Bartering Basics: What To Do When Money Has No Value

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Bartering Basics: What To Do When Money Has No Value

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Money can quickly lose its value in the event of a catastrophic event. In 1998 in Quebec and Ottawa, an ice storm crippled the power grid in those two provinces, forcing people to learn to live without electricity for several weeks. Credit cards and other forms of electronic commerce simply ceased to function.

In such a situation, bartering can replace cash and credit cards. Bartering is the simple act of exchanging one thing for something else. But it’s rarely simple.

Bartering begins when you need something you don’t have. The key is to find someone who has it and who is willing to trade for something you have and that they want. It could be goods, or it could be services or a unique skill.

Stockpile items that will have value if the manufacturing infrastructure breaks down. Items to think about include:

As you can see from the above list, these are items that are difficult to produce or create on your own. All can be bought in stores or online.

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But there’s a certain skill set you can learn that will allow you to produce items of value for barter. They include:

  • Eggs.
  • Vinegar
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Smoked fish and game.
  • Fresh fish and game.
  • Baked bread and other baked goods.
  • Knitted items.
  • Firewood.
  • Honey, maple syrup and molasses.
  • Herbs and herbal remedies.
  • Rustic furniture.
  • Basic tools, from brooms to rope.

You also can barter your own skills. Someone who has the tools and the expertise to perform timber-frame construction easily could barter their labor for goods and services. The same is true for someone who is an expert at herbal remedies or who can construct and build cabins or furniture from rustic resources. You even could barter your help and assistance with simple labor for fundamental tasks. The critical thing is to have the ability to anticipate what others may need when times are tough.

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Bartering Basics: What To Do When Money Has No Value

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To a large degree any barter transaction is a negotiation, much like at a flea market. That gets to a fundamental rule of barter. Only bring a small portion of what you have of any item, and don’t advertise the fact that you have more of anything. In a barter economy, you might encounter desperate people who will take desperate measures to get what they need.

Let’s look at the basics of bartering …

The 5 Steps of Bartering

1. What you want versus what you have. Try to assess the current value of what you need from a barter standpoint and assess what you can offer in exchange.

2. Identify potential trading partners. This might be neighbors or individuals at a barter market. Sometimes networking can help by simply getting the word out to your friends and neighbors that you are looking for a certain item or set of items. There’s also the remote possibility that the Internet may still be functioning, to some degree. After all, it was fundamentally designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to survive total thermo-nuclear war.

3. Negotiate. Sometimes a barter exchange is a mixed bag of items. If someone has something of particular value like an ax, and you don’t have a comparable tool to exchange, you could combine items for trade such as nails, seeds, a gallon of vinegar and an assortment of first-aid supplies you can spare. You also could offer services in exchange for the item.

4. Agree on a time and place to make the exchange. If you’re at a barter market, you may have these items with you. Otherwise, you need to determine a place to meet and complete the transaction. Make sure you inspect the item or items before agreeing to the final exchange. Refunds are rare and failing to live up to the bargain is not a good idea on either side of the transaction.

5. Build your barter network. If you are satisfied with the transaction, you have the opportunity to build a relationship with this trading partner. Chances are you will be able to continue to make exchanges in the future and it’s always best to do it with someone you trust and have come to know.

There are online websites and various locations already established for the barter of goods and services. You may not need to barter for something right now, but it’s good practice. It’s particularly valuable at some of the barter markets that have popped up. This recreates the environment that you will encounter in a pure, barter economy. It also will give you a chance to see what people offer or create so you have new ideas as you expand your barter inventory and hone your barter experience.

What advice would you add about bartering? Share your thoughts in the section below:           

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It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

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It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

Image source: Steve Nubie

We usually ignore them and don’t even notice them, but they’re one of the most primitive lifeforms on Earth. They’re also good eatin’.

They are lichens, a form of algae with a fungus membrane to support the plant. But they don’t grow in water; they grow on trees and rocks and sometimes on the ground.

Some of the lichens you see in the wild could be hundreds if not thousands of years old.  That’s why you shouldn’t pick or scrape lichens arbitrarily. In a survival situation, all bets are off, but if you’re not going to eat it, respect it and leave it alone.

Most lichens are benign, a few are toxic and only a couple have been identified as poisonous. This is not as severe as the mushroom world, where there are numerous varieties that are downright deadly, but you gotta know your lichens.

In fact, only two forms of lichen out of 20,000 varieties are defined as poisonous. One is called Vulpacida pinastri and the other is called Letharia vulpina. Their common names are the powdered sunshine lichen and the wolf lichen.

It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

Image source: Steve Nubie

Both are colored yellow and as a general rule you should avoid lichens that are yellow or orange. The wolf lichen is greenish yellow and the powdered sunshine lichen is sulfur yellow. It’s the blue and green varieties that are typically safe to eat.

Lichens 101

Before you dismiss lichens as some caveman survival food, you should know that Chef René Redzepi of the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen has touted lichens as a critical part of his cuisine. He has been identified as the top chef in the world by numerous publications and culinary organizations, and he uses lichens regularly in many of his dishes.

But you might not agree if you simply start chewing one you’ve just picked off a tree.

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According to the U.S Forest Service, here’s the dictionary definition of a lichen:

Lichens are dual organisms consisting of a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacterium. The fungus provides the alga with structure, protection, nutrients, and water absorbed from the atmosphere and the substrate (e.g., soil, rotten logs, tree branches). In return, the alga provides carbohydrates from photosynthesis to the fungus. Algae from some lichens grow independently of the fungus, but in lichen form, the algae can inhabit more challenging environments than when growing alone.

There are three types of lichens based on these photos from the U.S. Forest Service:

It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

Foliose (leaf-like)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

Fruticose (shrub-like)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your Property

Crustose (growing closely attached to a surface)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever you live in the world you’ll probably encounter one of these types, if not all three. Northern latitudes tend to see more prolific lichen growth. That’s good news in a winter survival situation.

How Do Lichens Taste?

A raw lichen right off the tree or a rock is going to have the consistency of a rubber inner tube and taste highly acidic if not downright astringent. You have to soak them in water for hours, with frequent water changes. This will get rid of the natural acids that permeate the lichen.

A Japanese technique is to gently boil them with frequent water changes. This will result in a lichen that is quite gelatinous. In case you’re wondering, “gelatinous” means slimy, similar to the slime you see when you boil okra or cactus. It’s OK to eat it, but be prepared.

In a pure survival situation, you would soak the lichens in water with frequent water changes and eat them like potato chips. They’re going to be tough blue or green potato chips, but they’ll help to keep you alive.

In a more civilized environment, you can slice them and toss them in a pasta with olive oil, or add them to a soup or broth to thicken the soup. Even in a simple cup of chicken broth, lichens will add viscosity and body, making it sip more like a gravy than a watery broth.

In Scandinavia, lichens are often added to flour for bread-making after they have been soaked in multiple water changes and the acid has been leached out.

A modern technique is to add bicarbonate of soda in a proportion of one teaspoon to a quart of water. This will also help neutralize the acids.

In Africa, lichens were used for jelly-making with locally harvested fruits. It has the same qualities as gelatin and was also used by American pioneers prior to commercially made gelatin becoming available.

Regardless of the technique you chose to use, I would strongly recommend soaking the lichens in a bowl of vinegar for at least 30 minutes before you soak them in the water changes. Vinegar is a powerful antiseptic and will kill any germs on the lichen’s surface. That’s important because these organisms have potentially been exposed to elements for thousands of years. That gives them plenty of time to pick up some nasty microbes.

In a survival situation, you may only have water or at least boiling water to sanitize any lichen. In this instance, I would prefer lichens growing on a tree and preferably under a large, over-hanging branch. No guarantees but it may have had less exposure to the elements in this kind of environment as opposed to lichens growing on rocks.

Nutritional Value

The nutritional value varies, depending on the species and the amount. Generally, lichens have some of the nutritional benefits of a well-known form of algae called “spirulina.” It has vitamins like vitamin K and vitamin C, some carbohydrates and a fairly good calorie count based on the size.

Harvesting Lichens

Older, more mature trees tend to provide the most lichens. This is because it takes them so long to grow. Rocks and cliff faces also will provide lichens. On a canoe trip in Canada I remember seeing a large slab of granite on the shoreline covered in lichens like a patchwork quilt. Just make sure you stay away from the yellow and orange ones.

The best tool for lichen collecting is a knife. You have to cut it away from the rocks or trees. They come off simply, but most tree lichens will have some tree bark attached.  The external tree bark of any tree is indigestible, so try to shave it away. I’ve sometimes used my thumbnail to do this.

However, winter presents some unique problems. The lichens are typically frozen. You may want to grab more bark from a tree and deal with it after you’ve soaked it. The same is true for rock lichens.

To preserve lichens for future use, sanitize them in vinegar for 30 minutes, do numerous soaks in water changes for a few hours, and then dry them in a food dehydrator. When it’s time to eat, rehydrate them in cold or gently boiling water.

Lichen Recipes

There are two lichen recipes that I make from time to time:

Lichen Ramen Soup

It’s 1,000 Years Old. It’s Edible. And It’s On Your PropertyIngredients

  • 1 package of Ramen noodles plus broth seasoning
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of lichens soaked in water changes and cut into julienne strips
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce

Directions

Soak the lichens in vinegar for 30 minutes and then put them through continuous water soaks for about 4 hours, changing the water every hour. Add the two cups of water to a saucepan and then add the Ramen soup flavoring packet. While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, slice the lichens into thin strips. Add the noodles to the water when it’s boiling and then add the lichen strips. When done, spoon and serve into bowls.

Lichen Pasta

Ingredients

  • 1 quart of water
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 12 ounces of pasta (any variety)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup of thin sliced or julienned lichens
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley

Directions

Prepare the lichen as indicated previously in rinses of vinegar followed by rinses of water. Add water and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Then slice the lichens and set aside. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until done. Drain the pasta and toss with the olive oil, parmesan cheese, lichens and top with parsley. Serve.

Have you ever eaten lichen? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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7 Instant And Natural Winter Survival Shelters

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7 Instant And Natural Winter Survival Shelters

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I’ve been in survival situations numerous times — usually because of bad luck or sheer stupidity. The two worst ones occurred in winter, and, thankfully, I survived.

Winter is unforgiving in a survival situation. The only advantage is that the snow and ice are delivering you a regular water source that’s typically safe to drink when melted.  After that, everything else is worse.

The critical first step is staying warm, building a fire and sustaining it. But there’s a second priority that’s equally important: shelter.

But before you exhaust yourself scrambling to find the branches, boughs and other materials to build a shelter, take the time to look for a natural shelter.

1. Low-growing pines

You may have seen a pine tree with its boughs overloaded with snow. It’s not an inviting sight, but if you spread the boughs and look at the base of the tree you may be surprised to see dry ground around the trunk. This is one of the ways that nature can provide you with an instant shelter that will protect you from the wind and snow.

7 Instant And Natural Winter Survival Shelters

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If you cut away a few low-hanging branches you can build a fire that will provide some heat. You also could build the Swedish “upside-down fire” even if you can’t clear all of the snow off the ground. We’ll cover that at the end of this article.

2. Large deadfalls

A large tree, whether it be a pine or deciduous, will often create a natural canopy over an area of ground if it has been toppled. Here again, you’re looking for that precious bare ground that says it may stay that way over a period of time. You could carefully clear some branches for a fire to provide some heat, but you’ll need to guard against snow melt.

3. Root cavity of large uprooted trees

We have a cabin in Michigan. One summer, a violent windstorm uprooted a monster oak not far from the cabin. It was a green tree, so I was going to wait until the next summer to cut it up. During the winter, I was walking and noticed the snow-covered and sand-encased roots forming a natural canopy over the hole left by the roots. It was dry and no snow had entered. I climbed down and was surprised that the sand was still soft and unfrozen. It was cozy but a bit claustrophobic. In an emergency, I would have gotten over that fairly quickly.  It was my first experience in a literal root cellar.

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Large uprooted trees are fairly common in heritage forests, so keep a look out and you might find your own natural root cellar as a winter shelter.

4. Caves

If you’re fortunate enough to find a cave, you’ve found nature’s natural penthouse.  However, advance cautiously. You’re not the only animal in the woods trying to survive the winter, and some of the other animals have bigger teeth.

Caves are also ideal for capturing the heat of a fire. Build the fire as large as you want.

5. Rock canyons

7 Instant And Natural Winter Survival Shelters

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In some parts of North America there are natural rock canyons. They’re often narrow in parts and both the snow and wind have a hard time getting into them. That’s a good thing.  Here again, you can haul in your firewood and build a significant fire to stay warm. If you’re worried about animals using your canyon as a pathway at night, build fires on either side of you in the canyon. Just make sure they’re small enough so that you can jump over them.

6. Rock overhangs

There are occasions along a cliff face that a natural depression will occur, resulting in an overhang. It’s not as cozy as a cave, but it could protect you from precipitation and the wind, depending on the wind direction. It’s also a good environment to enjoy the heat of a fire; the rock at your back and around you should reflect the heat nicely. You just have to hope the wind doesn’t shift and fill your little enclosure with snow drifts.

7. Large boulders

It’s a bit odd to be walking through the woods and encounter a large boulder in the middle of nowhere. It’s so odd that geologists call them “erratics.” They’re erratic because they don’t geologically belong there. They were delivered by the glaciers as they advanced south during the Ice Age.

An erratic has some benefits. For one, the leeward side (the side opposite the wind) will often have less snow on the ground and will protect you from the prevailing wind. It also can serve as an excellent heat reflector. You can sit with your back against the wall of the boulder, and the fire will heat you and the rock face. Or you can build the fire at the base of the boulder to allow the rock to act as a huge reflector. This assumes you have a clear night without precipitation.

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3 Edible Mushrooms That Defy Nature & Grow During Winter

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3 Edible Mushrooms That Defy Nature & Grow During Winter

Oyster mushrooms. Image source: YouTube

Any outdoor survival situation eventually requires some degree of hunting and gathering. Unfortunately, there are far fewer plants and animals in winter than you might find in more temperate seasons. Curiously, though, mushrooms in winter are an option — but you have to know where and when to look.

How can mushrooms grow in winter? The simple answer is that most can’t, but there are occasions when a mid-winter thaw will not only allow but encourage some mushrooms to emerge.

Two examples of edible mushrooms in winter include oyster mushrooms and wood ears. There’s also an edible winter mushroom called velvet shank that can withstand freezing and thawing throughout the winter.

Perhaps the most visible and ubiquitous mushrooms in winter are growing low to the ground on the trunks of trees. They often grow in clusters and stick out from the sides of the tree like little shelves.

This class of mushroom is commonly called “tree brackets” or as their appearance implies, “shelf mushrooms.” Mycologists refer to them as polypores. There is one polypore exception we’ll cover that can be eaten, and that’s wood ears, but it is a rare exception.

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While tree brackets are easy to spot and seem to be everywhere, almost all of them are defined as inedible and most are toxic and as tough as frozen leather.

Where to Look

Mushrooms favor forested areas where the rotting cellulose of trees provides them with the nutrients to survive and grow. A few can emerge in an open field or you may have seen them in your lawn, but lurking beneath the ground is a humus of rotting vegetation that feeds many species of mushroom. These are referred to as saprophytic fungi.

Then again, some species of mushrooms are parasitic and actually grow on green trees and plants as opposed to dead and rotting ones. The tree-brackets or shelf mushrooms we just covered are an example of a class of mushrooms referred to as parasitic fungi. 

There’s a third classification referred to as a symbiotic or mycorrhizal fungi. These mushrooms emerge from the roots of living plants and trees and actually help the plant or tree to draw more water or nutrients from the ground. These also can be found in an open field, lawn or wooded forest.

When to Look

Mushrooms cannot emerge from hard, frozen ground or frozen, rotting wood in winter. It takes a mid-winter thaw, usually preceded by rain or thawing snow, to motivate the mycelium or the early growth stage of a mushroom to spring to life, and with any luck (and a duration of a few days) a mushroom will emerge. The rare exception is the velvet shank which emerges and survives all year round.

What to Look For

Now comes the hard part. What have you found? There are three edible mushrooms often identified as prime species for mid-winter emergence. It’s worth noting that all three of these mushroom species are saprophytic, meaning they thrive on the rotting wood of trees, or the rotting cellulose of plants.

1. The velvet shank

3 Edible Mushrooms That Defy Nature & Grow During Winter

Velvet shank. Image source: Geograph.co.uk / Creative commons

The prime season for the velvet shank in many parts of North America is defined as November, December and January, although it is a year-round mushroom. The velvet shank is a very common mushroom and can actually withstand freezing and thawing. Its appearance is defined by yellow caps that are flat and about 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter. The stem is very tough and is also yellow, although it darkens towards the base, and the stem darkens to black as it matures. The velvet shank stands about 3 to 10 centimeters from the trunk or stump of the tree and has thin, yellow flesh. Horse chestnut and elms are a favored host for the velvet shank.

2. Oyster mushrooms

Prime months for oyster mushrooms include November, December, January and February, although they also can grow year-round. They first appear as grey turning to a creamy brown as they mature. The caps are shell-shaped anywhere from 4 to 20 centimeters in diameter. The oyster mushroom favors the trunks or branches of rotting, broad-leafed trees. It is also a very common mushroom. But beware. There is a similar looking mushroom called the olive oysterling that is toxic.

3. Wood ears

3 Edible Mushrooms That Defy Nature & Grow During Winter

Wood ears. Image source: Mo.gov

This mushroom has its prime season in January, but like the others is also a year-round species. After first appearing its texture is jelly-like but it hardens as it approaches maturity. It has a reddish-brown appearance and the interior of the cap is greyish-brown.  It also grows on dead branches and trunks and some of the common trees it favors include sycamore and elder. It, too, is a very common mushroom found across most of North America and is one of the few tree brackets that is edible.

While there are many sources for information about mushrooms, I usually look to the U.S. Forest Service as a starting point. They have an excellent publication that you can download for free as a PDF that does a great job of identifying mushrooms in the Eastern United States. You also can visit their website at www.fs.gov.us to search for information about mushrooms across the continent.

Another good resource is The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. This is handy to take into the field with you while you’re studying mushrooms.

What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter

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8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter

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Our ancestors’ homes usually were heated by wood-burning stoves. While any wood stove will keep a certain space warm, the ability to heat a whole house – particularly one that is two stories — diminished with distance and range.

Sitting next to a fire is nice when the weather outside is -30 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you’re sleeping upstairs you’re going to feel far less heat and far more cold.

While some homes had the luxury of a second story fireplaces, most did not. As a result, our ancestors had to improvise numerous solutions to stay warm at night.

Some of these solutions were simple and some more complex. Some were temporary, while others were more permanent. Many of these solutions were used in combination on particularly cold nights. Still, our ancestors found some unique and even weird ways to stay warm at night when sleeping.

1. The “grate.” Homeowners would cut a hole between the first and second floor and insert a grate that would allow the hot air from below to rise into the second floor. It was far from forced-air heating, but it did offer some relief.

2. The hot-bed pan. Another solution was to take hot coals from the fire and insert them into a covered pan on the end of a long wooden handle and rub it over a mattress before sleeping.

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It brought some wood smoke into the bedroom briefly, but that was and still is common in any home heated by wood. The heat was temporary, yet it took the edge off a cold bed when first turning in.

8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter3. The “nightcap.” If you’ve ever slept in a cold tent during winter, then you know the need for a “nightcap.” This was a head covering that could be a knitted cap or, in Artic climates, a fur cap. When the weather outside is frightful, keeping your body warm is only half the battle. A stocking cap or “nightcap” made a big difference.

4. Layers on layers of insulation. Layering is a common concept for anyone in winter, and layers of sheets, blankets and quilts made a sleeping arrangement warm and warmer. Goose down quilts were a luxury and often a necessity on bitterly cold nights.

5. Sleep with the dog. The shared body heat from a pet can help keep a bed warm at night — and the dog appreciates it, too.

6. Night clothes beyond pajamas. Most pajamas are made from a thin, lightweight material that serve more as a modest way to sleep.

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Our ancestors didn’t mess around. Their night clothes were often heavyweight combinations of wool and thick, cotton flannel.

7. Snuggling. Families often slept together in the same bed, especially on cold, winter nights. The human body radiates heat at an average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and a combination of people in the same bed allowed the body heat to be shared.

8. Hot iron. This is potentially dangerous, but hot pieces of iron were sometimes heated on the top of a wood-burning stove or in a fireplace and then placed into a metal bucket. The bucket was then brought to the bedroom and placed on the floor or even under the bed. The radiant heat from the hot iron lasted for hours and helped to bring some added heat to a cold bedroom.

Of course, when all else failed, it was likely that a family would sleep downstairs in closer proximity to a stove or fireplace. This was a somewhat radical move, but when temperatures plunged far below zero, it was sometimes the only alternative.

Do you know of other ways our ancestors kept their house warm at night during frigid temps? Let us know in the section below:

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6 Simple Ways To Get More Heat From Your Wood Stove

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6 Simple Ways To Get More Heat From Your Wood Stove

Photographer: Daniel Morrison / Flickr / Creative Commons / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

When the weather outside is frightful, it can be a challenge for people dependent on a wood-burning stove for heat. The question is: How can you improve the efficiency of your wood stove?

An obvious answer is to buy a new one with a built-in catalytic combustor, but they can be expensive. Thankfully, there are other ways to do it.

Here are some steps you can take to improve the efficiency of your wood stove:

1. A clean stove and chimney

Barring a warm spell, it’s a little late in the season to do some of this work, but good chimney sweeping and cleaning of the interior of the firebox can improve the efficiency of any wood stove. This also cleans out any creosote, which can impede air flow and pose the potential danger of a chimney fire.

Air flow is critical to good combustion and heat, and anything you can do to properly manage it will make a difference. If you have a brick chimney, make sure any cracks are sealed. This not only will avoid the potential for a fire but also will improve air flow.

2. A well-sealed stove and damper

There are two primary controls for air flow on a wood stove. These include small gaps that can be opened and closed on the front-bottom of some stoves, and the damper on top of the stove or in the chimney about two to three feet above the top. The damper is the primary air-flow control.

6 Simple Ways To Get More Heat From Your Wood StoveA problem can emerge if there are unwanted gaps on the stove. These typically happen around the door for the fire box. There are kits that allow you to replace the gasket, but it requires you to remove the door and let it cool. That’s tough stuff during winter. There are also kits that allow you easily to fill gaps as a short-term fix. Either way, an unwanted gap will cause you to lose control of your air flow and result in a fire that burns too hot for too long.

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The damper also could have a smoke leak or allow air to enter where the spindle emerges from the chimney or stove. This spindle is attached to the damper flap and here again, wood stove supply stores or websites have various solutions you can quickly apply.

Assuming your stove is well-sealed and the damper is operating properly, there are some key things to damper management. The basic advice is that whenever you start a wood stove fire, you should leave the damper fully open for 30 minutes to get the fire off to a good start and properly heat the chimney for efficient drafting.

3. Seasoned wood vs. green wood

Green wood can have a moisture content between 30 and 60 percent. The result is poor combustion and lots of smoke and creosote. In fact, green wood with a very high moisture content takes more energy to burn than the energy it releases in the form of heat. It’s important that you use seasoned wood for a wood stove.

The U.S. Forest Service recommends that firewood be seasoned for six months to a year in a sunny location and protected from rain and snow with a tarp.

Another firewood consideration: Are you using softwood or hardwood? Softwoods, like pine and fir, are great for starting a fire because they burn hot. But they also burn very fast. That’s why you want to establish a good, hot bed of glowing coals with softwoods and then add two or three hardwood logs like oak or cherry. Hardwoods burn hot when well-ignited — and burn long. Make sure you don’t overload the firebox and when necessary, carefully remove the ashes to an ash bucket and dispose of in an ash pit outside.

4. Added iron on the stove top

My mother has three pieces of cast iron in the shape of ducks sitting on top of her wood stove. The iron pieces get hot and increase the heat exchange capability of the stove by presenting a larger hot surface area to the surrounding air. There are also iron pieces with simple fan blades that actually spin very slowly as the heat rises and runs over the blades.  This, to a small degree, can help distribute some of the hot air.

5. Forced-air blower

A more robust solution for air distribution is a forced-air fan that will blow the hot air from the stove’s surface into a room. This requires electricity so it’s not a pure off-the-grid solution, but solar panels could be enough to power the fan.

6. The catalytic combustor

Image source: stove-parts-unlimited.com

Image source: stove-parts-unlimited.com

Many of the newer wood stoves feature a catalytic combustor as an efficiency feature. You also have the option of buying a separate catalytic combustor for installation into an older stove.

A catalytic combustor is a ceramic disc, usually about six inches in diameter and two inches thick. It has a honeycomb appearance and is coated with a rare metal called palladium. It’s inserted into the top of the stove where the smoke rises to the chimney and works to combust the smoke.

Smoke is essentially a gas that failed to combust and (most of the time) requires at least 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to fully ignite. A catalytic combustor will combust the smoke at temperatures as low as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The result is that the fire burns better and hotter and any residual smoke that could cause creosote buildup is reduced. In fact, a catalytic combustor can reduce creosote buildup by anywhere from 20 to 90 percent

It’s reported that catalytic combustors are good for 12,000 operating hours before they have to be replaced. That equals 500 days, so you can probably get several years of service from one catalytic combustor.

One caution is that you should only burn natural woods (no building lumber, paper, or treated woods) with a catalytic combustor or the life of the combustor and its efficiency will decline.

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3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

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3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Artist: Alan Maley

 

Americans love to shop for holiday gifts, but what if there were no stores, sales or affordable goods? Our homesteading ancestors often had to deal with this reality and they did what they were good at: They improvised.

Creativity is at the heart of the pioneer spirit, and we’re going to cover some gifts you can make for kids, friends and family that everyone will remember.

  • We’re going to start with the fundamental concept of the Christmas wreath. They’re easy to make.
  • We’re also going to explore a simple way to make a log-cabin dollhouse. It takes time, but the result will be appreciated for years if not generations.
  • Finally, we’re going to explore a simple baking gift. It’s a harvest bread in the shape of a wreath that can be filled with anything you like or simply enjoyed as a symbol of the season.

1. Wreaths

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Wreaths as a concept emerged during a Scandinavian festival called “Jool.” The English pronunciation is “Yule,” and this season and festival – which takes place around the winter solstice — became known as “Yuletide.”

The wreaths were often worn as crowns improvised from pine, herbs and other plants around a circle of woven vines. Eventually the wreath became a symbol and the circle of branches, herbs and fruits evolved into a decoration we still pursue today.

Our ancestors appreciated a wreath hanging on a wall not only to represent the celebration of the season, but the aromatic sprigs, branches and berries provided an aroma to offset the smell of wood smoke, body odor and mildew that sometimes permeated cabins long ago and still today.

Wreath 101

A wreath is a circle that can be any diameter, and the fundamental foundation is an intertwined circle of vines. Grape vines work great for a larger wreath, but any plant with a long stem, from grasses to tall weeds, can do the trick. The key is to bind them together so they make a circle as a base for the branches, stems, trimmings or other items you want to incorporate into your wreath.

Wreath Ingredients

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

What’s great about vines is that they are very long and make it easy to wrap in a circle to create a good foundation for a wreath, I’ll usually wrap the vines in some twine to keep them together and retain a circular shape. Once this is done you can easily insert branches from trees, shrubs and plants to hold them in place and use either wire or more twine to keep them there. Sometimes just pushing the branch into the bundle of vines will do the job.

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Given the season and time of year in most of North America, pines or other evergreens make good material for a wreath. I like juniper, balsam and Scotch pine. They’re pliable, durable and easy to find, depending on where you live.

Holly and other sturdy plants are also good options but remember: Holly berries are poisonous. You also can make a wreath out of corn husks that have been dried and dyed. I’d use traditional dyes like onion skins, blueberries or beets to get a variety of colors and then weave them into my vine circle once they’re dried.

2. A log cabin dollhouse

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

This is surprisingly easy to make but it does take some time. You have to gather materials, cut them to shape and then build the house and the roof. The roof is usually a separate construction, so it can be removed to allow a child access to the interior.

It’s also easy to craft rustic furnishings from benches to tables and beds, and if you like you can visit a hobby store like Hobby Lobby and find rustic dollhouse furnishings.

It’s Not Just A Little Girl Thing

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

I built a log cabin miniature for my daughter and another for my son. Both loved to fantasize about living in their little log cabins, and they spent hours moving things around and adding details, like more firewood in the fireplace or the dried minnow my son hung on the side of his little cabin.

Gathering Materials

On one occasion, I gathered small sticks about an inch in diameter and shaved them to build a cabin. I chinked the cabin with caulk. I built the roof separately and used bark as shingles. I used small rocks to build the fireplace and placed it all on a board that I detailed using sand and railroad modeling grass to create a feeling of a place. I surrounded it with fences built from small sticks and the general clutter that surrounds a homestead. Use your imagination. What would your son or daughter like to see?

Measuring And Cutting

For my young son’s cabin, I gathered reeds that resembled wood and stocked and glued them in pace. I cut smaller lengths and glued them in between the spaces. Our ancestors would have used pine sap, but I used carpenter’s glue. I also used moss to chink the cabin walls, which is still a common form of chinking used to this day.

The Interior

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Like many rustic cabins, this is a one-room setup. There’s a fireplace, bed, table, shelf and the other things you would expect to see in a one-room cabin. Here again, use your imagination. If you and your son or daughter were going to live in this imaginary place, what would you want to have?
Small sticks can easily be made into furniture, and I used paint-stirring sticks to make a bench and table. Be creative.

3. Christmas bread

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

This is a simple recipe with a simple idea. You knead the dough, let it rise and then make it in the shape of a wreath. You can serve it plain or fill it with a dip if you like. This was often a Christmas gift because it was simple to make with some flour and other ingredients and could be enjoyed by all. Here’s the recipe and some photos to guide you through the process.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water (70 to 80 degrees)
  • 1 egg (room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • 3 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp. of bread flour
  • 2 tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup dried fruit that could include dried cherries, cranberries and raisins, depending on your preference
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Directions

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Knead for 20 minutes or add to a mixer with a dough hook for 15 minutes. Let rise for 30 minutes. Cut half of the dough ball into chunks and use the other half to roll a rope of dough that you make into a circle. Do this on a buttered baking sheet.

Surround the circle of dough with the dough chunks and let it rise again.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes or until browned. Fill with a fruit sauce like cranberries or a cheese mix if you like.

Final Thoughts

Christmas gifts don’t have to be something you buy. In fact, a handmade and homemade gift is often more appreciated because it demonstrates the love and attention of the person giving the gift. I still try to make gifts from scratch and by hand and am always grateful when I see my old gift still on display or talked about years after the holidays are over. Give it a try if you have the time this Christmas season.

What are your favorite homemade or old-time gifts? Share your tips in the section below:

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One-Pan Meals: The Smart-And-Simple Way The Pioneers Cooked

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One-Pan Meals: The Pioneers’ Secret To Simple, Easy, Nourishing Food

I’m an avid outdoorsman and have spent many days and weeks in the wild with friends and family. I’m also a chef, so it was always my job to cook the meals. Unfortunately, that meant I always got stuck with doing the dishes, regardless of my pleas, requests, threats and rants to get some help with greasy pots and pans. I finally found a solution, though, that pioneers and mountain men used for centuries. It’s the one-pan meal.

The fundamental idea behind a one plan meal is that you cook everything in one pot or pan. The protein — whether it be meat, poultry or fish — and all the vegetables are together in one pan or pot. Some recipes fall in the category of a stew, but just as many are more along the lines of roasted or braised foods. In some respects, this was a pioneer version of a crock-pot meal. Unfortunately, they didn’t have electricity, but I think the food tastes better when prepared the old-fashioned way.

A one-pan meal not only makes serving and cleanup easier, but it’s also easier to cook because everything’s done at the same time. There’s no waiting for those hard potatoes to get tender, or wondering when the uncooked chicken or duck is finally going to be done.

The Setup

My setup for one-pan cooking is fairly basic. It’s either a grill over an open fire, a Dutch oven over coals on the ground and some in the lid, or a cast-iron frying pan with a lid warming and waiting over some hot coals. You could also cook these meals in an oven at home or on the kitchen range, but we’re going to stay off-grid like our pioneer ancestors.

Key Ingredients

Basic ingredients could range from beef and pork to venison, rabbit and squirrel. We’re going to keep it rustic and explore recipes with wild game like rabbit and squirrel, plus some poultry variations.

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Water is the cooking medium in many recipes, although oils ranging from bacon fat to butter or a vegetable oil are also important.

The critical success factor is to manage the heat so the food cooks and caramelizes but does not burn. Heat control is what it’s all about. This isn’t about just bringing a big pot of water to a rolling boil over a blazing fire. It’s about carefully managing the temperature and humidity in the pan to make a great meal.

The approach

Step 1

Get your pan or pot hot and either render some bacon to capture the fat or add an oil like canola oil or butter to the bottom of the pan. The first thing you’ll want to add is the meats or poultry (cut into pieces). Don’t do this step with fish or shellfish; it’s unnecessary.

Your goal is to brown the meat or poultry to an amber caramelized brown. This has three benefits:

  • It seals the juices into the meat or poultry.
  • The caramelization will impart a nice, amber color to the added water to make a rich stock.
  • It enhances the flavor of the finished dish as it relates to the meat or poultry.

Once your meat is seared and nicely sealed, remove it from the pan and reserve it on a covered plate.

Step 2

One-Pan Meals: The Pioneers’ Secret To Simple, Easy, Nourishing FoodAdd your vegetables to the drippings in the bottom of the pan. I start with carrots if I’m using them because they’re a firm vegetable. Once I start to notice some caramelization around the edges, I’ll add the onions. These are usually cut into halves or quarters but sometimes diced. When the onions start to show some browning, I’ll add potatoes peeled and cut. I’m stirring all the time to keep the vegetables from burning. Once I’m satisfied that I have a little bit of crispiness and browning, I’ll add 2 to 4 cups of water salted with a ½ teaspoon of salt per cup, or a bouillon cube per cup.

The water proportions vary depending on the size of your pot. Once I’ve added the water, I’ll stir the pot to scrape up any bits on the bottom. What you’ll start to see is a nice amber color coming into the water to begin the stock. I’ll return the pot to a gentle boil and move on to step 3.

Step 3

Once the pot is gently boiling, I’ll return the meat or poultry to the pot. The meat will be sitting on top of the vegetables with some stock lapping at the bottom of some of the meat. This is a critical time to manage the heat. I’ll cover the pan or pot with a lid or foil and then put it over low heat. Medium to high heat can burn anything on the bottom of the pan, so keep the heat low. The heavy lid on a Dutch oven actually creates a mild, pressure-cooker effect. If I’m using a cast iron frying pan, I’ll place the lid over the fire to get it very hot and then carefully place it over the cast-iron frying pan. If you’re using a Dutch oven, then put some coals on the lid and some coals underneath.

Step 4.

How long you cook your food will vary depending on your heat source, the size of your pot and other factors like outside temperature. Cooking outside in winter takes longer than summer. The easiest way to assess your progress is to carefully lift the lid and take a peek. I’ll sometimes stir the bottom a bit just to make sure there’s no burning, and I might add some more water. Water goes a long way toward preventing charring and burning and it’s easy to boil it off if you have too much.

The Final Finish

Once I’m satisfied the food is cooked, I’ll consider taking the meal to the next level. This could include turning the stock into a gravy or adding dumplings to the top for a finishing touch. I’ll also taste the stock to adjust the seasoning with salt or pepper, but remember that people can always salt and pepper their own serving, so don’t overdo it.

Once all is done, put the pan or pot on a stump or large, cut log or in the center of the table on a trivet or some other insulating layer … and let everyone help themselves. Tell them they’re responsible tor washing their own plates and you can worry about the one pot or pan later.

