August 2009

School begins tommorrow and I will be doing my posts in the evening from now on. I will also no longer be posting on weekends.

We are very busy planning for more cold storage in our basement. Cold storage is the perfect way to keep food for a preparedness program. Once the space is ready, food can be stored with no inputs from fossil fuels and regardless of what is happening to the grid. Vegetables and fruits that store well are beets, carrots, turnips and apples. Cabbage, leeks and Brussel sprouts also store well this way. Believe it or not, many hard cheeses, hard salamis and hams also store well as long as the space can be kept at a constant cold temperature and free of vermin. The closer you can keep the temperature to 38 degrees, the longer your food will last.

We have a corner of the basement that has a high window. Our plan is to build walls and insulate them and the ceiling with r-36 batting . The floor is already damp. Bruce is running a vent from the window to the floor to bring in colder out side air. We can block the vent if it gets too cold. I will store produce in individual bins between layers of  dry leaves. It is critical that any produce chosen for long term storage be in perfect condition and checked regularly. I would go so far as to suggest that you plan menus each week that utilize your stored produce. It is so easy to forget about it and then find yourself with a mess to clean up and bins of wasted food.

Potatoes and onions need a different kind of environment. Both can tolerate somewhat warmer temperatures but need it dryer. Squash and pumpkins like it warmer yet. In fact, we have had good luck storing them in an unused bedroom.

Be sure any food you store has been properly cured. I hope you have a good book on this subject in your library. There are lots of variables and it’s important to do it right. I lost a whole bunch of potatoes my first year gardening because I didn’t know that they couldn’t be stored with apples. The ethylene the apples give off turn the potatoes green.

We actually had a totally different idea for our cold room but the best laid plans as they say. It pays to be flexible, Once Bruce had built a room for the new freezer, he realized how much easier it would be to replicate that on the other side of the basement than to build a whole new set of hinged stairs. it will also be easier to regulate the temperature and retrieve the produce.

It occurs to me just how lucky I am to have a partner with the kind of skills Bruce has. If I didn’t, I would be looking for a friend or neighbor I could swap skills for food with. I know people who do this stuff as a single but I couldn’t. I need husband and children to get it all done.

Just to end on a really happy note. We just finished a fabulous dinner with corn, potato, kale and leek soup with home made bread. The entire meal came from our garden except the milk in the soup and that came from a local farmer. I usually add white fish to this soup. I gave Bruce a whole set of fishing gear for Christmas. I think fishing gear is something every family near a body of fishable water should have in their storage supplies. I would love to have my own fish in the freezer.


We had dinner with some friends last weekend. We have know each other since our kids were babies.They are witty, charming, terrific cooks and,  for the most part, clueless about peak oil or anything other crisis that might change their comfortable lifestyles. Only one other in our group of ten wanted to talk about the future and what it may hold for us. Jim is a really smart guy. He is making plans for living in an energy starved world. He even came equipped with a photo of the electric panel truck he just ordered. He had all sorts of plans for converting his home to solar and photovoltaic and installing heat sinks.  It was pretty impressive I must admit but there was something fundamentally flawed with his thinking. It wasn’t until I got home and really started to ponder his plans that it hit me. Jim is trying desperately to design systems that will allow him to continue to live exactly as he always has. He wants to drive as much, be as warm, eat the same food and consume in the same way. I know I often recommend that people buy something as they prepare. I really hope you all will call me on that when I am out of line as I I believe that preparedness is as much mental as anything and it is buying too much that has caused an awful lot of the world’s woes.

If one has unlimited resources, I suppose a photovoltaic system makes more sense than a boat but I still have to wonder. These systems require big energy inputs, not just in the manufacture but in the replacement of the battery arrays. Solar panels work well but they don’t last forever either. Electric cars have a lot of advantages and while no one wishes more than I that every car on the road was powered that way, that sad truth is that the electric car idea is a ship that has already sailed. It would require enormous fossil fuel inputs to manufacture a fleet of electric cars to replace all existing vehicles. Then we would have to build the recharging stations and figure out what to do with old cars. It is not as easy as just having the will. You also need the money and the gas and oil to pull it off. If one is building from the ground up, I would put in every energy efficient system I could manage but most of us are not in that place. We are trying to cobble together a life that works.

