The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Fruit Growing Advice
Q: I eat only fruits and nuts, which I'd like to grow year round in a greenhouse. What kind of setup would you suggest?
A: If you are a fruitarian, you should probably reside in the semitropics where the items necessary to your diet grow naturally, outdoors, in abundance and variety. You would have to have an enormous greenhouse in order to raise enough fruit and nut trees indoors to supply all your food needs. It seems to us that the southern states would offer more practical locations for fruitarians.
Wood Heating Advice
Q: We plan to heat our home with a wood stove this winter. Frankly, we've been besieged with confusing (and often contradictory) advice on the do's and don'ts of wood heat, so we'd like to ask you a few questions.
Do you burn aged hardwood exclusively? If so, how long do you age it? If not, do you find chimney creosote buildup a regular problem? Is a modern airtight stove really worth the difference in price from that of a used—but serviceable—Franklin?
On our seaside property we have no "good" firewood. Our nearest facsimile is white birch, which is not considered a hardwood. The last few years we have purchased a few cords of oak to supplement what we cut on our own place (and pick up along the beach). We take care of the occasional creosote problem by cleaning the flues and chimney about every three months.
To answer your other question, we have found that airtight stoves burn less wood and carry the fire longer without needing to be stoked. We used to have a large Franklin stove that heated only one room. For the last three years, however, we've used a "Free Flow" stove that takes cold air from the floor, heats It, and propels warmth through the house.
Regional Homesteading Advice
Q: We've been thinking very seriously of a move to the "good life," but we're totally "green." Perhaps you can help to put us on the right track.
First, would we be better in an area of Arkansas with five or ten acres of good soil, or in Florida where the growing season is longer, or in Maine? Are the advantages of a cold climate outweighed by the disadvantages?
Second, how much reserve cash should a couple have on hand before heading "back to the land"?
Third, could we become totally food self-sufficient with only a garden and limited livestock?
A: Every area of the country has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of climate, soil, etc. By actually living in each region for an established time period, you could probably gather enough information to make the necessary comparisons. We've gardened only in New England, and are aware only of its advantages and disadvantages. Our area has a short growing season (about 105 frost-free days), while Florida has more than 300. We still prefer New England—with its crisp autumns and springs and its cold winters and sturdy characters—over Florida's (in our opinion) sterile, thin soil and vapid social climate.
Regarding your "cash question": Conservatively speaking, a couple starting to work toward a self-sufficient life in the country should have enough working capital to survive for three years without counting on any income. During that period they should be able to determine, through experience, what would prove to be an adequate cash crop.
Lastly, vegetables from a home garden (unless you sell a good proportion by market gardening) do not pay taxes and cover other necessary expenses of running a homestead. You have to have some source of cash income in this modern world.