I got a post from Andrea at chick-bit-run this morning that, along with a few others, made my day for a couple of reasons. First, it is nice to know that the good feelings I have about my blog readers are reciprocated and next, because it gave me a blog topic. It’s hard to come up with a new topic every day and now I have one. Finding friends.

There are many scenarios for ways in which the world as we know it may change. H1N1 flu, peak oil, economic collapse, terrorist attack, trucker’s strike, oil embargo, food crisis, climatic disaster, these are things with global ramifications. Then there are local disasters like floods and hurricanes. None of these are things people want to talk about much. Such catastrophes change comfortable paradigms in uncomfortable ways. Now wonder folks would rather watch Michael Jackson’s funeral or worry about Jon and Kate’s kids. It is a lot easier than anticipating the funerals of people you care about and worrying about your own kids. If you bring up the subject of preparedness, you will likely be met with rolled eyes and some gentle derision. Talk too much and the derision will not be gentle. This is too bad because a lot of the things we all do to prep are easier to do with a friend. I love making wine with friends, canning with a group and talking sustainable gardening over the backyard fence. I also love discussing preparedness but it’s a lot harder.

So how do you find a prepping companion? It’s not like you can place an add in the personals. “Looking for friends with benefits like a pressure canner you don’t mind sharing”. You have to make the face to face contact. Full frontal assualt may be met with a pat on the head or an icy stare but a more circumspect tact may get you somewhere.

“Boy, the news about the flu is pretty scary. Have you thought about what your plans are if it gets bad this fall or winter?” “Did you see the buy one get two free sale on canned food? It’s such a good deal. I’m going to get a few things to stick in my preparedness pantry. Is there anything I can get for you?”  “It was such a challenge when the power was out for so long last winter. I am picking up extra lanterns and some bottles of fuel while there are still a lot on the shelf. “I just read the neatest book. It has a lot of tips on preparing for a crisis. With all the worry over Israel and Iran, I think it’s a good idea to be ready for really high oil and food prices. This book could help.”

My brother and sister and I get together with our spouses several times a year. Current events are always a topic of conversation and I use those times to bring up preparedness. It has taken a few years but I am no longer teased for my preps. I am actually getting some good questions and at least I got them thinking. When I have to give a gift I nearly always make it something for preparedness like hand crank flashlights, car safety kits or books like Depletion and Abundance or Peak Everything.

Outside of your family, you will need different strategies. You can make a blanket statement at a church or parent’s group. “There will be a movie showing and group discussion about peak oil on Friday at 7:00pm.” A similar announcement in a small, local paper will often be  successful.  A showing of a mainstream post apocalyptic movie is less effective as the emphasis is on everything but preparedness and most are so corny they make you laugh rather than think.

It’s important not to pull out the big guns (literally in some cases) until a friend or group of friends has become established. If you start talking about the end of the world you will come off sounding like a nut job. What you want is to hook up with other like-minded folks who can be a support during your preparing time and form the basis of a community support group in a crisis.

On another topic (my ADD at work), I picked a pile of raspberries and got them in the freezer yestery morning, then flopped into bed with a high fever. It hurt to comb my hair. I felt wretched until about 3:00AM when the fever broke. I am not 100% but I am a lot better today. Good thing as the peas need picking and I have a ton of greens to pick and use. I am out of  homemade bread and cookies. I have no time to be sick but being down and out makes me appreciate my general good health.

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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 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.

