Formats and Prices
- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
- Spiral bound $19.95 $23.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 3, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available in this series: The Backyard Homestead, The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.
Introduction: Defining the Seasons
Chapter One: Midwinter
Topic of the Season: Soil Health and Fertility
Chapter Two: Late Winter
Topic of the Season: Meeting Plant Needs
Chapter Three: Early Spring
Topic of the Season: The Lives of Poultry and Livestock
Chapter Four: Mid-Spring
Topic of the Season: Rotational Grazing
Chapter Five: Late Spring
Topic of the Season: Cover Crops
Topic of the Season: Honey Bee Partners
Chapter Six: Early Summer
Topic of the Season: Making Hay
Chapter Seven: Midsummer
Topic of the Season: Caring for an Orchard
Chapter Eight: Late Summer
Topic of the Season: Tools and Equipment
Chapter Nine: Early Fall
Topic of the Season: Weed, Pest, and Disease Control
Chapter Ten: Mid-Fall
Topic of the Season: Managing Your Woods
Chapter Eleven: Late Fall
Topic of the Season: Restoring Biodiversity
Chapter Twelve: Early Winter
Topic of the Season: Quality of Life
Tracking Your Year
Put Your Backyard to Work with this Best-Selling Series from Storey
Share Your Experience!
When my family and I first moved to this farm, I wanted to do it all: garden, keep an orchard and bees, grow field crops, raise livestock and poultry, have my own firewood and timber. It was a steep learning curve, though my job as a reporter for a weekly farm newspaper helped a lot, since it took me to several hundred farms and introduced me to many farmers and agricultural professionals. There were plenty of mistakes and some outright failures along the way, but I did learn, and my husband and I are still here and still happy, rejoicing in homegrown food and even making a little money most years.
The three biggest things I've learned over the past 25 years are:
- You can't do it all at the same time if you have a small budget, a family, and outside job obligations — not if you want a decent life and good family relations.
- You don't need to do it all. What does work nicely is to try different enterprises — pigs, bees, timber harvests, whatever — over the years to discover what you like best, whether they fit together well, and what most benefits your family, your land, and your budget. Keep what works.
- Doing a thing in its proper season — when it would naturally occur, or when conditions make the job most efficient and comfortable — is how you spread the work more evenly through the year. This is what makes it possible to get it all done and still have some leisure time.
This book is about timing, as important an aspect of raising plants and animals as any other. Bits and pieces of information on when to do farm-related tasks are widely available in gardening calendars, vaccination schedules for livestock, discussions of when to prune trees and plant crops, and so on. This book combines all of this information to create a seasonal calendar for the most common enterprises found on small diversified farms, in a way that spreads the work appropriately and more or less evenly and can be understood and applied anywhere in the temperate zones of this continent. This book assumes that you wish to work with natural processes instead of against them, and so the calendar of seasonal tasks in each chapter excludes the use of synthetic chemicals.
Every rural acreage is different in what and how and when to do things, because every piece of land is different and so is every landowner. For that reason, no one else (and especially no book) can possibly tell you precisely what and how and when you should do things on your place. A book tells you what to look for and which questions to ask. You have to figure out the answers.
This book is just a beginning; it gets you to the starting line. From there you have to run the course: do the thinking and planning and experimenting over the years to fill out the details of your own personal farm calendar. The people who do that — think and plan and experiment — are the ones who thrive.
Defining the Seasons
Seasons vary a lot, year to year. They're wet or dry, cold or warm or hot, early or late. Just now we're in the middle of the most drawn-out mud season, otherwise known as late winter, that I've ever seen, and it's been a challenge to keep the cattle even reasonably dry.
The timing and length of the seasons differ strikingly across temperate North America, but the seasons themselves are similar enough that we recognize the same broad characteristics. Winter is a time of cold and no plant growth; summer means heat and long days. Spring is the transition from winter to summer, and fall the transition from summer to winter. Each season slides into the next; only rarely is there a sudden shift. In the most southern states, winter almost disappears and summers are hot enough to keep cool-loving plants from growing; in the northern tier of states, summers are short and relatively cool and the growing season isn't long enough for tomatoes and other long-season plants to mature when started outside.
