I am by turns touched, enlightened, inspired and amused by your wonderful responses to my posts. I do read every one but I don’t always have time to reply as I would like. As I am no longer posting on the weekends, I thought it would be a good idea to take Saturday morning and reply to all of them at once. It will require less brain power than coming up with a new idea but still let me be connected.

The solar charger for the bee enclosure gave out two days ago. This was the second one to fail in a year and, as they are dreadfully expensive, we were not happy. As this is prime time for bear problems, we had to get it repaired or replaced. Bruce went to the manufacturer’s web site and found someone who repaired them in Vermont, only about a 45 minute drive from our place. We could have mailed it there but we had no idea how long we would wait for it to be returned nor how reliable the repairman was so we decided to drive it there ourselves and get a feel for the work quality before committing.

As we are now in the habit of doing, we traveled with a couple of big sacks, my small saw and our apple picker. The day was lovely. It was a bit overcast, damp and cold, but the foliage is just peaking in Vermont and we took a windy back road the whole way. What can I say. We hit pay dirt. We weren’t on the road for 20 minutes when we found an enormous flush of oyster mushrooms, They were huge and really fresh. It took about a minute to harvest a full sack, probably ten pounds, of great shrooms. We were able to find the house we were looking for without one wrong turn. The place was amazing! The guy had a small orchard, bees, a wonderful workshop and a windmill. We had obviously found a kindred spirit. In fact, if I had not insisted we go for a ride so the gentleman could take a look at the chargers Bruce would still be there talking. We went into town to get some lunch and on the way found a fabulous row of apple trees. They were right on the side of the road on state land. We were able to harvest a couple of sacks. I read recently that millions of pounds of apples go unharvested every year and I believe it. We find ignored trees all of the time. I have not bought and apple in years. The ones I get are not perfect but they make great sauce, wine, cider and dried apple bits. They are often older varieties with amazing, complex flavors. The apple we got were a sweet variety. With the tart ones we got last weekend, we should get delicious cider.

We had a very nice lunch at a local diner. I love those little restaurants with names like Miss Flo’s and Dot’s. The soup is home-made and the pies topped with real whipped cream. We always leave a good tip as we know that nobody there is getting rich.

We headed back to check on the status of the solar charger, fully expecting that we would be facing a hefty bill. We found this fellow had repaired both chargers, discovered that one was still under warranty, outlined what we were doing that caused the system to fail and charged us….$9.00! What a day! We met an honest, competent tradesman, harvested many pounds of fabulous food, feasted on wholesome food, had our spirits lifted by the beautiful colors and spent time together without the interruption fo chores or telephone. Perfect!

While the apples will be fine in the root cellar, the shrooms had to be processed. I thought about canning them but went with freezing as it was late when I got to it. I have a bunch dried already so I went with freezing. The process is really easy. I fried the mushrooms up in some butter and tamari and bagged them up in one pound packages. I ended up with seven pounds. Quite a haul.

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I went to the city yesterday to participate in an upcoming docu-drama about the world after a pandemic decimates society. I was interviewed primarily about food, evacuation and community building. There are some pretty strange ideas out there about how one would get food if forced to leave one’s home on foot and unprepared. The reality of a man needing 3000 calories a day is hard to wrap your mind around. One thing for sure. You won’t get it by foraging wild greens. I don’t think it reasonable to expect that some city guy, who spends his day pushing paper is, all of the sudden, going to turn into Wilderness Jones and snare a couple of squirrels a day either. And water. Did you ever try to carry a gallon jug for any distance. Water is heavy and awkward and most ground water in the US is not safe to drink without being treated. I asked about things like shoes, shelter and security. The security is especially important because, in a real apocalyptic scenario, it won’t be just nice guys and theirfamilies on the road. It will be desperate, frightened people and many will not be nice.

Then there was talk about how much land a family would need to feed themselves. Again-plain silly to think a paper pusher becomes Mr. Green Jeans without any experience farming. Just this year, with the blight problems, a lot of us would be hungry if we were depending on that crop to feed us through a long winter.

