Wednesday, April 16, 2014

So What is a Walapini?

If someone threatens to kick you in your Walapini or afraid, ....but it is otherwise a very interesting thing to explore. 
Basically this is an underground, or rather a below ground level greenhouse. 
Just a general description here, then you should search either the regular Internet or You Tube for more info.

The basic idea is that you dig a generally east west aligned trench in the ground, about 8 feet wide by whatever you have room for or need of.
You remove the topsoil and hold it aside.  Then continue your dig, piling the subsoil on the north side of the trench.  (This will not work in a low lying area or in an area with a high water table.)
It may be wise to plan on some sort of stone, pressure treated or other lining for the walls.  This might also be a good time to line the north wall with black painted barrels of water as heat storage.
Then you return the top soil to the bottom of the trench, augmented as necessary with fertilizers, manure, peat, etc..
You must make the north side of the trench(In the Northern Hemisphere) at an angle above the southern side of the trench, so as to allow the sun to hit the roof at 90 degrees during the winter Solstice.  The angle of the wall to the level of the roof should be the latitude you are at, I think.  As an example, the north side of Eastport, Maine is approximately half way from the equator to the north pole, so that is 45 degrees.
You lay beams or rafters from the high side to the low side of the bank, and cover the roof with a double layer of plastic, corrugated plastic panels etc..  You must allow for drainage away from the greenhouse on the south side, around the greenhouse on the north side, and for easy snow removal.  Laying sod or planting cover crops on the berms will help with erosion from water hitting the bare earth.   This may be a good place to plant Mint, poor soil loving herbs, day lilies or plants that you might hesitate to grow elsewhere because of their spreading tendencies.  Strangely snow removal would be easier as you go farther north, as the angle of the roof must get higher.
Then you build a bulkhead or trench entrance with a door.  You can keep livestock inside...Chickens, goats etc., and get extra crops of flowers and vegetables from this, and cold weather crops could be year round, like peas, cabbages, some root veggies and lettuces.(Note that some of these will grow well in the cold, but need warmth to germinate{peas for one} your research!)(Note also, that horses require much more height, possibly 10 feet or more to the bottom of the rafters.)
This could be heated, but quite economically, as the solar gain and the ambient warmth from the earth will be a great help.
Look it up and buy a great book on the subject as there will be issues, best addressed by an expert on the subject.
This is not, unfortunately, a low visibility project, but siting the greenhouse and entrance door on the south side of your property from your house and drive, and planting heavy cover crops on the berm facing the house, might hide it from intruders in an area where hillocks are common in the landscape.  Any outbuilding with a path leading to it will be noticed, however.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What to Drink

Anything like beer or wine is safe to drink.  These have their side effects of course.  Not just drunkenness...but a fat ass over time.  Beer and wine are food as are juices...they have calories...if  your calorie intake is low, they can help. 
Water is the best for you.  There is a tiny problem though.  If you do not have a chlorinated water supply, you are taking your life and health in your hands by drinking it.
When I was a child, you could drink carefully from natural sources.  Now, there are fertilizers, feces, bacteria and parasites in most water.  Deep drilled and artesian wells are usually safe.
Do not drink out of dug wells, springs and streams without testing it.  Chlorinate the water if you can.  You could also boil it before drinking or cooking in it. 
Boiled and some naturally occurring water can taste very flat.  Try a pinch of salt to help it out.  Also, aerate  your drinking water.  Put one large pitcher on the floor next to a chair.  Stand on the chair.  Pour a thin stream of water from as high as you can reach, into the pitcher( a couple of times is better.).  This will allow the water to absorb a bit of oxygen.  It will taste better.

If you are like me, you hate water.  I is not rational...but there you are.
Try herb teas...make them from any safe herb.
Try making apple tea, like in the mid east.   Grate or chop an apple up and bring to a boil in a couple of cups of water.  Cool and strain(Coffee filters work, but a cheese cloth will be just fine.).  Serve over ice or hot.  Store for a few days at most.
Don't make huge batches of anything.  Some herbs and fruits have astonishingly potent laxative powers!!!!!  Try a few cups over a couple of days and then decide if you can make a habit of that choice.  Know your herbs before you use them in any quantity.
Mints, Bee Balm, Basil, Lemon Balm, Chervil, Lavender, Roses(including the hips), Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary and a number of anise flavored herbs make great teas, and can flavor alcohol like lemon rind does in Limoncello.

Fruit juices are a good source of drinking liquids.  They also carry a little problem or two with them.
First, juices are very acidic.. This would be most obvious with citrus, but also Pineapple, cranberry and a number of others.  On the surface this seems benign, but  they will tear your teeth apart, as will milk in large quantities.  Perhaps one would be doing well to chew a tums after the juice, and spitting it out.  (Not too many tums either!)  This will neutralize the acid in your mouth.  You could also just brush your teeth.  If you do major damage to your teeth...just where are you going to find a convenient dentist in the woods?
There are tons of calories in fruit juices as well.  This is an non-issue if you are struggling to get enough calories to live, but if you are heading into obesity, this might tip you over the edge.
The last big issue I have with fruit juices is that you are getting the juice, but none of the other benefits of the whole fruit.  Also, you are dumping a ton of fruit in the trash.  You are getting only a fraction of the fiber, losing vitamins etc..  Some people even eat the peels of fruit that we traditionally throw away, not to mention the fact that you can candy and pickle some of them.  (Of course you can do that with fruit that you have juiced already.)
If you have a juice extractor or endless time and energy, you can juice vegetables.   There are plenty of refreshing and healthy liquids in many vegetables, including the perennial vegetables mentioned elsewhere.  V-8 is a prime example.  I do not know if this would be a liquid that I would think of right off to quench thirst, but the liquids are there and the nutrition is stellar. 
If you are having a water shortage, do not forget that cooking liquids, at least those that are not heavily laden with salt, are perfectly healthy drinks. 
Also, save the liquids in canned vegetables to drink.  Beware of salt and other additives in them though.  Lessen your salt intake and do not make these liquids a long term solution unless you use plenty of other liquid sources along with them.

Your kids will turn up their noses at them, but milk by-products are very traditional sources of drink.  If you make simple cheese or butter, you will be left with Whey and buttermilk.  Both are good to cook in or with, and good cold on their own. 

So how do I make a cold drink in July when I did not make an ice house? 
Become a potter, or buy a simple clay container with a smallish neck.  Fill the container with your liquid.  Place the whole thing in a sunny dry place.  The wicking and evaporation through the clay will cool the a good day, ice may even form.  Use a different pot for each type of liquid so that flavors do not transfer.  Scrub well or disinfect for future use.  You could use it one time and find another use for it if you have a ready supply of pots or clay.
Alternatively, place a bottle inside the clay container and fill the container with plain water.  This will cool the contents of the bottle.

If you have fruit trees, you can make cider.  Cider and hard ciders are a very old and time honored drink.  Ciders have just as long a popular history as beer and wine in some areas.  Normandy and Ireland are significant examples, though England is also a contender.
Cider, hard cider, Scrumpy, Poteen(spelling unsure) Calvados and apple brandies are all wonderful drinks.  Ciders have a reputation of messing with your mind, however.  Scrumpy served in pubs cause so many fights, that in some places, Scrumpy production has gone underground.  Poteen is illegal in most areas, though that stops few people.  I think that cider products, especially only slightly hard cider, are so delightful to drink, that the alcohol creeps up on you. 
If you were to have fruit trees and were able to produce these drinks, you would have a hell of an income or trading power.  Unfortunately, your customers may return in a drunken stupor and kill you all.
Cherries make the very best cider, and a number of other great drinks.  They can also, like many fruits, be added to beer, either fresh or fermented.  Make drinks from peaches, plums, berries, citrus and pears for all sorts of applications with beer, wine and other alcohol.  Ciders and juices can be added to sparkling wine....who knows there may be some available after the apocalypse.. for a great drink like a Bellini.  They can be used to extend more expensive drinks or even a limited supply of water.
A still is not hard to make for higher potency alcohols.
 You can make non alcoholic cordials out of fruit juices.  They are nothing more than crushed, steeped and drained fruit, with lots of simple syrup added.  These are pretty good for short term storage, especially if you have a clod spring to store them in, or some form of refrigeration or an ice house.

