Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Just beyond the threshold of the summer solstice, the Appalachian Mountains burst forth with life, with abundant wild foods, sweet berries and meadow medicinals. The seedlings we planted in the spring are now giants in their garden beds, offering their fruits beneath broad and fanning leaves. This is truly the season of abundance and a potent time for wild-food foraging and food preservation. As we stand in the season of sun, however, we must also prepare ourselves for the seasons of cold to come.

Below is a guide and "to-do" list to help you make the most of this robust season. This field and homestead guide comes from the life experiences of Natalie Bogwalker, founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, with contributions by Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman.

Wild Food Foraging Beneath the Swimming Moon

• Harvest milkweed blossoms. These broccoli-like flowers can be sautéed, steamed, boiled or stirred into casseroles for a magnificent and nutritious meal.  Make sure to inhale their intoxicating aroma before harvesting.  Make sure to correctly identify edible varieties (there are poisonous look alikes, like dogbane), and cook them before eating, as milkweed is toxic unless fully cooked.

Milkweed Goddess

• Harvest Elderberry flowers and berries. Elderberry's lace-like fairy-kissed white flowers can be harvested and dried for tea (and used as a powerful remedy to reduce fevers). The fruit of the elderberry can be harvested when ripe (look for plump purple berries), and is a potent immune-boosting anti-viral fruit that is delicious in pies, jams, meads and medicinal syrups.

• Harvest Wineberries! These non-native and non-invasive berries are some of our favorites, and miraculously produce a healthy harvest even in the shade of the forest.

• Harvest black-cap raspberries.

Annual Garden Preparations for July

• Eat of the bounty!  Enjoy fresh tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, green beans, chard, kale!

Kale Abundance!

• Choose a few healthy summer squash plants that make particularly tasty squashes, and allow a few fruits to mature to produce seeds. These seeds will be saved for next year's garden, and for generations to come.

• Harvest and cure onions.

• Harvest garlic! (If you haven’t already.)

• Start seeds for fall crops, like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and winter spinach.

• Cultivate and weed, weed, weed!

In the Orchard

• Harvest saucing apples.

• Harvest more wineberries, raspberries, blueberries, and ever-bearing strawberries.

Food Preservation

• Two words: Pickle and Ferment! Green beans, carrots, beets, zucchinis, cucumbers, milkweed buds!! Make sauce with yellow mealy apples (aka, “sauce apples”) that start ripening at the end of month.

• Make jam, dry herbs and flowers for tea (mint, red clover, yarrow blossoms, elder blossoms and lavender).

Don't forget to swim, to nap in the shade of a oak tree, and eat fresh berries by the fistful!

Beauty Squash Blossom

Photography provided by Wild Abundance

For more information about Wild Abundance, or to check out upcoming weekend workshops including a Tiny House and Natural Building Intensive, Permaculture Design Certification, or Hide Tanning, go to

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a writer, beekeeper, and student with Wild Abundance. To read all of her contributions to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, click 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.


Jethro harnessed to travel

We had thrown the idea around for years of raising pigs. We first talked about raising them for meat production but didn’t know if we would be able to complete the process start-to-finish. Alan didn’t like the idea of taking the animals to a slaughter house to kill and be packaged. He likes to do his own butchering — then he knows how the meat is handled and how sanitary the slaughter is.

We learned all the rules and regulations — in North Carolina, you have to take the animal to a certified slaughterhouse because it cannot be done on-farm — and decided this approach was not for us. But we still wanted to do something with pigs. We just loved everything about the Berkshire. They’re so cute! So we decided we would raise a breeding pair and produce heritage-breed piglets.

The planning is usually the easiest part. Actually putting it into motion is another thing. We finally found a pure-breed female that was produced from AI (artificial insemination), but the owner did not have the paperwork. We were just glad we found a pure female, because we had looked for a long time.

Sourcing a Pure-Bred Berkshire Male

We also wanted a pure, intact male, but these owners didn’t have any stock that were not related. We went ahead and bought a little male that was a brother to our female. He had been castrated, so we would be able to keep them together. Pigs do better with a companion, otherwise they get easily stressed. They do really well with other animals, including goats and chickens.

Berkshire pastured with goats

When our female was of breeding age — we like to wait at least until they’re over a year old — we started looking for a male to breed her to. We made all kinds of contacts from pig directories and classifieds. We could not find an intact, pure Berkshire male!

We kept looking, because we also know the older the pig gets, the harder on her to have her first litter. In the meantime, Mr. Wiggles, the male companion for our Miss Piggy, was getting too large and we needed to do something with him. Even though a male is castrated, some will still run after the female and aggravate her. So, we decided we would kill him and this would be our winters’ meat.

