Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The Importance of Socializing Livestock

At a very young age, my grandmother taught me the importance of respect and proper care of animals that were critical to a farm. As an adult, I learned that proper socialization and handling were also key components to the relationship between a human caretaker and their livestock. This article is intended for those with small homesteads or breeding programs, as it may be more difficult to spend this time with your animals if you have a large-scale operation (such as a beef or poultry farm).

There are two key reasons that the socialization of livestock should be a concern for small farmers and homesteaders. Let's break this down to show you why it can benefit you and others.

Your Benefit

It is much more pleasant to feed, lead, and medicate a friendly herd or flock than it is to chase around a flighty group. It can make the tasks of milking a cow or collecting eggs enjoyable instead of being a chore. As an example, we have a female goat who was handled from the start, and she now leads easily and stands for her hooves to be trimmed with no fuss. Having a well-mannered animal can make it easier on you in the long run.


After brief training, we are able to lead our goat on a collar and leash- Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)

The Benefit To Others

If you breed and sell livestock, you may come across potential buyers who want to know the animal's background and personality. They may be looking to purchase a rabbit, and will ask if it is easily held. It could be someone wanting to buy a nanny goat, and they will ask how easily she stands to be milked. From our experience, the ability to answer these questions can really make a sale. Also consider the joy your family or guests can have from petting or holding a farm animal with a good personality.

The first few weeks of an animal's life would be the ideal time to mold their personality and encourage their behavior (often referred to as "imprinting"). They are young and learning to associate with species other than their own. The time spent frequently handling these young animals helps them become used to human interaction. However, it is still possible to work with adult animals with low-stress, non-violent training. In simple terms- reward good behavior, but don't reward for the undesirable behavior. 

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A young duckling being tenderly held- Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)

As a personal example, we recently hatched out four Khaki Campbell ducklings that were handled tenderly from the beginning. A few minutes each day of picking them up and giving them fresh food and water introduced them to human care. Now they are three months old and they look forward to seeing us, and allow us to pick them up with ease. When it came time to sell a male duckling, many questions were asked about his personality and raising, and we were able to answer them successfully so that he could go to his new home.

Luckily, there are many good resources available today online and in print that help us understand how to handle our animals with care.  A quick internet search can lead you to articles that can help with behavior and training issues. Frequent handling and attention to the personality of the animal(s) is what you should strive to achieve. Please consider working with your livestock and poultry on a daily basis to develop a beneficial relationship between human handler and animal.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. This year, they have raised a large crop of heirloom Hastings' Prolific corn that they are selling seed from, along with making their own cornmeal. They are currently putting the finishing touches on a small cabin built from lumber they have milled themselves. Along with breeding Khaki Campbell ducks, they also raise laying chickens and goats. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Why 'Self-Sufficiency' is Not a Sufficient Description for Homesteading

children pressing resized

“All right,” says my six-year-old, clearly taking charge of today’s operation, “you take this stick and when the crushed apples start to come out of the grinder you scrape them down into the bucket, ok?”  Turning to his other friend, he explains, “You take the apples from that basket and put them into the grinder and I’ll turn the wheel. I might need a little help if it gets stuck.”  The adults sit back and watch with joy at the self-sufficiency of these friends on a beautiful fall day.

A few minutes later, our son is explaining how to press the cider from the crushed apples and yells excitedly, “here it comes!”  He turns to us to request jars so that he can share some fresh cider with his friends. We are happy to oblige. After all, this is why we bought this property, with its overgrown apple trees and grapevines, untamed wild raspberries, and open fields just waiting to be turned into gardens.

Our little homestead was a dream for 10 years before we found it. When the children came along the dream was amplified. Not only did we want to raise most of our own food, we wanted our children to grow up running barefoot around a beautiful property. We wanted them to connect with nature, appreciate its gifts, and grow to love our little corner of the world. Days like this, when our son is literally dripping with joy at what he can do on our land, are the reason we took a risk on buying a property that wasn’t perfect but had the perfect potential.

