Prepper Hacks – Jumpstart That Survival Garden

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Spring Into Planting (Early & Anywhere)

Hopefully we’ve all sited or started making notes of where we want to plant, expand, shore-up and re-do our gardens, whether they’re beds or little containers, a string of tin cans or a tower of 2L soda bottles. Some of us are already sowing seeds directly, many of us have our tomatoes and peppers and squashes started for transplants, but some of us are likely lagging behind a little, whether it’s due to water, effort, space, weather, or time.

If planting is an interest – and it really should be for preppers – we may be itching to go ahead and start. Resisting those false springs and holding on through the last frosts and snows can be painful.

We can always do our germination testing, update our crop rotation plan or garden journals, or make up some seed tapes and mats with trash and a little glue, but sometimes we want to get those tasty edibles in the soil, no matter what the calendar says. The inclination for fresh food is likely to be even stronger following a winter of storage foods and with only dry and canned produce to get us through to mid-summer.

Happily, we can cheat the weather and time a little. We can get our survival garden ready indoors, with almost any amount of space and almost any budget and time available.

Digging Up Dirt

We may want to sterilize soil that’s coming from outside to do up some pots.

We may want to sterilize soil that’s coming from outside to do up some pots. It’s pretty easy, and can be done multiple ways.

We can add equal parts water and boil it for 10-30 minutes, or process it in jars in water-bath or pressure canners as we would tomato paste or meat. We can also bake it (350 degrees for 60 minutes, or 450 degrees for 30 minutes). Or, we can make sure it’s damp and then microwave it for 5-10 minutes.

Being able to use just about any soil means we can run out and scoop a couple of gallons from the yard, established beds, or – in small, polite increments – bits from a nearby ditch or park. We want to skip soil that may have been treated with a broadleaf herbicide, because most of our veggies are dicots.

Dicots – broadleaf plants; non-grasses (hay, corn, wheat and other grains are monocots).

Because we can sterilize our soil, we don’t have to worry about bringing any creepy-crawlies into the house.

Cheating the Calendar

We can start planting with our non-buggy soil right away, even if we live indoors with no windows, or if it’s going to be June before it’s safe to plant anything outside of a greenhouse.

A number of edible plants really don’t need much light. In fact, some of us are likely to grow a shelf worth of beets, radishes and lettuces indoors even if we have lots of yard space because we’re restricted by heat and too much sunlight.

Using just the ambient light from winter and early spring windows, some or many plants grow a little slower, but even doubling a microgreen, radish, or leaf lettuce that takes 14, 21, or 30 days means we’re munching in as little as 4-6 weeks, as much as 60 days in cool, very dim conditions indoors.

Any full-spectrum light bulb can go in any lamp in the home – we don’t have to get fancy there.

If we do get a specialty light for plants, make sure it’s for growth. (Those green-light bulbs make plants look better; plants will eventually die if it’s their only or primary source because they don’t absorb those wavelengths.)

Whether we use a window from across a room or a bulb in a “normal” stand, we’ll likely want to be able to spin our planters. It’ll help plants grow straight and tall instead of bending, and give them equal access to airflow.

Early Transplants

GrowVeg likes to promote the green pea-house gutter transplant method. You fill a shallow container 12-24” long with soil, plant out pea seed at high density, and then just slide the whole thing out when the seedlings and weather are cooperating.

The same can also be done for strawberries, spinach and baby lettuces.

Spinach and baby lettuces are ideal for it, because we can be harvesting the largest leaf of 3-5 leaves while they’re inside for weeks before we send them out to make bigger heads. However, they’re also fine just staying in that shallow dirt – especially if given some used coffee grounds or tea leaves now and then.

Beets can get the same treatment if desired.

A few leaves are sacrificed to salad, keeping it from producing a tuber. The seedlings are transitioned outside in stages, then the soil is slid out and into a bed. With the leaves less disturbed or undisturbed, the plant starts gaining enough growth to make that tuber for us.

Pots for Planting

We don’t have to spend a fortune on our planting containers. Depending on how “cute” we want them, we may not have to spend anything.

Some families are exceptions, but most of us use or can gain access to tins from canned foods, soda and juice bottles, milk jugs, and coffee cans (plastic or steel).

Even if our local fast food restaurants and delis no longer get or pass along food-safe buckets, we can get our hands on tubs the size gallon+ ice cream comes in, and giant condiment jars and tubs. The local humane society and ASPCA may not have kitty litter buckets, but we can cut down the giant plastic pour-bottles two different ways to buy some growing room.

Any plant that’s a candidate for soup cans (green onions, leaf lettuce, baby spinach, chickweed) is also a candidate for peanut jars and cashew tubs, peanut butter tubs, and bottles from bulk vegetable or olive oil.

A few holes for drainage in the sides and-or bottoms, and we’re in business. We may want to go easy on the pickle tubs for indoors, but it might not bother us on a porch or small balcony.

We can also line baskets of various types, or collect pretty lampshades to flip upside down and line, then add a fill like pinecones at the bottom for drainage and air space, and be very, very careful watering for the rest of the season.

Seed Selection

In keeping with this as an article for everybody, no matter their skill, budget or space constraints, I’m sticking with smaller plants that can be grown in anything and focusing on plants with cut-and-come-again convenience.

Cut and come again: You snip the tips or tops, or select-harvest larger leaves, but leave the plant growing; with the established root system and-or leaves still collecting sunlight, plants regrow faster than reseeding, allowing for more harvest total over a period of time even if each harvest is a little smaller.

I’m also mostly going to stick with plants that have low light needs. They can survive in a window, 6-8’ away from a window, or with the standard full-spectrum bulbs mentioned earlier – even the LEDs that burn so little energy. That keeps it open even for people with limited window space.

Using things like coffee grounds we get from Starbucks, McD’s, or our own pots, and tea leaves, we can keep even very small containers and “pots” fertile a pinch or two at a time, right on the surface of the soil to be watered in as we go.

A pinch or so of Epsom salt here and there will also keep our plants productive and flowering.

All of the leaf lettuces are excellent candidates for small “mini” pots and planters with shallow roots. So is spinach that will be harvested small.

Baby beet leaves are commonly included in field green mixes. Sprinkle or space at a half-inch, thin and eat the smaller sprouts to give a 1-1.5” spacing, and they’ll be fine.

Radishes, baby carrots, and even small beets or turnips for roots won’t work well in soup and small veggie cans – they just aren’t all that productive for the space used.

Radishes do work well with gutter sections, glass brownie and bread pans, and milk jugs and bottles that are cut to lay horizontally instead of stacked in a vertical tower.

Herbs go fifty-fifty. Some will stay smaller when grown in 20-oz., cans, and 2L jugs, but most will be fine.

Chives, parsley, thyme & basil especially have a lot of bang for the buck. The first three are also troopers with very long growing seasons, especially indoors.

Green/spring onions also pack a lot of flavor, and can have just a stalk harvested as well, so they’ll regrow from the roots like cutting lettuce.

Fenugreek has some restrictions, but is another tasty additive.

Mustards are salad add-in’s at our house, but can be grown larger and in more bulk for people who dig cooked greens.

Pea sprouts and shoots are an excellent spinach replacement. They can be harvested as “stems” with just little baby leaves, or allowed to grow larger.

Strawberries are happy with half a 2L, milk jugs, wider bean/fruit cans, and coffee cans & tubs.

They work for raw salads, cooking like spinach, or adding to Oriental noodles or lasagna. If you decide you don’t like the stems or if they get a little overlarge, just pinch off the leaves themselves to toss into meals.

Edible weeds are the real troopers of the plant world – which is how they become weeds in the first place.

Dandelion and plantain aren’t overly space efficient for small containers, but chickweed is fantastic, I love henbit, and I specifically abuse soil and find crappy dirt so I can grow purslane (which gets tossed in to roast with potatoes and autumn veggies). Pineapple weed is happy to grow in containers for us, as are wild garlic and onion to use as spicing.

Strawberries aren’t really successful in our soup cans or 20-oz. bottles, but they’re happy with half a 2L, milk jugs, wider bean/fruit cans, and coffee cans & tubs.

We can also start flowers so they’re ready for edible harvests earlier, or so they’re already blooming or established enough to serve as companions for our outdoor plants earlier in the growing season.

Spring into Sowing

We’re not going to feed ourselves off the contents of even a couple dozen small containers (or for that matter, 5-gallon buckets). However, it’s a good way to plan for disaster. Most of those cool-season, small-space, low-light herbs and greens are jam-packed with vitamins that can round out diets heavy in beans and rice or lentils and wheat.

It also gets our feet wet. Growing is both a science and an art, and very situational dependent. Even when we successfully grow one way, we may find switching to “easy” indoor plants – especially over winter – presents new challenges. Anything we plan to do “after”, we should go ahead and give a few tries now.

For a couple bucks worth of seeds, some trash, and some dirt (free or purchased) we can go ahead and start improving our diet, preparing for the future, and – for some of us – scratching the garden itch. They’ll take only a few minutes a day to care for, and using small plants and containers, can be grown in nearly any amount of space.

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Skills-Stuff: When Stuff Matters More

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

I generally agree with the premise that skills are far more important than stuff, and that knowledge weighs nothing. There are skills that benefit us, every single day and definitely in a disaster – on any scale. However, sometimes collecting knowledge can be a pricey and time-consuming prospect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn, but we need to prioritize as with anything else. We also have to honestly assess our preparedness level, plan, and current lifestyle. Pat’s Preparedness Arc is perfect for this.

Exceptions & Assessments

There are exceptions to some of what I’ll suggest. If you’re a wilderness adventure enthusiast or work in extremes, you already know it. If you truly have lots of free time but zero money after lots of cutbacks, and you have materials/resources lying around and don’t have to buy anything, okay.

If somebody is just into history, a reenactor, a hobbyist, I’m also not talking about that. Mental health clause – you need an outlet. However, interests are just interests and don’t belong in the “but it’s useful/preparedness” category of our time and financial budgets. It belongs under our entertainment budgets.

Please remember those caveats as you read the list. I’m talking about somebody learning from scratch specifically as a survival/preparedness skill in lieu of practicing, buying, or learning something else.

I also hear the argument put forth that somebody’s going to learn a skill or trade because then they can barter it. That is absolutely true in some cases (medical, mechanics, midwives). In others …

We have to ask ourselves: How many people who are preparing or not preparing are actually going to be around and need that particular skill? How do we plan to find those souls who are unprepared to do it themselves, but are expected to have surpluses worth our time and labor to trade for us?

Below are a few things I regularly see pushed as a must-have skill. I’ll break down the pro’s and con’s, and cover alternatives.

Image: How sustainable is our water plan – and our bodies – compared to our need to make soap or learn primitive fire making methods, or learning an already fairly common trade?

Alternatives After Assessment

Would it be better to develop the knowledge of how to find water by recognizing terrain and land cover patterns, a map of streams and springs in the area, and the physical strength to carry and drag water-level weight through woods, on crappy roadsides and ditches, and repeatedly lift buckets and containers out of a downed well or deep cut with cord, or over the side of a pickup?

Could we instead spend time locating buckets, storage totes, and barrels, the used and wrecked pieces of furniture and equipment on Craigslist and Freecycle to turn them into water catchment, and the afternoon or afternoons it takes to assemble them, to limit the amount of time we even have to go out hunting water?

We have to ask ourselves how important primitive skills are instead of something like wrapping a sprain.

Water is always going to be a focus for me, but there are other skills, too.

Gather wood for the stove/grill and practice cooking and canning on it. Learn hauling and tying knots, and practice felling, branch removal, and topping on consecutively larger trees. Learn to change your own oil and bike chain. Figure out how to unclog a drain using supplies and tools you already have on hand. Walk on the ditch verges and wooded hills to strengthen ankles.

We have to ask ourselves how important primitive skills are instead of something like wrapping a sprain, turning off water and gas mains, producing and finding food, mending a fence, sharpening a blade, rescuing a drowning/choking infant or child, and backing a trailer.

Fire From Scratch

If you happen to have a battery and steel wool, more power to you. It was never in my pack for fire tools.

Let’s start off with a super controversial one – yay!

First, I’m not talking about finding dry tinder in wet woods or making a feather stick. If somebody’s out in the woods regularly, the potential of injury in a downpour makes them worthwhile in the crisis stance. As a through packer (I think they call it ultralight now, but my bag was never light) and multi-day paddler, those are things that saved me time and energy for my hot meal.

I’m talking about Survivorman fire starting, primitive fire starting. If you happen to have a battery and steel wool, more power to you. It was never in my pack for fire tools.

Second, if you’re a remote-creek kayaker, canoe trekker, or a hiker, get a few pill bottles to stuff with wet-weather or DIY-coated matches and a few cotton balls or some dryer lint, and start wearing one around your neck and carrying one in a pants pocket. Get a ferro rod and block or a windproof cigar lighter, and replace the chain with 550 cord to wear on your belt or pants button or the snap of your life vest or knife. Keep another set duct taped to the bottom of your water bottle or glasses case.

No belt or knife? No glasses? Don’t worry about fire from scratch then. It takes a long time to master starting a fire with a bow and starting it with a lens requires a lens. If you don’t have a knife to make shavings and the bow and start the notch, there’s a stick and another stick, and you’d be far better served spending the time making a cocoon-style debris hut.

Matches/Lighters versus Primitive Skills

People do get lost in the woods, and eventually we absolutely will run out of matches and lighters on a homestead.

We’ll run out of them faster if we’re using smaller fires for short periods and thus starting them regularly. They can break, leak, get wet and grody, and strike-anywhere are harder and harder to find so you have to figure on the striker strips getting worn totally smooth, especially if we buy the big bulk boxes.

Learning to find tinder in wet woods is time-consuming enough (and worth it for some/many).

If you’re only bugging-out to a BOL, not in an INCH situation, or if you’re a boater, fisherman, hunter, hiker, or outdoors enthusiast, throw in a cigar lighter so wind is less of a factor – they fit in a Gerber case inside bags or small plastic bottles with matches and other fire-starting materials pretty well.

For a homestead/bug-in situation, we can say three meals and a snack a day, plus morning coffee. Starting five fires is pretty generous and buys time for us to learn how to bank a fire for coals and keep one going.

Say it takes us a couple broken/burn-out matches to get one started, so we need three matches per fire. Using 15 a day for a year gives us a total of 5.5K matches.

Bricks of 100 small kitchen match boxes run $8-15 bucks each for 3.2K matches – two would cover our needs for $20-$30. My dollar store also carries match books cheaper (not my first choice).

Or we could buy one of those multi-pack bricks for $10-15, and hit Amazon for a 100-pack of disposable lighters for $20 and a set of three big boxes of 300 matches for $7-$10. That gives us 4K+ matches and 100 lighters for $37-45.

We can store them in our currently empty canning jars, or spend $5-6 at the dollar store to get candles or nail polish or lacquer to waterproof them and some baggies to keep them in. Strikers and blast matches, cigar lighters that work even in whipping Montana winds, run in the $4-$12 ranges.

Yes, it costs money. Yes, if you already have the knife, tromping into the woods to do it like Bear doesn’t.

Tromp into the woods learning to not make noise, recognize animal sign, and recognize landscape features that promise water instead.

There are multiple situations (and future practical, everyday skills) that benefit from that knowledge.

Soap – Making vs. Buying

 

Let’s start with the basics of soap. There’s a couple of modern recipes, and a link to the history. About halfway down, that one breaks soap making into three stages of lye, fats, and combination – which is where we’d be at a total pioneer homestead or “My Side Of The Mountain forever” INCH lifestyle.

I’m going to discount any soap making as viably sustainable if it’s using a fat or oil that’s not locally produced. That’s including people who buy the glycerin soap blocks. (For soap making – no comment on other uses.)

That’s the whole argument about sustainable, colonial and primitive skills – they’re for when there is no store and we run out of things.

If you need palm oil, you’re storing something and you might as well store the finished product. (There are exceptions, like the many balms and other uses for various oils.)

Some basic soap-making starter kits are available for as little as $10-15. Better will run as high as you like. I couldn’t find one that already included a scale (soap making is one of those things that requires weights according to some experts, although others have converted recipes to volume).

$10-15 for a kit isn’t much, absolutely. However, soap requires those rendered animal fats or oils. Those aren’t in the kits, and some of the ones I’ve seen in recipes are pretty pricey.

Too, in a crisis, especially if we’re living off grass-fed livestock and wildlife and the diet food of garden produce, fats and oils are going to be precious to keep our bodies functioning.

There’s still tons of bar soaps available at the dollar store and <$1 at Walmart. Some are travel sized and singles in boxes. However, options are available in 2-packs and 3-packs of standard-sized bars. So for $10 I can get 18-27 bars of soap and still pay tax.

