Monday, May 20, 2013

Gleanings, Screenings and Cleanings

Do you live near any commercial agriculture -- not necessarily the huge agribusiness, but family farms that use machinery or seasonal work crews for their major harvest?  If so, there may be a low cost opportunity there for food items that might otherwise go to waste. It will take some work on your part, but if you have more spare time than money, it will be a bargain.

Easiest is fruit gleaning, and the time for apricots is fast approaching. If you have a neighbor or acquaintance with orchards, you may want to approach them with a deal.  You will provide back to them either dried fruit or preserves ( be specific based on what you already plan to do with the fruit) in exchange for the opportunity to glean. Consider also offering that if they show you the fruit they harvest, you will only pick that which is too ripe for their use, or any that you find on the ground. If you make this deal, you must be scrupulous not to violate or hedge on the deal. Under-ripe fruit, even from the ground, can be used in canning. Cut away bad spots, wash and treat with the remainder of the fruit.  It is usually under-ripe and will add tartness to your product. Do not pick under-ripe fruit from the trees without specific permission, as otherwise it will ripen in a few days and be crop for the owner.

Similar gleaning opportunities may be available for other crops, but you must be respectful and take only a small number of people, like four or fewer, onto the owner's property. Leave it better than you found it and give something back to the owner. They may need to charge you a small fee for insurance purposes. Do the math to decide if it works for your needs and budget.

Another potential source of free produce is from grain and seed operations. I have a friend who picks up the screenings from a pea and bean storage operation. When the product is sold as whole peas or beans, it gets screened to remove the broken produce, small rocks and weed seed. That's basically what is in the screenings, with most of it being the broken seeds and beans. My friend uses it as-is to supplement his cattle feed.  I took a look at the stuff and discovered that with a little work, it's a beautiful bean soup mix. It had broken or under-sized chick peas, yellow and green split peas, lentils and barley along with some pebbles, grass and mystery seeds.

Anything like this near you? Do your research but ask in person, if possible. There's a lot to be gained!

Update: Here's another type of gleaning, but a bit more specialized....

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Preparedness: Iterations and Interstices

Most of us are familiar with the concept of an iterative process for preparedness.  We set interim goals and upon reaching them, decide whether or when to start toward the next milestone and in which area of preparedness.  An example might be setting an intermediate goal of a 1 month food supply.  When that is achieved, the next item may be paying off a credit card.  After that, back to add another month of food storage or toward goals of more options for light or cooking capability.  By taking the iterative approach, we can have shallow coverage in many areas, then work to deepen coverage in specific or more important aspects that meet our unique requirements and resources.   In this example, each iteration of food storage was interspersed with a goal in another area of preparedness. By working in these iterations, we can focus our resources in a coherent way and not feel overwhelmed in the process.

So what do I mean by 'interstitial?'  As a physical scientist, 'interstices' are the small empty spaces in some larger structure. Like the black spot in the photo above, it becomes a prime area for some other mineral to grow. Another example (simplistically), if nature shoves some iron into the empty spaces in a quartz crystal, quartz becomes amethyst -- something different and better than plain quartz to some people.  "Interstitial' is just the adjective to describe the spaces -- and we can avoid using 'interstices,' which is a really goofy noun.  Seriously, say it three times really fast! It doesn't roll off your tongue easily, does it?

How does this concept apply to preparedness? What are the spaces? When and how do they get or need filling? For me, the interstices are the little things we do between iterations to improve what we achieved in past iterations.  Sounds daunting, but it's really simple. 