Homesteading is sometimes described as a journey toward self-sufficiency. To some extent that is true for us — we want to grow our own food instead of buying it at the store and we love the idea of cutting our own firewood for the wood stove in order to decrease our dependence on oil. But in so many other ways, self-sufficiency seems an ill-fitting word for our pursuit.

Self-sufficiency somehow entails that a person or a family could live on their own without interaction with others — that we could stay on our homestead and ignore the outside world. To be certain, there are some for whom this is the very purpose of a homestead — hunkering down in anticipation of a coming apocalypse. But this is not our purpose.

Perhaps a better word for us is “topophilia,” defined by Yi Fu Tuan (1990) as “the affective bond between people and place.”  We purchased this homestead because we want to be rooted to a place that is special to us and to our children, that exemplifies the beauty of the natural world, and that provides nourishment - both physical and emotional – on a daily basis. We do not, however, seek to keep this place to ourselves.

Beyond sharing our homestead with our children, it is also a place where we create community among our extended family, friends, and neighbors. Cider pressing is more fun when done with a group of friends, the wood-fired oven practically begs for pizza parties with other families, and inoculating mushroom logs is much more efficient when friends go in on the project.

pizza group

Learning how to make the most of our homestead is also a community affair. We are lucky to live in a state and a region that values local food production and provides a plethora of resources to help those who are pursuing these activities. We have purchased most of our berries at the annual plant sale hosted by the park district, attended classes in mushroom growing offered by our local school system’s extension program, and gotten lessons on pruning fruit trees at a local garden center. What we don’t grow ourselves we buy from local farmers whom we have gotten to know personally. We even host an annual pizza bake where we raise money for our local food shelf.

Despite how much we do on our own land, we are far from self-sufficient. We are part of a local and global community that cares about where their food comes from and cares about taking care of the earth. Buying our homestead has actually increased our commitment to this community - to sharing what we do with others and to learning from what others share.

We are topophiliacs who love our little place in the world, but our love for this place is made stronger through the act of sharing it with others, beginning with our children.

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Maximize Ranch Profits with Tips for Using Livestock Scales

Photo by David R Beech Barn Equipment

Taking care of livestock, whether on a smaller farm or a commercially-driven ranch, can be enhanced in many ways. One vital aspect is the use of the correct livestock scales to gauge the growth and health of your livestock as well as accurately determining weight to maximize profits derived from livestock.

What Should You Know for Using Livestock Scales?

Whether you have chosen a manual or electronic livestock scaling system, it is a good idea to keep some basic pointers in mind to ensure that you make the most of your scale. Whether you are in the process of selecting a scale or are looking to upgrade, these general guidelines will work toward increasing your profitability potential:

Figure out your needs and usage. It’s important to know exactly what information you expect to receive from your livestock scale. You could be looking to maximize your profits by producing beef more efficiently, or to track the growth of your livestock by assessing how much feed you provide them and the weight they have gained as they grow. Electronic scales are a great help when keeping records of weight for dozens of animals.

A scale indicator memory will store cattle ID tags with weight measurements for convenient data retrieval, when connected to management spreadsheet software. Alternatively, an EID (Electronic ID) reader attached to your scale can automatically upload ID tags without manual effort.

If you require other measurements or notes on animals’ conditions, consider scales with enhanced functions for storage or even wireless data transfers.

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Determine weighing setup and placement. According to your needs, either a permanent or portable livestock scale can be employed for weighing livestock. A permanent scale system is reliable and sturdy, and the load bars will be encased in concrete for safety. However, a portable scale would be ideal for weighing livestock at multiple locations and moving the scale to all kinds of environments; it may see more use and enhance efficiency this way.

Electronic livestock scales that use AC power must be placed strategically with access to a dry and safe power outlet, with minimal wire lengths for safety.

