The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Building a Stone House
Q: We're making plans to build our own stone house. Can you
tell us how to eliminate the problem of moisture that we
have in our area? Also, are there any how-to books on this
subject that you could recommend?
A: We built our home in Vermont when commercial insulation was
unknown to us, so we left an inch of air space between the
stone-and-concrete walls and the inside paneling. That
house was never damp. Our dwelling here in Maine is
protected by an inch and a hall of commercial insulation,
which also effectively eliminates the problem.
We can recommend the following books on stone house
building: The Owner-Builder's Guide to Stone
Masonry by Ken Kern, Steve Magers, and Lou Penfield
(Owner-Builder Publications, 1976) $6.00 ... How to
Build a Low-Cost House of Stone by Lewis and Sharon
Watson (Stonehouse, 1975) $5.95 ... Build Your Own
Stone House Using the Easy Slipformed Method by Karl
and Sue Schwenke (Garden Way, 1975) $5.95.
Q: Is there any way—short of building a
wall—to keep marauding raccoons from devouring our
sweet corn every year?
A: Even a stone wall doesn't keep out raccoons, simply
because the masked animals climb about as cleverly as house
cats. If they can't manage your walls, 'coons will clamber
over the wooden gates. Only adequate electric wiring will
keep the cunning rascals out. In fact, the persistent
beasts have just about convinced us to give up on trying to
grow corn. Though last year—with late
planting—we managed to harvest a fair crop before the
little marauders broke in.
On a friend's recommendation, we also tried a new
method of discouraging such incursions. We covered the
ground of the corn patch with masses of newspapers held
down by handfuls of earth. The theory behind this scheme is
that raccoons don't like to walk on paper and will avoid
doing so even at the cost of a meal. It worked for a while,
too, but the critters soon saw through our plan. Therefore,
we can't recommend the procedure.
Work Day Length
Q: In Living the Good Life you said you've been able
to devote an average of only four hours per day to "bread
labor." Fantastic! But to what do you attribute this
efficiency: engineering training, super-organizing, lack
of middlemen ... or what?
A: This "work day" is the result of careful and
economical planning, tending to business and the refusal to
be distracted, and consistent minimizing of our own
personal needs. But please remember that the four-hour
figure is based on a year's average. Some days we have to
labor longer, and at other times we don't work at
The Homesteader's Workout
Q: I know that just managing a farmstead can give a person
quite a workout, but do you pursue any other forms of
exercise on a regular basis?
Just follow us around for an ordinary working day
and see if we're not more than adequately physically
occupied. We shovel, fork, dig, bend, stretch, saw, chop,
weed, pick, construct, hammer, mix, etc. We don't need any
artificial calisthenics to keep us fit and
supple in our 70's and 90's.
Q: Out here in the arid West, many farmers (including
ourselves) have trouble with alkaline soils. Our earth also
tends toward heavy clay, and those plants that we can get
to grow remain stunted. Do you have any experience
with—or suggestions on—how to deal with
A: We've had no experience with alkaline soil. Our
Maine earth tends to be acid, and we treat it with ground
limestone and wood ashes. We do, however, have a yellow
clay subsoil, which we lighten with sand, sawdust,
forest loam, and compost.
Q: Are you—or have you ever been—affiliated with
any religious group?
Neither of us attends any church, unless it's for a
concert or lecture. We don't feel the need for a preacher
or priest to dictate our actions or morals. Instead, we've
worked out a way of life for ourselves that we regard as
both ethical and moral. Of course, our lifestyle isn't
perfect, and we're continually tested and testing as
problems arise. The main thing is, however, that we try in
life to do as little harm and as much good as
Natural Versus Synthetic
Q: How do you feel about synthetic materials? Do you use any,
or do you only stick to natural fibers?
A: There are advantages and disadvantages to both
types of fabric. Natural fibers can involve the
exploitation of animals, if not their deaths. But
— though we deplore the misuse of another
living thing — we do use wool.
Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, are not as pleasing to
wear, but they're cheaper and nowadays
readily available for most forms of clothing. Like most
everyone else, we use some of both, but avoid leather in
belts and shoes when we can.
Q: Common sense—plus all the material I've read on
building with stone—says to build with clean rocks.
However, the rock piles on all the old farms in my area are
covered with mossy growth. So ... how do you clean a stone?
Concrete won't stick or set on mossy or dirty
stones. Many of our rocks, therefore, come from the beach
and have been washed clean by the tide. The rest are
salvaged from old stone walls or from earth that has been
disturbed by road crews. We do
find a few rocks that are covered with mossy
growth, and we scrub them clean with a wire brush.
Q: I have a great number of blueberries growing on my
property. Is it possible to turn them into blueberry wine
or brandy? If so, do you have a recipe that you like?
A: We regard alcoholic drinks as one of the most
detrimental and dangerous substances In the present
American diet. Needless to say, we offer no recipes for
producing such drinks.