Rather than investing in an electric or hybrid car, it will make more sense for most of us to plan on driving less. We are carpooling some, biking some, walking some and staying home some. I am in need of more refrigerator space as I am getting all of my milk for the week from a local farmer and those gallons take up a lot of space. I could spend the money on a top of the line energy star fridge but I could also use an existing cooler and replace the ice in it daily as I run a big freezer anyway. I am thinking about a wood furnace to replace my inefficient gas furnace. Until I can afford one, we are turning down the thermostat and putting on sweaters. Our upstairs rooms get really hot in the summer. We used to run air conditioners so the kids could sleep comfortably. This year, we put a fan in the back bedroom to suck the hot air out and kept basement door open so the cool air was drawn up.  On the few nights that it was really hot, the girls slept downstairs in the living room. The actually enjoyed the pajama party and we saved a lot of energy. I could get a new washer and dryer that would be more efficient than the ones I have or I could put a clothes rack in the spare bedroom and dry our clothes inside in the winter. I want a solar hot water system but until I can get one, I am turning down the temperature control on my hot water heater.

We have a mindset in this country that we can always throw money at a problem and make it dissapear but that won’t work this time. All of the bailouts and stimulus pachages are not going to change the fundamental truth of the impossibility of infinate growth in a finite world. Preparedness is only going to allow us some breathing room when the next big catastrophy happens. Real preparedness, long term preparedness is about mind set changes.

It is the time of year again when you can stock up on office and school supplies for pennies as stores use things likes pencils and notebooks as loss leaders, hoping to entice you in to inside, knowing you will likely pick up some overpriced extras while you are there. RESIST!!! Just buy the loss leaders and get out.

I keep one drawer devoted to office supplies. I always had trouble keeping it organized until I recognized the problem. I was trying to keep everything in the drawer! All of the pens and pencils and rulers and such was just too much for the space. When I commandeered a shoe box for the overflow, the problem was solved. I still stock up on office supplies but I only keep what I might need to grab downstairs. Everything else is in the storage room upstairs. I am keeping more on hand as I want to be prepared for a flu outbreak to shut down our schools. If I have to home school for a period of time I want to have what I need without a trip to an office supply store. All preparedness programs should consider these staples.

Pens and pencils: The pens actually need to be rotated as the ink can dry out over time. The pencils will require a pencil sharpener. I am on the look out for an old hand sharpener. I have a couple but they are plastic and poor quality. I like the one from Lehman’s but it’s a bit pricey. Still, it’s on my Christmas list. I have an electric model but it needs a battery and as I can get one that doesn’t, that’s what I want. How hard is it to sharpen a pencil?

Scissors: I have a lot of scissors. Some are in need of sharpening and I just found out that I can take them to our little hardware store and they will send them out. I am planning to bring them a batch in the morning. A good pair of scissors is one of life’s pleasures.

Sundries: Rubber bands, paper clips, staples, glue, tape and so on are the kinds of things we use every day.  It pays to have them on hand. I have made a dandy little bungee cord with a couple of paper clips and a wide rubber band. I save all of the band I can get my hands on.  Someone donated a whole bunch of broccoli to our pigs and it came with wide rubber bands around each bunch. I was really pleased but I will confess I am easily amused. I have found that tape should be rotated too, especially the inexpensive brands. I like medical tape for jobs that require real sticking power. For glue.,I keep Tacky glue, Elmer’s, mucilage and a few glue sticks although these don’t work for much beyond kid’s art work. I also keep notebook hole reinforcers and sticky dots, post its and sticky labels. I usually buy a huge bag of pencil erasers when I find a deal too. I have several rulers. I like a good quality metal one with a sharp edge for me. I have a wooden ruler with a metal edge for the kids.

I put several magnifying glasses in my drawer. I have them in a couple of different sizes. I also keep spare cheaters, those dime store reading glasses that will come in might handy if you break you glasses during a crisis and, like me, can’t recognize my husband across the room without your glasses. The cheaters have gotten me through a period of waiting for new glasses a couple of times.