Here's a food example:  if my first interim goal was to have 1 month of food, and my budget was limited, I may have stuck with bare bones:  Rice, beans, pasta, tomato sauce, oatmeal, raisins and a few cans of fruit.  While I'm working on the next area of major emphasis, I may have a spare dollar or two on occasion.  Sure, the items on the plan for the past iterations (above) will sustain me and my family, but by day 15 or so, we'll have food fatigue. I can use that extra buck or two to fill the 'spaces' in my 1 month food supply. Focus for these 'interstitial' items is for flavor or nutrition and that are on sale or are especially low in price. Some green chili or sriracha sauce may give the beans and rice a lift. Today, green chili was 3 cans for $2, the chili sauce was $2.84.  Brown sugar on sale? A pound of that would brighten the oatmeal. Perhaps some Italian seasoning for the tomato sauce? In each case, I can add some life to that month of food for $3 or less.  Don't forget a few packets of Kool-aid, instant ice tea or tang if there's a good sale.

Big Lots is a great place to find these interstitial preparedness items, at least in the food area.  Gatorade powder, condiments and canned items are almost always in stock. They carry a lot of other national brands for much less than the average grocery store price. Many of these items are already packaged for easy storage.

Food storage is the most obvious area for interstitial prepping, but there are others, too.  How about medical supplies? I'm not sure we can ever have a full-service medical kit, for so many reasons.  I had most of the major bases covered, but when the opportunity for an epi-pen came along at a reasonable price, I was able to take action.  I knew it was a hole in my preparedness, but the need was low to moderate and the price was normally higher than I could afford. Now, that interstitial prep may save me or someone close to me.

The key to interstitial prepping is to identify those specific 'spaces' and be on the look out for an economical way to fill them. Because you have the basics covered, you can wait for a price that aligns with the risk (or pleasure) level of not having the item. Your preparedness dollars will go farther and your comfort level with your preparedness supplies will increase.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

High Potential for X-class Solar Flares in next 48 hours

This is a great website ( that collects a lot of info from numerous sites and distills it for easy reading. Also includes some great video and animations.  Bottom line is that there is a very energetic sunspot turning toward earth over the next few days. Sun Spot number 1748 has a proven record of multiple X-class flares. An earth-directed X-class flare could briefly interrupt electronic signals or electrical service in some areas. includes a 'map' of the side
of the sun facing earth and any sunspots present

A solar flare has two potential impacts elements that can affect our planet.  The first is from the 'ray' type emissions that are emitted during the flare.  These travel toward us near the speed of light and usually hit and are gone within a few hours.  The next impact is from the actual charged particles that are emitted.  This is usually called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME. The name is just what it says: mass from the Sun's corona is ejected. It gets shot out faster than a speeding bullet. These 'clouds' of protons and or electrons (possibly other particles) can take a couple of days to arrive and monkey with the earth and the atmosphere.  I don't pretend to understand the physics of it all, but know it can cause problems. Usually just static on your sell or radio. A large X-class is hypothesized to do more, from messing with your vehicle's electronics to shorting out the national power grid. 

The 'magnitude' of solar flares that have meaningful potential to goof with our electronics are normally the M and X classes. These usually are only a problem if the sunspot with the emission is positioned facing toward the earth.  Right now the smart guys are predicting a 60% chance of another X class flare within both the next 24 and 48 hours, with an 80% chance for M class flares in the same period. It may be as much as 48 hours before 1748 is in prime position to 'aim' directly toward earth (more like #1744 is on the above map).

Not trying to frighten, just to educate.  This site, especially if you explore some of the links and visit several times a week, is very educational.  When you read of Electromagnetic Pulses (EMP), the 'natural' kind is normally considered a possibility as associated with a large solar flare, such as an X5 or greater that is also earth-directed. 
Aurora oval map from Spaceweather and NOAA

For those of you living in the northern US border states, this is a great site to help predict when you might see the aurora borealis! The have a map for that!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cheat Sheets

When we were in high school, cheat sheets were naughty, dishonest and downright bad. Later, I had a teacher who encouraged cheat sheets. His exams were challenging and required a thought process to apply what was in the books to real world situations.  His philosophy was that "life is an open book test," so his exams should be the same. I loved this guy, but his exams were always a bear.  Most of us gave up on bringing books, just a few index cards of equations.

