Aging is a fact of life. Even though we’ve been homesteading for over 43 years and we’re in our 60’s, we haven’t slowed down much. But we know the day is coming when we’ll slow down to the point it will take us longer to accomplish tasks. As the aging homesteader knows, they may put in the same number of hours as always but their productivity will decrease. In other words, they won’t be able to accomplish the same amount of work in the same number of hours as they had in the past.
This will be hard to accept but is to be expected. Since we know the day is coming, now is the time to prepare for it. This post is dedicated to the aging homesteader including young homesteaders who are smart enough and possess enough foresight to prepare for the inevitable.
The first step is to accept and expect the aging process. You don’t have to like it or be happy about it but rather figure out strategies for dealing with it. Aging and homesteading don’t have to be at odds with each other so long as you’re smart about it.
Given that slowing down is to be expected, plan for it. Set realistic goals. What you may have been able to do in an afternoon may now take all day. Or a job that could be done in a day may take 2 or more. But at least you can do it!
Pace yourself. You may be tempted to force yourself to continue until the job is finished but resist this as you may cause injury. Listen to your body. For example, if your back is screaming it’s time to quit, do so.
Keep in Shape Through the Winter
Any homesteader/gardener knows what great exercise this lifestyle affords. But during the slower pace of the winter months when we spend more time indoors, we all need to fight the urge to become couch potatoes. Instead walk daily, go to a gym, lift some weights to maintain muscle tone, stretch for flexibility and avoid gaining weight from eating too much of that great food you grew and preserved!
For us, winter is the time for working in the woods. This is the season for firewood cutting, retrieval and collection. The wood we gather will be for the next winter season and will be ready to stack in the woodshed come spring so it has all summer to dry out and season.
Winter is also the time we collect brush for chipping up into mulch for the coming summer’s garden. We may even fire up the chipper and start shredding the brush. We’ll stock pile the material so it’s ready when we need it. Since we need a lot of mulch, having it stockpiled avoids the stress of HAVING to process the material during the busiest times of the year such as the spring when there’s so much to do.
Both of these winter activities not only keep us active and fit during the cold months but they lessen the work load during the hectic spring, summer and fall months as our firewood is already collected, stacked and under cover and our mulch is ready and waiting.
Consider what jobs/chores can be done around your homestead in the winter so you don’t have to do them during the spring/summer rush. Do you have new garden beds that can be prepared? Perhaps there’s indoor construction projects such as getting up those pantry shelves you didn’t have time to do in the summer/fall.
Grow More Perennials
For the aging homesteader, perennials are a blessing. Perennials are plants that after the initial planting, once they’re established, will come up faithfully every year with virtually no help from you. Many edible perennials are hardy, can survive temperatures as low as -40F based on our years homesteading in northern Saskatchewan, and come back to life in very early spring when nights are still below freezing. In the case of black currants, they are sending out green buds when the snow is still on the ground.
While perennials do require some care through the growing season, they do not have to be planted each and every year. Because spring is such a busy time, anything that can decrease planting time is a boon and a godsend to the aging homesteader. Perennials are the answer as they are a time and labor saver.
Countless perennials are available. They come in the form of vegetables, fruits as well as herbs. Asparagus and rhubarb are 2 perennial vegetables we grow. Yes rhubarb is a vegetable.
Perennial fruits we grow include not only fruit trees but red, black and white currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blueberries, cherry bushes and grapes.
Finally don’t forget about the perennial herbs. For us that means oregano, sage, thyme, chives, lemon balm, comfrey, mint and anise hyssop.
To summarize after the initial planting all that’s required is to simply keep these plants weeded, watered (mulch helps with both of these), fertilized and pruned. Which by the way is something that’s done during the slower time of mid to late winter when the plants are still dormant not during the busiest times of the growing season. All of these perennials will reward you with bountiful harvests for years with minimal labor from you, something any homesteader, aging or otherwise will appreciate.
Work Smarter not Harder
This begins with your homestead layout. We talk about this in our book The Self -Sufficient Backyard for the Independent Homesteader. The idea is to arrange the components of your homestead (house, solar greenhouse, barn, gardens, pastures, orchard etc) in such a way they are logical and well organized to minimize unnecessary steps which of course not only takes more time but also more energy because of needless walking around. The placement of each component in relation to others can make a big difference in the flow of work.
Next is to use tools and equipment to your advantage. Use a come-along or winch instead of brute muscle to remove stumps or boulders for example. Using a wood splitter instead of a maul to manually split wood is another example. Sadly we just recently reached this point. Ron loves to split wood manually but due to shoulder issues from training as a master’s sprinter of all things, now splits most of our wood with the splitter. We burn wood year round as it’s what we use to cook, bake, heat our water and in winter heat the house so having a steady supply of firewood is imperative.
Use the simple machines we learned about as kids in school. The lever, inclined plane, wedge, wheel and axle, screw and pulley are valuable labor saving devices that can be put into play for countless tasks around the homestead. Using a block and tackle, which is a combination of pulleys, to hoist up the carcass of a pig or beef you’ve just slaughtered so you can proceed with skinning and gutting is just one example of putting one of the devices to good use.
Use a mechanical water pump instead of a hand pump and lugging water around in buckets. We hand pumped our water for many years when we homesteaded in Maine and while it worked, it was definitely labor and time intensive.
Use elevated growing beds as in elevated enough so no bending over or squatting down is required. Last fall we started setting up such a bed and this spring I planted carrots, onions, early spinach, lettuce, chard, Mangel beets and broccoli in it. All did fabulous and because the bed is elevated, much less bending over was required.
Use mulch to keep down weeds so you have less weeding and hoeing. Mulch does double duty as it also conserves moisture so you have to spend less time and effort keeping things watered. We’ve always favored organic mulches, things such as woodchips, sawdust, or straw, as they eventually break down and enrich the soil. But non-organic mulches such as plastic or landscape fabrics can be used too.
No doubt homesteading is an active lifestyle. But we would argue the physical exertion has kept us fit. Nevertheless, we know our energetic days are numbered and we must learn how to continue with this lifestyle while at the same time taking into account the inevitable-aging. By incorporating the above suggestions any aging homesteader can remain productive into their twilight years and continue to live the homesteading dream.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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