If I’m inclined, I can cut that down, get a bottle or two each of Dawn and pine cleaner for dishes and laundry, floors, and surfaces, and still get 14-18 bars of soap.

I once figured that between bathing and washing my hands and face, I run through a cake of soap a week, so I need more than $9-10 worth. I need more in the neighborhood of $20-$30, and about a shoebox of space. For laundry, surfaces and dishes for a year, and surface cleaning, depending on household, I need a couple of free liquor boxes and another $20-30 for liquid cleaners, even buying from the dollar store. (The dollar store is not the cheapest per ounce or most compact form, but they are incremental purchase and use sizes.)

Cost doesn’t apply for the folks who plan to have fatty pigs and cattle, and use their wood ash. For them, the comparison is strictly about time. For a lark, sure, jump one weekend. But weigh out what else could be learned, what other materials cost, and what family ties could be strengthened with a different activity.

Soap is compact. They are sensitive to dampness, so they need a Ziploc bag, lidded can, or plastic tub. There are environments where dry soaps melt, but most of North America could keep them in a shed. So will the ingredients for making soap, or finished homemade soaps.

Rendering suet for tallow

Some will still think it’s worthwhile. To each their own, but please refer back to the general premise and Pat’s arc to be sure it’s the best use of your resources and time as you stand now.

On the flip side, totally learn how to make suet and tallow if fatty animals and materials are present. They have a ton of uses, provide a storable sustainable fat source, and they fill very real needs in a self-sustainable lifestyle.

Treating Hides

Hides and making useful items from hides is 50-50 with me. On one hand, I know a woman who makes a bundle from it, and if you have rabbits or hunt deer, you have hides. On the other hand, should the world collapse to colonial and pioneer day levels if not the Dark Ages, lots of humanity will die fast enough for me to find underroos, sheets, work boots, and socks should I need to go out past my X date – they aren’t exactly the things being grabbed in today’s riots.

Photo from North American Bushcraft School

 

If it’s going to be a side business, sure, jump – after you do some market research. If it’s a niche market half-hobby, jump.

If it’s something on the to-do list because it seems like a great skill … maybe consider jumping on a maps website, finding farm fields and nearby specialty farms, making some non-nut cookies or muffins to carry, and sharing that you’re interested in breaking away from city life, would the nice farmer be willing to work out some kind of tag-along for labor deal so you can get a good idea of what’s involved.

Another option useful in disasters of all kinds is mapping power-line cuts to avoid traffic jams, snow and flood evacuation routes, and directions and A, B, C routes to and from kids’ schools and the school evac rally points.

Skills versus Stuff

Nine times out of ten, I would argue that knowing is better than having. However, there are exceptions – usually because of the time and-or resources they require, and sometimes because of the space.

There are lots of things that we should know just to be well-round humans, let alone homesteaders or – if inclined – nomads. However, sometimes we waste our precious resources learning something that only benefits most people during a very specific type of disaster, or a total breakdown and reversal that lasts for 5-10+ years.

Sadly, a lot of people who push and learn those lack the skills and supplies to survive long enough for some primitive skills to become valuable again. Some of those skills come at the cost of things that can benefit us, right now.

There are all kinds of things to do without spending more money or spending time on something with highly specialized skills and low-likelihood needs.

I figure I’ll get hate mail for the concept and for the specific few I listed. I just want people to weigh their to-do and to-learn lists so that they can prioritize based on where they already stand and where they want to go.

If there’s true need and potential – and sometimes there is – or it’s just a hobby, there’s nothing wrong with any of the primitive skills. I think most of us, though, have something we would be better served learning, practicing or building than the three listed.

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Lessons from History – Hand Powered Tools

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Crank It Out

When we hear “crank it out”, we tend to be hearing “get it done”. We have a lot of advantages with that these days. Nobody’s spinning a wheel on a giant roller to produce our news – we just tap a few buttons, and systems lift and press, roll, and cut for us, or we’re online and reading away without a walk to the morning paper at all.

The conveniences are all around us, from our coffee grinders and brewers, out in our sheds, and all around our homes and lives. But it wasn’t actually too far back in history that “crank” was a very literal term for a lot of those conveniences.

In my kitchen, I have a simple slider mandolin, mason jar pump-top onion chopper, and a salad spinner. I’m going to break down and get a cherry pitter this year or next year. They’re convenient. They save labor in time and energy. Grinders are there for coffee and wheat, so I stay happy/sane. My world is full of items that do the same, from my battery drill and power saws to the blender that cranks out curach and turns strained jelly peels and pulp into slurries for fruit roll-ups.

A disaster is a bad time to lose all of our conveniences in life. There are also some hand powered tools we can pull from the pages of history – and that inspire modern tools – that will help us with our self-reliance. They bounce back and forth from the kitchen to the workshop, out to the barn. Here’s a quick look at a handful of those things that can help us keep cranking it out.

Oil press

An oil press can be a big financial commitment, and it’s not for everybody. Until there’s enough land space to be producing foods, let alone oil nuts and seeds, it should go on the back-burner. On the other hand, if you’re in suburbia and you have the 1-2 working oil presses in 3-25 miles, you have a very powerful bartering tool at your fingertips.

Essential Oils Natural Remedies: The Complete A-Z Reference of Essential Oils for Health and Healing

That’s because fats are important. A lot of game animals are very lean in fats. In a world where we and our limited livestock are working just as hard as wildlife to eat, stay warm, prepare for winter, recover, and raise a family, we’re going to get leaner, too. That’s not always a good thing. There are vitamins and minerals our bodies can’t process without fats.

Fats are also important in baking, and make cooking (and cleanup) a whole lot easier. Plus, check out your powdered peanut butter. I’ll bet it tells you to add some oil for best results.

Sadly, even Crisco and powdered margarine won’t last forever, and it’s not like they’re all that good for you.

There is an alternative to a press to get those fats – at least one.

We can basically mince the heck out of various seeds and nuts, turn them into a slurry, let them settle (for hours or days), pour off the liquids (that’s what we keep), strain and press the wet mass (to get more of the liquids), and wait for the water to dehydrate (days). There are regularly additional steps for different types of plants, like shelling, simmering, filtering, additional pour-offs, and milling. Fermentation and spoilage risks are high. Labor and time are through the roof.

With an oil press, an impressive number of tree and grass seeds can be turned into oils.

Many presses have or can be fitted with automatic shellers and separators. The leftover meal can be dried to use in breads, thicken stock and gravy, or be fed to animals. The same presses can be used for a wide variety of seeds and nuts, sometimes requiring a gear change and sometimes extremely small or large seeds require an additional piece or to be minced. Sometimes we do have to take our peanut shells and skins off, and feed it just corn kernels.

(There are corn threshers and bean-pea shellers available crank-style, too.)

Not only is the time and effort hugely reduced with an oil press, our product comes out cleaner and we usually have more to show for it at the end of the day.

I won’t go into as much detail for the rest of today’s list, but those types of factors are there for all of them. It’s why the “convenience” and “efficiency” machines came into play in the first place.

Hand Beater

While we’re right there talking about speed and ease in the kitchen, let’s talk about rotary beaters.

I know that at various stages, there were also rotary and pull-cord blenders on the counters. This guy has good memories for me, though.

Moms and Grandma used to have a set. They made whipping eggs or cupcake frosting for twelve or a classroom fast and easy. If we’re going to be doing a lot of from-scratch cooking, or if we have months and months’ worth of powdered milk, butter and creamed soups stored, something as simple as a design that hasn’t much changed in 50-100 years and can still be found in stores is a force multiplier.

Peeler-Corer-Slicer

Another kitchen equivalent to the venerable 1911 is also probably one of the most commonly suggested and available hand-crank tools. It extends way beyond the preparedness-homesteading crowds. Like a cherry pitter, anybody who grows or processes a lot of fruit considers these things gold. When I’m only filling out a few drawers in a dehydrator I’ll still just whip out the mini-paddle mandolin, but when you start talking buckets and bushels, these apple peelers more than earn their price.

Ours has the option for using the coring center or just a spike, so I can also peel potatoes with it, and the slicing blade can come off so I can grate those, pears, or apples instead of slicing them.

Hand-Crank Food Processor

Once we’ve peeled or washed our produce, there’s another gem we can upgrade to if we want – people have actually started (or returned to) making hand-crank food processors. Like the electric versions, they make pretty fast work of assembling salsa veggies, dicing for relish and chutney, slicing salads, or cutting butter into pie and tart crust.

Salad Master

There’s another version we can use that bolts onto a countertop or table. I actually prefer it, because I like the resiliency of metal when I’m plunking down a chunk of change (Queen Klutz here).

You can get them in a number of styles and there are sets with attachments as far ranging as the modern Kitchen Aid base mixer. That means a single hand crank base can be adapted for ground meat and sausages, and pressing pasta, as well as mincing, slicing and dicing veggies.

Which styles we like best is just personal preference.

Applesauce and Baby Food Strainer

If we do a lot of jelly and jam canning, want to quickly churn out applesauce, or want to make our own baby food, there are some pretty simple devices out there still – and that we can pick up from old farm estate sales fairly regularly if we watch for those.

Like the Foley applesauce and baby food strainer, many are meant to be used as a stage in the process of cooking.

You can also find steam and hand-crank juicers that work for syrups and jellies. If you plan to forage or produce a lot of the cranberry viburnum and chokecherry type fruits, those are handy to have.

Butter Churns

When we think of churning butter, a lot of people apparently think of somebody sitting with the tall canister and paddle or plunger, lifting up and down. I think of my blender, personally.

Throughout history, however, there have been a lot of different styles and scales of butter churns, and some of the small and countertop hand crank versions are more likely to fit into our storage space – and regularly, our budgets.

Styles like the canning-jar base are also a lot more hygienic than the wooden ones and the larger, longer metal designs. You can clean them more effectively in between uses.

If we’re in a world with limited outside assistance, that becomes even more important. Goats aren’t as likely to have a milk infection, but cattle used to get them regularly. They still do in some cases. Some of those diseases will only spoil flavor, but some of them have human health concerns. If that milk is transferred into plastic or wooden containers, it takes a lot of cleanser and then a lot of rinsing to regain comfort in using them. Water is going to be a hugely important resource for a lot of people, and it still might not do the trick.

Smaller glass and metal vessels can fit inside pressure canners and are easier to reach (and rinse) than larger ones, and long, skinny churns.

They’re far faster than shaking a jar or rolling it underfoot – although if you’re about to shell a solid ton of peas, the foot thing might work for you.

Centrifuge for Butterfat Testing

So, we have our goats, sheep, camels or cattle, and we want the ones with the highest butterfat for butter and clotted cream. How do we find out in the second and third generation of livestock after a crash?

An old-school hand-crank centrifuge.

That centrifuge can also be used just to find out which animal’s butterfat or heaviest creams separate fastest and easiest.

Instead of having shallow containers sit for hours – without jostling – with the risks of pests, dust and heat spoilage, we can also use various turn-of-the-century tools to speed that process.

Hand-crank sewing machines

When a ram horn catches us and rips a hole in our clothes, or our pockets start failing, when growing kids need clothes made out of curtains, we can sit down with a needle and hand sew, but if a sewing machine is available, it tends to be a lot faster of a process.

It’s also an easier process for old and damaged hands – some tension adjustments and threading is required, but then those hands (and eyes) can relax a bit.

You can hunt up antiques, or run some searches for non-electric sewing machines – they’re out there, especially from/for some of the still-developing nations.

Modern Manual Drill

Nothing is going to help us rebuild a shed or fence or put in a new milking bench like our electric drill and driver, but there are still manufacturers out there for hand-crank versions that will be faster and easier than doing it all with a screwdriver.

Hand augers are commonly seen on the lists of disaster tools, and are shaped a bit differently. They’re really good at what they do. Modern and yester-year manual drills that can also be fitted with our current drill’s screw tips have some advantages, too.

Combined, they make a pretty handy pairing around a house or farm that’s looking at losing power. 

Bench Grinders

Modern-made and antique, there are all kinds of handy things for the shop. While a drill is one of the most commonly reached-for items in our house, the wheel grinders are in high demand at my father’s. They make fast work out of sharpening tools and blades.

Some of the hand-crank versions are massive beasts that can be set up for two hands, and can handle light notching, planer, and plank sanding and some can even be set up as circular saws and used to cut pipes, tubing and OSB. (Those are two-person jobs for safety reasons.)

As with the kitchen, the speed and work effort compared to a hacksaw, steel wool, and sharpening stone plays a factor when looking at the costs.

And, as with the kitchen, both the bench grinders and the manual drills mean that people with injuries or ailments can still get work done in a lot of cases, and do that work faster. That, too, factors into what we’ll pay and how we prioritize.

The Wide Range of Shop Tools

Shop tools of all kinds are out there. I don’t use a drill press often enough (and they’re expensive enough) to have given it its own listing. But they’re out there. So are things like barn beam boring drills, smaller tinker-merchant and jeweler’s presses, ratcheting drill presses and nail setters.

Farm horses used to regularly be hitched to circle and power things like turnip slicers, grain threshers, and grain mills. Horse-drawn harvesters dug, separated and in some cases even sorted potatoes and turnips, working off gears attached to the wheels. Dogs and goats can handle some of that workload with smaller versions.

Modern Spins

Just as some of the hand-crank and -lever tools that bear consideration can be had from current production runs, the modern world has not turned its back on hand cranks.

They’re there in tire pumps and emergency lights large and small. We can also buy little hand-cranked battery boxes to charge our small electronic devices. One of my earliest articles dealt with laundry, with several modern takes on manual washers and wringers.

In some cases, we can find those devices in bike-pedal powered forms as well.

Cranking It Out in the Modern Age

The internet is a wonderful thing. It brings the whole world right to our fingertips, and it can regularly have most of that world delivered to our door.

We didn’t jump from caveman sticks and rocks directly over to sending email over HAM radio. Throughout history, there are gadgets that made lives easier and allowed us to do more work. As preparedness spending grows, we can find a lot of new manual gadgets becoming available from suppliers and inventors.

Whatever you reach for this week or this month, especially over planting and harvest season and the next DIY build or repair, make a note of it (a real, physical note). Is it a force multiplier? A must-have? A beloved convenience? How important does it rate on your scale?

If you’re doing things by hand or planning for a world without power, it might be worth popping a “manual” or “hand-operated” search for that item into your browser. There are fair chances somebody has one, makes one, or has a hack to create one.

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Radio Silence – Communication Without Electronics

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

I love modern technology, particularly the electronics that allow me to communicate so quickly and easily. Even so, the loss of that capability – for whatever reason it’s lost – doesn’t have to be entirely devastating. We communicate not only without our electronics, but without noise all the time.

I tap my wrist, hold up my hand with my fingers splayed. Across a room, instantly, I’ve told someone they have five minutes, or that I need/want five minutes. I tap beside my eyes, point in a general direction, and then point lower or higher in an aisle of a store. It tells somebody at the other end that I found what we’re looking for, or that I want them to look at something, and then where more specifically that something is.

We do it nearly instinctively, some of us more than others. While hand gestures especially change meaning culture to culture, the ability to communicate without speaking is inherent to our species. It has been since before the first cave painting.

Recently the topic of communication without radios came up. The possible reasons for a non-radio life are pretty varied – a generator or solar panels with significant damage, low winter light, extended-time crisis when even rechargeable batteries are exhausted, seasons and locations when it’s hard to get messages through, EMPs and solar storms, neighbors who have the skills to survive but don’t have the same EMP-proof stockpiles we do, newer homesteaders and preppers who can survive but haven’t moved into serious “thrive” supplies yet.

There are also times we want to communicate, but don’t necessarily want to be heard. Hunting and tactical reasons are two of those.

History and modern technology have given us a lot of options to work around those possibilities and needs. Here are a few.

Morse

Morse code can be applied to a lot of communication options. While it’s primarily associated with radios, it was once a common ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication method using light instead.

Navy signalman using Morse –

It wasn’t until I started looking for an image online that I realized how dependent people are on the blinker-clicker features of their flashlights for light-transmitted Morse. If you have a milspec light that can take that abuse, great.

If not, cover and uncover your flashlight with your hand.  It’s still fast and easy.

For some of us with broken and aging fingers, and for people who are turning their lights on and off to get the same effect, it’s not only actually easier, sometimes faster, it’s also going to save your light a lot of wear and tear.

You can use a laser pointer for it as well, or cover and uncover a battery-candle-oil lantern with a box (or an oatmeal tub, coffee can, small ones with your hand).

Containing Light

Light stands out like it’s cool at night. Even a little green-red-blue laser light. It travels a long way when it’s dark-dark.

If you’re only trying to not stand out to everybody with one of those insane fifty-yard beams and you’re working from a set, expected position, you can signal by flashing the laser light or a flashlight into your palm or onto your chest, onto a tree or certain wall that’s visible from another location but not most of the property.

