Cooking with Heat

We’re back to the Family Survival Planning guide; this time around, we’re talking cooking, fuel sources, and supplies. This is a fun one, because there are few “right answers,” and lots of ways to do things–we humans have been cooking our food for a bit north of ten thousand years, and we’ve come up with lots of different ways to do it.

They start with listing various types of stoves and ovens. The first is the “apple box oven”, made of the cardboard box you might find apples in in the grocery store, wrapped in aluminum foil.  Add some holes in the bottom, rig something to raise it off the ground, then put some charcoal briquettes on the ground below it.  Voila!  I imagine they intend for you to invert the box, thus holding the heat inside it; the suggestion is to use it for baking cookies and the like.  While I can see how it would work, I’m not really comfortable with cooking in cardboard–it seems to me it would be far too easy to let things go a bit out-of-control, and burn your oven down (not to mention your food, and whatever else might be nearby)…

Next, they suggest a “paper box oven;” similar to the “apple box oven,” but with a more common (and lighter-weight) box. I assume, from the name, they mean something like, well, the box that you buy bulk paper reams in, similar to a cardboard banker’s box.  “Smaller, so it requires fewer coals. A blanket cover will hold in heat.”  While they’re not wrong, my fear of flammable cookware remains.

Dutch ovens come next, and I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, cast-iron cookware is, in my opinion, one of the best things ever invented. Given the right piece of cast iron, and “proper” heat, you can do absolutely amazing things.  They’re basically indestructible, easy to clean, almost non-stick when properly seasoned…  I can’t say enough about them.

Sun Ovens are a “fuel-less” option (linked here, or here, or here, for various types).  They tend to be expensive, but they’re dead simple to use; the only drawback is that they require the sun. You can still cook if it’s partly cloudy, but it’ll take longer. Cooking at night is a no-go.  And it somewhat limits the type of cooking you can do–no deep-frying, obviously; sauteeing might be difficult.  But soups, stews, and most (small-ish) baking is good, easy, noiseless, and doesn’t require going out to track down a fuel source.  The FSP folks list “Solar Parabolic Ovens” separately, but I’d lump them in; they’re typically more expensive than the “standard” sun ovens, but many of them track the sun, making them more efficient.

Butane stoves, Liquid Fuel Camp Stoves, Sterno and Backpacking stoves: I lump these together for similarity, and think of them collectively as “camping stoves.”  With much care, they can (except for the liquid fuel stoves) be used indoors, which is a plus. But you’ve got to have the right fuels, and those can start getting costly–to say nothing of storage issues. (Can you say, “large, bulky supply of extremely flammable materials?”  I knew you could…)

The Volcano 3 Collapsible Stove looks fascinating, but I haven’t played with one myself. I’m also fond of the standard barbecue–they list the propane variety, but I’m partial to the charcoal type.  Again, not for indoor use, but these are ubiquitous, and the fuel tends to be readily available (you can use wood, in a pinch).

They also list the Wonderbag Non-Electric Portable Slow Cooker.  This looks like a new take on an old tried-and-true technique of using a hot-box, or straw-box: you line a large box with straw or other (non-meltable) insulating material, enough for a couple of inches of insulation at the very least.  Put some stew ingredients in a large pot, heat it just to a boil, then (with the lid on) put it in the box, and cover it with more insulating material.  Four to six hours later, it will have cooked fully, in all the heat that couldn’t radiate away.

For fuel sources, they list the standards: clean, dry wood; portable generators (and associated fuel–usually gasoline, propane, or diesel); fuel gel, cubes, MRE heaters, battery packs; charcoal briquettes (or lump hardwood charcoal); propane and butane.  Think about how long you’ll want to be prepped for, and think about how/where to store enough of your particular fuel…

Cooking supplies begins with more fuel: “40 pounds of charcoal, two cans of starter fluid. Or a propane unit with two 20-pound containers of propane.”  If you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t need the starter fluid, just some matches and maybe a bit of paper. As to the propane, if you’ve got a propane camp-stove, look into an adapter to go from a “big” 20# propane tank (the “standard” propane grill tank) to your stove, which is probably fitted out for the small 1- to 5-pound camping containers. (My household stove and oven are propane; we take three to four months to go through a 40# propane canister, and we like to bake…)