Recipes

One-Pan Poultry

(Serves 4)

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 strips of bacon or 2 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 chicken or 2 ducks or 2 pheasants cut into quarters
  • 6 carrots sliced into circles
  • 2 large onions quartered
  • 4 large potatoes quartered
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt or 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Herbs like rosemary, thyme or sage

DIRECTIONS

Heat the pan and render the bacon fat or add the oil. Brown the meat and reserve. Brown and caramelize the vegetables and add the water. Stir the pot and return to gentle boil and add the poultry. Add the herbs. Cover and cook over low- to low-medium heat or coals for 1 hour. Stop and stir halfway through the cooking. Check for doneness by rocking a poultry leg at the thigh. If it moves freely, you’re finished. Serve with salt and pepper. Top with crumbled bacon if you used it at the beginning.

Hunter’s Stew With Dumplings

(Serves 4)

  • 6 strips of bacon or 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 squirrel plus one rabbit plus one bird, all quartered (chicken/duck/pheasant/quail)
  • 2 large onions sliced
  • 4 large potatoes cut into large chunks
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour stirred into ½ cup of water

Dumplings recipe

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • (Mix until you have a dough and roll out or pat until about ½ inch thick and cut into pieces about 2 inches across.)

DIRECTIONS

One-Pan Meals: The Pioneers’ Secret To Simple, Easy, Nourishing FoodHunter’s stew is best made in a large cast iron pot or Dutch oven. Heat the pot and render the bacon fat or add the oil. Brown all the meats and poultry and reserve. Add the onions and potatoes and cook until onions begin to show some browning on the edges. Add the water and stir and bring to a gentle boil. Add the meat and cover and cook for one hour. Stir halfway through. Check for doneness by slicing into some of the meats. Mix the corn starch or flour with the water and add to the pot and stir. Simmer gently until stock thickens. For a thicker gravy, add some more corn starch or flour. Top the pot with the dumplings and cover and cook an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Serve.

Fisherman’s Stew (Michigan Bouillabaisse)

(Serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
  • 4 carrots diced
  • 3 stalks of celery diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 fennel bulb diced (optional)
  • 2 peeled tomatoes or 1 15-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
  • Herbs like thyme or chervil
  • 4 cups of chicken broth or fish stock (simmer fish heads and bones for
  • 30 minutes and strain for fish stock)
  • 12 to 24 crayfish
  • 6 to 10 frog legs
  • 4 to 8 fresh water mussels, depending on size and availability
  • 2 pounds of fish cut into large chunks (salmon/trout/bass/northern/walleye)

This is best made in a large, uncovered cast iron frying pan or uncovered Dutch oven. Heat the pan or pot and add the butter or oil. Add all of the vegetables except tomatoes at once and cook until onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, turmeric and herbs and the chicken or fish stock. Bring to a gentle boil and add the crayfish and cook until they turn red. Add the mussels and the frog legs.

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Discard any mussels that don’t open. Once the mussels are open, add the fish and cook for a few minutes until opaque. Don’t overcook the fish or it will crumble into bits. Serve.

Rabbit and Squirrel Pot Pie

(Serves 4)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
  • 2 squirrels and 1 rabbit cut into small chunks
  • 4 carrots diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 large potatoes diced into cubes
  • 1 cup of peas
  • 2 cups of beef stock or beef bouillon cubes in 2 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons of corn starch or flour in ½ cup of water
  • 2 pie crusts

Pie crust recipe

  • 1 cup Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold shortening or butter
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

(Cut the shortening or butter into the flour and salt with two knives until the mixture is crumbly. Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time and mix with your hands until you have a dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap or in a plastic bag and chill for 20 minutes. Cut the dough ball in half and roll out into two equal-sized sheets to fit your pan. You can roll the dough onto your rolling pin to make it easier to transfer and unroll over your pan.

DIRECTIONS

This is best made in a cast iron frying pan with a tight-fitting lid. Aluminum foil is your backup plan as a cover. Make the dough and let it rest in a cool place. Heat your pan and add the butter or oil and brown the squirrel and the rabbit. Reserve. Add all of the vegetables except for the peas. Cook until edges start to brown. Add the beef stock and the meat and cook uncovered until all ingredients are cooked through and tender. Add the corn starch or flour in the ½ cup of water and stir until thickened. Add peas and pour the mix into a bowl or other container.

Wipe out the pan and oil before you get the first pie crust into place. Poke the bottom with a fork to make some holes. Fill the pan with the meat/vegetable mixture. Don’t fill to the brim. You still need to add the second crust on top and have a lid to cover all of it. Top with the second crust and poke more holes in the top with the fork. Heat the lid over the fire until it is very hot and place on top of the pan. Place the pan over the lowest heat possible and let bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t lift the lid until you think it’s done. If it’s not done or golden brown, return the lid to direct heat to heat it up. Put the lid bake onto the pan until finished. Let rest off the heat for 5 minutes and serve.

Have you made one-pan meals? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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The Smart, Cheap, Off-Grid Alternative To Store-Bought Furniture

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The Smart, Cheap, Off-Grid Alternative To Store-Bought Furniture

Pioneer bench. Photographer: Steve Nubie

On numerous hunting, fishing and camping trips I’ve found myself in a fixed camp with family and friends for up to two weeks. It usually doesn’t take me long to get the ax and a saw out and start to craft various furnishings from the surrounding woods and fallen trees.

What began to occur to me is that some of these improvised pieces actually would look good in my cabin, and on more than one occasion I would bring a piece or two home. Over time I started to see these rustic furnishings as a smart and cost-effective alternative to many of the items I saw in furniture stores.

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The Smart, Cheap, Off-Grid Alternative To Store-Bought Furniture

Classic whole log coffee table. Photographer: Steve Nubie

The critical thing is to start simple and learn as you go. You can also get ideas from stores that specialize in rustic furnishings and catalogs and websites that offer tools and supplies for rustic furniture making.

Start With The Basics

There are a couple of fundamental things to keep in mind when selecting, harvesting and working with woods for rustic furniture making:

  1. Softwood or hardwood? You either can use softwoods like pine, poplar or basswood, or hardwoods like oak and maple. As a general rule, the size of the wood and the hardness are directly proportional to the weight the piece has to support. If you’re making a bed or chair for a big man you’ll want hardwoods with a circumference of at least one to two inches. Smaller pieces like end tables or coat hangers and coffee tables should do fine with softwoods.
  2. Waterproofing. I usually don’t worry too much about water. In a short-term fixed-camp we’ll usually burn a lot of my improvised furnishings the night before we pack out. If it’s in my cabin it’s protected from the elements and I don’t worry about the elements getting in there.
  3. To peel the bark or not to peel the bark. If I’m chopping together some furnishings for an outdoor fixed camp, I don’t worry about the bark on any tree. If it’s in my home I always peel or strip the bark. All sorts of bugs and slugs like to burrow and crawl around underneath the bark of a tree, and I’d rather not invite them into my home.
  4. Glues, screws, nails and timber frame wedges? I use all four to varying degrees. At times I’ll even use lashings made from rope or rawhide. but they wear out in a year or two. To me the simple rule is to do what works to make the piece stable and reliable and look attractive as a furniture piece you can enjoy.

Tools Of The Craft

There are all sorts of woodworking tools you can consider for any rustic furniture making. Some are basic and some a bit unique. Here’s the short list:

  • Saws, including a chainsaw, handsaw, bucksaw, and any precision saw you might have on hand to make complex cuts.
  • Hammers of varying sizes to handle nails of varying sizes.
  • An assortment of nails and screws of varying sizes and styles.
  • A tape measure.
  • Other fastening materials, like carpenter’s glue, rope or rawhide for lashings.
  • A drawshave for peeling bark.
  • Various screwdrivers for different sizes of screws.
  • A hand-held auger or auger in a large drill to bore holes into the underside of tables, benches and for other joints.
  • A way to shave and shape the end of a log or stick to fit into the holes you’ve bored. This could be a combination of clever saw cuts or highly specialized and unique drill attachments that literally shave the ends to a perfect taper for a joint.
The Smart, Cheap, Off-Grid Alternative To Store-Bought Furniture

Dollhouse. Photographer: Steve Nubie

You could also consider various finishing materials, from sandpaper to varnishes and other finishes, but that’s up to you.

What You Can Make

There really are no limits to what you can make, but we’ll try to keep it simple. Here are a few pieces I’ve put together and some that I plan to make:

  1. Pioneer bench. This is assuming you have a chainsaw or a large bucksaw and a couple of strong backs. It’s essentially a log cut in half length-wise with a couple of half rounds used to fit into grooves cut into the bottom of the log. I have these all over the trails next to my cabin.
  2. Classic whole log coffee table. This also takes either a large chainsaw or bucksaw. It’s essentially a slice of a large tree about three inches thick and supported by three legs drilled and joined to the bottom. You could scale this down to make stools or small seats, as well.
  3. My daughter’s dollhouse. Hey, why not. This is great practice for rustic furniture building. We built this log cabin dollhouse together and then built the furnishings from sticks and lumber scraps. She’s now a mother of two and her daughter is now playing and fantasizing about living in this little log cabin.
  4. Beds. This is easier than it sounds, as you have to be sensitive to bed spring and mattress sizes. You also need to support the span of the bed. This is where you might want specialized equipment, like augers and a wedge.

There are also simpler furnishings, such as coat hangers made from a branch extending from a small tree joint, to simple benches made from a half-round of a log and supported by four, stout branches driven into the bottom. More complex pieces, like cabinets and dressers, fall more in the category of complex cabinet crafting, but as you experiment and think about it your skills will improve and so will the quality of your rustic furnishings.

Have you ever built rustic furniture? Share your tips in the section below:  

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The Pilgrims’ 1st Thanksgiving Meal Included … Seal & Eagle?

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The Pilgrims’ 1st Thanksgiving Meal Included … Seal & Eagle?

The first Thanksgiving – at least, the one involving the Pilgrims — is believed to have occurred over a period of three days, sometime between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9 in 1621.

The feast occurred on a Pilgrim plantation at the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts, and was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians. Reportedly, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag expressed thanks for the animals, fruits and vegetables they were consuming. This is actually a tradition with Native-Americans, who would always thank an animal or plant for surrendering their life so that they may live.

The Pilgrims were grateful to God, not only for the bounty they had collected but for the Wampanoag, who had helped them survive on the brink of starvation and who peacefully co-existed with them for 50 years.

The Pilgrims did not have wood-burning cook stoves. All cooking was done over an open fire, either in cast iron pots and pans, or roasted on spits or suspended next to the fire. Dutch ovens were used for basic baking and braising. There also were some foods cooked in hot ashes, which was a technique they learned from the Wampanoags.

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Boiling, steaming and frying were the cooking styles of choice, and both duck fat and goose fat were highly prized for a number of dishes. Butter was a scarce and precious commodity, as was milk.

Seasonings were limited, although sea salt and certain herbs like liverwort and some other aromatic herbs like ramps (wild chives) and purslane were used.

What Was Not On The Table

plymouthThe foods consumed were indigenous or natural to the Massachusetts area in the 1600s. As a result, there were some plants and animals that didn’t show up on the menu:

  • Potatoes. There simply were no potatoes growing in North America at that time. No white potatoes, sweet potatoes or red potatoes. Potatoes grew in South America, and it wasn’t until the Spanish brought them to Europe that they eventually made their way to North America.
  • Cranberry sauce. Cranberries did, in fact, grow in bogs around Massachusetts, but the sauce we know today was not made. Cranberry sauce requires a lot of sugar, and the Pilgrim’s supply of sugar was nearly exhausted. Honey was too precious for something as basic as a cranberry sauce.
  • Dessert. Again, there simply was not enough sugar.
  • Turkey. Well, maybe not. (The meat of choice was deer.) Wild turkeys inhabited the region, but other types of fowl took center stage, including ducks, geese, pheasants, pigeons and even cranes, swans and get this … eagles.
  • Bread. At least, not much of it. There were some breads at the table, but mostly sourdough and cornbread. The sourdough was referred to as “cheate” bread by the Pilgrims. The sourdough was baked as a round loaf, probably in a Dutch oven. The cornbread was a gift from the Wampanoag, from a variety of corn referred to as “flint” corn — a yellow corn that was allowed to dry on the plant and was then ground into a flour or corn meal.
  • Salt but no pepper. Given the proximity of the Plymouth colony to the ocean, sea salt was in abundance, but pepper was missing in action. Pepper was a very exotic and expensive spice at the time.

What WAS On The Table

So, what did the menu look like? The only foods recorded in history were deer and fowl. In addition, fish, seafood and even seal likely were served. The vegetables tended to be rustic and traditional but very familiar to us. There was fruit, as well as some simple breads.

Let’s have some fun with this and look at the First Thanksgiving in a traditional menu format, with a description of the ingredients and how the dishes were prepared. These were the actual foods served at the First Thanksgiving, with traditional ingredients and a traditional preparation style.

——————————————————————–

Ye Olde Thanksgiving Menu

 

Appetizers:

Assorted nuts consisting of acorns, walnuts and chestnuts roasted over an open fire in a cast-iron pan and lightly salted with sea salt.

A mix of wild plums and grapes with blueberries, gooseberries and wild black raspberries.

Seal kebobs cut into chunks and slowly roasted on skewers over coals and served with sea salt.

Raw oysters on the half shell served with an herbed vinegar

Surf and surf combination of lobsters and clams boiled in salt water and served with herbed goose fat.

Mussels with curds. The mussels are boiled in sea water, shelled and then mixed with curds until the curds gently melt.

——————————————————————–

Starters:

Vegetable soup

A soup made with sea salt in sea water and a medley of sliced onions, parsnips, carrots, leeks and cabbage and topped with duck fat.

Clam chowder

We start with shucked clams and gently simmer in our limited and precious milk, onions, leeks and then thicken with corn meal and season with sea salt and garnish with chopped spinach leaves.

Mixed green salad

A salad of dandelion greens, plantain leaves, various lettuces, spinach and peas with a dressing made from vinegar and duck fat and a sprinkle of sea salt all topped with chopped liverwort greens.

———————————————————————–

Ye Main Meal

 

Venison

Venison steaks roasted over an open-fire on a spit and served with a brown-blueberry sauce.

Pan-roasted venison sautéed in a cast iron pan over an open fire with caramelized onions and vinegar.

Braised venison

Cuts of venison from the rump, brisket and shoulders are cut into chunks and flowered in corn meal and then browned in goose fat with onions, carrots and some sea water in a Dutch oven until tender.

———————————————————————–

Fowl

(All fowl dishes are served with an optional stuffing or a “pudding in the belly” made from corn meal, onions, cranberries, herbs, vinegar and sea salt

Pheasant

Spit-roasted pheasant roasted on a spit over open coals and basted with duck fat and sea salt.

Braised goose

Cut-up goose braised with onions, parsnips, carrots and cranberries in a Dutch oven.

Wild turkey

Spit-roasted wild turkey roasted between two beds of hot coals and basted with a sea water, vinegar blend.

Boiled eagle

Cut-up eagle boiled with onions and herbs in a pot of salt water and then quickly seared over open coals.

Pigeons in a pan

Pigeons in a pan with onions and carrots sautéed in a cast iron frying pan in goose fat and duck fat are then topped with roasted and chopped black walnuts.

Hot coal-roasted swan

The swan is set beside a fire vertically on stakes and turned from time to time to cook the meat through. It’s basted with a blend of duck and goose fat and seasoned with sea salt and served whole on a large plank.

——————————————————————-

Fish

Cod

Cod either boiled with onions, roasted over coals or wrapped in grape leaves and simmered in hot ashes.

Sea bass

Whole grilled sea bass basted with duck fat over open coals and topped with sea salt and chopped herbs and spinach.

——————————————————————–

Sides

Stuffed pumpkin

We start by hollowing out a pumpkin and then filling it with chunks of pumpkin, milk, honey and spices and then wrap in boiled grape leaves and cook in ashes until done. It’s served from the pumpkin as a bowl and has the consistency of a custard.

Boiled onions

Onions are peeled, quartered and boiled with raisins, sugar, egg and vinegar until tender.

Squash mash

A variety of squashes from butternut to acorn to pumpkin cut into chunks and boiled until tender and then mashed with honey, cinnamon, cloves and a touch of sea salt.

Mixed vegetables

An assortment of vegetables including carrots, parsnips, onions, spinach, peas, and a blend of chopped herbs all gently boiled and topped with sea salt.

Flint-corn mush

A combination of ground flint corn gently boiled in milk and seasoned with either sea salt or honey.

Boiled spinach

Spinach leaves boiled in sea water and drained and then topped with duck fat and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Your choice of sourdough “cheate” bread or cornbread

——————————————————————-

     Dessert

Fruit and nut sampler

A mix of fruits and nuts including grapes, gooseberries, blueberries, wild plums and an assortment of salted and roasted acorns, chestnuts and black walnuts.

———————————————————————–

Beverages

Water

Tea

Maple Sap

———————————————————————

pilgrims-faithI don’t know about you, but it all sounds pretty good — although I might take a pass on the boiled eagle. There’s a hefty fine and they are never in season these days.

If you want to try one of these recipes, the menu is pretty self-explanatory with ingredients and cooking style. This was a very rustic, simple and direct type of cooking. There were no meat thermometers to tell you when something was done; the usual shake on the drumstick of any bird would tell you it’s done when it feels loose and the juices run clear.

Fish was easy enough to evaluate when the fish was opaque and flaked, and most boiling and braising methods would indicate doneness with a simple slice and a taste.

You may or may not want to toss one of these recipes on your Thanksgiving table, but even if you don’t, you can always throw a cold plate of plums, grapes and berries out there to remember that first Thanksgiving.

What would be your favorite “original” Thanksgiving meal? Share your thoughts in the section below:   

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

7 Ways The Pioneers Preserved Food Without Electricity

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Artist:  Joachim Beuckelaer

Artist: Joachim Beuckelaer

The pioneers knew more than a few tricks to preserve food for the long-term. Any form of food preservation was designed to kill and inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other micro-organisms. It also was designed to prevent the oxidation of fats which could lead to rancidity.

Our pioneer ancestors needed to master these skills for two reasons:

1. The seasons. Summer and fall were times of plenty, but winter and early spring were not. The ability to preserve food to over-winter in many environments was vital to survival.

2. Long journeys. They were traveling across open prairies in a wagon train, traveling on sailing ships to distant shores, traversing mountains with little or no vegetation or wildlife. Long journeys required stores of food that would keep well and not cause sickness due to foodborne illnesses.

Plan Ahead – or Else

You may have heard of the Donner Party. They were pioneers traveling to California who were trapped in the Rocky Mountains during relentless blizzards and cold temperatures. Many slowly starved to death while others resorted to cannibalism. That’s poor planning.

We’re not going to cover the obvious, like canning in mason jars (our pioneer ancestors didn’t have a lot of access to glass or finely crafted metal lids). And they certainly didn’t irradiate foods or use electric dehydrators.

Here are seven ways the pioneers preserved food:

1. Salt. Any civilization living next to a saline or salty body of water had the ability to dehydrate the water and gather salt. In ancient times, it was a valuable commodity and for a while, Roman soldiers were paid their wages with salt.

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While we tend to think of salt as a standard seasoning, the value of salt in ancient times was more related to the preservative power of salt. Salt reduces moisture, inhibits bacterial growth and leaves a flavor that’s easy to eat, depending on the salt level. Ships at sea often carried small barrels of pork embedded in a cask of salt or a salt brine. This “salted pork” was standard fare for many people traveling across oceans for long journeys.

Salt is often used in brines to enhance the preservation of fish, fowl and game before drying or smoking, and it’s a standard addition to most pickling recipes and those casks of salted pork.

2. Fat. This may come as a bit of a surprise but fat, especially beef feet or tallow and suet, has exceptional preservative properties. It’s a standard addition to pemmican recipes, which usually involves a 50 percent mix of dried and powdered beef or buffalo and an equal amount of fat plus some raisins or black cherries.

Also, pioneer women would often take cuts of meat and place them into a crock or small barrel and top it with tallow or suet due to its preservative properties. On a fundamental level, the congealed fat is preventing oxygen and airborne microbes from reaching the meat.

It was important to keep any container with these combinations sealed from air.

7 Ways The Pioneers Preserved Food Without Electricity

Artist: Pieter Aertsen

3. Honey. Good news and bad news about honey. The bad news is that it’s hard to harvest a lot of it, and buying it is expensive. The good news is that it has remarkable preservative properties. In fact, a jar of honey more than 3,000 years old was discovered in an Egyptian tomb, and clinical tests found it to be safe to eat.

Many of our pioneers preserved their most valued cuts of meat in honey and like salt, it added a pleasant taste to the food when eaten.

4. Vinegar. This is perhaps the most potent, natural antiseptic you can safely consume. It’s actually acetic acid and is usually a 4 to 5 percent solution in water. It was also easy to make from various fruits like apples. It was used to preserve everything from vegetables to fruits to meats, fish and fowl.

The typical process involved immersing the food in vinegar in a cask or container, and sometimes salt was added for flavor and additional preservative qualities.

5. Drying or dehydration. This is probably the oldest food preservation technique. It was used to preserve everything from vegetables to fruits and of course meats, fish and fowl.

The critical success factor with drying foods is to remove as much moisture as possible.

  • Beans or legumes were often strung on sticks and hung in the rafter of a cabin or tepee to air dry.
  • Fish were filleted and often salted before being hung in the sun on racks or over smoldering fires.
  • Strips of meat from game were sliced thin, salted if possible and also hung in the sun or over a fire to dry.
  • Fruits were sliced thin and left to dry in the sun and taken indoors at night to continue the drying. They were turned often and sometimes smoked. They, too, were hung on sticks in the rafters at times.

6. Root cellar. This is all about preserving vegetables such as carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, potatoes and parsnips. This approach provides multiple benefits:

  • Fairly consistent temperatures in winter and summer.
  • Consistent humidity, which is beneficial to root vegetables.
  • Protection from insects and animals, to some degree.
  • Protection from sunlight.
  • Easy access to a variety of vegetables
  1. Smoking fish, fowl and game over a low and slow draft of smoke in an enclosed space not only dried out the food, but the smoke and moderate heat both killed and inhibited bacterial and fungal growth.

7. Smoking. Smoking over a period of a month or more also allowed larger cuts of meat and whole fish to be successfully dried and preserved, rather than the thin strips usually cut for traditional drying methods.

The meat or fish were sometimes cured with either a dry cure of salt crystals or in a brine.

Even after removal from the smoke house, large pieces of smoked meats would last a long time if kept in a well-ventilated and cool and dark place. Parma hams in Italy hang for months and months in the cool towers of buildings after careful brining and smoking.

Conclusion

Do more research about food preservation and if in doubt, throw it out. Our pioneer ancestors learned the hard way about what worked and didn’t work.

What is your favorite old-time food preservation method? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

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The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

Editor’s note: The author is a certified chef and specializes in wildfire and wilderness cooking.

I remember the first time I encountered a puffball mushroom. It was autumn — the height of puffball mushroom season. I was 17 and was walking my dog in a particularly remote and thick deciduous forest. I was stunned to see what appeared to be an ultra-bright soccer ball on the dark and neutral detritus of the forest floor. I, of course, did what any self-respecting 17-year-old boy would do, and kicked it. It shattered into pieces and I was stunned that something like that could grow in the wild. Little did I know I had just destroyed a delicacy. It wasn’t until years later that I grew to appreciate the value of the puffball mushroom.

You always have to be careful about eating any mushroom found in the wild. Typically, very colorful mushrooms are poisonous, but some of the deadliest are white or cream colored. I’ve harvested mushrooms for years and I wrote a previous article about the most common and safe-to-eat mushrooms. But, for me, the puffball is king — literally.

Finding puffball mushrooms is easy. So easy a child can do it, and I’ve found my grandkids to be the best puffball hunters. Puffball mushrooms can grow from the size of a marble to the size of a bowling ball overnight. They are a very bright white and stand out even at a distance. But you have to harvest them at the right time.

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

Here’s how to know you’ve found a perfect puffball mushroom:

  • Tap it gently and if it has a hollow sound like a drum, you may have found a perfect puffball at its peak. I carry a five-gallon plastic bucket for my puffball hunts and it fills up quickly.
  • Slice it in half with a bread knife. The center should be bright white through and through, and the texture consistent.
  • Smell it. It should have a mushroom smell like a button mushroom you’d buy at the grocery store with some radish-like flavor notes.

If it appears green or any other color than bright white, throw it back in the field. It’s the old adage, “when in doubt, throw it out.” If you’re lucky, it will generate spores to reseed for next fall.

Storing Puffball Mushrooms

I’ll usually do a gentle wash over running water when I get my puffballs home (and I mean gentle). The thin skin of a puffball is easily cut and bruised. Rinse it like you would rinse the scalp of a baby in the sink. I’ll then either put them into the fridge whole, or sauté them in olive oil and freeze them. Fortunately, I have a fridge in the garage that has enough room for some basketball-sized mushrooms. Unfortunately, my wife asked me five minutes ago what I planned to do with those weird mushrooms. I suspect she’ll be playing soccer with them soon.

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I think you’ll be amazed by what you can do with a puffball mushroom. You can easily make these recipes if you are lucky enough to encounter a puffball.

Puffball Mushroom Steak With Onions

You can make a carefully sliced chunk of puffball mushroom not only look like a steak, but taste kind of close. The key is to marinate it and follow the recipe below:

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large slice of puffball mushroom cut 2 inches thick by 3×4 inches wide
  • 1 tablespoon of teriyaki sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the puffball into shape as indicated. Mix the sauce and vinegar in a bowl. Place the puffball steak into the bowl and press down. It’s like a sponge and will absorb the marinade. Let it marinade for five minutes, turning it once. In a hot pan, melt the butter and sauté the puffball steak. Brown it gently on all sides. Heat a cast iron grill with grilling ridges or fire up the kettle grill. Grill the puffball steak and serve with thin-sliced onions.

Puffball Mushroom Extraordinaire

This involves slicing a 1-inch slice of puffball mushroom across the center and sautéing it in butter and topping it with some caramelized onions and garlic. You slice it and serve it like a pizza. My kids and grandkids eat it like locusts.

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1-inch slice of puffball mushroom cut across the center
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic chopped
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of seasoned salt

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and caramelize the onions and then add the garlic for one minute. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan and sauté the puffball slice for 2 minutes a side or until browned. Remove the puffball to a platter and top with the onions and garlic and the remaining olive oil from the pan and sprinkle some sea salt on top.  Cut and serve like pizza slices.

Parmesan Puffball Mushroom Cubes

This is a great side dish to most any savory recipe. It’s easy and simple to make and the puffball cubes are almost like snack food.

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups of puffball mushrooms cubed
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Heat the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan and sauté the mushroom cubes until browned on all sides. Sprinkle with salt. Top with the grated parmesan and serve.

Puffball Mushrooms Strips With Salsa

Who needs chicken strips when you’ve got puffball mushrooms? This recipe is simple and all you do is cut the puffball into strips and sauté and serve with a spread of salsa on top with some lime wedges.

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

INGREDIENTS:

  • Puffball mushroom cut into strips of varying sizes
  • ¼ cup or olive oil
  • Salsa (store-bought or your homemade recipe)
  • Lime wedges

DIRECTIONS:

Cut the puffball into thick strips about 1-2 inches wide and about 4-6 inches long and about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Bring the sauté pan up to heat and add the oil and sauté 1-2 minutes a side. Remove to a platter and top with the salsa and serve with lime slices.

Ramen Noodle Soup With Puffball Mushrooms

My youngest son is a college student, and like most college students he’s amassing enormous school-loan debt, working three part-time jobs for around minimum wage and living on ramen noodle soup. I’ve tried to do everything I can to help him and he enjoyed the afternoon when I showed him how to make ramen noodle soup with puffball mushrooms.

The great thing about puffball mushrooms is they’re a lot like tofu. They absorb the flavor of broths and sauces and make a great addition to a dish like this.

The Easy-To-Spot Giant Mushroom That Can Feed A Family

Image source: Steve Nubie

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 packages of ramen noodles plus seasoning packet
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 carrots sliced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 cups of cubed puffball mushrooms cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ cup of chopped spinach

DIRECTIONS:

Add the seasoning packets to the water in a saucepan and add all of the ingredients except for the ramen noodles. When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles until done and pour into a bowl and serve.

Get Creative

I’ve made puffball mushroom burgers, which are a great alternative to Portobello burgers, and have used puffball mushrooms in everything from omelets to stuffing for poultry to wild-game gravies and sauces. They’re out there and they’re free, so see if you can find one at its peak and enjoy some puffball mushroom cuisine.

Have you ever eaten puffball mushrooms? Share your foraging and cooking tips below:

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How To Mouse-Proof Your Home For Winter

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How To Mouse-Proof Your Home For Winter

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You don’t have to live next to a farm, field or forest to have a large mouse population in your neighborhood.

Mice are the ultimate survivors, and they thrive anywhere they find warmth, shelter, water and food. They may not bother us during spring and summer, but as the chill of autumn weather appears they look for better alternatives. Unfortunately, that often means our homes and cabins. There are a variety of steps you can take to diminish and resist this invasion.

Mice are prolific breeders. One female can produce up to eight litters a year, with six to 10 mice per litter. That means a single mouse can produce 80 other mice who will also breed and reproduce. The affect can be exponential, and that’s why this is often an ongoing battle against the furry little rodents.

Try to Seal Off Access to Your Home or Garage

This is not as easy as it sounds. A mouse can squeeze through the smallest spaces and gaps between your foundation and framing.

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But you have to start somewhere and here’s where to look:

  • Start in the basement and inspect any gaps in your foundation. If you shut off the lights in the basement, you may see daylight peeking through gaps or cracks. You can seal these with a patching cement, caulk, spackle or even steel wool. Mice are notorious for chewing through wood and just about anything else, so a patching cement might be your best bet if it’s an unfinished area and cosmetic appearance is not as important.
  • Check for any holes or gaps in your garage, whether it’s attached or freestanding. Garage doors are often left open for various periods of time, and that’s an invitation for mice to hide under and around things in the garage while they search for an entrance to your home.
  • Eaves and soffits aren’t out of reach for mice. Mice are good climbers and a tree or vine gives them a pathway to any gap or hole in an eave or soffit. Caulk works, or repair with new wood and re-caulk.

Eliminate Accidental Food Sources

  • Look for food left in or around spaces frequently occupied where food is consumed.
    • Did the kids leave some potato chips on the floor in front of the video game?
    • Did some organic garbage fall on the floor in the garage by the garbage cans?
    • If you have pet food, make sure none of it got scattered around by your pet, and seal the food in a sturdy plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.
    • Any food storage space can become a destination for mice, and mouse droppings in stored food are especially dangerous. Make sure any food storage is well-protected either in metal cans or sturdy plastic pails or containers.
    • Grass seed and wild bird seed in the garage are also mouse magnets. Make sure they’re in sealed containers and on a high shelf.
  • Check for incidental water sources.
    • I’ve often found a dead mouse floating in the sump-pump well. Try to seal the top to restrict access.
    • Wet spots in the basement also create water sources. Seal cracks or areas where seepage pools water. You should probably do this regardless of the mice, but if you’re unaware of the problem, this inspection step can help you remedy it.

Trapping and Eradicating Mice

How To Mouse-Proof Your Home For Winter

Image source: Pixabay.com

There are a variety of options for mouse eradication, and you should consider them carefully, especially if you have pets or children in the house. Some of the approaches are traditional and time-tested, and some fall in the category of new technology.

General Trapping Advice

  • Mice are nocturnal animals, which means they come out at night. As a result, they will be most active not only at night, but in a dark room. Shut off the lights and check your traps in the morning.
  • Mice hug the walls when they travel. They are skittish and nervous animals and like the reassurance of a wall next to them as they move around. They will foray into a dark and open space for food and water, but your best location for any trap is along walls and in corners or under furniture next to a wall or corner.
  • Yes, you can reuse any trap, and there is some evidence that the scent of a dead mouse actually attracts other mice to a previously used trap. That’s up to you. Wear rubber gloves if you take this approach.
  • Traditional bait for mouse traps is cheese or peanut butter. I prefer sharp, cheddar cheese pressed around the trigger so the mouse has to exert some pressure to get the cheese. I’ve had many occasions when the peanut butter on a spring trap was successfully licked off the trap without springing it.

1. The traditional spring trap. We’re all familiar with this mouse trap. It’s a small, rectangular piece of wood with a snapping bar sprung by a spring when a piece of cheese or peanut butter is consumed from the trigger.

  • Pros: A quick kill that is inexpensive and allows you to discard both the mouse and the trap. It’s also highly effective.
  • Cons: Potentially dangerous to both kids and animals who may innocently trip the trap.

2. Glue traps. Glue traps are a cardboard box shape that have a strong contact glue on the bottom of the trap. Sometimes you add food to the back of the trap and some are already scented with an attractive scent for mice.

  • Pros: These traps are also inexpensive and are specifically designed to be disposable. They’re also pet and toddler safe.
  • Cons: Probably the least humane mouse trap. I’ve hunted and fished for years and I’ve always hunted and fished to eat. But I’ll confess that when I used these traps, it broke my heart to see a small mouse squeaking and looking at me with a paw reaching out trying to free itself from the glue. I actually tried to get it loose so I could release it in the forest, but the glue was too strong. I dispatched it quickly and got rid of the glue traps. They work, but I don’t use them anymore.

3. Live-catch traps. There are many variations on this type of trap. The concept is that they can get in, but they can’t get out. They’ll catch anywhere from one to six mice at a time, depending on the size and type.

  • Pros: It’s a humane option requiring you to find a distant location to release the mice. You also can capture mice in bulk if you get one of the larger traps. Most are baited with some type of food or food combination and are usually made of metal so they can be washed and reused. Also, they are pet and toddler safe.
  • Cons: They cost more but because they’re reusable, that’s not a big issue. They also tend to be somewhat large and visible, so they’re OK in a basement, but on the kitchen floor they stand out a bit more than you might like. Also, when you release the mice, make sure it’s a good distance from your home. The backyard is just going to invite them to try and get back in, and your neighbor may not appreciate it if you dump them in their backyard.
How To Mouse-Proof Your Home For Winter

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Mouse poison. Mouse poison is a box of small, edible pellets that are usually made with corn and permeated with a potent poison. The mice eat the poison and will often run to an open space to die, although sometimes they will die in a hidden space and the only way to find them is the smell of a dead and rotting animal.

  • Pros: This type of eradication is often used in barns, sheds and other locations that are hard to access or check on a regular basis. It’s also used for large infestations when single traps just can’t do the job.
  • Cons: Be very careful with this one. Some stores won’t even sell it for liability reasons. Regardless of how well you hide it, a pet or toddler can die from ingesting it. In the old vernacular it was called “rat poison.” When our dog was a puppy he ate a box, and fortunately my wife caught him doing it. We rushed him to the vet and he put some eye drops in his eyes that caused him to immediately vomit. Sure enough, the tray was filled with the little, green pellets. He survived but it cost us $200 to learn the hard lesson about mouse poison.

5. Ultrasonic sound. There are products on the market that broadcast a high frequency sound that is supposed to repel mice. I’ve never tried them and they might work, but I worry that they might also affect a pet dog or cat. There are enough versions of this type of product on the market to make me think it works, but I have found mixed reviews on Amazon.com

  • Pros: They’re safe for children and if placed properly may actually repel rodents with little effort.
  • Cons: Many of these products imply they will repel rodents in a broad range, from mice to rats, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons and possums. That’s what concerns me about cats and dogs.

6. Chemical repellents. These are repellents that you spray in areas where mice enter or reside. They usually come in a plastic bottle with an adjustable spray, from mist to a direct stream.

