Back To Basics - Garden, Barn, Outbuildings, Staying Warm

simple life

Back to basics has a special meaning for the homesteader. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, back to basics means returning to the simple and most important things.

For the homesteader back to basics means returning to a knowledge of working the land. Enjoying simple pleasures like an early morning sunrise over hills and trees instead of over asphalt and high rise buildings. Or the satisfaction from knowing you can live without depending on infrastructure.

Yes, you hear the term back to basics from just about every direction today. But more than any other type of person, homesteaders understand the meaning of returning to the simple and most important things, living the simple life.

Homestead Basics

The Garden

When I was a kid of about 6 years old I loved to visit my grandad and grandma. They lived in a 2 bedroom house on an acre of land just outside a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee.

Half of that acre was the most wonderful garden I could have imagined. At 6 years old I was old enough to help grandad start the garden in the early spring time. We, my grandad and I, would start at one end of the garden and shovel full by shovel full we'd turn the sod to make it ready for planting.

That half acre garden produced corn, several kinds of beans, potatoes, carrots, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers for pickles and even okra. I never did care for okra though. I always thought my grandad was the best gardener in the world.

After the garden was turned, we'd take the backseat out of his 1949 Nash and put empty gunny sacks and shovels in the trunk. Then off we'd go to where we could collect all the cow manure we wanted, just for the taking of it. We'd fill the gunny sacks, pile them in the trunk and behind the front seat and head for grandad's house and the garden.

When it was harvest time grandma would can and freeze the produce. There was always enough to fill their big freezer and the shelves grandad had built in the basement for storing the wonderful home canned jars of fruit and vegetables.

My favorite lunch was a big bowl of new potatoes and Lima beans with a slice or two of tomato, all freshly picked from the garden. That garden was the center of grandads life.

The Outbuildings

Every homestead, even ones that are just an acre in size, need a shed in which to store garden tools and other things like the old push mower that all you had to do was start pushing it and it would cut the grass.

One summer day when I was about 8 years old grandad said we needed to build a shed. It sounded like fun to me and the next day there was delivered a load of wood and grandad said, "Let's go get that shed built."

I never remember seeing any plans. I think they were stored up in grandad's head. By sundown there was a brand new shed about 8' by 10' with a door, one window and even a ramp leading up to the door. It wasn't fancy, but it was sturdy and 10 years later it was still just like new.

Back to basics means knowing what needs to be done and just getting in there and doing it!

Staying Warm in Winter

As a kid grandad's basement held a certain fascination for me. You entered it from the outside by going down some old stone steps and pushing aside a canvas tarp that hung across an open doorway.

Once inside there was an old potbellied stove, shelves where grandma stored her canned food from the garden and a large room that held coal. More than once I got into trouble for sliding down the coal chute and coming in all covered with coal dust.

Grandad heated his little house with coal during the winter. That potbellied stove kept the basement warm enough that none of the home canned food froze, bursting the jars and it kept the upstairs warm too.

The potbellied stove was not big enough to hold a fire all night. Grandad would get up early in the morning, dress and go outside and down the steps into the basement. He'd re-stoke that potbellied stove, come back upstairs crawling into bed and go back to sleep.

Going to the Store

I don't ever remember grandad and grandma going to a big grocery store. About a quarter of a mile away was a small mom and pop grocery store, probably not more than 1000 square feet in size. We'd walk to the store and carry a couple of paper bags of groceries back to their house.

They didn't need much; just eggs, milk, flour, salt, sugar and an occasional pack of Life Savers - grandad's favorite candy.

Sometimes we'd go to the nearest hardware store. It was small by modern standards but it always had just what grandad needed. Life was simple, basic, and filled with laughter and love.

Modern Conveniences

Grandad's house had just three modern conveniences: indoor plumbing, electricity and an AM radio. I was a teenager before he even had a telephone. He did not need a telephone. He knew all the neighbors and they all knew him. It was not uncommon for a neighbor to stop by for a brief visit every day.

Everyone knew the other's daily routine and if someone's routine was not what it should be, a neighbor stopped by to be sure everything was OK. Grandad and grandma had a convenience many of us today do not have - they knew everyone in the neighborhood.

The Old Home Place

When I was 12 years old, grandad borrowed my dad's Pontiac and I went on the only trip of over 30 miles I was privileged to take with my grandparents.

We went to the North Carolina mountains where granddad and grandma had spent a good portion of the Great Depression. We visited the Old Home Place as they called it. It was a farm of maybe 40 or so acres. The place was empty and run down. But they spoke lovingly of it and showed me all around.

old barn
Old Barn

I saw the barn where the plow horses and the cows had their stalls. The old apple trees, grape vines, and berry bushes. The garden spot, it dwarfed the one back at grandad's place. I walked down to the creek where they used to water the stock.

The Chicken Coop had long since fallen down but I saw what remained of it.

The two story farm house had been heated by a large fireplace. In the winter they'd go to bed not long after the sun went down and snuggle beneath comforters. In the morning they'd get up, dress quickly and get chores done before breakfast that was cooked on a wood cook stove.