We finally found an intact male at a farm about 3 hours drive from our farm. He was just weaned, so this meant another wait until he was old enough to breed with our female. We brought him home and kept him separated from our female. We named him Jethro.

Since the pigs were in different pastures we decided we would train Jethro to harness and lead so we could lead him to “Miss Piggy's” pasture when he was old enough. This is another reason I say Berkshires are the best all-around pig. They are so easy to work with, train and they adapt quickly. Jethro just outgrew his harness too often and they don’t come cheap!

Jethro also loves to get out in the field and help move dirt and rocks, as seen in the photo below.

Berkshire Berkie Babies

Finally, Jethro was old enough (at least 8 months old) and big enough to breed Miss Piggy.

Breeding Berkshire Pigs

We had to wait until the female was in estrus (heat) before taking Jethro to her. You have to be careful about the timing, because the gilt female (meaning she has not been bred before) will not accept the male if she is not in full estrus, and she will not stay in estrus for very long. A gilt may stay in estrus 24-28 hours, and a sow (has had at least 1 litter) may stay in estrus up to 3 days.

So, Alan harnessed up Jethro and took him to see Miss Piggy. We left him in the pasture for awhile and she didn’t accept his attention, so we took him back to his pasture. We took him back to her the next day and she was bred. We left them together in the same pasture afterwards, so she would be less stressed having a companion.

When Miss Piggy became heavy with babies and didn’t like company anymore, we moved Jethro again. He didn’t mind — he likes traveling.

We were able to put that date down. Gestation time in the Berkshire can depend on whether she has had a litter before. You can start watching the female at 113 days. Our Miss Piggy went 115 days both times she delivered.

Now, if you want to be sure of the breeding date, you need to leave the boar with the female while being supervised so, you will know if she has been bred. If she doesn’t accept his attention take the boar back to his pasture until the next day.

miss piggy with goats

Berkie Babies

We try to place our piglets in good homes. That means we ask if they will be pastured. Even if we know they will be meat for someone's table we want to know that they will be well taken care of up to that time.

Note: Miss Piggy and Jethro are available as a breeding pair. If interested, contact us at The Mushroom Hut@Fox Farms 828-682-1405.

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her 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.


The Fodder You Water

Read all posts in the "ABCs of Homesteading" series here.

I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading with an important emergency update.

When I started this blog series, I expected to post an entry every couple weeks. Then my dad, who lives with us, had a massive stroke and lost his ability to talk, walk, eat, and lost all of his memories. Thankfully, he's on the mend now, and I've been able to get back to writing.

Believe me, though, when life hits you with a whopper of that magnitude, you are going to need help to get through it. This is true whether you are homesteader or not. As a homesteader, though, you need more specialized help, such as milking your goats, moving animals to new pasture, caring for your garden, etc.

So, originally this post was intended to be only about fodder and feed sources. But after my recent experience, I realized that one of the first “systems” you need to set-up as a homesteader is a reliable network of friends, family, and neighbors who have familiarity with your operation and the ability to assist when necessary. Of course, you also need to be that person for others.

For these kind of community relationships to operate well, they must operate often. Do this by sharing your surplus, giving away extra seed starts, helping others to build a shed or process a pig, and welcome help or gifts from others when offered.

Don't get bogged down in ideas of “fairness” or complex barter systems. Community is a bit like a bank account. You want to give as much to it when you can, so that when you really need it, it is there to be drawn on.

Homesteading may be about increasing self-sufficiency in meeting our regular needs. But sustainable and durable homesteading must also aim to strengthen community interdependence. Just like flowers need bees, and vice versa, we need others to keep our homesteads running well.

It is also important to document your critical procedures — like feed schedules and quantities, organization and planting times in your garden, and maintaining a calendar of important homestead activities. As you set up your homestead operations, keep in mind that whether for unexpected life events or even just a short vacation, your procedures need to be simple enough that others can step in without extensive training.

And now back on to our regularly scheduled programming.

F is for 'Fodder' and Other Feed Sources

One of your biggest challenges as a new homesteader will be feeding your livestock. If you only need to feed a few chickens or ducks – don't sweat it. Just grow a bit more of whatever you are growing for yourself. Between sharing your food and giving those animals free range around your un-fenced areas, they'll be fat and happy.

But let's be real. An egg or two a day isn't really worth the trouble and you need a lot more manure than that to fuel your home food production. Which means...most of us are going to keep a lot more livestock than our fledgling homesteads can support. And since fencing, pasture, and other infrastructure take time to build, you will probably be confining these animals to small areas with incomplete forage.

