The Season of Cider

So, this weekend we had a number of folks over for a “cider-pressing” party.  It was a lot of fun–(nearly) everybody brought a bunch of apples.  We used my refurbished cider press, got the apples (quite the mix–mostly Cortland, with some Jonathan, Mutsu, and a handful of other types) ground up, and pressed them.  It takes quite a few apples to get a decent amount–I believe we went through about 120 pounds, overall, and got something approaching eight gallons of juice.

Most of my cider references claim that there are three important points for maximizing yield.  First, you must “sweat” the apples, letting them sit somewhere cool for a few days to a week beforehand.  This, we did not do, although most of the apples were from local farm stands–hardly “picked the day before” fresh.  Second, you have to grind them relatively finely.  Here again, we didn’t quite hit the mark, I believe; my “grinder” really does a rather coarse job.  I’ve got plans to improve it for next year…

Lastly, you have to apply sufficient pressure.  This part I believe we did, and well.  (We may have taken more time when pressing–I think if we “rest” between cranks of the screw-press, we might get more juice out.)  Still, the addition of a little brewing yeast, and it’s bubbling away happily in the living room, on its way to becoming hard cider, to drink next fall, when we (hopefully) get a lot more people, and a lot more apples…

In other news, an interesting place to look for prepping stuff would seem to be Pinterest.  My wife describes it as a “visual library”–all photos, which link back to other things.  There are quite a few explicitly “prepper” things on there, and more than a couple that could certainly be tied in without much difficulty.

One bit I found was a newspaper clipping, probably from back in the 60’s or 70’s, describing the recommendations from the Detroit Office of Civil Defense for what comprises “two weeks of food for the whole family.”  Everything was canned, which makes sense–it keeps well, and it’s easy to tell if things have gone “off” (can is bulging? toss it…).

Here’s the recommended list for a family of four (two week supply):

  • 4 lbs powdered milk
  • 8 cans evaporated milk
  • 4 cans tomato juice
  • 6 cans grapefruit juice
  • 6 cans orange juice
  • 24 cans cream soup
  • 24 cans vegetable soup
  • 16 cans consomme
  • 2 pkgs bouillon cubes
  • 2 cans salmon
  • 4 cans tuna
  • 2 pkgs instant oatmeal
  • 2 pkgs dry cereal
  • 4 cans pears
  • 4 cans peaches
  • 6 cans beef stew
  • 6 cans beef hash
  • 12 canned meats
  • 6 cans tomatoes
  • 6 cans peas
  • 6 cans corn
  • 4 cans green beans
  • 4 cans spaghetti
  • 4 cans baked beans
  • 3 lbs peanut butter
  • 12 cans bread
  • 4 cans cookies
  • 4 lbs crackers (tins)
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • 8 oz salt
  • dried prunes, apricots
  • 2 lbs cheese
  • 2 jars instant coffee
  • 2 pkgs instant cocoa
  • 2 lbs hard candy
  • 24 pkgs gum
  • 2 cartons cigarettes.

“Plenty of water” is also called for–they say 7 gallons per person.  Now, I could go lots of different ways with this list…  Personally, I’d say if you’re a smoker, you probably shouldn’t be prepping (or, at the very least, I know the first thing I’d be working on!).  So the smokes can come off the list–save the money (which, granted, is a much greater amount now) for more of something else on the list.  I’d probably swap the numbers of cans around–6 cans of green beans, 4 cans of corn–but that largely comes down to personal preference.

Then there’s things like the 12 cans of bread… I’m not sure you can get bread in “cans” anymore.  (“Instant” biscuits don’t count…)  There’s an awful lot of condensed milk there.  More than a little sugar.  Half a pound of salt!  If they were baking, they’d be set…  Except they don’t list any flour, or yeast.  How many people these days really know how to use bouillon cubes?  (I do; my wife does; I’d bet a quick survey at work would show maybe two or three people–out of over sixty–most of whom are probably “of a certain age.”)

Then there’s the surrounding commentary–definitely a sign of the times.  They’re quite worried about radioactive fallout–even to the extent of advising “wiping down the cans before you open them.”  Broadly speaking, good advice–but if your stored food is getting dusted with fallout, you’ve got other issues…

I’ll dig around, see what else there is to see, and (as always) report back next week.  Be safe out there!

