Sunday, February 12, 2012

Frugal Farming in Winter

Farming in winter may seem like a contradiction, but farming is, after all, a year round process. Whether its one acre or several, farmers need to work the ground, the plants and its moister content or potential.

In this case, one of the areas I want to talk about is soil quality of a small hobby farm lot. In winter, while I can't necessarily till the soil, I can work to further promote my summer "workers" in the form of red worms.

Each winter, I bring in my rubbermaid tub that is 1/4 full of red worms, that will be the winter stock. The other 3/4s of the red worms are fed to the chickens as protein since they say they won't survive cold winters in the soil, like night crawlers.

By taking the time to "grow" my red worms over the winter, I am able to utilize the long months of winter, to rebuild my stock and use the worms to create needed potting soil for cuttings and garden seeds I start in the windows. These little farm workers also compost down various vegetable matter from my kitchen that otherwise doesn't go to my chickens. Additionally, I'm able to take any leaves and debris from my indoor plants and placed into the worm tub for additional nutrients.

If you are unfamiliar with the benefits of red worms,

you may wish to check out their benefits of these organisms in a organic/green household.

Davis Wiki, Redworms
What do you Feed Redworms
Worm Compost
Red Wigglers
Urban Composting

An indoor compost bin is just one way I work my soil and garden spaces during the winter. Another very productive format is to build in the fall, raised beds with storm window covers, to create "cold frames". These raised spaces will be free of winter snow in the early March period and thus will be able to heat up more quickly due to their mini-greenhouse environment created by the glass glazing provided by the reclaimed window.

This cold frame will become home to several cold hardy plants such as lettuces and various broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, Kale and karobi.

Another frugal farming method I take into component I begin to work more heavily with is coffee grounds. Few people think much about their coffee grounds after they pull the filter from their coffee maker. But this former waste should be going instead into either your compost bin or other collection point. Coffee is a RICH material for gardens and should never be wasted!

My mother used to save her coffee grounds and egg shells in an old coffee tin. Then she would crush the egg shells and add these items to her houseplants' pots. Each would get just a sprinkling of shells and coffee grounds. Then the plants would be watered, slowly leeching the nutrients into the soil. This was the only fertilizer my mother used on her house plants and even my horticultural teachers were always amazed at the growth her plants showed. So there must have been something in her technique.

Another frugal method I use for winter farming is that of the collection of seeds from fruit I purchase from the grocery store. I realize most people assume that everything they are getting from the store is "hybrid" and thus won't produce, but this assumption isn't always the case. Secondly just the challenge of sprouting something from a seed can be fun!

My most recent successful sprouting is that of quince seedlings. I take the seeds I want to attempt to sprout and place them in a wet paper towel. Then I place the paper towel into a recycled glass jar that I have the lid and jar. This is then marked to identify the seed variety I started. I then take the jar and place it in my south facing window and basically ignore it. The small amount of moister in the paper towel is the ONLY moister I provide the seed. The rest of the process is provided by the sun and condensation within the jar. After a few months, I check the various jars to see if I find any sprouting plants. Using this method I have sprouted orange seeds, apple seeds and quince.

Its a great way to teach children about how things grow and for them to learn patience since the seed will not change quickly, but takes a great deal of patient waiting.


  1. This is so interesting! I've read about raising worms as a home business. I have always wondered how to compost indoors, or if it was even possible. Now I know! I'm going to try your mom's coffee grounds and egg shell idea in the meantime. I feel awful throwing away coffee grounds and eggshells all winter when I know how great of compost material they are. Thank you for these tips, I look forward to reading more!

  2. Anisah, I heard that some hybrid seeds will grow, but that the seeds from that growth will be sterile. Do you know if that's true?

    1. That is true for some plants. But often what we get isn't a hybrid. If you watch what you are buying in the store, you can often find varieties that aren't hybrids. For example, the quince isn't a hybrided fruit. So its seeds should produce fine.

      Another is avacado. Some apple varieties aren't hybrids either. So the main issue there is whether they will be cold hardy. That too can be investigated online and you can thus choose apples for your consumption that also will have viable seeds for your region, with a little "help" (future discussion).