The next question was about bunker living versus finding a community. Here is the truth of it. Man is a herd animal. We are not designed to live in isolation. We need each other. None of us can do everything. In a community, the soap maker will swap her wares for honey and the bee man swap his honey for milk. The dairy farmer will swap for wine and the vinier swap for shoes. The shoemaker will give a pair of boots for help with birthing his first born and the midwife swap for soap.  Pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents will matter less than a real thing that you need to keep warm or fed.

I  came away from interview with a renewed commitmant to some preparedness principles.

Bloom where you are planted as long as you are not planted in the middle of a big city with rampant crime. If you are, start today to make plans to get out.  Make your home the place you escape to. Get it paid for ASAP and spend the money to get it energy efficient. Know it, love it and care for it.

Know where your food comes from and keep enough stored to get you through a time when leaving might not be safe or wise. Learn now how to grow and preserve what you harvest. Store seeds and tools and plant perennial food plants like berry bushes and fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb.

Make community service a priority. Know your neighbors and treat them like family. You don’t have to love them. You have care about them. Those are two very different ideas.

Get a skill. Practice until you become expert. Don’t expect to make a living as a potter or winemaker. But do learn all you can and build a customer base as your skills improve. Offer a quality service and be honest. The best investments you can make are in yourself, your home and your community.

I have gotten a couple of private emails directing me to an article that is linked at the survivalblog website about a family on unemployment in Elkhart, Indiana. I suppose it could make you angry (it did a lot of people) because this family is losing their rental home while still purchasing beer, soda and cigarettes but it just made me sad. These guys thought they had a contract with America for a specific kind of life and somebody broke the contract. Pointing fingers won’t help.

This got me to thinking about a couple of other emails I have received asking where I thought families should begin in starting a preparedness program. These were people less concerned with big disasters and more concerned with recession depriving them of their livelihood. Yesterday, I spent some time looking over what I have and trying to prioritize  in terms of real usefulness. For instance, I have a bottle capper because I like to make soda but I would not give that a high rating. Making soda is fun but not necessary for survival. What follows is my “gotta have it list” for preparing to live on less.

Water bath canner: I start here because water bath canning allows you to glean and gather fruit and process it with very little effort. You can buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes and put up quarts and quarts of sauce. If you have some land, and by some I mean ripping out the roses if necessary, you can grow tomatoes and your sauce will be nearly free.

Pressure canner: Meat in bulk is a lot less expensive but you need to be able to preserve it. Freezers and electricity cost a lot more than a quality canner and the meat is there, able to be turned into easy, stove top or outdoor cooked meals. I would start by learning to can hamburger, chicken and stew beef.

Dehydrator: Today, I am buying bags of frozen vegetables at the big box store and drying them for long term storage. They are cheap right now and I want to avoid buying another freezer so drying is the way to go. Drying herbs and fruit is easy and requires less electricity than any other method of preservation.

Food Saver: Having a vacuum sealer makes it possible to keep dried food in optimal condition. I dry larger vegetables and grind them up for soup base.

Canning jars: You can never have too many. Check out yard sales and Craig’s List for the best buys but if you must pay cash, consider them an investment.

Weather proofing: check out every program that is available to help you reduce your energy consumption. Sell the big screen TV to buy insulation.

One good, basic cookbook: You need to know how to prepare real food. Every time you are tempted to buy fast food, put those dollars away and make biscuits and gravy and a simple vegetable dish. Follow up with a fruit cobbler.

Community: Got friends? If you have friends, you have people to share expenses with and people to learn with. That canner is less expensive if you buy it with your sister or your best friend. You half the cost and double the fun. Instead of spending money going out to eat or to the movies, pick a couple of bushels of apples and put up apple sauce. You will have so much fun and be eating great food in January when the stuff in stores is expensive and shipped in from Chili

Land: By land, I mean garden space. Maybe your church or synagogue will put in a garden if you get the ball rolling. We have a garden on our school grounds this summer. Families are taking turns caring for it. Go to the library and check out books on self sufficiency on small spaces. There are lots to chose from and they are full of ideas. Check out books on thrifty living. The Tightwad Gazette books are a good place to start. I have all of them and read them often for inspiration.