  • Pros: They’re easy to apply across a broad area or areas.
  • Cons: Some people don’t like spraying chemicals around their homes, although there are natural versions on the market. Also, the scent eventually fades. so you have to reapply from time to time.

Keep at it!

After you have tried one or more of the above methods, be vigilant to see if the mice have returned. Droppings are a clear sign they have, as is chewed paper or cardboard shreds.  If you think they’re back, don’t hesitate! Once they start reproducing you’ll be back to the battle again until spring.

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Varmint Cuisine: 6 Wild Animals Our Ancestors Ate (But We Won’t)

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Varmint Cuisine: 6 Wild Animals Most Americans Won’t Eat (But Should)

Image source: Pixabay.com

Foraging for wild plants, berries, nuts and mushrooms in the wild is an essential survival skill. But one thing I’ve learned the hard way is that they don’t provide an abundance of calories and protein. Fortunately, many small and large animals do.

In this article, we’re going to explore capturing and preparing animals in the wild to supplement a survival diet. Of course, unless you’re in a true survival situation you should make sure you are not violating local game laws.

1. Snakes

These are the easiest to catch, and both venomous and non-venomous snakes can be eaten. Just make sure to cut off the heads. Any snake should be skinned first before gutting it, starting at the vent underneath the tail. The scales on the belly of any snake are tough and the skin can be easily pulled off like a glove. Slit from the vent and rinse out the body cavity and wind it around a stick so you can slowly turn it over a bed of coals, or cut into pieces and fry. You can remove the meat from the bones with your teeth like you would from an ear of corn.

2. Frogs

My personal favorite. The frogs can be harvested with a frog gig — which is like a small pitchfork with prongs — or with just a sharpened stick. My brothers and I used to just grab them by the hand. The legs were the only thing worth eating, and we’d skewer them on a stick and roast them over coals after we skinned them. You could also bread them and fry them.

3. Crayfish

You can catch crayfish by hand, with a net or trap, or hang a piece of meat on a string and pull them from the water. Do it quickly before they let go. We used to skewer them on a stick, and roast them or steam them or boil them. The good meat comes from the tail — and some from the claws of bigger crayfish. Some people suck the heads of the body cavity. I never liked that, but you might want to give it a try.

4. Squirrel

There are hunting seasons on squirrel in some parts of the country. My brothers and I used to hunt them with everything from a .22 to a pellet gun to slingshots and even rocks.

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Varmint Cuisine: 6 Wild Animals Most Americans Won’t Eat (But Should)

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Once a squirrel is “up the tree” it’s easy pickins if you’re patient. We’d skin them and gut them and usually cook them over coals. They taste like rabbit. The hind leg and body meat is best. A little barbecue sauce helps.

5. Possum

Possum often has a taste that’s described as “peculiar.” This is due to the musk glands in a possum. It’s best to skin and gut the possum and marinade it in a mix of one cup of salt and enough cold water to cover the possum. Marinade overnight and then roast in a 350-degree oven or grill for two hours. Baste it often. It’s a lot like a small pig. Slice and serve.

6. Birds

We tend to have a prejudice when it comes to eating birds. We seem to dwell on chickens, turkeys, duck and the occasional pheasant. But all birds are edible, from sparrows to Canadian geese. They’re all fair game — whether you’re using a BB gun, slingshot or just throwing rocks at a flock of Canadian geese fertilizing your backyard.

Birds have to be de-feathered and slit to remove the guts. This is messy, and you’ll be covered in bird fluff. We would roast small birds on a stick, but we would cook larger birds in an oven, spit-roasted or on a covered grill. When the drumstick on any sized bird moves easily, it usually means it’s done.

Final Thoughts

With the exception of some animals like the blowfish, you can eat just about any animal. A lot of it depends on how hungry you are and what you can catch or kill. In many parts of the world, insects like grasshoppers and grubs are eaten without hesitation. If there’s a caution, it’s that you should always try to cook the wild foods you gather and consider the source. Polluted environments create polluted food sources, and all raw foods are potentially dangerous, regardless of the source. If your food source has come from a clean environment and you’ve been able to subject it to a good degree of heat … eat hearty.

Which is your favorite wild game? Share your tips in the section below:

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Preparing The Wood Stove For Winter: 7 Critical Tasks

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Preparing The Wood Stove For Winter: 7 Critical Tasks

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I have three wood-burning stoves: a wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen of my cabin, a box stove with a glass door in the living room, and a boxwood, cast iron stove in the garage.

I’ve learned the hard way that some general inspections and maintenance can go a long way toward preventing problems when the weather gets frigid.

While there are some routine maintenance checkups and repairs we might consider, creosote is a major problem and threat in any wood-burning stove.

Creosote is a buildup of carbon-based chemicals in a stove and especially in stovepipes and chimneys. There are a variety of causes that lead to creosote buildup:

  • Burning green or unseasoned woods that create excessive smoke and release numerous chemicals into the smoke.
  • Burning at a low temperature, which also creates excess smoke.
  • The effects of temperature on a stovepipe, especially through a cold, unheated space like an attic that causes the smoke to cool and coalesce on the sides of a stovepipe.
  • A clogged or inefficient stovepipe cap that does not vent properly.

This is not to say that wood-burning stove maintenance is all about creosote, but it leads to a strategy for how to maintain stoves for winter. Here are seven steps homesteaders and users of wood stoves should follow before winter arrives:

1. Start at the top. Check the hood on your stovepipe top and make sure the spark arrester screens are clean and clear. They will often rust with time and result in holes in the screen or become clogged. This will affect airflow and efficient burning. If you’re afraid of heights, then hire a chimney sweep.

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2. Sweep the chimneys and stovepipes. A chimney sweep can do this, or you can do it yourself if you buy the right size chimney brushes and the long handles that screw into each other to reach down the length of the stovepipe or chimney. This removes creosote (and you will always have some), and cleans out any other debris that may have found its way into the chimney or flue.

3. Vacuum. My sons and I use an industrial wet/dry vac that we bought at the local hardware store. They’re not that expensive. We start by vacuuming any of the debris or creosote that’s landed in the wood stove firebox after the chimney sweeping. Then we work on the firebox.

Preparing The Wood Stove For Winter: 7 Critical Tasks

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Scrape the firebox. Every firebox will also have its share of creosote and other residue. Wear a mask over your mouth and nose and maybe some safety goggles and scrape the side of the firebox with a metal brush, and perhaps a metal scraper. Vacuum everything up and inspect the interior with a flashlight to see if you missed anything, but don’t get too fussy about it. You’re just trying to get the crusty stuff off the walls of the firebox.

5. Check door gaskets. Every wood-burning stove has a door on the firebox. This door has a gasket that will tolerate the highest temperatures and is usually a synthetic, braided rope glued in place with a compound that can tolerate high temperatures. When a gasket gets old or compromised, it can allow smoke to escape from the stove, or air to enter the firebox in an uncontrolled manner. You don’t want this to happen.

Visually inspect your stove door gasket and if you smell smoke when you burn, it may need to be replaced. There are numerous videos on YouTube that show you how to do this, and anytime you buy a new gasket kit from your wood stove supplier it will always come with instructions.

6. Clean the glass. Many wood-burning stoves have a glass insert in the fire door. It is a glass designed to tolerate high temperatures, but often there will be a buildup of a brown residue on the glass over time. You can scrape this with a razorblade, but there are chemical solutions that will remove this residue without the risk of scratching the glass.

7. Polish and sharpen up the outside of the stove. Our wood-burning stoves are often a prominent part of our décor in our homes and cabins. They also rust and show some wear and tear. There are many solutions to this, from paints to other applications that can refurbish the look of a wood-burning stove.

These are available online or at stores that specialize in wood-burning stoves. Follow the directions, but keep one thing in mind. Your next fire after painting or refurbishing your wood stove is going to result in a smell that will fill the room if not the house. Now’s the time to open the windows and burn off that new exterior coating or paint. You don’t want to be smelling this on a night when it’s 10 below zero Fahrenheit and opening a window or door is a problem.

The other benefit of an early fire before you really need it is the ability to check for smoke leaks in the stove pipes, check air flow and check for smoke leaks. You want to do it when you have the option to make corrections and fixes before you are totally dependent on the stove for heat. Most of these maintenance steps require a cold stove with no fire. That’s not something you will have in January if you’re totally dependent on wood stoves for heat.

What maintenance tips would you add? Share them in the section below:

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Colloidal Silver: What The Companies That Sell It Don’t Tell You

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Colloidal Silver: What The Companies That Sell It Don’t Tell You

Image source: NIH

 

Prior to the invention of penicillin in the 1940s, colloidal silver was often prescribed to treat various bacterial infections and was taken as an internal antidote. This was a prescription largely up to the doctor’s discretion, but without the potent antibiotics that emerged from penicillin it was a tough fight for anyone with an infection.

There have been hundreds of clinical studies that can be found on Pubmed.com that support the idea of silver plating on surgical instruments, catheters and joint implants to inhibit and prevent the growth of bacteria. Unfortunately, you’ll find little in the clinical archives on the health benefits of colloidal silver. There could be a few reasons for this, but the primary reason is probably that there’s no motivation for anyone to study an outdated treatment dating back to the 1940s.

There is evidence in some clinical studies that the external use of colloidal silver will inhibit or prevent the growth of bacteria. This was actually the most common use in the pre-penicillin days, and the eventual development of the “tricins” such as bacitracin, mycitracin and other topical treatments found in triple antibiotic ointments like Neosporin.

This external colloidal silver treatment often involved permeating a bandage with the colloidal silver liquid and applying it to the wound, burn and in some cases in the eyes of infants to prevent eye infections. If I have a bad cut or wound and no topical antibiotics, I would use colloidal silver without hesitation given its history assuming it was pure. And that’s the catch.

What is Pure Colloidal Silver?

There are currently three types of silver in a water suspension sold as colloidal silver, but only one is pure colloidal silver (and is also the safest). It’s very expensive and hard to find in the swamp of claims and competing products on the Internet, but if you find the real deal, it could offer you some degree of true health benefits.

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Unfortunately, many companies producing a silver suspension variation are calling their product “colloidal silver” when it is not. Here are the facts and the science:

1. True colloidal silver. True colloidal silver is the least prevalent type of colloidal silver and is often hard to find. This is due to the complexity of its manufacturing and the high cost associated. The majority of the silver content is in the form of true silver particles. One of the ways to determine if you have a pure colloidal silver product is to hold the bottle up to the light. It should not be clear. It should be cloudy or dark due to the silver particles in suspension. These particles in suspension are the colloids — and thus the name.

This is the type of colloidal silver that was used pre-penicillin and still used today in certain topical applications.

Significantly, true colloidal silver does not cause argyria. This is a condition that results from the over-consumption of some forms of silver particles that turns the skin blue.

2. Ionic silver solutions. This is where the fiction begins. Ionic silver solutions are not true colloidal silver but are often labeled that way. This type of silver suspension represents the vast majority of products called colloidal silver on the market. It is easy and cheap to manufacture, and you can even make it at home. Unfortunately, it has the least benefits for any condition and was never used in the past nor supported by any clinical studies to date as a viable topical treatment.

It is, in fact, a silver solution of dissolved silver particles or silver ions infused into the water through an electrolysis process. This product is often clear and not a true silver colloid. It is also the type of silver that has been associated with argyria, but you would have to consume gallons of the stuff on a daily basis, unless the concentration was extreme.

3. Silver protein. This form of silver in suspension combines silver particles with a gelatin, protein binder. It’s the easiest to make because it only involves the addition of silver protein powder sold by various chemical companies to water. It is also labeled in many instances as colloidal silver, but it’s not.

The best indicator of a silver protein product is to shake the bottle. If it foams, it’s a silver protein. This product was also never used by practicing physicians, and the product can actually deteriorate due to the gelatins in suspension.

If you want to consider colloidal silver as a medical solution, you should find the true colloidal silver. It has an established history, is still used in some instances as a topical treatment, is benign in the sense that it does not cause conditions like argyria, but it’s expensive and it leaves one big question: What are the health benefits?

The Health Benefits of Colloidal Silver

Colloidal Silver: What The Companies That Sell It Don’t Tell YouThe greatest debate about colloidal silver is its efficacy as an internally ingested medicine. Critics argue that there is no scientific evidence that silver in the bloodstream has any place or benefit and that there is no clinical evidence that colloidal silver cures any internal condition. But that begs some questions based on some of the convincing clinical evidence.

  • Hundreds of studies on Pubmed.com indicate that a silver coating on certain instruments and implants used for highly invasive procedures inhibit the growth of bacteria.
  • Doctors and hospitals sometimes still use colloidal silver as it was used in the past on dressings for wounds, burns and other external injuries.
  • Recent studies indicate that ulcers in the stomach and some intestinal conditions are the result of bacteria, so why wouldn’t true colloidal silver offer benefits as it moves through the intestinal tract?
  • Many bladder infections are the result of bacteria. Why wouldn’t true colloidal silver help to inhibit its growth and spread?

The Problem May Be the Hype

It’s unfortunate, but the colloidal silver debate has been clouded with products that are not true colloidal silver and compromised by health benefits that are both over-promised and at some times, simply false.

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There is no form of colloidal silver, including true colloidal silver, that can cure cancer or AIDS/HIV. Even the most powerful mainstream medicines and antibiotics fail on those fronts.

The fact that many silver products in suspension call themselves “colloidal silver” when they are, in fact, ionic silver or protein silver also clouds the category and the credibility of the product. This has not only drawn the attention of governing bodies from the FDA to state attorneys general, but has diminished credibility of the category as a brand in the mind of many people who might consider this as a serious, medical solution.

True colloidal silver was and still is a viable and proven treatment for various bacterial infections, particularly external wounds, burns and abrasions. It may also inhibit the growth of bacteria inside the body, particularly in the stomach, intestinal tract and the urinary system. As always, consult with your physician before taking it or treating any condition.

These are the facts. Beware of the fiction.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please consult with a qualified health professional first.

Have you ever used colloidal silver? If so, how? Share your tips on its use in the section below:

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7 Incredible Tools The Native Americans Crafted From Tree Bark

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7 Survival Items The Native Americans Made From Tree Bark

Most of us see little use for bark. We peel it before we build with it, we trim it off before smoking fish or game, and we generally don’t see much value in it as firewood or a dependable heat source.

Native people, though, had a much different viewpoint. They used bark from many trees as a resource for numerous solutions, but there’s a trick to working with this material.

Paper birch is the bark of choice for bark crafters, and the Ojibway took barkcraft to a new level thanks to the fact that birch grew everywhere they lived. Other tribes had to make-do with stiffer and less pliable resources, although slippery elm, willow and aspen offered workable solutions.

Harvesting Bark

Be careful with living, green trees. If you remove too much bark, you will potentially kill the tree. In fact, if you cut the bark from a tree around its circumference, it will be dead in weeks, if not months. Native peoples would sometime “girdle” a tree. This involved removing bark around the full circumference of the tree; this was a designed action and they knew that the following year the tree would be dead. Often, a large fire was started at the base and stone axes were used to cut into the weakened and charred wood until repeated fires and chopping felled the tree.

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Even a dead birch tree will provide a strong and pliable source of bark. If you come across a dead-fall birch, harvest the bark to your heart’s content. If you’re desperate and only have access to live trees, limit your cuts and stripping to half of the tree if you can. That will at least give it a fighting chance for recovery.

You may be wondering: Why is bark so important to a tree? The inner bark or “xylem” is essentially the circulatory system for any tree. Water and nutrients are delivered to the tree from the roots to its leaves by this circulation. That’s why a “girdled” tree will soon die. When its only source of water and nutrients is cut off, the tree has no options for survival.

Pre-Treating Bark

There are a few steps to making any bark more workable. Some tree bark, like the slippery elm, requires a bit of scraping of the outer bark to make the piece more pliable. Birch is naturally flexible, but it will be curved when first harvested. Native Americans flattened the birch bark on the ground with the curved side down and weighted it with stones. The moisture in the ground and the weight of the stones eventually flattened the bark.

Another key step is to soak the bark in hot water before working with it. This also adds some flexibility, and it helps to keep the bark from splitting when it’s folded or shaped.

Many bark creations were sewn at the seams with cordage or strips of leather to re-enforce items like baskets and bowls. If the object needed to hold water, the seams were sealed with pine pitch.

Let’s take a look at items the Native Americans made from bark:

1. Cup

One of the easiest and most common uses for bark was for a ladle or drinking cup.  A circle of birch bark was cut and a triangular fold was made from the center to the edge. This fold was then overlapped to form a cone. The creased bark was held in place with a stick with a split in it, and the fact that the bark was not cut made it water tight to either scoop water from a spring, or to simply drink it as a cup.

2. Bowl

This same approach was used with a wider circle of birch bark or slippery elm to make bowls supported by rocks around the side, or a hat that would shade you from the sun or protect you from the rain.

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3. Pot

The bowl concept also can allow you to cook with a bark cooking pot. Hot stones were picked from a fire with two sticks much like chop sticks, and the stones were swirled in the water until the water actually started to boil.

But be careful with hot rocks. A rock from a river may appear nice and smooth, but many of them contain moisture in their cracks and crevices and can explode and shatter in the fire. Igneous rocks like granite or basalt are the best because they are less likely to be porous and allow water to seep in.

4. Sunglasses

“Sunglasses” are another option, with a piece of bark cut about six inches wide and two inches in height. You may doubt the need for sunglasses, but in winter, snow-blindness is a serious problem, as sunlight reflects off forests and fields of snow. These sunglasses, though, did not contain any glass or plastic. A couple of sticks were used to support the bark strip over the ears like a regular pair of sunglasses, and two crosses in the shape of a plus sign (+) were cut into the bark at eye level.

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A semi-circular cut was made to fit over the bridge of the nose. The size of the crosses was usually a half-inch long both up and across, and the slit was about an eighth of an inch wide. You look at the world through the slit, which allows less light and protects your eyes. This was actually an Eskimo invention.

5. Backpack

A backpack is also easy to make with a long piece of bark about three feet in length and a foot and a half wide. The bark was folded over, and the seams on either side were sown together with cordage or long strips of leather. Holes were poked first and the cordage or leather simply woven through. Straps from cordage or leather were attached and reinforced with more lacing. and everything from personal items to harvested plants, fruits and vegetables could be carried with ease.

6. Candle lantern

A curved piece of birch bark, wrapped and held in place at the base around a circle of sawn wood creates a wind block and reflector for a candle lantern in a fixed camp. Be careful using this indoors. Birch bark is highly flammable, which makes it great tinder, but not something you want to burst into flames in a cabin.

7. Torch

A simple torch is easy to improvise, with strips of birch bark held in place by a slit in a long branch. Additional strips of bark can be added as the birch burns; it actually gives off a good amount of light for a long time.

Final thoughts

All Native American tribes crafted canoes from birch, but that’s something that’s a bit beyond my expertise, although I’ve had success making small-scale toy canoes from birch bark, and my kids and grandkids still play with them. Maybe someday I’ll see if I can scale it up and actually make a birch bark canoe, but I’ll definitely be testing it in very shallow water.

What advice would you add on making tools and utensils from bark? Share your tips in the section below:

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3 ‘Survival Breads’ The Pioneers Made Without An Oven

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3 Simple ‘Survival Breads’ The Pioneers Made Without An Oven

Image source: Charles Marion Russell

 

Baking bread usually requires an oven. But what do you do when you’re a pioneer living in the 1800s — and you don’t have an oven? Simple. You use a frying pan, or twist the dough around a stick or make a version of cornbread on the metal side of a hoe or large axe. This is what our ancestors did for hundreds of years.

The first recipe we’ll explore is a frying pan bread often referred to as bannock bread. The recipe is fairly simple. The only trick is making sure you don’t burn the bannock.

Bannock Bread

3 Simple ‘Survival Breads’ The Pioneers Made Without An Oven

Bannock batter. Image source: Steve Nubie

Bannock bread ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of shortening
  • ½ cup of dry milk powder (optional)
  • Water

Bannock bread directions:

Before you add the water, you need to cut in the shortening using a couple of knives or a pastry cutter. After the texture appears crumbly, slowly add water until you get a putty-like consistency.

Oil a cast-iron frying pan. Mountain men would use bacon, salt pork or even bear fat. I’m OK with the bacon but I’ll pass on the bear fat. Pour the mixture into the pan. I used a small size 1 cast-iron pan. Place the pan over some coals or on the stovetop and brown for about 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the bread over in the pan and finish the other side.

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3 Simple ‘Survival Breads’ The Pioneers Made Without An Oven

Bannock bread over coals. Image source: Steve Nubie

You might want to flip a few times to cook the bread through and to prevent burning. When you think it’s done, poke a stick into the center of the bread. If it comes out clean and dry, then the bread is done. If not, then you can let it rest in the pan off the heat until it finishes.

Bread on a Stick

Another recipe was popular with sourdoughs and mountain men. It was bread on a stick. This was a surprisingly simple solution because all it involved was wrapping a long roll of dough around the end of a shave stick and setting over the fire. The stick was usually inserted in the ground at an angle to the fire and turned occasionally. If you dip your hand in water and spritz the dough while it bakes, then you’ll get a pretzel texture to the finished bread twist.

Bread on a stick ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast
  • Extra flour for dusting and rolling

Bread on a stick directions:

Combine and mix the dry ingredients and slowly add the water. You want to create a dough ball that you can roll out into a rope of dough. Use the reserved flour to keep the dough from sticking. Let it rest for about 10 minutes after kneading and then wrap it around the end of your cooking stick. The ideal dimension for your cooking stick is about an inch in diameter with a pointed end and about 3 feet long. I usually insert one end of the dough into the point at the end of the stick and then try to either overlap the dough as it’s wound or if I’m lucky, push it onto a small branch about 10 inches down the stick. Set the dough on the stick aside and let it rise a little more. I just push it in the ground away from the fire.

When it’s time to bake or roast your bread on a stick, push a different sharpened stick into the ground at an angle to your fire. You could also support it with rocks. You don’t want a roaring fire. A nice bed of coals will do. Turn the stick from time to time, but be careful and wear gloves because the stick will get hot. You can also spritz the dough with water flicked from your fingers if you want a pretzel-like finish to the dough. You can toss some salt on the wet dough toward the end of cooking after your final spritz.

Tear a piece off and give it a try. If it needs more time you can slowly turn it over the coals.

Hoe Cake

3 Simple ‘Survival Breads’ The Pioneers Made Without An Oven

Hoe cake. Image source: Steve Nubie

Another pioneer bread is commonly referred to as “Hoe Cake.” This is a cornbread that was literally baked on the curved metal side of a hoe. The hoe was parked next to the fire and the hot iron cooked one side of the hoe cake while the heat from the fire cooked the other side. I don’t happen to have a hoe, but I have a large timber-squaring axe, which did the trick just fine.

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You can also finish your hoe cake in a cast iron skillet. It’s the same concept, although you have to flip if from time to time to finish both sides.

Hoe cake ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¾ cup of buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup plus one tablespoon of water
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil or bacon grease
  • oil for the pan or the hoe

Hoe cake directions:

If you want to do this the old-fashioned way on the side of a hoe (if you have one) or in my case, the side of a large axe – you’ll want a fairly thick batter that will stick to the side of the metal.  If you would rather do it in a pan, you’ll want a cast-iron pan. Oil the pan and drop the batter into the skillet after it’s hot. You’ll probably want to turn it once or twice to cook it through and prevent it from burning.

Final Thoughts

It’s fun to try these old world recipes and they’re easy to make. You might want to experiment a bit, but it’s a good skill to know if you find yourself in the woods or wilderness and have a craving for something as fundamental as bread.

What advice would you add? Have you ever a survival bread? Share your tips in the section below:

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Common, Everyday Plants You’ll Be Shocked Are Poisonous

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7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous (No. 5

Aloe vera. Image source: Pixabay.com

It’s not common for most people to walk around a yard or garden and indiscriminately munch on plants. But it’s a whole different story when it comes to kids and pets.

There are also plants that can cause significant skin irritations while planting or weeding a garden. We’re going to review some common plants that are surprisingly toxic — and in many instances, deadly. If you have them in your garden, you may want to think twice if young children or family pets are around.

7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous (No. 5

Yew. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Yew. A common evergreen that is popular as a landscaping shrub, the yew has bright red berries with a dark side peeking out at the bottom of the berry. What’s curious is that the berry itself is not toxic, but every other part of the plant, including the seeds in the berries, are dangerously poisonous. This is due to an alkaloid called taxin, in addition to ephedrine and taxiphyllin. Death often follows in hours and sometimes presents no symptoms. When signs and symptoms do occur, they include weak pulse, trembling, staggering, coldness and collapse.

7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous

English ivy. Image source: Pixabay.com

2. English ivy. It decorates the walls of buildings on college campuses across the country. Many people plant it to create a similar look on their homes. Too bad it’s poisonous. The leaves can cause rashing, blisters, general skin irritation and itching. Ingesting the leaves can lead to convulsions, fever, delirium and even hallucinations. It doesn’t sound real smart to plant English ivy anywhere. Makes you wonder why they’re so popular on college campuses.

Easter lily. Image source: Pixabay.com

Easter lily. Image source: Pixabay.com

3. Easter lily. A flowering plant that’s popular and common at Easter, it is, in fact, quite toxic, especially to small animals like cats. Humans don’t fair much better due to an alkaloid called lycorine. It’s found in the bulbs and stem and causes vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, shivering and nausea. That’s not exactly the way most people want to spend their Easter.

7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous (No. 5

Holly. Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Holly. Here’s another holiday favorite with dangerous side effects. Holly and its bright red berries are a standard decoration at Christmas. Unfortunately, the red berries are highly toxic. An alkaloid called theobromine is the primary problem.

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Children ingesting as few as two red berries will suffer vomiting, drowsiness, diarrhea — and higher doses can be lethal. Twenty holly berries could kill an adult. Maybe we should deck the halls with boughs of something else.

5. Aloe Vera. Who’d have thunk it? A plant that has been used for thousands of years by native people to treat burns and skin irritations actually has a poison component. The gel of the plant is not poisonous, but there is a thin membrane inside the leaves that contains chemicals known as aloin and anthraquinone c-glycoside. Both are very toxic and can — if ingested in large quantities — cause vomiting, nausea, cramping and diarrhea. It’s OK to break off a leaf and apply the gel to skin, but if you have any thoughts of eating it, you may want to consider buying a professionally prepared product instead.

7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous (No. 5

Chrysanthemum. Image source: Pixabay.com

6. Chrysanthemum. A very common flower often referred to as mums. The curious contradiction is that they were sometimes used in Chinese medicine. The problem is that poisoning can easily occur due to a group of chemicals called pyrethrins, resulting in significant skin irritations. Pyrethrins affect the nervous system and can cause eye damage, asthma and inflammation. A curious note is that the pyrethrins in chrysanthemums have been processed to create a potent, natural insecticide. It’s a good bet that if it’s bad for bugs, it’s bad for us.

7 Common Plants You'll Be Shocked Are Poisonous (No. 5

Larkspur. Image source: Pixabay.com

7. Larkspur or delphinium. Larkspur is a very attractive, purple plant and is a member of the buttercup family. The bad news is that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Animals, particularly horses and cattle, are particularly susceptible to poisoning while grazing. Symptoms of larkspur poisoning in humans include numbness and burning of the lips, mouth and throat, in addition to intense vomiting and diarrhea, spasms, weak pulse, muscular weakness, convulsion and paralysis of the respiratory system, which leads to death.

If you believe someone or a pet is suffering from one of these natural poisons, then immediately go to the emergency room or vet. Symptoms and effects tend to worsen over time. You also may want to carry a sample of the plant or berry with you if you suspect you know what could be the culprit.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Lost In The Woods: 5 Tricks For Finding Your Way … Without A Compass

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Lost In The Woods: 5 Tricks For Finding Your Way ... Without A Compass

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After numerous fishing, hunting and backpacking trips, I’ve found myself lost more times than I’d like to admit. Over time I learned the hard way and spent a good amount of effort learning some basic techniques for those occasions when I simply assumed I wouldn’t need a compass.

We all know a compass points north. At least to magnetic north, which is close enough to true north to help you get where you want to go. But if you don’t have a compass, there are a few other ways to make sure you stay on course:

1. Know that the sun rises in the east. Or at least very close to true east. Figure out where the sun is rising and the opposite is west. If the sun is rising to your right then straight ahead is north. You should be able to figure out south and west from there. The same rules apply as the sun sets in the west, but if you’re still lost you’ll probably want to make camp rather than wondering around after sunset.

2. Know that the North Star is in the north. It’s actually true north. If it’s not cloudy, then you’ll find it at the tail end of the Little Dipper. Lay a stick on the ground with a couple of small sticks to make an arrow so you can wake up in the morning and remember the direction. The sun rising to your right in the east also will confirm that your arrow is correct.

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3. Drive a stick into the ground about 12 inches high. Assuming it’s sunny, it will cast a shadow. Put a small pebble at the end of the shadow. Wait about 15 to 30 minutes and the shadow will have moved. Put another pebble at the end of the shadow. Now draw a line through the two pebbles. You now have an east/west line. Look at which side the shadow is pointing over that east/west line. It will be pointing in a northerly direction given the sun favors the south side of the sky. Draw a line through the east/west line at a 90-degree angle and you’ve got your coordinates: north, south, east and west.

4. Make your own compass. You’ll need a needle, a piece of wool or silk, a leaf and a puddle of water. Rub the needle with the wool or silk about 100 times and the needle will actually acquire a magnetic charge. You also can (carefully) rub the needle through your hair. Place the leaf delicately on the pool of water and place the needle on top. If there is no wind, the needle should align with magnetic north. The thicker end of the needle (the side with the eye) will favor the northern direction. You also can use shadows (shadows tend to favor north) to determine which way your needle is pointing. From there, you can figure out your coordinates.

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5. Look for moss on (certain) trees. There are a lot of skeptics about this technique, but it can work if you find the right tree. Look for a solitary tree that is openly exposed to the sun. Moss likes shade, and the northern side of a tree is typically in shade most of the day. If the tree is deep in a forest, it will be a far less reliable source to base direction on, as shade is more common there and the appearance of any green or moldy growth could surround the trunk.

One Last Thing

Knowing which way is north, south, east or west has little value if you have no idea what lies in any direction. Before you depart for that casual walk in the wilderness, take some time to understand the general location of key landmarks like a road, river, lake or highway. If you know there’s a road to the north and a river to the south, you’ll at least have a chance of finding your way back when you arrive at that landmark.

What survival advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

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7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

 

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of wild plants you shouldn’t eat, and some are downright poisonous. But surprisingly, there are quite a few weeds and wild flowers that are not only delicious but also nutritious — and growing in your backyard or surrounding fields.

What’s critical is knowing what they look like and what parts to eat. A good example is dandelion. The leaves, flower and roots are edible. The flower stalk is not.

Many of these wild plants have significant nutritional value on par with spinach and kale. They also present a variety of flavor profiles, from salty to sweet to citrus accents. Most are best combined with other ingredients, but some taste great on their own as a side dish or salad.

A common caution, in addition to accurate identification, is to avoid areas that may have been exposed to herbicides or other chemicals when harvesting. This often happens in many yards, roadsides, public parks and other places that appear to be “too manicured.” You may have to find a field or wild place to find some, but just as many are in your yard if you haven’t been too aggressive about “killing the weeds.”

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On that note, “weeds” is a prejudicial word. These are actually indigenous, wild plants – plants your great-grandparents and other ancestors ate. Those are plants that thrive in a certain part of the country and climate. Some have been imported over the years from various parts of the world, either intentionally or by accident, and others have been here a lot longer.

If I’m harvesting more than one kind of wild plant, I’ll often use one-gallon plastic bags so I can easily keep them separated. A mixed bag of wild plants may be a bit difficult to prepare or cook and eat because of the variety of types and uses.

You also should aggressively wash the plants in cold water with numerous rinses to clean off any dust, dirt, bugs or other stuff that have found their way onto the plant. A rinse in vinegar is not a bad idea to kill any bacteria, given that vinegar is a powerful and natural antiseptic.

Here’s the list, although it’s by no means all-inclusive. Various parts of North America present a broad variety of edible wild plants, but hopefully you’ll be able to find a few of these:

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Red clover. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Red clover. If you can’t find red clover in your yard or woods, you’re either living in the desert or high mountains. Red clover is just about everywhere, and the flowers are the primary food source — as a garnish for anything or in a soup or just a fresh snack. It has a mild flavor that is sometimes semi-sweet.

2. Wild garlic. This plant looks like a green onion and has light, purple flowers. If you crush the leaves, you’ll smell a distinctive garlic smell. That’s important because while the bulb will have a garlic smell, many other plants in the daffodil family have a garlic flavor-note in their bulbs — and they’re toxic. If the crushed green leaves don’t smell like garlic, ignore any garlic smell from the bulb. You can chop the leaves into a soup or salad or as part of a marinade or sauce, and you can also use the bulbs as garlic in any recipe.

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Wood sorrel. Image source: Pixabay.com

3. Wood sorrel. The leaves, flower and tender stem when the flowers are first emerging can be used in mixed salads, flavorful pies like strawberry and rhubarb pies, and have been identified as a salt substitute by some sources.

4. Sweet goldenrod. No. It doesn’t make you

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Goldenrod. Image source: Pixabay.com

sneeze. That’s a myth unless you’re hypersensitive to pollen from any plant. The flowers and young buds have a semi-sweet, licorice-like flavor. It makes a great tea and is often added to breads, pancake batter and muffins.

5. Wild ginger. This is all about the roots. The rest of the plant shouldn’t be eaten, because it’s flavorless and a bit toxic. The roots can be harvested year-round. Be careful. A variety of wild ginger known as Asarum Caudatum has toxic properties. Asarum Canadanese is the safe variety. It’s used any way you would use ginger, from grated to sliced and pickled, to candied in sugar, to dehydrated.

7 Edible Weeds Your Ancestors Ate (And We’re Not Talking Dandelions)

Lamb’s quarters. Image source: Pixabay.com

6. Lamb’s quarters. It’s commonly known as pigweed, and I have a ton of it in my backyard. It spreads like mint and the leaves are like spinach when boiled in water for three minutes and shocked in ice water. It’s a great three-season plant, from spring to fall. In the fall, the seeds are usually harvested and used in breads or as a garnish.

7. Wild grape leaves. This is my personal favorite, and I saved it for last. We have wild grape vines growing everywhere, and it’s not about the wild grapes but the leaves. There’s a classic Greek recipe called “Dolmades,” or in some cultures “Dolmas.” It involves rolling a mix of meat and rice with herbs and spices in grape leaves about the size of a stubby cigar. Here’s the full recipe in case you come across these wonderful and natural wraps:

Dolmades

Ingredients

40 to 50 large wild grape leaves

4 cups of vinegar

4 cups of water

½ cup of salt

Directions

Soak wild grape leaves in mixture of vinegar, water and salt overnight. Drain and rinse.

Filling ingredients

1 pound of ground meat. Could be beef, pork, game, squirrrel or possum

2 cups of rice. Could be white, brown or wild rice

2 tablespoons of chopped mint

1 tablespoon of salt

1 teaspoon of pepper

Directions

Brown the meat and cook the rice. Combine both with the spices. Let the mixture cool. Take the wild grape leaves and place a finger-sized piece of the mixture on a grape leaf and roll it up in the shape of a small, stubby cigar. Place the roll into a baking dish and continue until the dish is full. Add a half cup of broth (beef or chicken) to the baking dish and bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Remove to a platter and serve. You can top with a sauce if you like, including the classic Greek Avgelemono, but they also taste great a’natureal.