When they lived there, the light at night was from kerosene lamps and a lantern went with them to the barn to check on the animals. Maybe once a month they'd hitch the horses to a wagon and go to the General Store. They'd trade eggs, milk, and occasionally honey they found in a bee tree for salt, sugar, and flour.

There was little money and what there was usually went for material that grandma made into clothes or used to patch clothes for their family of five.

Before leaving to come back home, we visited an elderly couple who lived not far from the old home place. There I picked Golden Delicious Apples from trees that my grandad, my dad, and my uncle had helped plant while they lived in North Carolina.

That trip was fun, but it was years later before I realized the value of what I had learned from that trip and working with grandad at his place in Tennessee.

Back To Basics

Grandad died in December after I left Tennessee for professional school in Virginia. There must have been a part of him that lived on in me.

I graduated from school, moved across the country to Oregon, and when I returned to Tennessee a few years later there were children with me.

Life as a professional person took me away from the simple life I had seen my grandad and grandma live. I eventually built a large house with a swimming pool and spa in a building in the back yard.

There was a time when there were 6 licensed drivers and 5 vehicles in the driveway. Life was fast paced and money was easy. We took long vacations and I surprised Linda with a vacation to Switzerland. Switzerland had been a dream of hers for years.

The kids got married and moved away from home and old, suppressed longings started to return to me.

Our Own Journey Looking for Satisfaction

The day came when Linda and I began a new chapter in our lives. We left Tennessee on a Sunday morning and started our trek across country. Some 6 days later we ended up in North Idaho.

It was late November and there was snow falling with about 12 inches on the ground already. It was after dark when we arrived at the house I had rented a few weeks before and Linda had only seen in pictures.

I had called ahead and a nice neighbor had built a fire in the wood burning stove so the house was warm when we arrived. We spent that first night sleeping on the floor in front of the wood burning stove. We had started our journey back to basics.

A few days later we were more or less settled into that house some 2,500 miles from where we had lived for years.

Just Like Grandad

I learned that the wood burning stove in that house would not hold a fire all night long. At about three every morning I'd get up and put more wood in the stove, lay on the couch until the fire was going good. Then I'd turn the damper down and go back to bed. The house would be warm when it was time to get up.

It was only after we had moved from that house that I realized I was doing just what my grandad had done to keep the house warm when I was a boy.

Living the Simple Life

Now we have a garden with a hoop house type greenhouse, berry bushes, strawberries and Linda even raises produce in the house in winter using a simple form of hydroponics.

Downstairs there is a fire in the wood burning stove and outside everything is white, covered in snow. It is January in North Idaho.

The chickens are settled in their coop and the two German Shepherds are resting quietly. Life is simpler, easier, quieter now.

We have a freezer full of produce from the garden, plenty of home canned food in the basement, also potatoes and onions stored for the winter. We did not have to go to town this week because there was nothing we needed from the store.

Most of the things we get when we go to town are things we don't make or grow here on our homestead. Flour, salt, sugar, oil, peanut butter, etc. It is amazing how much our life is like my grandad's and grandma's life was when I was a kid.

There are differences to be sure. We have modern conveniences such as computers, printers, dishwasher, chain saws, etc. We have cell phones, one for each of us. But we also have learned to slow down and spend time doing things we enjoy.

We made our hoop house ourselves and built the chicken coop without any plans except what was in my head. Just like grandad built his shed all those years ago.

When you are little, you don't realize how much of what you see and do affects your life. As I look back I am amazed at how much my life today has become like grandad's life was over 50 years ago.

I was fortunate. I had a great role model to follow. I just wished he could be here to see how I turned out.

Have You Thought of Going Back to Basics?

Not everyone has the same type of role model when they were a kid as I did. But everyone has dreams and desires.

If some of your dreams and desires are to live the homestead life, take it from us, you can do a lot worse in life than getting Back to Basics!

Why not give it a try?

Related Questions

How Did we go From a Professional Life And Income to a Homestead Life?

For us it was natural. Linda grew up gardening and canning produce and her grandparents lived on a farm in Oregon. This may sound silly to some of you but we have as much happiness now as we did when I made ten times the monthly income we now life on. Money does not always bring happiness.

What Was The Hardest Part of The Transition from Professional Life to Homestead Life?

Probably the hardest part of the transition was taking those then rusty childhood gardening skills and creating the first garden. But each successive year it has been easier. Everything else just seemed to come easily.

Would You Ever Consider Going Back to a Previous Lifestyle And Leaving The Homestead Life?

The simple answer is NO!!! A professional life kept me away from home and a lot of the burdens that I should have shared with Linda were left for her to bear alone. Marriage is supposed to be a team sport and now we can really say we are a team. That gives us an immense amount of satisfaction.

About The Author

John Brownlee

A retired Lawyer and Health Care Provider, he teaches people how to locate, evaluate, and purchase Country and Homestead Property. He and his wife, Linda, have taught hundreds of people how to suture wounds in an emergency. He teaches both Preparedness and Health Care Classes and has been a Presenter at Sustainable Preparedness Expos. He holds a General Ham Radio Operator's License.