Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Surviving Survival Seed Packages

Yes, I have some boxes and cans of 'survival seeds.' (I use the term generically, not referring to any brand) I sure hope I never need to use them. If you have some, look at the packages. What do you see? A small number of warm season vegies with a small number of seeds in each.  IF you are successful with those crops, you have some food that can be canned or dried to help in the coming winter.  Is your assortment enough to sustain life? Probably not.

My seeds ignore other growing seasons and conditions, which could be critical in a long duration emergency. For those who don't live in the northernmost states, your other growing seasons can be productive if you have the right seeds stored.

For us in the high desert, we can plant cool season crops outdoors in March. These crops bring fresh greens and the accompanying vitamins and minerals to the table. Another planting season starts after the monsoon and as late as the first of October.  Root crops are a bonus item during this time. Rutabaga , turnip and beet greens are also a great addition to salads and soups.  Leaves can be harvested sparingly without hurting the tubers forming below. The tubers can be harvested in late spring, adding carbohydrates to your diet. We also plant parsnips at this time, but don't see the final product for almost a year.

Winter is a growing season for most. All you need are some trays, a glass bottle with some door screen and a window or grow light. Sprouts can be grown with minimal light and water. Add a tray of soil to the same seeds and let them grow a few days longer with light and you have Microgreens. Both will add needed nutrients to a winter diet of canned and dried food.

I set aside mixed seeds for both sprouting and microgreens, along with more root vegie seeds for my emergency garden. Otherwise, if your long-term emergency doesn't conveniently start at the beginning of your warm growing season, you could be out of luck for months.

My favorite source of both root vegies and mixes for microgreens and sprouting is Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Something you'd rather not know

For several years I enforced hazardous waste regulations on a federal property. I learned a lot about the primary law regulating these substances, or not. We found some very hazardous wastes fall through the cracks of the law. Others are specifically excluded for logical reasons.

An example of logical exclusion comes from copper mining and metal refining in the western US. A large fraction of copper comes from copper bound with sulfer, or copper sulfides. To refine to a relatively pure form of copper, sulfuric acid is a waste product that would be considered a hazardous waste. The law (RCRA) allows that if a waste product is a feedstock for another product, it is exempt from the hazardous waste laws and is managed under the hazardous materials laws. So, refiners sell the sulfuric acid to companies that make automotive batteries or otherwise need the acid for their products. This makes sense to me, and reduces the overhead of disposing of an otherwise useful waste product.

So why do I mention this? In trade with foreign nations, their products are usually required to comply with many US laws, including RCRA. However, the law does not define which hazardous wastes can or can't be used as a feedstock for another product.  Rubber and plastic items, already a chemical brew, can accommodate a lot of 'stuff' and retain their basic ability to take a utilitarian form.

Can I prove that this is happening? Not directly as I have no lab to prove it nor the cash to pay for lots of testing. Why do I suspect that this is happening?  Have you ever held a dog toy (made in a specific country that I won't name) to you nose and smelled it? Now do the same if you can find one made in the US. (I did this with Kong dog toys when you could still find them made in the US) Which do you want in your dog's mouth? Other items, like rubber door mats and some automotive enhancement products, like rubber-backed steering wheel covers, exhibit a similar sniff-test result.

Although US companies manufacturing in the US could do this, most don't because it is just not right.  They also know that their employees would eventually become whistle-blowers, and rightly so.

As you go about your daily commerce, and especially your preparedness activities, please pay attention to the country of origin and other aspects of items you purchase. Buy American when you can. Yes, it maybe a bit more expensive, but you have the benefits of our social values to better protect you from the possibility of legal poison for you, your family members and your pets.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Learning from my garden

Our garden supplements our food supply with fresh fruits and vegetables. We still trek the 90 miles round trip to the store for most of our normal fare. Perennial fruits and vegetables are my focus, rather than annuals. Most years we get heavy crops of currants and apples, and moderate crops of raspberries, service berries, plums, rhubarb, prickly pears, Italian parsley, sunchokes, pomegranates, and blueberries. Some years we get other things, but it is very weather dependent.  From these crops, I trade jams, fresh apples and dehydrated apples for other fresh vegetables with neighbors.

