April 2009

Spring is really here in Western Mass and our salads are enhanced by all the wild edibles popping up. I wonder how many people actually know their neighborhoods, know what grows when and where and know how to harvest and use what they find. A good investment for your preparedness library is the best field guide to wild edibles you can find. If you go on Amazon, you can find reviews of publications and decide which one is best for your locale.

I have enough wild edibles that I don ‘t have to go far afield to find anything I want except fox grapes, ramps, oyster mushrooms and apples. We transplanted a few things like Jerusalem Artichokes and grapes. The artichokes are doing well. No sign of the grapes. I planted roots in pots that I kept in the greenhouse over the winter. If I see any growth I will transplant to a spot by the river.

A lot of folks are afraid to gather wild greens, something I find funny when they purchase spinach in spite of the ecoli problems. I know I grew up believing that sumac was poison. There is, in fact, a poison variety, related to, I believe, hemlock, but the red berries that are so prolific around here make a delicious, vitamin c rich drink. It took me a long while to get over my fear of consuming it. I plan to plant some on our riverbank.

I did get sick once from drinking rose hip tea. I got horrible stomach cramps and diarrhea for days within 20 minutes of drinking a few ounces. It happened twice so rose hips, at least from the location I gathered from are off my list.

I general though, there a few plants that are dependable sources of food. I love purslane, danylion greens, lambs quarters, and plantain. Bishops weed is not my favorite but I just got a new recipe from my friend Leni that I plan try. We have so much of the stuff, I really want to use it.

If you are a first time forager, getting an experienced friend to work with will make you more comfortable. Be sure that the area you are gathering from is not someone’s private stash. Most people won’t care if you grab a bag full of purslane (they will probably think you’re nuts for pulling up their weeds) but if you gather their morels, they might sick their dog on you. I would.

Last year, I found a wonderful tree just full of oyster mushrooms. Unfortunately, it was in the process of being cut down by our town crew. I stopped and asked if I could have the mushrooms before they cut up the tree and fed it to the chipper. They were happy to oblige but my poor kids were mortified. The ducked down in the back seat and refused to speak to me the rest of the way home. After eating the mushrooms sauteed in butter, wine and cream they changed their tune. Now they are excellent mushroom finders, keeping an eye out as I drive-safer for all of us than having mom trying to drive and scan for dinner at the same time.


I pulled all of the parsnips yesterday and was then conflicted about how to store/preserve them. I decided the thing to do was experiment a bit. I put one small bunch in the vegetable crisper in a paper bag. I planted another bunch down by the bees. They will apparently grow quite tall and have lovely flowers that bees love. I dehydrated another bunch. They are taking a while to dry but when finished, I will use the food saver and store them in a cool dark place. Some I plan to pulverize and add to mashed potatoes and soups for thickening. The final bunch was stored in food saver bags with all the air sucked out. I put these in the vege crisper. I love Parsnips but no one else really likes them much so this was good thing to experiment with. If one method turns out poorly, it won’t matter the way it would if we lost a bunch of broccoli or peas.

One of the fun parts of this homesteading preparedness stuff is the experimenting. Admit it. You all love to be the one to come up with some nifty idea to save time/money/labor or that results in amazing yields. I know there are folks out there who think this home making  stuff is deadly boring and some of it is. There is just no good way to spice up cleaning a toilet. But figuring out a recipe for home made cleaning solutions, then calculating the cost per ounce (thanks Heather) is alchemy. It makes me feel like a good witch.

It’s easy to run to the store and trade money for a mass produced product. It is much more stisfying to figure how to meet the need without spending money. My Phoebe outgrew a thick cotton dress that she wore over her bathing suit. It has a couple of stains on it and was not really good enough to pass on. I got a brilliant idea. I ran a seam across the bottom. Now using the wide shoulder straps as handles, I have a nifty little produce bag for my occasional trips to the farm stand.

From the old shutters Bruce  used to make a curing shed for squash and potaotes to tc the cobbled together  hot boxes, experimentation and innovation makes most small farms work.

I have another life beyond preparedness as a foster adoptive parent and I have written a couple of books on the subject. I am doing an interview tomorrow for Creatingfamily.com. You can check it out if you like. I will try to get in a plug for Just In Case if the opportunity arises.

I love gadgets but I generally think they are a waste of money and space but I have succumbed to the lure of a food saver. I have used an inherited Deni for years but it is too small and inefficient for the amount of food preservation I do. I picked the Food Saver up earlier this week and I am a convert. This thing is very cool. I dehydrated another bunch of vegetables yesterday and then put them in the food saver. That thing would suck the whiskers off Santa. It’s so fast. Of course, now I need the mason jar attachment.

Bruce and I are putting in the beets, carrots and turnips today. We spent a happy morning looking over the garden plan and deciding that we don’t have enough space. Back to the drawing board. In an effort to disturb the soil as little as possible, we lay down black plastic or some other heavy mulch and let nature do the work. This year however, we may have to resort to the rototiller. I have been reading some very disturbing statistics about crops. Between drought, lack of fertilizer or money for fertilizer and now the possible lack of Mexican farm labor, food supplies could be severly impacted. My goal is to be vegetable and fruit self-sufficient. What I can’t grow, I can but locally and preserve.

