Warm Winter Pros and Cons


It’s late November here at Leafhopper Farm, and though the official winter months are not quite here yet, our climate has us thinking it’s spring. A fly perched in one of our water catchment tanks is an indicator of the insect activity still very active on the landscape. This is great for scavenging ducks and chickens, but a real challenge in the garden as slugs and other plant predators eat their war through overwintering garden greens.


The gardens still have a lot of life, but if you look closely in the picture above, many of the once lush greens are looking a little holey, and that means we’ll need to set out more slug traps to keep our younger greens alive. The active insects are also hard at work in our livestock. Ingested larva give our goats and chickens worms, and they need to be treated to keep parasite counts down. We use garlic to treat our goat herd, where both our does are pregnant and cannot afford to loose their precious fat reserves to gestate healthy kids. Our chickens are still laying a good amount of eggs (I think it’s the healthy diet of pasture and organic grain). They can only keep up the massive protein production in egg form if their bodies continue to store up good fat, which would not be the case if they were housing any parasites in their system.

Because The Pacific Northwest is a temperate rain forest, it does not usually have harsh winter freezes to knock back the insect populations. I learned this when my pup Indonesia got a case of fleas in mid-winter one year. I realized that unlike New England, where a good long winter with plenty of snow and below freezing temperatures lock out parasitic problems, the warm wet Northwest cultivates not only crops, but pest species too. It’s manageable if you are managing it, but if you are gone for the holidays, or just hope for a good freeze, chances are you’re opening the door to infestation.


The great thing about warmer winter weather is the extended growing season! The gardens are leafing out and green with lush foliage, ready to eat. This added productivity in the garden is a real treat, and we’re making sure to harvest what we can while temperatures hold. I might even try using the dehydrator to store up more of these greens, and the freezer can hold lots of kale once it’s been blanched and salted.

At home, we’re not using so much wood to keep things habitable inside, and that’s great news! Any extra wood left over this year will be ready for next winter’s burning needs. No harvested wood goes to waste at this farm. It being the end of November, we only have about 5 more months of wood heat to go, and if I get the rest of the wood pile pictured below full, we’ll be good to go! You can never have too much wood, and its money in the bank.


The warmer weather is easier to work in too, and we’re taking full advantage of extra fall chores like gathering leaf litter to bulk up organic matter and mulch in the gardens. Much of the landscape is still lush and green, which is why Washington is called “the evergreen state”, along with all the conifers.

In the mountains, the snow is still holding back her winter wonder, leaving the powder hound in me at rest till more snow graces out Cascadian Peaks. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed, as I took the plunge and invested in a season ticket. This splurge was in response to a predicted heavy winter, and though we just got 5″ of rain in the valley, tropical temperatures did not do us any favors at elevation. Opening day came and went, are we’re now on hold till at least another foot falls to build up a base layer. Perhaps I’ll be hiking logging roads to find the powder again this year, hopefully not!


We had snow earlier this month, and were locked into cold temperatures for three days, but the climate did not hold, and we just had 60 degree days for Thanksgiving. It’s really confusing! Even our salmon berry and oso berry shrubs are already starting to bud out! We’re not even into real winter yet, and stinging nettle is up. I’m not sure what this means for the rest of the year as far as native growth goes, but I talked to the spring bulbs and warned them that this warmer weather cannot last. Yup, even the bulbs are popping out.


Other warm loving plants are still producing, and the nasturtium are still green and happy, well, more green and happy than they usually are in late November. The change will come, and when it does, I’ll write a great comparison. Luckily, the trees have shed their leaves, and other normal routines of seasonal change are still in effect, including the arrival of many of our migratory birds. Flooding rivers also ground us in usual fall fare, though the deluge has been above average. I’m going to see the warm spell as a last gift before we plunge into the darker time of winter here at Leafhopper Farm.

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