Establishing a Homesteading Routine

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

Establishing a Rhythm and Routine

Recently a Mother Earth News blogging friend mentioned something to me that really struck true: Things get easier when you establish a routine.

Getting in alignment with your circumstances or finding a rhythm in dealing with the many chores and tasks required of maintaining your homestead does make tasks go more smoothly. Rhythm is a strong regular repeated pattern of movement, flow or tempo. When you are essentially self sustaining getting into a routine or rhythm facilitates achievement and accomplishment.

One of our routines is getting in our firewood for next winter. Heating with a wood stove where winter/cold temperatures can last up to 7 months requires a considerable amount of firewood and pre-planning. It has to be cut, hauled to where it is accessible, split and stacked. We generally use 9-11 cords of firewood each winter so getting in our firewood is one of our major tasks. We sometimes start burning firewood in September and stop sometime in May.

We burn aspen as it causes less of a creosote problem than the pine, fir and spruce. Our chimney is understandably high due to our cabin being A-frame construction. Using a more resinous wood tends to cause us a problem at the top of our chimney where it is cooler causing the soot and creosote to build up in that area more so than the lower part which is more warm and even temperature. We therefore burn aspen which is on the lower end of the list of hard woods but abundant on our property. When it is dry it burns much cleaner and therefore has much less soot and creosote in comparison to the conifers.

Our Workable System, Routine and Rhythm

Living in the mountains – especially if you want to be happy – is finding that rhythm/routine that works well and stick with it instead of fighting it or trying to alter it. Spreading getting our firewood needs over a long period of time could work; however for us it totally disrupts our normal rhythm and routine. We also risk getting distracted by some other unforeseen task and ending up with not enough firewood for the cold months. We therefore start early in the year and work at nothing but getting our firewood in for approximately two weeks. Then throughout the summer and fall months as time becomes available we cut firewood and store it in a convenient place to have a head start on the following years need.

Our routine is to begin as soon as the snow melts or is melted sufficiently to enable us to get around safely. The advantages are many in following our routine because we start very early in the year when it is still cool and the bugs are not yet a problem. We discovered our routine early in our homesteading in the mountains and have maintained it year after year and it works very well for us. Another good reason to start early is because we like to begin before the birds start to nest. Many of the aspen trees are standing dead trees but when we cut them they fall through the other trees and we don’t want to knock nests out of those trees. The numerous birds species keep our insect population in check and we want to provide them every advantage in doing so that we can. The satisfaction of having one of our major jobs done early also allows us the freedom of having the rest of the summer to take on less important tasks or to relax and enjoy the benefits of mountain living.

Routine or Rhythm Specifics

Since we have 11 acres and the aspen grow in families with a common root system on different parts of our property we have to cut and transport the firewood to our wood shed (see photo). Our homestead also has a substantial slope to it and we discovered that it is much easier to toss the cut logs down the mountain than carry them up the mountain. We cut up the dead standing trees and those that have recently been blown down where we then transport them to our wood shed using our tractor and wagon to process the logs into split and stacked firewood.

Starting early with snow still on the ground we also avoid insects that bite plus the wood ticks. The nights are still cool or below freezing so that is one nuisance we can avoid. The other advantage is that we can work hard and not break a sweat since the days are still cool and make working outside far more comfortable.

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees are unique inasmuch as they are actually a family of trees all growing from a common root system and are connected with each other. I once had a woman tell me she loved our birch trees and when I told her they were aspen I was quickly informed that she knew her trees and these were birch trees. In actuality there is no similarity between the two trees as birch trees each have their individual root system and reproduce by seed. I can see where they look similar but in reality they don‘t share many similarities.

Aspen have a high concentration of water content which also makes them more wildfire resistant. Birch bark is quite flammable and will catch fire even when wet. Aspen leaves vibrate and shake with any little breeze therefore the name ’quaking aspen‘. We have some trees that are up to 18-20” in diameter and they grow straight and tall. We manage our wood lot by only cutting the weather damaged trees (broken off) or those which are dead.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to

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