You should have a lot of paper on hand. I buy computer paper in packages of 500 sheets, notebook paper when it’s on sale for $.19 a pack, construction paper,  legal pads and spiral bound notebooks. Index cards and writing paper are useful too. And don’t forget envelopes and a supply of stamps. The Forever Stamps from the Post Office are a good deal as they can be used no matter how high the price of a stamp goes. Back in my teaching days, I once received a note from a parent written on an envelope with red crayon. With a little foresight, I hope to always do better than that. I pick up workbooks for my kids when I think of it. I have enough curriculum to be able to teach at home for an extended period. Educational games and good books are better gifts than electronic gizmos any day. Some drawer dividers and small covered containers will keep all of your supplies organized.

Preparedness can be about having what you need for months at a time but it is also about laying your hands on the necessities of life on a daily basis, freeing up time and energy for more important tasks. Right now, for instance, the sun is shining I have few days left warm enough to enjoy my morning coffe on the deck. Duty calls.

In my post about Webb Fits and my OCD need to clean and organize I got a response that talked about the relationship between feeling out of control in one part of one’s life leading to the need to gain control in another. That really clicked for me. I suspect it is the sense of the world being out of control that is leading so many of us back to our homes, our land and our food supply to find some control. I know that I went from reading the economic gloom and doom blogs every day to gravitating toward the homesteading blogs. I am a daily reader of LATOC (Life After The OilCrash), Mike Savinar’s excellent web site that brings together all of the latest news and information about peak oil and economic collaspse. Over the past several months though, rather than heading straight to breaking news, I go first to the gardening forum where people are discussing my favorite subject, homegrown food. I can’t control the state of the world but I can control the state of my pantry.

Today, I find myself with an entire day of no obligations. I am using it to do exactly as I please and I please to go through my clothes and clean out my bedroom. I am going to be the only one home. I am making a big pot of tea, putting on some old 60’s music on the CD player and working all day. I want to make a complete clothing inventory for everyone in the family. I know we have plenty of clothes for dress up and school but I want to check out how we are fixed for things like socks, underwear and pajamas. I also want to check my supply of woolen socks and sweaters and look over the glove and mitten stash.

I harp on this a lot. Things may well be different in the coming years. But different doesn’t mean worse. We are so used to pushing up the thermostat when we feel a chill. Different just means we will put on a heavy sweater. I am thinking about getting my youngest a little night cap and more slipper socks. If your head and feet are warm you can sleep in a pretty chilly bedroom with flannel sheets and a down comforter and be very comfortable. Not worse, different. Last night we ate some beef stew that had been lost in the back of the freezer. With a mushroom and onion gravy, served over mashed new potatoes with sides of corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes from our garden (we actually have some that are ripening without signs of blight) the beef was really tasty. Two years ago I would have tossed it out. Different, not worse. Karen wanted a snack last night. She settled for a bowl of home canned peaches and didn’t bother to ask for the chips or soda or store bough goodie that is never there. Not worse, different. We have not been to a mall movie with kids for years. A couple of days ago we took them hiking on our 4 acre woodlot, looking for mushrooms and checking for storm damage. We had a really nice time and returned home for some hot chocolate and a viewing of one of the Planet DVD’s that we got for Christmas a few years ago. Not worse, different.

I am planning Christmas already. The girls are getting down comforters. There will be a few other things like jig saw puzzles and The Settlers of (?) Cattaror Cattan , a game that we played in Virginia this summer and really liked. We need some new Yatzee cards. That will about do it. The years of wall to wall gifts are over. Not worse, different.

I can’t control what horrible thing happened in the world today but I can control whether or not I let into my home via the TV. I can’t contol how much money the government spends but I can control how much I spend. I can’t control what contaminants are being found in our food supply but I can control what I put in my own garden. I can’t contol the mess we have made of our planet but I can control the mess in my closet.

