Life in the Adirondack Mountains

Nancy Tucker describes the challenges and benefits of living in New York's Adirondack mountains.

| March/April 1977

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    Nancy Tucker raises chickens, goats and horses on her homestead in the Adirondacks.
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    Nancy works on building her log cabin homestead using cedar logs.

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Occasionally, a neighbor or an acquaintance of mine will ask me, "What brought you way up here to the north country?" ... a query that always leaves me speechless, since there's so much to say. Sometimes — in my tumbling to find an answer — I'll reply, "I come here to farm in the mountains," to which the usual response is a stunned silence that suggests "Are you crazy?" Other times, I carry on about how I love the mountains ... but this is too trite-sounding to repeat very often.

And when I'm asked, more specifically, why I chose to come to the Adirondocks — which most people think of as too inhospitable a place for homesteading — I stop, survey the majestic peaks around me, and find myself overwhelmed by a desire to reply, "Don't you know?"

It's true that Now York's huge Adirondack Park (the largest state park In the U.S.) Is characterized by dramatic weather patterns, nearly sub-arctic winters, a 90-day growing season, and extremely rocky soil (none of which can be considered conducive to homesteading). But the park is also endowed with frequent rainfalls, the purest of spring-fed streams and lakes, beautiful forests, and brilliant displays of northern lights. And a recently established state land-use program (inspired by environmentalists) promises to keep the park unspoiled by civilization for years to come.


Overcoming a Short Growing Season

The area's short growing season is probably the biggest deterrent to homesteaders. (With the exception of such cold-loving crops as peas, lettuce, radishes, onions, and potatoes which can go in the ground in mid May — the earliest you can safely plant anything outdoors up here is around June 1.) Nonetheless, I plant continuously — and in accordance with favorable moon phases — from May 31 to June 12 ... and by the end of June my garden Is crowded with vegetables and herbs of every description, even sweet potatoes! (People told me they'd never grow, but the yams flourished.) By late September, I store away enough homegrown edibles to keep me in "eats" clear through to the following spring.

It's not easy to garden "organically' in these mountains. The abundant rainfall and pleasant temperatures that foster plant growth during the summer also encourage the growth of all kinds of insects: cutworms, aphids, you name it (Thus, unless you want to use chemicals you have no choice but to plant only the very hardiest of crops ... which simply means whatever survived best the preceding year.) Fortunately, my prowling cats keep wildlife-related plant losses to a minimum.

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