This year has been different, primarily because the normal weather pattern was odd. Spring was warm with the obligatory mid-April deep freeze. The heat of June extended well into July. The monsoon was late and very sparse initially. Late July and early August, the rains were strong and frequent, then dried up for a couple of weeks. This has brought out very different responses from our producers.

Currants were a little below normal, but they are generally bullet-proof. We can count our apples on one hand. That's quite a blow. The plums were prolific. Strangely, the strawberries are producing like crazy. I'd gotten to the point I thought of them more as ornamentals because of their minimal output, so it's a nice change. We've actually had some almonds, which is rare. The blueberries were all nipped. We have our first nectarine, but just the one. The prickly pears are a month behind in their ripening.

What this is teaching me is that we need to keep some perennials that don't produce in 'normal' years. We need a few of those odd plants that may only produce well in an odd weather year.

Even more odd to me is the state of my little experimental winter garden. It is essentially self-managing right now an dI check it weekly. The parsnips I planted last September did nothing. I thought the seeds were too old. In May, they came to life and I have a lush parsnip garden. They won't be ready until fall, but it was a lovely surprise to see them thriving. I had sewn some purslane, which is a nutritious salad green. It is also a welcomed self-managing ground cover, which unfortunately many people see as just a weed. It has started to show up in a few places.

Soooo, my lesson from the garden this week is not to give up on the low-producers. Keep the variety. They may bail you out in years when the weather shifts.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Down in the Back Gardening

That's how I've been for a month. Got a spasm that won't let go despite massages, medicine and hot pad. As a result, my gardening has been minimal at a critical time in the growth cycle for many of my most productive plants. Today, I spent about 40 minutes weeding and trimming part of my garden before the pain was just more than I could take.

So what if I depended more heavily on my little garden as a source for food and income? Is there a garden plan that can take such potential catastrophes into account? As part of our longer-term preparedness planning, can we design a garden that requires little maintenance to produce edibles?

I'll start with a few of the methods I use in my garden that are working hard for me, despite my current neglect. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Native flowering plants: here we use drought-tolerant US natives and natives from similar climate and soil types. We are hot and dry until the summer monsoon, with poor volcanic-derived soils. In addition to southwest natives like evergreen salvias (autocorrect is bad for plant species names) and Mexican evening primrose, we can take advantage of Mediterranean plants like lavender).  These plants, which must be attractive to your local beneficial insects, will reduce your harmful insect pests.   They reduce or replace pesticides.

The next labor-reducing practice is use of MULCH. We are thrifty around here, but not crazy. We have tall trees that are professionally trimmed every three or 4 years. We only hire companies that chip the cuttings on site and leave them for us. This gets spread around on paths and between plants and fruit trees to reduce weeding and hold moisture.

Irrigation system: We put this in ourselves years ago. It is the black plastic flexibile tubing with an automatic timer. We choose emitters to match the plants and vary the frequency (how many times per week) and duration (60 to 90 minutes) based on season and precipitation.

The last 'trick' is to choose plants that can take care of themselves with minimal tending.  Here are some of my favorites:

Rhubarb: It's doing well despite my neglect. It's on the drip so I can cut the flower stalk and pull mature stalks as they get big enough

Currents: My black current patch is also on the drip irrigation. Much of the maintenance is in the late summer and consists of pruning. We fertilize in early spring, as the plant flowers in December through February. Some of the berries are already turning, so it's time to put up the net so the rids don't get more than the tithe!

Almonds: About one year in six, I get almonds from our tree. The tree is a mis-match for our climate, with hard freezes often killing the baby almonds. This year, the tree is loaded with maturing nuts. As a bonus, these can be harvested standing up, a real bonus when your back is being tender.

