Homesteading in Alaska?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by NatureDreams, Aug 12, 2004.

  1. NatureDreams

    NatureDreams Member

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    My husband and I are planning on and working toward a goal of being able to homestead. We live in the Pacific NW right now and are looking in this area, but both LOVE the idea of living in Alaska.

    Is it CRAZY to consider homesteading in Alaska?

    Anyone here who has done/is doing that?
     
  2. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    I am doing it now.

    And yes, it is crazy ;-)

    Seriously, it's a great place to homestead in many respects. Access to fish and game is better than anywhere in the lower 48. Resident bag limits are generous and many live subsistence and partial subsistence lifestyles.

    What are you after? If you're looking to do it cheap, raw land is the way to go. If you can go remote, you can still get good deals even in southeast. For on the road, you can rule out anything in SE and of course SW (basically no roads there). I got five excellent wooded acres in Willow on the road but off grid for about $2,000 an acre. You can still get land for that price, but it's getting tough much further south than Mile 70. The Mat-Su is booming, and of course Anchorage and Eagle River property values are insane. The Homer-to-Kenai area is still OK, with probably the best all-around fishing access.

    If you give me more information I can point you in a more specific direction.
     

  3. Well, we're vegetarians (commence laughing), so that growing season would be QUITE important to us. Any area where that would be better than other areas? Any idea if indoor greenhousing during the winter would work?

    How expensive is it to build? We're thinking post/beam construction and either strawbale (is that even an option that far north?) or log walls. We'd LIKE to get the timber off our own land, so what areas are good timber and not just tundra?

    What's best for off-grid power? solar in spring/summer and generator the rest of the time?

    My husband has a bee in his bonnet to go to Barrow, any idea the conditions up there?

    What about water? Wells work all year round?

    Plenty of questions! LOL
     
  4. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    Sure, you can grow some amazing veges here in the Mat-Su valley. But the growing season is only a few months, and if you don't eat meat you're cutting yourself off from most of the key subsistence foods. There are plenty of places that sell natural foods in Anchorage, but costs are high esp if you have to travel back and forth. Frankly I don't think you'd remain a vegetarian long up here ;-) I'd give you a year or two at most before you were beating silvers and chinook to death on the side of the stream like all the rest of us. The taste of fresh king, lightly smoked with a brown sugar and balsamic vinegar brine, is simply amazing.

    Indoor greenhousing is done, primarily for less-than-legal growing purposes. You need lots of power. Heat isn't as big an issue as light, so you have to have plenty of high-powered lights to keep your food from dying in the dark months. For homesteading that means generator power, as I doubt a DC bank would have the juice to keep a large greenhouse alight.

    Post and beam is the easiest here. Log cabins can be done, but are tricky with the smallish birch we have here. Log construction is more practical in SE with the massive firs and cedars to choose from. I'm using standard framing for my cabin. Rough cut lumber is quite cheap, and it works fine for internal framing. For external posts and beams I'm going with the more expensive pressure treated stuff. If you use some rough cut, you should use all rough cut for framing. The dimensions of a 2x4 rough cut beam really are 2x4, so it won't match up with commercial dimensions which are smaller. The cheapest route is probably to get some acres with good birch and then take them in to be rough cut and return with the timber to build your cabin with. You can hire a mill for under $100 an hour to do your cutting for you. A chainsaw mill is possible, but very time consuming and those guys can do it MUCH faster and better than you or I could.

    Well water varies from place to place quite a bit, but in SC and SE it's pretty easy to get. In SE I know homesteaders who simply draw in rainwater because there's so much of it. But it's very soft. Where I am in the Susitna drainage there's sandy water about 20 feet down and very good water about 40 feet down. At this point I just have a hand-driven well and get drinkable water from the community center. Many places have a central location where you can get free water.

    Power totally depends on what you plan on doing. We use the CPU a lot, so we run the honda 2000 quite a bit. But if you don't have a computer or big appliances you can get by with DC lights, LED headlamps (vital in the winter) and *good* brass oil lanterns, not the cheapo ones made from glass. Lehmans has the good lanters. mine has survived tons of abuse.

    Barrow is great to visit. A true attempt to homestaed up there might be fatal, however. It's basically a polar climate, with no vegetation to speak of other than seasonal tundra blooms. Certainly not much for a vegetarian to eat. Or a hunter for that matter. Barrow has basically nothing in common with where I live. It's a different universe on the north slope, much much harsher.
     
