By Sharon Gensler

Sorry about my sabbatical from writing a homesteading article last month, but we were up to our eyeballs with MOVE preparations.  Yes, after 40 years, we have finally left our beloved Wild Browse Farm homestead.  It was and always will be a most amazing experience- a life’s work.

Not sure where to go with this article.  With the world in “pandemic mode”, homestead thoughts almost seem insignificant.  But on the other hand, having had the homestead and now building a new one, it has left us in a remarkably “safe” & resilient position.  We have shelter (more on that later), food and good community support, so talking about our life and encouraging others who are contemplating a homesteading journey, seems like a very appropriate thing to do.

I feel that several principals guided my choices along the homestead path.  I started out wanting to be self-sufficient, which then became self-resilient, which flowed into a philosophy of “flourishment of the most cooperative”.  I was never a survivalist, just wanted to grow my own food and build a simple house, remove myself as much as possible from the pervasive consumer society, and, of course, there was the lurking feeling that the American economic system couldn’t last.

camper near lawn chairs and shed

Two people, a dog and a cat make for tight living quarters in the camping trailer.

So for over 40 years, I’ve built, planted, grown, and preserved.  The larder has been chock full, the house warm and comfy, the soil improved, our community developed and life lived fully and joyously (mostly).  And now, our larder has been moved and is still sustaining us while we live in a tiny 13’ camping trailer while our cabin is being renovated.

This new home is adjacent to our old one.  Today, the new farmers and their 3 kids (a 2 year old & 5 year old twins) are moving in which means the cycle will continue, the homestead will be in good hands, food will continue to be grown and all will be nourished.

Knowing that this family will have the opportunity to build on what we have begun brings us joy.  We will offer what “mentoring” they request, while we try to give them the full freedom of creating their own dream.

Yesterday, our last Wild Browse Farm day, we spent time walking the homestead, making offerings, remembering and saying goodbye; at times laughing, at times crying, and always being thankful, so many memories to hold in our hearts.  A new memory and special moment was when our tree swallow friends, who usually fly around our heads twittering, just quietly perched and watched as we walked through the garden.  It felt like they were honoring the solemnity of the occasion.

Our new dream is taking shape, too.  I’ve begun planting early veggies around the newly established fruit trees.  Kale, parsley and scallions look sweet planted between the emerging daffodils in the layered compost, manure and wood chip mulch, which surround each tree.  This “understory planting” is a permaculture technique that we didn’t really have a need to use before except for flowers and herbs.

Kale, parsley and scallions look sweet planted
between the emerging daffodils in the layered compost, manure and wood chip mulch, which surround each tree.

We have also started new growing beds within the orchard area.  Again, using our tried & true soil building method of layering organic matter. Using wood chips as the top layer, will not only keep moisture in the bed, but its slow decomposition will help create rich fungal soil.  So far, we have transplanted asparagus, perennial sea kale, Egyptian onions, black raspberries, and strawberries.

Other new beds are being prepped for later vegetable plantings.  I’m hoping we can fit in small amounts of pole beans, summer squash, cucumbers, salad greens, collards, more kale, tomatoes & peppers.  I’ll be growing our winter squash and main storage carrots at the community garden.  So, this year we’ll be having smaller amounts of produce and will have to rely on other organic farms where we can purchase bulk items for winter preservation.

We’ve also had to harken back to the “old-days” before we had a greenhouse, and built a temporary hot bed by making a rectangle of hay bales, which we partially filled with fresh horse manure and covered with wood chips which will slowly decompose, giving off bottom heat.  This is then covered with glazing.  We still have (because we never discard anything useful) the “polygal” transparent lid from our old hot bed. This has become the temporary home of our houseplants until they can be moved into the house.  Then the veggie starts will use it until it’s warm enough for them to be planted out.

Temporary seems to be a recurring theme around here: camping trailer for Pru, Woody (Labrador), Penny (cat) and me; hot bed for houseplants; orchard beds for veggies; barn for storing our furniture; tool shed for more furniture; old part of the cabin we thought we could live in, for boxes and more boxes… Hopefully, soon things will become a bit more permanent.