So, at the outset, consider feed purchases as necessary “start-up costs” and resign yourself to the fact that you have to buy it until you can develop enough land and free up enough time to grow your own. That being said, there are a number of ways you can reduce your feed costs in the near term.

Fodder Considerations

The term fodder basically means some kind of storable or reproduceable food source that can be delivered to your animals (instead of a self-serve pasture). Usually the term is applied to putting up hay, bagged grain, or sprouting stored seeds for year round feed, but as a small-scale homesteader, you want to think outside the bale or bag.

Fodder You Water

For poultry, sprouting and growing wheat or barley grass in water is a commonly used as a way to stretch your food supply because these systems are easy to set up. You just need a few containers with holes drilled for drainage, a way to collect run-off water, some kind of shelving system, and a warm, sunny location or grow light.

There are many free plans available on the internet to help you set up your own fodder system. You can also get fancy and use gravity and float valves or timers to rig auto-watering.

Personally, my setup involves a couple bought-on-sale seed- sprouting shelving units, dollar dish tubs, scrap wood, and a cat litter container repurposed into a watering can — for a total cost of about $26. It's in my greenhouse for light and warmth. I also keep my hatchlings in the greenhouse, so I water the fodder when I feed and water the little ones, so I don't forget to do it. I also use the fodder to get them started grazing on grasses.

I've heard from others that a 50 pound bag of feed will become 200 pounds of nutrient rich fodder which means you cut your feed costs to 25 percent or less, depending on your seed costs. My results have been more conservative.

Barley is the cheapest seed in my area, but it grows slower than wheat and usually begins to mold before it quadruples in weight. So, I tend to harvest after about 5 to 6 days, when it is only an inch or two tall. Also, germination rates average 85 percent, which means some of the seeds don't sprout and may not be as easily digestible or “nutritionally available” for the birds.

Wheat grows faster. I usually get a decent crop before it molds. But untreated seeds are only seasonally available near me (e.g. in later summer for cover crops) and it costs more than locally grown feed. It also has germination rates of only 55-60 percent.

Overall, I find growing watered fodder can reduce my feed bill by about 20-30%. It takes more work than bagged feed, e.g. cleaning dish pans, watering twice daily, rotating pans for sun exposure. But, the birds really like it and giving them fresh greens year round is important to me. I also sprout dried peas and some beans using the same method.

Depending on the protein content in your seeds, you may need to supplement fodder with other protein sources for complete nutrition.

Floating Fodder

Another option using water is to cultivate water hyacinth as animal feed. According to the FAO, it may contain between 12-20 percent protein which puts it in roughly in the same category as wheat and barley fodder.

I originally bought six plants for $8 to populate and filter our irrigation pond. I dropped them in the pond in June. By July, you couldn't see the water. This pond was not intended for duck use, but they accidentally discovered it, moved in and had devoured my water hyacinths in just a few days.  During that time, they never touched store bought feed. 

Container Grown Water Hyacinth

After seeing how much they loved these aquatic delicacies, I started filling any empty containers I had with water and a handful of chicken poop or a couple buckets of water from our small duck ponds to the containers as a fertilizer. Then, I would toss in a couple water hyacinth plants.

In hot weather, three plants will multiply to fill the circumference of a large trash can in about a week. I harvest half of the new plants and leave the rest to repopulate.

We also grow it in our duck-free frog ponds near our garden areas and harvest regularly. The frogs love it as shelter.

Water Hyacinth in Frog Pond

This plant is not cold-hardy, so plan to store it in a warm location for winter if you live in planting zone 9 or below.

Friends with Benefits

Remember that homestead support network we covered earlier? Well, another happy side effect of building those relationships is that they can help you meet your animal feed challenges. Our friends and family have given us spent beer grains, fish parts, surplus harvest, past-prime apples, left-overs, out of date foods, fridge dumps before vacations, and more. In return, we frequently invite them to join us for meals to enjoy the fruits, eggs, and meats from their contributions.


Some items, which may not be suitable as direct feed for our animals, might be perfect for your worms or as maggot habitat. I know – eeeww! Seriously, though, once you get over the gross factor, growing these juicy suckers is an easy way to augment the protein content of your feed supply.

If you have a flies, cultivating maggots is easy. Just leave a wet, gooey bucket of nasty food-stuff where you see lots of flies. When the contents are crawling with maggots, dump it out in your poultry yard.

If you are not already vermicomposting, start yourself a worm bin or bed. This will be your worm production factory, so set-up it up in a permanent site. I have mine in my garden, dug two feet into the ground (for temperature and moisture control), lined with concrete blocks and weed mat and topped with a heavy, mostly rodent proof lid. It's 4 by 8 feet in size.