If you anticipate the need to really not be seen by anybody but your LOS partner, carry a flattened toilet paper roll wrapped around your small flashlight. (Flattened but tube, not sliced.)

When you’re ready to send a message back to the house, to the other side of a building, along the length of a wall, or down a roadway, cup the tube in one hand so you’re blocking the back, and stick the front of the light just inside it. Or, hold a laser sight/pointer just outside it.

The roll contains the light, so only somebody facing you sees it. If you want, add a mirror or a white disk to the palm to make it a little easier for that person to see.

I pretty much prefer those two general methods, regardless, because you stand a really good chance of blinding the person you’re trying to signal, or at least giving them dots in the eyes, especially with a pointer.

 

Ship Flags

The sea services have been using specific flags to communicate since some of the earliest days, from pirates warning about trying to run from them, warning others that illnesses are aboard, to requesting assistance. This site has a list of international signal flags, their phonetic name, and the navy/maritime meanings.

The phonetic name becomes valuable, because some of the meanings at sea translate directly or with minor modification to things we face on land, too. The Morse, semaphore, or ASL of the phonetic name can be flashed or signed to convey a whole thought or message, just as a flag would.

The flags can be made – painted on boards or drawn on cards to use in windows or to be flashed, or drawn in chalk on a wall or sidewalk as needed. It doesn’t have  to be fabric, or flying in the air.

Any flag, banner, or windsock at all can be part of group and neighbor communication.

If we all normally fly the local team’s colors, but somebody puts it at half-mast or upside down, they could be saying they need help – or they’re ready for harvest/planting assistance. One person with a weather station might say rain, so a blue banner goes up. A black cross on yellow might mean a woman went into labor and the local sheep keeper would be welcome as a midwife. A black dot might mean there’s sickness – don’t come calling.

A flag might also just mean all’s well here, and a quick snip to drop it on the way past alerts all the rest that the gunfire wasn’t practice, it’s real, or that there’s a fire-fire, not burning waste or smoking out bees.

We can get as creative or simple as we want.

Semaphore Flagging

Another powerful tool in the box for sending messages visually, with the same alpha-numeric capabilities of Morse, is semaphore signaling – that signalman out there with the two bright flags or cone lights. Semaphore flag signaling was also once done using a single flag in just four positions (you can find it called wigwag signaling as well).

 

With two flags, there are fewer combinations to remember, but you also have to have two flags – and hands – available. For both, a larger line-of-sight space is required so the flags can be seen.

Established Shorthand Codes

Radio Q codes  and 10 codes have a lot of value for quickly sending messages.

Various established codes provide shorthand communication for “Suspicious vehicle” (10-37), “your keying is hosed and hit every branch of the ugly tree on its way down” (QSD), “Report to [location]” (10-25), “stand by” (QRX), and “Be super-duper quiet” (“Do not use siren or flashers”) (10-40).

Those are all phrases we might use, from communicating across a yard or across a farm, as a simple survivor with a neighbor or family, or as a group with defensive and patrol forces. 10-codes especially have a lot of preexisting elements that are of use in many situations.

They can be transmitted with clicks, whistles, a pipe smacked with a hammer, marker on a dry erase board, flashed/blinker lights, or using semaphore flag(s) and hand signals.

We can also easily modify or truncate existing codes.

“QRO” (are you troubled by static noise) can become “do you hear anything”.

10-81 (breathalyzer report) becomes “just a drunk”.

10-90 (bank alarm) can become a prefacing code for an audio or visual alarm, with the location following it.

As with cop and amateur radio codes, there are hospital codes that can apply or be readily modified to fit life without radio communication. Heavy equipment operators and divers also have signals we can steal and modify. Knowing the common motorcyclist signals can be applied to daily life as well as serious disasters.

Military Hand Signals

Whether we’re ever planning to clear a house or a yard with another person or not, military and police hand signals also have applications for many situations. The numbers alone are useful. There are also action-information signals that are pretty handy.

The difference between “stop” and “freeze” gets used with my dumb dog 20 and 200 feet from our house with some regularity. I prefer to just go extract her or the ball from my pots and planters, but sometimes I just want her to stay generally where she is while a car passes. “Go back” translates to “out/away” in our world – I want her to back away from me, usually while I’m playing with sharp things or might squish her.

I originally thought it was just my quirky father telling dogs, the rest of the family, and hunting buddies that we were going to the vehicle with his “steering wheel” gesture. For a while I though the military had stolen the “down” signal from hunters with dogs.

Turned out, not so much. He just modified them from his military days.

Even without need for silence, it’s just really easy to whistle or clap a hand once, tap a window, ring a triangle, and then make a quick gesture, as opposed to shouting fifteen times or hiking out to somebody.

The gestures themselves are rooted in military hand signals we each learned (decades apart). In most of my lifetime’s applications of them, they’ve had no military bearing at all. But like the ability to say “I love you” a last time from a window, or immediately flag a distress signal in a boating-savvy community, they entered into our world and stayed in use.

ASL

American sign language has some of the same benefits as the everyday-everyone useful military signals. There are a world’s worth of truncated single-gesture shorthand signs, for everything from “man” or “female child” to “taking lunch”.  Deaf-mute people are able to hold the same sophisticated conversation as speaking and hearing folks. The addition of spelling and broader concepts to military hand signals allows ASL signers to be more specific across even distance, silently.

It’s also just a handy skill to have and might increase your employability when you stick it on a resume.

Written Word

As with flags and hand signals, we can take cues from history and modern eras with leaving drawn symbols – or flashing cards and posters – as well.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive listing of WWII symbols. It wouldn’t be completely crazy talk to go with another nation’s symbols, such as German or Russian, if you want to keep the information a little more segmented, although there tends to be a lot of commonality.

The old hobo symbols can be a little tricky. I can think of three or four for “safe water” alone. It also means adjusting from “black spot of death” and “X marks the spot” to slashes and X’s are bad, and dots are good.

However, from “dangerous man” and “vicious dogs” to “rickety bridge” or “avoid this in rain”, there are many apply, whether we’re planning on a community, thinking “Kilroy” situations, or just making notes for family or a core group.

The symbols also allow us to quickly and easily annotate our own maps for areas of concern or resources.

Limitations

The limitation to all of these is line of sight. But in some to many cases, being able to communicate even from a driveway to the house, the length of a hall, or stacked in a ditch, without making noise or taking a lot of time, makes them worth considering. There’s a good reason many of them have never faded from use, even with today’s technology.

If you want to communicate at range in the dark, you’ll need flashlights or pointers, (or oil-candle lanterns if your non-radio needs are expected due to long-duration interruptions in shipping). For us, that’s balanced, because we have lights on us, almost always, but not always a cell signal and not always a radio. That might not hold true for everyone.

Hand and flag signals are limited in range, while light carries longer distance. However, blinker-light comms is only really reliable at night. I may be able to use red boards, car windshield heat reflectors, or white flags to increase range in the daytime.

The number-one piece of gear for longer-distance communication without electronics is going to be binoculars or a scope.

Day or night, if I can’t see what you’re sending, clearly, we have delays or miscommunication. They’re inexpensive enough and should be part of most preparedness closets anyway.

If you’re mostly in brush country and are only talking about distances of double-digit yards, don’t break the bank there – there are more important things. If you’re looking at using blinker lights and somebody climbing a windmill or water tower daily or weekly to do a neighborhood-town flag check, a simple scope should work.

It’s also a lot to learn.

Instead of planning to use all of them, maybe take notes, print guides, but cherry pick. The very basic hand signals (heard, saw, numbers, armed or unarmed, child, adult, animal, danger, recover/relax, say again) and basic Morse code would take priority. 10 and Q codes can be added on. A few flags or graphics to represent ideas or situations follow.

Radio Silence Backups

The point is not to discourage anyone with fifty-five million more things to learn or buy. It’s that we have lots of options even if electronics-driven communication becomes unavailable. With any luck, there are some ideas here that can add some resiliency and redundancy to existing plans.

And, since a lot of it is learning based, not resource based, non-radio comms can be a way to improve preparedness with free-inexpensive skill building while saving up for purchases.

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Lessons from History – Staying Warm in Winter

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Whether bedding down in a sturdy home, on the move, or making a temporary camp for the snowy season, there are a lot of lessons we can take from history to keep us safer and more comfortable.

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Winter Prepper Project Ideas – Outdoors

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

There’s a lot that winter (or early spring) can tell us about our properties, both for planting decisions, siting various things around our property, and for mitigating some of the weather that comes with winter and spring.

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Stacking Functions: Increasing Efficiency with Multi-Function Spaces

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Analyzing homestead elements for multi-functionality and redundancy were covered in the first article. This time we’ll look at combining them into multi-function spaces.

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Stacking Functions: Increasing Yields & Decreasing Labor with Multi-Function Elements

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Stacking functions is a quick term for the concept of planning things (elements) and areas (space) to perform the most services for us.

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Planned Parenthood for Preppers

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Managed Livestock Breeding Livestock keeping is one of the things that those interested in self-sufficiency regularly end up considering. There are factors involving breeding, especially, that can increase our success and let us custom-fit our livestock’s needs to our situations. While some aspects of controlled breeding may seem obvious, especially to experienced livestock keepers, other […]

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Feeding the Beast During SHTF – Soups & Substitutions

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Sometimes we may feel pigeonholed or daunted by the storage foods we can afford, or overwhelmed by how we’re going to use those storage foods without the endless repetition taking a toll. Here are some formulas and ideas for turning common storage foods into actual meals, increasing the variety of meals we can make with a few standard ingredients, and some substitutions that can lower our costs or improve the serving size, nutrition, and flavor of our cooking.

I’m not a big baker and I don’t thrill to the stove top – only the dinner table. Given the amount of work a lot of us are going to be doing just hauling water where it’s needed, plus the labor of gardens and any animals, rearing our children, cooking from scratch, cleaning without a dishwasher and washer-dryer, I’m planning to go simple with a lot of my cooking. So even if you’re not a big cook, there are ideas here that can help, ideas that can be made even with off-grid cooking methods.

Replacements

While I’ll get into some specifics in a minute or two, one thing to consider in our disaster cooking is simple substitutions.

Wheat is commonly pushed for home storage due to the price and condensed calories, and then people feel obligated to buy a grinder, and then they feel like slackers for not practicing their home-ground wheat flour bread options. I do think we should practice what we plan to use, but I don’t think everybody with buckets of wheat actually has to view it as only a future bread dough.

Wheat can be boiled and served with the same seasonings as every side dish, from herbed buttered noodles to fried rice.

Whole wheat berries & fruit in cream

Wheat berry & white bean soup

It can also be boiled to be part of or replace oatmeal and cream of wheat (soaking it overnight will make it boil faster in the morning).

If there’s a soup that calls for barley, couscous, or rice, wheat will work there, too, and cooks in about the same amount of time as barley, maybe a hair longer if it’s stored oxygen free and is older than 2-3 years (45-60 minutes usually, without a pre-soak).

Having an alternative use for the first 50-300# (or more) of wheat can buy us a little more time before we get pushed into buying not only a good grain mill, but then all the replacements for it.

Point in fact, most of our grains, from starchy dent corn to barley, wheat to quinoa, and amaranth to rice are fairly interchangeable. They take different times to cook in some cases, they definitely have their own flavors, but there’s little that can’t be made to work for any of them.

Likewise, spaghetti can be very easily used in place of an Oriental noodle, especially whole-grain spaghetti or angel hair pasta. That’s pretty handy, since even the good stuff is pretty cheap, and two pounds of spaghetti stores in about the same space than two packages of ramen.

Those substitutions exist all over.

And once we do get our grain mill, don’t neglect the other things in the pantry.

We can grind dry oats – even rolled oats – to replace part of our flour as well.

Old dry beans that don’t want to soften can be turned into flour to replace a quarter or a third of a recipe, either bread or fry batter or even for gravies.

Until recent times, we used flours from barley and maize as often as we did wheat, and a lot of the world still uses them – just as often or as a partial replacement for flavoring. So can boiled or roasted acorns. We can grind dry oats – even rolled oats – to replace part of our flour as well. Doing so can sometimes to often improve the protein components of our foods, decrease the glycemic index, and help us use something that’s not really moving in our pantries.

That inexpensive oatmeal can also be turned into homemade granola bars, muffins, and griddle cakes, decreasing the amount of flour we need to use and providing a fork or finger-food in a world of spoons.

Recipes

When seeking out recipes specifically for preppers, a fair number use a lot of ingredients or require a fair bit of prep. Call me lazy, but I’m just not there, even in today’s world. Camping and backpacking recipes regularly seem to call for things we might not have on hand anymore, too, and a lot of perishable foods these days.

One, a lot of the no-fire, no-gas cooking methods really lend themselves to such. Two, the less ingredients and effort, the more time reading with kids, playing a game, or sitting with my eyes closed listening. I kind of like those options better.

Pioneer Soup

If you’ve heard of 3-5-7 can soups, you’re familiar with this. It’s basically just a rule of thumb to help check the boxes on the main “eating” components:

  • Filling/satiety
  • Fast-access energy
  • Slow-access energy
  • Proteins
  • Vitamins

The general concept is to pull 1-2 items from each category to make sure the body is getting all the nutrients it needs, which is increased by consuming a rainbow. That said, even I don’t make broth with just one seasoning. Still, the lists from the guidelines can help.

One that I ran across breaks it into “Five F’s”:

  • Fat: Oil, margarine, butter, lard, tallow, fatty meat (bacon, salt pork, hocks)
  • Flavor Root/Shoot: Garlic, onion, scallion, celery/celeriac, turmeric
  • Flavor Leaf: parsley, marjoram, thyme, oregano, basil, nasturtium
  • Filler (starches): Potato, pasta, grains & corn, pseudo-grains, cattail root
  • Fuel (protein): Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), jerky, meat sticks/sausage, ham, fish, game

The breakdowns are nice as more than a check-box guide to make sure nutritional needs are being met.

Sometimes soup get pigeonholed, which is a shame, because from a creamy red bean and rice soup to veggie to chicken-noodle to some of the Oriental soups and things like borsch and solyanka, we have a ton of options available to us. Even working off of simple, cheap, condensed-calorie prepper staples and garden veggies or wild edibles, we can present a huge variety.

Alternating what we combine and even how we serve it can help avoid appetite fatigue, which is another aspect where limiting ourselves to 1-2 items from each category can help.

How we present soups can make a big difference as well, creating significantly different feels to meals even with the exact same ingredients, or very minor twitches.

That applies whether we use the 5-F method, or one of the other guides.

One of those other common formulas for pioneer soup breaks it into three fuel categories – the primary fats, proteins, starches – and then three filler (belly filling, short on calories) and flavor components:

Veggies – tomatoes, tomato powder, green beans, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, radish and mustard sprouts, cooking/roasting radishes, autumn squash, bell peppers, salsify, turnip, parsnip, beets, etc.

Leafy Greens – spinach, beet tops, lettuce, swiss chard, mizuna, cabbage, endive, turnip tops, dandelion, plantain, nettles, borage, leeks, ramps, radish tops, water or upland cress, mustard greens, mache/corn salad, sweet pea leaves, dock, kale, sprouts

Herbs & Seasonings – tart/sour berries, garden herbs, cress, wild onions, hot radishes, horseradish, onion, garlic, ground or cracked mustard seed, modern-day seasoning blends & stock bones

Soup Alternates

Part of what makes soup an economy food is that the broth helps us feel full and increases the satisfaction from the meal.

That said, we can break apart our general standard for pioneer or 7-can soup and still get the benefits of economical belly filling balance and variety.

A pasta salad can easily be made from storage foods and fresh garden or foraged goodies, especially if we plan ahead for something like powdered Parmesan cheese that can be a pick-me-up. Three or four roasted autumn veggies on a pile of fresh or wilted leafy greens creates another fork-ready meal.

We can turn our protein component into a creamed soup or just serve a broth beside either of them to get some of the belly filling aspects back, or incorporate dried beans or cut-up dry sausage (or Slim Jims).

Shrimp Tacos

Likewise, we can turn simple ash cakes or thinned-down Bisquick into tortillas or crepes, mix up a cabbage slaw, and bust open a can of small shrimp to sear in fajita spices as a pick me up. Just a few shrimp and a couple of tacos can provide the mental boost of a non-spoon meal, even served with a pile of rice on the side and-or a cup of spicy black bean puree soup.

Instant Potatoes

Potato buds that say they’re ready to eat and just need water are telling bald-faced lies. That said, instant mashed potatoes are in a lot of kits and come pretty inexpensively on their own. Even without extra seasonings and evaporated milk for them, instant potatoes have a lot of value, especially in conjunction with our pioneer soups.

One, little says I love you like a wedge of shepherd’s pie. We can use those general basic flavorings to make a brothier version to make it stretch further, or increase the veggies beyond the usual ratios.

