- Product # 071309
- Type Paperback
- ISBN 978-1-60085-296-1
- Published Date 2011
- Dimensions 7 x 9
- Pages 416
- Photos 180
- Drawings 50
Not since Thoreau made his home in the woods at Walden Pond has the notion of self-sufficiency held more universal appeal. There’s no question we’re going through some tough economic times, but this book offers an alternative. It’s a guide for anyone who imagines a better life—from struggling families tired of energy dependency to dreamers who always wished they could live off the land someday. This insightful DIY guide holds to the premise that anyone can homestead, and raise at least a portion of their food themselves—even if they live in the city. This book is absolutely brimming with ideas on how to take control of your life by degrees—whether that means keeping chickens, growing a garden, or brewing your own beer.
About the Author
George Nash has been living a self-reliant life for almost 40 years. Author of the perennial favorite Renovating Old Houses (and Wooden Fences), seller of Christmas trees in Manhattan for the last 35 years, former builder and renovator, and homesteader at “Gopher Broke Farm,” George is truly a jack-of-all trades. Jane Waterman was raised on a New Hampshire dairy farm and learned gardening and animal husbandry from an early age. After many years as a midwife and later a doctor, Jane now lives full-time on the homestead with husband George and their oldest daughter, son-in-law, and two of their nine grandchildren raising their own vegetables, berries, eggs, meat, and fuel. Together, George and Jane are actively restoring the overgrown and neglected pastures, cleaning up the woodlot, rehabilitating apple trees, and producing pastured poultry and pork for local markets. Jane also teaches anatomy and physiology and nutrition courses to nursing students at the local community college.
- Table of Contents
Meet George & Jane
Toward a Self-Sufficient Life
Part 1: The Homestead
Finding the Right Location
Land & Climate
Water & Water Systems
Part 2: Garden & Orchard
Choosing a Gardening System
Soil & Garden Basics
Vegetables & Grains
Brambles, Berries & Apples
The Gardener’s Kitchen
Part 3: Animals
Living with Animals
Chickens: The Gateway Critters
Turkeys & Other Barnyard Birds
Pigs, Cows & Other Farm Animals
Shelters & Fences
Sources of Further Information
We’re not ashamed to admit it. We were part of that back-to-the-land migration of the late 1960s and early ’70s that reshaped the landscape of rural America. Inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life (Schocken Books, 1970) and navigating by the light of the Whole Earth Catalog and Lloyd Khan’s Shelter (Shelter Publications, 1973), we each sought our own version of the “good life” in the hinterlands of northern Vermont, where our paths crossed and our fates entwined.
Jane: Unlike the majority of those refugees from middle-class suburban and urban privilege, I grew up poor on a real, working New Hampshire dairy farm. Gardening and animal husbandry were my native skills.
Shortly after (just barely) graduating from high school, I got married and lived on The Farm in Summerland, Tennessee—Stephen Gaskin’s 1,000-acre experiment in American Maoism and soybean–based spirituality. It wasn’t a great fit. My then husband and I returned to New England. We eventually parked our school bus at the edge of a field in Elmore, Vermont, and began building our homestead.
By then I had two babies, both born at home (or, actually, on the bus, as a house was still in the works). We built the house with lumber that had been recycled from an old barn. I hauled water, dipped from
a hand-dug spring, with buckets and a yoke. I heated the water on the wood cookstove by the light of a kerosene lantern, to boil beans for supper and wash diapers for the babies.
My garden provided us with all our food, including soybeans and cornmeal.
I canned and dried food for winter storage. Like the Nearings, we boiled the sap from our maple trees to make syrup. We even went the Nearings one better: Not only did we live off-grid, we lived off-road. The house was a quarter-mile back from the town road. Summers, the field was mostly drivable, but it was long sledding come winter. Living hand to mouth, buttressed somewhat only by my husband’s sporadic outside work, we couldn’t afford a driveway.
George: I grew up outside of New Haven, Connecticut. I was about 10 years old when they bulldozed the last of the apple orchards to make room for the shopping centers, but I did not spend my childhood entirely insulated from the natural world.