There are other plants, trees and flowers you can eat, but remember: If you’re not sure, just skip it. Many plants are poisonous, and just as many look the same. Hopefully you’ll find some of these good guys and enjoy them on your table someday. The best news is … they’re free!

What advice would you add on harvesting these seven weeds? Would you add anything to this list? Share your advice in the section below:

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Off-Grid AC: 9 Forgotten Ways The Ancient Romans (And Everyone Else) Stayed Cool

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Off-Grid AC: 9 Forgotten Ways The Ancient Romans (And Everyone Else) Stayed Cool

Artist: Thomas Cole

There’s an old joke about college students hanging ice cubes in front of a fan to stay cool. It’s no joke – and it’s not new. Ancient Egyptians would hang wet palm fronds in the window so that passing breezes would be cooled by the moisture. In ancient India, reed mats soaked in water were hung in front of doorways to achieve the same effect.

The simple fact is that we have an average body temperature of 98.6 degrees, and any time the temperature exceeds that, we feel significant discomfort. To make matters worse, moisture creates a heat index that can make 80 degrees feel like 100 degrees. It’s curious that most of us find it easier to stay warm with a fire or other heating sources, but struggle to keep cool.

Some of the best methods were developed by ancient cultures living in hot, desert conditions.  That’s no surprise. Necessity is the mother or invention.  In fact, we might want to keep some of these concepts in mind as an energy conversation strategy — if not preparation for a day when the grid goes down.

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Here’s the rundown and many ancient cultures combined these methods to keep cool when the weather outside was hot, hot, hot.

1. Wind towers

Off-Grid AC: 9 Forgotten Ways The Ancient Romans (And Everyone Else) Stayed Cool

Wind tower

Wind towers are still prominent in the Middle East and other arid countries, where they were first used 2,000 years ago. Wind towers capture prevailing winds with internal vanes that work to not only force cooler air down, but would circulate to draw hot air up and out. Some wind towers collected rain water and used the evaporation of the water to further cool the captured air.

2. Water cooling

If you’ve ever walked into a valley next to a cold water spring on a hot summer day, then you’ve noticed the cooling effect that water has on the surrounding air. The same is true of towns and villages located next to large lakes, as prevailing winds passing over the water surface are naturally cooled. Many cities on the great lakes, from Chicago to Buffalo, are a good example.

The Romans used water from aqueducts to cool their homes by having the cold water run through channels in the walls of their houses and temples on its way to public fountains and baths. Cold water running through a course of pipes and exposed to the air in an environment also has a cooling affect.

3. Underground and in-ground structures

It’s obvious anytime you walk down into your basement on a hot summer day: The ground has a natural cooling affect. Conversely, an underground or in-ground home also stays warmer in the winter as the ground radiates more warmth than the air above it.

The ancient Anasazi Indians in Arizona and New Mexico built their homes and villages in the side of cliffs to not only shade their homes from the sun, but to take advantage of the natural cooling offered by the rocky, cliff face. Today, many homes are built underground or into the side of hills to capture this natural cooling and shading. In a pinch, you could always spend some time in the basement when the weather gets hot, or maybe it’s time to think about that underground house.

Off-Grid AC: 9 Forgotten Ways The Ancient Romans (And Everyone Else) Stayed Cool One of the most common occurrences of an underground shelter is a root cellar. Once again, the natural cooling of the ground served to offer an early form of refrigeration and preservation for root vegetables and other foods.

It’s no surprise that many ancient people lived in caves and grottos, not only for the protection from rain and snow, but for the same effect of cooling and heating relative to the ambient temperature outside.

4. Fans

The ancient Chinese get the credit for the invention of the first fans. The Persians had their variation, as well. The Persian version was simply a rug suspended from the ceiling that was pulled back and forth to create a breeze. It was fairly effective unless you were the guy who had to pull the rope to swing the rug.

The Chinese actually invented the idea of a bladed fan that swung from a central pivot. It was powered by a spring drive, and there were often multiple fans in the ceiling arranged in such a way that a directed breeze would be carried through the environment. Some of the more complex fan arrangements were powered by water-wheels.

5. Intelligent venting

The Navajo Indians in the Southwest desert cut trenches in the ground, covered with hides and soil, that led to the floor in the base of their hogans or mud huts. Toward the ceiling facing downwind of prevailing breezes, they cut vents. This created a natural draft that drew cooler air from the ground through a small vent of loose stones at one end of the trench, and into structure. Water, when there was a surplus, was sometimes poured into the trench to use the cooling effect of evaporation, to not only chill the air a bit more, but to provide natural humidity in the very dry environment of the desert.

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The concept of intelligent venting is to either create cross-ventilation from prevailing winds, or to allow the thermodynamics of air to rise as it heats to create a ventilating draft. Many ancient structures had high ceilings and vents in the roof to facilitate this drafting principle. It’s an idea that is incorporated into almost every home built today.

6. Mud huts

Mud hut

Mud hut

You might not see a lot of mud huts in Architectural Digest, but across the African deserts they provided a natural cooling for their occupants. The dried mud was actually a coarse form of brick, and it would absorb the chill of the night and slowly release it during the day.

Today, there is an eco-friendly building system that features rammed-earth as the primary building material for the walls of structure. This has been shown to have the same characteristics of the mud hut concept.

7. Raised structures

Primitive homes on stilts are common in many areas where there is frequent flooding. However, some homes were built on stilts in very dry and hot areas to allow prevailing winds to pass both over and under the structure. This enhanced the cooling effect of the winds as they carried heat away from the entire home.

8. As above so below

In ancient India, many large homes and palaces were built over water, either natural or manmade, and featured roof-top gardens. The evaporation of the water under the structure cooled the entire building, and the moisture in the soil from the gardens above prevented the heat from radiating into the structure from the roof.

The ancient Indians, Greeks and Chinese also appreciated the importance of color, and many of their rooftops and buildings were white. White reflects sunlight, while darker colors absorb it and create higher temperatures within the building or structure.

9. Synergy

While all of these ideas and techniques were effective, the most significant insight about ancient air conditioning is the way that they added these approaches to a structure to create a cumulative benefit. For example, a white structure made of brick built into a cliff side with a northern exposure, a roof top garden and vents in the roof, drawing air from a pit or channel in the ground. Wow, sounds like a good idea. It is — and it describes many of the towns and villages of ancient Greece.

It’s unlikely that any of us will be redirecting a spring or a creek under our homes to help with cooling, but decisions about venting, roof and structure colors, the installation of fans and even a bit more quality time in the basement can all add up to reduce the cost of air conditioning and give us some ideas about how to stay cool.

What tips would you add to our list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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The Delicious Edible Weed That Doesn’t Get Bitter, Is Packed With Vitamins, And Grows EVERYWHERE

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The Edible Weed That Doesn’t Get Bitter, Is Packed With Vitamins, And Grows EVERYWHERE

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

We tend to take weeds for granted. We spray them, pull them out and either compost them or simply toss them in a field. Unfortunately, we’re often tossing away nature’s bounty.

We’ll pay a premium for spinach or kale but lose sight of the fact that many plants like dandelions, plantain and purslane have equal nutritional value.

In fact, purslane not only equals the nutritional value of spinach and kale, but it also has a semi-sweet, salty and succulent flavor. Dandelion leaves and plantain leaves can acquire a bit of bitterness once they begin to flower or go to seed. Purslane is different.

That’s because purslane is a succulent plant. It is related to the cactus and absorbs water, which gives it a refreshing taste and flavor. Unlike the cactus it has no needles and when chilled makes a great addition to a tossed, green salad and will stand up to the boil of a soup or broth.

Just 30 Grams Of This Survival Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

Purslane is high in omega-3 fatty acids and contains vitamins A, B, and C, and magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. It’s also an excellent source of fiber.

Here are the official nutrition facts on a serving of purslane:

 

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 16 Kcal 1.5%
Carbohydrates 3.4 g 3%
Protein 1.30 g 2%
Total Fat 0.1 g 0.5%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Vitamins    
Folates 12 µg 3%
Niacin 0.480 mg 3%
Pantothenic acid 0.036 mg 1%
Pyridoxine 0.073 mg 5.5%
Riboflavin 0.112 mg 8.5%
Thiamin 0.047 mg 4%
Vitamin A 1320 IU 44%
Vitamin C 21 mg 35%
Electrolytes    
Sodium 45 mg 3%
Potassium 494 mg 10.5%
Minerals    
Calcium 65 mg 6.5%
Copper 0.113 mg 12.5%
Iron 1.99 mg 25%
Magnesium 68 mg 17%
Manganese 0.303 mg 13%
Phosphorus 44 mg 6%
Selenium 0.9 µg 2%
Zinc 0.17 mg 1.5%

 

Both the leaves and stems are edible, which also sets it apart from other “wild” weeds. I’ve even incorporated purslane leaves into deli salads like potato salad, egg salad and tuna salad to give a burst of freshness and flavor. You also can eat purslane on its own. It has a burst of flavor when chilled.

The Edible Weed That Doesn’t Get Bitter, Is Packed With Vitamins, And Grows EVERYWHERE

Image source: Wikipedia

Purslane grows close to the ground and needs to be washed and rinsed a couple of times. As a low-growing plant it tends to pick up a lot of dirt, dust and those ever-present bugs. Once you’ve washed and rinsed your purslane harvest, you can easily store it in the crisper in your refrigerator. It keeps fairly well in a plastic bag or tied into a bunch with a rubber band.

If you’ve never tried purslane, here are a few easy ways to enjoy it and some ideas about how to add it to many of the things you eat.

Purslane Salad

I usually toss a cup of chopped purslane into a chopped green salad and top it with an apple-cider vinaigrette of a ½-cup of oil, a cup of apple-cider vinegar and a tablespoon of water with about a half-teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of pepper. You also can eat the purslane salad on its own if you can harvest enough of it.

Purslane Soup

Bring 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil and add a cup of noodles and when the noodles are done add a cup of chopped purslane leaves and stems for 2 minutes.

Bacon Fried Purslane

Fry 6 strips of bacon until crisp and then drain on paper towels. In the reserved drippings toss chopped purslane leaves and stems. Chop the bacon and top the purslane with the bacon bits.

Growing Purslane

Growing purslane is surprisingly easy. The seeds are simply cast on the top of dry soil, and they germinate quickly. Purslane cuttings of the stems also will develop roots when watered. It’s a tough plant and grows in the worst conditions, which is why it’s considered to be a weed by so many gardeners. But once you get to know purslane, your view of it surely will change.

What advice would you add on eating purslane? Share your tips in the section below:

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8 Common-But-Deadly Plants Lurking In Your Backyard (Yeah, No. 4 Surprised Us, Too)

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8 Common-But-Deadly Plants Lurking In Your Backyard

Oleander. Image source: Pixabay.com

It’s alarming to learn that some of the prettiest flowering plants are also the most toxic. Some are poisonous if ingested or eaten, and others can cause serious problems simply by being touched or smelled. This is of particular concern with small children, who often love to pick, smell and sometimes taste a flower.

Here are the top eight that we’ve found (beginning with the worst).

1. Water hemlock or spotted parsley(Cicuta maculata)

Water hemlock. Image source: Pixabay.com

Water hemlock. Image source: Pixabay.com

According to the USDA, the water hemlock is the most toxic plant growing in North America. It has small white flowers that grow like umbrellas in a cluster. It’s unlikely that you or anyone else would ever intentionally plant this flower. In fact, reputable nurseries and garden centers won’t sell it.

It commonly occurs in our gardens as a seed, carried by the wind from a field or prairie, and we admire its flower and delicate display. It can kill you in 15 minutes with severe seizures and convulsions if you eat it, resulting in cardiovascular collapse and asphyxia. If you find it in your garden, kill it! Get rid of it!

2. Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum)

Rhododendron. Image source: Pixabay.com

Rhododendron. Image source: Pixabay.com

A very common plant that we often put in our gardens. But if you eat any part of this plant, the response is immediate, beginning with drooling, tearing, vomiting uncontrollably and a gradual decrease in pulse rate and dangerously low blood pressure.  A coma can follow, leading to violent seizures and potential death.

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On the bright side, they’re very pretty flowers.

3. Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Hydrangea. Image source: Pixabay.com

Hydrangea. Image source: Pixabay.com

This is a beautiful vine that grows great in shade and offers large flowers in blue, white and pink. Unfortunately, every part of it is poisonous. It has a poison called “hydragin,” which is a cyanogenic glycoside, and can be more poisonous than cyanide. If you or a child eats any part of this plant you can expect shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, rapid pulse, a drop in blood pressure and convulsions.

4. Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the valley. Image source: Pixabay.com

Lily of the valley. Image source: Pixabay.com

My mother’s not going to like this one. She has Lily of the Valley all over her yard and loves it. I grew up picking these flowers and putting them in a small glass on the kitchen table, and Mom thought that was great. It’s not great. It’s toxic. Sorry, Mom. All parts are deadly, including the water that I used to place them into. Even the smallest bite can result in heart contractions, hot flashes, low pulse rates, red blotches and could cause coma and death. Yikes!

5. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove. Image source: Pixabay.com

Foxglove. Image source: Pixabay.com

Foxglove is a biannual plant. That means it only blooms in its second year after planting. It’s a tall plant with pretty, purple cup-like blooms. I planted this when I was very young and had no idea it could cause an instant heart attack.

The Latin prefix, “digitalis,” tells the story. An extract from this plant is actually used to treat ventricular fibrillation. Just sucking or nibbling on the plant can lead to an instant heart attack, especially with children. It’s grown clinically as a heart medicine. That’s okay because they know what they’re doing.  The rest of us should not have this in our gardens.

6. Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

My granddaughter and I were picking black raspberries. Next to the raspberry patch was a small plant with beautiful purple berries. My granddaughter said, “Wow, look at these!” I shouted and pulled her away. She started to cry. I hugged her and then explained to her how poisonous these berries actually were.

Deadly nightshade

Deadly nightshade

In fact, the nightlock berries at the end of the first Hunger Games movie were inspired by deadly nightshade or “belladonna.” Every part of the plant is absolutely poisonous. If you eat a few berries, you could lose the ability to speak due to paralysis in your throat. Respiratory distress soon follows, in addition to violent convulsions and eventual death.

No one plants these in their backyard, but they are common everywhere and can easily find their way to your yard and garden. Don’t waste a second admiring their pretty and delicate purple flowers and iridescent purple berries. Dig them out by the roots and burn them!

7. Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Oleander. Image source: Pixabay.com

Oleander. Image source: Pixabay.com

Many of us plant this with abandon due to its fragrant white buds and its dark green leaves. It’s a very popular ornamental shrub. It also has enough toxins on a leaf to kill an infant or toddler. In fact, even a sniff of the flower can induce serious symptoms.

The entire plant is poisonous, and ingesting any part of it leads to vomiting, diarrhea, circulatory problems, seizures, failure of the central nervous system, and tremors leading to coma and death. For my money, the pretty flowers aren’t worth the risk.

8. Mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens)

Mistletoe. Image source: Pixabay.com

Mistletoe. Image source: Pixabay.com

No one plants mistletoe. It’s a parasitic plant that shows up in various trees and uses the tree to nourish its growth. It’s popular at Christmas. It has sticky, white berries. They’re absolutely poisonous. In fact, the entire plant is poisonous.

Symptoms of mistletoe poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, gastroenteritis — which is an inflammation of the stomach and small intestines — and cardiovascular collapse. Pets are especially at risk around this plant, especially if it has emerged from the base of a tree.

If you need an excuse to exchange a kiss at Christmas, skip the mistletoe.

What would you add to this list? Share your knowledge in the section below:

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3 Easy Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like ‘Survival Weed’

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3 Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like 'Survival Weed'

Image source: Pixabay.com

I grew up in Chicago and remember seeing plantain growing in yards and parkways along city streets. What always caught my eye were the slender seed stalks emerging from a nest of green leaves. I had no idea they were edible, but have harvested them frequently since then.

Both plantain leaves and the seedy stalks can be eaten, and they contain a surprising number of nutrients on a par with spinach and other leafy green vegetables like kale and collard greens. Plantains have healthy doses of vitamins K, A and C, in addition to iron and fiber.

Harvesting Plantain

Plantain leaves can be easily snipped from the plants with a pair of scissors. The leaf stems are actually a bit fibrous, so cut close to the base of the leaf. The leaves are best when harvested before the tall 4- to 6-inch seed stalk emerges. Much like dandelions, the leaves of plantain become a bit bitter once the seed stalks emerge.

The seed stalks also can be eaten, and there are a few ways of preparing both the leaves and the stalks.

Cooking Plantain

A general rule of thumb for cooking plantain is to immerse the leaves or the stems in boiling water for 4 minutes, and then immediately immerse them into a bowl of ice water. This will shock the leaves or stems to stop the cooking process and fix their deep, green color. When plantains are overcooked they tend to disintegrate, so stay close to the 4-minute rule.

Just 30 Grams Of This Survival Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

This initial boiling step will not only tenderize the plant but will help to dilute any bitterness in the more mature leaves. Once you have done this initial step you can go into a variety of directions with further preparation and recipes. It’s not absolutely necessary to do this blanching step. Young, tender leaves can be washed and tossed into a green salad, served with any dressing you prefer.

3 Ways To Cook Plantain, The Spinach-Like 'Survival Weed'

Image source: Wikipedia

Here are three recipes:

1. Sautéing Plantain

I’ll often follow the blanching step in the boiling water with a quick sauté. I’ll drain the plantains and then drop a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in the pan, and toss the plantains around over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. They make a great side dish, and you can top them with anything from pine nuts to bacon bits.

The seed stalks can be sautéed the same way, and when stacked on a plate have the appearance and a bit of the flavor profile of asparagus. The seeds also can be stripped from the stalks and used as a garnish on everything from salads to mashed potatoes.

2. Plantain Soup

In its simplest form, plantain soup includes strips of plantain leaves boiled in a broth for 4 minutes. I’ll usually add two cup of plantain leaves cut into julienne strips about a 1/4-inch wide and bring 4 cups of chicken broth or beef broth to a boil before adding the plantain leaves. You can add other ingredients to the broth, from noodles to vegetables or even chunks of chicken or strips of beef or venison. Add the noodles or meat or other vegetables to the pot first, and add the plantains to the broth 5 minutes later and cook for an additional 4 minutes.

3. Plantain ‘Goma Ae’

I lived and worked in Asia for two years and spent about 4 months living in Japan. It was there that I first encountered Goma Ae. It’s basically boiled spinach that is squeezed dry after boiling and then tossed in a mixture of sesame seed oil and soy sauce before being shaped into a cube about the size of an ice cube. It’s then sprinkled with a little more sauce and sesame seeds and served cold.

To make the plantain version of Goma Ae, take 2 cups of plantain leaves and boil them in water for 4 minutes. Shock the leaves in ice water and then squeeze out as much water as you can. Mix 2 tablespoons of sesame seed oil with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and toss the leaves in the sauce. Form the leaves into cubes with your fingers; you should get about 4 cubes in total from 2 cups of leaves. Drizzle any remaining sauce over each and sprinkle with sesame seeds. This is the plantain recipe I make most often, and it goes great with any meal. If you want more cubes just double or triple the recipe.

How do you eat plantain? Do you have any other advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Apple tree. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Trees on a fundamental level provide shade from the sun and when mature, firewood. But certain trees also can serve as a food source or offer medicinal benefits.

The seven trees below will grow across most parts of North America, from the deep south to far north. It was tough to pick just seven. and you may have your own ideas, but from my perspective these are the best:

1. Apples. I continue to feel that apples are one of the most versatile fruits we have. It’s not just because they’re good to eat, but they offer the ability to make apple cider and most significantly, apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic and an excellent resource for canning and food preservation. The variety doesn’t really matter, although you might want to consider planting two of the same variety to help with pollination.

2. White willow. Willow bark has a chemical substance called salicin in the inner bark, or xylem. It’s the active ingredient in aspirin and has been infused in a tea for centuries by the Chinese and Native Americans as a pain reliever and fever reducer. A German chemist in the 1800s first isolated this compound to make a commercial pain reliever. His last name was “Bayer” and he called his new product aspirin.

Just 30 Grams Of This Survival Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

3. Cherry. Cherry trees have both nutritional and medicinal value. The cherries, whether sweet or sour, can be used across a variety of recipes, from pies to juice. Cherry juice has been shown in clinical studies to be a powerful treatment for arthritic conditions, including gout. They’re also beautiful trees when they’re in bloom and like apple trees, you can use the wood to flavor smoked foods as branches die or need to be trimmed.

7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Oak. Oak is a slow-growing tree but it has numerous benefits. As firewood, it burns long and hot. Baby oak leaves are an excellent addition to a salad or soup. The biggest additional benefit may be the acorns. They are high in protein, calories from fat – which is important in cold weather – and can be used in a variety of ways, such as nutmeats in a meal or to make flour. You just have to be patient because they (like we said) grow slow. Buy the biggest tree you can find.

5. Ginko. Scientists say Ginko is the oldest deciduous tree on Earth. It was thought to be extinct until a botanist happened to come across one growing in a garden in China. The tree has significant medicinal value, and the leaves are commonly infused into a tea. Benefits range from blood thinning to some indications that it can help to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, as well as boost the immune system.

6. Pear. Pear trees are hardy trees and also provide a good source of firewood, as well as smoking wood for smoked foods and fruit. Pears are a great table food and can also be used to make breads, tarts and other simple desserts.

7. Mulberry. Some people might disagree and say this is a very messy tree. It is. But mulberry trees bear a sweet fruit that shows up in early June, and it’s one of the first fruits to appear. I put a tarp under the tree and shake the branches to make harvesting easier. The fruits are sweet to semi-sweet and are great on cereal or ice cream. You also can make mulberry juice, jelly or blend the fruit into bread for mulberry bread. They will stain your fingers and lips, but if you want to dye fabric, the juice will certainly do that.

The ability of any tree to survive and thrive is dependent on the environment where you live. Most of the trees I’ve identified will survive across most parts of North America, but desert parts of the continent and high mountain areas could be problematic. When selecting the best trees for your homestead, think about if they can offer more than basic shade and firewood. Can the tree offer either fruit or a medicinal benefit that transcends the usual tree? Those are the trees I like to plant.

We’d love to hear your ideas about the best trees to plant. Some of you living in far southern environments may be able to grow oranges and avocados. No matter where you live, let us know what trees you’ve planted in the section below.

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

4 Common Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Turn Into Flour

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4 Common Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Turn Into Flour

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We’re accustomed to wheat as the gold standard for making flour. And while we often think of whole wheat flour as different than white bleached flour, the source for both is still wheat.

The challenge with producing your own flour is the amount of acreage needed to plant sufficient wheat, which is also a high-maintenance crop. Growing wheat may distract from more important work, but that doesn’t mean flour has to be off the menu.

In this article, we’re going to cover some common plants and trees that produce various types of seeds and roots that can be crushed into flour. We’ll include information on harvesting, processing, and also some basics about baking. The primary sources we’ll explore include grasses like rye grass, weeds like amaranth, nuts like acorns, and roots or tubers like cattails.

One of the reasons wheat has emerged and evolved as our primary source of flour is the ease associated with its processing. Wild sources of flour can get a bit more complicated, and sometimes require crushing the source into a wet mash and dehydrating or straining it before pulverizing it into dusty flour.

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Regardless of the source, it takes a lot of raw material to make flour. It’s possible you may only find a small quantity of any one plant, nut or root. That’s why you should consider combining resources to make a blended flour. This could be the roots from cattails plus acorns and amaranth. It essentially creates a multi-grain bread with a nutrient profile that would put it in the category of a superfood.

A Few Words on Technique

The standard approach to making flour from wheat is to harvest the wheat when it has matured and is amber brown, and then cut the stalks and harvest the seeds. Most of us have heard the phrase “separate the wheat from the chaff.” This involves tossing the wheat kernels into a light breeze and allowing the outer coating surrounding the wheat kernels to blow from the heavier wheat seed, which is captured in a wide basket below.

We’ll follow the same technique for rye grass and amaranth, but the approach and technique for cattails and acorns is a bit different and a tad more complicated.

Processing Flour

4 Common Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Turn Into FlourIn order to make a flour, you have to pulverize something into what is essentially a dust. You can purchase a hand-cranked flour mill, which resembles a meat grinder. You also can crush the wheat in between a large river rock about 4 to 5 inches in diameter and a rock with a flat surface. Igneous rocks like granite are best, because sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone will eventually break down and become part of the flour. (Archaeologists have determined from Egyptian mummies that a common affliction affecting Egyptians was the erosion and loss of tooth enamel because the grains they ate were largely processed with sandstone and limestone mill wheels.)

Mortar and Pestle Techniques

A mortar and pestle involves a hollow, sloping bowl (the mortar) and a rounded, thinner and elongated pestle. These vary in size from a few inches to a few feet in length. The standard mortar and pestle concept used for flour making was often seen in primitive cultures, where a large log is hollowed out to create a deep, sloping bowl and a pestle is shaped from a log 3 to 6 inches in diameter. The log pestle is raised and dropped repeatedly into the grain, root or nut source until it’s pulverized into a powder.

The Food Processor

This is a cheat from an off-the-grid standpoint, but anything can be processed into a flour with a food processor. The key is that the source material must be as dry as possible. Any remaining moisture will result in a mash rather than a flour. If you end up with a mash, it can be dried, but it’s far more time consuming.

The Gluten Factor

If you’re looking for gluten-free alternatives, you’re in luck. These types of natural, wild flour sources are either gluten free or, in the case of rye grass, very low in gluten. On the downside, gluten is the ingredient that helps a bread or baked good rise, as well as have a soft and smooth texture. Yeast and sugar can help to compensate, as can honey and using a sourdough starter. The bottom line is that these types of flours will result in a very rustic style of bread or baked item that will be denser than a store-bought item or a homemade, wheat-based bread.

The Sources

1. Amaranth – Amaranth is a weed, but I prefer to think of it as an indigenous plant common across North and South America that produces a seed stalk. The seed stalks of the amaranth range in size from 4 to 8 inches in length and are packed with thousands of seeds. The plants grow prolifically and reseed easily as annuals.

An easy way to begin an amaranth planting is to simply buy the seeds in bulk at a grocery store that sells amaranth for cooking. Cast the seeds on the ground in spring, and some plants will grow. Just remember: They spread rapidly and widely over the years.

Harvest the seeds in the fall, and prepare a space where the seeds can dry out, such as in the rafters of an attic or sunny window. They can be processed with any of the techniques we’ve identified.

4 Common Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Turn Into Flour

Image source: Pixabay.com

2. Acorns – Acorns are best harvested in the fall after they’ve fallen to the ground. They need to be dried, and the best way is to roast them. Take the cap off of the acorn and score them on one side with a knife. Place them on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or in a Dutch oven over hot coals. Toss them every 10 minutes up to an hour until you can cut one in half to reveal a dried, acorn nut.

Acorns are bitter due to the tannic acid or “tannins” that permeate them. To get rid of the tannins, you need to coarsely crush the acorns and soak them in water after a short roast. You then need to dry or dehydrate them again. This may take more than one soak, so taste as you go until the bitterness is gone.

3. Rye grass – Rye grass is a tall grass 3 to 4 feet in height. The seeds are long and narrow and distinct from some of the small seed heads on other grasses. Annual rye grass provides larger seed heads than perennial rye grasses, because annuals are so dependent on reseeding for proliferation.

Rye grass should be harvested in the fall when the grasses are browned and mature. The grass is shaken over a large basket and the seed heads are sometimes beaten with a stick to release the seeds. The seeds are then tossed and crushed by hand, and the wind is used to separate the rye seed from the chaff. The heavier rye seeds are captured in a fine mesh basket or container.

4. Cattails – Peel the wet roots and chop them into small pieces and then pound them with a little water to make a mash. There will be some fibers, so strain the mash through a screen. The resulting flour mash should then be left to dry and can be crushed into flour using any of the techniques we’ve identified.

Cattails are actually an excellent flour resource. In the early 1940s, cattails were essentially isolated to marshes on coastal areas of the east and west coast of North America. But during World War II, the government began a widespread program to distribute the seeds in order to jumpstart a new, alternative flour program. While the program was suspended after the war ended in 1945, the cattails you see across the country today are the results of the program.

Storage

I usually store any wild flour in a sealed container or plastic bag in a cool, dark place. I use it as a replacement in standard recipes calling for flour, with the understanding that it will result in a denser, coarser baked result. Ultimately, you’ll have to experiment with wild flour blends to see what works best for you.

Have you ever made flour? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

From Russia across Europe to the United Kingdom, stinging nettles are enjoyed in soups, stews and as an ingredient in everything from pasta to pesto. The nettles also make an excellent tea, but regardless of the recipe you need to apply a bit of caution and common sense when harvesting and preparing stinging nettles.

Of course, stinging nettles also are found in yards and fields throughout the United States and North America.

It’s hard for many people in North America to understand the popularity of stinging nettles in Europe. There are a few good reasons why Europeans consider them a regular part of their diet:

  • Stinging nettles can be harvested in early spring, long before other green, leafy vegetables show up.
  • They grow like weeds and grow just about anywhere, making them easy to find, and they’re free.
  • They are commonly found in grocery stores and markets in Europe, but rarely if ever in grocery stores in the US.
  • They are a long-established part of European culinary traditions and culture.

Here’s the point: Don’t be put off by the name. They can be incorporated easily into many recipes if handled and prepared properly.

Once the leaves of a stinging nettle have been exposed to hot liquid for a couple of minutes or finely chopped in a food processor, the needles and stinging chemicals are neutralized and they’re safe to eat. They are often used as a substitute for spinach, and, in fact, have a taste similar to spinach with cucumber flavor notes. There are numerous vitamins in them, from vitamin A to vitamin C to vitamin K. (In fact, they have more vitamin A, fiber, iron, calcium and magnesium than broccoli – although broccoli does have more vitamin C). Nettles have a surprising 25 percent protein content, and they’re known to be a natural blood thinner and diuretic. They’re also high in iron and have a similar nutritional profile to other green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.

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Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

Image source: Pixabay.com

So, what makes a stinging nettle sting? The leaves, leaf buds and parts of the stem on a stinging nettle are lined with small, hollow filaments that contain a variety of chemical compounds, including formic acid. When the filaments come in contact with the skin, they break off like tiny needles and cause a stinging, burning sensation. That’s why the standard recommendation of harvesting include gloves, long sleeves and pants. Scissors are usually used to trim the leaves and leaf buds from the plant, and they are typically collected in plastic bags.

Recognizing Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles have a unique, heart-shaped leaf with serrations along the leaf edge. They are typically a deep green and are often harvested in the spring and early summer. Once they flower, they develop some hard deposits that some believe will irritate the urinary tract. If in doubt about a plant, you can always run your finger along a leaf from the tip to leaf stem. If it stings, you’ve found a stinging nettle. Hopefully you only have to do this once or twice as you familiarize yourself with the plant.

Cures for a Sting

It’s inevitable that you’ll get stung if you regularly collect stinging nettles. Common remedies include the external application of apple cider vinegar, a paste of baking soda and water, over-the-counter sprays like Bactine or Solarcaine, aloe vera, ice cubes and cold water.

Initial Prep for Stinging Nettles

Most recipes for stinging nettles recommend an initial preparation step that involves immersing the nettle leaves in lightly boiling water, broth or sautéed in butter or oil for at least 2 minutes up to 5 minutes.  The leaves are then squeezed dry for addition to some recipes, or left in the broth for a soup or stew.  Some people simply add the raw nettles to a food processor but I prefer blanching them for at least 2 minutes before any food-processor step.

Countless recipes for stinging nettles can be found on the Internet, and we’ll feature some of them here, but a basic rule of thumb is that any green, leafy vegetable or herb can be substituted with the leaves of the stinging nettle. Examples include replacement of basil with stinging nettles leaves in a pesto, or any recipe that calls for collard greens, kale, spinach, mustard greens and others. You can even make a green pasta with a processed paste of nettles leaves and flour. What’s important is to precede any usage of nettles with the initial preparation step in gently boiling water or hot oil.

Nettle Pesto

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup of blanched nettle leaves
  • ½ cup of nuts (pine nuts or your choice or mixed nuts)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • ¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup of olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Stinging Nettles: The Edible Weed That Tastes Like Spinach, Is Healthier Than Broccoli, And Is Easily Tamed

Image source: Pixabay.com

Add all of the ingredients except the olive oil to a food processor and pulse until the nettles are a smooth paste. Drizzle the olive oil into the processor while it’s running. You can add more oil to the consistency you like. Use to top pasta or any other dish that calls for pesto.

Nettle Soup with Noodles

(Makes four one cup servings)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 carrots sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 cups of fresh, raw nettles
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of rotini or other spoon-sized noodles

DIRECTIONS:

Sauté the onion and carrots in a saucepan in the olive oil for about three minutes or until the onions are translucent. In a separate sauce pan, bring water to a boil and cook the noodles. Deglaze the carrots and onions in the other pan with the chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil. Add the fresh nettle leaves and simmer for four minutes. Strain the noodles and add to the soup broth. Serve with crusty bread.

Nettle Greens with Bacon

(Serves 4)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 4 cups of water
  • 6 cups of fresh nettle leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Fry the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels. Reserve the bacon drippings in the frying pan. While frying the bacon, bring four cups of water to a boil and add the nettle leaves and cook at a gentle boil for four to six minutes. Drain the leaves and try to press out some of the moisture and toss in the warm bacon drippings. Serve on a platter and sprinkle crumbled bacon over the top.

If you’ve never tried stinging nettles before, this may be the year to give them a try.

Do you eat stinging nettles? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

Pickling Fish: How To Do It (And Why You’d Want To)

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Pickling Fish: How To Do It (And Why You'd Want To)

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Pickling is not just about cucumbers and green tomatoes. Pickling, in fact, is a great way to preserve and enjoy your daily catch of fish.

Making your own pickled fish is both easy and can be accomplished with a variety of fish species. Some of the most popular fish for pickling include pike, salmon, trout and sucker.

There are many benefits to pickling fish. One is the fact that the vinegar in the pickling brine actually works to dissolve and soften any bones in the fish. I’ll usually try to pull out the Y-bones in a pike or the pin bones in a salmon, but it’s harder to do with a small trout and almost impossible given the number of small bones in a sucker. That’s where the vinegar really helps to soften and dissolve the bones, much like you find in canned sardines or anchovies.

Health Benefits

Pickled fish is very healthy, for a number of reasons:

  • The softened and partially dissolved bones are an excellent source of calcium.
  • If you choose to use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, then you reap all of the health benefits associated with it.
  • Many of the herbs and spices used in various brine recipes have proven benefits — turmeric, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and both dill and fennel fronds.
  • If you’re diabetic or subject to edema, then you can reduce the amounts of sugar or salt in a brining recipe to suit your taste.

Unlike traditional canning methods that call for the jars to be immersed in a hot water bath for a period of time, fish pickling is a cold-pickling process. It often requires a cold soak in the refrigerator for a day or two in a pre-soak brine before you make the final, flavored brine for the jars.

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You’ll also need to sanitize the jars in boiling water before filling them with the fish chunks and other ingredients. All pickled fish must be refrigerated or kept cool in some way at 36-40 degrees Fahrenheit. The safest shelf life is two weeks or less.

Some recipes recommend that fish like pike be frozen for 48 hours prior to pickling to kill any potential parasites in the fish.

We’re going to cover several recipes with salmon, trout, sucker and pike. Here’s some of the basic equipment you’ll need:

  • Glass canning jars and lids.
  • Cutting board and knife
  • Tongs for putting the fish chunks into the jars
  • A non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel)
  • A large, non-reactive bowl for marinating (glass or ceramic)
  • Measuring cups and measuring spoons

Pickled Sucker

This recipe has long marinating and holding time to allow the vinegar to thoroughly dissolve the many bones in the fish.