We can also indulge in things like a broth-heavy roasted marrow meal or just serve our Bear Creek or homemade beef or veggie soup with a happy mound of potatoes to the side or right in the middle. The seasonings from the soups will (hopefully) help mask the bland flavor, and it creates a different presentation – which is good for the mental aspects of eating, especially if a lot of our diet is rice and beans and boiled wheat.

Two, instant potatoes can be turned into goodies like potato pancakes. Or, we can mix them as directed (even in cold water; they’ll absorb it in a minute) and then bake them off to create a pseudo-dumpling or biscuit with little effort and little clean-up.

Instant potatoes can be turned into goodies like potato pancakes.

Instant potatoes also make a great thickener for our soups. We can use them to create a gravy-like broth or to imitate a creamed soup or chowder. They can also make a nice, easy flavor and calorie base for standard potato chowder without taking as much time as potatoes would to cook and mash.

Assortment of foodstuffs with a high fiber content, including various fruits and vegetables, wholemeal bread and baked beans.

Emergency Foods

While things like soup and the common basics for food storage focus around economy, it doesn’t mean we have to break the bank to jazz it up one way or another. We can avoid falling into ruts – now and later – by figuring out new ways to use the items we already have.

We can apply a little creativity and still get meals that offer variety by adding in a few things like a variety of pasta and some feel-good seasonings like powdered parm and fajita spices. Spices and sauces like soy, Dale’s, Old Bay (or the generic) and Adobo powder pack a lot of bang for the buck. We can make use of things like hot radishes, sprouts, microgreens, and wild edibles to season and bulk up our serving sizes.

We can also ease our workloads by harkening back to pottage with soups, casseroles, and one-pot meals.

In some cases, examining where we stand on our preparedness arc and how balanced our preparedness health wheels are invaluable, because it can help us decide if we need something expensive like a good grinder or a wood stove, or if our storage is at a point where a smaller set of fixes makes more sense – at least for now. Being able to buy inexpensive foods like grains, pasta and dry beans, and still create filling, varied, satisfying meals out of them, can help open up the budget for those items.

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Feeding the Beast During SHTF – Bread Options

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

A crisis of any scale is a tough time to either have to learn to do without, or create a lot of work for ourselves. With a little practice and planning, we can still have things that make our next dish of soup or pinto beans or squirrel a little happier, and give us some versatility in how we use flour and mixes for baked goods. We can do it without adding a ton of steps, mess, and in most cases a lot of ingredients to our daily tasks. Whether we’re at home or on the trail, that can save some sanity as well as time and labor.

This is me, so you’re mostly going to see 5 ingredients or less through here, and a focus on cleanup. I’m just not Martha Stewart. But I do like my breads and I do like something sweet now and again, so here’s half a dozen ways we can still get them, even without a working oven or supermarket.

Ash Cakes & Bannock 

What would a soup be without some sort of bread? Not as happy, that’s what. Two of the simplest breads to make have already been talked about in the 6 One-Day Projects article, down in the list of other things to try. 

Any flour will work for either an ash cake or bannock bread, even purchased mixes like the dinner rolls Augason Farms apparently figures I’ll be making – ever, but especially in a disaster. Even when it’s got extra stuff in there, I go ahead and follow the cup-tablespoon-teaspoon ratio for bannock, or just drizzle in water or milk for an ash cake.
biscuit-dumpling-i
Those ash cakes and bannock can also be augmented by rolled oats, rolled wheat, or instant rolled barley, although you need to let those sit for 10-20 minutes to make sure they have a chance to soak up some liquid, and you’ll probably need to add more liquid than usual. It’s a way to both add some texture and variety to diets, as well as use up some of the cheaper ingredients like oatmeal that are in our storage even when we haven’t planned for no-bake cookies.

Any cornbread or cornmeal can also be turned into ash cakes or pseudo-Johnny cakes, to go beside a soup or under a stew, or to add variety to our breakfast meals.

Drop biscuits & dumplings

Most pancake and dinner roll mixes have the potential to turn into nice, easy biscuits; and anything that’s a biscuit (or bannock bread) can be dropped by mounded tablespoons into a simmering pot of broth, gravy or soup, simmered for 10 minutes, flipped, simmered another 10-12 minutes, and whala – we have a fluffy(ish) bread right there in our soups.

Head’s up: Biscuit dumplings will regularly turn your clear, light broth into something thicker and more gravy like. That is not a bad thing, just a point.

Something that can be a bad thing, is that if you completely cover the top of your soup with dumplings, it gets really hard to stir the bottom.

Both of those factors go away if you opt to make your meal in a solar oven or similar. You can do it one of two ways, just like a regular biscuit bake – stick the biscuits/dumplings on the bottom to slowly rise and fluff, or space them out on top from the get-go or after part of the bake time has elapsed.

biscuit-bake-ii

An advantage to dumplings over other ways of getting a breading into our soup meal is that it’s still only one cooking pot.

Drop biscuits have advantages in clean-up, too, and in time and waste. When we mix a batter and then spoon biscuits out onto a sheet pan, we don’t even have to dip our fingers in flour for molding them. We sure don’t have to flour a counter and a rolling-pin or drinking glass (which is also what I usually use for a cutter).

When I make drop biscuits, they’re ingredients to oven in 5 minutes or less, and my cleanup involves a bowl and two spoons. When Mr. P makes *real* biscuits, I consider just torching the kitchen and starting over.

In a life with limited water, limited resources, and a lot of labor involved with every aspect of survival, the differences can matter. The same holds true for the drop biscuit dumplings instead of rolling out and cutting even more to make flat drop dumplings.

Hardtack

hardtack
Hardtack is definitely an option to go with our soups, just like it was in colonial and pioneer days. There are lots of recipes online for baking it.

There are not as many as I’d have expected where people actually eat this stuff, and discover that it’s best soaked for a few hours first, then simmered right along with broth, tea, or soup, anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the alignment of the stars*.

*Snicker; but not entirely kidding on the predictability front.

That veers it away from a convenience food, but if you’re using a crock pot or equivalent, or are simmering soup for a few hours anyway, heating the house anyway, it’s pretty handy to be able to pop open a bucket of these things 2-5 years after you made them and have a nice, portable, calorie-dense portion to pick up and eat or saw with a fork and knife. We can even sub in some of our crazy flours like ground dry beans, acorn, and barley if we’re so inclined.

Just be aware that real hardtack is not Mountain House pilot bread or a cracker, and that 5-20 minutes under gravy or in a fry pan goes nowhere without a pre-soak once it’s hard and dry.

Beer bread

I am lazy, if it was not obvious from the articles about bed sheets, laundry, and gardening. I’m also not big into babysitting food at timed intervals.

Beer bread fits me to a T.

Price out some inexpensive light beer, and don’t neglect the option of a local store ordering a couple flats of forties for you. They’re actually the cheapest option for me, both bottles and cans, because I’m not willing to buy Natty Ice even for a disaster, even though there’s boxed wine in case I decide a wine IV or camelback is necessary for my sanity.

There are many recipes online. I like this one, although I sometimes just omit the butter entirely or use oil instead. This one skips the salt and goes straight to self-rising flour. We can sub in a dinner roll mix or Bisquick for either.

And the sifting … I call it optional.

We can use a beer bread recipe in any kind of cooker, from a crock pot or facsimile to a solar oven. We can make it in little cans around a campfire or rocket stove, too, or atop a clay pot candle heater.

Spread out in a pie plate or frying pan instead of a loaf pan, or separated into muffin pans, it’ll cook faster and be easy to portion out.

That can save arguments over who does or doesn’t get the heels (there are freaks out there who consider that a lesser slice). It can also just make it faster and less messy to serve, while also saving cooking fuel and time.

If you want more flavor to your bread, you can go with heavier and darker ales as you like. While I’m happy sipping a well-built Guinness or Killian’s Red, I don’t actually like them in my bread and that bread is no good for PBJ.

Griddle Cakes 

Another cheat I learned for backpacking is that you can make any baked good into a griddle cake. For those of us who want fast and easy in a disaster, or who aren’t *ready* yet and are dying for a quick and easy treat, bag and box mixes I have successfully made into little rounds of goodness with a pan or on the greased top of a canteen mug and any heat source include:

  • Oatmeal cookies
  • Brownies
  • Muffin mixes
  • Cake mixes
  • Scone mixes
  • Cornbread & corn muffin mixes
  • Hushpuppy batter

You can follow the directions (or portion them, depending on how easy fresh or powdered eggs and oil are to divide) or cut some of the liquids, and they come out about like puffy pancakes.

Thin them down a fair bit, and, boy oh boy, we’re starting to look into the gourmet side with crepes.

They can be eaten as-is like a soft cookie or roll-up, or topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, ice cream and milk flavoring syrups, nuts in syrup, honey, tree syrup, Karo, and jelly.

Frosting in a Ziploc bag offers the ability to make cute spirals and grids or fluffy artistic mounds. Pudding can be reserved and mixed thick to do the same, or used as a filling for crepes.

They can also be topped or filled with canned or rehydrated fruits, cannoli filling, pie filling, cream cheese, or peanut butter. You can also play with adding shredded coconut and nuts (and chocolate) to German chocolate frosting, or use sweetened condensed milk and shredded coconut as a super-sweet filler.

Fun note: They can also be baked in a skillet to cut like wedges of cornbread. I regularly bake muffin mixes in a pie pan to create thin little slices that are usually drizzled with something. Tuna cans and soup cans can also be used for any batter, as can small Pyrex bowls or ramekins. Those containers are also all options for baked pancakes, such as this one .

Off-Grid Cooking

Even when we’re not as prepared as we’d like to be, or when we like convenience and we want to continue to have convenient options in a disaster, we can still get the feel-good foods that bread and even “baked” sweet treats can be.

Whether it opens up options for us, just provides some extra backups, or becomes part of our daily habits, keeping an open mind about what we can accomplish – and how much effort it has to take – can only benefit us in the future.

This focused on my weakness: Breads. (And laziness, okay.) I totally endorse knowing how to do and make things from scratch. There are preservatives and cost issues with some of my cheats. However, from things like ash cakes and bannock that truly need few ingredients, to new ways to make and use mixes we might already have around, we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves, especially if our disaster plans involve holing up in summertime or a lot more physical labor year-round.

Other things to consider when we look at these lists are the amount of fuel some of the treatments take, the amount of pan scrubbing and kitchen cleanup involved, and even the cookware we have at our disposal.

We also might want to look at some of our guilty pleasures when it comes to eating. Even if we don’t stock our cupboards to make it a daily or even weekly staple, we might consider stashing some premade mixes, hiding away some beer, and holding onto some tin cans so we can pop them out now and then for special occasions.

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The post Feeding the Beast During SHTF – Bread Options appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us – Livestock Edition

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Livestock keeping requires some research. It seems obvious, but it’s apparently not. It really merits researching in great depth, because there are a lot of investments and there are some issues that regularly crop up, having somehow have escaped a fair number of the people who choose to get livestock. I developed this article because I’m running into some of the same issues, regularly from people who really ought to know better. This is basically a primer on those situations. The information is not hidden, but seems to somehow end up overlooked – repeatedly.

I’m going to hit a few things that I run into (regularly) in quick little bullets. They’re tips for animal safety, the protection of genetic lines (ours and also a buyer’s), and successful breeding. They may be taken at face value, or they’re points for research.

I don’t mean to insult anybody’s intelligence. Some of them just keep repeatedly cropping up. With any luck, old hats will read it as well – if nothing else, maybe for some commiseration. I’d really like them to add the trends they see as well, though. The more information available, the better off all livestock keepers will be.

The Biggies BLUF Style

First off, I’d like to say: Do the research. This article and every other TPJ article about livestock in general and specific species and breeds should only be part. “Back To Basics” is only a primer. There are too many resources, completely free in many cases, for folks to end up as overwhelmed as they sometimes do.

Second: Go buy one of the type you’re going to raise or breed, just one. A spring kid, a rabbit, an aging-out hen, even a calf – although I suggest the smaller animals. Care for it for a season or longer. Then slaughter it. If you can’t, there’s only one animal eating you out of house and home, not a pair or a handful that can continue to multiply until it’s out of control. Even if you hunt, even if you slaughter poultry, make sure you can do it with the next livestock type – a lot of people can’t.

Hobby Farm Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Rabbits, Goats, Pigs, Sheep, and Cattle

Hobby Farm Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Rabbits, Goats, Pigs, Sheep, and Cattle

I mention these two because I’ve volunteered for livestock rescues, I consult on sustainable systems (which include livestock), I’m on several forums, and I have personal relationships with livestock keepers. I have run into livestock costs and numbers getting out of control in numerous ways.

Rescues end up taking on the burdens in a lot of cases – when it’s just too much work or too much effort, too much expense, when it’s too hard to kill and eat an aged-out hen or the fluffy bunnies, when things spiral so long that the whole experiment fails and people lose their homesteads.

So beginners and expanding keepers: Start small – very small.

The Birds & The Bees

Sperm wilts in Summer. This is especially true of rabbits, who already face a lot of physical stress from heat. Litters will be typically smaller and there will regularly be fewer fertile eggs in the hottest periods for all stock. In some cases, you’ll need to plan more frequent and longer exposures to studs to have a pregnancy take.

farm-sign-iiHens make eggs. They don’t need males to do it. Males are only needed to make more birds.

Dairy animals need “freshened”. Cattle, sheep, llamas, yaks, camels, and goats…

A.) Must have a baby (and thus be bred) before they make milk.

B.) Only produce that milk for a period of months before it dries up, and they have to have another baby.

Animals lack sexual mores. Livestock has no qualms about inbreeding with parents, siblings, grandparents, and close cousins. Wildlife ends up spread out and thus genetically diverse by numerous mechanisms. They cover more territory than domestic equivalents, and in some cases – like science is proving for wild ducks – they’re rampant adulterers even when forming seasonal or lifetime partners. We take that away from livestock. It can lead to serious genetic faults.

Livestock breeds early. By species, livestock can be breeding by 3-5 months of age. Failure to identify and separate or neuter males leads to inbreeding and overpopulation.

Separation is necessary – breeding I. Livestock will mate again as soon as they’re able. This leads to worn-down females, as well as overpopulation.

By their size, it’s easily possible that these rabbits have all reached sexual maturity – which means half or more of these animals could be gestating another 6-12 rabbits each. If they’re a mother and kits, especially if they’re not handled and examined regularly and a male hid his limas for a while, it’s not just the potential 48 new hoppers. It’s also inbreeding.

By their size, it’s easily possible that these rabbits have all reached sexual maturity – which means half or more of these animals could be gestating another 6-12 rabbits each. If they’re a mother and kits, especially if they’re not handled and examined regularly and a male hid his limas for a while, it’s not just the potential 48 new hoppers. It’s also inbreeding.

Castrating hoofstock creates options. Once altered, especially young, male animals are no longer a threat to the studs, or to our genetic lines and feed/housing budgets. They can stay with sisters and mothers, or go be a stud companion. They can also leave our properties, even if they come from faulted genetic lines, because they’re no longer a threat to others’ bloodlines even if they prove too cute/clever to slaughter and become a pet.

Neuter/Castrate early I. Testes will drop in a matter of days or weeks. The longer we wait, the more the at-home tools to castrate cost and the fewer options we have. By 2 months, some species are already getting too big for some of the less-invasive, non-surgical methods, and by 4 months, anything non-surgical is usually off the table.

Callicrate Smart Bander Kit

Callicrate Smart Bander Kit

Neuter/Castrate early II. The earlier we alter male mammals, the easier it is. One, smaller is easier to wrestle. Two, there’s less time (and pain) involved in either crimping or banding a small mole than there would be for crushing off or wrapping a rubber band around a finger and waiting for it to rot off. Same deal with testes.

Separation is necessary – breeding II. Males are really into the passing down of their genetic material, and they will bloody and kill each other to do so. Wildlife doesn’t fight to the death over sex because the losers have enough room to run away. Livestock doesn’t (usually).

Separation is necessary – breeding III. Stud pigs and rabbits will kill off even their own young, and mothers will attack other pigs or rabbits and the young of a previously peaceful companion. They want the chance to mate again, or to eliminate competition for resources for their own litters or possible threats to their litters (it’s instinct).

Friends are fine. There’s nothing wrong with combining studs or grow-outs from different species while separating them from their original herds, or keeping the cow (and her calf) with the ram. They’ll gain valuable socialization. They can also share in the protection of numbers and combined body heat.

sheepcow

Limit unaltered males. It helps reduce the competition. That can lead to quieter, more peaceful barnyards. Especially with chickens, at high ratios of hens to roosters, you’ll find roosters are less sexually frustrated (and more tired), and thus less like to attack vehicles, other animals, and people.

