The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Q: You have stated that you fast one day a week to preserve your health. Why do you think fasting is good for you?
A: The physical organism craves nourishment to sustain itself, but many people, unfortunately, eat more than they really need to maintain good health. We believe that a little bit of discipline—in the form of short fasts—is good for the body and the soul. Abstaining from food and drink for brief periods is also said to be beneficial because it allows the digestive organs to rest, revive, and cleanse themselves.
If you're doubtful about the curative power of a fast, you might want to try one the next time you feel a cold or virus coming on. Simply stop eating immediately, and take no liquids except water for a couple of days. You'll slim down, clean out your system, and feel better for it ...and any germs that may have been lying in wait will probably disappear.
(EDITORS NOTE: Fasting, especially by those who are inexperienced in such practices, should only be done under a doctor's supervision.)
Fasts—for us—are enjoyable, and we look forward to them. With no meals to prepare, we have more time for other homesteading activities, and the days actually seem longer.
Q: Your books are so full of useful tips and hints on simple cooking, freezing, and canning methods that I was wondering if you have any advice on simple, natural ways to clean house.
A: The key to easy housekeeping is to make sure your dwelling itself is simple and natural to begin with. That way, you can quickly clean what little dirt accumulates, and you'll have more time to spend outdoors.
Our house is built of stone, which means that it requires no periodic repainting and no nailing of loose boards. There's only creosote or old engine oil on the window and door frames, so they require little or no upkeep. The inside floors are stone, as well—and in several places dark, small patterned linoleum—and need sweeping only about once a week (or whenever someone tracks in mud and dust). Also, the floors are kept bare, so we don't have rugs to clean.
The interior walls are pine paneling that's been stained permanently, so we have no white woodwork or wallpaper to scrub. A quick wipe-down every once in a while is all they need ...and if a few cobwebs gather in the interim, they merely complement our home's barnlike atmosphere! The curtainless windows sometimes get smudged and murky, and we just clean them with dampened newspaper (we add a little vinegar to the water if the panes are extra dirty). Finally, we keep a minimum of furniture, so there are very few pieces to dust or move around.
Q: Could you give us your ideas on natural ways of disposing of wastes on one's own property as a means of recycling and completing the self-sustaining eco-chain?
A: We recycle all our household garbage and garden weeds in our compost piles. Indoors, we have an ecological Swedish "earth closet" instead of a conventional flush toilet. The resulting material—which is half peat moss and garbage, and half solid human waste—is carried out to the garden periodically in buckets (it's entirely odorless) and either incorporated into the compost or dug deep into the planting beds. Urine, which collects separately In the Clivis Multrum composting toilet, is later diluted and poured around our fruit trees.
A: Unless you're going into farming on a commercial scale, we don't recommend investing in either power equipment or draft animals. You simply don't need a horse, mule, or ox to work a home garden. It's easy enough to do it yourself with just a hand cultivator.
We have only one nonhuman-powered machine: a four-wheel-drive pickup truck that's been truly indispensable to us. Because we live far from town, we've learned that we must have a vehicle for transportation, and the pickup is also invaluable for hauling firewood and heavy timber ...carting gravel, sand, and rocks for our building projects ...and bringing in seaweed for the garden.
Q: Living the Good Life is one of the most important books I've ever read. I hope one day to be able to live as naturally and as fully as you do. For a start, I am thinking of becoming a vegan ...but I'm worried about the nutritional risks of such a diet (specifically, the danger of vitamin B-12 and calcium deficiencies). How do you deal with that problem?
A: As vegetarians (but not complete vegans, since we occasionally use dairy foods), we've made a point of studying the record of B-12 and calcium deficiencies for persons who abstain from all animal products. To make sure we get enough of those essential nutrients, we take some cottage cheese, Dutch cheese, and yogurt ...but we do avoid eggs and milk. And although we're definitely and absolutely against any consumption of animal flesh, we sometimes find ourselves in a position—when we're away from home—of having to consume some of the products of animal exploitation (such as foods that contain eggs). No one is perfect ...including the Nearings!
Q: I'd be interested to know what kind of water you drink. I've read that city water can contain as many as 47 different chemical additives, and that deep well water sometimes has a lot of inorganic minerals in it.
A: When we moved to our homestead in Maine, we dowsed near the house site, called in a professional to dig the well, and—at a depth of 74 feet—discovered a steady flow of delicious-tasting water. It's plumbed into the house, and we can also pump it outside to the garden. Our water has been tested and found to be perfectly safe for drinking.
As for city water, we try to avoid it when we're traveling, because we think that it tastes unpleasant even when used only for brushing teeth! The best solution, it would seem, is to get out into the country if possible and find some aqua pura.
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