Is That Water Safe To Drink?? It Can Be!

One of the biggest benefits of living in a modern society is unlimited access to clean water.  We rarely even think about water quality when we can turn on a faucet and have millions of gallons of clean, safe water.  This seemingly endless supply of water relies on huge investments in infrastructure.  Most don’t realize that the water from the tap travels many miles through pipelines and treatment plants and distribution systems to get to the kitchen sink.  These systems are robust and  very well designed, leading to very reliable service.  With such reliability, it’s easy to see why water is overlooked in preparing for emergency situations.

There are many reasons why interruption in water service can occur.  A few that come to mind are long term power loss, infrastructure damage, and terrorist activity.  What are we to do when that reliable source of water stops flowing?  A simple answer for the short term is to have water stored.  Storing water is as simple as it sounds… Put water in a suitable container and seal it.  There are products out there for treating stored water, but they are largely unneeded.  If the water is clean when stored, it will remain so as long as the container isn’t damaged or compromised.  If you feel the need to treat the water, standard household bleach will work as well as any chemical preservative.

Let’s assume we have a loss of water service that is going to last more than a day or two.  In this scenario, we need the ability to source water and make sure it is fit for our needs.  Surface water is available in most areas of the country, but will not be safe to drink as it stands.  We’ll look at a few ways to make this water safe to drink.

Selecting the Source

One of the best ways to get safe water is to start with the best you can.  Running water is always preferred to standing or stagnant water.  Just like we need water for life, so does every other organism on earth.  Standing or stagnant water is a hotbed of life, including microbes that can rob us of our life.  However, please do not assume that running water is safe as is.  It can contain plenty of unsafe microbes as well.  All water sourced will need treatment of some sort.

One handy way I’ve found to locate surface water is the use of Google Maps.  You can zoom in on your area and use satellite images to locate ponds, lakes, and creeks nearby.  More often than not, you will find water sources you didn’t know about.

Basic Filtering

If the water you have is not clear, you will want to filter it before treatment.  This will remove large particles and dirt from the water.  This can range from pouring water through a cloth such as a bandana up to building a sand filter.  There is a lot of information available online for basic water filtering to remove large particles and contaminants.  We’ll cover water filtration for microbe removal a bit later.

Treatment

Now that we’ve found a source of water, we need to decide how to make it safe.  There are a lot of options available to ensure clean water for drinking.

1. Boiling.
This is the most basic way to make water safe to drink.  Microbes that can make us sick don’t do well with heat, so we can heat water until they are dead.  At what point are we sure they are dead?  The general consensus is 30 minutes at 160F, less than 5 minutes at 185F, and by the time water comes to a rolling boil, all microbes are dead.  I’ve seen some sources that recommend 10 minutes at boiling, but anything over 1 minute seems to be overkill.  I wouldn’t fault anyone for letting it boil for a few minutes to be sure if fuel sources are abundant.

2. Chemical Treatment.
There are several options available to use chemicals to treat water to kill microbes.  One of the cheapest and most effective is chlorine.  5 to 7 drops of chlorine bleach per quart of water will kill anything in the water.  Just shake up the container and let it stand for 10 minutes to let the chlorine kill everything.  There are other chemical treatments available at outdoor supply store such as iodine based treatments.  If you go this route, just follow the directions on the container for optimum results.

3. Filtration
There are a lot of filter options available these days.  Most of them work very well, but you have to pay attention to the size of the pores on the filter element.  Most water filters will filter out all bacteria and particles from the water, but will allow a virus to pass through.  There are filters available that offer pore sizes down to .01 microns.  These will take out viral contamination, but they are generally expensive.  If your filter cannot ensure virus-free water, you might consider additional treatments listed here.

4. Ultraviolet (UV)
Microbes (including virus) can’t live long when exposed to UV light.  One of the easiest methods to kill microbes is to expose them to UV light.  If the water is clear and placed in direct sunlight in a translucent container, wait for 6 hours and the water should be safe to drink.  If you can place the container on a reflective surface, it will increase treatment effectiveness.  The catch to using this method is that the water must be clear.  If it is cloudy, UV light cannot penetrate and kill microbes.

 

I still think it is important to keep some clean water stored up.  It will offer a good buffer during a disaster or survival situation while you make plans to procure and purify additional water.  Of course, the best option is to have a plan in place in case you need it.  So go ahead a take a few minutes to evaluate where the nearest source of water is and what would be the most effective means to make it safe to drink.

 

Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook Review

 

Before I get into a true review of the Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook by Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy, I need to send them a big thank you and an apology for not getting a review done sooner.  I had the pleasure of meeting them both at the Self Reliance Expo many months ago.  Dr. Bones promised to send me a personalized copy of the book and I told him I would enjoy reading it and get a review posted here at Surviving Modern Life.  He did send the book, I did enjoy reading it, and now I’m finally getting to a review.

I’ve read a couple of books on survival and wilderness medicine over the past couple of years.  I think it is a subject that everyone should at least have a basic understanding of since we aren’t always within reach of our modern medical systems.  Whether we are out hiking hours away from the nearest road or we are facing a full societal collapse, medical issues will still come up.  In these extreme situations, it could fall to any one of us to step up and become the only medical care available.  In short term situations, this might only require a knowledge of basic first aid and the ability to stabilize the patient until professional medical help can be reached.  In long term situations, help might not be coming for hours, days, or even weeks.  With this very real threat, it is up to each of us within the preparedness community to learn the skills that can save our lives or the lives of those close to us.  Of course, not many of us can run out and start medical school so we have to explore other methods of learning.

