Helen and Scott Nearing: Putting the Garden to Bed for Winter, Raw Food Diets and Building a Homestead

Helen and Scott Nearing provide homesteading advice on putting the garden to bed for winter, soil enrichment literature, prose in praise of living off the land, raw food diets and recipes and building a homestead yourself.

Helen and Scott Nearing column

Helen and Scott Nearing are light-years ahead of most of us when it comes to living a life of voluntary simplicity in harmony with nature.


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Helen and Scott Nearing share their homesteading advice with MOTHER's readers, including putting the garden to bed for winter, raw food diets and recipes and building a homestead yourself. 

Helen and Scott Nearing are light-years ahead of most of us when it comes to living a life of voluntary simplicity in harmony with nature. Back in 1932 they began homesteading a run-down farm in Vermont's Green Mountains, and later—when the slopes around them exploded into ski resorts in the early 50's—Helen and Scott moved to a rocky inlet on the Maine coast . . . and started all over again. 

That's where you'll find the Nearings today: They're still clearing brush, still building the stone structures they're famous for, and still raising most of their vegetarian diet themselves in productive wholistic gardens . . . just as they've been doing for 50 years.  

Naturally, the Nearings have learned a good deal about homesteading over the years . . . and they've agreed to share that knowledge with MOTHER's readers in a regular question-and-answer column. Send your queries about self-reliant living on the land to Helen and Scott Nearing, THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® , 105 Stoney Mountain Road, Hendersonville, North Carolina 28791. Please don't expect personal replies, though. The most frequently asked questions will be answered here—and here only—so that we can all benefit from what the Nearings have to offer. 

With cold weather upon us, my husband and I were wondering what the best way when "putting the garden to bed for winter" might be. Could you please outline the methods you use each autumn to prepare your growing plot for the following spring?

After the last harvest is in, we weed our entire garden and cultivate it thoroughly. Once we're certain that frost has killed or driven away any nesting slugs, we mulch the plot . . . using hay, autumn leaves, or seaweed. (Mulching too early will give the slugs a warm home in which to survive the season.) At this time we also put a blanket of loose mulch over the hardy plants (such as kale, brussels sprouts, leeks, or parsley) to help them winter over. 

My husband and I have long dreamed of starting an organic truck farm on our 12 acres of tired Florida land . . . but we're at a loss as to how to begin. Although there's an abundance of information about raising organically grown vegetables on a small garden plot, you see, there seems to be precious little practical advice available on how to start, run, and make a comfortable living from a larger enterprise. And—as we expected—local farmers assure us that eking out a family income from a "giant garden" is impossible . . . especially if we rely upon organic methods. Surely, though, there are other folks who—like us—would love to try a small-scale version of the family farm, but who are afraid to go ahead without a solid information base.

We're accustomed to the hard work that's required to build up the soil, and are willing to cut our expenditures to the bare minimum in order to reach our goal. Do you think we have a chance? What literature can you suggest to help guide us?

With 12 acres of Florida property at your disposal, it sounds as if you have a splendid opportunity to experiment with potentially profitable year-round growing ventures. We suggest starting with a small cultivated plot, however . . . you can enlarge your enterprise as you learn. 

As far as appropriate literature is concerned, there are a number of helpful gardening and small-scale farming books put out by Garden Way Publishing Co. (Dept. TMEN, Charlotte, Vermont) and Rodale Press, Inc. (Dept. TMEN, 3Emmaus, Pennsylvania). Two of our books—Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life—discuss self-reliant farming. 

We moved back to the land several years ago . . . and now we wouldn't trade our country lifestyle for the rushed pace of the city under any circumstance. However, my wife and I are still occasionally questioned by incredulous urban dwellers as to how we can stand to "live out in the sticks and away from all civilization".

Do you know of any writings that would help me explain—in simple terms-the joys of living off the land?

The following quotation (which is included in Helen's book Wise Words on the Good Life) perhaps expresses your feelings best: 

"When the sun rises, I go to work,
When the sun goes down, I take my rest,
I dig the well from which I drink,
I farm the soil that yields my food,
I share creation. Kings can do no more."
Ancient Chinese 2500 B.C.

You often extol the virtues of eating a diet consisting primarily of raw foods . . . and I was wondering how you're able to accomplish this goal during the winter months when your garden is no longer producing.

We have a homemade greenhouse that furnishes us with delicious greens year round. Our winter menus are supplemented by carrots, beets, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, onions, and apples-all from our garden-which we store in bins in the cellar and consume until the new crops come in. 

Here's a tasty winter salad, talon from Helen's cookbook, Simple Food for the Good Life: 

Winter Salad Recipe
1/2 head of lettuce or cabbage, finely chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 apples, chopped
4 tablespoons of oil
2 tablespoons of vinegar
A handful of nuts

Combine the vegetables and apples with the nuts. Then add the oil and vinegar, toss the salad to coat the ingredients thoroughly, and enjoy! 

It would be helpful to me if you'd devote some space to a description of your home . . , including its size, how it's heated and plumbed, and how long it took to build.

We've written a new book, Building With Stone in Our 70's and 90's, which describes—with over 200 photographs—the construction of our latest stone house. While we wait for publication, here's a preview: 

We cleared the land and built roads into our property some ten years ago. The next year we constructed a stone outhouse and a garage/workshop/storage building—complete with a flagstone floor—of rock and hand-hewn timbers. 

During the following three summers, we put up the 35 foot by 53 foot two-story house . . . the back half of the structure has a cellar underneath the kitchen and the pantry, and includes a bathroom with a Clivus Multrum composting toilet. For cooking (and some heating) we use an old King Kineo stove. The front portion of the house has a pine-paneled, flagstone-floored study and living room with a fireplace, and we use a "Free Flow" woodstove in winter for heating. 

Upstairs there are two bedrooms—also paneled in pine—each with a balcony. One room faces east and overlooks the garden, while the other faces west and has a view of Penobscot Bay. 

We have running water in the kitchen and bathroom (Helen dowsed and found sparkling clear water 74 feet down!). 

In 1977 we finally moved into our new house, and set to work building a stone wall around the garden and adding a solar greenhouse. The whole operation of clearing the site, building, and settling in took a long time ... however, we've never hurried with our construction or gardening projects. Instead, we've always been willing to take the time to do it right. As a result, we now have the house we want and can sincerely say that we enjoyed every minute of our work! 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Nearings will be glad to mail a price list far their books to anyone who sends a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Social Science Institute, Dept. TMEN, Harborside, Maine.