For cordials:

  • 4 pints (48 oz.) raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 12 cups water

You will also need

  • Very large bowl, large spoon, medium saucepan, plastic wrap or towel, fine mesh sieve or strainer, medium bowl, 2 pitchers or gallon container.
Total Time: 24 Hours
Servings: 12 cups cordial (24 servings, or more)
  • Note: many stores sell raspberries in half pint sized boxes, which means you would need 8 boxes of berries. Double check the weight before purchasing-- you will need 48 oz. of berries total.
  • Clean and rinse the raspberries, then place them in a very large bowl.
  • Pour the lemon juice over the berries. Use a large spoon to stir the juice into the berries.
  • On the stovetop, heat 12 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar to a boil. Stir till the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
  • Pour the boiling water over the raspberries. Allow the water to cool for 1-2 hours to room temperature.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel that you don't mind staining. Place in the refrigerator to steep for 24 hours.
  • Pour the cordial through a fine mesh sieve to strain.
  • Push gently on the solids with the back of a spoon, if you wish, to extract more juice. This will produce a slightly cloudy effect in the cordial, which will settle at the bottom of the storage bottle, but it won't change the flavor. If you'd prefer a clearer cordial, do not press down on the solids-- just strain them.
  • Once you've strained the juice from the berries, you will find that the leftover berries are mushy and quite sweet. Save them in the fridge, they are terrific served as a topping for ice cream.
  • This recipe makes a large batch of cordial, which will store very well in the refrigerator if you use a clean gallon jug. You can easily halve the recipe if you don't need quite so much cordial.
  • To serve, mix 1 part cordial with 1 part water or seltzer water. If you prefer a less sweet drink, dilute the cordial to taste. Serve cold.
1 Litre of Everclear alcohol

10 medium to large lemons(try to get them unwaxed or processed in any way.)

1 1/2 litres of water. It is a good idea to bring water to a boil for a couple of minutes to get gasses and chemicals out. Otherwise it might be a good idea to use bottled water or water that has somehow been purified.

3 pounds of white sugar.(Honey or other natural sugars might work though who knows what it would taste like.)

Scrub the lemons well. Do not use hot water as you will evaporate some of the oils in the skin.
Take off the lemon zest with a lemon peeler. Do not dig too deep. You want as much yellow and as little white as possible.
Immerse the zest in the alcohol, covered for at least seven days. Try to use a glass container and a glass cover. You might try a large glass jar and cover it with a glass plate. Use plastic wrap to seal it all together.
On day number eight, strain and discard all the solids.
Simmer the sugar and water for about 15 minutes or until you are absolutely sure the sugar is dissolved.
Cool the sugar mix and add to the alcohol.
Pour into pretty glass containers and chill. Keep refrigerated. In Italy they do not worry so much about spoilage, but there is enough organic matter in this to error on the side of caution.
I keep mine in the freezer.

Second option:

2 750 ml vodka(the highest proof you can find)

4 cups of sugar

5 cups of water.

Zest the lemons thinly

In a large all glass container, put one of the bottles of vodka and the zest.(drink the other bottle of Vodka)(NO, NOT REALLY)

Let it sit sealed for 10-40 days. (this is about the color and intensity of flavor) in a cool place.

In a pan, make a syrup from the sugar and water and boil.

Cool and add to the alcohol along with the second bottle of alcohol.

Allow it to rest ten to fourteen days.

Bottle as in the first recipe.

You can substitute any citrus peel that you like for this.

You can experiment with other fruit as well.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Visions of Paranoiacs Dancing in My Head!

I work nights in a hotel.
Sometimes I have to sit here and wait till the last people check in for the night before I proceed with my regular work. 
Tonight was one of those nights.  I started browsing through You Tube videos.  My sister lives pretty much off the grid, simply because she and her husband love that woodsy lifestyle, much as my father in his time loved being outdoors and hunting and fishing.  So, I often look at alternative heating, lighting and energy videos to tell her about, as they obviously do not have an internet hook-up.  Being five miles from the nearest year round road and 28 miles from the nearest town of any size, they tend to feel isolated.
So, I came across several videos that just happened to be put out by dyed-in-the-wool Preppers.
I was enjoying a few of them, and found the information to be very interesting, when I came across a couple that just left me speechless for a couple of minutes.  One guy had a hyper religious T shirt on.  He had a military haircut and the most outrageously heavy accent.  I watched his videos and had to get back to my work.  I found myself stopping in the middle of a task...wondering what I would do if I wanted to tell people about some of these skills, and then slowly falling into uncontrollable laughter till I teared up.  This happened several times.  This guy was SOOOOOOO SERIOUS....and he was such an odd character.  Paranoia just oozed out of the computer screen while he spoke.  
Now, I have no doubt that some people would find my accent funny or at least unusual, so I do apologize to those who might be offended. 
But, I found myself thinking: "Is this the type of person who is going to survive an apocalyptic event?  Good heavens, if most of the people who survive have that kind of paranoid personality, that kind of persona...I just would not want to come back and meet future generations!"
The funny thing is...yes, they probably will survive while the rest of us fade away...These are not stupid people for the most part...maybe a touch pixilated....maybe a bit outside the mainstream, but not stupid...for the most part. 
The message was valid too, except that you had to strip away all the paranoia, and crazy, wild eyed stuff...for want of a better word.
Just a bit of advice for the Preppers trying to get their message out...  Let your military haircuts grow out a bit, lose the fatigues and the camouflage clothing, hide all the over sized and overpowered weapons on a top shelf somewhere, and plant petunias and geraniums around your bomb shelters.  If you truly want to help or to convince the majority of Americans that they should learn these skills, then you have to appeal to those who might think you are a bit nuts right now.

As you get to my age, you get a bit more fatalistic than in your youth.  You perhaps fear the impending death event that you will have to face, but the fact of death does not frighten you anymore.  I can truly say that if I got wiped out tomorrow, I might be happy that I do not have to face all the craziness in the world anymore.  On the other hand, if I am not going to be killed in a blast or something, I would like to have a few skills that would make my remaining life more comfortable than someone who does not know how to eat, and stay warm in desperate circumstances.

I am just a few years too young, but my brother and sister grew up with kerosene lamps, milking cows, and with horses working the woods for stove wood.  Waking up to frozen water in the water pitchers was not unknown.  Curing meats and saving bread dough to make the next batch of sourdough were not foreign to them.  Weeks of canning and making jelly and jam were a part of their lives as well.

They still had manufactured goods however, as did my parents and grandparents.  To really know how to live in a collapsed society, you have to go back to the 18th century.  You did not light with kerosene, you collected the tallow from your food animals, and saved the knots from the pine and spruce trees for light.

So, what am I going to do here?  I have extensive knowledge of the past.  I have a background in history.  I was a museum curator for an 18th century house in Maine.  I know how to cook on the open hearth, how to work a wood fired bake oven, how to build a house with the older methods.  I know how to tap trees for maple sap.  In short, I have a lot of experience in many of the ways that people survived before manufactured goods and electronics came along.
At the same time, there are wonderful ideas out there that use our 21st century junk to make life easier, that 18th century people would not have even thought of.  Some of these ideas are great, but it takes some sifting to find the practical versions of the ideas.  Lets just look at Rocket Stoves.  It is easy to make a rocket stove, and they are easy to transport.  The problem is that many of the designs burn through very quickly.  Just how often, in a post apocalyptic world, are you going to be able to rework and find new materials for the maintenance of such a stove?  So, I would like to sift through all of the ideas and find the most permanent and practical version.  It is one thing to take the kids out camping and make a rocket stove out of tin cans or something, but living for years with this as your only form of cooking is a very different story.

One really good mission for some weekend, is to search the used book stores and flea markets for Boy Scout Manuals from the fifties and even earlier.  They are fascinating to read, packed with practical information, and provide a snapshot of attitudes from the time period.  I had my older brother's for years.  It was a very treasured possession.  I read and reread that book a hundred times.

Another good search is the Foxfire Books.  So much practical information...folkways from the Appalachians(as I remember) to make lye to how to build a much wealth in a single set of books.

Wean yourself off technology!  I do not mean that you should not enjoy surfing the net and keeping up with your grandkids on the internet, but you should begin your preparation for the future, if you believe it is going to be difficult, by preserving the printed word for your ideas, and entertainment.  What are you going to do if the world falls apart, fire up the kindle and spend your evenings reading "War and Peace" with a squirrel in a treadmill?

