.
There are so many activities that are perfect for winter, and I could probably make a list a mile long full of everything you could keep yourself busy with in the “off-season.” But these are my personal favourites and are the perfect activities for homesteaders to focus on.
I know that homesteading appealed to me in large part because I love keeping busy, creating, learning new skills and improving all the time. And while I love to relax in the winter, I love to feel like I’m still being productive while enjoying life at a slower pace than the rest of the year.
Winter offers us the gifts of peace, quiet and time that we don’t always get to enjoy during the other three seasons. So let us not wish it away, but embrace it and use it to our full advantage. After all, spring is just around the corner;)