Worms as Fodder

Care is easy. Worms need a moist environment, so keep mulch on bottom on a light layer of straw on top then water as necessary to keep your bed moist. Feed the worms about once every two weeks with coffee grounds, tea leaves, banana peels, garden stuff that's not fit for animal eating, edible mushroom stems, spent mushroom mycelium, goat poop (yep! See the next posting 'G is for Goats' for more details), straw, and shredded paper.

Only feed half of the bed each time. Doing this will cause many of the worms to migrate to the new food source and get to work. Give them a couple days, then harvest the lazy worms who stayed put in the unfed half of the bed for your poultry. When you dig out the compost, you'll find the more worked areas have less worms.  So use that in your garden and save the really wormy stuff for your birds. 

If you feed your worms eggshells, they will eat the contents, but leave the shell mostly intact. So, you can just mash down the shells so they don't resemble eggs and give them back to the birds as a calcium source.

Positive Side Effects

Incredibly, after you dump worms in your poultry yard a few times, some of them will escape into the soil and reproduce. In a couple weeks, between the poultry poop, uneaten feed and scraps, and a few good rains, their populations will boom. Then all you need to do to make a worm buffet is move a straw bale around the yard. The worms will come to the surface of the soil to feed on the straw. After a few days, the bale and the first couple inches of soil beneath it will be crawling with them. At that point, roll the bale on its side and call your birds. Repeat again every few days.

Just before the straw bale falls apart, move it to your garden, and water it heavily for a few days. The remaining worms will populate the bale, convert it to soil, and then you can spread it on your garden to add more worms and vermicompost.

Two for One

If the straw bale trick is working for you, take it to the next level. Grow your watered fodder directly on the ground. Put your fodder container on the ground in your poultry yard, cover with a milk crate and concrete block, and water twice daily.

When your fodder is tall enough, uncover and serve. Your poultry will eat the grass. But they will also quickly discover the bonus crop of worms congregating under the container to play in the fodder water.

Fodder on Ground to Attract Worms

Strategic Gardening

I finally accepted that no matter how diligent I am, weeds will grow in my garden. Nature hates exposed soil and I hate fighting against nature. So, I made a decision to welcome the weeds. Not just any weeds, but the easy to harvest, good for my poultry kind like Lambs Quarters, Wood Sorrel, Dandelion, Harry Cat's Tongue, Wild Roquette, Purslane, Chickweed and others.

Go ahead and let them get big, just don't let them seed or overcrowd your intentional plants. Then weed into a big container and deliver to your birds. It may take them a few days to eat non-favorites, but they eventually will.

Weeds as Fodder

Also, if you are an organic gardener, you are probably doing daily insect inspections. So, take a bowl of plain water with you when you make your rounds and drop pests into the bowl.

Japanese beetles are particularly easy to collect in the early mornings, but cabbage worms, squash bugs and borers, harlequin beetles, tomato hornworms, etc. are all delicious and nutritious for poultry.

Garden Pests as Fodder

Think Outside the Bag for your Long-Term Fodder Needs

As you enrich your soil using your poultry manure, you will be able to increase your food production and provide more fodder for your poultry. As you do, don't feel bound by traditional ideas of poultry feed, e.g. grain and corn. Grow more of what you like to eat and what you like to see growing in your garden. And don't feel like you have to deliver your fodder to your birds in pellet-sized portions. Confined poultry are usually bored and are very happy to do the harvesting for you.

For example, you can serve entire sunflower seed or amaranth heads and let the birds pick them clean. You can give peas in pods still attached to the pea shoots. You can throw them half a head of cabbage and let them figure it out.

It may take a couple days for non-preferred edibles to be consumed, but a hungry bird will eventually figure out how to eat anything edible (that or the worms will).

Also, poultry can handle some tree and fruit leaves as part of a diverse diet. Mine like young tulip poplar and black locust leaves and grape and blackberry vines. Since these grow wild in my area, I give any trimmings to the birds. I also put up electric netting and let them clear underbrush and cull seedlings to help keep back the forest.

Now we've spent a lot of time on using poultry, particularly ducks in your homestead. But if you are ready to upsize your manure production and meet your daily dairy needs, stay tuned for our next installment: The ABCs of Homesteading: G is for 'Goats'.

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her 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.


Beekeeping for Beginners

Taking an interest in keeping beehives means you have the opportunity to support your local ecosystem by providing a safe space for our most important pollinators. Honeybees are a vibrant part of nature, and their skilled pollination is only surpassed by the nutritious honey they produce.

Keeping bees requires knowledge, time and effort, and with high-quality resources, you can learn to create a wonderful, productive habitat for bees.

