Learn all about starting a homestead as a newcomer in the north, plus discover great tips for gathering food during the cold winter months.
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.
Most of the lakes have either trout or squaw fish in them. Trout, as you know, are good eating. Squaw fish are too, even though full of bones. If you pickle the fish, even the bones can be eaten. Wild berries—huckleberries, strawberries, raspberries, saskatoonberries and blueberries—are plentiful most summers. If you like Mexican food, as my wife and I do, you can make it with little expense. The Sunset Mexican Cook Book from Lane Books in Menlo Park, California tells how to make a tortilla press. Mesa flour for tortillas can be obtained from Woodwards food floor in Prince George.
Keep in mind two very important things when acquiring property in the Prince George area. You should: (1) Make sure that water is easily available and (2) Have the quality of the soil analyzed by the Department of Agriculture in Prince George. If you don't want to check the soil, at least talk to people who live in the area in which your prospective homestead is located. You can't believe what salesmen tell you, as most everyone knows.
Some folks try to do too much the first summer. I think it's better to set your goals a little lower at first. There's always next year to build the garage, dig the well, put in the inside plumbing or whatever. These things are all nice but—unless you have a lot of help—they can wait.
FLASH: A letter from George Bumpus, received as this issue went to press, says, "There has been a recent change in the British Columbia law that makes part of my article inaccurate. Tax land sales have been postponed indefinitely and land can no longer be pre-empted. Crown Land can now be purchased only by farmers who already have at least 160 acres."