This recession is far from over. The people in Elkhart would call it a depression. If only they had prepared for this time, there lives would be so much better, so much healthier. We all need to be preparing for a life of less. It is up to us to make decisions now that will keep our families healthy and happy, no matter the economy does.

I have a supply inventory but I am not very diligent about keeping it up. For instance, I like to keep 6-10 cases of toilet paper on hand but will sometimes let it get lower than that, then have to make a trip to big box store and stock up. TP is not something I want to run out of but also something I hate to spend money on.

My food supplies are a lot trickier as the time of the year has much to do with how much I have on hand. Unless I resort to purchasing commercial canned fruit, (which I sometimes do)I have almost none left by early June. That works because the rhubarb  is coming into its own then.

I have started to think of a lot of food in terms of permaculture. What do I grow that will continue to produce food over the course of many years? Let me start with fruit. We grow: rhubarb, arctic kiwi, grapes, elderberry, plums, plumberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and blueberries along with several species of apples, peaches and pears. Bear in mind that many of these plants are young and not producing much or even at all in some cases. Still, I am feeling pretty self sufficient in fruit. The one thing I don’t grow is strawberries. I can get excellent strawberries locally and if times get hard I could probably swap honey for them or make jam on shares for someone or break down and grow the darn things even though I lose so many to mildew and ants. I also harvest a lot of wild grapes and apples that are not much good for eating out of hand but make fine juice. I have not made sumac juice but I have had some made by a neighbor and it was really good, I mght just transplant a sumac tree on my land. I have tried wild grapes with no luck yet.

I feel pretty confident that I am potato self sufficient as long as blight doesn’t get them. I planted enough for a year’s supply plus seed for next year. We are fortunate to have enough arable land to be able to move and rest our gardens so blight might be less of a problem. I also have enough heirloom tomatoes to save see for several varieties.

If the hives produce well this year, we will self sufficient in a major resource that is not only an important source of food but also a great barter and charity item and has the potential for a small home business too.

I am starting to recover a bit. I am actually going to walk my daughter to meet her English tutor this morning then return home and perhaps fold some laundry or pick more raspberries before taking a nap. It is slow but steady progress.  Just a side note: the dictionary does not recognize permaculture!!!!

I just made the best supper and it was pretty made from stuff that in another life, I might well have thrown out.

You know how there always seems to be a bit too much pasta? I never need an entire box. Lasagna noodles are a particular problem. I use to cook them, then let the extras sit in the back of the fridge until they went bad. Now I try to cook only what I realy need and save the rest in a plastic bag. This goes for the broken pieces too. We eat a lot of past and it adds up quick. Today, I was trying to come up with something for dinner and I hit on the idea of garbage lasagna. I cooked a bunch of broken noodles and set them aside. Then I sauteed a half an onion and some garlic, both of which were just getting ready to sprout in some olive oil. I added a cup of peppers I found in the freezer. They were a year old and a bit freezer burned but not bad. In went the last of my spinach and some kale. The kale was the base of a vegetable platter from the lunch we served for school spruce up day. Somebody was going to throw the leftovers out but I grabbed them first. I made a fabulous stock out of the vegetables and saved the kale. I also had a handful of dried out shitakes. I also found some I forgotten summer squash in the crisper. All of this simmered while I heated up one of my last two jars of spaghetti sauce with the first of the summer basil and some oregano. I layered the whole thing with three kinds of cheese. It tasted great!

There were some other great things about this dinner. I not only used up some food that was still good but would soon not have been but I had my girls help with cooking. I think they take away some good lessons, not just in how to make lasagna but how to get creative in the kitchen. If we have to cook with our stored food, creativity will spell the difference between good and, well, I guess we have have to eat something.

I put up the last of the asparagus today and 2 more meals of sugar snaps. It is hard to get enough to freeze as the kids love them and munch them like candy.