INGREDIENTS

2 quarts of sucker cut into one inch by half inch chunks

Marinade:

  • ½ cup of salt
  • 1 quart of vinegar

Pickling brine:

  • 2 cups of vinegar (white vinegar or apple-cider vinegar with at least a 5 percent acetic acid concentration)
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pickling spice
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 sliced onion separated into rings

DIRECTIONS

Pickling Fish: How To Do It (And Why You'd Want To)

Image source: Pixabay.com

Mix the salt, vinegar and water and pour over fish in a glass or ceramic bowl or crock. Weigh down the fish with a plate to keep it immersed. Let stand 5 days in the refrigerator, and then drain and rinse with water. Pack in jar. Put fish, then layer of onion, then fish. Mix 2 cups vinegar, sugar and pickling spices and wine and heat and stir in a non-reactive saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Let cool, and pour into jars. Do not cook. Let stand 5 days in the fridge.

Pickled Pike

This recipe also has a marinating step to dissolve the y-bones common in northern pike.

INGREDENTS

  • 1 pound of thawed northern pike fillets, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 quart white vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 cloves, whole
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS

Make a brine combining the salt with a quart of water in a Mason jar or glass bowl. Add the pike to the brine and soak for 24 hours. Drain the fish, but do not rinse it. Add a quart of vinegar to the fish and soak for an additional 24 hours. Drain the fish.

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Combine a cup of vinegar, a half cup of water, and the sugar in a nonreactive saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar, and then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

In a 1-quart Mason jar, add a quarter of the fish, then add some of the spices and sliced carrot and onion. Repeat with the remainder of the fish, spices, and vegetables so that the ingredients are layered and evenly dispersed. Pour the vinegar mixture into the jar. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least three days to allow the flavors to develop.

Pickled Trout or Salmon

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds trout or salmon
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 red onion sliced into rings

DIRECTIONS

Combine water, vinegar, seasonings and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, and let cool. Rinse filets and cut into 1-inch pieces. Slice onion. Arrange fish and onion rings in alternate layers in sterilized jars. Cover with pickling solution.  Refrigerate at least three days before serving. The fish will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Have you ever pickled fish? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

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5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

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It must have been a long process of trial and error. How do you figure out that a plant or tree can have medicinal benefits? Obviously, some Native Americans, as well as many other ancient cultures from China to the Incas and Aztecs, found solace and relief from plants that surrounded them.

Significantly, many of those natural cures were derived from trees. Typically, it was the inner bark of the trees or the xylem that provided the most potent mix of natural elements with curative properties. However, there are some exceptions, such as the needles of pines and the berries from Juniper trees.

We’re going to explore five common trees in North America that continue to be used for various medicinal purposes. They are:

  • White pine
  • White willow
  • Slippery elm
  • Juniper
  • Poplar

We’ll also review what type of preparation was used and how to prepare it for home use. A word of caution is related to allergies and dosage. Home preparation of natural cures is not always an exact science. Just as important, different people respond to these natural treatments in different ways, depending on their body weight and predisposition to allergies. In all cases, you should first consult your doctor. Take a low dose of any natural preparation you make, such as a teaspoon or less, to assess your body’s response. You should also avoid giving these natural treatments to young children.

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Bark and needles of pine were available year-round and used regardless of weather or season.  However, warmer months often provided the best concentration of ingredients due to the fact that the sap was still flowing in the xylem of the trees.

An infusion was the most common preparation technique. It’s essentially a tea made by soaking the inner bark or crushed pine needles in very hot, but not boiling water. Boiling water can break down some of the beneficial compounds. The steeping time was usually 5 to 20 minutes. The longer the steep the more concentrated the ingredients, so take good notes if you choose to make your own preparations to determine tolerable dosages.

Poultices were also used frequently to treat external afflictions. This involves an infusion or crushed ingredients that are saturated into a piece of cloth and applied to the skin where the pain or affliction is located.

As we’ve already noted, time of year in addition to the general health and age of the tree can also affect concentration of ingredients, so you may have to take that into account as well.

1. White pine

5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

White pine. Image source: Pixabay.com

While the inner bark is often used as an infusion, the young shoots, twigs, pitch and needles of white pine were also used by Native Americans to treat a variety of conditions both internally and externally.

The pitch or pine sap was used as a poultice on a hot cloth and applied to the chest to treat coughs and pneumonia. Pitch applied directly to the skin was used to draw out boils, abscesses and splinters. It also was used as a poultice for wounds or sores.

An infusion of the crushed pine needles, often combined with the inner bark and young shoots, was used to treat colds, fever, heartburn, croup, laryngitis, bronchitis and coughs.

The scent of the white pine itself has aroma therapy properties, especially when applied externally to the chest or throat as a poultice for cough or sore throats.

2. White willow

We’ve covered the health benefits of willow bark in the past, but the medicinal value is so significant it makes sense to revisit the benefits. All willow trees have a chemical element called “salicin” in the inner, xylem bark. White willow has the highest concentrations. A German chemist synthesized this element in the 1800s and developed a tablet with both pain-relieving and fever-reducing properties. The chemist’s last name was “Bayer,” and the tablet he invented was called “aspirin.”

Native Americans would steep the xylem from the inner bark of the white willow in very hot water and drink it as a pain reliever and to reduce fever. One of the side benefits of this infusion for some people is that it does not thin the blood like regular aspirin. This has value for people on blood thinners, people with naturally thin blood due to genetics or diet, and people afflicted with hemophilia.

3. Slippery elm

Slippery Elm preparations were made from the inner bark and in some instances, the leaves. Once again, an infusion was made by Native Americans, often with a combination of inner bark and crushed leaves and used to treat digestive disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, gout, arthritis, stomach aches and sore throat. It also was used as a mouthwash or gargle to treat sore throat, mouth ulcers and toothache. As an external treatment it was used as a wash or poultice to treat skin conditions, hemorrhoids and insect bites.

As a poultice the infusion is poured into a piece of fabric and applied to the skin. It is said to have significant benefits for pain reduction, inflammation of wounds, boils, burns and skin ulcers. One recipe calls for five tablespoons of ground inner bark infused in a very hot cup of water and strained to make the basic infusion that can be either sipped or used as a wash or poultice. Here again, take a little at a time to assess its concentration and your reaction to the compound if you choose to use it as an herbal remedy.

4. Juniper

5 Common ‘Miracle Trees’ The Native Americans Used For Medicine

Juniper. Image source: Pixabay.com

The Juniper is an evergreen that grows around the world. The small, round bluish berries are the primary flavor ingredient in gin. When the berries are fully ripe in late summer, Native Americans would eat them off the tree to treat kidney, bladder and urinary tract conditions, digestive disorders, gum disease, diarrhea, gout and arthritis, and rheumatic conditions.

Fast, All-Natural Pain Relief With No Nasty Side Effects!

There are some cautions to keep in mind. It’s believed that Juniper berries can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, and high doses can irritate the urinary tract. It also shouldn’t be given to children, considering their low body weight and the potential for even the smallest dosage to be too high.

5. Poplar buds

Poplar trees are ubiquitous across North America, and in the spring Native Americans used the poplar buds as a topical treatment for muscle soreness and headaches when applied to the brow as a poultice. The buds were usually ground, and the sticky result was applied to the skin, around painful joints or bruises or anywhere else localized pain occurred, including insect bites. It is not intended for internal use but as a topical treatment only.

The key ingredient in poplar buds that makes them effective as a topical pain reliever has a familiar name: salicin. This is the same chemical found in willow bark and used as the base ingredient in aspirin.

What advice would you add? What trees would you put on the list? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Secret To Eating Dandelions Without That Bitter Taste

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The Secret To Eating Dandelions Without That Bitter Taste

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For many people, the annual war on dandelions has begun. We spray them, dig them up, toss them, burn them and everything else we can think of to get rid of them.

What we should be doing is eating them. The leaves and crowns are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin K, and healthy doses of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium.

The roots, when dried, make a medicinal tea. The entire plant has medicinal value, including:

  • Tof-CFr — a glucose polymer found to act against cancer cells in laboratory mice.
  • Pectin — anti-diarrheal and blood and gastrointestinal detoxifying herb. Can also lower cholesterol.
  • Apigeninand luteolin flavonoids – these have diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-oxidant and liver-protecting properties; plus, they strengthen the heart and blood vessels. They also have anti-bacterial and anti-hypoglycemic properties.
  • Linoleicand linolenic acid fatty acids — to regulate blood pressure, lower chronic inflammation and prevent blood-platelet aggregation.
  • Choline — to improve memory.
  • Taraxasterol – for liver and gall bladder health.

What and When to Harvest

If you’re planning on eating the leaves or the crowns, you’ll want to pick them before the plant buds or flowers. Once it begins to flower, the leaves and crowns become bitter. You can compensate for this by soaking them in a couple of changes of cold water, or sauté them with garlic or other aromatics. The crowns are that area between the root top to about a half inch of the leaf stems at the base.

The flowers are usually harvested as the plant matures, but you’ll only want the petals. These are usually pulled from the flower and dried and then used as a garnish for soups or salads. The stems and flower base have a milky sap and are not eaten. The flower petals are sometimes used to flavor dandelion wine.

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The roots are usually harvested during the second year of maturity due to the fact that they’re larger. Wash and peel them with a potato peeler and then chop them into chunks to dry. You can use a dehydrator or dry them or place them in the sun from a sunny window. Some people have finely chopped and dried the roots, and they use it as a chicory or coffee substitute, although it has no caffeine.

Here are some of the basic dandelion recipes that have proven to be popular over the years starting with my favorite, dandelion crowns.

1. Dandelion crowns

The Secret To Eating Dandelions Without That Bitter Taste

Image source: Pixabay.com

Using a trowel, cut the root and pull the whole plant. Trim off the leaves about half an inch above the root, and trim the root from the base. Rinse the crowns well to remove dirt and grit and then boil for five minutes. When done boiling, shock them in a bowl of ice-water and then put them on a paper towel to drain. You can serve them topped with melted butter and some salt and pepper, or sauté them in butter or oil with one, diced garlic clove and eat them as a side dish. I’ve also tossed the chilled crowns into a mixed salad.

2. Dandelion salad

Dandelion greens and crowns are usually tossed with other salad ingredients to take the edge off any slightly bitter leaves. I’ll usually use a base of dandelion leaves and crowns and add some sliced onions, tomatoes, other leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuces, and then top with a basic vinaigrette of a half cup of oil, a quarter cup of vinegar and two tablespoons of water plus salt and pepper to taste. As a finishing touch you can garnish the top of the salad with dandelion petals.

3. Dandelion greens, with bacon

As summer progresses, dandelions reach maturity and many of the leaves will have a bitter edge. When that happens I bring on the bacon. This is a classic southern approach to greens. I start by frying a half pound of bacon until crisp. I drain the bacon and reserve the rendered bacon fat in the pan. I then add one diced onion and three chopped garlic cloves and sauté them all for about two minutes. I then add six cups of dandelion greens and toss them for about three or four minutes until wilted. I plate the greens and garnish with the bacon chopped into bits and sprinkle with dried dandelion petals and serve. It’s great with chicken or pork.

Keep Eating Those Dandelions

In most parts of North America, dandelions are plentiful for five or more months. Wild dandelions are best, or a yard-grown dandelion if the yard hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. They can easily become a part of everyday meals and best of all, they’re free.

What advice would you add for eating dandelions? Share your recipes and advice in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

Primitive Off-Grid Survival Communication

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Primitive Off-Grid Survival Communication

Image source: YouTube screen grab

 

Before we dive into off-grid communication, let’s define a few terms. “Off the grid” means no electric power, but solar and hand-cranked generators are still a possibility. That means that batteries for walkie-talkies, CB radios, flashlights, Ham radios and something as simple as car horns or car headlights are an option.

As a result, your off-grid communication could be as simple as voice communication if you have a working walkie-talkie, CB radio or Ham with voice. It also might mean you are dependent on knowledge and mastery of Morse code, which can be communicated by sound, light or with battery-powered electronics.

But there’s another alternative that is genuinely primitive. Many of these forms include symbols and signals made by various arrangements of objects, or in the case of semaphore, the arrangement of flags in different configurations.

If you have any serious concerns about living off grid, you should learn Morse code. If there is no electricity and if other communication forms fail, it could be your only option for getting word to others; if you can communicate with Morse by sound and sight then you have a significant survival advantage.

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Start with the basic alphabet, learn the numbers and other key signs like “CQ,” and practice with a friend or family member. (In case you’re wondering, “CQ” stands for “seek you,” usually followed by the designation for that person.) Many of the text message abbreviations we see today come from Morse code and Ham radio.

Morse CodeLetters
A . _ N _ .
B _ . . . O _ _ _
C _ . _ . P . _ _ .
D _ . . Q _ _ . _
E . R . _ .
F . . _ . S . . .
G _ _ . T _
H . . . . U . . _
I . . V . . . _
J . _ _ _ W . _ _
K _ . _ X _ . . _
L . _ . . Y _ . _ _
M _ _ Z _ _ . .
Numbers
1 . _ _ _ _ 6 _ . . . .
2 . . _ _ _ 7 _ _ . . .
3 . . . _ _ 8 _ _ _ . .
4 . . . . _ 9 _ _ _ _ .
5 . . . . . 0 _ _ _ _ _

 

Morse Delivered 3 Ways

You can deliver Morse code messages with light, sounds or electronically with audible dots and dashes on a keypad. Any primitive communication would be impossible with audible electronic beats, so let’s get really analog.

Car Horn Morse Code

If you have a functioning 12-volt battery, you can use a car horn to transmit Morse code. This assumes the person you’re trying to communicate with is expecting your message. This is where the old “CQ” salutation followed by the person’s name or call sign comes in handy. Once you’ve connected, you’re in business — assuming the other person has a functioning car horn, air horn or a flashlight.

The Canoe Drum

This gets a little trickier if you’re trying to signal using Morse code. The benefit of a horn or a flashlight is that you can vary the duration to create easily recognizable dots and dashes. With a canoe, you need a different approach. You need to flip the canoe over and with a piece of wood, hit the belly of the canoe for a dash, and toward the bow or stern for a dot. The belly of the canoe will have a heavy, bass sound and the stern or bow a lighter, treble sound.

A Hollow Tree

This could work, assuming you find one that produces a loud enough sound. You’re also going to hope that two sections of the tree or log gives you the sound variation similar to the canoe.

The Signal Mirror

A reflection from a mirror can be seen up to 20 miles away. The trick to effectively transmitting Morse code is aligning the reflections with your target. That’s why signal mirrors have two reflective sides and a small hole drilled in the center of the mirror. The idea is to allow the spot of sun streaming through the hole to land on your cheek. When you look at your face and align the hole with the spot of sun on your cheek, you are directing the reflection directly at your target. Now you can vary the duration of the dots and dashes accurately to send your message.

Some signal mirrors actually have Morse code super imposed over the mirrored surface, pointed at your face, in case you’re new to Morse.

Semaphore

This is a signaling system that involves the use of two flags in extended arms that are presented with varying arrangements to create the alphabet. It was used by the French during the Napoleonic wars and is still taught in the Boy Scouts.

The flags can be fashioned out of any material affixed to two sticks. Here’s the official Boy Scout instructions:

Primitive Off-Grid Survival Communication

Ground Signals

There are signals that can be communicated to aircraft or someone at a high elevation and a direct line of site to your location.  Some consist of symbols created with objects on the ground like branches, leaves or tracks in the snow. Here are some of the standard configurations:

Primitive Off-Grid Survival Communication

Body Signals

Body postures also can be used to communicate with aircraft or people at a distance who can see you well enough to discern your posture:

Primitive Off-Grid Survival Communication

Practice, Practice, Practice

Take time to learn the signals and if at all possible, practice with a friend. Someday, it may save your life.

What advice would you add for off-grid communication? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Learn How To ‘Live Off The Land’ With Just Your Gun. Read More Here.

7 Forgotten Plants The Native Americans Used For Medicine

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7 Forgotten Plants The Native Americans Used For Medicine

 

My great-grandmother was an Ojibway Indian. They’re a tribe from Canada, and their Native American cousins were the Cherokee. She and my great grandfather were highly self-sufficient, as she often used herbs and plants from nature for a variety of reasons.

There was a time in our history when a pharmacy was defined by nature. Over generations, Native Americans discovered cures and treatments for various ailments by accident and tradition. Most herbs were used as an infusion in a tea, but some were pulverized and applied directly to the skin. Here are seven “forgotten ones” that may be growing in your backyard or a meadow near you:

1. Sage

Sage grows wild across many parts of the Great Plains and the southwest. It’s commonly used in cooking and is actually the dominant flavor note in dishes like bread stuffing and poultry. It also has medicinal qualities.

Learn How You Can Make Powerful Herbal Medicines, Right in Your Kitchen!

Native Americans made an infusion of tea from sage leaves to treat indigestion and sore throats, coughs and fever. An extract made by crushing the leaves also can heal the skin as a treatment for burns and chafing. It has powerful antibacterial and astringent properties, as well.

2. Yarrow

7 Forgotten Plants The Native Americans Used For Medicine

Yarrow. Image source: Pixabay.com

Yarrow was commonly used by Native Americans to stop bleeding. The feathery nature of the plant, plus its chemical properties, encourage clotting. It also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory benefits and was sometimes taken as a tea to relieve indigestion.

3. Black cohosh

You don’t hear a lot about black cohosh, but its roots were often used as a cough remedy by Native Americans. It also was referred to as the woman’s friend for its estrogenic properties and its ability to relive arthritis and menstrual cramps. It was typically brewed as a dark tea.

4. Feverfew

As the name implies, this herb relieves fever. It also was used as a pain reliever for headaches, including migraines. It has a mild tranquilizing effect. The leaves or flowers were typically chewed rather than infused because it makes for a particularly bitter tea. It has anti-inflammatory benefits and was sometimes taken to relieve arthritis.

5. Goldenrod

7 Forgotten Plants The Native Americans Used For Medicine

Goldenrod. Image source: Pixabay.com

Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not induce allergies anywhere close to the degree of its reputation. It’s an indigenous plant that grows across North America, and its flowers and leaves were often infused in a tea to treat urinary tract infections and as a general anti-inflammatory treatment. It also was used as a tea to treat upper respiratory inflammation and congestion.

6. Plantain

The common plantain plant grows everywhere from urban front yards to natural meadows. Its flat leaves and central, green seed-stalk make it easy to find. It makes a good natural salad, although the mature leaves are a bit bitter.

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It’s a good source of vitamin K, which is a natural blood thinner and it may be why Native Americans used it as a topical and oral treatment for snake bites. Personally, I’d get to the hospital as fast as possible after a snake bite, but when there were no hospitals this seemed to be a treatment of choice. In fact, Native Americans referred to it as “snakeweed.”

7. Rose hips

7 Forgotten Plants The Native Americans Used For Medicine

Rose hips. Image source: Pixabay.com

There is no other wild plant that possesses more vitamin C than rose hips. They’re the end result of flowering wild roses and usually are small red buds about one-fourth an inch in diameter. Native Americans figured out the healing properties of rose hips as a boost to the immune system. We have no idea how they figured this out, but over generations some things become apparent.

They can be chewed raw or dried, ground in a tea, or incorporated into other food. I’ve chewed them raw, and in my opinion they taste terrible. I’d strongly recommend chopping them and adding them to something else.

Final Thoughts: Be Careful Out There

I’ve instructed many classes and field excursions on the subject of natural food and medicines. Always make sure you know what you’re eating or about to ingest. There are more plants that are poisonous than are good for you. Take the time to do some research and always start with small portions of anything.

What plants would you add to this list? Share your advice in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

Cattails: How To SAFELY Harvest And Eat Nature’s 4-Seasons Survival Plant

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Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

A lot has been written about cattails, although the focus often tends to be on warm weather months. But I’ve harvested and eaten this remarkable plant throughout the year.

Still, don’t be tempted to yank out a young cattail shoot and start munching away. The cattail may be safe, but is the water it was growing in safe?

Cattails tend to grow in swampy waters, ponds, lakes, creeks and even ditches. The caution is that many of these bodies of water are rife with aquatic microbes — from amoebas to microscopic parasites — carrying everything from giardia to typhoid. It is one thing to get sick at home and drive over to the doctor or a hospital, but it’s quite another to develop amoebic dysentery in a survival situation. There are simple ways to avoid this but the telegram is: Don’t eat an unwashed section of cattail that has been immersed in any body of water.

And Now The Good News

You can use many parts of the cattail in a survival situation, across all four seasons. There are extremely few plants that can fulfill that level of nutritional, medicinal and functional value from summer through winter. Remote survival environments can often present you with cleaner, safer water, as well.

Let’s examine how it can be used, season by season:

SPRING

As a food source:

From a survival food standpoint, the best parts of a cattail to harvest include the spikes (the emerging plant) in early spring, the spike-shaped shoots throughout spring and early summer, the yellow, pollen-covered heads at the top of the plant mid-spring, and the roots (although the roots are better and bigger as they mature into winter).

Learn How You Can Make Powerful Herbal Medicines, Right in Your Kitchen!

The spikes or emerging plants can be found poking above the water or just beneath the surface. The spikes actually look like a very large leek with a white base extending two to five inches and a long green stalk leading to the early fronds emerging at the top of the plant. I also save the roots at this time, but we’ll get to that later.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

I cut the first six to eight inches from the base and collect them. These need to be rinsed in fresh water and ideally, soaked in vinegar for 10 to 20 minutes. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic and will help to kill and remove any bacteria. Rinse them again in cold water or just enjoy them with their vinegar flavor. In an extreme survival situation where you have no resources, you can always roast them over a fire to kill any bacteria.

You might also spot some shoots emerging from the stalks. These show up in spring and continue into early summer. They’re usually above the water line and are triangular in shape. The base is white and you chew the end like a potato chip or strip it with your teeth like an artichoke petal. I’d still give them a rinse if you can, even though they’re above the water.

Some people say the seed heads at the top of the plant can be boiled and eaten like sweet corn. I tried it and didn’t like it. Maybe I should have tried it sooner in the spring, but if I’m starving I’d give it another try.

The roots

Regardless of the time of year, the roots are an excellent source of starch, like potatoes. You need to peel the roots first like a potato, rinse them well and then let them dry. Some sources suggest that you can eat the roots raw. You can eat anything raw, but cattail roots present a very fibrous texture and uncooked can give you stomach and intestinal distress.

Once they’re dry, they’re often pounded into a flour. You can also cut the roots into pieces and crush the root in some water on a board. Drop them in water and the starch will sink to the bottom. You may have to rinse and repeat. That sounds like something you’d find on a shampoo bottle, but you need to do it, followed by carefully allowing the starch slurry to dehydrate. What you’ll end up with is a flour that can be used to bake breads and biscuits or to make pancakes.

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It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. I prefer to peel and wash the roots and roast them over a fire and then chew them. You can always roast them on the end of a stick. You’ll have to spit out the fibers as you chew.

Functional value

The functional value of cattails in the spring is somewhat limited, only because the immature plants are small in size. That’s because the long fronds of summer and fall that can be used for weaving, cordage and other uses are undeveloped, as is the rest of the plant. However, the dried and dead stalks from the previous season can be used as tinder for starting a fire.

SUMMER

As a food source

In summer, the cattails are beginning to mature but there are still some shoots emerging on the sides of the stalk. The roots are also good, and the same approach applies that we described for spring roots. The seed heads will begin to present pollen in summer, and that can be mixed with the flour from the roots. You can carefully shake the pollen into the flour from the seed head, or cover it with a bag and shake the pollen into the bag.

Functional value

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

If you take the time to practice a bit, you can learn to weave cattail fronds into just about anything, from baskets, to a hat to protect you from the sun, to cordage, but weaving the fronds into rope is better done in the fall, when the fronds have matured and are tougher and more fibrous.

FALL

As a food source

The roots are now your primary foodstuff and are prepared the same way. They’ll be larger so you can harvest less to get more. The seed heads now have the appearance of a brown corn dog.

Functional value

The cattails have now matured to a tough, fibrous plant. You can still use the fronds for weaving, and now is when the fronds make the strongest cordage.

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What you’re going to be doing is a basic braiding process of overlapping three or more strands of cattail fronds. You’ll need to add in additional pieces as you go to splice in new fibers. Sometimes you can actually tie small knots to make a better connection from splice to splice. Watch this video to understand this step better:

Story continues below video

 

 

You’ll also notice that the seed heads are releasing puffs off fluff. This is an exceptional tinder, and the interior of the seed head will still be dry even in wet weather.

WINTER

As a food source

Roots are at their peak. The seed heads will have gone to seed in pieces of fluff. The stalks and fronds are starting to turn brown. Prepare the roots as before.

Functional value

The seed heads, stalks and fronds have now turned brown. This offers numerous fire-starting and insulation possibilities. The fronds can still be woven, and the seed heads continue to offer excellent tinder in addition to the dry, dead stalks and fronds. Cordage can still be made, but the strength will not be as dependable as fully green and mature fronds.

The seed heads in early winter will be loaded with fluff and can be used as insulation. If you collect enough, you can stuff a T-shirt to make a pillow. The stuff is a real mess if it’s not contained, but in a true survival situation it can be dumped into boots or gloves, adding insulating layers. It’s also highly absorbent if you’re trying to dry out those boots or gloves.

Final thoughts

If you know of a source of cattails, then go out and collect a few and get to know the plant.  Depending on the time of year, try some of the suggestions covered in this article. I’ve had a lot of fun sitting on the back porch with my kids and teaching them how to use cattail fronds to weave a basket or make a length of rope. It makes me feel good to know they’re learning some new skills for self-sufficiency and survival thanks to the humble cattail.

Do you know of other survival uses for cattail? Share your suggestions in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

7 Old-Fashioned, Grandma-Approved Health Remedies That Actually Do Work

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7 Old-Fashioned, Grandma-Approved Health Remedies That Actually Do Work

Many old health remedies are defined by folklore, myth and the varying claims of natural healers across the centuries. Beyond the claims, however, studies have shown that certain natural remedies actually can provide effective relief for illness and disease.

Here are seven of the best natural remedies that have stood the test of time.

1. Honey

The first recorded use of honey as a medicinal treatment was 3,000 years ago in Egypt. Since then, honey has been found to:

  • Improve digestion – Use a tablespoon or two to counteract indigestion.
  • Relieve nausea – Mix honey with ginger and lemon juice to help counteract nausea.
  • Treat acne – It can be used as a face cleanser to fight off acne and is gentle on all skin types. Take half a teaspoon, warm between hands and spread on face gently. Leave on for 10 minutes, and then rinse with warm water and pat dry.
  • Lower cholesterol.
  • 7 Old-Fashioned, Grandma-Approved Health Remedies That Actually Do Work

    Image source: Pixabay.com

    Improve circulation – Raw honey makes your brain function optimal by strengthening the heart and improving blood circulation.

  • Reduce insomnia – Add a tablespoon to warm milk to help increase melatonin output and help you sleep.
  • Provide probiotic support – Raw honey is full of natural probiotics which promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
  • Treat allergies – If sourced locally, raw honey can help reduce seasonal allergies.
  • Moisturize skin – A spoonful of raw honey mixed with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon can be used as a hydrating lotion.
  • Treat eczema – Use it as a topical mixture of equal parts of honey and cinnamon.
  • Reduce inflammation – Raw honey has anti-inflammatory agents that can treat respiratory conditions such as asthma.
  • Help wounds heal – Raw honey used topically can help speed healing time for mild burns, wounds, rashes and abrasions.
  • Treat urinary tract infections – Due to its antibacterial properties.
  • Relieve sore throat – Mix with lemon or peppermint oil for fast acting benefits or add to tea.

2. Licorice root

Although native people often chewed the entire root raw, the roots of the licorice plant when dried and chopped can be made into a tea.

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Licorice root has been found to help the following:

  • Digestive ailments – Add one teaspoon of powdered licorice root to a cup of hot water. Cover, steep for 10 minutes, and strain. Drink two or three times a day for a week.
  • Respiratory infections – Drink a few cups of licorice root tea every day. You also can mix ½ teaspoon of licorice powder with a little honey.
  • Canker sores – Due to anti-inflammatory and mucosa-healing properties.
  • Liver health – Drink a cup of licorice root tea to promote liver health. Add ½ teaspoon of licorice root to a cup of hot water. Cover, steep for five to 10 minutes, and strain. Drink this tea once daily for a week, take a break for a couple of weeks, and then repeat.
  • Teeth and gums – The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties in licorice root can prevent the growth of cavity-causing bacteria, reduce plaque, fight bad breath and keep your teeth and gums strong and healthy.

3. Willow bark

7 Old-Fashioned, Grandma-Approved Health Remedies That Actually Do Work Willow bark contains salicin, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. Salicin is a proven pain reliever and is anti-inflammatory. To use willow bark, cut a three-inch-by-three-inch chunk of willow bark out of a willow tree. All willows will work but white willow has the highest concentration of salicin.

Willow: Fast, All-Natural Pain Relief With No Nasty Side Effects!

Scrape and cut the inner bark (xylem) onto a pan or plate. Look for a pink color – that’s the good stuff. Wrap in a coffee filter (of other similar filter) and immerse into boiling water. Shut off the heat and let steep for 20 minutes. You should get a reddish, brown infusion.

Strain it again and take sparingly at first (a tablespoon at a time) until symptoms subside.

4. Apple cider vinegar

Books have been written about the value and extensive uses of apple cider vinegar. It has been used to treat osteoporosis, leg cramps and pain, upset stomach, sore throat, sinus congestion, high blood pressure, arthritis and high cholesterol.

It also is known to help with weight loss, and it adds valuable nutrients and micronutrients to your diet. These include soluble fiber in the form of pectin, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, beta-carotene, lycopene and minerals such as sodium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Apple cider vinegar is an antiseptic with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, too. That’s because all vinegars have acetic acid in concentrations from five to 10 percent. Use it for cleaning wounds or for general cleaning where germs may lurk.

5. Echinacea root

Native Americans have known about the healing properties of Echinacea or the purple cone flower for centuries. At times, the flowers were infused in tea, but it’s the roots that pack the healing punch.

gonepteryx-rhamni-416805_640What’s been determined in clinical studies is that the antioxidant properties in the roots boost the immune system. As a result, it is a standard treatment for colds and flu in the tribal medicine chests.

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To make an Echinacea tincture, you’ll need a small one-pint mason jar, a ½ cup of dried Echinacea root, and a pint of vodka. The alcohol in the vodka draws out key elements in the roots and preserves the tincture. I imagine Native Americans used hot water, but some contemporary recipes have indicated vodka as an effective ingredient for an infusion.

To make the tincture, add the roots to the jar, top with the vodka and seal the jar. Store at room temperature for six weeks, shaking the jar from time to time.

After six weeks, strain the tincture and discard the roots. The standard dosage is ½ to ¾ teaspoons, three to four times a day. You can add it to orange juice or other juice if you like. You don’t want to give this to kids if you made it with vodka, but the alcohol actually prevents the growth of bacteria in the tincture.

6. Beet juice

Some recent and significant clinical studies have confirmed something our ancestors knew all along. Raw beet juice can have a significant effect on blood pressure. In fact, one study found that after consuming eight ounces of raw beet juice, blood pressure dropped five points after one hour. In a study done in England, two glasses of raw beet juice a day were found to be as effective as nitrate tablets in treating hypertension.

It appears that some key elements in beets are responsible. These include high concentrations of potassium, foliates and natural nitrites. Collectively, they smooth muscle tissue and increase blood flow, in addition to supporting blood vessel function.

Keep in mind that fresh, raw beet juice is best. Bottled or pre-packaged beet juice is not as effective. If you don’t have a juicer, then you can use a blender and strain the juice. I’ll sometimes use the leftover pulp to make borscht.

7. Aloe

Aloe is another one of those old health remedies that goes back thousands of years. The Egyptians called it the “plant of immortality.” It’s a succulent plant and a member of the cactus family. It was used by Native American tribes particularly in the Southwest deserts, where it thrived.

7 Old-Fashioned, Grandma-Approved Health Remedies That Actually Do Work

Image source: Pixabay.com

Aloe will grow in many parts of North America and can easily be grown as a houseplant. Its gelatinous pulp is often used as a treatment for burns and other skin conditions. It has been shown to have antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and antioxidant properties.

Aloe also has high amounts of vitamins and minerals, and can be consumed with juice and some of the squeezed pulp. It contains eight essential amino acids not made by our bodies, plus a range of enzymes.

The following is a short list of conditions it can be used to treat:

External use as a pulp squeezed from the plant leaves:

  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Cuts
  • Sores
  • Boils
  • Warts
  • Scars
  • Herpes sores
  • Rashes
  • Poison ivy
  • Insect stings
  • Itching
  • Blisters
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Hemorrhoids

Internal use in combination with water or juice:

  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Constipation
  • Colitis
  • Prostate health
  • Inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Immune system support
  • Detox

It was difficult to pick only seven natural remedies for this list, when you consider the healing properties of garlic, turmeric, ginger and numerous others. But given the number of benefits we’ve listed here, this is a good start. Stay well.

What old-fashioned remedies would you add to this list? Share your advice in the section below:

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Grow Your Own Off-Grid, Heal-Anything Herbal Medicine Chest

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Grow Your Own Off-Grid, Heal-Anything Herbal Medicine Chest

Chamomile. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Long before penicillin and other antibiotics, herbal remedies were a standard prescription for a variety of ailments. Here, I’m going to discuss some of the most well-known herbal medicines and highlight the ones you can grow in your own backyard or as potted plants in your home. I’ll also cover basic preparations, administrations and conditions.

The availability of herbs in your garden can vary depending on the seasons, but most can be grown as potted plants on a kitchen windowsill or anywhere in the house where you have regular sunshine. You also can dry herbs or preserve them, but make sure you refrigerate or process any herb that you store as a paste or solution for any period of time.

The herbs we have listed here are in no particular order related to effectiveness. (It’s not like there’s one “super herb” that works for everything.) Their effectiveness varies. Some offer immediate relief, while others need to be taken regularly over a period of time to present results.

You should always check with your doctor before using herbal remedies, especially if you are taking prescription medications. Some herbs diminish or contradict the effectiveness of some pharmaceuticals.

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Here’s what you should have in your herbal medicine chest:

1. Garlic

Grow Your Own Off-Grid, Heal-Anything Herbal Medicine Chest

Image source: Pixabay.com

Garlic is a natural blood thinner and stimulates circulation. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure when used regularly, and has both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It can be eaten as an ingredient in a meal, chewed raw if you can stand it, or roasted and spread on bread like butter. It’s a perennial plant, and the bulbs can be easily divided and replanted to deliver a steady supply. It also grows easily as a houseplant and the flowers are actually quite sweet smelling.

2. Peppermint

Peppermint is used as a remedy for sore throat and congestion when taken as a tea (you can steep both fresh and dried leaves in hot water). It also can relieve canker sores as a tea or a gargle. When pulverized and spread on the skin, it can soothe muscle aches. It also relieves indigestion and cramping. It’s a perennial but be careful; it truly spreads like a weed. If you don’t have a large and distant patch of property for a peppermint patch, it’s best raised as a potted plant, even outdoors. If it flowers, trim the blooms or the leaves will become bitter.

3. Calendula

Calendula is sometimes referred to as a pot marigold. Historically, it has been used as an antiseptic and anti-fungal treatment both internally and especially externally as a wound-healing and skin-soothing agent. When made into a paste, it was often used as a diaper cream and remedy for other skin irritations. It’s a self-seeding annual that grows well as a potted plant indoors. The yellow/orange petals are the primary source of healing agents.

