Fruit Growing, Wood Heating, and Other Homesteading Advice From Helen and Scott Nearing

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Scott Nearing responded to questions from readers on a range of homesteading topics, including fruit growing and wood heating.

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

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

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?

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

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. 

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