Buy and preserve good, hardbound books of good quality(paperbacks will not outlive your childrens' lives because of acidic and poor quality paper.) in a variety of subjects, fiction, non fiction, technical etc.  Lets say you wanted to go back to the 15th century and make yourself king...What would you want to take with you...a good encyclopedia and a stack of textbooks...algebra, languages, how to find, forge and refine iron, blow glass, make a generator....Imagine your power....unless they burn you as a witch!

When you find good information on the internet, print it out using a very good quality paper and a good non fading ink(possibly toner would be better.  Stack them in a sealed container that has little room for air, wrap the pile of paper in a low acid tissue before putting it in contact with wood or other high acid containers.  You tube has a captioning for it's videos.  Try to copy and paste the transcripts.(I do not know if that is possible)  Saving the information in hard copies is much more likely to be of use to you than anything stored on the computer or internet if things do fall apart.  Do not rely on disks or mass storage of any kind....Paper!  Give a logger a job!

Now I understand that Ewell Gibbons died very young, and he was a bit odd, but his books are excellent resources for how to find food in the wild.  You cannot survive for long by hunting, using an ever dwindling supply of  high power ammunition.  What will you do when your last grenade has been thrown at Bambi and no one has ammo to trade for your home made beads?

For now, let me finish this first post by saying...Not everyone is big and brawny...into to drag trees around to make a log house.  Those of you who wish to survive, need to be sources of information.  Perhaps you have stored books that will help people...or you may be a voracious reader and have the wisdom of the ages stored in your head....You have learned first aid...know how to make herbal medicines...can do math or have the geometry book stashed under your bed.  You will ultimately be most valuable to that band of roving bullies if you have all of that to offer.  Instead of pushing the button on a computer, they just need to press your navel!  You need to be more valuable to them than having your pants dropped, entered from behind and your throat slit!
If you are not Paul Bunyan, never forget the value of knowledge!

Coming next:  The 18th century....

Friday, January 17, 2014

Our Forefathers' First Foray into Their New World

I will try to go into each of these subjects in detail as we go along.

They brought pigs with them: 
The pigs soon went wild, did serious damage to the natives' gardens, but were a perennial, though dangerous source of meat forever.  Pigs produce an amazing number of piglets, but can also consume your entire garden in a single night.  Letting pigs go wild might mean that you will have them around to hunt at no cost to you, but domesticated pigs can be controlled...Don't name them...Trust me on this!

They brought sugar:
 They brought sugar in large conical loaves.  You had to break off pieces, and grind it up to use it.  It was often impure, and dirty.  The "Indians"(as they were referred to at the time), soon taught them how to tap trees and boil the sap for sugar.  Everything you make will taste like maple, but I guess there are worse fates.  There are plenty of sugar crops available...beets, Stevia...some may be good survival crops for you to make your own sugar and to trade with others.  Sugar may seem trivial, but in the absence of refrigeration, it is a powerful preservative.  In just how many ways did the Native Americans SAVE OUR  ASSES?

Salt was precious: 
Salt has always been valuable.  It preserved everything from herbs in crocks to meat.  You can dry meat, but what if your summer is rainy?
Boil or evaporate sea water....God help you in areas where the sea is filled with junk and garbage!  Long Island might not be the best place to do this!  There are natural salt deposits all over the place.  Check out your county extension office or geology professor to see if any are in your area.  You cannot live without any salt at all.  Buy huge supplies if the time really comes when you need to be self sufficient and there are no local sources.  This is an often overlooked necessity.  Salt will not go bad as long as it does not dissolve.  It is a rock!  Do not try to eat salt that is used for snow melt.   Use sodium chloride, and other salts labeled for preservation of foods only.

  Not just for drinking...Another preservative, Rum became a staple in the colonies as soon as sugar cane plantations were in full swing in the Caribbean. 
Make alcohol from fruit of all kinds.  Tomatoes, apples, grapes, plums...even potatoes...all make good wine, then a still can be set up to make alcohol strong enough for a party, an antiseptic or for food preservation.  Wines and the must for making wine can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup.  Learn to make wine, cordials flavored with herbs and vodka and other alcohols.. 
Submerge small fruits in sweetened alcohol.  Fruit and fruit peels submerged in alcohol both preserve the fruit, but also flavor the alcohol like limoncello.

Chickens ducks and geese:
  Eggs...and more generations of poultry... are the main product here.  The meat is only available when the roosters get too large or numerous for the well being of the flock.  The feathers can be used to stuff pillows and feather beds.  Chickens stew well when they are too old to lay eggs.  They also forage for nuisance insects, and your yard will be relatively free of ticks and the such.   They will pick at vegetable scraps, grain, corn...what ever you have can go to them.  They need protection from predators and a place to roost and to nest.


  They brought the next season's gardens and grain crops in small casks and bags.  Seed was then saved for the following year, a portion of the crop set aside.  Seed can vary in preservation preferences.  Learn how to preserve seeds.  Buy heirloom seeds to begin with, for easier to grow and store varieties.

Fruit trees:

There are so many old varieties of fruit that preserve and store very well...Most modern fruits are not nearly as useful or as varied in flavor and uses.

  Many an apple tree, pear tree etc. were brought from door yards in England and France and grapes from France, Germany or Italy, to be planted in the New World garden or orchard.  Roots were wrapped when dormant, kept damp through the long voyage, and were probably in the ground before they built a shelter.  Fruit was often wormy and pretty ugly, but almost every piece of fruit can have a portion salvaged for canning etc.  Imperfect fruit is not the best to work with, but before pesticides, there was very little perfect fruit.  Be careful! 
Much fruit and some vegetables were dried on strings hanging near the fireplace..  some were cooked down into butters that lasted a while, and might be sweetened for longer term.  Jams and jellies were another product.  Wax or fat sealed the jars or crocks and a clean oiled paper, leather or cloth would be tied on the top to keep out beasties, debris, etc..

 One of the first things that colonists would do was search for a supply of clay.  Kilns were built, the clay refined and sieved through coarse cloth.  Some clay would only be suitable for one kind of red-ware or low fired pottery, while another might be good for stoneware or even for bricks for foundations and the walls of the houses.  Oyster shells or possibly fresh water clams might be ground to make mortar, or limestone might be used. (lime is also a good wood preservative.) Dry laid stone work can be very drafty.  A source of clay might also allow you to make cob.  This was a mixture of clay, sand and fibrous organic matter (like Straw) made into damp loaves and used to either build whole walls or fill in between timbers in post and beam houses or barns.  Well cared for cob can and has lasted for centuries if moisture is kept away.  Pottery that either has not been fired or only lightly fired can be used for dry storage.  Fired pottery can be used for cooking.  If it is fired high enough to stand heat shock, it can go directly into the fire, and even low fired pottery can be used for cooking by dropping hot rocks into the liquid in the pot.  (even baskets can be used this way if tightly woven.)  Porous, low fired pottery can be filled with liquid.  As the liquid sweats through the pottery and evaporates, it cools the liquid inside...sometimes quite significantly.   Ice can be made this way as well.

Ice houses were a common sight in early America, and even into the 1960s. I used to play in one of the last ones in our area as a child.  A room would be excavated from a hill or built up from more level land and an inner wall constructed in the room from timber, stone or brick.  It would be insulated with sawdust.  A funnel would be constructed of bricks leading down into the hill and draining outside into the surrounding land or a stream(possibly into an ornamental pool).  A ledge was constructed in the brick, near the inner mouth of the funnel below floor level, and a wagon wheel was dropped in on the ledge to hold the ice from dropping into the hole like a rather coarse sieve  The door was closed and much of the ice cut from ponds in the winter would be preserved for culinary use, preservation and for treatment of sprained ankles from carrying heavy ice blocks.  Layers of sawdust isolated blocks of ice from each other and insulated piles of ice from warmer air that might enter. These rooms were often used for vegetable and meat storage like root cellars which also were pretty common.  Another good skill to have.  It is especially valuable if you have a little spring running through it to help with cooling. (Not the ice house...a residential root cellar.  The ice house needed to be pretty air tight other than the drain.)  Remember that ice chests or ice boxes were in common use up till the 40s all over the US.  It worked,  not as a long term a storage solution as in  modern refrigeration, but it kept your milk and meat fresh for some time.