First, I have to admit I am not an expert at dehydrating. Until last year, I had an old tag sale garnered dehydrater that was not very efficient. It was one of the tall round models without a fan or temperature control. Still, I managed to dry the easier things like herbs, onions and peppers without a problem although I spent a lot of time moving shelves around and picking out food from the base as the mesh  was too large and and the food kept falling through. Then I tried a friend’s Excalibur last year. (thanks Dan and Kathy)I was an instant convert. In no time I had a gallon jar full of dried tomatoes (we just ate the last of them), a years worth of dried peppers (great rehydrated and put on pizza), quarts of herbs for tea and seasoning as well as garlic, onions and apples. I even took all of the vegetables that got too big to eat, dried them, ran them through a grinder and made a kind of stock base that flavored soups, stews and rice all winter. As I recall, I put in string beans, onions, carrots, leeks, celery, summer squash, zucchini, red peppers, green peppers and a bit of cabbage. I went very easy on the strong tasting stuff and loaded up on the carrots and squash. I stored the stock in brown bottles. I kept one bottle out and one in the freezer. They held up equally well and took up almost no space. I plan to make a lot more this year. I also dried some granola and made a batch of yogurt. I did not raise bread in it but if the day was cold and damp, it would be the prefect place. I don’t have to add that I bought an Excalibur.

Dehydrating is my favorite method of preservation. It is easy, cheap and reliable. The food stores with no refrigeration. It weighs practically nothing and takes up very little space. It does take a while to get uses to how funny looking the produce is-all shriveled and ugly-but it plumps up to look close to fresh in some simmering water.

But, like everything, there is a learning curve and it pays to get a good book on the subject. I have several food preservation books that cover drying but now that I have my own Excalibur, I am going to buy a stand alone book on the subject.

Some produce like herbs and some fruits can be dried as is-just a quick rinse and pat dry and into the machine. Other things need pretreating, much as you would for freezing to halt the enzyme action that causes spoilage. A food like blueberries needs to have the skin broken to facilitate drying. Pricking the skin would be a laborious task so the berries are usually immersed in boiling water to split the skin. A lot of food that is prone to discoloring should be pretreated. Some foods should be peeled, some not. Here is the reason for a book. There are far too many variables to cover in a post.  Different foods should be dried to different stages. Some things will be dry but pliable; other dry and brittle. It is even possible to dry meat if it is jerked first. I have never done this but I would like to try. The re-hydration methods are also different. There are a lot of things you can eat at the dry stage. We love dried apples as is. Others must be soaked before cooking. Still others can go straight into a stew or soup. As I said. There is a lot to learn.

Storage of dried food is vital. Done wrong and the food picks up moisture from the atmosphere and will spoil. I store my dry food in food saver bags with the air removed or in dark jars. I sometimes use mason jars and keep those in a dark cabinet. I will sometimes put an oxygen absorber packet in the jar. I stored some of my tomatoes in olive oil. Those I refrigerated but I don’t know if I had to. I think dried food is perfect for preparedness. All you need is water and heat and you have a meal.

I just ordered some attachments for my food saver that will allow me to suck the air out of mason jars and wine and soda bottles. I am hoping to make fruit and vegetable leathers and store them in air free mason jars.

I know a lot of people use solar dehydrators. I am a big solar fan but I live in Western Massachusetts and our climate is just to unpredictable to count on for food preservation. If I lived in a hot dry climate, I would have one of those.

*If you are really interested in drying food, go the web site, dehydrating2store. It is run by a Mormon lady who knows her stuff. It is series of videos (I think 11 of them) that take you through the process. A word of warning. You will want an Excalibur and a Food Saver when you are done.

I expect a lot of my readers know a lot more about this subject than I do. I hope you will not be shy about chiming in. I consider this site a kind of friend’s chain letter. I add something, you add something. I go to your sites and you send friends to mine. It takes the place of letter writing in a way. It is also the only way for me to keep up a homesteading journal. I appreciate all of you who keep coming back and adding on.

By the way. This leads to something I have wanted to do for some time. I know I have visited some terrific sites that I have misplaced URL’s to. Could we do a check in with first names and URL’s?I will try to get them all together in a post. I want to update my blogroll and I know I am missing a few favorites.

