What do homesteaders do?
“What do homesteaders do?” That question was asked of me many times last Friday and Saturday. I can’t speak for all homesteaders but here’s a list of what we do here on our 45 acres as well as on other land and on the water.
Homestead Food Production
We grow most of our own vegetables, about 95%. Corn, beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, turnip, rutabaga, pumpkins, squash, Swiss chard, beets garlic and others. Dill, oregano, lemon balm, chives, basil and sage are my main herbs. I’m working on expanding the perennial herb garden.
In addition to the garden we have an orchard. There are 40+ apple trees that start as seedlings and end in highly productive trees that provide more apples than we can use, and last year more apples than the wildlife could eat before they spoiled. We also have plum, pear and peach trees, strawberry and rhubarb, and hazelnuts in varying stages of production. Chestnut and oak trees are saplings that I hope produce in my lifetime. I’d like to use some of the chestnuts. The oak are for wildlife.
We have ducks and chickens year round for eggs, use some of the ducks for meat, and raise chickens yearly and sometimes turkeys and pigs for meat. We buy or barter pork and beef. We avoid factory farmed animals as much as possible but we aren’t purists. There are rare occasions that we eat that meat, and we give Ava her epilepsy medications in that hamburger.
Fishing provides some of our meat as well as a source of fun. We love to fish for bass, salmon, trout, perch and pickerel, though we seldom eat pickerel.
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We hunt. Hunting is a traditional method of putting food on the table used by homesteaders since the first person discovered meat. Long before man domesticated animals he hunted them. We hunt turkey, partridge, bear, deer and snowshoe hare, and we hope to hunt moose. Moose requires a permit that’s given out in a lottery.
Wild harvesting plays a big roll in feeding ourselves. In addition to hunting and fishing we pick raspberries, blackberries, apples, strawberries, mushrooms, fiddleheads and other wild plants. There are wild choke cherry trees galore that I don’t use, and wild elderberry I should use more than I do. I’ll be writing about this in more detail as we go through 2016.
The work continues after the garden is grown, birds raised, fish caught and animals hunted. It all has to be “put up.” I make bacon and sausage, and all of the meat is frozen. All of the vegetables are frozen, canned, dehydrated or stored in the cold cellar. Pickles, jams and jellies line the cupboard shelves. These are things I’ll write about in more detail over time.
We heat with wood. We do have a small propane furnace for backup in case we’re gone longer than the fire lasts. The winter of 2014/15 was brutal. More than 200″ of snow fell and the temps dipped and stayed below 0° for long stretches. We used six cords of wood and sometimes ran the furnace to warm up the basement. The duct work loses a lot of heat to the cold basement, a problem if we depended on it to heat the house but useful when we have to keep the space above freezing. The old part of the foundation is a stone wall cellar with a dirt floor, hard to keep warm. During the mild winter of 2016 we used four cords of firewood. The furnace hasn’t been turned on in well over a year.
Other than poultry and dogs we don’t have anything with feet and faces. We’ve had horses, pigs, cattle (meat and milk), goats and rabbits. It was what I’d been told “real” homesteaders do so we did. A woman who worked at the feed store said “you’ll get over it.” She was right. I love OPA – other people’s animals. As long as we can buy and barter for meat locally we’ll stick to chickens, ducks and turkeys.
Paying the Bills
“But how do you live? You know. How do you pay the bills and buy stuff?” Steve’s career pays our bills. We aren’t “poor homesteaders,” something someone asked me about. We aren’t off grid. I stay home to take care of the majority of our food rather than going to work to earn the money to pay someone to provide (grocery stores) it for us. Being an introvert, I’m not cut out for working with the public or being around people all the time. I’m good for temporary stints like writing retreats.
Any questions? I’m happy to answer!