Remember, balance is key. It’s imperative to utilize a stable surface for your livestock scales. Not only will an unstable surface cause weighing inaccuracies, it can be downright dangerous for the livestock shuffling in and out of the scales.

However, you don’t need to worry so much about surfaces being completely flat and level, as long as they’re firm.

Weighing interference and tangled load cell cables. Livestock scales are just as sensitive to interference as other measuring equipment, so be sure to keep your weighing platform free of obstructions, livestock manure, rocks, or any other objects that can cause false readings:

Load cells are situated below the weighing platform, and the cables running out from them need to be free of twists, snags, and possible tangling with livestock or personnel. Coiled cables out of reach of accidental tangling help avoid discrepancies in livestock scale readings.

Dealing with livestock shrinking and stress. Traveling to different locations for weighings can stress livestock animals, causing a phenomenon called “shrinking”, which indicates a loss in weight of the animals. Using a portable scale can help reduce this problem, drastically minimizing weight and subsequent profit losses.

Keeping a side table with all the necessary apparatus and accessories near the weighing chute will also lower stress for animals by reducing the amount of time they need to spend on the scale platform. 

Kevin Hill heads up the marketing efforts and provides technical expertise to the sales and service teams at Quality Scales Unlimited in Byron, California. He enjoys everything mechanical and electronic, computers, the internet and spending time with family.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Fall Treats for Chickens: Selecting Seasonally-Appropriate Foods (& What to Avoid)

 Fall Chicken Feed

Fall is a subtle, progressive change from a green landscape to one painted with varying tones of  oranges, reds, and yellows, until the bareness of winter sets in. Along with it comes a shift in seasonally available foods. As we change our diets to prepare for the winter months, we must also take our flocks into consideration. Which fall foods are safe to feed chickens, and what should we avoid?

Great Fall Treats for Chickens

Chickens love a varied diet and are true omnivores. However, it is best to provide treats late in the day. Chickens are like children, in that if you serve their dessert with their meal, they will most likely eat the treats first, and may skip their normal feed altogether. It is also important to mix up your treats to add variety to your chicken's diet. While pumpkin makes a great treat, no one wants to eat pumpkin every day for 3 months, and that includes your birds.

Pumpkin: Raw or cooked, pumpkin is a fantastic treat for chickens. Both the seeds and the flesh of the pumpkin provide chickens with a nutritious, seasonally appropriate treat. So when the jack-o-lantern starts to look a little past his prime, it may be time to send him to the coop. Other winter squash works just as well as pumpkin, so feel free to add some variety as you work through your cellar.

Sweet Potatoes: While sweet potatoes and yams don't provide a whole lot of nutrition to your flock, they are fine as a treat if your flock enjoys them. However, when preparing sweet potatoes for chickens, they must be cooked, and the green part of the peel should be removed.

Oatmeal: Just as you enjoy a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning, your flock agrees! Cooked oatmeal is a nutritious treat for your chicks on cool days, but raw is also fine. Combining raw oatmeal with scratch feed and birdseed for a scatter treat can also get your birds up and moving.

Corn: Ok, so this one may be cheating, as most are already aware that chickens like corn. However, fall is harvest time for corn, so now is the time to plan for inexpensive chicken treats for the whole year. One of the best things about corn is its versatility in storage. Chickens can be fed corn directly on the cob, frozen, canned, or even dried. Raw or cooked, most birds aren't picky. If you dry the corn directly on the ear, then it can be hung from the run or coop ceiling to provide a healthy treat and some entertainment for your flock.

Apples: Apples can be fed raw or as an applesauce. There is some controversy regarding apples, as the seeds contain cyanide. However, evidenced by the fact that my Uncle Ray has eaten the whole apple his entire life, seeds and all, the cyanide present in apples is not a sufficient amount to be lethal. If this is a concern for you, then simply core the apple before serving to your birds. If you don't like the look of the empty hole in the middle, then fill it with peanut butter for an extra treat!