Unless an emergency is particularly fast-moving, emergencies and the post-crisis recovery will be open book. We may not have access to the Internet, so a "cheat sheet" or two in your preparedness supplies is a good idea. These may vary from a laminated index card to an entire book. Your response situation, i.e. whether you need to leave home and if so whether on foot or in a vehicle, may dictate your choice of formats.

I use several different formats. In my mobile supplies I keep a few small handbooks, like the SAS survival guide and a Special Forces medical manual. At home I keep a few more, including the Carla Emery Country Living book. In some specific containers of supplies, I keep a laminated cheat sheet with excerpts from websites. My most recent is with some water purification supplies and is edited from these posts:

The first one is how to make the equivalent of Clorox bleach from consumer packaged "pool shock" (calcium hypochlorite only, this table is geared to 68% strength).  I found this product most recently at Walmart.

Next is how to use your new bleach to disinfect water of differing qualities.

The next handy cheat sheet is useful for those who keep a few silver coins in preparedness supplies. It is part way down on this site.  It's handy because the far right column gives a value for the silver in each type of applicable US coin based on the price of silver at $10 per ounce.  If silver is $25 an ounce, then you can do the math and multiply the value in that column by 2.5 and have your starting point to negotiate use of the coins.

How do I make my cheat sheets? Two ways:
Method 1: I use this when a lot of editing is needed. Cut and paste the parts of the site that you need onto a word processing document. Then edit and print.

Method 2:  Center the info you want on your screen. Hit the FUNCTION and PRINT SCREEN keys. Go to a PAINT or other graphics program.  Hit CONTROL V and paste the graphic into the work space. Crop what you want and save the file as a .jpg or other graphic file.  Here's that example from the silver site, 2-clicks coins.

When I have a few, I head to the UPS Store or Kinko's and laminate them. Most will be 4 x 6 inch cards in multiple copies so I can have the info in several places.  (You may have other ways to laminate, including a small home lamination machine) Why not just have them on your phone, laptop, tablet, thumb drive or other electronic media? Well, that's a good place for a lot of info, but there will be times when it just won't work, so a few hard copies are wise. Not of everything you're keeping in your electronic files, but of some critical info for managing through until electronic media is again practical-- like how to purify your water without dragging too much stuff with you or how to use silver coins when plastic isn't being accepted.

Also, remember that old guideline about being prepared: three is two, two is one, one is none. If you really think your cheat sheet is important enough to have a copy in an emergency, make 2.  If not having the info will reduce your and your family's chance of survival, a minimum of 3 copies, stored in different places, makes sense.

What's your favorite cheat sheet?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Feed Store Score

If you live in rural America you have a treasure trove of preparedness supplies within arm's reach at your local feed store or farm and ranch supply stores.  Some of these goodies are outdoor supplies like fencing and water tanks. Many of these stores are also a significant source of medical supplies at a reasonable cost. A sterile syringe doesn't care whether a horse or a human uses it. Neither does betadine solution or an ace wrap.  Our local Feed Store has 2 kinds of betadine solution -- one that foams and one that doesn't. They also carry about 8 sizes of syringes -- I use these a lot for giving the dogs liquid medicines.

At my local feedstore I found a bottle of 100 amoxicillian capsules at the 250 mg strength. Those could come in handy in an emergency.

Here's an interesting product that is little used these days: Ichthammol. After reading about it, I went looking for some. Some drugstores have it behind the counter, but at a low percentage strength.  Feedstore has it at 20%. I use it for tough-to-get splinters. Slap some on under a bandaid before bed, they are easier to get the next morning.  There are other human and veterinary topical uses for it.

In the horse area, I also found lots of great colors and widths of the 3M sticky wrap.  I guess it's great for taming the wild horse tails during parades and other events. Could be helpful in an emergency, too.