  5. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    One other thing--be wary of buying one of the "land and cabin" packages. They tend to be way overpriced. Frankly be very very cautious about paying for any structures or alleged imrovements. There's no zoning in most of AK and building codes have never been enforced in the rural areas, so sometimes cabins have no real foundation. I've seen them built on old tires.

    Not sure about straw building. I don't know if anyone has tried it. There's a ton of straw around Palmer, certainly. Runs about $8 a bale and is good quality. You can get a big roll as well.
     
  6. doohap

    doohap Another American Patriot

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    I'm certainly no expert, but I understand that strawbale structures have a sort of adobe or plastered outer shell ... would this sort of structure be wise in wet Alaska? I am, of course, assuming most of habitable Alaska has a humid climate. Anyone know?

    doohap
     
  7. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    It's actually not that wet in most of south-central. From May to July tends to be very dry and warm, with tons of sun. The rain usually starts in August, though this year it's late. The big wet comes down during winter in the form of snow and freezing rain. I know the straw in the dog kennels survives everything, so maybe it's worth a shot to try to build a straw house. In SE I expect it would be devoured by mold and fungus within a year though ;-)

    To bolster the straw building you could simply use sheets of plywood, a good moisture barrier, and a facing of log ends. Might work. If it does I might want to try it. Straw is one thing there's a lot of in the valley. It's all over the back of my truck in fact, and not even 70 mph wind will get it out.
     
  8. Don Armstrong

    Don Armstrong In Remembrance

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    Couple of comments.

    One is that straw-bale buildings need that stucco or earthern plaster cover to make them more-or-less fireproof (and pretty-well vermin-proof as well). With severely limited air-supply around the straw, fires smoulder and even extinguish themselves. ALSO straw-bale buildings need substantial eaves to keep the worst of rainfall off the walls.

    The other is that just this morning over on Backwoods Home magazine site I stumbled across some info in Jackie Clay's piece about growing food in Alaska. It's towards the end of http://www.backwoodshome.com/advice/aj88.html
     
  9. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    Some good advice there. In the Mat-Su you'll find growing quite a bit easier than it is in Tok or Fairbanks. But in all cases the season is limited. I'd hate to imagine having to winter here with no meat or high fat food whatsoever. In Willow it got forty below and let me tell you when it's that cold and you're exposed to it doing chores with no central heating and all the problems of getting a homestead going, you want high-fat meaty foods even if only in small amounts.
     
  10. well geez! can't log in no matter how hard I try.

    anyway, thanks for all the tips and ideas! :)

    doubt we'd be eating meat, I'm a lifelong 3rd generation veggie. But we fare amazingly well with lowly beans, nuts and other things! LOL

    the kind of straw bale outers we'd be looking at is gypsum which supposedly can handle oregon coast weather (where we are now and also VERY rainy).

    we're looking at several locales (montana, alaska, rural washington, BC) but so far Alaska is the only one with a LOT of unknowns.

    thanks for the info! :)
     
  11. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Active Member

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    The problem is, lowly beans nuts and things don't always grow here. Spuds, cabbage, and hearty veges do well in the sun months, but then the cold dark comes and nothing grows. For real subsistence homesteading up here I think you've got to eat meat. If you're willing to live closer to a town and shop for more of your food, then it's less of an issue but frankly fruits and veges tend to be $$ and of questionable quality up here.

    You'd do better in rural Oregon or Washington at supporting a vegetarian lifestyle IMHO. They have more things which can be grown year round and much more reasonable prices on fruit and fresh produce. When I lived in Oregon it struck me that a person with an orchard could live on fresh fruit and nuts 24/7/365 and do quite well. The fruit and filberts are so fresh and cheap you don't need anything else. But not so up here. And Alaska is extremely unforgiving. If you're in a remote parcel or wintering up in a seasonally remote parcel, you can quite certainly die without sufficient foods. There's not much of a safety net here, esp. once you stray from the road system. You'd better be prepared to kill ptarmigan, hare and moose at least or you'll risk ending up like the fellow in "Into the Wild" who tried to live off local berries and starved to death. Nothing against vegetarianism, BTW. I really respect it. But it's a notion born in warmer climes where the air itself isn't trying to kill you.