4. Lemon Balm

A member of the mint family, lemon balm is known for its antispasmodic effects on the stomach, as a remedy for irritable bowel syndrome, and for its relaxing effects on the nervous system. It’s also a topical skin reliever and in one study done by the NYU Medical Center, it was found to relieve and diminish the effects of herpes simplex. It makes an excellent tea – served hot or cold – when steeped in hot water. It’s a perennial but does not spread like its mint cousins and can easily be grown as a potted plant.

5. Rosemary

A member of the pine family, rosemary has long been used as both a culinary and medicinal herb. Its primary benefit, according to the Georgetown University Medical Center, is its stimulant properties related to circulation and oxygenation to the brain. Some people see this as an alternative to the stimulant properties of coffee. It’s a perennial in southern climates but must be potted and taken indoors in northern latitudes in North America.  Keep it well-watered and replant outdoors in late spring.

6. Mullein

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Mullein is an ancient herb used by the Romans for coughs and colds. It is usually taken as an infusion or tea from the steeped flowers. Some pharmaceutical companies also add a mullein extract to their cough formulas. It is a perennial plant and often grows wild. It’s easy to spot in a meadow or field because its stalk stands six feet tall above the grass and weeds. The tall stalk and flowers are the parts of the plant you harvest.

7. Chamomile

There are a lot of opinions about natural sedatives and natural anti-depressants like St. John’s Wort. One that is often underappreciated is chamomile. The National Institute of Health reports that chamomile is one of the best herbs for treating colic, nervous stress, infections and stomach disorders in children. It’s an annual plant but reseeds prolifically. The small flowers are the prime ingredient often infused in a tea.

There are many other herbal remedies, from gingko to ginseng. All can be grown in your yard and garden. The key is to know you have options.

What would you add to this list? Share your advice in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

The Most Versatile, Useful Fruit Tree For The Off-Grid Homestead Is …

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The Most Versatile, Useful Fruit Tree For The Off-Grid Homestead Is ...I have 80 acres of property in Michigan. It’s been in the family for five generations, and 30 years ago I was smart enough to plant a variety of fruit trees.

I planted sweet cherry trees for snacking and sour cherry trees for baking. I have continually lost the sweet cherry war with the birds. The sour cherries have done fine if you don’t mind pitting a bushel of sour cherries on a long weekend.

The pears and peaches have done well, and we “can” with them or bake with them. We also set them on the table for snacking, but we end up giving many of them away simply because we don’t have the time to process the entire harvest.

However, it’s all very different when it comes to the apple trees. We’ll easily get four bushels or more from each of our 10 trees for a total of 40-plus bushels — and we use every one of them. Over the years we keep finding new uses for apples, and I think it’s the most versatile fruit I’ve come across.

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Here are the top seven things we’ve learned to make with our apple harvest:

1. Apple cider

We pick up windfall apples off the ground. They’re a bit gnarly and often bruised, but we don’t care. We gather them, rinse them, grind them up in the apple grinder and toss the mash into the apple press to make apple cider. This kind of cider has to be refrigerated in some way. You could also process it with a heat process like you would use for traditional canning. The good news is that this usually takes place in autumn, and the overnight temps help with off-the-grid refrigeration.

2. Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a natural disinfectant and cleaner and is a foundation for many food preservation solutions. It is reported to have significant health benefits, and its versatility crosses from marinades to salad dressings to brines and cures. Apple cider vinegar may be the most significant benefit of the apple tree.

3. Apple sauce

The Most Versatile, Useful Fruit Tree For The Off-Grid Homestead Is ...

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It’s so easy to make. Peel and core apples, and chop. Add to a sauce pan with some apple cider and a little sugar and cinnamon. Gently simmer, and either mash or leave in chunks. It is wonderful as an accompaniment to pork. Refrigerate or process with standard canning procedures.

4. Apple butter

Apple butter is apple sauce on steroids. This recipe is for a crockpot, and it takes 10 hours on low. Peel, core and finely chop six pounds of apples and toss into the crockpot with four cups of sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon, one-fourth teaspoon of salt, one-fourth teaspoon of ground cloves and stir until blended. Set crockpot on low, and stir occasionally for about 10 hours. Serve, refrigerate or process.

5. Baked apples

We’ll gather a bunch of apples, and either wrap them in foil over the grill or bake them in the oven. We keep the skins on and core the apples, being careful to not cut down to the base. (You want a little pocket in the core of the apple). The standard ingredient is a tablespoon of butter in the core with a mix of brown sugar and spices.

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I usually blend one-half teaspoon of cinnamon, one-fourth teaspoon of nutmeg and one-fourth teaspoon of cloves with about two tablespoons of brown sugar for each apple. I dump all of that in the core of the apple and wrap in foil over indirect heat on the grill, or bake in the oven on a cookie sheet. I give them both about an hour no matter how I’m cooking them. Let them rest a bit or you’ll burn your mouth.

6. Apple pie

There’s a filling for apple pie that can be used across purposes, from a spooned pie-filling on a plate to a filling for an apple pie. The basic filling consists of peeled, cored and sliced apples tossed in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon, two tablespoons of corn starch or flour, and a tablespoon of salt all tossed together and dumped in the pie shell. Bake at 350 (Fahrenheit) for an hour.

7. Dried apples

There are a lot of ways to make this, but the simplest is to cut them thin, toss them in sugar and cinnamon, and dry them in an oven at 225 degrees (Fahrenheit) for an hour or more. You’ll get apple chips that keep well and are fun to eat. Proportions are about a tablespoon of sugar and one-fourth teaspoon of cinnamon for each thin apple slice.

Final thoughts

Of course, there’s also simply apples on the table. We usually select the best and chill them in the fridge. They’re great on the table and at breakfast. Sometimes we slice them and dip them in peanut butter or chunk them up with granola or dipped in yogurt.

When you consider the benefits, varieties and uses for something as simple as apples, it just seems to make sense to have an apple tree on your property. Maybe two or three. As for me, I’m planting 12 more this spring.

Related:

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Do you know of other uses for apples? Share your advice in the section below:

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9 Off-Grid ‘Pioneer Tools’ You’ll Need If The Grid Fails

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9 Off-Grid ‘Pioneer Tools’ You’ll Need If The Grid Fails

If you could only have nine off-grid tools, what would you choose? When I say tools for off-the-grid work, I want to be clear. I mean truly off the grid. This isn’t about power tools that depend on electricity or gas. This is about a pure, pioneer environment where muscle and leverage are the only power sources. In other words, these are tools your great-grandparents, and their ancestors, would have used, and these are tools you read about in the history books.

You probably have your own ideas, but these are the nine tools I’d pick for off-the-grid survival.

1. Ax

The long-handled ax has always been a popular and important tool thanks to its flat head on one side for pounding and the sharp blade on the other for chopping. Axes of this design are commonly referred to as a “Michigan Axe” because they were widely used during the lumber days in Michigan in the late 1800s. It’s used for not only felling trees, but splitting logs and rails. And the flat end can be used as a wedge when pounded with a large wooden mallet, or to pound wooden stakes or wooden wedges.

2. Backsaw

Sure, an ax can take down a tree, split logs and split rails, but using one to cut a log into any amount of firewood is backbreaking work. A backsaw is the easiest, non-powered way to make this happen.

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A blade length of four feet with rip-saw teeth can make relatively short work of cutting firewood, although it’s still a lot of work.

3. Claw Hammer

The standard carpenter’s tool. We’ll get to a supply of nails soon enough, but the claw on the hammer helps pry loose everything from nails and shingles to wallboard. Of course, it also has significant value as a hammer.

4. Nails

9 Off-Grid ‘Pioneer Tools’ You’ll Need If The Grid Fails If I had to pick one size of nail it would be a 20 penny nail or size 20D; six gauge and four inches in length. This is a good size for driving nails into timbers for rough, log construction and most lumber. I guess we’ll cheat a bit here and allow ourselves more than just one nail.

5. Shovel

If you don’t think you need a shovel, try digging a hole without one. This also goes for turning over soil in a garden. If I had to pick one shovel it would be a flat, edged spade. A spade is great for digging and shaping a hole, can dig narrowly for post holes, and works best for turning soil for a garden.

6. Pickaxe

Sometimes, even a shovel can’t cut it.  If you’ve tried to dig through rocky soil, heavy clay, a rock face, or pry out a stump you’ll appreciate a pickaxe. Go for the long-handled size that will give you a full swing. The tip of one side should be pointed with a curve and the other side flattened with a curve. They also have value for prying things apart, especially those long, rail log splits that just won’t budge.

7. Metal wedge

If I had to choose one metal wedge, it would be made of iron and be about 10 inches in length and two inches wide, tapering from a flat edge to two inches thick at the top. If you’ve ever tried to split a stump without a wedge, you know what you’re in for. It’s also invaluable for rail splitting and for the day that your bucksaw gets bound in a tree or limb.

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Never hit a metal wedge with your ax head. Use a large wooden mallet that you’ve crafted from a large branch with a club or mallet end. Striking metal on metal can cause metal fragments to splinter. I had a metal splinter drive into my knuckle once. It’s something I don’t want to repeat.

8. Chisel

A chisel can do unique things that no other tool can accomplish. It can help you cut grooves for timber-framing and make inlays for hinges and other types of fittings. It can be used as a coarse plane and create tapers for precision fitting of timber for furniture and building construction. If I could only have one, I would choose an eight-inch-long blade that was one and a half inches wide with a 20 to 25 degree bevel. It would also have a wooden handle attached that was at least 12 inches long. If need be, I could craft a longer or shorter handle out of wood. Here again, only hit the handle of a chisel with a wooden mallet. A metal hammer or ax will split the wooden handle very quickly.

9. Hand drill and bits

Some people might disagree with me about this choice, but I’ve had many occasions where simply driving a nail either didn’t work or the situation called for a different solution that required a precise hole for a dowel for furniture making.  I’ve also experienced the frustration of driving a nail into oak or maple only to watch the wood split or the nail bend half-way down the shank. My choice for a hand drill can be braced against your chest with a curved length of metal extending from the end. If I had to pick one bit it would be a one-fourth inch to accommodate most dowels, although I might sneak a few more bits into the handle of my hand drill.

So, what’s your top nine? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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7 Time-Tested Ways Your Ancestors Preserved Food Without A Refrigerator

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7 Time-Tested Ways Your Ancestors Preserved Food Without A Refrigerator

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Most of America’s food storage today depends on refrigeration or freezing, or processed foods that we purchased at a grocery store and then stocked in a pantry. But there was a time when food storage wasn’t quite so easy.

On a fundamental level, old-time off-the-grid food storage involved a series of dedicated spaces or locations to allow temperature and conditions to preserve the food. It also included various preservation processes that further helped with preservation and flavor.

Below are a variety of processes that many of our grandparents, great-grandparents, and their ancestors uses.

1. Off-grid freezing. Yes, freezing. The cold winter months, combined with a dedicated space in an attic or outbuilding, allowed for fish, game and livestock to be butchered and frozen. The meat was usually hung from the rafters in the ceiling to protect it from mice.

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This freezing approach to food storage usually occurred from mid-December to at least the end of February.

2. Off-grid refrigeration. Here’s another surprise, and we’re not talking about a propane refrigerator. Cold springs, water pumped from a cold creek with a ram pump, and water pumped from deep underground with a windmill were often used either to chill a large metal box immersed in the spring, or to continually fill and drain a brick-and-mortar tub where food items were often stored in milk cans. The milk cans were metal, and the circulating cold water effectively kept the internal temperature chilled for things like eggs, butter, bacon, other meats, and, of course, milk.

7 Time-Tested Ways Your Ancestors Preserved Food Without A Refrigerator

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3. Root cellars. Root cellars were as much a standard feature on a homestead as a refrigerator is today. These were deep pits dug into the ground and covered with timbers and earth with steps leading down to a door that opened into the cellar. The walls were lined with shelves for the storage of winter roots, canned goods and certain fruits. The floors were often dirt, sand or stone. This allowed the natural moisture and coolness of the surrounding earth to keep the root cellar at a consistently low temperature.

4. Canning. This involved adding fruits, vegetables, fish or prepared sauces to glass jars with lids that would create a vacuum seal. The jars were then processed in boiling water for a specific length of time to kill and prevent microbial growth. Sometimes ingredients like vinegar or salt were added because of their natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Often, these canned goods were also stored in the root cellar and sometimes in a pantry.

5. Fermenting. Here’s one we don’t think about often. Fermentation is the process of allowing good microbes to grow to kill the bad microbes.

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Examples include sauerkraut, Korean Kimchi, yogurt, wine from grapes, beer from grains, cheese and pickles. Some of these were stored in a root cellar or a cold box. Cheese was often coated with beeswax to further preserve it.

6. Drying. This was a simple process that made storage fairly simple. Classic examples are any and all varieties of string beans that are threaded onto a string and allowed to dry to a leathery texture. These were then hung in the kitchen or a back porch. They had to be reconstituted with a water-soak for a day or two, but it was easier than canning.

Dried and cracked corn was another staple that was usually stored in barrels or large sacks in the kitchen or a dry space like an attic. Herbs were also dried and often bundled and hung from an attic ceiling and in the kitchen, where they could be easily used in winter.

7. Smokehouse. When many of us think of smoking foods, we usually imagine a variation on a barrel smoker and a duration of four to 12 hours. A true smokehouse is much larger and allows you to walk into it. It was often made of brick or stone and had an external firebox and pipe that allowed the smoke to enter and vent through a chimney in the tin roof.

Large meat hooks were hung from the ceiling rafters, and hams, pork shoulder, pork bellies, turkeys and other meats were suspended. This was a dry-smoking process which often went on for weeks and was typically preceded by a curing or dry-salt process. Curing is a brine solution that is either injected into the meat or used as a marinade, while dry-salting is a salt-based “rub” that is rubbed over the outside of the meat.

The combination of salt-curing, the drying from the low temperature heat, the smoke, and the enclosed space allowed some smoked foods like hams and pork bellies to be stored in the smokehouse long after the smoking process was complete.

What food storage methods would you add to this list? Share your knowledge in the section below:

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8 Survival Foods You Can Forage For In The Dead Of Winter

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8 'Foods' You Can Find In The Dead Of Winter

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I’ve instructed a number of field classes on foraging for wild foods and have written about it quite a bit, too. The classes always took place in the spring, summer or fall and the articles focused on plants, berries and other wild edibles that were easy to find on a sunny, summer day. But what about winter? Well, I’ve done that, too — and it’s tough.

For the record, we’re talking about serious winter. Not a cold night in the desert or a brisk wind in the southeast. This is below-zero stuff.

It is possible to find food in the winter, but let’s first look at four factors that will complicate your winter foraging:

1. It’s cold. This not only affects what you’re trying to find and gather, but it’ll eventually affect you. Cold also can freeze the ground, which will limit your access to some roots and tubers.

2. There’s snow. Snow covers and obscures many of the things you’ll be looking for. You need to look for clues above the snow. An oak tree is a good indication that acorns may be on the ground under the snow. Some oak trees hold their leaves on their branches over the winter. That helps. We’ll cover some other clues for those snowy days.

3. It’s wet. A lot of us like to harvest cattails in the winter. But sloshing through a foot or two of water and reaching deep into water and mud is going to take its toll on you quickly, if you’re not prepared.

4. Less than 10 percent is still available. If you’re in a winter climate, most stuff is dead or not growing. Your options are limited for any harvest at around 10 percent, depending on where you live.

In winter, we lose some of the indicators that help us find food — especially the prolific appearance of leaves. However, some indicators are still out there.

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8 'Foods' You Can Find In The Dead Of Winter

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I found a grove of wild plums two days ago in late January. I recognized the shape and concentration of the trees, but the real giveaway was the frozen little plums still on their branches. They made a great jelly. Fruits visible on a tree or plant also could include rose-hips, cranberries and crabapples.

Take note of the shape and appearance of bark on trees, especially nut-bearing trees like oak, horse chestnut and black walnut. Take the time to learn and recognize the bark and the physical characteristics of nut-bearing trees. One clue is a squirrel’s nest in a tree — although the squirrel may have gotten too many of the acorns before you arrive.

Some plants continue to photosynthesize under the snow. Scraping the snow might reveal some of this winter treasure, including dandelion, wild onion and chickweed.

Go in the water, but carefully. Water sources have an abundance of food in the winter. If you live by the ocean, tide-pools at low-tide can provide shellfish and plants like kelp or seaweed. Freshwater springs, creeks and ponds often will have stands of cattails, fresh water mussels under the mud and muck, and the occasional crayfish. But you have to be dressed for any water foraging, so let’s get into how to dress and equip for winter foraging.

Here’s what you should look for:

8 Survival Foods You Can Forage For In The Dead Of Winter

Cattails. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Cattails. The roots, when washed and peeled, are an excellent starch source with a potato-like flavor and can be prepared like potatoes. They also can be dried and made into a flour.

2. Acorns, black walnuts and horse chestnuts. These are found on the ground under nut-bearing trees. You should soak them for three days with three changes of water to remove tannins and then either roast them, or boil and dry and grind into flour.

3. Rose hips. Usually bright red and about one-quarter-inch to a half-inch in diameter. Make into a jelly or infuse in a tea. One of the highest sources of vitamin C in the wild.

4. Fresh water mussels. I often encounter these while foraging for cattail roots. They usually grow in beds. Where you find one, you’ll find others. Scrape them up from the mud with your small, hand rake. Wash and scrub carefully and boil until shells open and then boil some more. If they are from a suspected polluted water source, then don’t eat them. In fact, don’t eat anything from a water source that is suspect.

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5. Mushrooms. Curiously resilient even in winter and will sometimes appear after a brief thaw. Look for them on rotting deadfalls. Check out some pictures so you know what you’re eating. Even in winter, some mushrooms are toxic.

6. Wild greens. Dandelion roots and crowns, wild onions, chickweed, wild garlic. They’ll betray themselves with a showing of green under the snow or poking through the leaf litter. Rinse and boil with salt and eat like greens.

7. Watercress. Evident as a large bloom of green flowing in springs and creeks. Easy to harvest in bulk and can be eaten raw as a salad.

8 Survival Foods You Can Forage For In The Dead Of Winter

Crabapples. Image source: Pixabay.com

8. Wild fruits like plums and crabapples. Usually apparent still hanging from their trees. Mash into a jelly or strain as a juice blended with water, sugar and boiled.

It goes without saying that you should dress warmly and dress in layers when foraging. There are going to be varying degrees of exertion and rest, and you want to be able to manage your perspiration.

Here are a few more tips that have benefited me when winter foraging:

If I’m going to harvest cattails, that’s usually all I’ll do. I’ll wear water-proof boots and have even donned insulated hip-waders. I also wear heavy-duty rubber gloves that go up to my bicep with a layer of insulated gloves underneath. Rooting around in the mud with your bare hands is going to be a short-term effort in the winter. You also need to harvest a good amount of things like cattails if you’re seriously thinking about making a meal.

The same equipment and preparation applies for looking for mussels, although I’ll bring along my little three-pronged hand rake like I do for wild nuts. I’ll also bring along a five-gallon plastic bucket if I’m foraging in water. It does a better job of containing the residual water, mud and muck.

If I’m going to pursue wild nuts like acorns or black walnuts, I’ll leave the rubber boots and rubber gloves at home, but I’ll make sure I have the small, three-pronged hand rake. Scratching your gloved hand through the snow and leaf-litter will get your gloves wet and not be as efficient as scraping the surface with a small rake and picking out the nuts.

If my goal is to find frozen fruits or berries like rose-hips, wild plums, crab-apples or other frozen fruits, I’ll make sure I have a supply of plastic bags in one-gallon, one-quart and sandwich sizes to contain the fruits. It’ll be a lot easier when you get home to sort and wash the berries or fruits rather than tossing all of them in a side-pack or sack.

If I’m looking for wild, winter-greens, I’ll have some kitchen shears and my little hand rake.  I’ll also have plenty of one-gallon plastic bags. The rake helps to separate the matted greens from the leaf litter and some of the stems can be tough, so the kitchen shears help.

Collecting your foraged foods requires the ability to potentially carry a few pounds or more in a way that keeps them separate and any water or snow contained. I usually have two, canvas side-satchels or even a small backpack. Sometimes I’ll insert a plastic, kitchen-sized garbage bag into the satchels or the backpack, or use the smaller plastic bags to keep things organized and dry. Sometimes, the five-gallon plastic bucket comes along for the hike.

Don’t forget to bring along a bottle of water or two and if you’re going far afield and a small, waterproof survival kit. If you trip and fall into water when it’s 10 below and you’re four miles from anywhere, you’ll need to be able to build a fire fast.

Winter foraging is slim-pickings. I’ve seen too many articles that seem to make this all so easy. It’s tough, it’s cold, and it’s hard work, especially if you’re trying to find any wild plants in winter. But if you know what you’re doing, you can find food … and survive.

Have you foraged during winter? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

How To Make Off-Grid ‘Survival Rope’ Using Nothing But Grass

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How To Make Off-Grid ‘Survival Cord’ Using Only Grass

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Spartacus was famous for crafting ropes from trees and weeds to save his men and lead then from slavery. Thankfully, we don’t have to make rope for such extreme times, but it’s a good skill to master just in case.

Just about any long-stemmed plant material can be pounded into a fiber to make rope, but some plants are better than others.

There are three steps to making rope:

1. Collecting the cordage material.

You want to find plants and materials that are fibrous and tough. There are five potential materials for cordage from plants:

  • Long grass.
  • Tree bark from ash, box elder, basswood, elm, walnut, cherry, cedar, aspen, willow, cottonwood, hickory or oak.
  • Woody stalks from plants like dogbane, stinging nettle, velvet leaf, milkweed, fireweed and evening primrose.
  • Leaves from yucca, cattail or fern.
  • Roots from spruce, juniper, tamarack, cedar and pine.

Dogbane is often the plant of choice. It’s a member of the hemp family and is easy to work. The easiest way to do this is to break a plant or tree stalk and see if it is resistant to an easy break. If the fiber is tough and resilient, you have the potential for good cordage.

2. Tempering or preparing the material.

Unless you’re using grass, he materials needs to be “worked.” This can involve twisting, pounding on a rock or stripping into pieces. Sometimes, the material needs to be soaked in water. The idea is to shred the fibers of the plant into strands that are easy to work and twist. Pounding with a small rock on a larger rock is the most common method, but twisting can also work with fibrous plants like dogbane and milkweed. Any pounding should be done with a rounded rock so that sharp edges don’t cut the material.

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You can also roll the plant material between your hands, on your pant leg or twist it and stretch it.

3. Braiding and splicing.

This is where it all happens. What you’re going to be doing is a basic braiding process of overlapping three or more strands of plant fiber. You’ll need to add in additional pieces as you go to splice in new fibers. Sometimes you can actually tie small knots to make a better connection from splice to splice. (Watch the videos below.)

The Basic Wrap

Hold the ends of the fibers and roll the whole bundle against your pants leg in one direction. By making repeated strokes along the entire length, you should be able to twist the fibers into a strand of makeshift cordage that’s many times the strength of the original strands of material.

Reverse Wrapping

Start by twisting the fiber bundle in the middle until it kinks; then hold the kink between the thumb and index finger of one hand. With the fingers of the second hand, twist the bottom strand toward you and wrap it once around the other. Now, hold this wrap with the first hand, twist the new bottom strand toward you and wrap it around the other. Continue the process along the entire length.

Below are videos that show how this step looks, one with grass and the other with bark.

Story continues below videos

 

Splicing

Twist and kink the bundle so that one end is twice as long as the other. (This will eliminate the chance of producing parallel splices that would seriously weaken the cordage.) Then, using the reverse technique, wrap to within an inch or two of the short end. Next, separate the fibers of the short end with your fingers (so they spread out like a broom). Now, attach a second bundle of equal thickness by spreading and fitting its fiber ends into those of the first bundle. Continue twisting and wrapping as before, taking care not to pull the strands apart. When you come to the end of the original long strand, add a third piece — and so on.

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After you’ve finished a length of cordage you can then take additional corded lengths and repeat the process to give your rope additional strength. If you are using your cordage to tie together logs or other types of connections like joints, you’ll want to wet the cordage first to make it more flexible.

You can combine different materials from various plants and trees. This could help with splicing and the overall strength of your finished rope.

In spite of your best efforts, you probably really shouldn’t depend on homemade cordage to sustain any human weight. It may seem indestructible, but the splices can suddenly slip and you don’t want be hanging over a cliff when that happens.

This type of cordage is intended mostly for lashing and binding other materials such as supports for a lean-to, logs for a makeshift raft, or other temporary structures. Cordage can last about a year, but like any other plant-based material it will eventually deteriorate with time.

Have you ever made cord? Share advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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Backup Heat: 5 Things You Can Burn In The Stove When There’s No Firewood

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Backup Heat: 5 Things You Can Burn In The Stove When There’s No Firewood

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It might be a bit simplistic to say that a wood-burning stove or fireplace is the only heat alternative in winter. However, for many people affected by the North American Ice Storm of 1998, it was their only heating source for months when power lines across Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and northern New York and Maine succumbed to ice.

Thirty-five people reportedly died as a result of the storm and millions were left scrambling to find ways to generate heat and stay warm.

Alternative such as propane, kerosene heaters and natural gas heaters can be a great backup if the power goes out. The problem during big storms is that stores quickly sell out of propane, kerosene and the heaters they fuel. So unless you had those resources already on hand, your only alternative was a wood-burning option, assuming you had a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

For those without any heating options, massive shelters were opened and supported by 16,000 Canadian troops.

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For those with a fireplace or woodstove, the only option was to keep the fires burning until they ran out of firewood. While a sufficient stockpile of firewood could have alleviated the problem, many people typically only used their fireplaces and wood-burning stoves occasionally and stored only a small amount of wood.

To complicate matters, people who did have wood – or lived on wooded properties – were highly protective of the resource. And the wood that was for sale was not cheap. So many who opted to tough it out in their homes used some interesting alternatives. Here’s a few, although it’s important to stress: These should be used only in emergencies. Using them long-term could cause a house fire.

Alternative 1 – Yard and garden trees and shrubs

The first alternative that many people turned to were trees and shrubs in their yards and gardens. It wasn’t an easy task for thoe who didn’t have a chainsaw or the gas to power it, but neighbors cooperated by sharing tools, gas and sometimes labor, especially in exchange for some firewood.

Axes and handsaws were often used as well, and harvesting and stacking wood became a daily chore.

A fundamental limitation was that most of the wood was green and unseasoned, and smaller branches from shrubs burned quickly unless tightly bundled.

Alternative 2 – Rolled paper logs

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Some people with sufficient stockpiles of paper created paper logs that were tightly bound into rolls about three to four inches thick. The paper used included newsprint, magazines, books, phone books and any paper trash.

There are paper log-rollers available on the Internet, but most people in the storm simply sat down and rolled their paper logs by hand. Bailing wire was sometimes used to bind the paper logs, but string, rubber bands and anything else that would bind the paper tightly was used, too.

For the record, paper logs last about a fourth as long as a wood log and they don’t burn quite as hot (they mostly smolder), but they maintained the heat in desperate times.

Alternative 3 – Lumber scraps

Many of us have lumber scraps leftover from that knotty-pine basement remodel or hardwood floor installation and we store these for other minor projects. People in the ice storm made good use of these extras.

A limitation is that these kinds of wood tend to burn hot and fast, especially in a fireplace. They also tend to spit and spark quite a bit, so if you’re using this kind of wood in a fireplace, make sure you have the screen tightly closed and move all rugs from the vicinity.

On a side note, a fireplace is far from an ideal wood-burning heat source. Many people stranded in the storm made the best of using a fireplace, but in reality most of the heat produced is lost up the chimney.

Alternative 4 – Damaged furniture

We’ve all got some damaged or old furniture in our garages and basements. Many of those old desks and cabinets found their way to the woodstove or fireplace when the storm hit. This kind of wood also sparks and spits and, depending on the type of wood, can burn very fast.

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There also are stories of people tearing up their backyard decks as a wood source. There’s some danger here due to the fact that most decking is chemically treated to resist moisture. If the stove or fireplace is not well-vented, the chemicals can be released into the house. There were no specific reports or complaints about this hazard, although there were many reports of problems with carbon monoxide from poorly ventilated kerosene and propane heaters.

Alternative 5 – Rolled rag-logs

This was one of the most extreme solutions. It involved rolling rags and pieces of fabric along with twigs and bark into tightly-bound logs. Your best bet if you ever have to go this route is to use natural fibers, like cotton or wool. Burning synthetic fibers is as bad as burning plastic.

Alternatives to Avoid

While you might be desperate to stay warm, there are certain things that you shouldn’t burn in your home. These include:

  • Charcoal briquettes. They are impregnated with a chemical that produces significant carbon monoxide. Save these for cooking outside.
  • As mentioned before, most wood used for decks is chemically treated. Perhaps if the deck wood is old and weathered some of the chemicals are gone, but consider using only at your own risk.
  • Any flammable fuel like gasoline, motor oil, kerosene, turpentine, alcohol, etc. These fuels are dangerous and burn very hot and very fast. The limited amount of time that any fuel like this would burn would not be worth the heat nor the risk.
  • Burning plastic is toxic, produces copious black smoke and creosote, and will leave a hard, tar-like substance in your stove, fireplace and flue. Forget about plastic.
  • Roofing materials. This is another bad choice that burns as poorly and as toxic as plastic. Don’t even think about it. The same goes for rubber.

There are a number of factors that can take down the grid, and this event was a dramatic demonstration of the dangers and the implications. If you’re going to have to depend on wood heat in an emergency, consider alternatives like well-ventilated kerosene and propane stove options. As for me, I keep three cords of wood just in case.

What alternatives would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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The Poor Man’s Off-Grid Sawmill You Can Definitely Make At Home

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The Poor Man’s Off-Grid Sawmill You Can Definitely Make At Home

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Before the invention of the sawmill, cutting logs into flat boards was a tedious, time-consuming and physically intensive process involving the use of wedges, mallets, axes and a tool called an adze, plus draw shaves and hand planers. It could take a day just to make a few boards, and the surfaces were rough and the boards were often twisted and warped.

Circular Sawmills

All of that changed with the invention of large circular saws. Some were driven by water power and later by steam power. The logs were set on a large table and slowly moved toward the saw blade to cut boards. The result was a cleaner cut and the ability to saw more timber in a single day.

Unfortunately, the large circular sawmills were expensive and complex and required a large, dedicated space for both the mill and the equipment surrounding it.

Bandsaw Mills

An innovation that emerged in the 1900s was the band saw. This allowed for a horizontal cut as opposed to the vertical cutting of the circular saws, and was smaller in size. It started in the cattle butchering industry, and someone figured out it could probably cut wood as well.

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Unlike a fixed, circular saw blade, the band saw itself moved down the course of a log to make the cut and was then pulled back and lowered to do the next cut.

Some skilled do-it-yourselfers have figured out how to build a band sawmill, but it requires significant technical and mechanical skills, plus a good amount of investment in time, money and space.

The Chainsaw Mill

Finally, there’s the chainsaw. This was largely used for harvesting trees and cutting logs for firewood, but there are some simple and inexpensive attachments that would allow you to create a portable chainsaw mill that you can take into the woods with you to cut rough boards and timber. This is the do-it-yourself sawmill we’re going to explore.

Most people prefer the chainsaw mill because of its low cost and portability and the ability to store it easily. (When looking for supplies for your own mill, search for “chainsaw sawmill.”

Let’s begin by taking a look at this video.

Story continues below video

 

 

The prices for a chainsaw mill rig range from $100 to $250. Based on reviews and my own experience, I’d spend more to get the best quality and performance. It is way less than the thousands you might spend for a bandsaw or large circular sawmill.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to use a chainsaw sawmill:

  • You need a powerful and well-built chainsaw. You will be putting a tremendous amount of stress on the saw as you make long, rip cuts along the length of logs that can be a foot in diameter or more.
  • The blade needs to be at least 16 inches, and larger blade lengths would be better. The more you can get the belly of the blade into the wood, the easier the rip, especially when you get into the dense heartwood of the log.
  • You absolutely must buy a “ripping” chain. All chainsaws come with a standard “cutting” chain. These are designed to cut against the grain to turn a downed tree into logs usually used as firewood. A rip-cut is when you are cutting with the grain. A standard “cutting” chain performs poorly for rip cuts because the teeth in the chain are aligned and shaped differently.

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  • You might consider having an extra rip chain on hand and a sharpening kit.
  • You’ll want to have extra gas and chain oil and oil for the gas mix on hand. You are going to be burning through gas and oil at about four times the usual rate because of the duration of your cuts at full throttle. It’s not like cutting firewood, where you have short duration cuts interspersed with idles. These rip cuts go on and on.
  • The Poor Man’s Off-Grid Sawmill You Can Definitely Make At Home

    Image source: Pixabay.com

    Rest the saw now and then. This type of sawing puts a lot of strain on the saw, and you want it to cool down before adding gas. You also might have to check the chain oil with greater frequency than the gas, so keep an eye on the chain oil chamber.

  • Take your time and let the saw do the work. Like anything else involving large rotating blades, this is dangerous stuff if you get complacent or impatient.

Chainsaw Mill-Cutting 101

  1. Only rip-cut well-seasoned logs that are thoroughly dry. If you think cutting green firewood is tough, wait until you try to rip through the log of a green tree.
  2. Isolate those logs that are as straight as possible. When you start ripping, you’ll be cutting on a straight, level line. Curves in a trunk will reduce the amount of useable timber you harvest.
  3. Think about your end-use. Is this for framing? Then use a softwood. Is this for rustic furniture? Think about a hardwood. Just remember how hard it is to cut hardwoods.
  4. Cut your first slab of curved wood/bark to get a flat side, and then support that flat part of the log above the ground. Keep slabbing until you get a long, squared timber. Now you can start cutting your boards. Think ahead once again to what your final use will be and the size or sizes you want.
  5. Know when to quit. If you or the saw seem to be getting a bit worn out, call it a day.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Start with a smaller-size log about four feet long to get the hang of how to handle this chainsaw mill rig. I’d also start with a log no larger than 12 inches in diameter that is well-aged. This will give you a chance to get a feel for how to best manage the saw and the braces to make the best rips.

In time, you may find it provides you with a good resource for timber across a variety of construction projects, from sheds to barns to your home.

Have you ever made or used a do-it-yourself sawmill? Share your advice in the section below:

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The Long-Lasting, Never-Go-Bad ‘Survival Soup’ The Pioneers Ate

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The Long-Lasting, Never-Go-Bad 'Survival Soup' The Pioneers Ate

There’s a pioneer cooking tradition in the United States that stretched from cook camps on cattle drives to lumber camps. It’s “perpetual soup,” known in some regions as the Skillagalee kettle.

Back in 1910, Horace Kephart wrote an iconic book titled: The Book of Camping and WoodcraftA Guidebook for Those who Travel in the Wilderness. He covered just about everything related to living and surviving in the wilderness back then, and had this to say about this type of food: “Into it go all the clean ends of game — heads, tails, wings, feet, giblets, large bones — also the leftovers of fish, flesh, and fowl, of any and all sorts of vegetables, rice or other cereals, macaroni, stale bread, everything edible except fat.”

The post, he said, is “always kept hot” and its “flavors are forever changing, but ever welcome.”

“It is always ready, day or night for the hungry, varlet who missed connections or who wants a bite between meals. No cook who values his peace of mind will fail to have skilly simmering at all hours.”

Let’s look at this food more in detail – and consider its benefits.

The constant simmering and perpetual heat under the pot is actually an old food-preservation technique. By keeping the broth at a steady temperature between 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, anyone helping themselves would not suffer the consequences of food contamination. You could almost think of it as the pioneer Crock-Pot which was especially handy in a time with no electricity.

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And that’s something to think about. As Kephart noted in his book, you can add just about anything to the pot. Personally, I don’t think I’d toss fish bones in with the chicken and beef bones, but maybe someday I’ll try it. What’s important is that the combination of ingredients are a potent brew of macro and micronutrients.