Blue and raspberries: again, most of the maintenance is in winter or spring. We pruned the canes and adjusted the irrigation, so now we just wait for fruit!

Apples: same as above. We'll be putting bags over the fruit this week. Most years we net the tree, but last year we pruned heavily, so the crop will be small this year.

You may not have back issues, but many other temporary or permanent illnesses and injuries can reduce your gardening abilities. I recommend taking the time and a few hard-earned dollars to reduce your food production overhead in case you, too, are down in the back some day!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another reason for keeping food storage

Just in case this ever becomes a trend among terrorists, having a few weeks of food on hand is a good idea. Purchase or put up beforehand.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bargain Alert

Sierra Trading Post currently has the Italian glass storage jars for really great prices. They are available in sizes from less than a liter to a gallon. These come with the rubber ring and seal hermetically.  They are especially good for storing the contents of #10 cans if you don't use it all for your first meal. Because they have a glass body and top, and seal tightly with a rubber gasket, they do not allow oxygen exchange like plastic does.

To find them fast, use the search feature for Bormioli

If you haven't already, sign up for the deal fliers. The most recent deal flyer I received is for 25% off most stuff and free postage.

Friday, May 5, 2017

An odd frugal tip for some folks

We live in a rural village far from the big city. There's a WalMart about half that distance in the opposite direction. When we need something, if we don't have it, it's a long way to start the hunt for whatever 'it' is.  The closer shopping venue is 4 gallons of gasoline away, round trip. The 'big city's around gallons round trip. That means one extra trip a month costs between $10 and $17. Amazon prime is $9.99 a month, shipping is free on most items and 'it' usually arrives on our doorstep within 48 hours.  We also use a Roku to take advantage of the Amazon Prime video offerings.  Both Dear Husband and I have Kindle readers installed on our tablets, so take advantage of the free books on Prime, all for the cost of one unplanned trip to town.

I've spoken with people here in town who think Prime is too expensive. Maybe they have a better crystal ball than we do. Until we better calibrate ours, I'll keep on with Prime.


A Case for Cats

DISCLAIMER: We don't own cats as we are both allergic. I'm so allergic that I take an antihistamine before I go to parties in case someone at the party owns cats. No crazy cat lady bias here.

If you live or aspire to live in a rural area in any US state except Alaska, this post applies to you. If you are or want to be in rural AZ or TX, this post could save your life. Why? Venomous snakes.  Yup,  there seems to be a relationship around here between the density of cats and incidence of rattlesnake bites, mostly bites of pets.  My evidence is primarily anecdotal, but derived from the basics of our friend, the food chain, and the recent rattlesnake bites in our little community.  We live in one of the states with a long list of poisonous snakes, so a concern for us 9 months out of the year.

First, there are people. The people have food for themselves and their animals. Some of that food, especially for horses, is attractive to mice and rats. These cute, furry purveyors of Hanna virus are also a favorite food of snakes. The more successful snakes, especially in the southern part of the US, are poisonous. If your pet comes near and threatens the food chain, pet gets bitten.

So enter the cats, especially barn cats. They do two positive things. First, they reduce the rodent population thus disrupting the food chain. Second, they will kill smaller snakes, thus interrupting the growth and reproduction dynamics of the snakes.

There is a caveat. The cats will also kill your beautiful song birds. For some reason, they prefer the beautiful birds to the exotic doves, house finches and sparrows. There is a bit of a solution for this. My wonderful neighbor does the opposite of most cat owners because she understands the food chain. Most rodents are nocturnal, so she keeps her cats inside the barn during the day and allows them out at night. Yup, only the smartest cats survive the owls and mountain lions, but the number of snake sightings in our area seems to be trending down.

In 20 years we have seen one snake on our property (knock on wood) and it was a garter snake. We are surrounded by cat owners. Coincidence? I think not!