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Ready for Winter

So, it’s late October.  I don’t know about where you live, but around me, the weather has turned cold, and the winds are blowing.  It probably won’t be too long before we see our first snow of the season. Are you prepared for it?

I’m pulling this particular list from the Food Storage Made Easy blog‘s newsletter from a few days ago.  Frankly, I couldn’t have come up with a better list, so I won’t–I’ll just give you their list, worded my way, in slightly different order (made more sense to me), and with my typical added commentary.

First, finish up your garden.  Harvest the last veggies, pull all the plants.  Prune the trees and shrubs. Add mulch and/or compost.  This is also a great time for planting, if you’re planting the right things–garlic, for instance.  Most of the brassicas will do pretty well, as will some lettuces, particularly if you can give them a light cover from the worst of the weather.

Second, it’s time to take a serious look at your 72-hour kit(s). Are they good for winter? Rotate the clothes out to your cold-weather ones, if you haven’t already.  It might be a good idea to rotate through the food you have there, just to make sure what you’ve got is “fresh”. (If you use MRE’s, you’re probably okay for a year or two… If you put together your own, as we do, probably best to rotate.)  Think about whether any kids have outgrown things. Replace batteries in things that need them. Check the expiration dates on any medicine that you might have stashed. Do you have a USB stick with scans of important documents? Have any of them changed? How about pictures of the family?

Third, while we’re thinking about our kits, double-check your car kit/Get-Home Bag. All the same stuff applies from your 72-hour kit. Make sure you’re set for if you break down or get stuck in the snow and/or ice… Tire chains. Blankets. An extra coat or sweater. Gloves.

Fourth, think about your water supply. If you’re storing it, you could do worse than rotating it–the stuff will go stagnant, after all. (If you just can’t bear to “waste” it down the drain, use it to flush your toilets. Or use it to water indoor plants–it’s a slow way to go, but at least it’s still being put to use…)

Fifth, go through your food storage. I’m certain you’ve got stuff stowed in your pantry that you meant to use, but never quite got around to it… Make note of it, adjust your storage plan for next year, and go ahead and use it now.

Sixth, double-check your home heating situation. (The original list suggests giving the furnace a tune-up; my furnace is the stack of wood I’ve got outside, and the two woodstove inserts inside…) How is your house doing for drafts? Now is a good time to get them sealed up.

Seventh, make sure your “outside” water systems (hoses, sprinklers, animal water, etc.) are secure for the winter, particularly if you live where you get hard freezes. We’ve got heaters for the chicken waterer that I need to get set up in the not-too-distant future…

Lastly, go over your clothes inside. Bring out the winter stuff, put away the summer stuff. Have you worn anything out? Have you or your kids outgrown anything? Think about replacements. (If the old stuff is still serviceable, I recommend donating it–there are donation boxes all over my area for clothing and shoes; there’s no reason the clothes can’t go to help someone else, when you’re done with them.)

There; that was easy. I’m certain there are millions of things I’ve missed…  What do you suggest?

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For the last time…

Okay, the paranoia I predicted last week?  Yup…

Here’s the deal: To catch Ebola, you’ve got to come in contact with the bodily fluids of somebody who’s actively showing symptoms of the infection.  Fever, shakes, sweating, vomiting, and the like.  It doesn’t have an airborne transmission vector; you can’t catch it from somebody’s coughing or sneezing–unless they’re coughing or sneezing directly onto you, but then, you’re contacting bodily fluids…

From initial indications, the two Dallas nurses who caught an infection from the guy who died in the hospital there did so because of an over-abundance of caution.  I’ve often pointed out that just because one aspirin helps your headache, that doesn’t mean that taking dozens of aspirin would help more (at least, not for very long).  They were apparently tripling or quadrupling up on the protective gear–gloves, booties, etc.  Great theory, but in practice, it’s actually easier to screw something up trying to take off that many multiple layers…

Should the one nurse have gotten on the plane?  No.  Were it up to me, everybody who treats a confirmed Ebola patient should undergo a quarantine, to include a no-travel period.  (Historical tidbit: “quarantine” is from the Italian for “forty,” which was the number of days incoming ships had to wait off-shore, in “quarantine,” to show they didn’t have the plague, before offloading their goods in Venice…)  Still, strictly according to the rules as they were at the time, she was fine.  (I’m not really happy with the strict adherence to any sort of low-end cutoff for temperature; hers was 99.5F, and the “low-end” by regulation for Ebola was 100.4; I’d advocate for the “abundance of caution” approach, but that’s just me.)