Last night, after a fabulous dinner of local chicken breast stuffed with fiddle-heads, the first asparagus, the last of the mushrooms and cheese, a salad from the garden, a loaf of fresh bread, our canned peaches and, to drink, one of the last jars of home canned grape juice, I was speaking to my friend, Helene, on the phone. She gave me what I think is a terrific idea, one I am going to steal and expand upon. She pulled out an old day planner. Each day she keeps track of what was planted, foraged, and preserved, along with the location and other garden and food details. I plan to take this one step further. I am thinking of turning this into a kind of journal. I have a full size day planner that I never used because it was too big for me. It has room to record all of the above information alongwith some other things like weather, yields, animal and pest sightings. If I treat it as I do this blog, with a dedicated time for posting each day, I can put in preparedness information such as weather and flu alerts and odd supplies used. If I start today, on May first of next year, I will have a book that details life on the farmstead. It will provide an inventory of what food I have put up and what I have used. It will keep track of what we build and what we still need.

This won’t work for a lot of people but for folks like me who like to write and like to be organized, it will be fun and informative. What I will record today is that it is raining (finally!!!). The mushroom logs were soaked yesterday and have begun fruiting, the rest of the turnips will get planted between raindrops, I purchased quinoa seed for storage, we will eat another garden salad, the fiddleheads are poking up everywhere, the trillium is out and gorgeous and a lot of my herbs are out and looking very healthy.

My other project has been to design permanent row and plant markers.  I printed out the names in a lovely font on heavy photo paper and had the sheets laminated. Then I cut out the labels and stuck them in the tines of some old stainless flat-wear. You have to cut the labels into individual pieces before laminating so each is sealed on all four sides. These made really cute markers for my herbs especially. I am so motivated to get out there and start planting and weeding but I can not begrudge the rain. It has been dry and the hand watering is awfully time consuming. I am just thinking that markers like these would make terrific, low cost gifts.

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.

I spent the last couple of days in South Texas, delivering a key note address. It was an eye opening trip. I will say this only before I move on to talk of gardens and preparations-if you live in a place with good water be grateful every day. Conserve, even if you don’t have to. If you live in a place without water, security around this is vital as in make it your first priority.

I returned home feeling a renewed commitment to preparation for emergencies. I flew over the east coast at night. The lights spread out from the center of cities, small and large, The traffic never ceased. I have never seen NYC from the air at night. Our complete and utter dependence on the grid was astoundingly clear. So I was delighter to return home to a delivery of another dozen raspberries, several more fruit trees, 4 more nut trees, new blackberries and more grapes. In a few years, we will be will situated for producing all of our own fruit and most of our nuts. I should be able to forage for beechnuts and trade for walnuts. I do want to explore the world of acorns. We have the oak trees but I have never used acorns.

Our new bees arrive tomorrow. Bruce is like an expectant mommy. He put the new hives together and got them painted. Like any expectant parent, he has been taking classes and going to monthly meetings. I feel like I should throw him a beeby shower (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

I have let my preps slip a bit. We do a good job rotating and using our food and the shelves in the basement are looking a little bare. I am afraid I may need to go to town today. If I do, I will make a stop at the big box store to restock the bathroom essentials again. Two teenage girls go through way more shampoo than is probably necessary.  I have been looking for an on-line source of bulk castile soap so I can begin to make my own. I do store a lot of toothpaste and mouthwash as well as dental but all need to be replenished. I can’t forget how many people I will shelter in a long term emergency.

That might be a good idea for this week. Make a list of all of the people who might land on your doorstep if a pandemic hit. Now look at your preps and calculate how long they will last with all the extra bodies. I did this realized how much more I need to keep on hand if a pile of kids and grand kids descend. I am also taking a page from Sharon Astyk’s blog and concentration on filling in one category of food each week. My peanut butter supply has diminished and I will restock that with my next trip to the market.

My postings may not be daily for the next few months. I usually write first thing in the morning but with the garden calling, that will not always be possible. I suspect that many of you will not have as much time to read either. Please keep in touch. I love to hear about what’s growing and what  you are all eating.