  Animal dung can be dried for fuel in small scale pottery and even cooking operations.

 Not everyone could afford to bring in cows and other livestock.  Possibly, someone with a pregnant wife might think of the expense for the access to milk.  There was a bit of the communist in the early groups, and those that did not share, often paid for their livestock in installments of goods returned to investors in the old world as their holdings prospered.  Cows are a big expense....and BIG as well.

  Goats make more sense for many people...They are a little feisty and more likely to climb on your bomb shelter roof than a cow.  They make pre-homogenized milk.  Cheese is easy to make...just fresh cheese with vinegar, sour fruit juice or thistle tea as a rennet substitute.  I will be sure to put a couple of recipes in the blog where appropriate.  Goats will eat almost anything organic and other things as well.  Other than docility, they are the best alternative for livestock.  If you do not mind the castrating of males,(castrating females would be silly I suppose.), meat from goats can be quite good.  Many of us have a prejudice against it.  I know I do, but many millions of people eat it every day. Goat curry can be quite good, and I once dumped some down Bill Cosby's back at an event in Philadelphia.  I wonder if he ever noticed...I think it dried pretty fast.
Goat hair is useful for fabrics and an alternative would be sheep's wool....Sheep...another meat and milk source...but dumb as a post!

Cheese...especially aged cheese can be a good source of salt.

Looms were brought over with the colonists, or made from local materials. So, we will have to discuss weaving sometime in this blog....Don't worry men...Sorry...He Men...weaving is traditionally a man's job....production weaving is a real job and it was thought to be something a woman could not handle in the past, at least on a large scale...the women just did all the other know all the stuff that was too difficult for men!  And they usually did it better.  Remember the old joke about Fred Astair?  Yeah he was good, but Ginger Rogers did just as well, but backwards and in high heels!  I bet that more women will survive than we expect if we have a doomsday....They are tough and they KNOW THINGS.  You men...try pulling something the size of a softball out of ANY opening in your body and survive it!  Lets not even discuss some tiny being, sucking the life out of your nipples...let alone adult men chewing on them for fun!

Horses need a higher stall than cows, so do not think that they are interchangeable.  You can house a cow in a horse barn, but not necessarily the other way around.  Horses are native to North America, but became extinct many thousands of years ago.  The Spanish reintroduced them to the continent.  They reacted much like the pigs that they and the other European settlers brought over.  The pigs reverted to very primitive forms, tusks, bristles, mean tempers all came out when the docile pigs got out of captivity.  Horses also reverted to more primitive forms, but at least the Spanish would still recognize them.  The elegant, spindly Arabians that were so prized by the Spanish and Moors, were probably in the minority.  The more likely arrival was probably a more serviceable breed from a number of sources.  In any event, the American Horse that developed was, and is, an extremely tough animal.
Early horses in Europe had been bred for a number of uses.  The Knights in the movies are usually shown charging at each other on average mustang or thoroughbred type horses.  But they would actually have ridden around on the huge, monster, working horses, that were common in farmyards even up to my youth.  Percherons, Clydesdales and similar horses were descended from these monster war horses.  It was just a coincidence and also their salvation, that they were suited for heavy labor.  One would perhaps ride around on a more familiar horse when not in armor. 
Women and the clergy(those not also fighting like knights) would ride smaller serviceable animals.

Over-bred horses can be very high strung.  Best to get yourself something like a mustang if possible.  You sometimes see them being removed from a wild life and offered to the public.  There are endless variations(breeds) of horses, and they will all have strengths and weaknesses.  I have a particular weakness for Morgans, but they would not do for farm work.  Try rescue agencies...if their personalities have not been ruined...or if you have a particularly patient personality, they can be a great animal and usually deserve to be saved.  Get advice, though, to get past their issues from poor handling, violence and neglect.
An average horse...a sturdy one...can do a little work, and often small famers had to use horses for many things in the course of the year.  With a small family and soft earth to till etc., you will make out fine.  But a real working horse needs to be big!  It is so easy to be cruel to a lovely animal by over working them and giving them tasks that will wear them out. 
Horses also need good nutrition and physical care to thrive.  A good horse-person would likely be happy to help you out in choosing and keeping horses. 
Remember that you cannot be overly sentimental about animals, so a reasonable work load and food husbandry is not to be confused with keeping a pet.  However....  You not only use them for your well being, but you also take care of them and make their lives bearable.  This brings me to a subject that is very important to me.  Animals are a lot of work, and require a lot of time and energy to keep.  Do not get even one animal if you do not plan to commit yourself.  Never...ever be cruel or neglectful to any animal.  Even FOOD animals deserve respect and decent care.  If you will be killing animals for your consumption, make it quick as living thing DESERVES to suffer at our hands...their lives are a great gift to us...make yourself worthy of that gift.

To be continued...



Thursday, January 16, 2014


Americans eat entirely too much food!  We can get along with much less, and especially with less meat! 
Raising your own meat livestock is very resource consuming.  The animals you keep should be there for double duty, that is, bedside the fact that they are pleasant company for the most part.

Pigs will consume lots of waste food and scraps, and they do not have to be kept in dirty conditions...they also make plenty of piglets at a time!  Do not forget to keep one male for breeding, and as many females as you want, to produce piglets for trade, meat and new breeding stock.  Consult an expert about breeding practices and an expert about safe making of sausage, salami and dried, corned and cured pork making.  Generally pigs were slaughtered in the fall.  This was a good time to cure the meat and also the time to reduce consumption of resources that were scarce through the winter.  Sometimes pigs were allowed to run fairly free, with perhaps a tender to watch them.  They would forage in the forest floor and make good meals out of acorns etc..

Cows...only what your grass will support, and only one bull should survive for long.  That much meat is hard to preserve.  If it is not making milk or fathering a new generation...get rid of it!  Read up on breeds as they have different strengths and weaknesses, butterfat and temperament, etc.
Chickens give you eggs in months that have plenty of light.  If you have the luxury of solar panels on the roof of your chicken coop, you can keep a light going in the coop for increased winter egg production.  They also eat bugs, keeping things like ticks at bay on your property where chickens are free to roam.  In addition to all sorts of vegetable matter, flowers and grains, corn, feed etc., they also eat weed sprouts etc..  When the egg laying ceases, then they can become food.  One thing to remember, is that if you are in crisis mode, you cannot afford to be feeding the hens a huge amount of expensive feed.  Chickens and other foul will forage for themselves and did so for millennia before we domesticated them.  This will, of course, produce smaller birds with less meat.  They will however be very tasty for that once in a great while chicken meal and the following soup that is particularly good from older birds.  If you live in colder areas, the birds will need some sort of food supplement in the winter.

For centuries, people have been building dovecotes.  Small partitioned buildings with nesting boxes and high entry holes for pigeons.  They were good food and were often flying into and out of besieged cities after the livestock of the city was all butchered.
It is not unusual in parts of Europe to go through days and days without seeing or hearing a single bird, except pigeons.  The birds we consider song birds in this country are often hunted for food there.  Provence and much of Italy are notable for small birds in the diet.  While it would be OK in an emergency, you have to remember that they have a niche in the ecology of an area.  These birds eat weed seeds, bugs and in some cases vermin, that would become a nuisance without them.  Go easy unless you are desperate.

Rabbits eat almost anything vegetable.... weeds, fruits, vegetables, and they produce prodigious numbers of edible offspring!  A loose rabbit can run amok in vegetable plots and do tons of damage in one day.  If you plan on a hutch that is on the ground, bury fencing deep into the ground to prevent burrowing under.  Be mindful of snow storms that raise the ground level inside the pen and allow them to escape over the fence.  They have virtually no defense from predators, so keep the pen and hutch securely closed, especially at night.  Allowing mixed sexes in the same space can yield an explosion of bunnies, though if you have plenty of food for them, they can be raised to an edible size.  There are tons of hybrids.  Choose short haired varieties without any odd characteristics.  There are dwarf varieties that are fun as pets but nearly useless for food. 
Goats produce milk and baby goats.(I will put in a post about simple cheese making.  More ambitious cheeses must be carefully taught by an expert.)  The kids are great meat animals, and the reason that some societies have a tradition of eating baby goats or young goats, veal and roast pig, is that a farm or land can only support just so many animals.  Some animals must be slaughtered or traded away, especially in the Autumn.  The best thing you can do is to make the short lives of these animals idyllic, and their demise as painless as possible and as free from fear as possible.  You must understand that the lives of so many wild animals is very short due to predators and environmental conditions.  You are doing much the same thing, in your farmyard, as a wild animal might experience.  Do not do too many goats!  A few goats will produce a prodigious amount of milk.  Some of the milk will go back to the kids, but still, you have to be making cheese all the time and drinking plenty to keep up with the production after the kids are reared.  Goats produce much more milk than cows per head.  Feed kids pasteurized milk to reduce disease.  I will post about pasteurization later. 