Develop knowledge. Because you will be caring for living creatures, it’s important to understand how to keep your beehive healthy and thriving. There are many resources for you to use to build your knowledge and make your plans for starting your beekeeping adventure. Books and magazines specific to the hobby or profession of beekeeping will provide you with detailed information and help you to gain resources to move forward with your beehive.

Find local mentors. If you are lucky enough to have a local beekeeping association in your community, this is an invaluable resource for learning. Not only can you find local beekeeping enthusiasts who are eager to share their knowledge, you can have the opportunity to see beekeeping in action. Seeing different types of hives in use and observing beekeeping tools and methods will help you to more quickly feel ready to start your own beehive.

Choose your equipment. Local beekeepers can also help you to identify resources for purchasing or borrowing hives, tools and equipment. The type of hive you choose to use is also an important consideration, as each type requires different maintenance methods. Some types of hives may be more readily available in your area, and local beekeepers can help you decide which type of hive will work best for you.

Most people prefer to buy the hive, but if you want to build it yourself here's a collection of free DIY bee hive plans you might want to look at.

Review local codes. In some communities, there are ordinances restricting beehives to properties of a certain size. There may also be required guidelines for the distances between your beehive and surrounding homes or property lines. Some cities may not allow beehives at all, so it is important to check with your community to see if there are any restrictions on your plans to start a beehive.

When to start your beehive. Spring is the best season to set up your beehive; as the weather warms, plants produce pollen and the honeybees become very busy. Your hive should be ready to go when the first warm days begin in the spring so your bees have plenty of time to create a strong hive. As flowers bloom, the bees will be collecting pollen, and they will actively be swarming and searching for a hive in which to make their home.

Locating your beehive. Your beehive should be located in an open area that allows your bees to have an open flight path to and from the hive. With thousands of bees traveling between pollen sources and the hive, it should be located well away from your home. Tall fencing can help to raise the flight path so it does not impact you or your neighbors. Bees also require access to water, so be sure to provide a birdbath or a small water source of some type.

Beginning Equipment You’ll Need

The basic equipment you’ll need to get started includes:

• Bee suit: Including hood and gloves
• Beehive: In the style of your choice, including boxes, bottom boards, covers and frames
• Smoker: Used to calm the bees when you enter the hive
• Hive tool: Similar to a pry bar
• Honey extractor, buckets, strainers: For your harvest

There are many other tools that may be helpful for your beekeeping needs, and working with local beekeepers will help you to identify what tools are ideal for the type of hive you will be maintaining.

Obtaining Your Bees

If you are lucky, you may be able to find a natural swarm to make a home in your hive. However, when you are starting out, it is easiest to order your bees from a retail supplier. A “nuc” is a nuclear colony, and it includes a queen bee along with worker bees. Placing the nuc in your hive will encourage the bees to get started, and you will instantly become a beekeeper.

Bee Care Basics

Keeping your bees healthy is primarily a matter of being observant so that you can address issues as they occur. Bees may experience different issues based on your climate or geographical location. Bees can also develop diseases or be weakened by parasites, including mites. Your local beekeeper mentors can help you to identify problems that are common in your geographic area.

During a late spring, the bees may require supplemental food. Growing a wide variety of perennial flowers will help to ensure that your bees have easy access to food. You should avoid using any pesticides or herbicides in your garden, as they could cause harm to your bees, and the residue will end up in your honey.

Honey Harvest

Harvesting honey is typically done in the autumn, although you can harvest honey at other times of the year as well. You can start by removing some of the honeycomb, and using a tool called an extractor to separate the honey from the wax.

When harvesting a large amount of honey, the beehive frames are removed, the beeswax caps are scraped off the frame and the honeycomb is placed in a bucket. The honey sinks to the bottom, and the honeycomb can be melted and used for candles and other items. The extractor removes additional honey from the frames, and the honey is then strained to remove debris. Your raw honey is fully harvested and ready to be used.

The Joy of Beekeeping

By providing a home for bees, you can enhance your local environment, pollinate fruit trees and flowers and provide nutritious honey for yourself and your family. Keeping a beehive is a rewarding adventure that supports honeybees by providing them with optimum circumstances. By learning about the needs of healthy bees, you can support the growth of their population in the face of modern issues such as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Do you have any questions or any additional information to add? Please leave us a comment to let us know what you think about our beekeeping article.

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. Read all of Jennifer'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.


cabin exterior.jpg

What Constitutes Being a Senior?

It all depends on individual interpretation, but most dictionaries consider seniors to be around 65 years old. Ask any person 65 and they will probably tell you that a senior is between 78 and 80 years old. It is essentially how you evaluate your own status and many people in these age groups still do not consider themselves senior.