Thursday, May 4, 2017


That's VERY IMPORTANT POST from K over at Planning and Foresight. If you are not a coffee-holic, it's not that important...


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Managing Uncertainty (part 2)

As promised yesterday, this post will discuss what I'm doing to manage my uncertainty level during these transitional times.

To start, I'm keeping up with the daily tasks around the house. It's easy to put off laundry, dishes, routine cleaning, etc. with the excuse of 'plenty of time to do that tomorrow, next week, or whenever. If change is sudden and unexpected, I don't want to start it with the liability of being behind in managing my household.

I ensure that fuels are topped off, including a car, propane tanks and extra fuel for tools.

Running errands more frequently may sound counterintuitive, but consider it. The very last thing I want to do if things are unraveling is drive 50 miles to town to grab XY or Z. By shopping more often, I will be short on fewer things than if I shop less often. This keeps me from stocking up on too many perishables yet keeps fresh foods on my shelves. For me, this translates from going to town twice a month to going three times, or even weekly. For some people that may seem like going less often, but weekly should be enough if you are otherwise prepared.

Picking up good deals. My weakness is sale items at I'm in pretty good shape on my long-term storage, but some deals are not to be ignored. When high protein items like freeze-dried cheese or meat are on sale in the price range around $25 per #10 can, I'll buy. I don't 'stock up' heavily, but I may buy up to 4 cans to supplement my stores or practice food preparation from storage.

Tend my garden. I usually am on this anyway, but this winter I practiced a winter garden. It was a good experiment, gave us some nutritious salad materials and could be scaled up for a food shortage. Some of the plants are now growing roots to bring me early beets and rutabagas. We've also gotten the berry beds cleaned up and are tending fruit trees for the summer crops.

Vacation at the BOL. We're retired and the BOL isn't far away, so I spend more time here. I realize this is a luxury, but if you or your spouse and kids can do this, you could consider it. If you are working and you have a stay at home spouse, this could be a great compromise so you don't find yourself worrying about your family.

There are other thing you can do, to include target practice, to help manage the anxiety that certain times may bring. You don't need to buy the latest expensive gadget or barricade yourselves into a mountain cave. Knowing that you are ready for and have the flexibility to manage through uncertain times will allow you some extra peace of mind and better sleep!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Managing Uncertainty (part 1)

The world is realigning after almost a decade of 'new normal.'  It feels very tumultuous to me, but it probably is neither as chaotic nor as business-as-usual as our variety of news media portrays. So I thought I'd share some of my methods to gain perspective and manage my level of uncertainty.  I've used many of the same methods for years so that I can remain functional yet feeling peacefully prepared while trying to live a normal life' -- whatever that is.

The first part of all of this is to check my own thinking to manage both the normalcy bias and the worst-case thinking that I'm capable of letting rule my mind.  Most people are US-centric in their thinking, so don't believe any one or group could actually want to create a world of chaos. That leads to groups of people supporting stupid ideas, like supporting causes that are bent on the destruction of our society. Believing that there are magic words that will cause the bad guys to stop their long-game process is denial of the highest order. On the flip side, believing that a young man who was raised on bravado and testosterone won't use a nuclear weapon in the short-game is also folly. So how do live a normal life without being paralyzed between these two possibilities during a time of extended economic and social uncertainty?

I do this on four levels. The first is physical. I am slowly collecting the stuff needed to maintain a somewhat productive life if a worst-case scenario unfolds. For this I do what I can afford and store, so primarily some long-term food storage, alternative but minimal solar power and small appliances and forms of home security and defense. Lots of websites cover these things ad nauseum, so I won't belabor this level of preparedness.

The next is social. I'm fortunate to live in a small community. We are not like-minded, with community members covering the spectrum from ultra-conservative survivalists to ultra-liberal.  Oddly, across this political and philosophical spectrum many of the people, not just conservatives, are long-term preppers. Taking the local temperature and sharing sources and methods with carefully vetted others is helpful. Regardless the politics, many of us have reached the same conclusion -- that the political system and our government don't care about anything beyond the eastern seaboard, so we're on our own.