Livestock will benefit from sprouted grain instead of just dry grain.  Soak oats overnight, then spread out in trays to sprout and feed to animals instead of the grain.  Good for people as well.  You need far fewer pounds of grain to feed animals if you sprout them first.  Much higher accessible nutrition.
Do not eat potato that has sprouted, or the sprouts themselves.  You can consume slightly sprouted potato or green potato.  The green potato will not taste good, and must be peeled rather deep into the potato.  The sprouts of the  potato must be cut at least 1/4 inch deeper into the flesh than the origin of the sprout in the skin of the potato.  Alfalfa is also a good feed for them.  They can forage, but the cultivated feed will be generally healthier and the larger volume will obviously produce larger and healthier stock.  Also, some of the sharp flavor of the cheese will disappear if the goats are fed instead of free range.
You do not need a whole crowd of goats, geese, cows, pigs etc., on your land...barter and food is the only answer to overpopulation.  Especially, do not think that you can feed hoards of animals on scraps...there are only so many scraps to go around.  Chickens, on the other hand are a great animal to keep as they provide eggs that are so very nutritious and versatile and can be a good source of protein without butchering them except when they stop laying.  They can also forage for much of their food.

Plant foods are the way to go.  You can be very healthy on a completely vegetarian diet, and with the addition of small amounts of meat from your land and hunting, even healthier.

If you can provide extremely dry storage conditions and a good drying atmosphere, you can grow and dry:
Peas, lentils, apples(and a number of other fruits), squash, pumpkins, beans of all sorts, herbs, onions etc..

Try looking for Egyptian onions.  Plant a huge area with them.  They grow up on a large stalk(which is edible like spring onions) and form small onions on the top.  The weight of the onions on top makes them fall over, and the little onions sprout into more plants.  They are onion factories, and require no care at all!  They are a pain in the ass to peel a couple of dozen for a meal, but you can blanch them and remove the skins that way.  In many cooking methods like roasting, the skins can stay on.  Roast them, serve raw, cook like onions in all recipes.  Onions are a good source of vitamin C.  Just do not waste the water they are cooked in as the nutrients like vitamin C are then lost. 
The same is true of all cooking water....Never throw out an ounce of cooking water as it is all nutritious, rich in water soluble nutrients if you reuse it for soups, gravy and cooking liquids.

Though they are extremely healthy, I am not a fan of Cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage and Broccoli, as they get so many worms...but that is just me.  Soak vegetables from the garden in salt water for half an hour or more before preparing them to eat.  Little beasties will die or just float to the surface unless they are deeply buried in a vegetable.

You will have fairly complete protein in your diet if you combine grain(especially whole grains) and legumes.  Rice, wheat, barley and oats, and a number of more exotic grains, can all be grown in North America, just be sure to reserve some grain for seed in years that crops fail so it is available in the following year.  Some whole grains have limited storage times compared to more processed grains.
Peas, beans and lentils are all legumes that can all be grown successfully and dried for the future.
Spread the peas or seeds you intend to dry on screens in a dry but sunless space or drying barn to dry.  Do not over crowd them and turn them regularly, as they can mold.
Carrots and possibly parsnips have a strange habit.  Almost any part of the root will sprout and produce a new carrot.  Experiment with this instead of throwing away carrot tops.  Halve or quarter a carrot top to produce several plants from one.  The carrot only needs to have some green at the top, not necessarily a true living leaf.  They will sprout if given a helping hand.  Stand the cut root, with the green side up in a shallow pan of water.  Keep out of the sun, and they should sprout.
There are a number of perennial food crops as mentioned in other posts.:

Asparagus will come back year after year once established, as long as you do not over harvest.  It does need a particularly deep soil.  You can dig out stones and debris from deep trenches to get that depth, and apply good natural fertilizers to the soil that you return to the hole.  Do not over harvest them, you need to allow foliage to develop in order to keep the roots strong.

Perennial can sometimes be misleading.  Beds sometimes need to be dug up, replanted with only the healthiest plants and re-fertilized.

Horseradish is a cast iron crop, though usually only used as a condiment, you will be very happy you have it once your supply of imported spices are no longer available.

Chives will last for generations.  There are several varieties of chive.  Some are garlic flavored.  Divide and replant till you get a very large bed of them.  You will not miss the onions you will not have enough of.  Use tons of the clipped tops in place of an onion.  The flavor is a bit different.

Jerusalem artichokes are nothing more than flower roots that will grow in some forgotten corner of your garden.  Like all root crops, loose but rich sandy soil will be appreciated.

Tomatoes and peppers are easy to propagate from saved seed, but will do best in hot climates, even forgotten dropped fruit can sometimes sprout at will.  Look for heritage varieties.

Raspberries, and blackberries will last for generations as well, but need to be cared for, rather than allowed to go wild as so many do. 
Strawberries will come back from seed if you and the rodents can leave a few on the ground.  Remember that rodents are good to eat too!!!!  Remove old plants periodically to allow the new plants to develop, and keep the ripening berries off the ground with a layer of pine needles or straw...remove and replace the mulch so mold will not go crazy.
Blueberries are an easy crop in acidic soil.  Many varieties will produce huge crops of berries.
Fruit trees are an obvious choice and good to plant near your septic system as they can feed heavily there.
People do not think of gooseberries and currants as a food source.  They are often considered a bad companion for harvestable soft wood trees as they can carry disease, but it will be well worth it when you have those piles of berries to eat.  Currants will dry like raisins.  Dried fruits and berries last for a long...LONG time.

Grapes will grow in a very large part of the continent.  New varieties increase the range as does the trend toward warmer weather.  You can actually plant grapes and some other plants inside the house or greenhouse, and train the vines out through holes in the walls to go where they want.  This keeps the root alive in bad weather.

Oregano is a good and prolific crop,  Several varieties are good to grow as some of them can be a little strong for more than flavoring, but others make a good salad extender.
Oregano is in the mint family, and many of the other mints can be a great boon to boring food.  Spearmint and Lemon Balm are indestructible.
Good King Henry(A perennial Spinach substitute) and Sorrel are great sour plants, good for soups and for use with chicken or fish.  The only drawback is that they have oxalic acid in them, and they are not good for you in large amounts.(liver and kidney irritants as I remember)  Use them judiciously.   Wild or Wood Sorrel can be gathered and once you see one you will recognize them as a common weed.

Speaking of weeds...Do not forget the common Dandelion.  A great bitter herb when tiny and cooked until they become large and excessively bitter later on.  Don't dig them up...encourage them!  Do not use plants as they get larger.  Newly sprouted leaves and spring plants will be fine.

Some areas of the country are OK for sweet chestnut trees.  Do not confuse them with Horse Chestnuts.  Other nut trees are typically easy to live with and care free.  Hazelnuts, walnuts, Butternuts, Hickory nuts are good for the US, though the nuts are not typically as big as commercially grown varieties.  You need a big hammer to get into some of them, and the meats are small sometimes.  Worth the effort though.   Some Pine trees from Europe produce Pinola nuts, though I do not know their range in the US.

Nut trees will attract squirrels...good eating!

Hot climates can grow Capers.  These are a bitter flower bud used mostly with fish and vegetable dishes in the Mediterranean.  Both the buds and the seed pods are pickled in brine or salted.

Just one word of caution...if you are gathering wild food....know what you are putting in your mouth...just because it looks like a parsnip or a white carrot, does not mean that it is not a deadly poison!  Do not harvest wild mushrooms unless you have been carefully taught by an expert.  You can grow your own however, in a dark cave or basement.