As a culture, we've gotten into the habit of looking at the calendar to determine planting times and other such decisions, no matter what's going on outside. But a few generations ago, instead of looking at the calendar, farmers and gardeners looked at what the local plants and birds and other wildlife were doing — a much more accurate indicator considering how different seasons are from year to year. Using plant growth and wildlife activity to identify how far along you are in the year is called phenology, and it is a highly useful study for anyone who grows crops or raises animals.
But phenology is a very local study, since seasonal indicator species vary widely across various regions. Spring in the Southwest has a different cast of native characters than spring in the Northeast. The signs can vary even across small areas. Our friends just 15 miles to the south know that sprouting skunk cabbage means winter is coming to an end, but I've never seen it in our neighborhood. I watch for returning red-winged blackbirds instead. Phenology cannot define what makes a season across the entire temperate zone of the continent.
Useful Seasonal Indicators
There are, however, some precise and fairly universal indicators of the different seasons that apply no matter where you live.
Soil and air temperatures. These can be measured with air and soil thermometers (soil temperature is measured at a depth of 3 to 4 inches) or by keeping an eye on what local farmers are doing. There are three crops grown throughout North America — corn, wheat, and alfalfa — that, no matter where they are planted, germinate and grow best with specific soil and air temperatures. Wherever you are in the country:
- Spring wheat goes in the ground in early spring.
- Most farmers plant field corn in the middle of spring.
- The first cutting of alfalfa for hay occurs in late spring into early summer.
Rate of growth in warm- and cool-season grasses. This is a second good and widespread indicator of the season. Except for the first cutting of alfalfa, harvest times are not reliable indicators — crops get harvested when farmers judge that they're mature, more so than according to the season.
In this book, I have used soil and air temperatures and grass growth as indicators to generally define 12 seasons: an early, middle, and late period of each of the 4 major seasons. This level of detail allows for a much more specific discussion of what should best be done at a particular time of year, and why.
Warm- and Cool-Season Grasses
Cool-season grasses commonly used for forage: Tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, redtop, smooth bromegrass, timothy
Warm-season grasses commonly used for forage: Big bluestem, Bermuda grass, Caucasian bluestem, eastern gamagrass, Indian grass, little bluestem, side-oats, grama, switchgrass
Note: Information adapted from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Grazing Fact Sheets.
In Season and Out
If you have enough money, labor, equipment, and infrastructure, it's certainly possible to do many things out of season. We can grow tomatoes in North Dakota in winter with a warm and well-lit and expensive greenhouse, calve beef cattle not just in spring but in August or January, and cut firewood during the worst heat of summer. But why? For the small-scale diversified rural acreage, this is neither practical nor enjoyable. I don't want to work that hard. Doing things at the right season requires less money and labor, and it produces better results.
On the other hand, it's a rare year when I get even most of my work done at exactly the right time. Sometimes the weather just won't cooperate; other times some other project demands all my attention, or there's a major family event involving travel that I don't want to miss. Sometimes things have to get done at less than the best times, and sometimes they wait until next year, like getting those grapevines off the field fences. I've realized that if I shoot for the best and am willing to settle for what works, we'll get by okay.
This book generally defines the seasons as follows:
Midwinter. Soil is frozen or subject to intermittent freezing. Air temperatures are continually or often below freezing. No plant growth. In USDA climate Zones 1–7, the soil is on average frozen in winter; in Zone 8 it's subject to freezing. In Zones 9 and 10, the soil does not normally go below 40°F/4°C, and air temperatures only rarely go below 32°F/0°C, so that these areas can be said to have no real winter.
Late winter. Soil surface thaws in the sunniest areas, but its average temperature is still below 40°F/4°C. Daytime air temperatures are frequently above freezing. No grass growth, though the very earliest native plants begin to emerge.
Early spring. Soil thaws and warms through the season to 40°F/4°C and higher. Cool-season grasses begin to grow, but slowly. Spring small grains are planted as soon as the ground can be worked.