In my case, after cutting/splitting/stacking a cord of firewood and being barely able to move at the end of the day is when I feel very much senior. Ask me the next morning and I’d probably tell you in another 10 years or around my mid-80s I'll be a senior. Being a senior can, therefore, fluctuate due to variable circumstances and individual interpretation.

What Constitutes Homesteading?

My first encounter with the word "homestead" was when I lived in Florida and, after a few years, I could claim my home under the Homesteading Act, which gave me reduced taxes. All I knew about homesteading (even though I lived in a city) was that it provided a tax break after you had been in your home for 5 years.

Now, homesteading means a type of lifestyle of self-sufficiency where you make your own clothes, grow and preserve your own food, and is generally associated with remote living.

Defining 'Senior Homesteader'

Therefore, to consider myself a senior homesteader would depend on the time of day I’m asked that question and what I have been doing. Since we live in a cabin remotely in the mountains, heat with a woodstove and get our water from a deep well, plus grow our own vegetables, I think we qualify as senior homesteaders.

Referring to a senior homesteader can be pretty nebulous and, therefore, hard to define. Being a senior homesteader is not one size fits all. In today's environment where just about anything said offends someone, I will use senior homesteader in the first party and macro version and hopefully that will not offend anyone.

Living in a Small, Easy-to-Maintain Cabin

We live in a small cabin tucked away at 9,800 feet elevation, because we want a small cabin and prefer to be remote. Small cabins are easier to care for and maintain than large sprawling homes.

We heat our small cabin with a woodstove and they generate fine dust, which requires more frequent cleaning. A small cabin is easier and quicker to clean than larger homes.  Also, our four German shepherd dogs could easily be referred to as German “shedders,” so a small cabin is much easier for cleaning up loose dog hair.

For 20 years, we have been kept warm in the coldest of months by woodstove heat and we burn 9 to 11 cords of firewood to maintain that warmth. Those who choose a different heat source would not have as much work as is involved in accumulating firewood.

Am I a senior homesteader then? Some days I am, but most of the time, I consider myself just an aging mid-70s, hard-working type of person with normal aches and pains that go with aging.

Growing Your Own Sustainability

We grow our own vegetables, so I guess that also makes us somewhat self-sustaining. Due to the rocky soil and a short growing season, coupled with a host of varmints, we never seem to grow enough beyond what we eat to preserve.

Sometimes, we can put up rhubarb and spinach but not much else. Any vegetable that takes longer than 75 days to mature just won’t provide us a productive crop. Our growing season at this altitude is very short and this year, for example, it was the third planting before the snow finally stopped, surprising us and wiping out tender plants.

Maintaining Your Physical Structure

We do the majority of our own cabin repairs, including maintenance on our chimney and wood stove. Our exterior is mostly stone that comes right from our own property, and is not only attractive, but functional. It only needs pressure washing every few years and protects against wildfire, plus gives us an extra 4 to 5 inches of exterior insulation.

We stain and seal those areas not covered by rock. We mulch our tree branches and use the mulch on walkways and frequently used areas of our property. We do our own plumbing and electrical repairs within our experience level.

Since we live in a heavily wooded area, we have also milled our own lumber using our abundant trees when a lumber project is required. Therefore, I believe we are mostly self-sustaining.

Can Seniors Homestead?

With my vague use of macro terms, I hope this has not offended anyone’s sensibility and all this leads to the question: “Can a senior homestead”?

The short answer is "probably," and the long answer is also "probably" — it depends if you truly want a self-sufficient lifestyle. If you do want a thist lifestyle and have the desire, then there is a good chance you can be a senior homesteader.

Viewing Wildlife

Homesteading is an exciting life choice regardless of age, and one of the benefits is the remoteness. Yesterday, for example, while working at the far end of our property, I looked up just in time to see a mountain lion passing through. Now, some would clearly not like this, but I love it, as we have a respectful relationship with all the wild animals that frequent our property.

Having an animal that could consider you a food source and no zoo bars between you and it would cause consternation in some, but we don’t see it like that. Being in close proximity to an unrestrained wild animal requires that each must respect the area of the other.

Our experience in these 20 years has been that animals are far more respectful than most humans. Yes, perhaps one day I could be the prey, but those chances are remote and if I lived in a city, I’d be prey all the time for two-legged animals.

Today’s world is an uncertain place, but most animals are very predictable and pose far less hazard than their two-legged counterpart. In summary, seniors can be homesteaders, but just be prepared for hard physical work and be open to adjustment and change.