Nuts: Unsalted nuts with the shell removed are a great protein source for chickens during the fall and winter months. Fall is the perfect time for nut collection. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pecans (Avoid acorns!) all make great treats.  You can serve them as either whole nuts or crushed, chickens seem to enjoy them both ways.  

There are lots of other seasonally appropriate foods for chickens, such as carrots, cabbage, popped popcorn, cooked pasta, and you can even plant a plastic tray of rye or wheat grass for your chickens to peck at. Just remember to feed treats late in the day, and to offer a variety of options throughout the season.


Foods To Avoid Feeding Your Chickens

While most items that we eat are fine to share with our chickens, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, seafood, and even eggs, there are some items to avoid regardless of the season.

Dry or Undercooked Beans: While dry beans seem like a perfect treat to peck at, they can actually be quite dangerous for your flock. Raw beans actually contain a natural insecticide called Phytohemagglutinin that is toxic to birds. While it may not kill them right away, it can cause organ damage which may eventually lead to a slow death, making this one of the top foods to avoid. Beans can be fed if soaked and cooked, or if allowed to sprout. Either of these will kill the hemagglutinin, making them safe for consumption by your flock (and by you).

Raw Green Potato Peels: We discussed above making sure to remove the green part of the sweet potato skins, and there is a reason for that. Raw potato skins contain a toxic substance called Solanine that can cause gastrointestinal issues and possibly even death. You shouldn't eat it or neither should your chickens.

Onions: Thiosulphate is a toxin found in onions that attacks and destroys red blood cells. This can cause jaundice, anemia, or even death in your flock. While there may be some health benefits to feeding onion, those can all be found in other, safer foods. It simply isn't worth the risk.

Keep in mind that chickens will eat pretty much ANYTHING, and do not have a good concept of what is safe to eat and what is not. Keep an eye on not only what you feed, but the plants and trees that grow around your coop, as your chickens will naturally attempt to eat most things that they can access. Not all wild plants are safe and suitable for consumption by your flock. To be a responsible chicken keeper, you must be an attentive chicken keeper. Identify the plants that your flock will have access to, and make sure to remove any potential hazards, or rethink your coop location if necessary.

Final Thoughts on Fall Treats for Chickens

Providing your chickens with a seasonally appropriate diet can help to improve the health of your flock, in addition to reducing the cost of maintaining a flock through the cooler months. Chickens enjoy a variety of foods and can eat many of the same things that we do. You can even serve leftovers to your flock, as long as the foods are appropriate and not overly salty. Offer a base feed diet that provides their basic nutrients, and remember that treats are simply that- a treat, and should not replace your normal chicken feed.

Good luck, and enjoy your pumpkin-spice everything!

Emily Baker launched the website in 2010 with her husband, Christopher. The site offers everything you need to incubate and hatch chicken eggs. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique. Read all of Emily's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to our Terms of Agreement and to follow blogging best practices. They are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

Mother Earth News Yanmar Field Day at Sanaview Farms


As a Mother Earth News blogger community member, I was invited to tag along on Yanmar’s Field Day with 60 other participants. Arriving at Seven Springs, Pennsylvania a day early, we rode to Sanaview Farms (Champion, PA) via bus just 20 minutes away. All I knew was there would be tractor and greenhouse workshops, so the entire endeavor was quite a mystery. Sometimes not knowing is the best thing to happen.


Upon arriving at the farm, we trekked through the vegetable fields to where all the action was. In front of us were two Yanmar tractors chained to a high tunnel greenhouse. The greenhouse was quite large, spanning 30 feet wide by 96 feet long. Little did we know, we were about to witness history. Either those tractors would drag the greenhouse several hundred feet or we would be witness to a disaster. Whatever the result, I knew we would be entertained.