Mid-spring. Soil temperatures reach 50°F/10°C and continue to warm through the season. Cool-season grass growth accelerates; field corn is planted.
Late spring. Soil temperatures reach 60°F/16°C and warm through the season. Cool-season grass growth explodes; soybeans, sunflowers, and sorghum are planted. First cutting of alfalfa gets under way.
Early summer. Begins after the average date of the last hard frost. Soil temperatures warm to 70°F/21°C or higher. First cutting of alfalfa is finished.
Midsummer. Cool-season grass growth slows (when daytime air temperatures are over 75°F/24°C) or stops completely (when temperatures are over 90°F/32°C). Warm-season grasses grow rapidly (best at 80 to 90°F/27 to 32°C).
Late summer. Daily high air temperatures begin to cool off and cool-season grasses begin to grow again. Warm-season grass growth slows.
Early fall. Soil temperatures cool down to 70°F/21°C or below. Cool-season grasses show a burst of growth. Warm-season grasses stop growing.
Mid-fall. Begins with the first hard frost, which kills the corn. Deciduous trees shed leaves; average daily air and soil temperatures trend to below 60°F/16°C; cool-season grass growth slows and stops.
Late fall. Daytime soil temperature falls below 50°F/10°C; nighttime freezing air temperatures are frequent.
Early winter. Soil temperature falls below 40°F/4°C. Plant growth ceases.
Average Timing and Depths of Frost in the U.S. and Canada
When you're mapping out a work schedule and organizing your equipment and supplies for the seasons ahead, it's helpful to know the average dates of first and last frost in your area. But bear in mind that the dates in the calendars below are only averages, and the actual dates can vary by several weeks from year to year. The average dates for field work in your state can be found online in the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service Handbook #628, "Usual Planting and Harvesting Dates for U.S. Field Crops." Especially useful for planning purposes are the dates for planting spring grains and field corn, respectively, and the first alfalfa harvest. Again, bear in mind that these dates are only averages and will also vary by a couple of weeks or more in states that have big changes in elevation (Arizona, for example), or that are very long from north to south (such as California and Minnesota).
Soil is frozen or subject to intermittent freezing. Air temperatures are continually or often below freezing. There is no plant growth. In USDA climate Zones 1–7, the soil is on average frozen in winter; in Zone 8 it's subject to freezing. In Zones 9 and 10, the soil does not normally go below 40°F/4°C, and air temperatures only rarely go below 32°F/0°C, so that these areas can be said to have no real winter.
Midwinter is the season of short days and long nights between the winter solstice and when the first warming trend starts sap moving in the trees — the coldest time of year. The soil is cold or frozen, and nothing grows. Aside from livestock chores and filling the woodbox, there isn't much that needs to get done around the farmyard; it's a traditional time to make and mend tools and pursue other indoor crafts. This is also the traditional time to pour a cup of coffee and do the annual recordkeeping, taxes, and ordering of seeds, supplies, chicks, bees, and equipment parts.
Midwinter is conference season, too, since it's when farmers have some spare time on their hands. Watch for multi-topic conferences on gardening, homesteading, and sustainable farming, as well as workshops on everything from sheep shearing to fruit tree pruning and beekeeping to rotational grazing and direct marketing. Besides the information you gain, these sessions can be a great way to meet other people interested in the same things you are.
The one big outdoor project of the season is woodlot harvests and improvements. This is traditionally the height of the logging season in regions where the ground freezes, though in areas where the ground doesn't freeze, no heavy woods work is done unless the ground is dry, in order to minimize soil compaction and erosion and maximize safety for the workers. Woodlot owners can always find plenty to do: thinning and pruning trees, piling or burning debris, making firewood, and harvesting timber for various purposes.
Focus on: paperwork • woodlot
Download a printable version: BackyardHomesteadSaesonalPlanner-Midwinter.pdf
- »Read your notes from the past growing season to assess how well the previous year's varieties, rotation, and cover crops performed.
- »Read your notes from the past growing season to assess how well the previous year's varieties, rotation, and cover crops performed.
