Root Cellaring, Mulching Materials, and Other Wisdom From Helen and Scott Nearing

In this installment of their regular column, Helen and Scott Nearing answer reader questions about effective root cellaring, mulching materials, other topics relevant to homesteading.

Scott Nearing

Scott Nearing, sharing a meal with a friend and considering reader questions about root cellaring and mulching materials.


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The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.  

Q: I have a root cellar and use it to store apples, turnips, potatoes, and onions. However, although my food room seems to stay dry, I feel that an unacceptable percentage of the put-up produce rots before I can use it. Have you had any experience with root cellaring that might help me figure out what my problem could be?  

A: Our root cellar is directly underneath the kitchen. It's lined with cement, and has drains built into its floor. We store apples, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, onions, and turnips in wooden crates, in boxes, or in baskets and put dry autumn leaves between the layers of produce. Using this technique, we've been able to keep spoilage down. However, when food is stored in such a manner, it's best to go through the boxes every month or two to eliminate any fruits or vegetables that show signs of spoiling, before they can "contaminate" their neighbors.

Q: Can you tell me what mulching materials you've had the most success with?  

A: Most of our mulching is done with autumn leaves, spoiled hay, and seaweed. Good mulch, as you may know, must be both loose and light.  

We don't mulch open areas in our fall garden until a good frost has crusted the ground. This practice, we feel, prevents slugs and mice from using our plant protection as a comfortable winter hiding place!  

Q: Do you believe in the possibility of a worldwide utopia? 

A: The term "utopia"—as it's ordinarily used—refers to a form of social organization which is flawless and, therefore, cannot be improved upon. We don't believe in such a thing. We do, however, have definite ideas with regard to a workable, worldwide society that supersedes nationalism.

Scott has elaborated on the subject of "worldism" in his book United World, published in 1945. We still have some paperbound copies of the volume, which can be purchased—for $2.50—from the Social Science Institute. The same subject is approached in a different manner in Scott's latest book, Civilization and Beyond, which costs $4.50 from the same publisher. (Please enclose 50$ postage per book.)  

Q: I'm interested in any comments either of you may have on the personal commitment of marriage. I've been married almost 14 years now, and I'm still occasionally in wonder at the dynamics of the relationship.  

A: No marriage is perfect, but some are better than others. We've been living together for close to half a century, and while we have quite different characters and interests, as well as different ideas on many subjects, we still get along and still are together.  

We believe that sharing interests is essential for close comradeship. Walter Lippman has said, in A Preface to Morals, "The emotion of love, in spite of the romantics, is not self-sustaining; it endures only when the lovers love many things together, and not merely each other."  

Q: It was a pleasure seeing you at the First Homesteaders Festival in 1978, and we'd like to see you again. Will you be making some public appearances this summer?  

A: We enjoyed the First Homesteaders Festival held in 1978 near Elmira, New York. A young couple, Sherrie and Norm Lee, are holding the Fourth Annual Festival at their homestead during the weekend of July 23-25 this year. Write to them for information if you're interested in attending or in receiving a sample copy of their Homesteaders News.  

We, however, have said "no" to all "appearances" this year (after all, with 175 combined years of joint activity behind us, we feel entitled to a rest), but we've added that "maybe we'll drop in" to Sherrie and Norm's affair and/or to the Bread and Puppet Circus in Glover, Vermont on August 15 and 16, 1981.  

Q: My grandmother, who was a good "natural foods" cook, died when my grandfather was 70 years old. At that time, he looked like a man of 60. Now, five years later, he looks to be 100! I'm sure he's suffering from malnutrition, due to a diet of medicine and the poor food frequently served in hospitals and nursing homes. But how do you tell a 75-year-old man that he has to change his ways and listen more to himself than to his doctors?  

A: At 75, your grandfather should be mature enough to know how to take care of himself ... unless his wife babied him through the years. If so, it's partly her fault for not having educated him in good nutrition or let him do his share.  

Tell him to eat as much raw food as he can chew. Make sure that half of his diet is composed of uncooked edibles, and have him eat such foods first before he fills up with the heavier, prepared part of the meal. Suggest that he have fruit for breakfast and lunch, and a big salad first thing for supper. If the hospital or nursing home won't furnish these, he should provide them himself (or perhaps you could go shopping for him):  

It would be difficult for Scott, in his nineties, to get along without a helping hand from Helen. And it would not be easy for her, in her seventies, to get by without him. We plan to preserve good health as long as possible, and—if we're lucky—to go together.  

Q: I'm very interested in your "anti-cooking" book. Is it available yet? And, if so, how can I get a copy? 

A: Send a stamped, addressed envelope to the Social Science Institute for details.  

Q: I've just finished reading Continuing the Good Life and found it very intellectually nourishing. I was, however, uncertain as to the meaning of the phrases at the top of page 184: "... only many lives ahead will give us time ... to fulfill all we hope to do." Is this a reference to reincarnation?  

A: The passage was not intended as a reference to reincarnation so much as to the continuity of life. Without going into the question of whether reincarnation does occur (there has been much evidence indicating so, and little supporting the belief that it does not), we take it for granted that something of the beings which we are survives death, and goes on with whatever may lie ahead.