And finally, things to store, for use with all of the above:

  • “Pot and pan” for cooking.  (I’m a big fan of redundancy, here, thus the scare quotes around the singular. Also, think about cast iron here, folks…)
  • Kitchen knife.  (Again, more than one is a good idea; your “EDC” knife can assist.)
  • Silverware: spoons, forks.
  • Styrofoam cups. (I’d go for something more like a plastic cup–smaller, just as lightweight, a bit more durable…)
  • Waterproof matches or lighter. (Or several of all of these. And other fire-starting devices as desired.)
  • Zip-lock bags. (Thousands of uses.)
  • Aluminum foil. (Multi-tasker! You can even make temporary cookware from foil.)
  • Thermos, for storing excess, or hydrating dried food.

Next time around:  More of the “things you forgot to store when prepping.”  I hope you’ll stick around!

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Don’t Forget

So, I’ve got my popcorn popped for former FBI Director Comey’s Congressional testimony–tomorrow, as I write this (‘later today’ when it gets posted).  It should be exciting–he’s being very careful not to say “obstruction,” but he’s implying it really hard. I doubt it’ll be enough to move the Republicans in Congress to do anything just yet, but one can always hope.  (Although I have very mixed sentiments towards Pence–on the one hand, he’s not Trump…  But on the other hand, he’s Pence.)

And did you catch what Trump’s son Eric said about Democrats?  On national TV, no less.  “Not human”? Wow, that’s like… Something straight out of 1939 Germany.  (Wasn’t that one of the rationales for the Holocaust?  “Well, it’s not like they’re people or anything…”) It was despicable then, and it’s despicable now. There’s demonizing your opponent, but “not human” is taking it to a much lower level.

In the meantime, while I was going to talk about cooking gear, I’ve decided to change things up a bit and go quickly over another list that I came across: “50 Survival Items You Forgot to Buy”, from urbansurvivalsite.com.  There are lists out there in abundance–but this one lists the “secondary items,” so to speak, that we tend not to think about until well after the fact.  It’s a bit geared for a full-on end-of-the-world “fast crash,” but it’s just outside the box enough that it might spur some creative juices for your preps.  I’ll probably break this up into two or three posts–50 things is a rather long list–but again, it’s the busy time of year on a homestead.  That’s my excuse, yeah…

Here we go, the first tranche of things, with my paraphrasing of their reasoning, followed by my commentary in parenthesis:

  1. Acoustic instruments, for entertainment and morale.  (No complaint from me… although if you’re the “we have to hide from marauding bands” type, you may want to think twice about this one.)
  2. Aluminum foil, for all sorts of things.  (Again, I like where they’re going.  In a pinch, foil can be used to “build” cookware; it wraps food nicely for cooking; it’s a light block… Tons of uses. I won’t get into its usefulness for hats… that would be too cliche.)
  3. Axes, for chopping firewood.  (I’m still with it.  Also good for a number of other minor chores; I’ve even seen people do fine detail-carving with axes. If they were good enough for the Vikings, they’re good enough for me.)
  4. Baby wipes, for keeping clean. (Since we’re talking emergencies, then yes. With the right containers, things like this can be made… but I prefer to use cloth wipes, since they have lots of other potential uses–and they can be washed, if you have the water available.)
  5. Baseballs, basketballs, footballs, etc., for morale.  (Good idea–but I’d be hesitant to suggest a game of pick-up football in a full-on emergency.)
  6. Bicycle Gear, for repairing or fixing up a bike. (This one I like–bikes are the most efficient mode of human-powered transport out there, and they’re nice and quiet, and the bikes can be rigged to supply power or do other work, if you’re creative.)
  7. Book lights, to not use up flashlight batteries or candles. (I can’t really argue with this, although if you’re “Mad Max-ing” it, the light at night might attract unwanted attention.)
  8. Books, for your down time. (Zero argument here, at all; but then, being a bookworm, I’m wondering how you could possibly forget to have books…)
  9. Bug spray, for mosquitoes, roaches, and other critters. (Reasonable, I suppose; I’d worry about expiration dates/viability of the various chemicals–but that’s reason to use them, and rotate your stock, right?)
  10. Bouillon cubes, for adding flavor to food. (Should probably be a regular part of your food stores; kept dry and reasonably cool, these things will last near forever.)
  11. Calendars, for keeping track of the date. (I keep a journal, and include month-by-month calendars in that. Not saying it’s better, but it’s another option.)
  12. Candy, for morale. (Again, it’s a part of my normal food stores; the trouble is keeping it rationed!)
  13. Cast iron cookware, for use over cookfires. (Many household pots and pans just can’t handle that kind of heat–or, at the least, not often or for long. I’m fond of cast iron for cooking in any case.)
  14. Cloth diapers, for cleanup because they’re absorbent. (See my comment above about washcloths.  These would work, though.)
  15. Clotheslines and clothespins, for laundry.  (No electricity, no dryer; I much prefer line-dried clothing, anyway.)