Storing potatoes is pretty easy.  Harvest some as late as possible.  Store them dry and cold(but not freezing), and in the dark with good air circulation.   Just cut them up in the spring, leaving a couple of "eyes" on each piece and bury them in good should never have to worry about shortage if you are careful in storage.

Native Americans lived off corn for thousands of years, and the stalks can be used for animal feed.  Dried ground corn will help to feed chickens.
In colonial days, popped corn was used like a breakfast cereal with milk and sugar.
Simple meals can be made with corn on the cob, like Corn Oysters(look them up or check out my cookbook on line), and corn based pancakes are a classic with caviar or fish and sour cream or yogurt.

Squash and pumpkin seeds are easy to save, and the flesh can be dried easily, strung on strings in a dry place.
Native Americans grew Corn, beans and pumpkins in the same hills.  The beans climb on the corn, and the pumpkins(or squash) shade out weeds in between the hills of corn.

Build a drying building, like the tobacco barns in the south and Central Atlantic States.  Put on a good roof and leave the siding with plenty of gaps to allow air to circulate.  Pave the floor with big stones to keep down burrowers and dampness.

Preserving fruits and vegetables by drying and root cellar  are best done in a very orderly manner.  I will try to research good Root cellar techniques.  Do not overcrowd and check stock regularly to avoid rot spreading in your containers or shelves.  Do not try to store bruised and damaged food.

There are all kinds of flowers that are great to eat in a salad or sprinkled on entrees for color.  Violets and roses(old varieties) have been candied or Crystallized for centuries.  Roses and other flowers can be baked in muffins, cakes, etc..  Teas can be made from flowers and leaves.

Excess fruit can be pressed like cider apples.  One of my favorite memories of Massachusetts around route 2 in the 50s and 60s is stopping for Cherry Cider that was purchased in huge glass bottles.  Many fruits come into season at various times of the summer.  You can make wines and hard ciders with those that are not consumed immediately.  
Squash and pumpkin blossoms can be sauteed, stuffed and baked... stuffed, breaded and deep fried.  Day lilies work for salads as well.
Nasturtiums are a nice plant with very peppery leaves and flowers...pretty to look at too.

There are many mint varieties,  They spread like wildfire in some cases, and some are hard to raise.  Spearmint, peppermint and many others make great teas and flavor meats well.  They also flesh out salads.  Lemon Balm is very lemony but also citron like...perhaps a bit medicinal. 
Sumac flowers taste like the lemon balm and it is common in middle eastern food.  Try making ices and lemonade(from the tea) with them as well.
There are all sorts of plants, herbs and flowers that can be deadly poisons.  Yew trees, Monkshood, digitalis(foxglove) are all common in the garden and not a good idea to eat...unless you are serving some raider who is after your animals.

Again, I say...encourage your dandelions...they are good in sausage meat if you blanch and chop them first.  The flowers make wine.

I will be sure to post a good basic bread recipe, good for bread and pizza.  Once you have made the bread, save a small amount of (sour)dough or semi liquid dough with plenty of sugars for the next time you do bread. Do not over salt the dough or starter(sour dough) as salt inhibits the yeast growth.  Search the Internet for recipes and practices. Allow plenty of time to have the dough rise. The very best breads raise in cold or cool locations.  This can take a day or more, but it allows you to have bread rising anywhere in your house and at all times of the year.

 There are sour cakes as well, that use natural fermentation to make the leavener for the cake.(sometimes called friendship cakes, they are pretty frightening to make at first.  The end results are nice though.)  Back in the early days, you could buy Saleritus.  It was a leavener like baking soda etc...When you used too much, your food turned green!  Many of the common baked goods began their lives without baking powder and baking soda.  Instead, you would use the required eggs, and separate them.  The yolks were part of the batter and the whites would be whipped up and folded into the base batter to make the lightening agent. Pancakes, muffins, corn breads etc. can all be made this way and though a bit heavier, they can be very pleasant food.

 Things that you have to understand:

 Living off the land is a day in, day out twenty hour a day job.  You are up early with the animals, working all day in gardens and kitchens, making all the things you would normally buy, setting aside a day of the week to wash, a day in the year to make your soap, make your candles, spinning and weaving your wool for days or weeks to make cloth, canning or preserving food, and finally to bed just after the animals in the evening.  Winter comes and all the gardening jobs disappear, but the long term projects begin.  Making clothing, repairing equipment, and building new equipment to replace what has worn out, tanning leather, schooling children, quilting, short, all the long term projects begin in the winter.   This is why cultures in the past barely knew people and cultures even twenty miles away.  Life was too intense right in your own yard or community to connect with people twenty miles away.  Village life made this a bit easier as people could specialize in just a few jobs.   But that will not happen immediately after a collapse, as predicted by many Preppers, unless you do it way ahead of the collapse.  Yes, the loner with his high powered rifle in a remote cabin in the woods will struggle far more than they realize.  The smart families will be the ones that form small communities now and have specialized skills to benefit the whole community.  Think how much easier it would be to have a single common oven and wood supply in the center of a village, than everyone trying to do that one job, every day, for themselves.  A whole village could build an ice house and harvest ice in the winter, together for the common good, etc..
Living on your own farm produce means that you are wedded to the farm.  You cannot walk away for a day or two without making arrangements for someone to care for the animals.  You also need to keep your farm in a scale that your resources can support.  You need to be realistic about how many animals can eat off the land, and if not just eating off the land, you will need to provide commercial feed or devote some of your farm produce to the feeding of your animals, especially in the winter.  One should not get the idea that living off your farm is anything like being a gentleman farmer.  In the event of some apocalypse, you will have to work all the time to feed your family, and at some point, stored supplies will run out.  Plan, practice, prepare. 

Bugs and snakes are good sources of as many ants as you can, but do not decimate the snake population as they also eat your pest animals!  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


This will take some time to complete so bear with me.  I just looked at a video on YouTube about making candle wicks.  Very interesting, but it involved using salt and Borax.  Ok, so salt is tough enough to find without a supermarket, but Borax?!  What are people thinking.  If you live in Death Valley, Borax is pretty easy to come by, but anywhere else, and you might be in trouble.

You can make primitive wicks out of anything that will burn.  I saw a video where a woman twisted a part of a sheet of paper into what is called a "SPILL"...just a tight twist of paper used to light pipes and fires in the 19th century.(Why waste expensive paper?)  Then it was inserted into the center of a can of  vegetable shortening, the top rubbed with a bit of the fat, and then burned.  It worked pretty well, and you can store a few cans of the stuff for use with all your other food supplies to get you through till the first time you butcher your animals for food and tallow.
In the long run, though, you need a better and renewable supply of wick making materials.  Here is the basic recipe for wicks as seen on You Tube.

Use kite string or any natural flammable string.  Cotton is great.
One of the reasons old candles were a problem is that the plain wicks curled in such a way that the wick landed on the candle's melt rim and allowed the wax to run out of the side of the candle.  This can be partially solved by braiding three strands of string or whatever, tightly and make the wick out of that.  It will curl tightly as it burns and be less of a problem.
1 1/2 cups of warm water.
2 Tablespoons of salt and
4 Tablespoons of borax

Dip your string in the solution for 15 minutes or so.

Hang to dry for several days...I mean DRY!

Dip the wicks in tallow or wax  to coat and soak the wick. 
Dry thoroughly and store wrapped in paper.

An alternative to this recipe is to soak your wick material in Saltpeter.  Saltpeter is Potassium Nitrate.  You will see crystals of this on the ceilings of caves, where water has been coming in for some time. There are other ways of making it and they are described here in a Wikipedia article.
See:  It is used also for fertilizers and for explosives.  Also, it can be used in meat preservation as in Corning beef.


To make Tallow, you simply accumulate a large quantity of fat from any animal or cooking you have.  Any meat fat will do.  Put the fat in a large pot and pour in water to cover.  Add half a cup of salt to the water.  More or less will do depending on how much fat you are processing. 
Bring the pot to a boil.  Lower the temperature and allow to simmer slowly...about 10 minutes to the pound of fat(this works better if the fat has been ground up or finely chopped.)

When all the fat has been rendered off the solids of the meat by products, strain the mess through a piece of cheesecloth or T shirt material. 

Allow the mixture to cool.  The fat will rise to the top.  Allow to cool completely and refrigerate.  When the fat is solid, lift it off the surface of the water and store till ready to use.  Dry and scrape off impurities.