Bruce McElummary lives remotely with his wife, Carol, in an 880-square-foot cabin along with their three dogs. They implemented many of the things they learned from MOTHER since its inception as a magazine. For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle go to Read all of Bruce'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.


Down trees.jpg

We found a good solution to getting rid of our dead trees and not have them just rot in place. We have a local charity in our nearby town that helps the homeless and those who may not be homeless but still need a helping hand.

Winters can be pretty cold here in Colorado and if you can’t afford firewood ($150 to $175 for a cord) or are unable to cut it or process it yourself, it can make staying warm pretty hard to do, not to mention costly. This particular charity has groups that volunteer to assist, and they will come and cut up and haul off firewood for those who truly need it.

Charitable Giving

Last year, we were able to provide around 12 cords of firewood, and this year, we hope to double that amount. It is heartwarming to know that what had no value to us is being used by someone we don’t even know to stay warm during our cold winters.

We have 11 acres of heavily wooded mountain property and the fir, pine, and spruce all tend to either choke one another out, die from beetle kill, or drought. Colorado is a semi-arid state and water sometimes can be insufficient for trees to thrive. We have an abundance of standing dead that should go to someone who can benefit from it.

We have a very tall chimney (30 feet) that has a tendency to clog up with creosote and soot around the wind cap if we burn conifer trees. By the time the smoke rises to the top, it has cooled to the point that it collects around the very top. Aspen does not do that, so we burn those dead aspen trees ourselves since we heat our cabin with a woodstove.

Safety First

For safety's sake, this senior homesteader uses his expertise to fall the trees to the ground (see photo) and then the charity comes out with a crew and removes the limbs and cuts them to firewood size and then trailers them to a place where they process it into firewood.

I have found that it is better to cut them down myself rather than risk anyone else getting hurt. This particular charity has groups of volunteers coming in from all over our state, and sometimes out of state, to help them. Most have no experience cutting down trees but they can haul the cut-up pieces to the trailer they bring to haul it away.

Volunteer Groups

This charity has interns that come in to learn counseling and how to serve. They are usually fresh out of college and stay one year to work at this charity. These interns usually bring the volunteer groups to work hauling firewood. The volunteer groups work on numerous aspects of the charity and obtaining firewood is only a small part of that volunteer work.

The interesting part is that, when they call to schedule a time to come for firewood, we never know ahead of time which group of volunteers they will bring. So far this summer they have come with four distinctly different groups.

Types of Volunteers

The first group was from Estes Park, Colorado, and that group was mostly composed of men and women with ages from the mid 60s to 84 years old. This group has been volunteering for 24 years, and it proves age is not a hindrance to helping others. We senior citizens may move a little slower but we are persistent and get the job done. I work along with the volunteers and having fun people whom give from their heart is rewarding for me to just be around.

The next group was a mother along with her 16-year-old daughter and her daughter’s two friends from Boulder, Colorado. The girls worked hard all day and it was delightful to this old senior to have three teenagers around. I use my tractor and a small pull-behind trailer to haul the firewood so it doesn’t have to be carried as far and having those girls laughing and talking brought back very fond memories of raising our daughter and having her friends around.

The third group was some of the staff at the charity. It was the interns and one of the assistant directors and her sister from the nonprofit charity. All delightful people and just a pleasure to work alongside.

The fourth group was a church group from Denver. There were two chaperones and eight children from 10 to 12 years of age. These young people were a blast to work alongside. If seniors move slower, these children seem to never run out of energy. They were moving logs that weighed almost as much as they did and proved that many hands make a job easier. It is uplifting for this senior to be around and interact with children with all their questions, riddles, jokes, laughing, and games.

Creative Ways to Dispose of Dead Trees

The whole purpose of this particular blog post is to point out that there are creative ways to eliminate your dead trees if you have a wood lot. This is only one way, and there are many more. You can check and see if there are any websites where you can advertise free material that others may find a use for. Ours is called Freecycle.

There are also free wood fests which our community has throughout the year. There are several ways that dead trees can be used or put to good use where they will benefit others.

Concentrated Area and Safe Work Area

When I bring down dead trees, I try to keep them concentrated into a specific area that will be safe to work in, and I like to work with the volunteers to point out any obstacles or potential hazards. I can also direct where the piles of dead branches are to be located, so it is easier for me to get to them and haul to our community’s burn site.

Another benefit for us is to reduce our wildfire risk by not having so much dry fuel on hand. The greatest benefit is being around interesting people who have a heart for giving and knowing that the trees will benefit people next winter when the temperatures drop to 20 degrees below.

Bruce McElummary lives remotely with his wife, Carol, in an 880-square-foot cabin along with their three dogs. They implemented many of the things they learned from MOTHER since its inception as a magazine. For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle go to Read all of Bruce'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.