The items pictured above cost about $35.  Add a pint of betadine and you could still get change from a $50 bill.  I think I'll poke around at the new national chain pet store soon to see if they have any offerings for the first aid kit!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bowl of Brownie

Someone wants desserts or an after-school snack, and you have nothing.  Here's a fast little snack that you can tailor to their wishes and serve in about 5 minutes. 

Use a small-ish bowl, about 6 ounces.  If you have custard ramekins (didn't everyone get a set of these as a wedding present??), one of those would be prefect.

Right in the bowl, add:
2T flour
2T sugar (I mix white and brown)
2T cocoa powder (unsweetened baking cocoa)
pinch salt
pinch baking powder (optional, but improves texture)
2T water
2t (teaspoons) olive oil

Mix it right in the bowl.
Add liquid last after the dry ingredients are mixed.
It will make a thick batter. Don't worry if it's a smidge lumpy.

Sprinkle with chopped nuts, chocolate chips or other favorite goodies (also optional)
Microwave for a minute.

Serve immediately with a spoon. 
Whipped cream or ice cream are optional.

Lots to like about this process.  You probably have all the ingredients on hand right now.  There is no waste, unless someone doesn't finish theirs. You can customize with the sprinkles.  It's dairy-free for those who can't have dairy. It is pretty inexpensive.  It's really fast.

A few notes to the baker:

I wipe the bowl rim with a clean damp cloth after mixing and before microwaving.  Looks better when you serve it...

Microwaving will cause the ingredients to approximately double in volume.

If you are making multiples for a larger crowd, mix the dry, line up the bowls and have 2 fully mixed,  then add liquid about a minute in advance of putting each additional one in the microwave.  Probably best not to have them sitting around wet. I don't recommend more than 1 in the micro at a time, but if you experiment let us know the results!

I'm at 5,000 feet altitude and 30% humidity.  If yours is too gooey it could be that you have more humidity which increases the moisture of the dry ingredients.  In that case, back off on the water a bit.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dual Use for Rain Barrels

I have a rain barrel or two. One is small and just for a few plants. The other is larger.  It's empty, or at least it was yesterday. We've had no rain in a couple of months.  I used the rainwater to irrigate new fruit trees, but there was no more.

My rainwater is also backup storage for emergency water. It's not potable as is.  With only a little treatment, like a T-shirt filter and a splash of Clorox or running some through the travel Berkey, it would be potable.  With my main barrel empty, I felt unprepared.  So unprepared that I took action this morning.

It was a good time for some periodic maintenance on the barrel, so I gave it a gardenhose-strength pressure wash inside to loosen some algae. I also blasted the coarse filter basket at the inlet to remove debris. The grand finale was to open the main valve and clean it out, along with the hose.

At first the water was murky, but after a few minutes, it ran clean.

Then I filled it halfway up, about 100 gallons.  It would be enough to get us through a short interruption, so I should be able to sleep tonight.

Do you have a rain barrel? How does it fit into your preparedness planning?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

To Do List for May

Here are a few things that are good to do any month. These contribute to being frugal and content.  If you haven't done any of them lately, May's a good time to start.

- Decide if there is a credit card you can pay off and stop using without going into debt on other cards.  Gist of this one is reduce your debt load.

- Clean out a closet and get rid of stuff you don't have a good use for, like clothes that you've outgrown. Take them to a consignment shop, give them to a neighbor or donate them to a good cause.

- Plant something.  If you only have one pot that you can put on your apartment balcony, plant a tomato or a couple of okra seeds. Eat what you grow.

- Reflect on how you spend your money. If it seems vague to you, get a small notebook and record everything you spend for a month. Analyze what you've spent and decide whether you want to spend differently. Do you really need 2 pedicures a month?  How often do you buy lunch at work, rather than pack a lunch?  You may see some ways to finance paying off that credit card or adding to your preparedness posture by changing your spending patterns.

- Get out and enjoy the weather.  Take walks regularly, garden if you have a yard (rather than pay someone to do it for you!), clean out the garage before the summer heat comes on.