We’ve also been enjoying the return of some of our winged-friends.  There are bluebirds settling into one of the boxes in the orchard and phoebes & crested flycatchers starting nests in the barn eves, the tree swallows are back, but they didn’t get the memo that they should move with us, so they are nesting in their old home and of course the robins have found the orchard worms!  We’ve heard but not yet sighted thrush, red-eyed vireos, towhee, chipping sparrow and others and we await the arrival and hopeful nesting of the Baltimore oriels, tanager’s, & rose-breasted grosbeak.  They all enhance life on a homestead, even while eating some of our fruit and earthworms! (We have planted mulberries to keep the birds off our fruit and they love them, but that doesn’t stop them from taking a bite here and there of our other favorites.)

So life goes on, even with a pandemic that has caused the whole world to pause and go a bit slower.  I mourn those who have suffered and not survived this virus and understand the upheaval in most people’s lives.  But being the eternal optimist, I also try to see what good might come from this ordeal.  We’ll all have our COVID-19 stories, about the hardships, loss and maybe, just maybe, some insights too.  Could more people learn to live simply, use less fossil fuel and keep our earth healthier?  Could we see how important friends, family and community are and take steps to nurture those relationships?  Could we see the need for and support a local organic food supply?  Not everyone wants to be a homesteader, but we can all find ways to tweak the system to a positive outcome for the earth and not just return to the old “normal”.  Let’s use this crisis, this “pause” as an opportunity to build a better new world for our future.

Another cold rainy day, but I do need to get busy trying to make the cabin habitable, so I’ll sign off for now.  Thought I’d end with a few of my emails to my brothers as a way of sharing some of my daily life in the trailer.  Hope you are healthy and as stress free as possible and that you are able to enjoy spring.

3/10 – Deconstruction and construction with camper moved into place to be our temporary home!

High “Stress-Alert” here on Bullard Pasture


4/17- Hi guys, Fist night in camper.   Furniture moved yesterday, some strong young guys (sons of friends we’ve known since they were 3 & 5 yrs old- in fact Woody came from their house and they would pile up with the whole litter of 6 or 7 pups, litter-mates, a special bond).  Now what’s left is all the bits & bobs that have to be gathered up, then clean, clean, clean.  Where’s mom when ya need her?

MAYBE we’ll have a phone tomorrow.  Spent over an hour with them, again and again, and finally got someone to help this “OLD, INFIRMED, LADY WITH A HEART CONDITION”.  Keep you posted.

Last night was a bit difficult as it was so cold and we didn’t want to run the propane heater whilst we slept, so when we thought Woody was getting too cold we ran it then off again- sleepus-interruptus.  The cat was NOT a problem as we thought she might be, just settled in.  She’s never camped with us like Woody has.

Tonight 3-5 inches snow predicted, so trying to do a lot of preparation to be cozy.  Bringing in a safe electric space heater, so we can all sleep better.

Hope to have insulation on Monday, the rock, mud and paint.  After that still need flooring, wood stove & mini- split installation, and trim- so maybe 3 weeks probably more.

That’s the news from Camp Wendell.

Hope you all are staying healthy.  Send a note now and then.



4/18 A bit more challenging with the white stuff- but still cozy inside.

All of us slept very well.  The space heater worked (Jim,-very safe, one of those oil filled radiator types) and we all could relax enough to drift off, and yes, it does feel like Never-Never Land here! Photo of Penny this am enjoying the big window and then curled up on bed this afternoon.

And Woody, curled up mostly on her bed.

4/21 This morning we got the last bits & bobs out of the house and finished the cleaning before their carpenter showed up at 9.  They are doing some minor changes before move in stuff on Friday and the rest on Monday, then we’ll have new neighbors.

We hid some shells and stuff for the kids to find in a “secret compartment” in the bedroom.  We are exhausted, but more to do before we rest!  Want to get the washer and shower running in new house.  After work hours we can go in and clean up.

Still haven’t had time to set up the campsite yet.  But it’s been so cold, it was OK not to be out sitting around the campfire.  Want to get one of those pop up canopies to extend our usable space.  So far, we’ve managed to dosey-doe around each other, but Woody is not a dosey-doer, so she gets stepped over.  The cat, just goes from one window to the next keeping track of us, the workers, birds and everything else.  Though she has adapted well and returns here after her outings.

Today, the insulators are here blowing in rock wool- very noisy.  We may have to go sit in the car, heated seats, and take a drive.  Go to the center of Wendell where we get one bar and the call the phone co.  Still a week with no phone and no internet.

Well that’s it for now, must go do more fun work



4/23-Have a phone, but in house, so only when we are in it, but you can leave a message.  BIG relief.  Internet has been spotty, may be fixed on Thurs.

more love & stay safe & well.