The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Q: In Living the Good Life, you mention a "molasses drink" taken for breakfast. Would you share your recipe with us?
A: We change our eating habits as we experiment with what seems interesting or better. (However, we'll never turn to the flesh of any creature that walks or wiggles.) As a result of our constant experimentation, we no longer take the "molasses drink" (which was just a tablespoon of the syrup in a cup of hot water). Nowadays, we drink our own dried herbs as a morning tea ... adding a teaspoon of honey per cup. Helen has a new anti-cookbook coming out in the spring, which will have a full section on beverages.
Q: I've been homesteading in West Virginia for over a year now and want to raise blueberries for profit. However, before I make the initial investment, I'd like to learn about the "organic" methods of growing these plants as well as ways to control—without chemicals—insects and diseases that prey on the berries. Any information you can give me would be appreciated.
A: If you're to have success with hybrid blueberries, you must live in a region that experiences at least 30 consecutive days with freezing temperatures each year. In addition, you'll need acid soil, a well-drained plot, and a moderately rich, sandy loam (though the delicious berries can also be grown on peat land).
Start with two-year-old plants and—for cross fertilization—have at least three or four different varieties. Since each variety will bear ripe fruit over a picking season of three or four weeks, a plantation including early, medium, and late producers will provide a total picking season of 10 or 12 weeks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a useful Farmers' Bulletin (available through your county extension director) on blueberry culture. And Chapter 8 of our new book, Continuing the Good Life, recounts our experiences with this crop since moving to Maine. Incidentally, we use no sprays or insecticides on our bushes and reap bountiful harvests of big, beautiful berries.
Growing Rose Hips
Q: In your writings, you've discussed eating rose hips for vitamin C. Which method or methods do you recommend for utilizing the tiny fruits to their best advantage? Also, how many Rosa rugosa (or "wrinkled" rose) plants are necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of fruit to fulfill the vitamin C requirements of two adults? Are there any particular rose varieties you prefer? Do you have any tips on rose cultivation and control? I've heard that "wild" roses can be a nuisance to grow because of their tendency to spread over large areas
A: The rugosa species produces the largest hips and is therefore the best "eating variety" rose. Half a dozen of such plants would grow plenty of fruit for a family, though we have over 20 bushes flourishing in our meadow. Once established, the plants send out underground runners and "daughter plants" which—if the soil and climate are right—will produce a thicket.
We treat the wild roses just as we do raspberries, planting them in hills six to seven feet apart in every direction, limiting the number of canes they develop to four or five per hill, and pruning out a third of the old canes each year. This technique renews the plants constantly.
Late in August or early in September, we go through our rose hip "plantation" and snip off the hips or rose-apples as they begin to color up and grow slightly mellow. The process of preserving them is the same as that described for making raspberry juice in Chapter 5, "Eating for Health", of our book Living the Good Life. We drink the bottled juice, run the softened hips through a blender, make soup of what goes through a sieve, and dry on the stove—for rose-hip tea—the solid material that remains.
Having or Not Having Children
Q: I disagree with your words of wisdom to the reader who asked about having children in this age.
My husband and I, too, considered the drawbacks of pollution, nuclear war, overcrowding, and the high cost of raising a child. However, it seemed to us that the decision really came down to one consideration: Did we want all the responsibility and the work that offspring—who, through our loving guidance, might make the world better for being here—would involve? We concluded that the possible rewards out-weighed any labor, and now we have two beautiful youngsters and are thinking about a third. (If we had it to do over, we'd do the same.)
If earth-loving people don't raise their own followers, what will happen to the world? Will there be a younger generation that cares as we do?
A: In one sense, your contention is absolutely right: Unless each generation leaves younger substitutes behind it, the earth will soon be deprived of human beings. And if we humans—through our succeeding generations—live up to our possibilities as trustees and responsible directors of the physical, social, and ethical well-being of the planet, it will develop into a worthwhile living place for all life, including humankind.
But who can guarantee that your or our "beautiful children" will not be corrupted or ensnared by wily advertising and the seductive lifestyles that it portrays? We know too many "earth-loving people" whose offspring have not followed in the footsteps of their concerned parents. We also know some "earth-loving parents" who've not been able to stick together themselves, let alone been able to care for their "beautiful children" properly. If you take on childbearing and child-raising, you have an enormous responsibility to society as to what your children become, and as to how they contribute to or detract from the well-being of the community.
The population is doubling every 30 years, so the quality of humanity is a real problem. We figured we were performing a kind of social service not to have children in this tormented world. And—without adding to the population—we've tried to treat other people's children as our own and to influence them for good.