In my mind’s eye, the tractors would speed along, as one would see with a tractor pull. In reality, it was much more like watching turtles race. Each tractor had a corner and they had to move as one. The drivers were from Yanmar, since they knew their equipment inside and out. Several other people, the farmers I assume, worked on making sure the greenhouse glided smoothly and did not shake apart.


Thirty minutes later, the greenhouse was in place over a new field. On the original plot (now exposed to the open sky and elements) was a boatload of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These provided the local area with produce since early July instead of the normal mid-August. The newly covered plot was planted with salad greens. The greenhouse will now provide protection all winter long for spinach and lettuce.

After the excitement was over, we split into two groups. Half would tour the farm. The other half would test drive the Yanmar tractors, then we would switch. I had no idea when the day started I’d be driving tractors around like a farming professional.

At my current “farm” a 0.91-acre rented house, these beautiful machines are definitely overkill. But, if my evil plans for purchasing a 5- to 20-acre homestead come true, I could see me riding around on one of these bad boys.


The first tractor I test drove was the 424, one of Yanmar’s biggest sellers. It had your standard front loader and a tiller on the back. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of tilling (permaculture background and all), but this setup was nice. As I rode, I imagined trying to till this area with your standard everyday walk behind tiller. Not a fun picture.


I also tried out one of Yanmar’s top of the line tractors. It had an air conditioned cab and automatic controls. As I headed out in it to mow a field, a realization came to me. We were being “Tom Sawyered.” You know, the Mark Twain story where kids are tricked into paying to whitewash Tom’s fence. We mowed and tilled, and the farm was all the better. At least we were able to work in style.

After riding around on the tractors, we took a quick farm tour on our way to the remodeled barn (which holds weddings and other events). Sanaview Farms is a 52 acre organic vegetable farm located on a designated historical site in Champion Pennsylvania.

Janet McKee, the farm’s founder, gave us an hour talk on the trials and tribulations of growing organic food. Like many farmers, she wasn’t full time, but instead worked in Pittsburgh during the week. She does have a farm manager who takes care of the day-to-day operations.

One detail I could appreciate was the farm had no livestock. The first thing many new farmers and homesteaders want to do is fill up their land with chickens, goat, pigs, goats, cows, and horses. Growing up on a mini-farm, I know from experience animals mean responsibility. You have to feed and water them twice a day and move them around. Not having them gives one much more freedom. Plants (especially perennials) can sometimes go weeks before you have to care for them.

Overall, my day out in the field was a pleasant experience. It let me play farmer without all that pesky “having to own a bunch of land” thing. I can tell this farm will be growing by leaps and bounds over the next decade or so, as this was only their 3rd year producing. In such an endeavour, the early learning curve can be quite steep, especially navigating the microclimates of a specific piece of land and the region’s customer base. I can’t wait to come back in a year or three to see how they have progressed.

Photo credit: Alec Weaver, Mother Earth News

Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of Don's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Senior Homesteading Injuries


Because I am a senior homesteader, I write from experience and new experiences seem to surface from time to time to disrupt my normal homesteading routine. Sometimes, the mind is willing but the old body won’t respond as we wish and this occurred to me recently, which is why I have not been posting blogs for a few weeks. By telling of my experiences, perhaps it will benefit someone else.

When you do something foolish, it can be humbling to have to admit it, but if another senior homesteader will benefit from it — well, here it is.  

I don’t know how much different we over-70-year-olds are, but in my case, I’m mentally 40 years old and trapped in a mid-70s body. This can be dangerous thinking when we struggle through the day-to-day physicalities of homesteading. This delusional type of thinking seems to be a springboard for injuries, sprains and strains. In the past, I would rub a little analgesic on the affected area and be back to work the next day. This would be a fairly routine operating procedure for us senior homesteaders.

Sore muscles and strains and sprains are pretty common at our age, and usually we just work through them. We are accustomed to using ice packs, heating pads, various rubs, and ointments for these discomforts. But what happens when the usual remedies don’t work as usual?

