The Dutiful Homesteader: December

First chore: Update catalog of tools, supplies (indoors and out)

Although we carefully cleaned and retired our garden tools for the season last month, this time we’re taking inventory. It should first be noted that I already have a reference catalog to begin with. I made one because I noticed that when starting a project, it would sometimes take us just as long to find the tools needed as it did to actually build something… and that added up to a lot of wasted time. We tend to use the garage, the closets, the desk, even our cars as catchalls. As Martha Stewart reminds us, these “dumping grounds” can quickly become too overwhelming and we have proven that true. I’ve found that if I take inventory on every tool each year, it forces me to clean things up and stay organized. It really works for us.

The program I use is a simple Microsoft Word template that has columns for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether the tools are put up and clean, and if supplies need to be restocked. Notes can be written at the bottom. Click to download – docx format or pdf format.



Next chore: Plant fruit trees or prune (to shape) existing trees

We have a plan for a fruit tree garden area and now is the time to plant them. (Zone 9) As ambitious as this plan is, it’s made easier with the excavator, that’s for sure! Planting holes need to be only as deep as the pot the plant comes in. You can loosen a few inches below to mix compost into the original soil, then repack it. Just make sure not to bury the tree any deeper than it already is. (It can cause the trunk to rot.) But you want to make the hole about 3 times as wide, mix in compost and then pack it back in around the tree. This will really help it take off since the tree roots generally grow out first, then deep.

We planted two apple trees (Fuji and Yellow Delicious), two cherry trees (Bing and Rainier), two peach trees (Elberta and Tropic Beauty), one nectarine tree (Fantasia), and finally one pear tree (Red Bartlett) that will be planted with the other pear tree that was already here. Oh boy! This is gonna be good. And I’m still trying to get my hands on a couple of orange trees but that may have to wait for next year. Turns out that they grow very well in this area… who knew?

Tip: Although fruit trees will put out fruit the very next year after planting them, you should pick them off young and allow the tree to put all its energy into getting strong first. Let it grow great fruit for you the year after that, then everybody is happy.

Next chore: Winterize the chicken coop

Coops and runs can get real messy. Pair that with cold and wet weather and you can have a real disaster on your hands. A few simple changes can help get you through the winter.

Make sure the run is covered and lay down a thick layer of mulch or something that will keep the ground dry. (Make sure it won’t mold.) Patch up the roof of the coop and clear out the gutters. Fix doors that tend to stick when the weather changes. Move feed and bedding to a dry place. If you live where it snows, you may want to install a light or other source of heat. Use a pail of hot water to melt frozen water in waterers.

Next chore: Stick to a house cleaning schedule

The entire cleaning schedule that I use breaks it down to a daily, weekly, monthly, biannual and annual schedules, so that housework doesn’t feel like I’m getting worked (over). I just took out the once-a-month portion and added it here, as well as the annual schedule. Remember, you’re just trying to stay ahead, not be perfect.

Monthly: Clean out the microwave, oven and fridge. Wipe down the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Disinfect bathroom floors and toilet. Wipe down towel racks, toilet paper holders, hooks and other fixtures. Dust the laundry area/room. Vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust behind TV. Wipe down doorknobs, light switches, windowsills and baseboards.

Annually: Go through your pantry and use up or get rid of old stuff; wipe down the shelves. Change or clean the stove hood filter. Clean behind the refrigerator. If your kitchen or bathrooms have tile, then it’s time to deep clean the grout. As suggested by sources below, you should rewash any unused items in your linen closet. (We have just what we need and so this doesn’t affect me. Whew!) Deep clean furniture, slip covers, pillows and comforters. And finally, wash the walls.

Next chore: Check your emergency supplies this winter

Emergency supplies for your go bags and emergency bins (in the house, car and/or outside storage) need to be updated from time to time. Test batteries, change out water jugs, change out dried foods and my most embarrassing test: make sure you still fit into emergency clothing. Add more cash to the reserve as inflation rises. Update emergency phone numbers and addresses. And re-rehearse the family “plan of action” so everyone remembers what to do in case there is a real emergency. If you’re just putting an emergency kit together, then the following is a good starting point:

Include in each go bag and emergency bin a large envelope that can hold things like a list of contacts, birth certificates, passports, social security cards, a credit card, insurance policies (homeowner’s, auto and life) and cash (enough for a bus ticket or cab ride, motel room for a week, etc). Store the envelope in a plastic bag to make it as waterproof as possible.

Refer to this page for stocking a go bag. For creating emergency bins that you can store in the house or outside, use the same guide as the go bag but add enough supplies for everyone (not just for one individual) with enough to last several days to a week. An inside bin can be a large plastic storage box, and the outside bin can be a trash can stored in a dry, safe place.

A family plan of action can include: a meeting place if you are separated (make sure children know how to get there); contacting a specific family member (who doesn’t live with you but is the closest to you) who knows the plan and can act as the “check-in” person; teaching everyone what to do in case of fire, heart attack, flood, etc, and act it out so all family members are clear about it; keeping emergency phone numbers right next to each telephone in your home; and if your home is really large or has more than one story, keeping a walkie talkie in the common areas. My family also has “emergency phrases” that sound normal to the hearer, but only we know something is wrong. (For example, if my son says “dad’s car looks good since he painted it red,” I know to snap into action. The hubby hates red cars.)

You can never be too safe. Now pat yourself on the back, you did good.

Next chore: More stocking up on homemade canned goods and dehydrated foods

Since you already have a decent amount of soups, stews, tomatoes and veggies canned from last month, maybe it’s time to take it a step further and go to the fish market and buy a whole tuna for canning? Or why not try a simple pot pie filling? When you think pumpkin pie, do think Libby’s or your own canned pumpkin? What about apple pie filling? Go ahead, go for it.

Another terrific way to stock-pile your pantry is to store dehydrate foods. If using a tabletop appliance try to stick to one thing at a time so flavors don’t mix. If using your oven, keep the temperature under 150° and check it often. Take a look at this queen of dehydrating and learn how to put together entire meals. FAB!

Final chore: What to plant this month

Seeding in between storms isn’t easy. A simple covering helps them get established and stay warmer.

This planting schedule assumes you are in zone 8 or 9 and practice succession planting… so you may also see the same items listed on other months.

Seed or plant the following during the month of December: Asparagus, Bok Choy/Pak Choi, Carrots, Garlic, Kale, Leaf Lettuce, Mustard, Onions, Peas, Strawberries, White Potatoes and Radishes.

Start indoors: Broccoli.


The Farmer Fred Rant
The Weekend Homesteader Series ( books)
Real Simple
Martha Stewart Living
Red Cross Emergency Planning Tools