How to Make it in Your Kitchen

But you don’t have to hang out the cast-iron cookware over the open fire just yet. You can easily make perpetual soup in a Crock-Pot with some traditional recipes and just keep it on a setting that maintains a high-simmer. I’ve often done this on week-long fishing and hunting trips when I found myself sharing a cabin with five or six guys who always seemed to be hungry. I was the cook on all of these trips and appreciated Kephart’s recollection of a recipe for my own sanity when some of the guys came in from the cold.

Soup Tips

pioneers 2You may be tempted to assume that making your own perpetual soup is no different than a traditional soup, but it’s the “ongoing additive nature” of this particular dish that makes it unique. We’ll cover a traditional approach that’s a bit less eclectic than the old 1910 version.

There are three basic things you’ll want to keep an eye on with your perpetual soup, whether it’s simmering over the fire or in a Crock-Pot:

  1. Slow and steady heat that keeps the broth between 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a bit easier with a Crock-Pot, and a gently, bubbling simmer should be apparent. Over an open fire you’re probably going to have to improvise and make some more physical adjustments.
  2. One thing that will definitely affect your simmer is the frequent addition of water. As the soup evaporates and is consumed, the broth needs to be replenished. There’s no precise measurement here. Just do what makes sense without overfilling. You also may need to crank up the heat a bit for a while to get your good simmer back.
  3. Keep adding ingredients. This is what makes perpetual soup so unique. Every time you add something new, it will impart a new set of flavors and nutrients.

Perpetual Soup Ingredients

The idea is to start with a foundation that you can add to, day to day.

  1. Water. This amount depends on the size of your pot, but I usually fill the pot 2/3 full whether it’s a Crock-Pot or a kettle on the fire. You’ll want to cover with a lid, but make sure you balance your heat to the proper simmer with the lid in place. A lid over any hot liquid will increase the temperature as heat is added, and you could end up with a rolling boil or boil-over instead of a very gentle boil or robust simmer.
  2. Vegetables. I like carrots, celery, roughly chopped onions with the skins still on (this will add a nice, caramel color to the broth), other root vegetables and stalk trimmings like radish and turnip stalks. Leave out the beets and trimmings unless you want a very bloody, red color.
  3. Bones. Beef bones, pork bones, chicken and pheasant carcasses and turkey carcasses. Get them bones in there. They add wonderful flavor and lots of good stuff. At some point you can pull out the big beef bones and make your dog very happy. He might like a sprinkle of the broth on his dry dog food.
  4. Seasonings. You have to balance this with your group’s sodium tolerance. Seasonings related to broth tend to be defined by salt. You may be pleasantly surprised that as your perpetual soup matures, its flavor grows and diminishes your craving for salt. Just taste as you go and go and go.

Fats are typically not a good idea with a Skillagalee pot, but they’re unavoidable. Also, if your fire went out at camp or you let the broth boil away overnight in your Crock-Pot, toss it and start over.

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Add as you go from one day to the next, but think about how certain ingredients can dominate flavors long-term. Once you add fish bones to a stock, it will linger. Same is true for hot peppers and other dominant flavors. I love garlic, but a few trimmings in the pot will last and last.

Lastly, know when to quit. This could become very obvious as the off-flavors just don’t seem to be working. In my case, it’s when my wife complains about those constant smells in the kitchen from “that Crock-Pot.”

It’s easy to start over. After all, you’re just using water, trimmings and some simple seasoning.

The concept is pretty simple and it’s not like it takes a lot of practice. But the next time the lights go out or you find yourself with a large group for a while, give it a try.

Have you ever made perpetual soup? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Best Way To Restore An Old, Rusted Wood-Burning Stove

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How To Restore An Old, Rusted Wood-Burning Stove

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My brothers and I years ago came across an old wood-burning stove in the garage of my Grandfather, who had passed away. We were in the process of renovating his house and property, and finding the old wood stove was not greeted enthusiastically at first.

“Let’s load it up and junk it. We could probably get 20 bucks for the scrap price,” one of my brothers said.

I actually considered his suggestion because I had way too many other projects to think about, but my other brother held out.

“We might need this someday,” he said. “Besides, it was Grandpa’s.”

The result was that we spent some days and weekends over the summer restoring this old wood stove.

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This was a very basic wood-burning stove – sometimes referred to as a “boxwood” stove. It was cast iron and elongated, and was basically a firebox on legs with a flue at the back and a damper. My Grandfather used it in his garage in the winter while he tinkered around with stuff like chainsaws and sharpening axes and probably a few nights smoking cigars and just passing the time.

The entire stove was very rusted, both inside and out. There was still a good amount of ash in the firebox and a significant mouse nest made from various fur, fluff and other stuff.

The First Step

Our first step was to totally disassemble the stove. This involved loosening all bolts for the legs, the top, the door and every other piece. We laid these out on a sheet of plywood and started to scrape the rust with sandpaper, steel wool and both dry and wet rags.

Sandblasting?

How To Restore An Old, Rusted Wood-Burning StoveA curious side note is that gravestone makers have the ability to sandblast, and many will sandblast your stove for a small amount if it’s very rusted. We didn’t need to do this, but I thought about it after a few hours of rubbing with sandpaper and steel wool.

We finally washed it down again with damp rags to clear off the rust/dust and let it dry in the sun. My brother thought we should spray paint it with a high-temperature flat-black paint, but I wanted to use tubes of stove-black. You rub it into the surface and rub it some more with a rag.  It’s more expensive than spray paint, but when my brother saw the result he said we should get more of the stuff.

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We used his high-temperature spray paint for the firebox interior and the underside of the stove, making all of the parts and pieces you could see completely black.

What About the Stove Integrity?

Once we had this old stove looking good, I started to worry about taking this from a decorative piece to a fully functioning and reliable stove. The first step was to insert some fireproof, fiberglass rope into the door to create a good seal.

The next step was to make sure the top lid, where you might put a cast iron pan, had a tight seal.  These can get pitted, but we were fortunate and the seal was not compromised.

Our biggest problem was that the damper was rusted and pitted. I removed it and took it to a stove shop and handed it to the guy and asked, “Can you help?” He went back into his store room and came out with the exact damper in perfect condition. I asked how much and he said, “How’s 10 bucks?” I couldn’t pay him fast enough, and I went straight back to the cabin.

Testing It

My brother and I started up a fire in the stove in the backyard, and I’m glad I did. The stove black and spray paint actually gave off some vapors, but once they burned off, the stove was without leaks, smells or anything that would cause us any significant worry.

That stove has been keeping the garage warm for about 12 years now. We still tune it up and maintain it, but I’m so glad we didn’t junk it. It’s an heirloom in my mind, and sometimes I sit by it and smoke a cigar, while I mess with a chainsaw and think about my Grandfather.

Have you ever renovated a wood-burning stove? Share your advice in the section below:

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How To Win The Battle With Creosote (And Prevent A Chimney Fire)

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How To Win The Battle With Creosote (And Prevent A Chimney Fire)

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According to the National Fire Protection Association, around 25 percent of all home-heating fires are caused by creosote buildup in chimneys – a serious statistic if you use wood to produce heat on a regular basis.

A chimney sweep is the best solution, and homeowners should considering getting one on an annual basis. With the proper tools and technique, though, you can do this yourself, but make sure you do it right. Chimney sweeps will tell you a lot can accumulate in stovepipes and chimneys over time, including tar glaze, slag, flakes and soot. Collectively, these elements create creosote and the potential for a chimney fire.

What’s a Chimney Fire?

Chimney fires can be terrifying events, and take place when the creosote in a chimney ignites and spreads. Temperatures in a chimney fire can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius). That’s more than enough to warp a stovepipe, melt a rain cap and spark arrestor, and then launch burning coals and ash onto a rooftop.

Those temperatures can also cause masonry and mortar to crack and potentially vent extremely hot gases and fire into flammable, internal structures like an attic.

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Some of the typical symptoms of a chimney fire include:

  • A loud crackling and popping noise.
  • A lot of dense smoke.
  • An intense, hot smell.
  • Large and long flames emerging from the chimney.
  • A sudden intense increase of the fire in the firebox due to the intense drafting caused by the fire in the chimney (think: firestorm).

If you have a chimney fire, call the fire department. In the short term, you can close down all vents to reduce air flow and throw a chimney fire suppressant in the firebox to diminish the fire, but that doesn’t solve the problem; it only delays it.

How To Win The Battle With Creosote (And Prevent A Chimney Fire)

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You should also be aware that not all chimney fires are so dramatic. Some smolder without significant flames, but the temperatures can be just as high as a flaming chimney fire. Dark, copious black smoke emerging from the chimney is sometimes a sign of this kind of chimney fire.

How to Prevent Creosote Buildup

The number one cause of creosote buildup is a cool flue. A cool flue can happen a variety of ways.

  • A wood-burning stove is inserted into a fire place and the smoke is vented into a large, masonry chimney hat, allowing the smoke to linger and cool.
  • The metal stove pipe travels through relatively cool spaces, reducing the temperature of the smoke and exhaust gases.
  • The fire is burning too low, producing more smoke than heat.
  • The wood is wet, green or unseasoned, resulting in a lower temperature fire that further encourages creosote buildup in a cool flue.
  • A restricted air supply causing the smoke to linger in the flue.

One of the best analogies for how a cool flue encourages creosote buildup is the effect of exhaling your hot breath on a cold mirror. The fogged area you see is what happens in a cool flue, as smoke and unburned particles pass over the cooler surface.

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If you are venting into an open masonry fireplace from an inserted wood-burning stove, you should have a double insulated stovepipe installed with a six-inch diameter. This will concentrate the heat from the fire and the exhaust gases rather than allowing them to linger in an open masonry fireplace that can be up to eight times the diameter of a six-inch stovepipe.

Certified stovepipes for wood-burning stoves are approved to withstand temperatures up to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you’ve had a chimney fire, you should still have the stovepipe checked to ensure it has not been warped or damaged.

It’s possible you’ve had a chimney fire and don’t even know it. The danger is that any future creosote buildup could lead to another chimney fire in an already damaged system. Here are some clues to past chimney fires:

  • Puffy or honeycombed creosote.
  • Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber connector pipe, or factory-built metal chimney.
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing.
  • Discolored and/or distorted rain cap.
  • Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground.
  • Roof damage from hot creosote.
  • Cracks in exterior masonry.
  • Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners.

If you suspect you’ve had a chimney fire, call a chimney sweep as soon as possible. They can give you an accurate assessment of whether or not a chimney fire has occurred and the next steps for maintenance or repair.

The simple fact is that clean chimneys and stovepipes don’t cause fires. If you burn wood on a regular basis to heat your home, annual maintenance and advice from a professional is a must.

What advice would you add for preventing chimney fires? Share your tips in the section below:

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How To Ensure Your Wood-Burning Stove Lasts Forever

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How To Ensure Your Wood-Burning Stove Lasts Forever

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Wood-burning stoves are essentially simple machines that provide heat for warmth and cooking when we need it most. But like everything else, regular and annual maintenance are essential, especially if you are totally dependent on the stove for heat.

Summer is obviously the best time for maintenance. You can’t do much with a wood stove that’s blistering hot — and it’s a long day in the winter when you have to shut it down and let it cool for repairs. But there are weekly if not daily tasks that have to occur while the stove is hot.

Regardless of the design of your stove, coals and especially ash are inevitable. Some catalytic stoves burn more efficient and result in less ash, but even they need regular cleaning.

One regular maintenance item, of course, is cleaning ash, with the fundamental tools being an ash shovel and an ash bucket. Both are metal and need to resist the residual heat that the coals and ash will still have. Your dedicated ash-dump areas should be away from the house or other structures and anything else that’s flammable.

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Beyond the routine ash cleaning, most maintenance needs to be done when you’re not using the stove. Here are the common areas to check and maintain:

Check the Gaskets and Doors

The firebox door should be inspected very closely for an airtight seal. One of the easiest ways to do this is with the dollar bill test. You close and lock the firebox door with the dollar halfway between the gasket and the stove. Then, gently tug on the bill and if it shows good resistance while you try to pull it out, you have a good seal. Do this all around the perimeter of the door.  All it takes is one weak spot to interfere with the efficiency of the stove or cause a smoke leak.

If the seal is weak, you’ll need to replace the gasket. Gaskets once were made out of a braided rope of asbestos but today they’re made from a fireproof fiberglass braid with a gasket glue. You’ll need to remove the door to make this replacement, and you might want to watch some videos so you get it right.

 

 

While you’re replacing the gasket, take some time to inspect the glass window that may be in your firebox door. If there’s a buildup of white ash, it can easily be wiped off with a damp rag. If the stains are brown, you may have to buy a woodstove glass cleaner. The reason you may get these brown stains is because the stove is not burning efficiently. Wet or green wood, low-burning fires, inefficient combustion, and resinous woods like pine are often the cause of these stains.

Don’t Forget Flue and Chimney Maintenance

I have a chimney sweep come out once a year to clear the creosote.  Creosote is made up of non-combusted particles that adhere to the sides of the chimney pipe. The danger is that creosote is highly flammable; a chimney fire sends large tongues of flame out of the chimney. Even a spark arrestor can melt under this heat, and the burned bits of creosote can land on the roof and start a fire. If you have a chimney fire, immediately call the fire department.

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There is also a creosote fire suppressant. If you suspect you have a chimney fire, you put this in the fire box and it produces a chemical smoke that extinguishes the fire. Don’t get cocky, though.  The fire can restart if the creosote buildup is significant.

Considering purchasing creosote cleaning logs. You put them into the fire box with a hot fire, and the combination helps to vaporize the creosote and safely flush it out of the chimney.

Prevent Your Stove From Rusting

Cast iron stoves can succumb to rust. Purchase a heat-resistant paint to touch up both the exterior and the interior of your stove. Follow the directions on the can for prep and make sure the paint is dry before starting a fire. I usually start a fire even in the summer after I’ve maintained or painted my stoves just to make sure everything is working properly. A chilly, rainy day is a good excuse for this test.

Other Areas of Maintenance

The features on different wood-burning stoves vary widely. If your stove has a feature like a catalyst, firebrick, soapstone or other unique options, then make sure you check your owner’s manual for recommended maintenance and find a nice warmer day to make sure everything’s alright. Trust me: You’ll sleep better at night.

Stay warm.

What are your wood stove maintenance tips? Share them in the section below:

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How To Heat Your Home Using Only The Sun

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How To Heat Your Home Using Only The SunPassive solar is a building design approach that incorporates certain materials into the roof, walls and floors that collect solar energy to heat a home in the winter, cool it in the summer, and heat water year-round. It’s called passive because it requires no electric devices or mechanical devices to operate and performs various functions.

This is not about collecting solar energy through dedicated solar panels to generate electricity. It’s about temperature management. In its simplest form it involves the use of windows with a southern exposure that simply allow the sunlight to enter the home in winter, and are shaded with blinds or window shades in the summer. Many people take advantage of that sunlight by installing special, thermal tiles in their floors to absorb the heat during the day, and release it slowly during the night. There are also wall panels that perform the same function. Certain types of floor tiles and wall boards collect the heat.

You have to be able to shade windows in summer. Otherwise, you can get something referred to as passive/aggressive solar heating. The result is a house that is too hot during the day, especially in summer. You want that “Goldilocks” factor, where the temperature is just right. Shades and shading can help you manage variable heat and sunlight conditions.

Hot Water Heating With Solar

A rooftop set-up for hot water heating involves a series of tubes encased in a black box on the roof and covered with a sheet of glass or plastic. The sunlight enters the black box through the glass and heats the interior to allow the enclosed water to heat.

 

Often, there is a tank above the arrangement that allows the hot water to rise into the tank, and the water is drawn by gravity down into the house. The temperature varies depending on the amount of sunlight and the ambient temperature outside, but the water can range from hot to warm with no effort, other than pumping cold water up into the tank.

Southern Exposure Is Necessary

The key to successful use of passive solar is the orientation of the home, its windows and the rooftop solar water heater. An unobstructed, southern exposure is ideal for heating, in addition to generous windows both in size and number.

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It’s not just about staying hot in the winter, but also about staying cool in the summer. There’s one simple solution: trees. Trees have leaves in the summer to shade a home, and they lose their leaves in the winter if you live in a temperate zone. The result is that sun passes through the bare branches of trees in winter, and is blocked by the leaves of summer.

There are also ceramics that absorb cooler temperatures at night and continue to cool during the day. It’s the old thermos joke: “How do it know?” Many solar tiles have this characteristic.

 

 

There are some simple and remarkable DIY projects and even new technologies that allow you to cook a variety of meals with solar power. The critical success factor is bright, direct sunlight focused directly into the solar oven. Once again, these are passive solar approaches that require nothing more than direct sunlight to effectively function.

Insulate, Insulate, Insulate

Any passive solar heating set-up assumes that you are going to collect and release heat. What’s essential is to contain the heat in a properly insulated structure. It’ s easy to get complacent, especially if you have a high-efficiency wood-burning stove blasting out the heat. But passive solar is different. The heat that is collected and stored will vary depending on cloud cover and time of year. Unfortunately, winter months have the shortest duration of sunlight when we need it most.

As a result, high-efficiency insulation is critical. This is especially true around door frames, windows and electrical outlets facing the outside. The idea is to trap and collect heat, and insulation will give you a better chance to do that.

Related:

How To Convert Your Home To Passive Solar

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5 Off-Grid Steps To Making Your Own Brick

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5 Off-Grid Steps To Making Your Own Brick

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Over the years, I’ve used logs to build cabins and sticks to make furniture, but my proudest moment was the first time I successfully made a small pile of bricks. I kept making more over one summer and eventually used them to construct an outdoor, wood-fired oven and grill. It was nice to know that if I ever needed brick and none were available that I had the know-how and raw materials at hand.

While the bricks I made were all of even size and had great structural integrity, they were like many homemade things – a little rough around the edges. This was mostly due to my primitive “firing” method, which is the last step in the brick making process. I also took a simpler approach to the use of clay.

Some approaches recommend gathering clay and letting it dry over the winter and then crushing it into a powder. I harvested the clay, wet it down a bit, and immediately began to work it. This left some pebbles in the clay to be incorporated into the final brick. Brick-making purists would frown upon my shortcut, but for my purposes the bricks came out fine and I didn’t mind seeing a pebble here and there.

How to Make Rustic Bricks

1. Find clay

Finding a good source of clay is critical to this brick-making approach. Where I live the clay runs six to 12 feet deep under the topsoil until it comes to bedrock. I learned the hard way that my property was “blessed” with clay every time I tried to plant a tree or bush.

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You also can find clay along river banks. Keep in mind, however, that clay is very heavy and so it’s best if you can find a source that’s close to home. I took my harvested clay from my backyard and piled it on a 4 feet x 8 feet sheet of plywood. I then put on an old pair of gym shoes and while holding a bucket of water began to squish and knead the clay with my feet while occasionally pouring some water on the clay to loosen it up. It’s a messy process, but not difficult.

Be careful with the amount of water you use. You don’t want clay soup, but rather something with pliable, elastic consistency.

2. Mix in sand

The proportion of sand to clay should be four parts clay to one part sand. I had to eyeball this to estimate the volume of clay in my clay blob. I then sprinkled the sand over the clay and once again did my clay dance to incorporate the sand. I also used a shovel to toss the clay/sand to incorporate it better.

3. Mold the bricks

5 Off-Grid Steps To Making Your Own Brick

Image source: Pixabay.com

Now comes the fun part and if you have kids they might enjoy helping. What you’ll need is a form/mold made from wood that’s 4 inches wide, 8 inches long and 2 1/4 inches high. It should be open at the top and bottom. You can make your bricks any size you want, but this size is believed to be the old-world standard. You also can make a form with numerous compartments of this size.

An old trick I learned is to dust the inside of the mold with charcoal dust. This helps the clay mix slip out when the form is lifted. The black charcoal dust will burn off during the firing process and not affect the color of your bricks.

As a work surface I used a 2 feet x 4 feet sheet of plywood that I greased with oil. Any oil will do; I used vegetable oil. This will help the brick to release after it has dried and also will burn it off.

Place your mold to one side of this work surface and remember that this brick will have to dry on this smaller sheet of plywood. I usually leave about two inches between each wet brick.

After dusting the mold with the charcoal, start slopping the clay mix into the mold, patting it down as you go. To get a clean top surface use a length of bailing wire stretched across the frame of a small bow saw and drag the taught wire slowly across the top of the brick.

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Let the clay rest in the mold for about 20 minutes and then gently lift the mold straight up. Ideally your clay consistency will have enough integrity to not bulge on the sides. But results can vary. The first time I did this, I got it perfect. My second batch was too wet and I had to let the clay/sand dry overnight on the big board.

4. Dry

You need to let the bricks dry at this point. In my case, I simply moved the small board of about eight bricks into the sun. If you think it’s going to rain, either cover the bricks with a tarp or move them inside. I usually let mine dry for three to four days before going to the final step.

5. Firing

There are all sorts of opinions, approaches and kilns for this firing process. I decided to keep it simple and primitive. I laid down on the ground a course of long, equally-sized logs about four inches in diameter. I put my eight bricks on top. I then began to stack firewood around and over the bricks. It was the usual structure of kindling leading to larger woods and I stacked enough wood to make a bonfire about three feet high. Then I started the fire and let it burn.

When the fire is first out, don’t even think about grabbing one of the bricks. They can often remain hot for up to a week. Once you’re satisfied they’ve cooled, rinse them with water, scrub with a brush, and you’re done. Until you decide to make the next batch, that is.

Have you ever made brick? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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4 Simple Ways To Retain More Heat From Your Wood-Burning Stove

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4 Simple Ways To Retain More Heat From Your Wood-Burning Stove

Image source: Majesticfireplaces.com

If you have a cast iron stove, you no doubt know how to manage the flue and dampers and how long it will provide heat to your home. But there are a few “hacks” that you can improvise that will allow you to capture, store and radiate more heat longer. This can be especially useful at night when you might not want to wake up at 3 in the morning to put another log on the fire.

It could also come in handy if you’re facing a particularly cold period of weather. We had wind-chills of -30 degrees Fahrenheit in Michigan last winter, and I used some of these tricks to get the most out of our cast iron stove.

There are several factors that affect the radiance of a wood-fired stove.

  • The stove material. Cast iron is the most common stove material, but there are also masonry stoves that are built with fire brick and other materials to hold heat longer.
  • The size of the stove and the amount of mass that is exposed to the air.
  • Venting and the amount of stove pipe that is exposed to the air, including second story rooms.
  • The type of wood that is used. Soft woods burn hot, but fast. Hardwoods burn low and slow.

What we’re going to explore are ways to retain the most heat from your wood-burning stove. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you have a medium-size cast iron stove. There are some fundamental things you can do to increase its ability to hold and retain heat.

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1. Increase the mass of cast iron. This sounds a bit complicated but it’s as easy as placing some dry cast iron utensils, like a Dutch oven or a frying pan, on the stove top. The utensils will get quite hot — but that’s the idea. You want to capture as much heat and hold it as long as possible.

4 Simple Ways To Retain More Heat From Your Wood-Burning Stove

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2. Place some fire brick in the stove and the stove top. Fire brick is relatively inexpensive and you’ll only need enough to put on the bottom surface of the firebox. They’re about two inches high, so you might be reducing the size of your firebox somewhat. That’s when you can go a different route and place the bricks directly on top of the stove. Don’t stack them too high. The benefit of fire brick is that it holds heat longer than cast iron.

3. Reconsider your chimney venting configuration. Be careful here. Stovepipes should have a vertical configuration and a double-walled insulated pipe anywhere it bisects the structure, such as a second story floor or roof. However, there may be an opportunity to install a single-walled length of stove pipe to draw more heat from the pipe to the surrounding air.

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4. Install a catalytic combustor. These are honeycombed shaped inserts that are covered with platinum to create a more efficient burn in your stove. They don’t work in all stoves, but are worth considering if you want to improve efficiency. The primary benefit is that they help to burn much of the smoke that is normally wasted heat in a traditional stove.

Proper installation and venting are critical safety factors for any wood-burning stove. These ideas are improvised solutions, and the two safest options are the insertion of fire bricks into the base of the firebox, or the installation of a catalytic combustor if your stove can accommodate one.

Placing anything on the stovetop, whether it’s cast iron utensils or fire bricks, requires some added care and attention in the event something falls to the floor.

Of course, these alternatives are proposed as short-term solutions in the event of extreme cold. If you need to combine too many improvised solutions like this, you might want to consider a new stove.

Related: 

The Ancient Off-Grid Heater That’s Far Better Than A Wood Stove

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The Ancient Off-Grid Heater That’s Far Better Than A Wood Stove

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The Ancient Off-Grid Heater That's Far Better Than A Wood Stove

It’s the most reliable, safe and efficient way to produce heat with wood. So why do so few homes nowadays have them?

Masonry stoves have been used for centuries — across Scandinavia, France, Germany and Poland. But they were seldom found in Britain and it’s the early British influence on North America that may account for their relative scarcity in the US.

On a fundamental level, a masonry stove is a massive assembly of bricks that is designed to hold and radiate heat produced by a wood fire. When properly designed and built, a masonry stove can continue to radiate heat for up to 20 hours in a well-insulated home after the intense burning of a two-hour fire. On average, though, the two-hour fire will heat a home in winter for eight to 12 hours.

The brickwork in the chimney is designed to circulate the smoke through a system of channels that extract as much heat as possible before the smoke exits the flue. Because an intense fire is used to heat up the masonry, there is little creosote buildup and it produces a very clean fire.

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Well-known American author Mark Twain was so impressed with the masonry stove during a trip to Europe that he wrote about it, expressing confusion about why America hadn’t imported the heating style:

“All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable … Its surface is not hot: you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt. Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day: the cost is next to nothing: the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns … America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? No, she sticks placidly to her own fearful and wonderful inventions in the stove line. The American wood stove, of whatever breed, is a terror. It requires more attention that a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time: and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half … and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano. It is certainly strange that useful customs and devices do not spread from country to country with more facility and promptness than they do.”

Ideally, a masonry stove is built during the initial construction of a home, but it’s possible to retrofit one into some existing homes. What’s critical, though, is that there is sufficient support under the stove because one can weigh anywhere from one to three tons. Another architectural detail is that most masonry stores are built and placed in the center of a home’s living space. This allows for more efficient radiation of heat to all parts of the home.

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A side benefit to a masonry stove is the inclusion of an oven in the brick work. This is another great off-the-grid solution and it works extremely well for baking everything from bread and pizzas to turkeys.

As Twain pointed out, the masonry does not get terribly hot on the surface. Unlike a cast iron stove that can easily burn you if touched, the brick and stone in a masonry stove radiates heat steadily at a lower temperature. It can still be hot to the touch, but not as hot as a traditional wood-burning stove.

Popular materials used in construction include fire-brick, soapstone and other types of brick that hold and retain heat well. There are free-standing masonry stoves that you can buy, but they really should be installed by a professional and are sometimes assembled in pieces due to their weight. There also are building codes and necessary safety features that need to be followed because of the high heat generated in the firebox.

Because the masonry stove puts off a consistent heat for hours without great fuss, it is a great asset if you are living without electricity and gas.

Do you have experience with a masonry stove? What would you add to the story? Share your advice in the section below:

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How To Heat Water Off-Grid Without Electricity

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How To Heat Water Off-Grid Without Electricity

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I have on many occasions found myself without hot water. Power outages are the usual reason, but when the hot water heater goes out, there’s usually a few days before a new one can be installed. It’s an inconvenience, but little more in that case. But what if we had to go without hot water for weeks or months?

The simplest and perhaps most preliminary solution to producing hot water is to build a fire outside and heat a large pot of water over it. This is quite labor intensive, though, even if it will create hot water. You also can put a large pot of hot water on a wood-burning stove and get the same result. The vapor will add some humidity to the house, which is a good thing since the wood-burning stove is also drying out the air with the heat it produces.

Using a fire or wood stove is a great way to heat a few gallons of water. The issue is when you want 20 to 50 gallons of hot water over the course of a day. That needs some new considerations.

One solution for heating water when you don’t have a traditional hot water tank has been the addition of a 20-gallon water box (reservoir) on the side of a wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen. This is a great multi-purpose solution, as the stove provides heat for the house, heat for cooking and hot water. Unfortunately, it creates a bit of a problem during hot summers.

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But all of the options for alternative water heating tend to produce radiant heat within the living space. And if it’s 90 degrees outside, you probably don’t want to produce a lot of extra heat. Here’s one solution: You could wait for the coolness of night to heat your water, and insulate the tank for the morning shower or shower right away.

To keep the heat out of their homes, many homesteaders a century ago had an out-building known as a summer kitchen. The idea was that any wood-burning appliances for cooking would be located outside in the summer kitchen, at least during the hot months.

wood-stove-endalldiseaseDOTcomThe summer kitchen was a hot place to work, but it kept the main house cool. It also provided a space for heating water. Often, a galvanized bathtub found its place in the summer kitchen due to its proximity to hot water. Dishes, once dirtied during meals in the main home, would be carried back to the summer kitchen to be washed in the sink. Many people also ate on the porch of the summer kitchen rather than ferrying plates and dishes back and forth for meals.

If you decide to use water that has been heated in a wood-burning cook stove or wood-fired stove, keep in mind it will be hot, hot, hot. In fact, the water is usually very close to the boiling point. There’s a few things you can do to temper the temperature, including adding a cold bucket of water to the top of the tank. But be very careful when tapping this hot water.

A thermometer that measures the water temperature is highly recommended. Some wood-fired cook stoves have this feature. If not, buy one. The recommended safe hot water temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re above that (and you probably will be), then add cold water or let it cool down a bit.

In addition to stoves, there are water heaters that do not require gas or electricity to work. These also give off radiant heat so the winter/summer dilemma still stands. Most are wood-fired, although alternative burning fuels from peat moss to lower-grade softwoods can be used.

There also is the option on going solar. The best off-grid solution for solar hot water heating is a close-coupled system. This is a roof-top system where the water tank is on the roof above a set of solar panels. The water moves through tubes in the panel and is heated by the sun’s rays.

The benefit of the closed-loop system is that it requires no electric power for pumps. You can hand pump the water into the tank and as the water is heated, it rises into the tank. Gravity provides the water pressure. This system depends on sunlight to function and in extremely cold temperatures, you may find yourself with lukewarm water rather than hot.

There are many options for heating water off-grid. Do your research and ask other off-gridders what they use.

What advice would you add for heating water off-grid? Share it in the section below:

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4 Off-Grid Ways To Distribute Stove Heat To Your Entire Home

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4 Ways To Distribute Off-Grid Heat To Your Entire Home

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We have a cabin in Michigan that’s entirely heated with a cast-iron, wood-burning stove. It wasn’t long after we installed it that we came face-to-face with the realities of heating a whole house with one, wood-fired heat source. Some rooms were too hot, some were too cold. This motivated us to find a “Goldilocks” solution and see if we could get the heat distribution “just right.”

1. The heat-powered fan

It didn’t take us long to discover a variety of small fans that are powered by heat from the stove. These are made from heavy metal and are designed to rest on the top of the stove. The combination of heat rising from the stove causes the fan blade to rotate and direct a gentle draft of warm air in a specific direction. We actually have three of them pointing toward key points in the first floor of the house, like the bathroom, the kitchen and the front porch, although the front porch is often closed off at the height of winter.

We also bought an electric-powered fan that sits under the stove, but we wanted to make sure we had good off-grid solutions. Unfortunately, while the heat-powered fan made some improvement for air circulation, we still had a problem upstairs.

2. The stovepipe option

4 Ways To Distribute Off-Grid Heat To Your Entire Home

Image source: dunritechimney.com

Our wood-burning stove is vented up a brick chimney before the stovepipe reaches the second floor. We considered re-routing the stovepipe through the ceiling so we could have some of the metal surface exposed upstairs, but it was a big job and it would have meant redesigning the second floor layout. It’s an option, but that’s up to you.

3. Passive vents

A neighbor of ours used something called a “passive vent” system in his cabin, and he said it worked surprisingly well so we decided to give it a try. A passive vent is essentially a hole in the ceiling leading to the second floor. It’s sealed off with a metal grate both on the floor upstairs and in the ceiling below. The inner space between the floor boards and the ceiling is surrounded in duct work, so the heated air rises up through the vent into the room above.

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One word of warning. Make sure you know what’s in your ceiling and below your upstairs floorboards before you make any significant cuts. You could have electric power running through the floor, or you could have plumbing. A stud finder and a metal detector are a good place to start, or you could cut a very small hole and peak inside with a flashlight before you make a larger cut.

We ended up cutting two passive vents to the upstairs rooms and they both worked great. The warm air would rise from the vents, and my brother actually cut a couple of small plywood squares that he laid over the grills to act as a baffle for when it got too hot upstairs. We later installed grates with baffles built in and they still work fine.

4. The chimney insert heat reclaimer

The chimney insert is essentially a square box a little larger than your stovepipe that is inserted into the stovepipe and pointed in the direction you want to direct the heat. It works to not only extract more heat from your stove, but given its directional option you can do a little better directing heat toward a certain area.

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If your stovepipe continues through upper floors, you can install an insert on both the first and second floor to capture and direct heat.

Conclusion

All of these options work best if the wood stove is centrally located in the home. The heat-powered fans work pretty well, but it’s a modest draft of heat. You might also consider keeping all of the doors open upstairs so any hot airflow rising from the stove has a chance to find its way up there. If you have an upstairs room that just doesn’t seem to get the heat and you’re looking for an off-grid solution, the passive vents may be the way to go.

What advice would you add on distributing heat through a home? Share your advice in the section below:

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4 Off-Grid Alternatives To (Traditional) Wood-Burning Stoves

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4 Off-Grid Alternatives To (Traditional) Wood-Burning Stoves

Pellet stove. Image source: hearthstonestoves.com

Traditional heating systems are powered by electricity and often accompanied by heat that is generated by natural gas, oil or propane. All are expensive options and typically require at least an electric-powered fan to force the air through heating ducts throughout the house.

The benefit of any forced-air system is even distribution of heat. Wood-burning stoves lack this feature and depend on “radiant” heat, or heat that is simply radiated from the stove itself. But the downside of forced-air heat is its dependence on the grid.

There are alternatives, though, to not only electric systems but also to the traditional cast-iron stove. Let’s explore them.

1. Masonry stove

These stoves burn wood but are made from materials like fire bricks and concrete, and some even funnel smoke through a chimney system that is embedded through a brick wall. The advantage of a masonry stove is that it holds and exchanges heat better than cast iron and typically can produce significant heat with a slow, burning fire.

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4 Off-Grid Alternatives To (Traditional) Wood-Burning Stoves

Masonry stove. Image source: inspirationgreen.com

One of the significant advantages of a masonry wood-burning stove is in the wall feature. By circulating heat through a brick wall, it can effectively deliver heat to a second story bedroom or bathroom to some degree. The biggest problem with wood-burning stoves is that they depend on radiant heat. The good news is that heat rises, but on particularly cold days it may not rise enough to sufficiently heat rooms upstairs. A masonry stove does both, imparting heat not only through radiance, but also through brickwork upstairs.

2. Pellet stoves

Another alternative is a stove that burns things other than firewood. These stoves can burn dried corn cobs, wood chips and even peanut shells. Pellets are the result of a manufacturing process that also requires a supply-chain distribution system. That can be a problem in an off-the-grid scenario.

Another consideration with alternative burning fuels is their availability in quantity. Burning corn cobs is a good idea assuming you can store and accumulate enough corn cobs to last the winter. But unless you plant a significant amount of corn or have a resource close to home from a local farmer, you might run out of corn cobs pretty quick. The same is true for wood chips and peanut shells. It sounds like a good idea, but do you have a ton or two of wood chips and peanut shells? If so, you may want to consider such a stove.