That’ll do it for this installment–there’s still quite a bit to go.  Next time around, I’ll try to hit the cooking portion of the “Big List” we’ve been doing the last few months, then I’ll get back to this list.  Stick around!

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Dining, and…

This week I’m going to keep things brief.  The topic is food–which I’ve spoken about many times before: here, and here, and here, and a dozen or so other posts.  You know my basic opinions:  Figure out what you eat, how much of it, and store more of that.  If you go “outside your comfort zone,” and get things you don’t normally eat, learn how to cook them, and learn to like them.  Use up the older items in the pantry first, and rotate through your stock.

I won’t go into a list–the Family Survival Planning guide has about seventeen pages worth of list, and there are a myriad of others online–but I will go into a couple of “extra” bits that they go into.

First, the shopping list.  A fairly standard pantry storage recommendation is for three months of food; this is quite a large stash, and can be difficult to keep track of.  A list is really the only way to manage it–and “playing” various sales and coupons and the like will help keep costs down.  Make your list–or print one from somewhere–and keep it with you.  Note how much you need or plan to (eventually) have on-hand of each item.  When you see the things on sale, jot down the prices–for comparison, later.  If you purchase something from the list, make a note as to how much you got, for reference.  (If you’re feeling really organized, set up an inventory binder at home, and transfer all of that information when you get back.)  Keep the shopping list with you any time you’re out and about, because you never know when you’ll be somewhere you can pick a few things up.  (Also, when doing your “normal” shopping, buy extras of some items, and add them to your storage; if you do this over time, you’ll amass a decent backup surprisingly quickly.)

Second, expiration dates. Another good use for the inventory binder is to keep track of the expiration dates of things.  If you’re careful with it, you can stay on top of your inventory, and not have to throw things out, saving money in the long run.

The next thing in the guide book is cooking and fuels–but I think that’s really worth a post all its own.  And so, in the interest of getting things done around the homestead (hey, it’s springtime–there’s always something that needs doing), I’ll end here, and save that for next time.

In the meanwhile, how is everyone’s garden doing?  Here in the mid-Atlantic states, we’ve had an extremely unusual spring so far, with things seeming to go “backwards” from warm weather to cooler; I anticipate summer will begin to rear its ugly head in the near future, though.  Most of our plants are in the garden, with the direct-seed varieties (summer squash and the like) sprouting nicely.  Let us know what’s going on in the comments!

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Water Purification, not Politics

Yes, I had intended to talk politics a bit in this post, but after Trump fired the FBI Director yesterday, in an incredibly ugly fashion, to say nothing of the bad timing and horrible optics–well, that’s really only the latest in the over three-month-long shitshow since the inauguration.  I’m not certain it’s the worst so far, but it’s certainly not a good thing (and it’s absolutely one more step down that slippery slope towards any of the negative -isms you’d care to name: Totalitarianism, Fascism, what-have-you).  Overall, yeah… I’ve got nothing.  My bar was set low to begin with–I applauded his congratulatory tweet to Macron–but somehow, with each passing day, he digs his hole a little deeper.  I worry that when Trump’s karma catches up to him, we’ll all be caught in the blast…

So, instead, I’ll focus on something else:  Water.  Specifically, how to purify it.