There was the annual family expedition to the Long Island potato farm my great uncle owned. I got to glean potatoes behind the harvester until I had to run, shrieking in terror, from a vicious rooster in pursuit. East Rock Park, a 450-acre preserve of woodland, trails, and 300-ft. basalt cliffs, with a river running through it, was a short walk up the street from our house. My parents allowed me the run of the entire park. You could say I grew up in those woods.
My dad built our house, and my grandfather was a roofer. So I grew up comfortable and confident with tools, which might be why—armed with my degree in English from the requisite Ivy League university and after a stint as a theater technician at Sarah Lawrence College, which lasted just long enough to acquire a trust-funded girlfriend—I went back to the woods instead of pursuing a career in the city. My girlfriend and I moved to Wolcott, Vermont, just across the valley from Elmore. She purchased the dauntingly decrepit old farmhouse that I spent the next two years restoring to a habitable state, while, at the same time, honing my carpentry skills and building a contracting business.
Our personal relationship ended at about the same time the house was finished. She kept the house, and I got the truck. The truck collateralized my down payment on 68 soggy acres of worn-out and overgrown pasture at the dead end of a rough road four-tenths of a mile from the last house and power pole. Almost at the exact center of the property, a mere truck’s length from the road, was a level clearing where I dumped gravel and poured a concrete slab.
In ten days, working alone, with a borrowed generator and a circular saw, salvaged timbers and boards, scrounged windows and steel roofing, and rough-sawn lumber from the local sawmill, I put up a 16-ft. by 20-ft. one-room cabin with a sleeping loft. I hired a backhoe operator to pipe the waterline down from a spring on the hillside and paid the electric company to extend the power lines. I dug a pit and built an outhouse, installed a woodstove and a metal chimney, and moved in just before the snowfall.
I never intended for the cabin to be my house. The plan was to live in the cabin until I could afford to build a “real” house higher up on the hillside, which had a seri-
ously breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys rolling away to the southeast. The cabin, I thought, would then become my workshop. There was room enough for a barn to house my future livestock, too.
Then I met Jane, who was recently divorced—the legendary queen of the local back-to-the-landers, the real deal. I suspect that electricity, running water, proximity to the town road, and a reliable truck were at least a part of what attracted her to me.
By the time she and I met, Jane had three children, some or all of whom would live with us at least part of the year. Not too long thereafter, we had another on the way. The cabin-cum-workshop sprouted additions and attachments and enhancements and evolved into an actual house. My construction company continued to grow. I acquired a partner, equipment, overhead, and the standard headaches of any successful small businessman.
Jane: I stayed home and oversaw our huge garden. Eschewing my vegetarianism, I agreed to raise pigs, lambs, and beef to store in the freezer, which, occasionally, George would top off with fresh venison. We kept a cow for milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese. I also raised hundreds of loaves of bread. I started a home bakery business shortly after the birth of our youngest daughter.
All of my children had been born at home, and, as word spread, I found myself invited to attend at home births throughout the county. Back then, trained midwives who were willing to help at home births were few and far between. At the time, a nascent apprenticeship program, which later became the Vermont Independent Midwives Association, was gaining ground. I completed the training and went on to deliver hundreds of babies throughout the northeastern part of the state. One consequence of that career choice was that I needed reliable transportation. So we bought a brand new Chevette and, with it, acquired our first car payment.
George: Measured against the standards of the mainstream consumer economy, our consumption during that time wouldn’t register a blip on the radar. Our house was furnished with castoff and hand-me-down furniture, our couture was Goodwill, and we didn’t own a television. The food we didn’t raise ourselves we bought in bulk from the local co-op. We brewed our own beer and wine and, like almost everyone we knew, we were chronically cash-strapped.
Winter work in construction was pretty scarce. A goodly portion of the profit went back into the business to acquire more tools and equipment. Given the equally marginal finances typical of her clientele, Jane’s midwifery career ran at a loss. With both of us working away from home to pay the mortgage, taxes, and homeowner’s, medical, and auto insurance, we were stretched between the needs of family and the demands of our chosen lifestyle—growing and harvesting a large garden, cutting and putting up cords of firewood, tending animals, and buying their feed.