Experiencing Injury on the Homestead

When we attain a certain age, it seems we lose our agility and flexibility so when we would slip or stumble in earlier years, we would recover quickly or not strain or pull anything. Once we seniors reach that magical age, those little awkward moves or repetitive activities have new and different consequences.

Such was my case a few weeks ago. Positioning a 40-foot ladder caused an awkward twist of the body and a couple days later I noticed a nagging low back pain. I wrongfully assumed it was something I could just work through as usual but when home remedies didn’t resolve the spasms and  constant ache I realized it was time to seek professional help. I virtually waited until my body came to a grinding halt, however, and now wish I had not waited that long.

Those who have had lower-back pain know the constant pain and how those occasional spasms take your breath away. For those who have never had the unpleasant experience, I hope you never experience debilitating lower-back pain. It seemed that every movement I made, from getting dressed in the morning to blinking my eyes, my lower back would spasm (slight exaggeration there). Homesteading work then comes to a sudden and screeching halt due to the inability to perform those usual duties due to the intense and constant pain.

This is clearly an aspect of homesteading that is never planned or anticipated — at least by me. If it were not for the accompanying pain, I would have considered it nothing more than a temporary inconvenience. As I sat in my recliner hoping for a fast recovery, it was apparent it was not going to resolve itself quickly and I knew I needed professional help.

Strength Training for Injury Prevention

Because I was unable to perform even simple tasks, I had recovery time to reflect on times past and wished I had taken better care of my body over the years and not continuously pushed it so hard. I have lifted weights for more than 50 years to stay healthy but stopped a few years ago when I assumed at my age the daily work required in maintaining our homestead was sufficient.

I now realize that I still need specific exercise to strengthen muscle groups in order to avoid injuries like this from happening again. Hard work is good for general health reasons, but toning of muscle groups is more important for good overall structure strength and balance.

Advice for Aging Homesteaders

There are lessons from my experience that should be learned for other senior homesteaders to avoid so what happened to me won’t happen to others. First, don’t let your mind convince you that you are younger than you are and accept your age and restrictions realistically. Be prepared for the unexpected.

Work smart and don’t rush tasks. When you start to hurt, don’t try to work through it like when you were younger; instead stop and rest until you can proceed without specific localized pain. Be prepared for tasks to take longer than they may have taken in the past.

Lastly, listen to your partner or spouse when they tell you not to push yourself beyond your ability.

Shoveling snow throughout the long winters and cutting, splitting, and stacking 9 to 12 cords of firewood a year is good exercise but not sufficient for an aging body. If the pain or discomfort persists and what has worked in the past no longer seems to work, then seek professional help.

In my case, I sought chiropractic help and after going 90 miles round-trip two times a week, I have noticed an improvement. At least an improvement to the point I can do my normal work again. (I’m personally not much on taking prescription medicine unless absolutely necessary, and pain killers and muscle relaxants would be a last resort for me.)

Plan Ahead for Continued Health

While we seniors can homestead in our golden years, we need to be more aware of our limitations and work accordingly. I didn’t do that and suddenly was unable to function normally. I’m not acquainted with other senior homesteaders and their tasks or work performed on their homestead, but in our case, not being able to work as usual for a month puts us significantly behind schedule for winter.

I also would not let the injury advance to the stage it did before seeking help. Doing that just compounded the foolishness of getting injured in the first place.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog site: They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce's remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

10 Things to Consider When Building a Root Cellar

Imagine being able to enjoy fresh, organic produce year-round. Now imagine the same without having to pay outrageous off-season grocery store or farmer's market prices. What you have just imagined is called a "root cellar." The root cellar is increasingly becoming a fixture for both city and country people who don't want to spend too much electricity on a fridge. It doesn't require much space or any significant cost investment to create a root cellar that can serve your family's health and wellness goals all year long.