I’ll admit that this is an area my own preps are weak in.  I’ve mentioned that we’re on a well, and it’s clean and pure, and quite securely located.  My main concern is power to the pump–but we have backup means of retrieving the water.  And, should worse come to worst, we’re a few scant miles from a river.  The problem with river water is that it flows through farmland, and there is abundant wildlife–that water’s nowhere near as clean as my well.

So, how to clean it?  Well, to make the water potable, there are (ultimately) two procedures: clarifying, and sterilizing.  Clarifying is removing particulate matter–in the vernacular, “getting out the chunky bits.”  Sterilizing is killing off and/or removing any microbial growths, bacterial, viral, or amebic.  Can crystal clear water be dangerous?  Well, yes–even the most sparkling-looking clear water can house teeming pathogens…

Clarifying can be as simple as a very basic mechanical filtration.  Pouring the water through several layers of (clean!) cloth is a pretty good coarse filtration.  There are any number of filtering devices out there for finer filtration–some of them fine enough to act as sanitizers!  I don’t have a personal preference as to the filter manufacturers; the biggest names include Berkey, AquaRain, Katadyn, Sawyer, and MSR.  The thing to look at is the micron rating of the filter; a 1-micron “absolute” will filter out 99.9% of bacteria; going down to .5-micron or smaller will catch even more.  For more portable systems, I’m still a big fan of the LifeStraw, which has individual and family sized versions.

Even if you lack any of the above, letting the water stand for a while, so any sediment can settle, will certainly help.  (If your sediment isn’t settling–well, you’ll need to figure out some sort of a mechanical filter, or find some new water…)

Once your water is clear, you need to sterilize it.  Here again, there are lots of options.  Pasteurization is one of the simplest–heat the water to 160 degrees F for 30 minutes, or 185 degrees F for 3 minutes, or (at sea level) a full 212-degree boil for just a short while.  A solar oven for this is handy, as it will save on your fuel usage.  Alternately, you can go the UV route: put the water in clear PET or clear glass bottles, and put them in bright sunlight for 6 hours, or longer if you’ve got clouds (2 days, if you’ve got 50% sun).  A mechanical version of the same basic concept is the Steripen.  Bear in mind with the Steripen, though, it won’t work on murky water–thus the need to clarify first.

Then there’s the chemical sterilization option.  Plain, unscented bleach is a good, inexpensive, simple start.  Two drops per quart is plenty–and let the water stand for a half hour before drinking, if possible.  Other options include chlorine dioxide tablets (follow the instructions), any of a number of liquid treatments (Aquamira, Katadyn, Portable Aqua), or even iodine tablets (again, follow the directions and warnings!).

Again, this is just a quick overview, and hardly in-depth at all; a search on “water purification” will turn up reading material to last you for ages…  (And a quick shout-out to the Family Survival Planning folks for their handbook, which I used as a template, is in order…)

Next time, one of my favorite topics:  Food!

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Wonderful Water

After promising last time to talk about water this time, our part of the world was blessed with almost a week of rain.  While there’s such a thing as too much, we’re pretty far from that point.  Still, it makes outdoor chores ‘interesting.’

But while I’ll be talking about water this week, it’s not (directly) rainfall that I’ll be focusing on.  It’s back to the Family Survival Planning guide, and their section on water storage and purification.

They start with some obvious questions:  How do you purify water?  Where do you store it?  How much do you need?  Then they start to address the questions in reverse order.

The so-called “Rule of Threes” is indirectly mentioned: You can survive about three minutes without air, about three hours in poor conditions without shelter, and about three weeks without food–but lacking water will take you down in about three days.  (Obviously, the stuff is important–am I preaching to the choir, yet?)