Third is informational. Cultivating sources of local, national and international information, and knowing what the biases of each are is important. This process helps avoid over-reacting to hype and under-reacting to real threats. One will cost you money -- possibly selling you stuff is the point of the hype OR getting you injured or killed while trying to minimize chaos for the masses. I watch several indicators that to me often reflect psychological respopnse to what's happening. These include:

- the VIX volatility index, which gets my attention when it increases quickly or goes above 15
- the price of gold. When it goes up it is a signal of international uncertainty
- a variety of websites of reputable news organizations and individuals
- local networks

The fourth is spiritual. I network with those of my own denomination for prayer and support. I spend time in prayer and solitude for guidance, perspective and peace of mind.

So how does this translate into now?  What am I doing differently? The little things, mostly. Many of these are habits, but I am reviewing and renewing these. Most of these cost little or nothing above normal expenses. Here are some of the examples:  Going for fresh groceries weekly rather than every couple of weeks.  Keeping the gas tank in my car topped-off. Keeping up with the laundry. Keeping up with home repairs. Paying more attention to my garden and doing little things (like weeding more often) to improve production.

I'm having trouble with the Blogger, so will add a part 2 to this later today or tomorrow.

Friday, April 14, 2017

For City Folk Considering a Move to the Rural West

Here is some guidance for urban dwellers traveling through the rural west, especially those who are considering retiring or otherwise relocating to these rural parts. If you are already a rural dweller, western or not, please add your additional advice in the comments!

1. Many of us were urban dwellers before we moved out here. Even if we weren't, you have to be pretty smart to make a living in the sticks. Don't assume we're stupid or YOUR stereotype hick. It will come back to haunt you if you stay here very long.

2.  The local cafe is a good place to test out the tempo of the village or town. Be pleasant. Listen to the chatter. See what happens if you ask a question about the local ... something -- weather, festivals, etc. just to see the reaction and interaction of the customers. It tells you a lot. Also notice if the waitress calls any customers by name.

3. If you think you want to buy a place in the area, spend two weeks there in advance. Go to the local cafe, post office, etc. frequently. See if people notice you are staying longer. See if they are a little friendly.

4. Do your research on water, the local fire department (probably volunteer), library, etc. See if people volunteer or contribute to keeping things running. Consider whether you have something positive to add, not just 'straighten this out' ideas. Find out how much utilities cost, etc..

5. Start to ask around about places for sale in the area you think you want to live. In rural areas, many properties are never listed with a realtor. They quietly change hands through a title company. Some of the ones listed with realtors have major problems that all the locals know about but won't tell you unless you ask. Not their business.

6. If you think you want to buy a specific house, ask questions that most city dwellers assume away, like:
  -  Where do you get your drinking water? Reason: you don't want to find out at closing that water has to be bought and hauled 50 miles to a cistern, or that you have a well but you must disinfect the water yourself. Yup, it happens. UPDATE: I forgot about my friend who bought near Tucson. The house was on a 'well share' meaning he and his neighbor shared a well. He noticed that right after school was out, the neighbor's car was packed solid and they left town. About a week later, beginning of the hot and dry season, nothing came out of the taps in his house. Apparently, the well wnent dry every year between the end of May and the summer monsoon recharge. Oops. Got to ask about water!!

  - What is the sewer situation? Reason: As an example of bad homework,  my sister just discovered (after owning a house for 20+ years) that she doesn't have a septic tank. She has 2 cess pools. She discovered this after a law was passed that if you have less than 1 acre, you have to have a special, very expensive type of septic installed to replace any grandfathered system. She has half an acre. She can't legally sell until she has a new septic that meets the new law.