Now, do I still think it’s not going to be a problem, here in the US?  Yep.  We’ve got folks self-referring, and after the few missteps we’ve had, I think the bar for “isolate & test” has come down to where it “should” be. What should we be doing to protect ourselves?  Wash your hands frequently.  Eat right, exercise.  Stop messing around with the bodies of those who have recently died of Ebola.  (Humor…)  Seriously consider your travel plans, if they involve West Africa.  Apply common sense in all things, and don’t get taken by the panic.

Next week, I’d like to get back to actual prepping.  How are you all doing getting ready for the winter? What else would you like to see here?  This always seems to work best with lots of feedback!

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Now They’ve Done It

Well, the world keeps flirting with total chaos… Closest to home, our ‘domestic’ Ebola patient died. I’m not surprised–this is, after all, an illness with no medical cure, and a strain that’s running over a 50% mortality. In fact, so far we’re beating the odds (2 of 3 have survived). I still don’t think it’ll ever grow to epidemic proportions here in the Empire; our health-care system (such as it is) is actually pretty well geared to handle such a thing, and we aren’t in the habit of handling the recently deceased…

On a similar note, but further abroad, I don’t believe they had to put down the dog of that nurse in Spain. While it’s theoretically possible that it could carry the virus, after a few days (at worst) the animal was most likely safe. What I don’t get is why they’re worried about how she (the nurse) became infected–after a careful review, they’ll decide that she broke protocol somehow, and exposed herself by being careless.

Then there’s the mess in the Middle East. ISIL is still advancing, and we’re apparently having a tough time bombing them into submission. Add in that we’ve got an extremely strange set of allies (Iran? Syria? The Syrian opposition?), some of whom we’d probably like to bomb as well (and many of whom would like to be bombing each other), and it’s a bit surreal. I don’t see how it can end well, either–not collapse, not WW3, but certainly destabilizing, no matter the outcome.

On a similar note, Pakistan and India are at it again. Russia and Ukraine never really stopped. North Korea is acting strange–maybe, and lots there depend on your definitions. It’s enough to make one throw up one’s hands in disgust…

More mundanely and peacefully (again, depending on your definitions), I’ve been playing with power tools, and working with downed trees to make things. I’m about at the point where I’d like to be–I got the tools to make *more* tools, in order to make the things I need to make things, if that makes any sense at all. Thus far, I’ve got quite a few bits to indulge my string habits, and I’ve put together some boxes and the like to store things. It’s been enjoyable re-acquainting myself with wood, and learning to study the ‘green’ material, to figure out what it’s going to do as it dries and cures. All the parts of which, should the lights go out tomorrow, I can turn into “paying skills”–a useful thing for a hobby to do.

But the “they” and the “it” I referenced in the title of the post would be the chickens, and eggs. They found a cozy “hidey-spot” in the garden, and sometime recently (Tuesday or Wednesday) laid a clutch of eggs. This is earlier than my wife expected, but I’ve been saying we should see eggs “any day now” for almost two weeks. They were small, and several were cracked, but for a “first batch” from some young hens, I’d say we’re doing okay. I picked up some “layer” feed this afternoon, so we can switch them off of the “grower” feed and keep their calcium levels up… Some folks do this with eggshells, but you’ve got to be careful to grind them down pretty fine, or else they’ll decide that they can “replenish” from the eggs that they just laid, which is counter-productive. Oyster shells work, too, if you’ve got access to them–we’re a bit further from the ocean that is convenient for that, although we could probably salvage a year’s supply or so from where the original owners had their chicken run…

At any rate, I expect to have had my fill of eggs by the end of the winter, and I’m sure I’ll be sharing recipes as the weeks go on–and if you’ve got anything really tasty, please share, as well!

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Mindless fun

Nothing really substantive as such, this week–work’s been hell, and we’ve been helping a friend get a wedding together…  Which is not to say that nothing’s going on in the world.  The US has its first case of Ebola–so, if you haven’t seen it already, stand by for some paranoid flailing by, well, the usual suspects.  (My take–wash your hands.  Don’t mess with the bodily fluids of people who might be sick.  And don’t worry about it, yet…)

No, this week I came across a nice list of some of the main EOTW movies from the last sixty or so years.  It’s not a definitive list, by any stretch.  Some of them aren’t “apocalypse/collapse” movies as such, but certainly touch on the themes (Night of the Living Dead, for instance).  And I certainly haven’t seen all of them (although a few have gone onto my running list of “things I’d like to see”).  Still, it’s worth a look–it’s mindless entertainment, which I’ve always felt was good (now and again) for spurring creativity; and who knows, maybe you’ll find a good idea or two, buried amongst the Hollywood dreck?