So, how much?  FEMA and others (myself included) recommend two weeks per person; an absolute down-to-the-wire minimum would be a gallon per day per person, with about half that going towards drinking.  But, as the FSP folks point out, there are other things to consider:

  • Baby in the house?  Plan on more, for food/formula, clean-up, etc.
  • Teens in the house?  They drink more.
  • Chronically ill?  They may need more for their medicine, or for clean-up.
  • Pets need their allotment.
  • Do you have dehydrated, dried, or freeze-dried foods?  You’re going to need water to prep them, over and above your daily ration.
  • Do you live in a particularly arid and/or hot climate?  You’ll possibly need more water…

Then you need to think about where to get your water.  If you live in the city on a municipal supply, your tap water may not be available in an emergency–or it may not be potable, even if it still runs.  (Depending on the type of emergency, the water itself may be the emergency–disaster planning folks have nightmares about someone poisoning the water supply…)  If you’re on a well, you’re probably okay, as long as you have power; you’ll want to think about some other way to get the water out of the well.  (Generator for the pump?  Manual pump?  Bucket?)

Inside the house, there’s a striking amount of water just sort of “laying around,” in various states of accessibility.  Your water heater has probably at least twenty gallons or so of potable water.  The plumbing system in the house is likewise full.  The tanks of your toilets are usable, if needs be.  Do you have a water bed?  That’s plenty of greywater.  Swimming pool?  Hot tub?  Greywater.  And they point out that most canned goods have quite a bit of water in them.

Outside, you’ve got streams, lakes, reservoirs; the above-mentioned pools and hot tubs.  And my favorite:  rainwater, assuming you have a way of capturing it.

Speaking of capturing the water, you’ve got to have something to keep it in.  These containers can be just about anything–buckets, barrels, cans, bottles, or jars; commercially, there are “WaterBricks,” which I find to be nifty.  Water BOBs are cool, too, if you can get to the tub before your water supply is cut off.  (They have the disadvantage of being single-use, which I don’t care for; still, in an emergency, you can’t really be picky.)  Just don’t use milk jugs.  They smell, no matter how much you clean them out.  And they deteriorate over time, which could end up being a problem.

For a start, we even went down to the local big-box hardware store, and picked up a bunch of 5-gallon jugs of water.  They’re (relatively) inexpensive, “pre-loaded,” and handy.  The jugs are even re-usable, out to a point.  It’s certainly an option to consider, even if only as a “first step.”

Next time, we’ll talk water disinfection and purification, and get into food and some other storage.  I may even break down and do some commentary on the first hundred days of the new administration.  (That would really be preaching to the choir, wouldn’t it?)  In the meantime, please comment about what you’re doing for water.

Posted in Food, homestead, Lists, Planning, Water | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Game Plan

I had planned on going back to the Family Survival Planning guide this week, but I’m being overcome by events–springtime is like that, on a homestead.  So that will have to wait until the next post.  (For those reading ahead, it’s all about water, and its storage and purification.)

This week, I’ll take a quick look at something a commenter (and preparedness supplies business) sent to me: a Preparedness Test, from Game Plan Experts.  The bottom line up front:  Overall, I like it, with a couple of caveats.

First caveat:  The quiz.  It’s of the multiple-choice, “check-the-appropriate-box” sort.  As such, it’s quick, easy, and painless; I’m not sure it necessarily covers the full range of things it could.  Now, don’t get me wrong–there were a couple of questions that I stopped and thought, “Hm… I could certainly be doing better here,” or “That’s a good idea.”  But the available choices on some of the questions didn’t exactly have a “right answer.”

Second caveat:  The score.  I did well–out of a possible 30 points, I scored 22, for a pretty solid “B+”.  I’m pleased to have done as “well” as I did. On the flip side, I can point to exactly why it was as low as it was…  But my concern with the score is that somebody might score fairly high–say, a B+ or higher–and think, “well, I’m good” and stop.  Preparedness is, or at least, should be, a process, and we can all improve somewhere.

What area pulled my score down?  Well, for me personally, it was not having a neighborhood watch, and not knowing the “community emergency plan.”  And the reason I’m not completely satisfied with these has to do with my location: I’m rural enough that all of my neighbors, thus far, are also farms; the “neighborhood watch” doesn’t work quite as well here as it might.  (We try to keep an eye out for each other, as best we can, but that’s about as far as it goes.)  Likewise, being a good distance outside the city limits, we don’t have a community emergency plan, as such.

