16 homesteading skills every northerner should know

apples and canning Helena Zolotuhina/Shutterstock

With the way of the world tilting towards quarantining, and to some extent, isolation, there’s something to be said for knowing how to do something—having “the skills” to get things done, just like many of our ancestors did. These tasks and chores that were part of their everyday life have been lost on us but can still suddenly become useful at a moment’s notice.

Baking Bread: Whether you like Texas toast in the morning or like to slip your slices into a Panini maker, no one can deny how alluring the smell of freshly baked bread is, let alone how good it tastes. Making and serving fresh bread will impress guests, and is very economical.

Preserving/Canning: If you’re of a certain age, regularly churning out batches of jam and pickles was more than likely something your mom used to do. Preserving food is a great way to save fruits and vegetables to enjoy later or for times when you physically can’t get to the store. It also helps reduce food wastage. A jar of juicy dills makes a pretty nice gift in a pinch.

Select firewood: Not all fire logs are created to burn equally. You can buy firewood through a retailer, the lumberjack next door, or cut down your own if you within a well-wooded lot. If you’re hoping to sit in front of a roaring fire pit or cuddle up beside the hearth, it’s important to know how to select good wood.

Foray into foraging (carefully): The forest floor readily grows edibles that you might enjoy incorporating into your menus. First and foremost, proper identification is a must, so if you’re new to this consider taking a workshop with a knowledgable guide. When you’re starting out begin with what’s easily recognizable: fiddleheads (roasted or boiled and sautéed), cattails, berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries), cedar leaves (to make tea) and dandelions and wild lettuce for rustic salad. If you’re a hiker, make collecting your quandary part of exploring along the trail.

Get to know your herbs: If you’ve got a plethora of basil and you can only take eating so much pesto, there are other ways to make use of these fragrant greens. If you’re interested in using them for wellness, you can take a class on the healing properties of herbs, for instance, chamomile calms and reduces inflammation, lavender relaxes and eases headaches, and lemon balm promotes focus. They’re easy to grow and safe for most people to use regularly. One purported cure for nasty bug bites: pure peppermint oil.

Keep a coop: Brooding over the idea of keeping chickens in your yard? They can be surprisingly easy to keep—and you’ll have a regular staple in part of the holy trinity of breakfasts.

Make some soap: Hot showers will be even more satisfying knowing you’re scrubbing up with natural ingredient-based soap that you’ve made yourself—and you can experiment with all kinds of scents and concoctions—even cook up a batch on the campfire. They also rate very high on the giftable scale.

Strum & hum: Ok, so it’s not on the spectrum of survival-of-the-fittest, but you can be sure your grandparents or great grandparents entertained themselves by playing the guitar, the fiddle or even just enjoying a simple melody on the harmonica. Learning, and playing, an instrument is excellent brain food, keeps you occupied on any quarantine-like day, and will really wow a campfire crowd (providing you haven’t taken up the organ). Take a lesson with Arkells frontman Max Kerman.

Clean a chimney: Be sure to hum a little Chim-chimney as you give your own woodstove’s pipe a good sweep, and while you’re at it, make sure you have a safe set-up.

Cooking with cast: Cast iron cookware is credited to Englishman Abraham Darby in 1707, but the “modern” legless flat-bottomed pots and pans with flat became popular when cooking stoves were trending in the late 19th century. A cast iron skillet is a must-have for upcountry kitchen, plus they’re very versatile: you can cook breakfast, dinner and dessert all from this trusty pan. Don’t forget to season it as needed!

Be a seed saver: Create a never-ending supply of seeds not just for gardening. Seeds are a good food source too! Saving seeds is also one of the survival skills to learn.

Help out pollinators: Bees are vital players on team Mother Nature. These fuzzy, striped soldiers are responsible for pollinating trees, bushes and herbaceous plants. Honeybees have a role in the production of nearly 90 different commercially grown crops in North America. Do your part—and get something sweet out of the deal too—by becoming an amateur apiarist.

Get a fire started, STAT: Making your own natural fire starter can save time when you need to warm up quickly on frigid winter days. There are different kinds to make using items like pinecones or even dryer lint and they’re great natural alternatives to the chemical laden fire logs.

Get yourself in knots: From a camping trip to a leisurely outing on the boat, if you don’t know knots, you’ll run the risk of loosing your equipment or watching your watercraft float away. Learn some useful knots so you—and your possessions—will feel secure.

Be a first responder: Scraped knees or any ol’ cuts and bruises can happen any time, anywhere. If there’s an accident inside or out on the boat, you’ll be more prepared if you can administer first aid with the properly stocked first aid kit, as well as lifesaving CPR procedures.

Be merry and bright: If you embrace the “Hygge” lifestyle (and since you love spending time cottaging and getting outdoors, chances are you do), you can appreciate this Scandinavian tradition of getting cozy and warm. Candles play a large part—they provide comfort, light, and ambience on these darkest days of the year. Make your own and enjoy them for a little mood while you eat or snuggle up—and of course, they’re invaluable for lighting the way when the power’s out.


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