The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Fasting for Health
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
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
(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
House Cleaning Tips
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
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.
Homestead Waste Disposal
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.
Q: We’re planning on retiring in a couple of years to our
acreage in northwest Kentucky, where we hope to become as
self-reliant as possible. In these days of high-priced
energy, we’re wondering whether it would be wise to keep a
horse to do all our cultivating, or to purchase some kind
of power equipment?
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
Vegetarian Diet Advice
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!
Drinking Clean Water
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