Living the “good life” was not simple, and we certainly weren’t “living off the land.” We realized that there was a big difference between raising our own food and supporting ourselves by homesteading. Turns out, homesteading is an expensive hobby, especially if you’re trying to do it on a worn-out, unproductive piece of overgrown hillside and don’t have a trust fund to help you buy a tractor and build a house and barn. At least one of us needed to find satisfying and decent-paying work.
Jane had once mentioned to her first husband that she wanted to attend nursing school. He told her that she wasn’t smart enough to be a nurse (which might have been one of the reasons she left him). I told her that she was too bossy to be a nurse and that she should become a doctor instead.
Jane: It truly did seem like a good idea at the time. At age 30, with four children, the youngest just 2, and a teenage foster son, I enrolled as a freshman at nearby Johnson State College. Five years later I became one of the 93 out of 3,000 appli-cants to be admitted to the University of Vermont College of Medicine Class of 1990. At the time, I was the second-oldest student ever admitted and had the most children of anyone ever admitted, too—the very definition of nontraditional student. I graduated from medical school on my 40th birthday.
George: With Jane rooming an hour-and-a half away in the big city of Burlington, the garden and the livestock collection back at the homestead grew smaller and smaller. With five kids needing my attention (three of them now teenagers), the construction business grew smaller, too. I sold my share to my erstwhile partner and took on small and sporadic projects so that I could be home for the kids after school. By Jane’s last year in medical school, I stopped working in construction entirely and started writing about it instead. I was also building up my part-time business selling Christmas trees in New York City. My goal was to earn the bulk of the family income in a short burst of intense activity, and so have more time to spend on my writing and with my family.
By the time Jane graduated from medical school, our eldest son and daughter and our foster son were no longer living at home. Together with the two youngest, we relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona, where Jane began her residency in family practice. We rented the farmland in Vermont and later sold the house and ten acres. We bought a concrete-block ranch house in Scottsdale that had a patio and hot tub. In the small backyard grew a fig tree and a grapefruit tree.
We grew prodigious quantities of cherry tomatoes and peppers in a little plot along the side fence, struggling with strange insects and alien dirt.
Upon completion of her residency, Jane was recruited to set up a practice in a small town on Penobscot Bay in Maine. So we moved again. Back on more or less familiar ground, we enjoyed getting back into serious gardening. Meanwhile, our youngest son, who was by then married and had a daughter, informed us that our old Vermont property was on the market. He said he’d like to live there. So we bought it back.
We moved to an elderly house on a one-third-acre lot in the small village of Northport, Maine, not far from Jane’s office. We put in a 25-ft.-square raised-bed garden and converted the single-car garage at the back edge of the property into a chicken coop and a pig barn. We raised 50 meat chickens, a small flock of egg layers, and two pigs. We raised plenty of fresh vegetables in season and put up the surplus for winter. We installed a woodstove to cut down on the fuel oil bill.
Jane: Our son’s tenure at the Vermont homestead lasted only as long as his marriage. For various and sundry reasons, our circumstances had also changed. We sold the house in Maine and moved back to Vermont, not yet as homesteaders, but as “snowbirds.” We wintered in Arizona and, later, in California, where our eldest son and family had settled. I became a “temp” doc, working short-term assignments in rural emergency rooms. George continued writing and selling Christmas trees and, during our Vermont sojourns, kept the house from falling down while I tended the garden and the grandkids.
It turned out that shoveling chicken manure and weeding out witchgrass was a lot more enjoyable than playing politics with hospital administrators and hassling insurance companies for reimbursements. Like a fungus insidiously sucking the vitality out of a living tree, the business of medicine ate away at the satisfactions of doctoring. Disillusioned and just plain sick and tired, I eventually gave up practicing medicine.
George and Jane: We now live full-time on the Vermont homestead with our eldest daughter and her husband and two children. We are once again raising our own vegetables, berries, eggs, meat, and fuel. We’re actively restoring the overgrown and neglected pastures, cleaning up the woodlot, rehabilitating apple trees, and producing pastured poultry and pork for local markets. We’re looking forward to milking a cow again and dream of launching a business making sausages and other value-added meat products. We’re just getting started. It feels good.
And, along the way, we think we have gained some experience and knowledge that might be useful to anyone who is thinking about how to live a more satisfying and self-sufficient life—which is why we’ve written this book.