Pioneer? For anybody who has reviewed my biography, my claim to be a “pioneer” may be a head-scratcher. The term conjures up the mental image of Johanna sitting next to me in the covered wagon, me holding the reins of a team of horses as I yell giddy up, clippety-clopping our way to our remote lake with everything we own in the back of the wagon to settle the promised land. Not quite.

We've already established from an earlier post that there are no roads to get here, so any wheeled conveyance, covered wagon or otherwise, was not an option.

We believe destiny brought us to our location. While searching for a suitable spot for our new homestead, we were flying around in a float plane scouting various potential lakes when I caught a glimpse of a sandy beach that we were passing over. From the co-pilots seat, I immediately asked the pilot to circle around for a second look.

Not only did we take a second look, but we landed on the lake, slowly drifted up to the shore, and as we departed the plane and took a short jump off the pontoon onto the beach, we immediately knew this was going to be home. A chance sighting of a lake we just happened to be flying over and the search was over.

Clearing the land

Clearing the land

This was indeed virgin wilderness and the establishment of a homestead would be a serious undertaking. It's easy to imagine a little homestead with a garden nestled in the forest. Quite another to make it happen.

This was going to be a lot of work. The first obstacle was the logistics of what we were contemplating. Everything would have to be flown in by float plane. Building materials, personal possessions and supplies. Everything would need to make its way first to the float plane base, then be loaded on to the plane, flown out, off loaded and finally carted to the house site which was 200 feet from the lake up a short but steep hill. All this before any construction could begin.

This excerpt from my book Off grid and Free:My path to the Wilderness relates what we were faced with.

“Our first priority was to open up a trail from the beach to our camping site, then on up to where we would build the house. Starting from the beach, there is a flat shelf of land a few feet above the high water mark and then the terrain rises steeply to a sandy knoll that sits 15 feet above the lake surface. We chose to locate our homestead on this high hill.

This was virgin wilderness, and the forest was dense. Using nothing but a chainsaw, we cleared a path from the lake to the house site. I cut down the trees, sawing them into firewood as I went, and Johanna removed the brush and collected and piled the firewood. Because the trees were very small in diameter (4 to 5-inch average) compared to what we were used to in Maine, we mistakenly thought we could have the house site completely cleared in two days. What we failed to take into account was how numerous these small trees were and how long it would take to deal with them. But we cleared the house site within the first week. To break up the monotony, we alternated clearing work with other chores like lugging lumber and supplies from the beach.”

At this point, we had a reliable path from the lake to the house site, and the site itself had been cleared of trees. Now it came time to clear the remaining areas which would be dedicated to our gardens. Take note of the dense wall of trees in the rototilling and winching pictures. Making the transition from forest to productive gardens was an enormous amount of work.

Hand winching stumps

Hand-winching every tree with roots from the garden

"We flagged out the borders of the gardens and pulled out each tree, and its roots, within those boundaries. Through trial and error, we found a way to clear not only the trees but their roots all in one shot. With the aid of a chain and a two-ton come-along, I was able to anchor to the base of one tree, put a chain on a nearby tree as high up as I could reach, attach the come-along to the chain, and then topple the tree. I continued ratcheting the come-along until I pulled the tree free, roots and all. I repeated this tedious process many times until I had our garden areas cleared. The cleared garden areas are approximately 75x35 feet each. Quite an accomplishment.

We had flown in a new rototiller to work our gardens, and I plowed the lower 40 after the trees were removed. I disced in all the forest duff, and after I went over the areas a few times, our garden actually started to look like gardens. The first pass was the most difficult as I had to make frequent stops to clear the tiller tines of small roots and debris. Many small roots wrapped themselves around the tines like pieces of twine. Tilling became easier with each subsequent pass, and now, years later, tilling is a breeze.

Progress was slow, and I had a good sense of how the first pioneers must have felt converting forest land to farm land. It is not easy work. The pioneers had horses and oxen to help, whereas I had mechanical tools and 'Ron power,' but fortunately I had relatively small areas to clear.”

Tilling the new garden.

The first pass with the rototiller

If you consider we arrived in unsettled territory, cleared the land by hand, built an off- grid homestead and reside far removed from conventional society, I think “pioneer” is an accurate description.

This year our weather was cool and rainy in late spring and I grew weary of bailing out the boat. We are finally enjoying a warm stretch. Last summer was dry and we had at least seven feet of exposed beach. This year there is no beach. The water is up to the vegetation on the shoreline.

Thanks for reading and I'll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchiore and his wife, Johanna, currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of his 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.

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