Breeding affects female health. Pregnancy and lactation take a physical toll on dams, even with proper feed. So does egg production. Even though most livestock mammals can become pregnant again while still nursing the last young, it’s not always the best choice. A break in the cycles for recovery is of huge benefit for both poultry and mammals. Especially with mammals, we can gain years of useful life by providing rest cycles.

Dairy Drive-By’s

Sample goat milk before you buy. Not just any goat milk; that doe’s. If it’s not possible to sample the milk of the doe you’re getting, sample her mother’s and sisters’. While some breeds vary hugely animal-to-animal, most will have some similarity to their nearest relatives, especially if the stud line is the same.

Separation is necessary – Bucks effect milk. Lots effects milk flavor, from breed and feed to how fast we can cool it off, to a tiny little amount of dust.  But bucks really do contribute hugely to that goaty flavor.

Separation is necessary – Milking.  If we want to milk once daily, we can separate overnight after the first milks finish. If we want to milk twice daily and bottle feed numerous times a day, we can separate as soon as the colostrum finishes.

lucy-triplets

Separation is necessary – Weaning. Livestock will not usually forcibly wean their own young until they are near birthing again or naturally dry off. Even then kids/calves/foals will sometimes try to continue to nurse – even off other dams. This creates undo stress on the dual-nursing mothers, and competition for the newborns losing the highest fat and highest production milks.

Triplets are trouble – the birth. Sheep seem to handle triplets like champs, but goats and especially cattle regularly end up needing help with them – or with the last one, at least. It’s not uncommon for that third to be stillborn, or unable to nurse a first time.

Triplets are trouble – the kids. Between bottle feeding and super-productive dams, there are plenty of survivors. However, one of the triplets is sometimes seriously stunted, and due to competition for colostrum and high-fat milk, is likely to lag behind and be more susceptible to illness for life. Conversely, sometimes one kid is significantly larger than both its siblings and will take a lion’s share, leaving both behind the curve as they split the remains.

Triplets are trouble – the dam. I know people who won’t burden a doe with a third kid, because even if she has enough milk early, it will put enormous strain on her body and she may not be able to maintain that production when they get to the pre-weaning stage and are taking quarts off her. I also know people who milk colostrum and early milk for runts, then bottle feed a different mother’s milk to get enough volume for all three. Time available, the presence of other dams, whether we want to share that much milk for triplets (or cull early) all impact our decisions, as do our future herd needs.

Chickens Are Vicious

chicken-647226_640(Newsflash: So are geese.)

Roosters are lean & active. The earlier we harvest our male birds, the less tough and “gamey” the meat will be – and the less disruption from excess roosters we’ll deal with over weeks and months.

Roosters are rough lovers. Even within the unaided egg season, hens can use a break from roos. Roosters break and pull feathers as they mate, and their favorites can end up pretty bedraggled. Unfortunately this leads to…

Hens Peck Injuries. Chickens will keep after a flock mate with a visible wound or bare patches of skin, reopening and enlarging injuries, and can end up killing them.

chickensaddle1_large

Chicken Saddles & Blue Dot can help. We can cover a love-torn or injured bird in a chicken saddle (or sock sweater for young/small birds) and we can treat with a spray (which leaves blue dots). Ideally, we also use them on uninjured senior animals. If all (or half) of the flock also sports saddles or blue dots, the flock won’t focus its attention on the oddball, and the oddball has a chance to recover without separation.

Separation is necessary – Injuries. Chickens especially may need separated if they have a serious injury. All livestock may need a smaller pen or box to provide recovery, limit activity, or so they aren’t taken by predators while injured.

Chicks need protection. Chicks commonly need heat lamps, special food, and water they can reach. They also slip through smaller cracks, are susceptible to damp grass and cold ground, and fit in more mouth sizes. Whether we incubate and box chicks, or provide them with a broody hen, they need some help.

Chicks can be left in a flock. If a broody hen is of high enough seniority, and a flock is relatively small (under 10-18), hens can raise their nests right there in the existing coop. Otherwise, multiple hens that will sit nests within 4-6 weeks of each other can be removed to an adjacent coop. Being adjacent, having high-ranking, dominant mothers, and being in higher numbers can ease…

chicks-in-flockPecking Order – It’s a real thing. It’s when birds use pointy beaks to peck others and establish their dominance. It gets brutal.

Integration of flocks takes time. One, separated and new birds need to be exposed to the flock through a fence or crate for days and weeks, not hours. Two, new and re-introduced birds really need to be of compatible size with flocks, especially big flocks. Otherwise, birds will be injured and-or killed.

chicks-separated

Roosters don’t share well. Sometimes birds raised as brothers will share a flock, just like lions sometimes work in pairs. Usually, there’s fighting. And if a stud is kept with hens, and sexually mature baby roo’s are outside that fence, they will …

A.) Fight through the fences.

B.) Crow challenges constantly.

C.) Find new and creative ways to get inside the fence to the hens/rooster.

D.) Regularly become aggressive/more aggressive with other living and inanimate beings. Good times.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Some rabbits get along. Many don’t, especially rabbits accustomed to life in their own cages, and rabbits that aren’t spayed and neutered.

Breeding pairs need introductions. You arrange hutches so that a male can ideally be between two females, so his hutch slides and overlaps two females’, or leave empty spaces he can occupy for at least a couple weeks. That way, they’re accustomed to each other when they’re plunked in together.

Bunnies need buddies. They’re social creatures, just like dogs. Adjoining hutches allows for social interaction, as well as the potential for combined body heat if temperatures dip.

rabbits-hutches

Females go to males. Neutral ground is iffy, but a male entering a female hutch can lead to…

A.) Distraction, with the male sniffing and marking instead of crooning Barry Manilow.

B.) The female taking offense to a male rushing right up to her.

C.) A female taking offense to a male poking through all her private spaces (especially if she’s raised kits in there and has a permanent box).

Bunnies need watched. Even if introductions and mating went well, sometimes you want your own space back, or somebody’s toes get stepped on. Hot weather makes everybody more cranky, too, and rabbits are no exception. Bunnies do their business, then get separated again.

Feeding – Them & Us

Feed is expensive. Whether we’re feeding off forage that takes time to recover, or buying sacks, there’s a cost associated. We need to know how much animals eat, and how many we can afford, before we create situations for breeding.

baconMeat animals are for eating. Don’t breed animals until you’ve tasted that species’ meat, and don’t breed animals whose meat you don’t like. (Riiiigghhtt???)

Harvest meat by size/age, not season. Big animals might lend themselves to waiting until after frosts, but when we’re feeding ourselves or other livestock off what we raise, we don’t have to wait for some magic season any more. In the case of chickens and rabbits especially, just a month or two delay greatly affects meat quality and flavor.

Eat some early. Doing so can save money on feed and wear on pastures, lower water hauling in late summer, and prevent aggression or breeding within the confines of limited infrastructure and labor. Just because typical butcher weight is 100-350# for pigs doesn’t mean we have to hold a whole litter for 6-9 months, especially the males. Some species lend themselves to waiting at least a while, but we can select 28-day poussin or 3-month pullets, lamb and kid and veal are traditional feasts, and suckling pig is a treat, whether it’s truly <8 weeks or we’re harvesting tender vittles once a month until the last few are freezer-filling beasts.

Nutritional needs change. As animals progress through their life-cycles, the nutrients they need change, as do the amounts of feed they need. Feeding everybody expensive game bird starter or lactating-female levels wastes money.

Feed type matters. Nutrients in bagged feeds & supplements and in pasture/forage/fodder vary, and affect health as well as the time to production or harvest.

Not everybody grazes. Ducks aren’t really grazers at all. In the case of free-range or foraging fowl, the accessible sources for feed changes by age, just as it does for wild birds like quail (quail lifecycle habitat is an excellent research point for creating pasture for poultry).

Llama grazing with sheep.

Llama grazing with sheep.

Worms steal nutrients. Parasites take from our animals. Regular deworming can prevent it. We can also rotate pastures. It limits re-exposure. It also allows pastures to gain height, which impacts hoofstock – worms occupy lower levels with the feces; if the livestock is grazing well above that level, it can break the fecal-oral route and lower belly loads.

Forage-based eaters are different. Free-range, pasture-fed animals that forage significant portions of feed are slower by as much as half-again or twice the time it takes commercial-diet fed animals to reach target weights, and production can be lowered for eggs and dairy as well. They’re also going to be leaner, and meat and eggs will change flavor seasonally.

Predators eat, too. Also, accidents happen and animals roam. Proper housing and fencing – before we bring home livestock – is vitally important. “Proper” varies by species and sometimes breed, and by climate. It’s also affected by rotation plans, keeping style, and the threats within our property and from our surrounding areas, or the natural barriers and safeties we can introduce, to include Livestock Guardian dogs, donkeys and llamas.

Not-So-Short Primer

So that’s the Big List of Bullets that made the cut for sharing. There are others, but I tried to come in under War and Peace, and the others come up more sporadically.

The over-breeding, misconceptions about which livestock needs mates and how often, when we harvest animals, and the inbreeding are biggies. Overpopulation due to males and females in constant exposure, and due to owners’ inability or unwillingness to cull flocks and herds also crops up – constantly, even among manly men who have deployed as grunt infantry and who hunt very similar deer, quail, turkey and duck. I also see a lot of people miss the opportunity to cut feed costs for other livestock or companion animals by using gluts of eggs and milk or meat they don’t want (goats), or who don’t *really* handle livestock and then run into problems moving and vetting them.

Hopefully, there was a nugget in there somewhere for almost everyone – and if not a nugget, some snickers and laughter and the joy of realizing you’re not the only one that ran into a head-scratcher.

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The post What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us – Livestock Edition appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

8 Backups & Barter Items for Preppers

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

4.5/5 (6)

Get a few preppers together, and you can pretty much guarantee that at some point bug out bags and bartering will come up. My personal take is that it’s a little bit foolish to stock something solely to barter – especially stuff that relates to addictions, because people with addictions can be a little bit crazy about their vices. Stocking things that can get used by the household means there’s little regret about expenditures in 2-10 years, whether a disaster occurs or not.

There have been other bartering articles on TPJ, and they’re totally worth looking at. I have zero arguments with the gear, meds, candles, batteries, foods and feel-goods that show up on those lists and are so very common when it comes up on forums. Still, there are some things that are very, very useful, readily affordable, readily portable in a bag or loaded into a game cart to take to Bartertown, and that I see very few people talk about – period, but almost never in the “barter” conversations and posts.

So those are where I’m focusing today.

In many cases, they’re not going to be the first things to run off shelves. Know your area and know what disappears – and when seasonally it tends to disappear even without a disaster. I tend to focus my own efforts on those things I don’t expect to find 3-9 months after a major crisis. I’m also cognizant that some things are never in much bulk – or enough bulk – and that even beyond looters and municipal groups that stand up to try to save their communities and go salvaging, there’s the risk of fires spreading and taking out stores.

With that in mind, here’s my list of 8 barter items that end up ignored as barter items and that aren’t without merit as backups for our own stockpiles.

Canning Jars – Especially Lids

Tattler Reusable Wide Mouth Canning Lids & Rubber Rings

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids & Rubber Rings

It’s pretty rare to find stores with nothing but canning jars on the aisles these days. In most cases, a store at its max display capacity has fewer jars than a single family would need to can only a veggie supplement for 6-9 months, and sometimes even fewer spare lids.

That makes lids and jars pretty much number one on my stock-up list, both for home use and to trade with neighbors and locals.

You’re not going to stick more than a box or two of spare lids in a bag, so this is one of the cases where if you’re on foot, you might want to go ahead and stick with some of those things like batteries, candles, an airgun and pellets, meds, and other lightweight items that will go pretty quick and that people 5 days, 50 days, 5 months and maybe even 50 months into a disaster will still be interested in taking off your hands.

Sevin Dust

sevin-dust-mixed

If you’re big on health, go with dish soap, vinegar and water as a spray, and just skip on down to the next one. I’m pretty much required to turn in my greenie card for promoting Sevin Dust.

But, see, Sevin is pretty darn handy. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, my father used to coat pretty much anything alive in the stuff – ducks, horses, goats, veggies, trees, wasp houses. He used it as flea and tick control as well as on garden pests.

We now have health concerns and concerns about wiping out beneficial bugs and microbes, but if your garden’s getting eaten by eight different things, if you absolutely have to have it to have anything but beans and wheat – or if your beans are being eaten by three different things – you’re going to be willing to think seriously about pretty much anything on the table to get your hands on an easy-to-apply dust that will kill almost any of them, something you can spot treat by hand or hook up to a backpack blower.

I specify the dust because it’s more compact, stores easily, and comes in both big bulk bags and small-container three packs that make it a viable option to cart to the church or community potluck, market or specific neighbors. It also has some of the shortest interval-to-harvest periods of a commercial pesticide.

Liquid Sevin doesn’t store as long, but it does kill extra things and it’s easier to get on the underside of leaves than powder.

Diatomaceous Earth

de_group

First, an apology to our Canadians. I have gathered the impression that this stuff can be tough for you guys to get ahold of, especially in bulk, and it’s not especially cheap there. Here we can just swing by on a whim and get it in packaging from the size of a deck of cards, by the gallon, or even by the 55-gal barrel.

There aren’t as many uses for Diatomaceous Earth as there are for baking soda and Epsom salt, but, man, it’s pretty handy.

It’s the active ingredient in SMITE for poultry, it clears up everything from bed bugs to livestock and pet ear mites, ants to roaches. It can form protective barriers around plants or be spread over them as a powdered insecticide. It’s natural, physical as opposed to chemical, has a nearly endless shelf life because it’s really just ancient plankton shells, can help protect stored foods – especially those we’re harvesting and our next-year seeds – and it has at least a dozen health and beauty uses.

The more uses something has, the less variety we have to store and the better the chances that when somebody has a problem, we have a valuable solution. DE checks those boxes in a big way.

Baking Soda & Baking Powder

baking-soda-baking-powder-2It’s hard to bake without leavening of some sort, and baking soda has about a million uses outside baking – and about a million more totally outside the kitchen. Both have long expirations and easily extend beyond their best-by dates even at room temperature and with fluctuations from 60 to 80 degrees. They’re sensitive to moisture in their smallest packaging forms, but it’s easy to get several or a whole handful in a gallon bag to keep in buckets and pull out as needed.

I don’t expect them to simply run off the shelves as soon as a disaster is announced, but they’re inexpensive, cheaper yet to buy in bulk bags, and it’s worth having some baking soda stocked because it’s one of those that when you want it, there’s not a lot of substitution.

Epsom Salts

epsom

First, sorry, Australian readers (and maybe Brits). I know this stuff is expensive and controlled to a ridiculous degree for you guys. It’s cheap and plentiful in the U.S.

Epsom Salts is what I consider an absolute, 100%, no-arguments prepper must-have. If there’s not already a reminder of how awesome Epsom salt is on an annual basis, there should be. Epsom salt is another one like baking soda, with fifty million uses for human health and hygiene, cleaning, livestock, and gardens. There are so many uses, it truly deserves its own article just as a primer on how useful Epsom salt is.

I’ll take just a moment here to point out that Epsom salt is far, far different from table salts. Epsom is magnesium sulfate, not sodium chloride.

When you want to burn it down and salt the earth so nothing grows (or clean a cutting board and preserve food), use table salt, kosher salt and sea salt.

When you want to encourage flowers, reduce soil deficiencies so plants can uptake their macronutrients properly and produce healthy, bountiful yields, fix an ear infection, reduce swelling, pamper your feet and skin, create barriers for certain types of pests in the home and garden, clean a wound, clear up skin conditions in humans, poultry and hoof stock, that’s what Epsom salt does.

And more.

As with everything else mentioned here, it can be purchased in bulk, or it’s available in small, moisture-resistant containers that make it very viable for trade when somebody’s struggling with any of a multitude of issues.

Rat Traps

rattrap

Rat traps have a ton of uses, but number one is their actual pest-control job. Eventually I think the rat population will level out one way or another, but between death and waste-removal shutdowns, I think they’ll boom for a while first. There have also been some historic accounts from Rome, London and other sites of major fires, where rats flee the cities and end up a plague on outlying areas in waves – and I anticipate fires since they happen daily even now.

Rat traps also have applications as squirrel and songbird traps for feeding families and pets, protecting gardens from small raiders, and combining with fishing line and various magnetic strip alarms or things like chem lights to create visual and audio alerts for home and property alarms. They can also be rigged with bells on a line to alert a barrier run of pigs that something has tripped the wire, and with some training the pigs will rush in to remove threats to chickens and gardens.

They’re small, light, and typically pretty cheap.

