Basic Homestead Tips When Moving North

Learn all about starting a homestead as a newcomer in the north, plus discover great tips for gathering food during the cold winter months.

| January/February 1971

  • log cain
    One of the best and least expensive shelters to construct in the north is a log cabin.

  • log cain

Even though there is a natural tendency for newcomers to the north to be overly worried about cold winters, it is true that the best time to start a commune or homestead is in the spring or early summer. This will allow you enough time to get properly set up for the first winter which will then be a pleasant part of the year. The most important priorities for folks who have only land are: (1) Start a garden and (2) Construct a good shelter.

Log cabin construction is the best and least expensive. Placing the logs vertically is the easiest way to build. Then chink between them with fiberglass insulation or—if you have little bread—chink with moss. If the logs are horizontal, you can even use mud. It's best to use spruce or pine for your cabin but, in spite of what the experts say, poplar logs work fine if they're all you have. Poplar will shrink very little, but is sensitive to dampness, so try to use a few logs of pine or spruce right down on the ground. If the poplar has a chance to dry a few days after its bark is peeled, it will remain a pretty, light color. Otherwise, if it happens to rain on your poplar logs as they're drying, the wood will turn blackish. Don't worry about it; the poplar is still OK to use.

Your cabin floor should be constructed of two layers of one-inch lumber with building paper sandwiched in between. Use pine or spruce for ceiling and roof rafters. If you have to use poplar for the rafters, allow it to dry first or it will sag under its own weight. Nail one-inch lumber on the rafters and cover this ceiling with about four inches of sawdust (free for the taking from almost any mill). Rough lumber, by the way, is good enough to use for your rustic home and you can purchase it from any of several small mills for around $40/1,000 board feet.

Stock up on lots of firewood. For this, and the building of the log cabin, used chain saws can be purchased for $20 up. Cut your wood early so it will have a chance to dry before winter sets in because it's a real nuisance to try to heat a cabin with green wood. Ten cords is usually enough to hold an average-sized cabin through the winter. There are several government wood lots throughout the region. People can go into these lots and cut free firewood (this is important to anyone who has no timber on their land). The Forestry Department can tell you where the lots are located.

A young milk goat is nice to have for milk, cheese and cream (you'll need a separator for the cream). Goats thrive on brush, willows, weeds and grass and require relatively little hay during the winter. If you keep a goat, though, you'll find it necessary to fence in the garden with poles or wire four to five feet high. Goats love gardens.

You can further augment the food supply with snowshoe rabbits, grouse, moose and—this year particularly—a few deer. There is no closed season on rabbits. If you get a moose or deer early in the fall, I advise that you can most of it right away. A deer or moose killed after freeze-up will keep very nicely just hung up outside in an exposed, dry, shaded area.

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