The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Growing Season Management
Q: You must contend with such a short growing season (and such rough weather!) in Maine that I find myself wondering: What produces best for you, and do you grow most or all of your vegetables in your greenhouse?
A: Green leaf crops and roots—including potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, and rutabagas—are our best crops and our yearly schedule goes something like this: We eat asparagus daily for about two months in the spring while we start many of our vegetables in seed flats in the greenhouse. The starts are then transplanted later into garden flats or directly into the garden's soil. All summer the greenhouse is full of tomato plants, peppers, and eggplant, which flourish under glass. Then, beginning in the late summer, we plant seeds in the greenhouse, transplant young plants from the garden, and bring in mature plants. By autumn we have the greenhouse full of greens that will produce through the winter.
Traveling to India
Q: What prompted your trips to India?
A: We never travel for pleasure or recreation (we prefer to stay home for those things) and our trips away are invariably to satisfy duty or social obligations. Our latest trip to India, for instance, was to attend a three-week International Vegetarian Union convention. The trip was a real chore partly because of the hot weather, but mainly because of the inedible, overcooked, overspiced, and unhygienic food that we had to eat. The journey was also harrowingly painful to us because of the glimpses we had of the scandalous contrasts between the daily life of the poor and the extravagant luxury of the rich.
Q: Just how self-sufficient are you at Harborside, and how often must you leave home to "go into town"?
A: We grow 85% of everything we eat, but we do shop in town (22 miles away) perhaps twice a month—mainly for citrus fruits, avocados (when they are under 50¢ each), and some yogurt or cottage cheese. (Yes, we still use some dairy products, although we neither drink milk nor eat eggs.) We also buy nuts, grains, peanut butter, and raisins from the local co-op, or health food store.
Q: What area in the United States would you recommend most highly to back-to-the-landers who want to homestead and are just starting out?
A: It depends on your background and what you're used to. If you can stand hard weather, try New England. That's our preference. If you were brought up in a southern clime, you'll thrive best there. In any case get into the backwoods and up the dirt roads, where you can afford to buy a piece of land and where you'll have privacy. Look for access to good, plentiful water.
New Nearing Building
Q: Do you anticipate building any new structures on your present farm?
A: We have just finished a stone building on our present farm. We call it "The 70-90 House" because it was build while we are in our 70's (Helen) and 90's (Scott). We did all the stone and concrete work ourselves, but a meticulous carpenter friend did the woodwork.
Q: What is your policy towards visitors? Is there a particularly good—or bad—time for people to try to see you, or are you just too busy to handle the constant flow of individuals who would like to stop in?
A: Our policy this year is to see visitors only in the afternoons. Our mornings and evenings are our own... for writing and study. We are happy to show people our place, but appreciate word in advance.