We took the girls to the opening night of our agricultural fair last night. It was not as much fun as usual. The first night is 1$10.00 bracelett night meaning for $10.00 you can go on all the rides for the one flat fee. We don’t do carnivals or amusement parks so we hadno problem with letting the kids do this. The propblem we did have is that the livestock doesn’t all arrive until today so by going last night we missed a lot of the stuff we most enjoy. We are expecting a big storm today to make the fair a giant mud pit this afternoon so it was go last night or maybe not go at all. Most of locals go on Saturday. Last night seemed to be a lot of out of towners. There were just too many hollowed eyed teens for my taste. I stuck pretty close to my “too pretty for her own good” daughter. I was a lot more aware of how much junk was there too. The cheap plactic toys from China neverbothered me before but they do now. There was guy selling fried cheesecake (yuk) but the man who used to sell corn on the cob was not around. I don’t know. It just felt different to me.  I won’t go on bracelett night again in spite of the savings. It just had a bad vibe to it.

I got home and was quite happy to start loading my new freezer. I plan to fill it with the food from the two smaller freezers and defrost those. I was not happy with all of the old food I found. I found a few packages of meat that have been there for months (years). I had not freezer wrapped them so they were all dried out and awful looking. I expect they are still good to eat. Just (just!) the flavor will be affected. So today’s poll is this. Would you eat old meat if it had been frozen for 2 years? 1 year? Why or why not? I have some lamb too. The chops look good but I don’t know about the ground meat.

I can see why people used to have pasta night and fish night and meatloaf night. It does make the organization of a kitchen food supply a lot easier. For those of use with big gardens and food animals or those who store food, this is no small problem. We have a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money tied up in our pantries and freezers. I need to get serious about this. We waste too much food in this country and I do not wish to be a part of that. Tonight. we are eating some stew beef that has, quite frankly, seen better days. We are going to eat some of the dried peas that I put up this spring and pull potatoes to serve with it. With a lot of gravy, my kids will eat most anything. Tomorrow it  will be the chicken and on Sunday, I am serving a pot luck with the one piece of fish, the 6 left behind meatballs, the 2 chicken wings and a creamed vege dish that will incorporate a lot of the bottom of the bag vegetables that need to go. The best thing about my new freezer is the compartments. I will be able to put all of the pork in one bin, the chicken in another and so on. I am committing to eating from a different bin each night with 3 nights a week devoted to a vegetarian meals that will use up some of my 75 pound stash of dried beans. It is so convenient to go for the canned beans that I ignore the others. I also have to start eating the dried pasta. I have mountains of it. My kids hate the dried stuff and only want fresh.

All of these disjointed thoughts are connected in some way that has to do with waste and respect for the planet and what we think things are worth. It is too early in the morning and I am operating on far too little sleep to connect them well. I just have this feeling, this inner sense that things are changing. Our wasteful, self-indulgent lifestyles are not going to be sustainable any longer. The kind of excess that made it possible for me to have the luxury of losing a pound of stew beef is disappearing. I have to see this as a good thing although it will be a hard lesson for us to learn.

My mother was a gentle southern Babtist school teacher from Texas who would not have cussed if her hair was on fire. She never gossiped or shirked her duty. She was a sterling character in every way. Her one vice, her curse was her propensity for what we children called her Webb Fits, Webb being her maiden name. They could overtake her at any time, day or night, pulling us all into a cleaning frenzy. She could decide it was her bathroom that was a veritable laboratory of filth and desease or maybe a closet that was in need of a complete reorganization but it was generally the kitchen that bore the brunt of her ocd need to clean and clean now. I wish I could say that the curse died with her but alas, it did not. I too carry the Webb gene and it pops up at the oddest times, fueled by who knows what and clean I must. I got taken by a Webb Fit last night at 8:00. I had to rearrange my upstairs bulkfood storage and, not satified with that, was compelled to hit the kitchen and clean the cabinets there as well.

Now I know you will find this hard to believe but there are people in the world who, after getting groceries, do not remove everything from the original packaging and repackage all of it in mason jars or labeled, food storage containiers. I know, I know, you have probably heard rumors but did dot believe such things really happened but I have acually seen with my own eyes, people pour cereal FROM THE ORIGINAL BOX into their bowl. Ah well. To each their own.