I am heading to the pool. Bruce was working with the bees and didn’t wear his whole bee suit. He is one hurting puppy with probably twenty stings. Cold water and some benedryl will help but he will have a rough night.

I am like a kid with a new toy. All of the attachments I ordered for my food saver came in and I have been sucking the air out of everything.

I started with my first big harvest of lemon balm. I dried it, then crumble it, put it in a mason jar and used the lid attachment to seal the top. It was so easy. I have an oxygen absorber order that I need to pick up next Thursday. When I get it ,I have a plan. I had stored some seed last year but the germination rate was only about 60% . I am going to purchase a year’s supply of seeds now. I can still get most of what I need . Then I am going to put the seed packets in mason jars with an oxygen absorber packets and seal them. If I store the jars in a dry, dark place that stays cool, the seed should last a long time.

If I could get myself organized, I could do a real experiment and track the germination rate next year and compare it with the rate of seeds that were just stored in a drawer with no special treatment. Truth is,  life is going to interfer and, in spite of my good intentions, that is never going to happen. I am going to store the seeds and if they don’t germinate well, I’ll replace them.

A whole lot of my life is like that. I could do a lot so much more efficiently if I just didn’t have to feed people, keep the house in reasonable order, earn a living, take a shower, answer the phone and sit on the porch swing with a cup of tea and a good book. Real life.

I am sitting here looking at my living room wall. My stupid cat pulled down the huge quilt that hangs behind the sofa again. Putting it back up is a monumental job. If I was a truly organized person I would realize that I am beat at this game ( the cat loves to swing on the quilt) and I would take it down and replace it with a nice print.  But it is real life. I love the quilt more than I love my wasted time and the quilt is going back.

It looks like we are done with the rain, at least for a day. I need to get out to the garden and see what needs weeding (everything) and what needs thinning (beets and turnips), what got eaten by cut worms(beans), what has insect damage (squash) and what needs to be harvested (lettuce, asparagus). Real life.

I am overwhelmed by the wonderful posts I have been getting. I have plans to make my year’s supply of catsup after reading the post over at  the riverrockcottage blog today. Herbalpagan has me thinking about other uses for dried tomatoes. I got such a wonderful post about making soap. I have a birthday coming up and soap making supplies sound like the order of the day. Sharon Astyk took us for a walk around her property and I am totally inspired to add a ton of plants to my garden. The list goes on. What a fabulous  bunch we are! Wouldn’t you just love to go to a pot luck dinner with the whole lot of us? The food would be amazing and the conversation inspiring. But all you do makes motivates me to do more and there are only so many hours in the day so I have to pick and chose. Today I am going to rack knotweed wine with a group of my favorite woman friends. I may have time to make at least one batch of catsup too. I want to play with recipe before I commit to a whole canner load.

It is raining again today and the weeds are just as happy about it as the vegetables so weeding is on the to-do list. We don’t have enough mulching material just yet. In another few weeks we can stop weeding as grass cuttings and newspaper will take care of that problem. The only weed that will still require hand pulling is the knotweed.

I am also on spare spot patrol. I still have a bunch of seed potatoes left and seeds as well. I have been tucking them in wherever I see a patch of unplanted land. Bruce had composted a huge pile of leaves last fall and I put about a dozen potatoes in there. I interplanted lettuce sets in the garlic and poked some cabbage in the asparagus bed. I have basil everywhere. I can never have too much pesto. I had some extra tomatoes too and they are doing great in the composting manure pile. My healthiest tomatoes are the ones I planted in a cloth grocery sack. It was suppose to be a hanging grower that would work like the $20.00 topsy turvy I had seen advertised. I found the full sack was way to heavy to hang so I have it sitting outside the greenhouse. I looks so cute, full of cherry tomatoes and basil. I put a second pot on the other side of the greenhouse and put a salad grouping in that one. Mini peppers, lettuce sets and cherry tomatoes work well together.

Again, thank you for the posts. They give me hope for a brighter, greener life.