For smaller rodent controls, there are several ways (at least) to turn cans and buckets or rubber bands and 2L bottles into pretty effective rodent traps, and some additional ways to use PVC for squirrels and rats. They’re reusable and potentially can be made out of scavenged refuse or scrap, so it’s worth looking up those, too.

After all, sometimes know-how is as valuable a barter object as a physical item.

Water Catchment Faucets, Spigots, & Overflow Fittings

catchment-bucket-spigot

We’re almost guaranteed to see increased attempts to catch and store rain if a disaster ever occurs. Drought and periodic no-boil orders already make water a valuable – and expensive – resource right here in North America.

Having extra fittings for turning our emptied and scavenged buckets, totes, barrels, and tubs into more effective catchment systems has the potential to make not only our lives easier, but convince somebody to share a tool or pasture they’d rather not, or sweeten a deal over somebody else’s offer.

I doubt hardware stores will empty of plumbing fittings super early, but there’s always a chance, since few areas have enough in to truly impact catchment for every farmer and rooftop in the area. There’s also the risk of fire.

The washers and faucets for making the simplest conversions are lightweight, and at most should cost a few bucks. They have the potential of appeal to a much larger community than just smokers, drinkers and tokers, and will appeal to those as well. That makes them a pretty easy item to keep in even an INCH bag and definitely worth throwing in a cargo pocket when we patrol or go to a neighbor – you never know when the opportunity for new boots, tampons, or better bullets will appear.

Various silicone tubes and thread tape have value even outside the rain barrel creations. Some of our local stores and contractors are pretty happy to let us have odds and ends of PVC from jobs for free. The faucets or spigots valves and washers are the more pocketable pieces, but some short runs of PVC and small tubes of aquarium repair silicone can sweeten a deal even more when suggesting or building a system for somebody.

Portable Solar Chargers

solarcharger

Small, portable battery and device solar chargers abound on the market today, from $5-50. The battery chargers are useless without fresh batteries to charge, but having access to downloaded music, movies, games and pictures may mean a great deal to some folks.

They’re small enough even for folks who aren’t ready for $100-3,000 systems to keep phones, iPods, walkies, and headlamps going, and their value will go up further in protracted crises or a situation with regular brownouts. They’re already something you see folks gouge prices on and hit the streets with during “normal” natural disasters.

I wouldn’t fill up buckets with this one, but having a few for us, a few as backups, and a few I’m willing to part with for the little pocket versions and maybe a couple of the larger laptop-tablet or C-9V or combo chargers and rechargeable batteries for them is worth it to me. I also keep Nokeros and some of the little flat flashlights in my windows, though (and use them nearly daily instead of a bedside lamp or regular flashlight).

Backups and Bartering Alternatives

Like I said, I tend to think folks should focus on things they’ll use in a disaster or daily life over something they never have and plan to never want. I also really like the items that can sit on a shelf for years even before best-by dates expire, especially the ones that don’t need additional packaging.

I have no problem with the lists of the common items like meds, batteries, and knife sharpeners. There are always going to be others, from things like clip-on book and cap lights to the ammo that leads to so much back-and-forth and conditional settings. This is just a list of options that I rarely see discussed as storage items, and almost never see on the bartering lists – even though they can be had compactly and they offer so much in so many ways for the most part, that really don’t have replacements, or are rare to find on shelves even now.

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6 One-Day Preparedness Projects & Skills

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

A ton of preparedness projects and skills can be completed in as little as an afternoon, regularly with minimal outlay of cost. Some of them can even be done with kids, significant others and neighbors, without even admitting to being a prepper. That can be a great way to learn yourself but also help others be more prepared, and fostering a work-together and DIY mindset can be huge. The confidence to do, build and create carries forward in daily life for both kids and adults, boosting other types of preparedness as well.

There’s a whole list of other ideas to research for quickie free-time, afternoon and even weekend projects at the bottom of the article. I’m not big into pushing every prepper into the Survivor-man aspect or tons of primitive/colonial skills from the outset, so you’re not going to see those from me.

Instead, here are some insights on half a dozen preparedness projects and skills that can be learned and put together in short bursts or even a single afternoon, things that can immediately affect our self-sufficiency and preparedness for daily life and major disaster events. The projects require minimal tools that most of us (should) already have.

Feather Sticks

I tend to make several when I make one, because you can use the extras to save a fire that starts to go out.

 

Feather sticks are handy-dandy tools anytime you’re making a fire or starting a grill, even on a small-scale with a mini rocket stove. You basically shave a stick into a fluffy cone. Doing so creates the thin shavings, increases airflow and surface area for early kindling uses, and in damp conditions has the added benefit of exposing potentially drier wood inside. They can be made with pocket knives, survival knives, and even machetes if needed.

I tend to make several when I make one, because you can use the extras to save a fire that starts to go out. That’s particularly handy in wet, windy conditions, and it’s handy while you’re learning to pyramid stack, use Swiss torches, or bank a fireplace or wood stove so it stays lit through the night.

#1 Mostest Importantest-Ever Tip: Cut away from yourself. Especially for these.

That means, do not brace a branch on your knee, ankle or thigh and then scrape a blade over a stick that could snap or have a knot that sends your blade skittering. Important tendons, blood vessels, and ligaments are in your limbs.

I won’t say anything if you’re inclined to put a stick in your shoulder and pull a blade toward your neck and eyes – Darwin is obviously working from beyond the grave and I try not to get in Darwin’s way.feather-stick-4

 

Internet hunting & phone gathering

This isn’t actually a one-off. This is setting time aside to poke around sites with free and cheap used stuff, and hunting up “curbside pickup” locations.

In just one “free curbside pickup” listing, I see: high hoop poles + boards for water catchment shelves; metal trellis or bird-exclusion net supports; totes & drawers for water catchment or sub-irrigated or standard containers (big enough for shrubs and mini trees, even); and a laundry basket for growing potatoes in straw and compost.

It’s also time set aside to find out who still chips trees to see if we can get ourselves a mulch source, time for calling around to see who still gets icing so we can get free buckets for food storage, and time for sourcing more buckets by calling around to see if the local humane society/ASPCA, Petsmart, Petco, or animal rescue gets kitty litter in buckets – and if they’d be willing for us to take them off their hands.

We can use Craigslist, Freecycle, and the phone to find sources for:

  • Wooden pallets (all kinds of projects, from mini raised beds to tall keyhole beds, sheds, muddy-spot bridges, etc)
  • Painter’s drop cloth (greenhouse, hoop material weatherproofing windows)
  • Replaced storm doors & windows or mesh from the same (shade covers, exclusion frames) (general contractors, handyman, window repair specialists)
  • Replaced windows and doors (cold frames to grow vegetables in cooler temperatures)

gathering-wood-pile

A downed tree look more like firewood or a hugel bed to me, and construction or renovation trash looks like my next source for all kinds of lumber, plus shelving I can use for raised beds pretty quickly and easily, poles for trellises and extending clothes lines, and plastic I can use as a weed exclusion, machine cover, to extend water catchment, provide shade, or to warm soil in spring and autumn.

  • Creative material for trellises, fencing, and supplies to make other items on the list from others’ refuse (2-5 drawers and a deep raised bed from a filing cabinet; old wire shelving unit; DVD racks for trellises; buckets from delis, caterers, bakeries, restaurants; liquor and appliance stores for cardboard for weed exclusion and water sinks in deep beds)
  • Dinged and scratched solar panels from roadside signs & hurricane netting from roadway construction & repair companies

Bucket rain catchment

We hear about rain barrels, but they can be pretty expensive to buy. Buckets are cheap or free, and easier to haul to the point of use, rearrange, and clean.

Especially early on, we might find some real benefit even in just stacking buckets on each other in a pyramid, or on a chair or stool, then a few bricks, then a couple of sticks or a boards, and angling them a bit so they overflow into each other and then maybe a lidless storage tote or freebie kiddie pool.

rain-catchment

Rain catchment can be as simple or complex, large or small-scale as we want to make it – just getting started is more important than having a pretty, fancy system.

 

If we cover them with old pillowcases, cut-up freebie sheets and towels, or shirts from yard sale leftovers piles, we prevent mosquitoes. We can also hide some of the “ugly” that way if we have neighbors or partners who don’t want to look at them.

We can also go higher tech with angled or laddered systems of several levels, drilling our double overflow and spigot holes as we collect hose, PVC and plumbing attachments.

Go higher tech with angled or laddered systems of several levels

Even if we don’t want to filter the captured water for human use, it can impact the amount we have to water plants or be used for cleaning purposes.

Draft-proofing

Draft-proofing (or at least locating) is about increasing the efficiency of our homes. We want to close doors and turn off lights, and creep around looking at the bottoms of doors and around the door jambs. If we have a partner, we can work at night, looking for places where their flashlight comes through. We can also carry a candle around – the dancing of the flame will help us locate and pinpoint drafts.

Some utilities will come out with sensors to help us find even the little holes where pipes and cables come into our homes.

Windows and doors can have various types of window weather-stripping, bottom-of-door weather strips, and “draft rolls” – homemade or purchased – put in place. We can also lay on clear insulating plastic to cover our windows with – or even a never-used door. There are also silicone sealants we can use with a caulk gun in some areas.

Cutting drafts can save us money on heating and cooling right now. It can also make our whole-house fans and our fireplaces more efficient – now and when we depend on them because grid power is out.

Earth boxes

Buckets and totes, metal and plastic drawers, and even some wooden drawers can be readily turned into planters. If they’ll hold water, we can also turn them into Earth Boxes and “self-irrigated” containers.

earthbox-1

*They’re not really self-irrigated, they’re sub-irrigated but you hear it both ways.

Both input water through tubes to a reservoir space, and soil or wicks then pull it to the root zones, limiting evaporation and making our water use hugely efficient.

There are all kinds of DIY tutorials out there. What I will add to them is: Be sure you don’t actually have to buy something before you do.

I know for a fact that socks that have lost their mates can be filled with the exact same soil I plant in, and work just fine as a wick without buying any specialty baskets. Chunks of wood will eventually decay, but for a long time, they work as well as PVC or bricks for supporting the grate, mesh or upper container we drilled a million holes in. Do you need PVC, or can you daisy-chain some soda bottles together to create an input tube?

We have enough expenses in this life, especially in preparedness. Pocket what you can. Buy another can to put back or go wild and treat yourself, a partner, or the family to Value Menu sundaes or a new DVD when you can.

I don’t have a lot of problems with nutrient runoff with these buckets, but you could elevate containers above other buckets, tubs or pools to collect it if you do, then dump the water back in. I’m just not big into the water-shedding lids (I hate not using rain). Mulch helps preserve more water and protect soil from compaction, which is another issue some folks have with bucket planters and container gardens.

Don’t have all the materials yet? No big.

Use the buckets as containers. Drill holes a few inches up or as much as 4-6” if you’re going to build one in the future. Fill to the holes with pine cones, sticks, logs, gravel, or mulch to limit your fill dirt to 6-16” – that’s sufficient even for corn, with a healthy mix, and the bottom becomes a water storage reservoir still, while promoting drainage. You can upgrade them into earthbox-type planters later.

The TPJ “Garden Hacks” article shows how to use soda bottles to deliver water right to plants’ roots, so you can still get a lot of earth box and self-watering benefits without as much DIY or materials needed.

More preparing with quickie skills and projects

Some other quickie afternoon, one-day and weekend projects and skills to consider are:

    • Creating and scouting positions for small-game and bird snares
    • Homemade solar cookers
    • 550 cord fishing lures (or make them out of boot laces) get crazy creative and pick out extra threads to make newts and frogs, too
  • perfect casting your fishing line (set up competitions in the yard)
  • Pace count (multiple terrains)
  • Pace count in full pack (or a small pack with equivalent weight inside); with one leg strapped straight for a hobbling effect; with an arm tucked inside your shirt/a sling
  • Disposable Straws for EDC, BOBs, and camping ***Go easy if you’re inclined to put flammables like cotton, sawdust, etc. in your straws, and try to think about the flame you’re going to use for sealing it before you play with alcohol, hand sanitizer, or pre-shaved magnesium.

straws-1

  • Solar showers from garbage bags and garden sprayers
  • Solar cooking grains in a canning jar by hanging it inside dark plastic or cloth
  • Swedish torch
  • Rat-trap squirrel traps
  • Master sharpening knives – properly – Angles and tasks matter with blades. Dull and wrong-angle, curled-over, nicked blades increase the labor it takes to do our work. Mister P would not be allowed near my knives if I had to hold them in my teeth and use a curb to sharpen them. Papa P, now, that man could probably sweet-stone a shaving edge on a machete or a chopping wedge onto a box cutter if he needed to. The skill matters now. If we’re ever cut off, it matters more.
  • Bucket-can & bucket-shingle mouse & rat traps
  • Garden journal/binder
  • Important document binder (& electronic versions)
  • Medical DIY home-remedy binder
  • Quiet step in woods & water
  • Proper knots for hauling, packing, tying off, and building tepees – which can in turn support poles and racks for clothes lines and drying foods or creating shade and plant protection
  • Rat-trap visual perimeter alarms
  • Carrying and stacking wood – It’s not always as easy as you’d first think, and there are some camping and backpacking hacks that help, and some nifty circular or beehive piles that put tons of wood in a very small footprint
  • Cord nets
  • Ash cakes

Outdoor/Clay bread ovens (and research the order of baking and ways colonists used all of the heat generated efficiency; no reason to heat up the house unnecessarily)

Bannock bread – Skip the complicated versions:

  • 1 cup flour (doesn’t matter)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • herbs to taste (onion, garlic, Italian blend, lemon & thyme, black pepper) or dried fruit and nuts, or use chocolate chips or jimmies, brown sugar and cinnamon, and do a dessert version with apple or cherry pie filling or canned pears

Add small amounts of water to make a sticky dough or even a near-batter thickness for pans; this stuff is pretty forgiving and you don’t need 5-8 ingredients for the bare-bones survival version to be great with fresh fish or a can of chili.

You don’t have to take a lot of time to increase preparedness, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fifteen-minute increments, in a few hours, or with a weekend, you can start seriously impacting your preparedness with small, easy projects and useful skills.

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Prepper Lessons from History – Castle Gardens

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

When we think of castles in the medieval periods particularly, we generally think of staid, damp, barren places. Within some areas, they certainly were. It was a harsh, brutish time for many. It and the times leading up to it were filled with violence – hence the need for wall-ringed castles and hillforts in the first place.

And yet in these periods when death by violence and disease was prevalent, when survival was a constant chore, we find castle gardens within the very walls that were so utilitarian. By medieval and Tudor times, portions of the castles and even villager areas were being designed for pleasure as well as productivity. While we may not have enough land or resources to truly create our own castle, we can take away a fair bit from the layout of those castles, hillforts and even some of the equally guarded and protected monasteries.

First let’s take a look at some of the general consistencies between castles and protected areas during the pre-cannon times, and then we’ll look at how the residents can impact how we arrange large, sprawling homesteads and even small areas and yards.

Castle Layouts

British Hillforts tended to be Spartan environments, but even there – and when the Spartans existed – defensive structures also included water sources and regularly livestock and at least some limited garden spaces or wild foods within the safest palisades.

In the case of castles, there was even greater gardening taking place within the tiers of earthworks and walls carved out of hillsides.

dunlopvillage

Dunlop Hillfort and village – a macro-example of defensive structures and Spartan existence.

Castles and hillforts both made use of terrain. At the time, high was good, since it afforded more outward line-of-sight and thus more time to sound alarms. Deep trenches or moats surrounded the innermost walls and upper levels. Attackers not only had to scale the lower and outlying walls, they had to get themselves and siege equipment uphill, while defenders had the benefits of gravity and elevation on their side in all phases of attack.

If they could hold a force outside even middle and lower rings and walls, the defenders could even still reap the benefits of having crops and livestock grazing the rings around the inner walls.

Bonus – Fun Fact: This is the era in which we became obsessed with lawns. Rich folks had bunches of livestock, especially sheep. Sheep grazed all around, closely cropping grass and anything else that dared grow. It resulted in tightly mown lawns. The more sheep, the more pure grass and closer shorn it was. Having nothing but foods, shrubs and trees right around the house meant you couldn’t afford sheep. That poverty-wealth dichotomy stayed embedded as specialization grew, and everybody wanted a lawn so show their worth. It has stayed so embedded that here we are, hundreds of years later, burning fuel to prove we’re rich enough for short grass and competing with neighbors to have the most perfect, even, level grass on the block.

We can apply the lesson the same way Iron-Age Europeans did. We can create alleys or rings of silvopasture to shade and feed livestock and ourselves, creating tough fixtures and alarms where we can’t see – like the age-old sheepdog and sturdy gate or ha-ha. We can arrange properties large and small so that lower pastures and fields are outlying, allowing us more time to visualize threats.