If you have ever been infested with grain moths, mealy worms, mice or (double, triple YUK) rats, you will understand my compulsion to keep them out of my kitchen. If you store food, this matters in a major way as one box of infested rice can lead to a kitchen full of food headed to the compost in very short order. It pays to take the time after each and every buying trip to take the steps to keep your food vermin free. (Isn’t vermin a great word? It’s so disgusting.)

I do remove all food packed in cardboard from it’s original box and repack in glass or plastic. If you have a mouse or rat problem, go with the glass. I have seen rats chew right through heavy plastic. Any food that comes in contact with rodents must be tossed.  If a rodent has been in a food space, wash the area fully with hot soapy water as rodents carry Hanta Virus as well as the fleas the cause plague. It is not enough to pick the droppings up with a damp cloth. You need to remove everything from the space and clean it. If you find an entry hole, plug it with steel wool which rodents will not chew through. I store mouse and rat traps in my preparedness supplies. The old fashioned kind are best for the my money. We got a multi-mouse trap for a garage once. We had stored our dog food out there and it was like fast food for critters. We were catching a 1/2 dozen mice a night with thing.

I like to use Mason jars for stoing most of my food. It keeps plastic out of the food chain, it’s impervious to moisture and pests and it looks neat. It also is one more way to reuse jar lids. I can now vacuum  seal the jars and food stays fresh a lot longer.

I know that some people would just heat food in an oven if they find a weevil infestation and use it anyway but I can’t. I get rid of it ASAP. This is my first year with pigs but I used to feed infested food to my chickens. They love the little buggys. You can use the dry ice method of treating, just as you would for long term storage but the little creatures are still there. I know there are probably lots of nasty things in my food. Please, PLEASE!!!! Do not post and tell me about them. I am my mother’s child and I would have to clean again today. The fair starts today and I just don’t have time.

I am sitting here with store flyers and my food inventory trying to determine exactly where to put my long term storage food dollars. After cleaning the cellar and rearranging my stored food it is clear I need to shop today. We have gone through an amazing amount of food. If I am having this much trouble with many years of experience under my belt, I can imagine how someone new to the idea feels. Overwhelmed I’ll bet. I started gradually, as the fragility of our systems, economic, environment, biological and food based became more and more clear to me but many today are feeling as though they don’t have time to go slowly and I tend to agree.

I like the idea of having a meal plan for a few weeks worth of food that can be prepared with the fuel source you will have available to you. After that, you can look longer term. I would start with grains. They are cheap, easy to store, easy to prepare and familiar. You will need a grain grinder if you store wheat and you can’t go from a diet where you never use it to whole wheat several times a day without serious digestive issues so begin eating it now. Otherwise, just store flour. It is far less nutritious and more expensive but there is no point in buying 500 pounds of wheat that you can’t prepare. Rice and oats are good first choices. Corn will need to be ground into meal too.

Sugar and salt are basics and you will need more than you think. The same with vinegar and oils. make sure to rotate the oils. I store several cans of shortening although I can’t remember the last time I used it. That is one of those non foods that will do in an emergency but otherwise, YUK! Soon I will have real lard. It’s still pure fat but at least it’s real food.

Fruits and vegetables are next. I love the dried stuff. I can a lot and I also freeze a lot. I store a ton of extra canning jars and if the power went out, I would fire up the cooker and can around the clock to reuse what I could. The quality would be impacted and I would only do this in a true emergency. If you have no other option look  for the best sales you can find and stock up on canned supplies. Canned tomato sauce is a versatile food. If you don’t can it then by all means buy a lot when it goes on sale. I can get a national brand right now for $.99 a jar and I have bunch of $.20 cent off coupons. I am going to get a couple of cases. If I don’t eat it. it makes a good charity item for food pantry collections. Powdered milk and instant potatoes have a place in food storage. I like the good quality milk in the #10 cans.

You probably have a lot of baking supplies in your pantry. Make a list of the ones you use most often and stok up today. They are fairly cheap and have a long shelf life. Baking powder, baking soda, spices and flavorings are good places to start.

This is a jumping off place for beginners. I wrote this post in part for my daughters who are just getting serious about preparedness. I know most of you are further than this but it doesn’t hurt to have a post you can send on to others who are not yet on the path. Maybe you will encourage someone to take action today that will serve them well down the road.

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