  - Where is the nearest hospital? Fire Department? EMT? Grocery store? Gas station?  Most people don't believe the sign at the interstate that says NO SERVICES and get mad when they must retrace the last 20 miles to get gasoline.

  -  How long does it take for law enforcement to respond to a 911 call?  If you can't take care of a situation for the first hour or two, don't move out here.

  - How's the cell service? We still don't have it here, but we do have the internet, finally. If your life revolves around your connectivity rather than your community, don't go rural.

7. Hate dirt roads? Most of your new neighbors like that dirt roads keep taxes and speeders away. If you don't want your new Land Rover to be dusty and think you can convince the locals to get the roads paved, stay where you are. We live on dirt roads for lots of reasons, none having to do with being ignorant or hicks. If you want pavement, buy on an already paved road.

8. Concerned your prospective neighbor's yard junk will bother you, but you're sure they will clean it up if you mention it, or even pay for it? Wrong. If you don't like it, don't buy there. Many rural areas have no legal support for neighborhood beautification. Some people actually keep their front yard looking like the Kettles to disuade burglars -- camoflage, nothing but junk here, keep moving. WYSIWYG

Readers: what did I miss?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Short-term tips for using your food storage

I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to my food storage. By that, I mean that I prefer individual ingredients to the mixes to which you only add water. I supplement the #10 cans and 5 gallon buckets with sprouting seeds and canned or dehydrated food from my garden.  I've alluded to some of my product management before, but thought I'd make a short, clear list of my favorites.

1. Get and use some of the European glass storage jars with attached glass lids. You can often find them at Ross or Marshall's for under $5. I usually buy the Bormioli, but will occasionally buy American jars. I do not buy the Chinese jars, partly principle, partly distrusting whether the seals are food safe or whether they will provide a hermetic seal.

2. Once you open a #10 can and use some of it for cooking, store the remainder in hermetically sealed jars (#1) above. For items like baking soda and powder, put them in a small mason jar, use a plastic Ball brand cap and store in fridge. Note whether it is soda or powder on the lid using a Sharpie.

3. Tomato powder is a great space-saver. I use it now for all my tomato paste and sauce needs. How many cans of tomato sauce, purée and paste do you have on your shelf? One can of tomato power will replace lots of them. I have used several cans of the Emergency Essentials brand and found it to have a nice, slightly sweet flavor that easily rivals the best canned sauces. The 'spaghetti and pizza sauce' is only about 40% tomato powder. Lots of sugars and starches that make it taste artificial. I tried it and do not recommend it.

4. If you can't afford a grain mill, do not fret. Practice now making your own sprouted wheat bread. Soak the wheat for a day or two, but not to the point you have a green blade forming. Drain well in a sieve or colander, like for a couple hours. You should be able to mash the grains into a dough, then add your yeast, sugar and salt.  Continue to process like a whole wheat bread.

5.  Unless you have a documented gluten allergy (get a blood test from your MD), keep some vital wheat gluten in your food storage. When added to flour made from non-wheat grains, like oats, nuts or acorn flour, at a rate of 1 tablespoon per cup it will help your bread stick together.

6. I don't store a lot of FD vegetables. Instead, I store seeds for sprouts and microgreens. Barring nuclear or volcanic winter for the microgreens, we have enough sunlight even in winter to get these to a point of being edible. Save some to grow out in summer if your emergency scenario is longer than a few weeks.

7. Last item is actually a frugality tip: use rubber bands. I buy #64 rubber bands at the office supply store and save the big bands from vegetables. For many consumer packaged items, if you carefully cut the package open, use what you need, roll the bag down and secure with a rubber band. You don't need near as many plastic storage bags. If you use all the product within a few weeks, it works. If it will take you longer than that to use it up, see #1.  Do this also with bag coffee, even before you open it. As soon as you bring home from the store, add a rubber band. It reduces the air in the bag for a longer storage life. Keep the band in use as you use up the bag. Don't forget to save it before you toss the bag!