We can create some of our first-line defensive walls with things like hugelkulture beds and other raised beds, and create ditches across roadways or leave trees standing that we can use to reinforce gates. Low or mid-height and dense, thorny brambles can also form our walls or create enough depth, noise and pain that simple thugs can’t make the jumps or choose and easier target.

We can use water catchment, mandala and keyhole beds, and our buildings and vehicles to form an inner wall from which we can defend property if necessary, keeping the things and supplies we most need access to safe within the innermost ring.

And we can use the castle gardens as examples of ways we can still produce food and medicine even if we decide to retreat inside our high, inner walls and abandon the rest.

pevensey-castle

The aerial view of Pensevey ruins helps show the amount of green space inside a hillfort and its moats, with sheep still grazing one of the inner walls and farm and grazing land still laid out around the lower and outer earthworks. We don’t have to have a true castle or that much space to follow the example laid out.

Zoning

In permaculture, a concept called zoning is at the forefront of design – right up there with the ever-pressing reminders of health and productivity through diversity and edge habitat. Zoning is where we create spaces for each thing, working by patterns of traffic frequency.

The places we go most are Zone 1, and we put the most needy members of our homesteads there, the things we’ll need to visit most often. Zone 5 is the outer limit. It’s basically an area left wild, only periodically visited for at most a little foraging and hunting.

The terms and definitions may have changed, but castles made use of the same theories.

The inner set of tall, high walls would be our Zones 1-2, with 3-4 those rings of livestock and feed and large crops outside the moat. Maybe we have a true Zone 5, or maybe we designate little patches of brush, hang bug motels and bat houses, and create towers and boxes where swallows and owls will do their things – ridding us of pests as they do.

pottager-combo-1Pottager Gardens

Pottager gardens are just a different way of saying kitchen garden – or they were.

Starchy peas, turnips, potatoes, and the grains for bread were largely grown in some of the outer rings and beyond them – the equivalent of Zone 3 and 4 from our permaculture example – but most of the rest was either from the hedgerows and wild fruit areas, collected by foraging, or grown very near the kitchens where they’d be used.

Most of the British populace ate little meat and roasted foods even up into Tudor times. Instead, pottage was the daily meal – and was for a long, long period of history. It’s basically just a stew based around peas and whatever is in season. The gardens that mostly influenced the stew’s flavor picked up the same name.

Pottagers evoke certain images for designers and historians: small beds, regularly bounded by wattle (woven horizontal branches and saplings) or stone, raised as often as they were ground level.

They were usually surrounded by bent-hedge (laid hedge) living fencing, dense hedges, brush fencing that used upright posts filled with thick timber debris laid horizontally between them, rip-gut twisted-timber and -stick fences, vertical wattle, or simple vertical stick and top-rail fences, either vertical posts or arranged in a series of bottom-heavy X’s with horizontal poles laid in the cross sections.

The fencing was largely dependent on what it guarded against – poultry, dogs, rabbits, a loose horse in some areas, geese – and was made out of fast-growing “junk” brush and the leftover debris from cutting housing timbers, firewood, and clearing fields. Wattle was even used to make livestock housing in some temperate areas of Great Britain, particularly.

Medieval Style Garden

Medieval Style Garden

We see pottager beds inside tight castle spaces as well as out among the village cottages and even used in the wide-open outlying guard shacks.

Outside the castle walls, fencing would typically be stronger and taller to prevent entry by deer, but thick debris fencing was even used to contain or exclude pigs.

Square beds predominate, with triangular or curving beds as well, particularly in later periods. In the small square and rectangular courtyards between various walls and towers and portions of the castles and hillforts, they were efficient to work by hand without losing much space.

It’s hard for us to conceive breaking up long rows, even with our high-yielding, milder, sweeter vegetables. In fact, Europeans and early colonists with their less-efficient crops may have benefitted hugely by using them instead of the plows.

Pottagers were visited and tended much more frequently than crops that were alternated with grazing animals between the rings of the further, lower outer walls around a castle. The field crops had to deal with much less compaction as a result.

Working the smaller beds from walkways likely kept those beds in better health because no one was stepping on the soil, packing it down the way we do when we work down our rows and lines.

Every Single Inch

While there were gardens near kitchens, and while chatelaines typically also had gardens, they all also had to compete with the chapel gardens that were typically allowed and with the physic gardens maintained by the official healers.

It could get tight.

Because so many people could be expected to cram into castles and protected monasteries during attacks, carrying everything they could, to include livestock, and because the early castles and the hillforts, especially, tended to be high-traffic areas, growing space within the inner walls was at a premium – a condition many of us can relate to.

Growing food and herbs in long sweeps between sets of castle walls.

Growing food and herbs in long sweeps between sets of castle walls.

 

It was also vital to be able to grow some of the food inside walls in case of siege.

So they made use of roadsides not only for foragable hedgerows, but also for small trees, flowers, herbs, and annual and perennial fruits. In some cases, they even built up raised beds against the castle walls themselves.

It was also very common to have orchards in the graveyards inside one ring of a castle or another, to use arbors around gates for vining fruit, and to make use of the steep sides of the earthworks that were left with sometimes vary narrow verges.

highcote-kitchen-garden-recreate-the-kitchen-gardens-of-the-past

Images: Recreation of the castle-interior kitchen gardens of Highcote

Diversity

The small spaces weren’t necessarily a bad thing. From the narrow spaces available between pathways and walls, to the kitchen, noble women’s, and monk’s gardens, the tight quarters led to increased diversity in garden strips, hedges and beds.

Historians have decided that it was actually pretty rare for herbs and high-yielding fruits and vegetables to be separated into rows. Bulk-produced foods – especially those that needed each other for pollination, kept close because gardeners realized they did better when grouped even if they didn’t understand the mechanics – might occupy whole beds, but most were rambling and intermingled where there was space for annuals.

packed-gardens-similar-to-interior-pottagers-from-history

Recreated and English-style kitchen gardens typically have fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers intermingled, with perennial hedges, shrubs, arbors, and trees in corners an surrounding the garden space.

Beautification and “smelling” gardens around trees in graveyards and orchards increased diversity there. Even when things were only planted to take advantage of pre-leaf-out sunlight and make every use of the space, it resulted in longer periods of flowering, a heavy mixing of herbs and perennials near and with annuals, and a great many microclimates where all the plant types met each other.

Until formal gardens took over, those “margin” areas undulated and staggered in differing waves and sizes, further increasing the amount of edge.

Diversity and a mixing of microclimates creates the same relationships we see with both companion planting – where a plant attracts or repels something for another plant – and at the edges of roads, places where water meets woods or meadows, and other verges – places that we harvest the most game and the most edible weeds.

With rich, diverse webs of life taking place in the soil, nutrients are cycled effectively. Mixed plants mean roots are drawing from different levels, and pests find it harder to locate their victims.

It also creates resiliency. With so much life, if something in the soil is wiped out one way or another, it’s not that big of a deal. There’s plenty of other life available to make up for it.

Likewise, with many types of herbs and foods growing together, should one fail in one spot, another might survive. If all of a type were lost, because gardens were so diverse, there was still food production taking place – inside the inner walls, even if it was unsafe to venture out into the lower-walled sections with bulk crops and livestock.

Fences were made with what you had on hand, designed for simple function.

Fences were made with what you had on hand, designed for simple function.

Castle Gardens

We can learn a lot from history, and given the defensive mindsets of preppers, we can apply some of the defensive lessons directly to even our suburban and urban homes. Really, up until the last hundred years, we still very strongly relied on defensive works designed surprisingly similar to castles – well after the widespread adoption of cannon and cartridges.

The gardens kept within the walls of palace castles and hillforts have particular application as well, both for efficiency and for remembering that even when life was short and brutish in the Iron Age an medieval eras, peons and princes still planted their castles for beauty as well as yield.

Castle defenses, medieval gardening methods, and permaculture sectors and zones are all things that can be further researched to forward the preparedness of our homesteads. Permaculture’s stacking functions can help make our spaces even more efficient.

They can also help city dwellers, looking at apartments and condos as inhabitated towers and making use of the narrow strips of greener. Japan’s container and small-bed growing has been in place since the time of the Samurai in the largest cities – about the same time we’re looking at European castles – and can make for good study as well for those in tight, tiny spaces.

For more information about some of the garden features from the Iron Age through medieval and Tudor times, check out http://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/life_06_gardens.htm and http://www.sudeleycastle.co.uk/gardens/tudor-physic-garden/ . There are tons of images, as well as lists of foods and medicines valued by people who depended on what they pulled out of the ground.

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A Prepper Must-Have: Bed Sheets

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

4.14/5 (7)

When it comes to things that are super useful in daily life, bed sheets rank right up there. In a world where we’d like to conserve energy, go as unnoticed as possible, or avoid stores, or when fresh resources just aren’t all that available, sheets go up even further on the usefulness scale. To be clear from the start, I’m not saying everybody should run out and buy multiple sets of brand-new bed sheets. For some uses, threadbare and worn are actually better. Used is always acceptable.

Tarps are best for some things, but tarps are also more expensive than old, used sheets we’d throw away or that we find for free or 10-50 cents each, and they tend to be larger to store. A cheap $5-10 tarp is usually about as vulnerable as a well-made used motel sheet, so if the moisture protection isn’t as much an issue and it’s a temp use, we may be able to save some money and space with sheets.

When the Sheet Hits the Fan: The advantage of bed sheets

One of the major repetitive advantages to sheets is that they’re lightweight. That means they’ll both wash and dry easily and pretty quickly, even in total off-grid situations. They’re also fairly compact, so it’s pretty easy to store them. They’re not heavy to carry. And of course, there’s the myriad uses an old bed sheet can offer us.

Uses for Bed sheets

Like any “must have” item, an internet search is going to return dozens of hits, some of them really, really good. This is the kind of area where Pinterest is worth its weight, too. I’ll stick to the less-artsy and more-practical uses here, but there’s still no way I’ll cover them all. It’s just to show some of the range so we can justify a trashcan filled with bags of sheets. I totally welcome other ideas and uses – it’ll only benefit everybody to share ideas.

Lining bedrolls – Lining a sleeping bag or bedroll with a sheet or two gives us hot-night options as well as keeps dust and sweat from hitting the thicker blankets and bag. The same applies to a “regular” bed – both under and atop the main covers, especially if there are pets. Sheets are much faster to wash and dry, especially on the move.

This also works for dogs beds, unless there’s a “nester” involved who likes to dig or root around in their spot before they lie down.

Lining furniture – I have pets, and a guy who thinks pets on furniture is normal, regardless of size or shedding seasons. I can switch out a couple of sheets on chairs and sofas, wash them, and hang them to dry in about the same time it takes me to vacuum and lint roll them. That’s especially nice if somebody drops by, because I can just flick sheets off and they have a clean place to sit besides an office chair and the kitchen table.

It also works for me. There are times I’m too sweaty to even consider padded furniture, but sometimes I’m just dusty or flecked with stuff when I’m hungry and want a break or to watch a show while I cool down or warm up. With sheets on my two rocking chairs and my squishier furniture, I don’t have to sit in the floor like a 1930s child.

Color coordinating by mood and season is just a bonus, as is catching all kinds of remotes and pocket detritus.

bed-sheets - garden

Plant covers – Keeping in some extra sheets can help extend our garden season, especially if we have unexpected cool weather. Thin, white or pale green sheets are best for extended use, but any color works for just overnight or for a day or two of cold weather. It’s best if they’re propped up above plants with some air space between the plants and sheets, but just covering them is enough to save tender seedlings and flowers in a lot of cases.

Heat sinks – We can use sheets to make dark curtains that absorb and hold onto more heat in winter without needing nails the way ad libbed tapestries from comforters do.

We can also fold them into 1-2’ rectangles several layers thick to lay right against our plant rows in early spring and autumn. They’ll help block some of the weeds and help protect against splash-up dirt, as well as help warm the soil, hold a little more moisture than bare earth, and protect the roots from frost a little more. Sheets aren’t going to last season after season, but not much does. If we’re only using them for a few days or weeks early and late, we can wash them and fold them back up, and protect them from the most damaging weather and extended bug attacks.

Image: An old bedsheet can be used to shade a baby or tractored livestock, or hung over a porch, used as window awnings and curtains, or spread like a tarp for even a few days or weeks to help beat blistering hot days.

Image: An old bedsheet can be used to shade a baby or tractored livestock, or hung over a porch, used as window awnings and curtains, or spread like a tarp for even a few days or weeks to help beat blistering hot days.

Shade – Sheets aren’t going to last in the long run, but to break the heat for an afternoon, weekend, or even a particularly brutal heat wave, sheets are pretty nice for rigging as a shade cloth since they’re light enough to hang from clothesline, 550 cord, a lot of garden twines, duct tape, and household-level screws and nails. Without rivets, sheets are going to rip in high winds and after hanging soaked from rains and exposed to sun repeatedly, but I’ve had some last out most or all of the summer over rental porches in Arizona and Alabama. Folding the edges to double or triple before poking line, nails or hooks through them can help prevent some of the tearing.

Defensive Training Space – String line and weigh curtains with spare sticks and rocks, and create red-gun and airsoft reaction training courses. They’re inexpensive, faster to erect than OSB/plywood, they cost a fraction of stick construction, and they can be updated and renovated to keep experiences fresh. They can also be cut into truly man-sized targets for airsoft and paintball training. (Do not conduct live-fire drills with restricted visibility unless you have experience running live-fire drills with restricted visibility – that’s how idiots shoot each other.)

bedsheet reusable paper towel
bedsheet reusable paper towel II
bedsheet reusable towels, wipes, diapers or cloth  pads

Sheets – especially thick, absorbent ones – can be turned into reusable paper towels, cleaning wipes, baby wipes, cloth pads, or hankies.

Health & Hygiene – We’ve all heard of boiling sheets for bandages. We can also cut them up to make hankies. We can go as sew-happy or KISS as we like to turn them into reusable bleach and Lysol cleaning wipes or baby wipes. They can make decent enough dusting cloths. Thicker and softer versions that are fairly absorbent can be turned into top and middle layers for cloth menstrual pads or diapers. We can use any of them to make “family” cloths (reusable adult baby wipes).

If we find multiple colors and patterns, we can color-coordinate by person for a lot of the hygiene uses, which might at least help with the knee jerk “eww” and “eek” factor.

Line floors – When there’s a sick or still-house training pet indoors, sometimes you just can’t get there fast enough. With carpets or old hardwood, this is a recipe for a lot of time on knees. My pets tend to avoid plastic (including training pads) or the cat plays with them, so folding sheets into quarters to stick in their usual areas and the runways leading to doors works far better for us.

Pine Sol and bleach are my friends, and they tend to make it all better. Instead of scrubbing on my knees, it’s a matter of wiping up the worst of it, then washing the sheets the same way I would a changing table cover, leaky diaper bedding, “accident” pants, and puked-on shirts and towels. One baby is very much like another when you love them, especially when the four-legged baby would kill, maim and die for the two-legged baby.

If it’s ugly or I’m rushed, since it’s a sheet that outlasted its mate or cost me $0.25-$1, I am more than willing to just throw that puppy away.

Lining the floors also has a great deal of use when it’s muddy and there’s a lot of foot traffic and no pre-built mudroom for dusty, sandy environments, snow and wet, and freshly tilled garden areas, especially when you’re dealing with poorly trained humans.

Sources for Bed sheets

There are lots of places we can get our hands on used bed sheets without necessarily outing ourselves as nut jobs. We can limit our “crazy” reaction by citing the camping, pet, and garden uses as our primary interest.

bed sheet remanufactured into clothing - white guy

Image/Images: Used sheets picked up for free or at low cost can be re-manufactured and reused in all kinds of ways, to include clothing, which can be especially handy for families with growing children during a crisis.

In all cases, like free and low-cost buckets and windows and screens, the burden is on us. Other people have regular jobs and priorities. We cannot make contact once and expect them to both remember our request and keep our phone number, then declare it a dead and stupid idea. We have to check back. Weekly or twice monthly, not enough to be an annoyance, but enough to be that smiling sweetheart. Showing up in person works best in many cases, because a face, a respectful and pleasant tone, and a hand shake can still go far.

We can find used sheets from:

  • Salvation Army/Goodwill, etc. (they sometimes don’t accept linens, or don’t accept stained/ripped linens of any kind)
  • Lower-rent and independent motels (they eventually rotate worn and stained linens, and are less likely to brush you off or already have contracts like larger, mid-high level hotels)
  • Message boards for “want” ads – church and community halls, agricultural co-ops and Tractor Supply, and flea markets (ask first if it’s a member-driven location)

Usually you’ll need at least a manager. Most commonly an owner has to give their nod. Still, there’s nothing wrong with hitting up housekeeping ahead of time to find out how they handle worn linens or calling ahead to find out when owners will be available to talk to with the least disturbance. Second shift is always the busiest for hotels, so try to avoid harassing them between 1-11 p.m. In the case of donation centers, sometimes the sorters are happy to let you poke through the trash or to pile stuff beside the dumpster instead of in it.