- »Use your notes to plan this year's crop rotation and cover crop plantings, then order seed.
- »Price and order or purchase soil amendments (based on soil test results) if not applied last fall, for spring application.
- »See more about Midwinter Garden Seasonal Chores
- »Assess how well the previous year's crops performed by going over your notes from the past growing season.
- »Plan this year's crop rotation and cover crop plantings based on your notes from last year, then order seed.
- »Purchase soil amendments (based on soil test results) if not applied last fall, for spring application.
- »See more about Midwinter Field Seasonal Chores
- »Order seed for overseeding winter feeding areas in early spring.
- »Work on clearing fence lines of brush and branches if there's little or no snow.
- »See more about Midwinter Pasture Seasonal Chores
- »Select and order new trees and pest controls — traps and treatments — if you want them.
- »Sprinkle wood ashes around trees at the dripline.
- »See more about Midwinter Orchard Seasonal Chores
- »Observe hives on warm, sunny days (over 45°F/7°C), looking for bees emerging for "cleansing flights." Do not open hives.
- »Order hives, supplies, and bees for spring delivery.
- »Assemble and paint hives when they arrive.
- »See more about Midwinter Beeyard Seasonal Chores
- »Check the hay supply: you should have at least half left. If you're short, start looking for more to buy.
- »Check all livestock, and monitor water, salt, mineral, and hay feeders daily.
- »Ultrasound goats and sheep to see how many young they are carrying, if desired.
- »Control rodents.
- »Research where you can buy weaner pigs in spring.
- »See more about Midwinter Barn Seasonal Chores
- »Order chicks for delivery in early to mid-spring.
- »Check feed, and water hens daily.
- »Let hens outside on nice days.
- »See more about Midwinter Coop Seasonal Chores
- »Clean and lubricate any tools and equipment that are in use.
- »See more about Midwinter Equipment Shed Seasonal Chores
- »Harvest timber and do forest improvement work (pruning, thinning, debris cleanup) in regions where the ground is frozen or dry.
- »Burn debris if there is snow on the ground or if the weather is wet.
- »Check over your sugaring equipment if you have sugar maples and plan to tap them.
- »See more about Midwinter Woodlot Seasonal Chores
- »Research what native plants and animals occupied your acres before settlement.
- »Build birdhouses and bat and wild bee houses.
- »Order native plant seed, food trees, and shrubs for wildlife.
- »See more about Midwinter Wildlife Habitat Seasonal Chores
Midwinter Seasonal Chores
By this time of year, you should have a nice pile of seed and plant catalogs or have identified some promising seed companies on the Internet. Good catalogs will describe each variety's preferences and tolerances for heat, cold, and drought as well as number of growing days to harvest, growth habit and mature height, disease resistance, and other important details. When deciding which species and varieties to plant, start with the following checklist:
- Choose varieties suited to your climate and length of growing season. For example, summers in the Southeast are blisteringly hot and humid, in the coastal Northwest it's cool and moist, and where I am, in the upper Midwest, the average summer is warm and humid, with a relatively short growing season.
- Look for varieties that are disease resistant if you have persistent disease problems (fusarium wilt is a common one).
- Note how the seed is produced if you have opinions about this. Note whether it is open-pollinated, organic, hybrid, or genetically modified (GM). This is especially important if you plan to save your own seed (for more information, see Deciphering Seed Labels).
- Match perennials with your hardiness zone or provide a microclimate. If a perennial, tree, or bush is rated for a zone warmer than yours, it's probably not going to thrive or survive, though you may have success by utilizing a microclimate: try planting it against a wind-protected south-facing wall and mulching the root zone after the ground freezes in early winter.
If you planted last year, use your notes to plan the details of this year's crop rotation and cover crop plantings. Assess how well the previous year's varieties, rotation, and cover crops performed in terms of:
- Quality and productivity
- Resistance to weed competition, disease, and insect pests
- Ease of harvesting
- Contributions from the roots and aboveground residue to soil protection and health
Deciphering Seed Labels
- On Sale
- Oct 3, 2017
- Page Count
- 208 pages