Here’s the list:

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
  • The Day of the Triffids (1962)
  • Doctor Strangelove (1964)
  • Fail-Safe (1964)
  • Crack in the World (1966)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968) (and the sequels, of course)
  • Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • A Boy And His Dog (1975)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978) (and sequels)
  • Mad Max (1979)
  • The Road Warrior (1981)
  • Terminator (1984)
  • Miracle Mile (1988)
  • The Postman (1997)
  • The Matrix (1999) (and sequels)
  • 28 Days Later (2002)
  • Children of Men (2006)
  • Wall-E (2008)
  • The Road (2009)
  • Zombieland (2009)
  • The Book of Eli (2010)
  • Contagion (2011)
  • Dredd (2012)
  • The Hunger Games (2012)
  • Pacific Rim (2013)
  • This is the End (2013)
  • World War Z (2013)
  • Snowpiercer (2014)

There you go.  They’re certainly not all good movies–some of them are, frankly, awful.  But they’re movies.  What should we add? (Pre-1950 movies, obviously: War of the Worlds. When Worlds Collide. The Time Machine…) What commentary do you have on them?

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To bed

Well, with the first licks of autumn touching us this week, it’s definitely time to put the garden to bed.  We’ve pulled the carrots, and dug up the potatoes–they were small, this year, but we weren’t really paying much attention to them.  Our tomatoes never really did much, but we’ve got jars and jars of beans canned up.  Not the best year, but far from the worst.

Most years, we’d go through and pull up the remaining plants, leaving a few tomatoes for some end-of-year tart green treats.  A quick run-through, weeding the late straggler dandelions and pulling out a few crabgrass runners.  (Is there really any way to rid the garden of those, short of nuking from orbit?)  Then a nice layer of mulch, perhaps following some compost and/or manure, if we’ve thought that far ahead.

This year, though, we’ve got a new weapon in our arsenal: we’re letting the chickens roam.  We’ve pulled the electric fencing down (four wires, which did more to keep the dogs out of the garden than anything else), and replaced them with honest-to-goodness chicken wire.  Then, after we’d gotten the last of what we wanted, we opened the door to the chicken run. (It’s always opened through the garden; the electric wire was one more bit of protection for the birds.)  Now, they get the better part of the day to roam the beds and walkways, pecking, scratching, and nibbling to their hearts’ delight.

So far, they’ve trimmed back most of the greenery that we hadn’t gotten to; most of the raised beds look pretty well tilled.  I imagine that they’re nicely fertilized, too–and letting them “rest” over the winter will mellow the nice, “hot” chicken droppings quite well.  There are fewer bugs than I recall from last year, but that may be a function of the weather.  All the same, it’s something of a win-win-win: the chickens get a greater variety of food and some entertainment; the garden gets helped along to where we want it to go, with less work from us; and we get our own entertainment this year, and potentially a better garden next year.

The other part of “closing down” the garden for the year is thinking forward to next year.  There are seeds to get stored, and discussions to be had about what worked well and what didn’t.  Decisions to be made about where to move things around, both for “crop-rotation” purposes and for ease-of-access.  How to deal with the cantaloups, which want to climb, but whose fruit isn’t exactly designed to “dangle”.  Whether to put the pole beans in one of the “deep” (side-to-side) beds, or a shallower one, the better to pick beans from outside their trellis.  Exactly how many tomato plants do we want to try, this time around…

And all the while, feeling the nip in the air, and anticipating the next round of work to be done: stacking the woodpile, and lighting the first fire of the season to warm the house.  I can’t say it’s my favorite time of year, but it’s certainly far from the worst.

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I’m out…

No post this week, folks.  The kids have been back in school a bit over two weeks, which is almost exactly the incubation time for whatever bugs they’ve brought back from the petri dish…  Between being sick, and probably overdoing it a little getting “one more thing” done in the garden, I’m beat.

Next week, we’ll be looking at exactly what we’re doing with the gardens–as they say in a certain book series and TV show, “Winter is Coming.”  I’m anticipating a bad one, and doing what I can to get things ready for it…

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