You might try this on an outdoor fire or barbecue rather than deal with the smell inside.

Use your new wicks to dip into melted tallow or wax(wax is a luxury that you can only count on if you are keeping bees), with the top of the wick tied to a stick and the bottom tied to a washer to weigh it down.  Allow to cool or dip in ice water.  Dip again and again till the candle is thick enough. Cool and store in oiled paper in a sealed container in a cool place till ready to use.  Remember that these are quite edible and animals will seek them out.  These produce a poor but usable candle.
You can also make candles out of sheets of beeswax rolled tightly around a wick.
We used to make an attractive lantern by pouring wax(paraffin) into a large paper milk box.  Then we would cool it till a hard shell formed on the inside of the paper.  We would cut a square out of the top surface of the wax, then pour out the molten center of the column.  Then we would peel off the paper, dip cards or pictures or wrapping paper into hot wax and apply them to the outside of the column.  Put a small candle inside the lantern  and the light shines through.  You can whip paraffin with a hand egg beater to a froth that looks like snow, and apply it to the candle to cover the seams of the pictures or just to decorate.  Just apply it warm with a fork.

The colonists used to use fat woods for lighting.  Fat woods include spruce and pines as well as any wood with a high oil content that burn easily.  A thin sliver of this wood, several inches long was held in a sort of spring-less alligator clip made of iron, usually on a wrought iron stand.  The clip was built like a pair of scissors.  One of the handles of the scissors was the upright stand, and the other had a weight on it to hold the bottom jaw of the clip closed by gravity. 
The wood was put into the holder at a steep angle, near vertical, and simply lit.  It provided a dim, yellowish and smoky light.

The knots of soft woods like spruce and pine have tons of pitch in them.  There are a couple of ways to exploit this.  Sometimes when splitting a soft wood log, the short branches and the knot going into the log will come free.  Or, you can cut them out.  These can be stuck into the hole in a piece of masonry, stood up between a couple of stones etc. and simply burned. 
If you cut a branch very close to the tree, you can split the end of the branch into four parts at right angles.   Pry the splits apart slightly and push in some shavings of wood or paper.  Find a secure place to stand the torch and light the split end.  These drop plenty of pitch, usually burning and hard to put out, so be careful where you put these.  Allow them to drip over masonry, ceramic, metal or glass.

If you can find a source of rushes, the outer covering of the stem can be peeled off and the pithy core can be soaked in oil or fat and burned like a splint in a holder.  I have heard that cat tails(including the big brown head) can be used, but I have never seen them.

Betty Lamps
Oil lamps have been in use for thousands and thousands of years.  Possibly cavemen used shells with meat oils and fats in them to make light with rush wicks.  They are easy, though not super bright.  They were often made of ceramic, the rich having metal ones in bronze and iron on beautiful stands, and in more recent centuries most were of iron.  They are shaped a bit like a gravy boat.  Sometimes the pour spout was isolated from the main reservoir like a short spouted teapot, or the thing could be just a reservoir with a spout simply swelling out from one side.  A wick, rush or a scrap of cloth is laid in the oil or fat, inside the spout and this wicks up into the cloth to feed the flame.  The hard fat is sometimes hard to get going unless you have soaked the cloth wick in fat first. Oils may work well but are harder to come by in North America..  Watch out for genies!

Thank you Wikipedia for the use of this picture of a rush light.  This could be used with fat wood splints or rushes.  These are fairly common to purchase on line as reproductions or even antiques.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Root Cellars

Many people remember their root cellars being your cellar.  Well, that worked out for many centuries, but as a former real estate agent, I remember going into a lot of damp basements and finding beams and joists painted with whitewash and so full of rot, I was surprised that the refrigerator was still upstairs instead of in the cellar.  Gravity was going to win sooner or later. 
If you have a choice, don't use your basement for a root cellar unless you can isolate the dampness from your structure.  You have to maintain a damp atmosphere to have a root cellar work effectively, and the roots and vegetables themselves make a certain amount of moisture.  All you will end up with is mold and rot.  The only wood in the room should be from easily replaced storage boxes, shelves etc.  You can actually go to your local stone counter top fabricator and remove their scrap pieces of stone to make shelves with perhaps stone or brick ends.  You can easily chip the pieces to shape with a hammer(be careful because too aggressive hammering can shatter the stone.)  Millimeter by millimeter is best. Use the hammer, swinging over the more solid part of the stone, toward the edge.  Chip at a sharp angle, not straight down on the surface at 90 degrees. You can get pretty big pieces especially their mis-cuts.  You taking it is much cheaper than paying to have it removed to a landfill, or perhaps they could charge you by the ton.  Do not have too large a span for your shelves as they can crack with a lot of weight on them.  You could even let them be a part of the wall itself, projecting out into the space as shelves.
Try to site the cellar in a shaded area.  A good spot gets no sun on the east, west or south, and in a natural hill or mound.  Using a natural mound instead of building it up, might conceal its existence if there is a danger of raiding.  A big hump in an otherwise featureless landscape is going to attract interest.  If you are working with a mound that is only worked on one side, then it is relatively easy to conceal that one opening with branches etc.  The door should be on the north side, or completely shaded at all times.  My ex wife's family home had a root cellar that was just a few feet from the house on one side, and had a huge overhanging tree on the other...perhaps a big oak or something. 
You can quite easily build with field stone, making the bottom of the walls at least four feet below ground level so that frost does not really heave the whole construction out of the ground.  Make very thick walls using large stones or layers of smaller stones.  Build the walls to about two feet or more thick.  As the construction rises, they can be a bit thinner as you go. 
Making the room round gives you a very sturdy construction, but if you are going to have a span of stone to form the roof, a long narrow room will allow you to cover the room with shorter stones than you might on a round building, or to even corbel the roof.
Corbeling is a method of forming an arch like roof, without making a real arch.  Basically you build the walls as high as you must vertically(keep the vertical to a minimum, then slowly build up with stones that are fairly flat and of a good size to extend out into the backfill around the building, but each course of stones will be just an inch or two closer to the opposite wall overhead.(Like an upside down staircase.  The weight of earth outside the walls, pushing down on the stones will help to keep the stones from collapsing into the room.  Bury the wall as you build it so the soil will press down on the stones.  Basically the stones have to be large enough so that the stone's weight is mostly pushing down on the stone wall below.  You can only move in a tiny amount in each course of stone.  Finally the walls will meet overhead, and a lighter thin stone is placed on top to cover the crack.  The place where the two walls meet at the top must be butted very tightly against its opposite neighbor.  The fact that the two opposite walls want to lean toward the center makes the contact point between them hold each other up.  You may want to brace the walls up while you are constructing them, but the real pressure will be when the earth is piled back on top of the roof.  A corbelled roof requires plenty of height unless you start the corbel at the floor level and forget the vertical walls.
You could construct a flattish roof of cedar, slabs of granite(many other stones will not hold the weight) (you could find these at a construction site where stone curbs are being removed) or of aluminum of some sort.  Just make sure that the roof is very beefy to take the weight of the earth.  Another alternative is to place a heavily corrugated steel roof over the top and then pour a concrete slab on top, reinforced with rebar.  Always provide a slope for water to run off .  Even the most rot resistant or pressure treated wood will eventually have to be replaced.  This is also true of door frames etc..
Dry laid stone walls will, of course, allow bugs in.  If you expect to keep bugs out, forget it.  Even if you wrapped the entire thing in plastic, you would still get bugs. 
A floor of stone slabs works.  Just dirt is OK, but will promote mold growth and musty smells.  A damp(from ground water) earth floor is great, covered with a few inches of clean gravel or crushed stone that is less likely to promote mold and mildew growth.
A water source is excellent in a root cellar.  It may have a natural spring coming up through the floor or a wall, it can have water piped in from a local stream.   It may have the drippings from an ice house piped in.  Dig a trench in the floor at the lowest point. The trench should slope slightly toward an outlet under a wall or the door.  Line the trench with gravel and lay a perforated PVC pipe in it.  Cover the pipe with a narrow strip of plastic or landscape material to keep dirt from filtering in.  Then bury the floor and the trench in gravel.  The pipe should direct the dampness or flow of water out of the root cellar through a wall, or into a cistern outside used for watering the garden or stock.
You can build a stone or brick troth to direct water, from a spring, or even direct an underground stream through the room.
Make certain though, that you are not in an area where the water table or rain water will collect and stand in pools on the floor.  If you come across a lot of water, build the floor up with gravel till you only get a bit of dampness, or direct the water out to a low area outside.
My ex wife's farm house had a stream running right through the root cellar.  It was fascinating.  Most of the cellar was of wood and mostly above ground.  They were lucky that they had the luxury of running water right there.
You could, of course, build the entire structure of concrete footings(not a solid concrete floor), rebar up through concrete or concrete block walls, and a steel and concrete slab roof.  Sturdy, but not romantic.  I personally love building with stone.  It is a real connection with the past, and very Zen like.  Fun too, fitting stones together, with or without mortar.
Pre-build the door frame of pressure treated wood,(possibly 2x10s Depending on your wall thickness) and build the walls around it.  Nail a diagonal board across the opening(inside and out)  to keep it from shifting out of square. Pour a concrete threshold and install a good door made of pressure treated or cedar, etc..   Mount rigid foam insulation on the inside of the door, or make a sandwich with the foam inside two layers of wood.
Store clean, unblemished fruit and vegetables in the root cellar.  Use up inferior food quickly.  Put your milk cans in on the floor to cool, but do not expect it to be like a refrigerator.  Make cheese out of old milk.  Don't try to store it forever. This is not a good place to store anything that will be adversely affected by moisture.
Long term storage of anything with metal covers should be carefully monitored due to the possibility of rust.  Glass on glass containers or even Tupperware may be just fine.  Experiment with small amounts before committing yourself.  Each cellar will be different and give different results.