Another use for old sheets: Divide living areas and sleeping quarters into separate spaces with easy-hanging privacy curtains. It can save some much-needed sanity during even a temporary crisis.

Another use for old sheets: Divide living areas and sleeping quarters into separate spaces with easy-hanging privacy curtains. It can save some much-needed sanity during even a temporary crisis.

Preparedness via Bed sheets

Some of the other uses for bed sheets in various condition include stocking them for clothing fabric, having plenty of extras on hand to limit rainy-day laundry, and hanging windows and doors with 3-4 overlapping layers to help with light discipline. They can also be used for animal and human towels, outdoor shower privacy curtains, and to hang for a DIY iPod or cell phone movie projector screen.

On the “daily” side, we can also turn them into tablecloths to cover our buckets and cases of stockpiled goodies or use them to make hook rugs and animal bedding. When we start accruing friends and relatives at our prepper palace, we can hang sheets as curtains to at least visually divide space (don’t knock it – high stress is a bad time to have fights break out because one person’s fidget is another person’s pet peeve; there’s a reason some of us take our glasses off in church and waiting rooms when somebody’s twitchy or acting up).

Bed sheets have lots of uses, with tons of crafty DIY out there for those interested. When it comes to preparedness, they offer so much potential for such a low cost and relatively tight storage space, they’re almost a shoe-in for a must-have list.

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Planning Your Homestead Orchard: Benefits of Dwarf Trees

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Dwarf Trees – When Less is More

We spend a lot of time looking at annual crops and gardens, but perennials have their places. When it comes to fruit trees, we have many options in sizes. There’s little more majestic than a full-sized cherry tree, and not much will match a standard apple for yield. However, there are a lot of times when we’d be equally or better served with a smaller tree, and lots reasons to consider dwarf trees or semi-dwarf instead of a standard, even when there aren’t space constraints that affect the ability to get pollination partners. I’m starting with a primer on size and expected yields by size and species, then hitting considerations such as maintenance, resiliency, harvest size, and more.

Tree Sizes

There are some generally accepted sizes for dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard sized fruit trees.

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A lot of fruit trees have about the same spread (circular footprint) as they do height. Dwarfs are usually 8-12’ (also regularly seen as 8-10’), semi-dwarfs tend to range 10-16’, and standard fruit varieties are usually considered to be 18-25’.

There are exceptions, such as peaches that are naturally already fairly compact at 12-15’ and cone-shaped pears with a spread of just 10-12’ but a height upwards of 20’ for mature standard varieties. Some standard trees are also just smaller, such as plums and figs.

Part of planning the size we want is planning for space around a tree or shrub where we can work. As a permaculturist, I love stacking spaces and full canopies. However, there’s not much room to maneuver underneath a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree – their canopies tend to start around thigh and shoulder height – and it’s not like all standards are roomy below the canopies. I can create a planting plan that allow me to maximize the space I have without encircling each and every single tree with a path, but somewhere through there, I do have to give myself room to harvest and rake and prune.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees produce the same type and size fruit as standards, just less per tree.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees produce the same type and size fruit as standards, just less per tree.

 

 Yield By Size

A nice lady who ran a blog once went through and compiled yield ranges from the information Stark Bros. puts out. I turned it into a single-page printable for clients (with citations). As with any, this information should be taken with a grain of salt. Climate, soils, care, and disease can all affect yield, and yield can vary greatly by variety within a species. Still, it makes a nice printable to use for a ratio comparison between dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard trees.

Fruit yields by tree & plant

Be aware: Yields vary depending on soil types, nutrients, water, pests, pruning and variety of tree within each species. I halve the numbers from Harried Homemaker and Stark Bros. when presenting estimated to clients.

Remember, locally produced trees and shrubs, even grafted, will have more success than shipped-in specimens most of the time.

Specialty Types

There are all sorts of even smaller fruit trees and ways to tailor fruits to our needs. Espalier can be done against walls and fences, or grape style in the middle of a yard. Some fruits that are commonly produced on trees have a bush variety, such as the bush nectarine or some of the bush cherries. There are also potted varieties of a lot of fruits now, trees to shrubs and brambles, specimens specifically bred and designed to thrive in a container and be more compact.

 

Cordon or columnar fruit is available in several species, and while expensive, it can save space to increase diversity and allow homeowners variety and resilience.

Cordon or columnar fruit is available in several species, and while expensive, it can save space to increase diversity and allow homeowners variety and resilience.

Columnar or colonnade trees are extremely narrow and small. They can be potted or directly planted. Their yield suffers due to their size, but they can be excellent as canary varieties for us and they excel at providing some backup pollinators, especially for folks in small spaces or who want edible beautification. However, they are pretty darn pricey.

Container fruit needs a lot of water and nutrients over the seasons, but if we stick them on rolling casters, it lets us maneuver our fruit into protected areas. Those minis can allow us a sustainable source of things like citrus, tea, figs, and peaches. Likewise, an espalier against a wall will typically be warmer as well as easier to protect and keep damp than a freestanding tree in a yard.

Dwarf, container, trellis and espalier fruit can transform a compound into a more pleasant space, allow perennial production in urban and suburban environments, and let us take our fruit trees and shrubs with us when we move.

Dwarf, container, trellis and espalier fruit can transform a compound into a more pleasant space, allow perennial production in urban and suburban environments, and let us take our fruit trees and shrubs with us when we move.

 

Yard-planting container-intended columnar, bush and espalier fruit has particular application not only for those who are spacially challenged in their yards, but for those with compounds. There’s no reason our castle has to look industrial. In fact, back when castles were in vogue, they typically made use of every inch with plantings, which were tailored both for form and function.

Benefits of Smaller Specimens

Apples - chart w dates & usesIncreases harvest season – One benefit to smaller trees is that we can spread out the harvest season. The common standard tree yields of 10-20 bushels is a lot to deal with inside the 1-3 weeks of harvest season for each variety, and once it’s in and processed, there’s no more fresh fruit. Instead, we can tailor our home orchard for 3-6 months of fresh produce by selecting varieties from late, mid and early seasons within their species and having a couple of other species with them.

Spreads out the workload – Avoiding a single-type glut such as can come from even just 1-2 large trees (or species) by tailoring our home orchards by harvest period can let us select varieties that go straight to storage to complete the sweetening and softening process, while still having some fresh fruit now. Since summer and autumn are already hectic seasons for a lot of us and will be more so if we’re producing our own food, it’s nice to have that option. Even without storage fruit, smaller amounts harvested over 1-3 weeks per species lets us process fruit at a slower, steadier, more manageable rate.

dwarf cherry

Easier Management – The workload from processing harvest isn’t the only thing that goes down. Smaller trees allow us to work around them with less use of overhead tools. They’re easier to harvest and prune with only a step stool, and it’s easier to see what’s going on in the canopies. That alone can help us spot problems early.

Increase variety and species within a space – Instead of having three apples in standard sizes, we may be able to fit 5-9 dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, in addition to any wall-hugging espaliers and the super-compact minis or potted varieties. Sometimes that means we can get two pollinators for a primary semi-dwarf, and sometimes that means we can have a pair of small apples with a plum and a peach. Other times it means we can have a fruit tree or five, and still have sunlight and space for other perennials or an annual garden.

Smaller trees can allow us to increase variety and resilience in the same space. If one species, variety, or specimen is lost or damaged by pests or weather, others may survive.

Smaller trees can allow us to increase variety and resilience in the same space. If one species, variety, or specimen is lost or damaged by pests or weather, others may survive.

 

Fresh eating is always healthiest, and having multiple harvest seasons from a variety of trees helps increase the periods of fresh produce, especially if we’re not gardening yet or a drought or the power/labor supply is making us choose between livestock and gardens for water. A variety in fruit types also provides a wider array of nutrients than having just 1-2 trees that produce all at once.

Increases resilience to varying weather conditions, climatic change and pests – Diversity is always a benefit in many ways, but in this case, it’s tangible. A lot of our fruit trees share pests and diseases with each other and other plants, and many require pollination.

If there are only two varieties of apple (or other species), and one is sensitive to something around us, the other has lost its pollinator. We won’t get any more fruit. If we get a semi-dwarf or a single standard for the tree we want most, then 3 smaller trees that cross pollinate, losing one of them to a pest/disease and one of them to weather (drought to storm) still leaves us with a pollinator. We still get our fruit harvest from our target tree.  If we had 5-7 smaller trees and lose 2-4, we increase our chances of good harvest in harsh conditions even further.

Graphic: Using a mix of semi-dwarf and dwarf trees can increase the total fruit yield in a space as well as create resiliency. *Yield estimates taken from Harried Homemaker Preps’ compilation of Stark Bros. estimates.

Graphic: Using a mix of semi-dwarf and dwarf trees can increase the total fruit yield in a space as well as create resiliency. *Yield estimates taken from Harried Homemaker Preps’ compilation of Stark Bros. estimates.

The resiliency benefits extend beyond pollination partners. An early-season fruit tree stands more chance of having late frosts and freezes or false springs kill off the buds. Summer storms, bug/pest seasons, and late storms and frosts can all become risks as well. With 3 smaller trees instead of one large tree, we can still get a harvest if one fails or if we lose a tree entirely, inside a species or by planting a variety of species.

Whether they’re small or not, having multiple varieties and species can help avoid total losses and it can help us spot problems early enough to save a harvest. Even if we don’t catch something for the first variety or species, because so many pests are common within domestic fruits, we may be able to treat later-blooming and later-fruiting specimens.

Faster Maturation – Most dwarfs and semi-dwarfs will begin production and hit average, mature rates in less time than standards. Their ultimate total yields are lower, although that can be mitigated with multiple trees.

Future Moves – Dwarf and mini fruit that can handle containers is also beneficial for those who plan to move to a new, larger space or compound. Some of us just can’t justify putting fruit into our small spaces, then leaving it. We can also go ahead and get our fruit trees the day we move, with the plan to transplant once we study and develop our plan for our homestead. That way we’re a little (or a lot) closer to our mature production rates when we hit our new locations.

Small Trees for Big Spaces

Small fruit trees can also be used as “canaries” a la mine-shaft mode, especially on large spreads. We can tuck a sampling of dwarf and super-dwarf compacts in similar light, water and soil conditions along our driveways and near our homes. Doing so lets us keep better track of flowering, health, and fruit development, especially in our busy daily lives, since we see them right there, all the time.

Dwarf and espalier fruit can be trained to hedges, serving multiple functions on our property as well as producing food.

Dwarf and espalier fruit can be trained to hedges, serving multiple functions on our property as well as producing food.

We still need to check on orchards – especially if they’re planted in blocks of the same species or close cousins. Differing microclimates may (will) produce fluctuation even within members of the same species.The diversity of fruit species and other landscaping and gardening can protect our canaries, and lower compaction might be leading to better soil health in one spot or another. Then there are things like chickens, goats, pigs, deer and porcupines that can be affecting outlying trees but not the ones where our dogs and people run most frequently.

Still, over a few seasons, we’ll pick up on the trends and be able to use our canaries to tell us what’s going on in an orchard or even just a few trees that are out of sight-line.

Small Trees for Home Orchards

A small fruit tree isn’t always the solution. For larger families and groups, and anyone interested in silvopasture or sticking crated/kenneled livestock under trees, standard varieties may be a better choice. For those who are looking at age, physical ability, resilience, and small spaces for an edible orchard, smaller trees and container fruits may be a major boost to our capabilities. Smaller trees can also just be faster and easier to care for than large trees, and provide a variety of fruits sooner and a longer harvest period for a busy working family, which may better serve some people.

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Calculating Livestock Feed: Will You Have Enough?

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

There’s a really handy tool called a Pearson Square that can help when we decide to feed livestock. Basically, it allows you to reach your desired total protein percentage using sets of known feeds.

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Cut Through the Dark – Grid down Light Options

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Light options that can be set up by anyone who owns a screwdriver, no electrical connections needed, that runs off the sun and-or a spare battery, and that provides quality lighting when somebody walks inside its sensor range.

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A Prepper Must-Have: Hands-Free Light

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

When it comes to a portable light, it’s hard to beat something that leaves your hands free and moves around with your eyes. Their cost, usefulness, and weight make them an absolute must-have for preppers.

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How Many Canning Jars Do You Need?

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

When we work our way toward a goal of self-sufficiency, a lot of times producing and preserving food comes up. There are lots of methods, and there are thankfully things like dry meats, grains and legumes, and fruits and veggies that can go straight into cellars and other cold storage. However, for most of us, […]

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Save on Prepping Supplies: Tax-Free and On-Sale

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Sometimes though, even when it’s not a preparedness-related sale, there are things we can stock up on that applies directly to preparing for the worst. Today we talk about how you can save on prepping supplies.

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Beating The Heat Old-School Southern Summer Style

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

There are a ton of ways we can help cool our bodies and little changes to activity and habits that can lower the heat in our homes, too, but for this article, I’m going to concentrate on the dwelling space itself.

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The Preparedness Wheel: At-A-Glance Balance Check for Readiness

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

It’s not about the mental and emotional health. It’s about the balance. When wheels are balanced, we roll much more smoothly through life’s up and downs and this exercise will show if the rest of our preparedness needs and goals are in balance.

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Lessons From History – Eating Well Off Home Food Preservation

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Growing and storing foods is commonly a goal we strive for as we seek self-sufficiency. The easiest and fastest way to store foods is, of course, just dumping it into a root cellar or grain bin or barn, although not everything does so hot with that treatment.

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Site Planning for Your Survival Homestead

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

A great deal can go into site planning for your survival homestead, even when the infrastructure is already in place and funds don’t exist to renovate lines or move buildings. Where we place things can increase or decrease our defensive abilities, success in growing, and how likely we are to see something – which can be good or bad

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Shotguns – the Firearm Do-Alls

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

We hear about how shotguns are the do-all when it comes to hunting and self-defense. What we don’t always hear is how to best choose one or that to make them a do-all, we need to know what to feed them.

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Alternative Feeds for Livestock

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Having some backup ideas and methods in place as alternate feeds is rarely a bad thing, especially if we’re counting on meat rabbits and chickens, eggs, and milk in a collapse or Great Depression situation.

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Laundry – Keeping Clothes Clean When the Grid Goes Down

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Using history and modern innovation, we now have a lot of options for keeping our clothes clean, even if we end up off the grid, conserving power, or lacking electricity entirely.

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Survival Homesteading: Crop Production and Storage for Livestock

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

One of the hardest cords to cut for homesteaders is dependence on commercial feeds. However, I’ve put together some ideas for root vegetables that can cut some of our feed bills and feed dependency and alternative or “forgotten” ways of storing and using grains.

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How to Procure and Test Seeds

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Gardening starts with the very seeds we plant, so I’d like to look at two of the seed sources we see in the preparedness fold, and how to test seeds to find out if stored seeds are still viable.

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The Best Gadgets for Your Guns

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

So today, I’m going to point out offset sights, optics with integrated sights, and a specific type of single-point sling adaptor that could change some minds about the best gadgets for your guns.

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Considering Precious Metals? – the Case for Suisse Bars

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

There are options when we talk about stockpiling wealth or currency in preparedness folds. Precious metals (PM) as a preparedness item are a topic of some debate in and of themselves

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Sowing Concepts & Planting Styles

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Regardless of scale, maximizing our production is something we all strive for. There are some terms and sowing concepts we may see but not really understand that relate to sowing seeds, especially, that can help us maximize our yields

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Understanding Seed Types and Their Importance

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Maybe we’re stuck in a rut because of the things we read about seeds, and maybe aren’t really and truly understanding seed types and some of the terms we see.

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Conventional Guides to Crop Rotation

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Plants with really good, healthy soil can fight off a lot of diseases and overcome leaf damage from pests without problems. However, even when we start with really good soil, certain practices mean we strip it out, stop the nutrient cycling, or otherwise break those systems. Rotation is one way we can prevent some of the stripping and reduce the disease load for our plants.

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Hiding in Plain Sight – There Are Others Like Us

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

These are the people we can go to, explaining simply that we’d like to get closer to our roots, learn a new skill, indulge in a hobby, live more connected to our history and the land around us, or that we’d like to be more self-sufficient for environmental or health reasons. No “P” word involved.

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Going “Green” Instead of Being A “Prepper”

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

I can tell you we’re not all that bad. You may find that it is wiser to couch your actions by going green instead of broadcasting you are a prepper. And sometimes, preppers and greenies are already kind of walking in lock-step. We just don’t always realize it.

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8 Easy Garden Hacks

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from R. Ann Parris. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.   Work Smarter Not Harder – In The Garden Sometimes in […]

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