WINTER ON THE FARM AND IN THE GARDEN
by Jennifer Schutter, Horticulture Specialist
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I know I did. It’s so fun having kids and watching them get excited about Christmas. We put up a real tree again this year. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a live tree. We actually found one in a short period of time this year. This made my husband happy. It was a beautiful scotch pine. I love scotch pine and don’t even want to try another species. I love the scent they provide and the sturdy branches that will hold heavy ornaments.
Are you a person that likes snow? I’m one of those people that likes it for a few days, then I want it to go away. I like playing in it with my kids and sledding, making snow forts and snowmen. I also like the beauty of the landscape covered in snow. Pine trees and other evergreens are pretty with snow on top. But, it is not fun farming in the snow. Milking cows, putting out hay, feeding calves and everything else that goes along with farming in the winter, takes so much longer. When I was a child, I loved to go out with my dad in the snow and put out hay to our dairy heifers. He had alfalfa bales on a flatbed truck and he would put me up there to throw out the flakes. We would also bed/straw down our loafing shed for the dairy cows. I thought all this was great fun. Now that I’m older I see that doing chores in the snow probably wasn’t fun to my dad. His biggest worries, I’m sure at the time, were that the cows didn’t slip on the ice or slick snow and break a leg.
My chickens don’t like the snow. They won’t leave their coop and step out into their run. Whether you like snow or not, we usually get some in Missouri at some point during the winter. If snow covers your plants, gently remove it from tree and shrub branches. When tree and shrub branches bend under the weight of a new snowfall, use a broom to gently brush it off. Don't try to remove ice or you might break the branch. It's possible to save a branch that partially splits from the main trunk if you tie it in place and use long screws (coming from each direction, if necessary) to secure it. If done right away, the tree may callous over the wound and heal itself next season, and not split further.
Protect trees and shrubs located along roadways and driveways from excess road salt, which results in stunted and yellowed foliage, premature autumn leaf coloration, and twig dieback. To protect plants, erect a screen of burlap between plants and the pavement.
To make walks and driveways safe, use sand, sawdust, or kitty litter for a more environmentally friendly alternative to salt for melting snow and ice. When shoveling snow from walkways and drives, be careful not to pile it near plants or where melting snow will drain. After the snow melts, use fresh water to flush the area around the roots that was exposed to salt.
Many of you may feed birds during the winter months. My boys and I like to put out feed and watch the different birds come to our feeders. We even throw out peanuts for the bluejays. Keep your feeders filled during the winter months and you will attract a variety of birds. Birds probably depend on your feeder most during weather extremes, especially when snow or ice covers natural foods, and during late winter and early spring when less food is available. During cold weather extremes, birds such as chickadees have had higher survival rates when supplemental food is made available. Birds have four basic needs: food, water, shelter from predators and the elements, and safe nesting places. In addition to setting out feeders to provide food, you can help birds meet their needs in the following ways: As you clean up, leave a brush pile that birds can use for cover. Also leave seeds and fruits on plants such as sunflowers (for jays and chickadees); cosmos, chicory and evening primrose (for goldfinches); and grapes (for cedar waxwings). Provide fresh water in a shallow container. Water should be no more than two inches deep. In winter, it is especially important to keep the water ice-free by changing it frequently or by using an immersion-type water heater designed for outdoor use.
Other winter activities you can do include cleaning, sharpening and oiling your tools. Clean tools will last longer. Take a walk in the woods. See how many trees you can identify by their bark or buds. If you plan to start seeds indoors, sort through last years seed, determine what you need to purchase, and make a trip to the local garden center to pick up the items you need for seed starting. Look through all of the garden catalogs you received in the mail or look online and make decisions on what you would like to purchase for the new growing season. Get your order in early to ensure you get everything you ordered. Sometimes if you wait until spring to make an order, supplies have already sold out.