Apples need to be stored separately from the rest of your food.  The ethylene gas they give off hastens ripening and rot in other foods.  Do a separate cellar, or do a separate room that is completely sealed off from the rest so gasses will not transfer.

Keep root vegetables in dampness.  Pack them in boxes of damp sand if the air is not naturally damp.  Note..damp, not wet.

Try not to let individual vegetables touch each other in storage.  Examine them periodically for rot and infection of their neighbors.  There should not be bumps and bruises on stored vegetables or fruits.  Use them up first.

Onion family, pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes like lower humidity keep them closer to ventilation.  All the rest, like the dampness.

Do not think that you have to build an elaborate cellar.  Any place in your house or outbuildings that  stays dark will do. 

The temperature should be below 60 degrees F.  However, the closer to the mid 40s the better.  Never allow to freeze!

Pests can ruin your food,  Try to keep all but the tiniest bugs out.  Cover vulnerable areas where rodents will come in, with Hardware Cloth.  Build bins out of  Hardware cloth to drop storage boxes right inside.  These are important if you have not been able to seal the entire room.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

All Preppers Are Going to Die?

I was just watching a video about Preppers.  In it, the author of the video  tried to make the case that all Preppers are going to be unable to live in the event of a meltdown.  He says that most people do not have the land to live by farming, that most people living off the land will be in competition for wild food, and others will be waiting for the hunter to return to his home to steal his catch..Etc., Etc., Etc.....Well there are some salient points to all this.  Yes, few people have the land resources to grow food and will have a lot of competition for food and other resources.  This will be especially true at first when there will be so many people competing and just out of cities foraging.  Plus, law enforcement may not be there or effective. 
The thing is....Most Preppers will at least be in better shape than those who have not been laying food by.  Lawlessness will mean that people will need to have safe havens in the event that people try to take advantage of them...places to hide basically. 
This is so complicated an issue.  Do you arm yourself, or not.   Do you build an underground bunker?  How about remote food storage?

For century upon century, people lived on the land.  We did not have a population of 9 billion at the time, of course.  You can get yourself a number of acres of property to live off, but there is no guarantee that people will respect your ownership.
Here are a few truths:

1. A small family is easier to support on a piece of land than a big one.
2. Pre-cleared land can produce a food crop faster than one which is in need of clearing, so you should do that even if it draws attention.
3. Raising your own livestock is better than relying on wild food, though wild food is a good supplement.  Breeding stock should be held in a separate spot so if theft occurs, there is breeding stock elsewhere.
4. Beans are a good long term source of nutrition and are much easier to keep quiet than a live chicken when you are hiding from someone!  Also, livestock are more valuable than vegetable matter, and therefore vegetable food is less attractive to others who might be inclined to steal.
5. People who are used to low calorie consumption, are better prepared to survive than those who are big consumers.  They do not feel the deprivation as quickly.
6. Forming a cooperative is safer than trying to go it alone.  Losses due to theft or natural events are easier to bear if a co operative has group storage that can be shared.  The losses of one person can be shared by the group.
7. Being used to gardening in an organic manner by hand, will prepare you for the time when fertilizers and gasoline etc. are no longer available.
8. It is very likely that there will be crop failures at some point.  Long term storage of dry food, and canned goods etc., will get you to the next growing season, though it is wise to have a couple of years of bare necessities, including seed.
9. In difficult times, meat is for special occasions only...the eggs and milk are more important than the chicken stew and the beefsteaks.  Keeping the stock fed is more important than you having to skip meals.
10. In the very worst of times, calories are more important than variety.
11.  After they start to yield, fruit trees and berry bushes, nut trees, dandelions, asparagus plants, Jerusalem artichokes, fiddlehead ferns, Egyptian onions, chives and perennial herbs and naturally perennial food plants of all sorts ...ARE FREE AND NEARLY CAREFREE FOOD! Try rose hips...a good reason to grow roses....
12 Wild pigs are good eating and multiply quickly, despite their problems.  If you do not think you can hunt them, trap them instead.
13. All necessary skills come easier when you practice them.  Do not think that an apocalypse can come and all you have to do is drive to your farm and start have to practice your skills and understand your land, the stock and preservation ahead of time.
14. Buy a large plastic septic tank with a sealable trap door.  Put supplies in it and be ready to drop your kids, seed, and breeding stock into it if strangers appear.  A good source of oxygen and a good deodorant also helps!
15. Everything and everyone on your farm works or way or another.....

People have lived on the land for millennia, and should be able to do the same today.  You also have tons of technology to help you out, but you also have to learn the folkways of the past to be well rounded and prepared for what nature and man can throw at you.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Historic Communities and Village Museums

You can learn tons of stuff from your vacation time.  Plan trips to historic communities like Williamsburg Virginia, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, Shelburne in Burlington, Vermont, King's Landing in New Brunswick, Canada. 
These museums will give you tons of information on how to do things in the old manner.  One drawback is the Sanitized view of daily life that they present.  Plenty of funding and admission fees allow them to show all the people in the communities in nice clothing, clean, well fed etc..  The realities of life in a post apocalyptic world or in the 18th century were a bit different.  Communication was poor until the 19th century, and manufactured goods were available in the form of ploughshares etc., but they required money.  People were poorly fed in some years, and in some seasons.  People had to butcher their animals, preserve the meats, plow the fields etc.  All these tasks are rarely a part of the show at the museums.
The realities include mice getting into the seed grain.  Crops failing because of the rain...too much and too little.  Your potatoes sprouted prematurely so only a few of them could be used for the new crop.  Open hearths led to fires that would leave you stranded and sleeping in the cowshed with no resources to rebuild, or in freezing temperatures in the winter.
Everything takes much longer by hand.  Where do you get a safety pin if you have none.  Where do you get medicine?
Such museums show us a world with well established lines of communication and a society that was used to the deprivations of the time. You may have to live in a world of total collapse, and isolation.
Learn all you can from these museums, but prepare for the realities by working with others for the common good.....

A good strategy would be to purchase a large piece of land...I mean really large.  Cut it up into pie wedges with a central common area in the middle.  Sell the wedges off to like minded people who will build their homes near the common areas in the center, and farm the outlying land. Housing should be kept very...VERY modest in size so as not to waste resources.  Communal ovens, pottery kilns, storage facilities, ice houses, communal root cellars, fish ponds, orchards, sawmills and mill ponds, etc., should be built on common land.  Woodlots should be kept in peripheral areas and managed very carefully for sustainable harvest of the wood and sugar production where applicable.   Remote storage for seed, breeding stock and supplies should be hidden around the peripheral areas.  Doing all of this in advance of need assures that people will not be left in a world without good sources of energy and trying to clear and plant virgin forest or the like.