There aren’t actually any real panthers here, though there probably were a century ago. I named my “homestead” Panther’s Hollow after a little cat I picked up at the dump shortly after moving here. I put homestead in quotes because it seems like kind of a pretentious term for what I have here. I mean, everything was here when I moved in except for a garden and a chicken coop. But some say homesteading is a frame of mind, and by that standard the term certainly applies.
After 10 years as a backyard gardener in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I felt it was time to realize my dream of a place in the country where I could expand my self-sufficiency efforts to include chickens, a much larger garden, and possibly more. I also wanted to live in a beautiful part of the country with a rich natural environment and a culture conducive to growing food and living with minimal impact on the land. I had found an area of Southwest Virginia that seemed just right, and so began searching for a suitable place.
My objective was an acre or two of land with a two-bedroom house and one or two good outbuildings on an unpaved road for under $60,000. I was hoping for a location that was private but not too isolated – ideally something back in a “holler” with woods nearby and a stream running through it. After a few years of searching, I was beginning to think I’d have to compromise a bit on my criteria. And then I found it.
The photographs were alluring, and the description referred to a peaceful, secluded location with abundant wildlife. The price was just under $40,000. The only catch was the access to the property. The directions said to reach the property either drive through the creek or walk across the swinging bridge – there were photos of both – and continue about 300 feet back. I had to read that twice before it sank in: They meant drive through the water. Now I was familiar with fords – more as a curiosity than a way to reach one’s home. And the creek shown in the picture was clearly more than a few inches deep! Still, I told my realtor I had to see this place.
The ford and the swinging bridge.
The swinging bridge scared me a little, and I had lots of questions about how I would manage with the ford and all. But the property was clearly everything I wanted – a two-bedroom cottage in a clearing in the woods, very secluded, with maybe a couple of acres for gardening and several good outbuildings. And there was even a little stream that ran past it! I was so taken with the setting that I barely looked at the house, which in fact was quite a mess, being sold “as is” with all the previous owners’ stuff that hadn’t already been taken by relatives who had obviously rifled through the place. All I noticed was a rather charming interior that I was sure would clean up nicely.
My Southwest Virginia “homestead.”
A rear view of the house and outbuildings.
Three months later I arrived – with my two cats in tow – and the rest is history, as they say. There have been challenges in setting up housekeeping and food-raising here, what with the difficulty of access and having no other residents on my side of the creek. (The setting actually was isolated, not just private!) Some of the locals have taken a dim view of my living here alone in the holler – an older woman with no skills in construction or home maintenance. But the neighbors – those who live across the creek or have hunting properties on my side – have been a huge help, and some understand that what I have here is well worth the difficulties.
My first spring at Panther’s Hollow: a few garden beds planted.
A year and four months into my stay here, I now have many garden beds, a cold frame, a nice double compost bin that some guys put together for me from old pallets, and an old camper (left on the property) that’s been repurposed as a poultry coop. The coop presently houses five half-grown guinea fowl, who will be released shortly, and will soon house 16 young chickens. I’ve planted several blackberry bushes and am working on reviving some old apple trees. Since this area is part of a project to protect riparian habitat, I also have five elderberry bushes that U.S. Fish and Wildlife planted for me for free! Plans for the future include small-scale aquaponics, rosa rugosa for the hips, hazelnut trees, and possibly shittake or other mushrooms.
The garden in late June.
My double compost bin, made from found materials.
One of my young Guinea fowl in the re-purposed camper.
I planted the cold frame too late for a winter harvest, but the seedlings, shown here in January, survived the winter and are now growing again.