I love my Excalibur!!! I have dehydrated several vegetable and have had excellent results. Broccoli was on sale So I bought six heads. I know I could have waited until the garden produced but as I am out of my frozen stuff and needed to purchase it anyway I decided to do the experiment. I steam blanched each head for about  minutes, cooled them in ice water then spun the moisture out in my salad spinner. The dehydrating only took about 7 hours. The result was a bright green, brittle little stalk. I saved some out to try rehydrating and packed the rest in vaccum sealed plastic bags. Two days later, I redrated a small bowl. Well, it was small when I started but plumped up beautifully after 15-20 minutes sitting in some simmering water. I thought it tasted more like fresh broccoli than than the heads I froze last year. I am assuming there will be little deterioration in storage as the environment is nearly air free.

I started some sweet potatoes in jars of water and they are rooting nicely. I have never stored sweet potatoes. I think I will try two methods this year. I will caook, mash and dry some and cold store the rest. Both methods are energy stingy.

I have to admit, I am worried about drying my peas. My frozen ones taste vine fresh, probably our favorite vegetable. It’s hard to imagine that dried will be as good. Has anyone dried them? Let me know how it worked out for you.

With the concern over flu pandemic, this is a good week to update your family communication plan. Figure out who might shelter with you and make them responsible for some of the preps. Reading some accounts of the 1918 pandemic is enlightening.

The new strain of flu that has struck Mexico  has got a lot of people very worried. There is no current vaccine for it and it has a significant mortality rate although the US cases do not seem to be having that high rate. Most readers of this blog are already preparing to be self sufficient during a crisis but it doesn’t hurt to re- evaluate how your family would respond to this threat should it spread to your local.

The first thing to keep in mind is that, with travel as easy as it is, by the time flu cases are documnented, it its too late to think preparedness. You should be thinking about how to stay at home. You want to avoid high concentration of people such as your local supermarket. Doctor’s offices and hospitals should be avoided unless it is a true emergency as many people will seek medical care when they experience symptoms making this a primary source of infection. Painters masks will provide very little protection as the virus can easily enter around the loose edges. Surgical masks are designed to protect the patient from the doctor’s germs and will be only marginally effective as well. Check with a doctor or pharmacist about obtaining appropriate masks if that is what you want to do. If you work in critical areas such as health and safety infrastructure, you will have to weigh your responsibility to your family and consider renting a room to avoid exposing them.

In addition to having food and water for you and your family and your animals,  you should have a good medical kit. Be sure to stock some oral re-hydration therapy. In the powder form, it is inexpensive and stores well. If someone has a high temperature and coupled with vomiting and/or diarrhea, they can dehydrate quickly. This is especially important to watch with children. It is possible to make a re-hydration solution but I would rather have the powder form on hand. Some over-the-counter remedies for coughs and fever are good to have on hand. Those should already be stored. Now is a good time to check the use-by date and discard any old medication.

Be sure you have adequate stores of bottled juices, gelatin and canned soups as these are often the food of choice when one is ill.

Do consider how you will entertain your children if they can’t go to school for several weeks. Having some workbooks and reading materials will enable you to school at home if necessary. A good supply of paper, crayons and other art supplies is a good idea as are board games, cards and craft kits. Be sure to lay in a supply of reading material for yourself.

Take care of your health in order to have the strongest possible immune system. Wash your hands well and often with running water and soap, especially after using the bathroom and after leaving a public place. I wipe the handle of shopping carts with a disinfectant wipe before I touch one. If you smoke, stop. Add a multivitamin to you daily regime but be sure to eat a healthy diet. This flu will probably run it’s course without disrupting your life too much but preparing for the big pandemic that the CDC is prediction is a prudent thing to do.

Although it is only 30 degrees out this morning, we are already harvesting spring greens. The greenhouse provides early lettuce, parsley, bak choi and tat soi but we are feasting on wild lambsquarters, ramps and sorrel as well. My yarrow is up and I see the first signs of peppermint.  The fiddlehead are just poking up. I am going on my first of the season mushroom walk next Saturday. If I had been a bit less cautious I would be eating pea sprouts too. I never get my peas in as early as everyone else and I hate to eat the shoots. I am always afraid I wont have enough peas.

I froze a lot of fiddleheads last year and didn’t eat all of them. The question is, does it make sense to eat frozen fiddles when ther are fresh ones just waiting to be picked? I know I am probably going to compost the frozen ones.

I usually get up in the morning and watch CNBC while I do my post and check my email. I am pretty optimistic by nature but it s getting harder to see an end to the economic woes we face. Every week with 600,000 plus more people filing for unemployment translates into more families who will be unable to heat their homes and put food on the table. It translates into the human costs of kids who can’t go to their proms and parents who can’t go to the doctor. The talking heads are joking right now about the cost of tin going up because people are hoarding food in their basements. I wonder if it occurs to them that some of those laid off workers may eat better this week because they thought to store some food when times were good.

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