All that being said, I very much appreciated the Action Items Checklist that accompanied the score; many of the points on the list are ones I regularly preach here (develop a plan to address common local hazards; keep emergency kits; etc.), in addition to a number of them that I’ll likely be adding to my “regularly addressed points” here.  (Little things, like checking your smoke detectors, having/checking CO detectors, actually writing down your emergency plans…)

Again, overall, I very much liked the feedback.  I like the Game Plan Experts site, and have some serious “tech-want” for some of the “toys” on their site.  They’re friendly folks, and they seem to be genuinely interested in helping people get better prepared.  They’ve got a good list of free downloads, and a nice “resources” page, as well.  I’ll give them a nice, solid, B+. (Because some of their “for-sale” items are, well, a little over-the-top, in my opinion.  Body armor?  Really?  But then, my opinion of ‘Mad Max’ scenarios should be well-known, by now…)

Okay, that’s it for this time.  Next time around, all things being equal, we’ll be talking about water collection, storage and purification.  I hope you’ll join me!

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Homestead Status Update, Spring 2017

This time around, I’m taking a break from the Family Survival Planning list, and taking a look around at the Status Quo around the homestead.  It’s springtime, after all, which means things are about to get busy.

The weather has mostly broken.  (Ha!  Oh, it’s broken, all right…)  Which is to say, things are more consistently warmer than they might otherwise be.  We’ve had our last snowfall of the season, unless things go so horribly strangely that no amount of planning can compensate.  It’s about time to uncover the garden beds and work on cleaning them up.  We’ll be raising several more of them by about six inches, and adding dirt and compost to fill.  The chickens have had access to several of the others, and we’ll spend some time to till in their leavings.  All of which leads to–

Seeds have been started.  We’ve got the usual suspects going–tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, and a couple of other things. My wife has it all planned out; she likes to use the free online planner at zukeeni.com, which allows you to “draw” your garden and select what you’ll be planting, then sends weekly reminders to nag you into doing whatever your region is (typically) ready for.  (I’m not affiliated with them; personally, I prefer to take a more naturalistic approach, with my memory and a notebook; I suppose the online version is good for helping maintain rotations, though.)

Other areas of the garden, and other growing spaces, are in desperate need of an early-season weeding, to get rid of grass that somehow infiltrated the flower beds and the like.  My grains all appear to be doing pretty well, in their second year on that plot.  I’ll sow some clover into that area well before harvest-time, and probably re-sow more clover after harvesting.  This will help put some nitrogen back in the soil, it will feed my bees, and it will help suppress the weeds that have managed to make it through two seasons.  Then more winter grains, and wait for next year.

Speaking of the bees, my two hives last year both absconded; I’ll be getting two more in a few weeks’ time, and can hopefully convince them to stick around, this time.  The chicken flock has fluctuated quite a bit; we’re currently at 21 laying hens and a rooster, and have six more pullets in a “safe place” in the house.  (We use an infrared heater, not a heat lamp, to reduce the fire hazard. Typical feeder and waterer, but the overall container has to be dog- and cat-proof; we use a dog crate to which we’ve zip-tied 1/2″ wire mesh.  So far, so good.)  The hens are giving us between thirteen and eighteen eggs on an average day–so we’re selling the eggs to help pay for feed.  Seems to be a break-even process, so far.

We’ve got most of the interior of the barn cleared out, except for the “fun stuff”–the (badly) poured concrete base.  Then there’s a little additional clean-up of the walls and doors, to say nothing of the loft space.  We probably won’t be ready for goats this year, I think, but next year is looking promising.

I won’t get much into the equipment maintenance that needs to be done–adjusting the deck of the mower, making sure that both the “riding” and “push” mowers are in working order, checking weed-whackers, etc.  Suffice to say that there’s plenty of it.  We’ve got a few dead trees that need to come down, which means chainsaw-wrestling.  And there’s fencing to be put up–we’ll be borrowing a friend’s tractor and auger for most of that, though.

Well, that’s a pretty good start–and I haven’t even touched on repairs and goings-on inside the house…

How about you folks?  How are things shaping up at your places?  Got your gardens in?  Let me know in the comments!

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