In this post, learn about the primary things to consider as you are building your own root cellar.

Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose

Building a root cellar gives you a great excuse to poke around in your garage, basement or storage shed to see what materials you already have on hand. Trash cans, cinder blocks, buckets, tires, earthbags, even unused coolers can each make for a great start to your new root cellar.

No A/C, No Heat — No Problem

Root cellars were a fixture on homesteads in the days before modern grocery stores. When the nearest town (or neighbor, for that matter) was a day's horse and buggy ride away, families needed a convenient way to store food for later use. So you don't need to provide your root cellar with temperature control so long as it is well ventilated and located in the right place.

Speaking of Ventilation

An airtight space with adequate ventilation is the key to keeping your root cellar produce fresh and tasty for as long as you want to store it. Without ventilation, you risk spoilage due to mold, mildew, and simple rotting. You can ventilate through the walls or ceiling using simple plastic pipes available at any local home repair store.

Location, Location, Location

The location of your root cellar will depend on a number of factors, including your local climate, your available space, how much produce you want to store and what materials you have to build with.

The best location will remain relatively cool and moist year-round. Underground is best if you can manage it. If you build an above-ground root cellar, try to locate it away from direct afternoon sun.

Maximizing Storage Space

Some produce is more tolerant of changing temperatures or humidity levels than others. To offer each stored produce category its best chance of longevity, you may want to adopt a shelving system, storing produce that responds well to cool, wet conditions lower down and produce that prefers warm, dry conditions higher up.

Adopting a shelving system will also ensure you will have more room even in a small cellar and can store more different types of produce for future use.

Size Really Doesn't Matter

When it comes to building a root cellar, it really doesn't matter whether the space you select is big or small. The simplest early root cellars were nothing more than a hole dug right into the fresh earth with a few wood planks nailed together and placed on top of it to keep out foraging wildlife. This is still a great way to start out if you want to take some time to get the hang of growing and storing produce.

Yes, You Can Build a Root Cellar Above Ground

If the only space you have available is above ground-level, you can still build a root cellar as long as your local weather favors the cool and dry. For an above-ground root cellar, an existing workshop space, garage or storage building can work well.

A high deck or porch can also work if you can create an access path to the space beneath either. You can even conceivably use an attic crawl space, basement corner or stairwell nook for seasonal produce storage.

Close Your 'Food Pantry'

If you think fresh produce is tasty, chances are good the local wildlife population does too. To this end, it is wise to think through how to secure your stored produce in advance. If you choose a receptacle like a garbage can or cooler, you may already have all the security you need.

But for outdoor or indoor spaces, including in your own home, you will likely need to take extra precautions against uninvited diners. Bird or deer mesh, hardware or garden cloth are all good options, as is chicken wire.

Freshness Checks are Not Optional

One moldy apple or potato will quickly spread its spores to its neighbors. For this reason, it is important to schedule frequent checks of your stored produce so you can remove any spoiling items quickly.

Learning about where to store what types of produce (see tip 5 here) can also maximize the shelf life of your harvested, stored produce. With some careful planning and regular freshness checks, you can make sure all your hard work doesn't go to waste.

Know What Produce Will Store Well

A root cellar by definition is best for storing root crops. These include carrots, potatoes, parsnips, beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, leeks, yams, rutabagas and more. However, you can also store apples, tomatoes, bananas, broccoli, oranges, beans and other produce successfully.

If you feel intrigued but also a bit daunted by the idea of building your own root cellar, know this is totally normal! Remember, your first root cellar can be as small-scale and simple as you need or want it to be. Just a buried cooler or even a covered hole in the dirt can serve to store small amounts of appropriate produce to enjoy during the long winter months.

If you have personal or secondhand experience with building a root cellar, please feel warmly welcome to share your experiences here for others to learn from. We especially love root cellar success stories and how-to tips!

Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading.

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