3. Passive solar

Passive solar involves the collection of heat from the sun in tiles or wallboards designed to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night when it’s colder. It may be inaccurate to call it an “alternative” system, but think of it as a complement to another home heating system. It’s an excellent way to provide heat to parts of a home that are beyond the reach of radiant heat.

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However, there are a few parameters.

  1. It requires a significant southern exposure with large windows that will allow sufficient sunlight to hit the tiles or wallboard so they can absorb the heat.
  2. It is ineffective on cloudy days. Even though solar panels can absorb some radiation from the sun on a cloudy day, passive solar tiles require direct sunlight to capture heat.
  3. The tiles can overheat a room in the summer and even in winter. There’s no thermostat you can dial up or down. Your only solution is drapes or shades to prevent the sun from striking the tiles. It’s a simple solution if you don’t mind covered windows in the summer.

4. An underground home

This is not for everyone, but where and how you live can make a big difference when it comes to maintaining and sustaining heat in winter. One of the best solutions is based on the geo-thermal principle. The ground stays warmer than the air during winter, so build your house underground. This gets to the basic laws of thermodynamics. The average ground temperature is around 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on where you live. Rarely above or below. Do the math. You’re never freezing and never over-heating. Few people consider this option, but it’s a good alternative solution. In an underground home, you won’t have to use heat until it really gets cold outside – and even then, it won’t take long to warm the place.

What alternatives would you add to the list? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

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Anyone living in a forested area with sufficient acreage and access should consider a wood-burning stove as a heating source. The challenge, though, is knowing which wood burns best, hottest and the longest.

Some soft woods like birch and pine burn easily but also burn very fast and very hot. They also produce significant creosote in chimneys and flues. Other woods like oak and maple are hard woods that burn hot and long, but often need a little help getting started from a soft wood like ash or birch.

There are five fundamental factors that determine the quality of any wood for burning in a wood stove.

  1. Moisture content. Some woods are simply “wetter” than others. All fresh woods (trees with leaves of needles still attached) need to be seasoned for at least a year. Deadfalls and standing dead trees can be burned immediately if they are sufficiently dry.
  2. Hardness. Some woods are harder than others. Typically, a hard wood is preferable because it burns slower and longer. However, they are difficult to get going initially and often require a mix of some soft woods to get the fire going.
  3. Resin. Resinous woods include pine, birch, aspen and eucalyptus. They tend to be softer woods and burn hot and fast. They also produce significant creosote and will sometimes impart black smoke. They’re OK for getting a fire started, but less than desirable for long-term heating.
  4. Sparking and spitting. Some woods such as pine and aspen spark and spit coals while burning. Not a problem in an enclosed firebox, but stirring the fire or adding more wood could cause some sparking and spitting.
  5. Split ability. Most wood for a wood-burning stove needs to be split. Some woods like ash split very easily while other woods like Osage orange are almost impossible to split.

In order to help you sort out the various strengths and weaknesses of assorted woods, here’s a cheat sheet to give you some guidance. The wood types are graded from A to D. “A” is the best and “D” is the worst.

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The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

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Alder (Grade D) — A low-quality firewood that burns fast and is highly resinous.

Apple (Grade B) — Requires seasoning but does not spark or spit. A medium hard wood.

Ash (Grade A) — Somewhat soft but a very low water content of 50 percent actually allows it to be burned green. Burns at a fairly steady rate and is easy to split.

Beech  (Grade B) — Burns reasonably well when properly seasoned.

Birch (Grade B) — A great way to start a fire but burns very fast and emits significant creosote.

Cedar (Grade C) — Splits easy and burns hot and somewhat fast. Little sparking or spitting. Also resinous, leading to creosote buildup.

Cherry (Grade B) — Burns well if properly seasoned. Doesn’t spark or spit.

Elm (Grade C) — A curiously low grade for a hardwood but it has one of the highest water contents of any tree (140 percent). Seasoning is critical. Burns long but can be hard to split.

Eucalyptus (Grade C) — Highly resinous and burns fast.  Hard to split.  Does not spark or spit.

Hawthorn (Grade B) — A generally good firewood that burns well.

Hazel (Grade B) — Requires seasoning. Burns fast but does not spark or spit.

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Horse Chestnut (Grade D) — Save it for the fire in the backyard.  Hard to split and nearly impossible to burn even with other soft woods.

The Very Best Woods For Wood-Burning Stoves

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Larch (Grade D) — Hard to split and is highly resinous. Spits and sparks excessively.

Mulberry (Grade B) — A good hardwood but hard to split.  Easier to split when seasoned after a year.

Oak (Grade A) — One of the hero fire woods. Low moisture but does require seasoning. Burns low and slow.

Pine (Grade D) — Good for starting a fire but needs seasoning and burns like paper. Also builds up creosote if not fully seasoned.

Poplar (Grade D) — A very soft wood that’s good for starting a fire but not much else. Burns very hot and fast.

Walnut (Grade C) — You would think this hard wood would do better, but it’s very hard to split and just doesn’t seem to want to burn.

Willow (Grade B) — Another wood with a high water content that needs long seasoning. Burns fairly well but needs other soft woods to get the fire started.

Ultimately, you have to burn what you have on hand. Hopefully you have a variety of tree species and options and the ability to season your wood or find deadfalls. In the end, heat is all that matters, but the wood that provides that heat could make a big differenc

What are your favorite woods for stoves? Share your advice in the section below:

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How To Get The Most Out Of Your Wood-Burning Stove This Winter

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My grandfather heated his home in northern Michigan with wood for most of his life. As he got older, we installed an oil-burning stove as a backup. But for the most part, he did great with just wood heat, and my brother and I would often go up to his place to cut and split timber and stack the cords.

My grandfather usually insisted on three cords of wood stacked on his back porch for a typical Michigan winter, and sometimes liked an extra batch just in case. (A “cord” of wood is a stack that measures four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long.)

He always over-stocked. He felt that wood harvested in summer and fall was much better than panicking in late winter or early spring if the stockpile of wood was low. We all agreed.

His house was modest at about 1,500 square feet, but he had a second story. His wood-burning stove was on the first floor. He also had a wood-burning cookstove in the kitchen, which was next to the stairs leading to the second floor, but he rarely bothered to heat the upstairs.

When the temperatures got below zero, he closed off the stairway to the second floor with a light sheet of plywood and set up a cot on the first floor in the living room. Over time, he actually preferred this bed in the living room and pretty much relegated the second floor to storage.

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I learned a lot by helping him heat his home – lessons that are still applicable for today.

Let’s start with the basics. If you have a two-story home, the good news is that heat rises. If you only have a first floor wood-burning stove, the heat will find its way upstairs, but you may find the first floor a bit chilly if the heat generated isn’t sufficient for your total square footage and it’s all going up.

Many wood-burning stove manufacturers indicate the reasonable amount of space you can heat with a given stove, but this varies depending on the stove quality. Make sure you anticipate your square footage and understand how many square feet any stove you purchase can reasonably heat.

Stove Quality Facts

A standard wood-burning stove is made from cast iron, and the iron acts as a heat exchanger to direct heat into a room or rooms. Some have clear glass doors so you can enjoy the sight of a wood fire and assess when to add more wood.

However, quality matters. A poorly constructed stove will not only vent smoke into your home, but burn and heat inefficiently. If you can’t afford a better quality stove, any wood-burning stove is better than none.

Some stoves are made with stone, brick or soapstone to transfer and hold heat. Another critical consideration is the flue and other valve controls that can control the flow of air to the fire. What you want overnight is a slow, steady burn that continues to radiate heat without burning out in the middle of the night. The key is to do your homework and know that better quality stoves will give you maximum control, effective smoke sealing and overall safety.

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

Wood-burning stoves also require a base underneath that is usually firebrick or fire-proof tiles that protect the floor from any radiant heat from the bottom. Make sure you insulate the floor properly before planting a wood-burning stove on any floor.

Humidity and Stoves

An unfortunate side-effect of heat generated by any wood-burning stove is that it creates a very dry environment. This can cause problems for some people related to their sinuses, chest congestion, dry skin and dry eyes. You need to find a humidifying solution. The simplest is a towel in a five-gallon bucket that is filled with water and draped over a T-shape made with dowels of two slats of wood.

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Any water exposed to dry air will evaporate into the surrounding air, but the towel acts as a wick to speed the transpiration. You could also hang your wet laundry on clotheslines in your home; you’ll be surprised at how fast it dries.

Wood Types and Seasoning

Only wood that has been dried or aged for a least a year should be used in a wood-burning stove. In an emergency, you do what you have to do, but green wood not only burns inefficiently but produces creosote that will eventually clog your stove pipes and chimney – creating a fire hazard.

The type of wood is also critical. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are best. Fruit woods are also good if they have been sufficiently aged. Aged ash is good for starting a fire but as a soft wood it burns very quickly. The worst is pine. Dried pine branches can help start a fire, but even when aged pine produces creosote and simply burns too quickly. Here again, if it’s all you have then you need to do what’s necessary, but if you can avoid pine, do so.

Strive for hardwoods for 90 percent of your stockpile, with well-aged softwoods to start a fire.  Three cords is a good general stockpile, but like grandpa said, “More is better.” Besides, you can always carry over the excess to the next winter.

Insulation as a Factor

Insulation applies to the retention of heat regardless of the heat source, but you can reduce your wood stockpile needs if you manage insulation properly. The key is to understand not only key insulation points, but temperature management.

wood burning stove 4 -- publicDOTdomainDOTimageDOTcomTemperature management is as simple as telling a teenager to not leave the front door or the garage door open. This was my grandfather’s pet-peeve. He knew how much he worked to maintain heat and humidity in an environment — and complacency from anyone was not tolerated.

Temperature management also involves stopping leaks in the integrity of a structure. This is largely defined by doors and windows. What most people don’t know is that doors are the biggest heat leakers. Make sure your doors are sealed with a rubber or plasticized gasket and that the door seals tight.

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Windows are another matter. If you have storm windows, make sure you use them. You can also apply a sheet of plastic internally and stretch it tight with a blow-dryer to create an additional seal. It may be unsightly for a while, but hey — it’s winter.

Gaps in insulation between the foundation and the frame can also be heat sinks. If you can afford it, find ways to insulate and seal areas where cold air can invade.

By the way, electrical outlets on walls facing the exterior can also cause drafts. There are simple insulating templates that you can use to insulate any electrical outlet. Hold your hand close to the outlet on a cold day and if you feel a draft, you know what to do.

Hire an Expert?

As a self-sufficient person who values and appreciates homesteading, I’m always reluctant to hire experts. But you may want to think about this a bit if you’re not willing to pursue some due diligence on the subject of heating your home with a wood-burning stove.

Heating your whole home with wood heat is a serious and potentially dangerous proposition.  The risk of fire, oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide poisoning from escaping or leaking smoke, or a failure of the stove on a night when the temperatures are -30 Fahrenheit contradict our attempts to survive in the face of adversity. You want to get this done right the first time.

Wood-burning stoves require annual maintenance:

  • The seals need to be evaluated and potentially replaced.
  • The chimney should be swept and cleaned by a chimney sweep regardless of the quality of wood you are burning. If you want to do this yourself, then buy the equipment and make it a late spring chore.
  • Clean out and dump the ashes on a regular basis. You’ll need an ash bucket and a place to dump the ashes in the cold and snow of winter. Think ahead about how and where you’ll do this. Remember: The ash will most likely have hot coals that are a fire hazard.

Heating with a wood-burning stove makes sense for many people and may be your only off-the-grid option. Take the time to learn the basics and have the tools and hopefully the resources to stockpile enough wood to stay warm and comfortable all winter long.

What are your wood-burning stove tips? How much wood do you stockpile? Share your advice in the section below:

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Stockpiling 101: Which Foods REALLY Have The Longest Shelf Life?

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How Long Will Your Food Stockpile REALLY Last?

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Any thoughts about stockpiling foods in the event of a catastrophic emergency are dominated by two simple words: Shelf life. Some foods lose their nutritional value over time; others can become rancid or even dangerous if microbial or fungal growth invades the food. Curiously, there also are foods that have a shelf life measured in decades, if not centuries

We’re going to explore three general categories of foods that can be stored for various periods of time:

  1. Foods with an extremely long shelf life, even up to centuries.
  2. Foods with a very long shelf life (decades) due to their processing and packaging.
  3. Grocery store foods with a fairly long shelf life, six months to a year, or longer.

Foods With an Extremely Long Shelf Life

Some foods by their nature have surprisingly long shelf life if packaged and stored properly. Many are available at your local grocery store for a relatively low cost but you may want to consider repackaging or further sealing them if you plan to store them for any significant length of time. Here’s the top 10 long-term food storage champs:

1. Honey

A story about honey that’s often touted was the discovery by archaeologists of honey jars in an ancient Egyptian tomb.  The honey was carbon dated as 3,000 years old and was still food-safe and tasted just like honey.

2. Salt

If you can keep the moisture out of stored salt it will last indefinitely. Salt is a standard staple in any long-term food storage plan and is used in food preservation methods such as curing and pickling.

3. Sugar

Sugar possesses many of the characteristics of salt but here again, moisture is the enemy. If you can keep it hermetically sealed and perhaps add a moisture absorber, sugar also can keep indefinitely.

4. White rice

Stockpiling 101: Which Foods REALLY Have The Longest Shelf Life?

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White rice can last up to 20 years if properly stored. As a staple of most diets around the world, it’s a must in any long-term storage plan. Just don’t assume you can buy a large bag at the grocery store keep it in the pantry. It needs to be carefully sealed and stored.

5. Whole wheat grains

Whole wheat grains are usually purchased through a supplier that specializes in long-term food storage. They are often sealed in large, foil packages and sometimes repackaged inside large plastic buckets.

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The foil package is hermetically sealed to remove oxygen and prevent the permeation of moisture. If processed, packaged and stored properly it can last for decades. Remember that you’ll need a flour mill to further process any stored whole wheat grains.

6. Dried corn

Corn when properly dried and protected from moisture will last for decades. It’s another staple that provides significant nutritional value.

7. Baking soda

While it’s not a food source, its uses from baking to cleaning are many and varied. If kept dry it also will last indefinitely.

8. Instant coffee, cocoa powders and tea

If you succeed in keeping these ingredients dry they will survive for decades without losing potency or flavor.

9. Powdered milk

This staple will survive for up to 20 years. Moisture absorber packets are highly recommended when storing powdered milk for the long-term although some packaging solutions – such as in #10 cans – might not require them.

10. Bouillon products

This may seem a bit redundant with salt, but bouillon products have the added value of flavor. Most are chicken or beef flavored and the granular type tends to store better that bouillon cubes in the long run. With proper processing, packaging and storage they can last for decades as well.

Foods With a Very Long Shelf Life

Some companies today are in the business of specifically selecting, processing and packaging foods that will typically have a stable shelf life of 20 to 30 years if stored properly.

These are the some of the common foods packaged to have a very long shelf life:

  • Dried beans, 30 years
  • Rolled oats, 30 years
  • Pasta products, 30 years
  • Potato flakes, 30 years
  • Dehydrated fruit slices, 30 years
  • Dehydrated carrots, 20 years

These are great items to stockpile because you can be reasonably assured they will retain their integrity and nutritional value for years to come.

Foods With a Fairly Long Shelf Life

Some foods can last a relatively long time but it’s measured in months or a couple of years as opposed to decades. As a general rule, you should pay attention to the expiration dates on bottles, cans and boxes purchased at a grocery store. You can still eat the food after the expiration date, but there may be a loss of nutritional value. Also packages – such as boxes or bags – are more likely to allow compromise due to moisture or rodent invasion.

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Stockpiling 101: Which Foods REALLY Have The Longest Shelf Life?

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If you are thinking about storing any oils for the long-term, regular olive oil is a hero with a shelf life of two years. Canned goods range from one to two years, and for some foods like tomatoes that are highly acidic, glass jars are the ideal package given the tendency of acidic tomatoes to compromise both metal and plastic packaging over a period of time.

If you want to adapt grocery store foods for long-term food storage you should seriously consider some packaging solutions that can allow you to protect and preserve these items. This includes using sealed cans, and both oxygen and moisture absorbers. Keep in mind you also can order from a reliable purveyor of long-term foods and buy in bulk.

An important consideration for the shelf life of any food is how it is processed, packaged, stored and rotated.

Processing

The way that any food is processed has a lot to do with shelf life. Typical processing approaches include dehydrating, freeze-drying, pasteurization, heat processing, curing and pickling. While all of these processes extend the shelf life of many foods, the nature of the food itself determines how long it will remain edible.

Packaging

The integrity of packaging is as important as the processing. Typical long-term food storage strategies involve packaging dried or dehydrated foods in metal, #10 cans that are hermetically sealed and often have oxygen and moisture absorbers enclosed.

Another long-term packaging solution involves the use of large, 5-gallon plastic buckets. This is usually used for bulk items such as white rice, flour, sugar, salt and other staples that someone wants to store in a large quantity. Make sure you inquire about the integrity of the seal on the lid. I had five gallons of sugar in storage for five years and when I open the lid, mildew had permeated the bucket. Not a single teaspoon was edible.

Storage

Storage has a direct effect on the duration of shelf life. The cooler the temperatures the longer the shelf life, but be careful to avoid freezing temperatures.

A dry environment is also important. Mildew can permeate the seal on some food containers, moisture can cause oxidation of metallic cans, and certain foods like grains can actually sprout if exposed to moisture over a period of time.

Darkness is important for any foods stored in glass jars, and in general advised because direct sunlight will raise temperatures.

Rotation

As I’ve noted, some foods have a shelf life measured in months. That really doesn’t qualify as long-term in the classical sense so you should practice “Eat what you store, store what you eat.” This means you should eat from your food stash and keep it organized so that you are always using the food that has been in storage the longest, first.

The Bottom Line

Do your homework. Long-term food storage requires a plan that not only assesses the foods you should store, but the number of people you plan to feed and for how long. It’s the duration that makes shelf life such a critical consideration.  As much as possible, rotate your stock of foods by eating what you store. If you simply want to store food and forget about it unless it’s needed in an emergency, make sure it’s packaged and stored properly and that you know its expiration date.

From your experience, which foods last the longest? Share your tips in the section below: 

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Stockpiling For Winter: How To Survive If The Electricity Goes Out

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Stockpiling For Winter: How To Survive If The Electricity Goes Out

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Winter months present a unique challenge in many parts of North America due to freezing temperatures. In fact, no other season is as deadly if the electricity goes out. So how do you prepare to survive the cold season? What should you stockpile? And if you’re tied to the electric grid, what do you do if the power goes out?

Heat is the Key

If there is no electric power you can always assume you’ll have gas. But many gas appliances from furnaces and water heaters to gas ranges have electric components. They also have compressors that are electric powered to force the air through your home. You could always light a gas range cook top with a match or flame, but don’t assume for a minute it can serve as a heat source unless you’re absolutely desperate. You can put some cast iron over the gas range cook top to act as a heat conductor after you have switched off the gas, but it’s not going to add much heat to you home.

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If you have a fireplace, it can certainly help you stay warm. But be forewarned. Ninety percent of your heat is going up the chimney with the smoke. A fireplace will heat a room, maybe two. It will not heat a whole house. You can close-off sections of your house, but you’ll discover very quickly that a fireplace is a highly localized and inefficient heat source.

Heating Solutions

Buy a small cast-iron stove that you can quickly install into your fireplace. You’ll have to attach a stove pipe that exhausts up the flue, and some heavy duty aluminum foil affixed with foil tape to seal off the flue. Once you’ve done that, your cast iron stove will be a heat exchanger that will add significantly more heat than a traditional fire in a fireplace.

You could also have a wood-burning stove installed in your home to not only supplement your heating while on-the-grid, but to serve in an emergency off-the-grid.

Keep in mind that just because you have an efficient word-burning stove it doesn’t mean it will heat your entire home. It’s all a question of square footage and the design of your home, as well as the size and number of wood-burning stoves inside. While some people have installed “whole-house” wood-burning solutions, most people have just one wood-burning alternative.

Keeping a two-story home warm is the most challenging. Heat rises and cold descends. If the temperature outside is zero degrees, your house will quickly equalize to that temperature. A single, wood burning stove in the fireplace will not efficiently heat a two-story home. The temperature will rise, but you’ll be lucky to have an average temperature above freezing across your home.

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As a result, you may have to rethink your living and sleeping arrangements during a particularly cold weather. Your first step is to abandon the second story.  Close all of the doors upstairs and try to block off any hallways with a sheet that is tightly suspended or tacked around the wood framing to the hallway. You also might want to consider closing off rooms that are not critical, like a formal dining room.

A Special Note About Kerosene Heaters

Kerosene heaters give off significant amounts of carbon monoxide. You could always place one in the fireplace in place of a wood-burning fire, but unless you close off the flue to some degree and carefully vent the kerosene heater you’ll lose more heat up the flue than you generate.

Stockpiling For Winter: How To Survive If The Electricity Goes Out

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Putting a kerosene heater in proximity to a fireplace could also encourage venting of the carbon monoxide. But manage it carefully and if you feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, know that you may be succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning. If you have children, they will be affected more quickly due to being smaller.

Avoiding Frozen Pipes

If you cut off heat to the second floor of your home for any length of time, you’ll want to drain the water from sinks, toilets, showers and bath tubs throughout the house. Without electricity you probably won’t have running water and will be depending on local water supplies, your stockpile of water, or melted snow and ice.

You can still flush a toilet without running water. You just have to fill the toilet tank with sufficient water to effectively flush.  This is a good argument for keeping a constant supply of melted snow or ice on hand in a large 5-gallon bucket or two.

Cooking Off-The-Grid

Without electricity you’ll find cooking to be a continuing challenge especially in winter. There’s a remote possibility that a gas range may function, but you’ll need to light the flame manually.

You also can cook in your fireplace or on the surface of a wood burning stove.  Make sure you have an ample supply of cast-iron cookware on hand including covered pots like a Dutch-Oven. Some people use a corner of the fireplace for cooking with a metal grate to support a pot or pan.

You also have the option of cooking over an open fire in the backyard or a kettle grill stocked with wood that has burned down to coals that are manageable for cooking. This is a cold proposition depending on outside temps, but if you have a covered grill you can hurry inside while the food is cooking outside. Here again, consider the cooking equipment you might need to cook a variety of dishes and meal types outside.

Bedding and Clothing

It’s obvious that winter clothing makes sense in winter but there are some items you want to make sure you consider. One is sometimes referred to as a “night-cap” and no, it’s not an evening cocktail. If you’ve ever slept in a tent in the winter you know how cold your head can become. In fact, we lose 40 percent of our body heat through our heads. You might want to consider sleeping with hat on.

Bedding should be ample with extra blankets, quilts or sleeping bags. If you’re sleeping on the floor in a family room or on a couch, having extra blankets on hand can not only keep you warm, but accommodate friends and family that may have joined you because they don’t have a fireplace or wood-burning stove.

Lighting

In addition to the cold, it’s also darker in many parts of the world during winter. Candles are a primary consideration along with a few lanterns that burn a clean oil.

There are also flashlights that are cranked by hand to provide a light source without batteries. If you are going to depend on battery-powered flashlights to any degree, consider a solar recharger. Remember, however, sunny days in the winter are short and might be few and far between.

Laundry as a Humidifier

Stockpiling For Winter: How To Survive If The Electricity Goes Out

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Laundry is a tough one in winter without electricity and ample supplies of water.  Your primary focus should be on laundering socks and underwear and any other clothing that is obviously soiled.

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A benefit of doing laundry in the house and hanging it to dry is the humidity that it creates. Just like on a hot summer day, the humidity will make you feel warmer. And if you are heating with wood you may find the laundry drying surprisingly fast due to the dryness of the air.

If you need humidity and the laundry is done, you can always use some dowels to support a towel in a 5-gallon plastic bucket filled with water. The towel should emerge above the water level to some degree and will act as a wick to add humidity to the air.

Creating a Winter Stockpile

If you want to prepare for a winter off-the-grid, you need to figure out some basics. One is the number of people you think you will be housing. This could go beyond your immediate family as extended family members seek shelter in a location with basic resources they may be lacking.

Here’s a checklist to serve as a reminder. It may vary depending on your circumstances and already assumes you have ample supplies of food and drinking water:

  • A wood-burning stove with the necessary equipment to install it in a fireplace, including stove pipes, foil and foil tape, along with an ash bucket and ash shovel.
  • Sufficient firewood to heat throughout the winter
  • A kerosene heater if you can properly vent it. Make sure to have enough fuel, replacement wicks and filters to keep it operating.
  • Lumbering tools for harvesting and stocking additional firewood.
  • Cooking equipment and utensils for cooking on a wood stove, open fire or kettle grill.
  • Sufficient candles, lanterns, lantern oil and flashlight options that are hand-powered or solar-powered, along with sufficient fire-starting materials like matches and lighters.
  • Up to a dozen, 5-gallon plastic buckets for water collection of snow and ice and other needs.
  • Sufficient winter clothing for you, your family and others who may join you.
  • Sufficient bedding in the form of blankets, pillows, quilts and sleeping bags, plus sheets that also can be used to temporarily seal off hallways and stairways.
  • Soap for washing and laundry.
  • Rope to hang laundry to dry and act as a humidifying agent.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start. The key is to stop and anticipate your needs and do some estimates so you have enough on hand to get through winter and early spring.

What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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5 Edible, Wild Mushrooms Anyone Can Find (With A Little Help)

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5 Edible, Wild Mushrooms Anyone Can Find (With A Little Help)

Porcini mushroom. Image source: Pixabay.com

I have been gathering wild fruits, vegetables and other wild, edible plants for more than 40 years. Every walk I take into a field or forest presents me with new combinations and possibilities for something that can be consumed as a survival food or as part of great meal. However, I also find myself looking with alarm at many wild plants that I know to be toxic, if not deadly. This is especially true for mushrooms.

For a number of years when my sons were younger I was involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. One of the things I would do at troop campouts and jamborees is conduct field classes on foraging edible, wild plants.

This always concerned me because many young boys would quickly get the idea in their head that they could eat anything out there. As a result, I would always spend the first half of our hike identifying poisonous wild plants. I wanted to send the message that a lot of what grows in the wild knows how to defend itself, and poison is the first line of defense that many plants present.

Wild Plants Can be Poisonous

In that regard, some mushrooms top the list. So we’re going to begin with a review of the bad guys. Here’s a link to photos of the most common poisonous mushrooms. They tend to grow in the ground and often have unique characteristics in terms of coloration and shape. Unfortunately, some look common and similar to popular edible mushrooms, such as the “false-morel.”

“When it Doubt, Throw it Out”

That’s the mantra for mushroom foragers. Even experienced mushroom hunters will take a pass on a questionable mushroom. If you’re in doubt don’t even harvest it. Check it with your field guide and if you’re not sure, don’t even put it in the bucket.

This may discourage you from mushroom foraging, but don’t let it. Some edible varieties are distinctive, easy to spot and have characteristics you can easily identify. It also helps if you take your first few forays into mushroom land with a mushroom expert, but if you don’t know anyone with that experience we’ll hopefully give you some preliminary advice.

Where to Find Wild, Edible Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a fungus and as a result are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere from our backyards to fields and forests. Many grow from rotting tree stumps or composting plant concentrations. They emerge quickly, usually in the night. And they deteriorate just as quickly.

Image source: Mary Smiley/Wikipedia

Morel. Image source: Mary Smiley/Wikipedia

Typically if they emerge from the ground there is a composting source beneath the soil such as a rotting tree branch or a layer of compacted leaves and grasses. It’s sometimes hard to find ground mushrooms unless the ground is relatively clear of brush, grass and scrub. I’ve had great luck walking through stands of pine because the needles act as a natural mulch and the mushrooms will easily poke through the carpet of needles. I gathered close to 100 morels in a small stand of pines this way a couple of years ago. In the fall, many mushrooms emerge from the knots of tree branches that have died and are in some state of decay. That’s why you have to always remember to look up.

One thing you’ll learn quickly is that mushroom foraging is going to leave you turning your head and neck like a jet pilot. They grow on the ground, on trees and stumps at eye-level, and high in the dead branches of trees above you.  Just take your time and enjoy the casual pace of your hike.

The following are five mushrooms commonly found:

1. Morel

These appear in early to mid-spring after the first wildflowers begin to emerge. They are considered an absolute delicacy in many parts of North America. They tend to grow in groups and can be dried for later use, or used within a few days to a week after harvest. Pay close attention to the photos in the link and take note of the photo of the false morel.

2. Golden chanterelles

Golden Chanterelles. Image source: wikipedia

Golden Chanterelles. Image source: Wikipedia

Another very popular mushroom that grows across North America and appears from June to September is the chanterelle. They’re usually found in the woods, often in pine stands or under stands of oaks and maples.

There are two similar mushroom varieties that are not poisonous but toxic to some degree, so do your homework.

3. Black trumpets

Black trumpets are related to chanterelles but have a distinctive, trumpet shape. It’s the kind of mushroom you would typically avoid, but if you’ve found a true black trumpet they are very good to eat. They tend to grow out of rotting stumps

Black trumpets. Image source: Wikipedia

Black trumpets. Image source: Wikipedia

and deadfalls in deciduous forests.

4. Porcini mushrooms

Porcini tend to emerge from compost in the ground and can be found in fields and forests. Their color varies from a light red to shades of brown.  Make sure you use your mushroom guide or follow the link above to correctly identify them.

5. Hen of the woods

This is considered the bonanza for any mushroom forager. They have a wonderful flavor, keep well, and grow in bunches up to 50 pounds. They appear in the fall and grow on the trunks of deadfall trees and the base of stumps. The largest bunch I ever harvested was about 20 pounds and I

Hen of the woods. Image source: Wikipedia

Hen of the woods. Image source: Wikipedia

quickly called it a day after that find.

When Are Mushrooms at Their Best?

The day after first emergence is the prime time to harvest mushrooms. It may be hard to know this has occurred if you’re exploring an area that’s new to you, but their color, texture and overall appearance should look fresh, yield when squeezed and have no powdery spores present. Spores are essentially mushroom seeds and if you’ve ever kicked a mushroom in a field to reveal a puff of what looks like smoke, you know what the spores look like.

Mushroom Harvesting Tools

The tools you use to harvest mushrooms can vary from gloves and a bucket to long poles made from electric conduit with a flat blade at one end to cut the stems of tree mushrooms. Here’s a checklist if you’re going out to do some serious mushroom hunting:

  • Gloves
  • 1 to 5 gallon plastic bucket
  • Knife for slicing stems from the ground or deadfall trees
  • 1 gallon plastic bags if you want to separate species of mushrooms
  • A tree pole usually in sections and often made from thin tubes of electric conduit.
  • A Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms

If you are planning to do some serious tree mushroom hunting you might consider a net as well. This can be a fishing net or butterfly net. The reason is that mushroom are delicate and if they fall onto hard ground, branches or even your hand, they can break into numerous pieces. A net gives you a fighting chance to catch it in one piece.

Cleaning and Keeping Your Wild Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms should be refrigerated in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Do not wash them before packaging them in their plastic bags. Try to use them within a few days of harvest. Before use, wash them under cold, running water. Many disagree with this washing step, but as a former chef I know it has no adverse effect. Let them drain on paper towels a bit before slicing or dicing and adding to a salad or sauté pan.

You also can dehydrate wild mushrooms and reconstitute them later. Use a standard food dehydrator and if the mushrooms are large you will want to slice them before dehydrating them. If properly dehydrated, mushrooms can be refrigerated, frozen or stored in the pantry.

What mushrooms would you add to the list? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: 

 

6 Food-Storage Mistakes That Even The Experts Make

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6 Food-Storage Mistakes That Even The Experts Make

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Long-term food storage is a common-sense approach to ensuring that you and your family can survive a catastrophic event that significantly affects our food supply. But there’s more to it than just stacking cans in the attic. In fact, that may be the worst place to store any kind of food.

A lot can go wrong if you have food in storage for years and simply assume that everything will be okay when the day comes that you need to open those cans.

There are fundamentally six things you should consider with regards to any long-term food storage plan:

1. Consider nutrition.

There are some fundamental considerations you have to think about with regards to long-term food storage. The first is diversity. Storing 200 #10 cans of macaroni and 50 #10 cans of dry milk is not a nutritious solution. You have to think in terms of nutritional diversity. Many companies offer pre-packaged solutions for three months’ to one year’s worth of food. If you can’t afford a large package offering, look carefully at what they include so you can purchase a diversified collection of foods over a period of time.

The World’s Healthiest Survival Food — And It Stores For YEARS and YEARS!

You should also keep a running tally on what you have stored.  You may think you have it all figured out, but you don’t want to find out the hard way that you have too much of one item and barely enough of something that may be more essential. A good way to make this assessment gets to the next point.

2. Eat what you store and store what you eat.

Failure to follow this simple suggestion may be the biggest fail for anyone stockpiling food supplies. While many products in hermetically sealed, #10 cans will survive for years and years, some in 5-gallon buckets aren’t as dependable. I opened a five-gallon bucket of sugar after six years and it was permeated with mildew.

You’ll also find great value in this practice of eating what you store. We’ve never bought a box of macaroni and cheese in the last 10 years when we figured out that a can of macaroni and a can of cheese powder was essentially the same ingredients.

Eating what you store also gives you experience with how to prepare these foods and combine them with available fresh ingredients to create a pattern of recipes you and your family will enjoy.

3. Watch out for heat.

6 Food-Storage Mistakes That Even The Experts Make

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The standard recommendation is to store your foods in a cool, dark place. That’s why an attic is a bad idea. Not only is it sometimes inaccessible on a regular basis, but the heat that can develop in an attic space will quickly compromise the shelf life of any stored food. A dedicated pantry is ideal and a basement is also an option. Darkness is not as critical as ambient temperature, because most long-term foods are hermetically sealed in cans, but direct sunlight at any time can raise temperatures.

4. Watch out for moisture, too.

If your basement is damp, that’s a problem. Even though cans are sealed to prevent moisture from affecting the contents, oxidation or rust from moisture can affect the integrity of any metallic item over time. Moisture can also permeate food even if it’s sealed. This was my experience with the five-gallon bucket of sugar. A bit of dampness in my basement was all it took to compromise the entire bucket.

Just 30 Grams Of This Survival Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

You should also take your cans out of the cardboard boxes if you have purchased foods in bulk. The standard package is six #10 cans in a box. That’s great for shipping, but cardboard absorbs moisture and can continually compromise the cans inside. Get the cans out and do whatever you can to keep them free of moisture.

5. Use common sense when opening food.

When we eat what we store we have to remember that the minute a can is opened, it is subject to the standard shelf-life of any consumer packaged goods. Most #10 cans come with a plastic lid and you can even buy additional lids if you lose one, but resealing a can with a plastic lid doesn’t mean you can return it to the storage area for another five years. Once it’s opened, you need to consume it on a regular basis.

6. Rehydrate your food properly.

What allows most foods to have a long-term shelf life is dehydration. In order to prepare most of these foods, the addition of water or some form of liquid is required to rehydrate the foods. Failure to rehydrate properly is perhaps the greatest fail when it comes to the enjoyable consumption of long-term foods stores. We’ve prepared an article on this subject that gives you guideline for various rehydration methods and food types. (Recommended: The Right Way To Rehydrate Long-Term Storage Food.)

This gets back to the fundamental concept of eating what you store and storing what you eat. You’ll gain valuable experience with various types of stored foods that will ensure that you can prepare meals that not only sustain you nutritionally, but that you’ll actually enjoy.

What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

Discover The Secret To Saving Thousands At The Grocery Store. Read More Here.