Homesteading Tips From Our First Year in Northern Minnesota

If you're thinking about going back to the land in Northern Minnesota, you may appreciate a few homesteading tips the Cuddys learned by doing.

| January/February 1972

  • Northern Minnesota Homesteading tips
    After a year living in Northern Minnesota, the Cuddys have picked up a few homesteading tips for anyone thinking of doing the same.

  • Northern Minnesota Homesteading tips

Well, we've muddled through our first year in northern Minnesota. Mother Nature was good to us and gave us a mild frost-free summer and a plentiful garden, but we still have a lot to learn about the special problems of farming and living where the winters get down to 50-below — and even July may bring a light frost. If you're still thinking about making your great escape to the North, you may appreciate a few homesteading tips that we've learned by doing.

Staying warm up here in the winter is hard enough. Don't complicate it by purchasing a big old rambling farmhouse. There aren't many in this region for a good reason: they're harder'n the dickens to heat when the wind is blowing 60 miles an hour straight down from the arctic. Most of the homes in our area tend to be low, flat boxes which are well-sheltered by windbreaks to the north and west. Whatever you buy, check the building's insulation. It could mean the difference between spending your winter chopping twice as much wood as you really need or sitting in a warm kitchen watching the snow pile up outside.

Wet and unseasoned wood doesn't burn well and the resins from green, pitchy logs can even accumulate in the chimney and catch fire, so if you're going to heat with wood plan on cutting the fuel at least six months before you need it. You'll find it even better if you can stay a full year ahead on this detail. If you haven't the time to season your firewood the first year, cut dead wood for immediate use. Figure on at least ten cords of oak, tamarack pine, birch, or other hardwood, or fifteen cords of softwood.

Your livestock must have snug winter quarters and any solid, draft-free building should do the trick. As long as the animals get plenty of food they'll generate their own heat. Goats, in particular, need large amounts of roughage with which to maintain this winter body heat. I solve the problem by cutting a tree every week during the winter. We then tote a goodly pile of trimmings into the barn for goat munchies and let the main part of the tree cure into fuel for next year's fires.

If you're planning to build on your northern homestead, give some thought to attaching the barn to the house Scandinavian-style. The stock will benefit from the house heat that seeps into their quarters and you won't have to walk so far to tend the animals on frigid winter mornings.

We've learned that water pipes here in northern Minnesota will freeze unless buried at least three feet deep. Double that if there's any traffic over the line (traffic packs the ground and allows the frost to penetrate deeper). If you don't care to dig six-foot-deep trenches for your pipes, you can build a bridge of some kind (a bale of hay or boards raised off the ground will do the job) over the lines where traffic crosses.

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