This is where Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy come in.  They recognized that there is a niche that needed filled in the preparedness community in the area of medicine.  There are a lot of great medical books available but they are either too basic to be helpful or they are entirely too in depth for the layman to use.  The few books that fall in between usually conclude each section by saying, “Then seek professional medical help.”  Not so with The Survival Medicine Handbook.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy recognized that there may be situations where seeking professional medical help isn’t possible and geared their book to this possibility.  They take a holistic approach to teaching individuals to become the first line medical practitioner during an emergency.  A lot of books cover basic first aid and a “How To” approach to each medical condition.  The Survival Medicine Handbook covers all of this but also has entire chapters devoted to becoming a medical resource and the basics of medical emergency preparedness.

Another wonderful featured offered is the integration of traditional medical treatments with alternative medicines.  You will not only be provided with vast expertise in use of modern techniques and pharmaceutical drugs, but you will be exposed to the use of natural remedies and essential oils.  I find this refreshing since modern drugs might not always be available to us.

In closing, I would like to say that The Survival Medicine Handbook gives you access to many years of medical experience.  It won’t make you a doctor, but it will exponentially increase your knowledge of medicine.  I feel more comfortable for owning and reading this book and having it handy for reference if I am in a situation where I need to provide medical care for myself or a loved one.

You can find The Survival Medicine Handbook at DoomandBloom.netWhile you are there, be sure to check out the huge amounts of free articles covering all things medicine.

 

 

Prepared For a Pandemic? Not That Hard, Right?!

It seems that preppers and survivalists are always talking about a possible pandemic.  Who can blame us after looking at history to see the horrible results.  To make matters worse, we had a hyped up “pandemic” a couple of years ago when the media felt the need to report every death related to the H1N1 Swine Flu even though the regular flu killed more people in the same season.  I suppose nothing sells news like pure, unadulterated panic with the masses.  The CDC certainly didn’t help matters with their reactions to the disease.  I hope they are not seen as the boy who cried wolf when a more serious issue comes around.  It will be easy for everyone to remember back to the Swine flu if they start telling folks to stay at home.

When the panic starts to set in, how are we to prepare for something as widespread as a pandemic?

To answer that question, we need to look at a couple of things.  What will a global pandemic look like, and how long will it last?  Both of these are impossible to nail down exactly.  It depends on several variables including how virulent the contagion is and what is its lethality rate.  A highly contagious disease that has a low lethality rate will look a lot different from a mildly contagious disease that kills a lot of infected people.  The more lethal the disease, the greater the long term impacts.

Using the Swine Flu as an example, we can look back to see that even something as benign as that disease was able to disrupt normal life for a lot of folks.  There were a lot of businesses and schools that were closed.  This had a negative affect on commerce for a few weeks.  People started restricting their own exposure to the general public and stayed at home a lot more.  While none of it was major, there were some minor runs on grocery stores as people stocked up in anticipation of quarantine whether self imposed or by government.  All of this because of a mildly contagious but low lethality disease that was over-hyped in the media.

If we look at a more sinister strain, we can very easily see commerce interrupted or slowed for months.  Our modern society can only handle so much before the effects are noticed.  We live in a time of great modern convenience, but this convenience relies on very intricate systems of distribution that must be managed and maintained precisely.  If we see a disease that spreads quickly and kills efficiently it will not take long to start disrupting distribution networks.

As people begin to self quarantine, they will realize that they don’t have enough resources at their home for any extended stay without a trip to the grocery stores or pharmacies.  At this point we will begin seeing increased pressure on existing stock at these stores.  Any sort of public panic or hysteria can push this to a tipping point.  To make matters worse, all it takes is one or two missed deliveries and the shelves start to go bare.  If there is a government instituted quarantine, these matters will become much worse.  In a worst case scenario travel restrictions become necessary to slow the spread of a disease.  An already strained distribution network cannot handle this kind of stress.

In our worst case scenario, we can also expect to see other systems start to stress and fail.  Electrical and communication systems are just as fragile and require a lot of manpower to run smoothly.  If critical personnel can not or will not show up for work, then failures can be expected.  The medical systems will obviously be overwhelmed treating the sick.  In a bad enough situation, hospitals will overflow and will only be able to take the worst cases.  EMS, fire, and police will be susceptible to the same overwhelming effects of possible manpower shortages.  During Hurricane Katrina, we saw governments at local, state, and national levels unable to cope.  A national or worldwide disaster will be exponentially worse.  As a lot of us say, you can’t count on the government coming to help.

Now that we’ve painted a pretty grim picture of what a pandemic can look like, let’s take a look at what we can do in our own lives to be better prepared.  Preparing for pandemic isn’t much different from preparing for any other disaster.  Our basic survival needs will still be the same.  We still need clean water and we will still be eating.  Anyone familiar with preparedness already knows that having a some water stored and some food put away provides peace of mind.  In the event of quarantine, this becomes necessary.  The average household has no more than three days of food on hand.  This is not enough for any disaster, but woefully inadequate for any sort of quarantine.  If a disease is bad enough, expect to be in your home for a couple of weeks to a month with little chance to restock.

I expect that water won’t be much of an issue unless there is a serious collapse.  Water distribution systems are pretty robust when compared to other distribution systems.  However, it never hurts to have extra water on hand as well as a means to purify additional water if needed.

There are some websites that will sell people on the need for masks of all kinds.  Some even go as far as to recommend gas masks.  I’m not in that crowd.  A surgical mask or dust mask might offer some minor reduction in your chances to catching an airborne disease, but it is certainly not a sure fire method of protection.  I see greater benefit for someone already infected to wear one to reduce the chances of transmitting a disease to others.  The best bet for avoiding airborne disease is distance and hygiene.  All of the stuff we’ve heard for years about washing hands often and covering coughs works a lot better than a mask for reducing infections.  Other than a couple of N95 masks, the only items in my preps that is geared specifically to pandemic preparedness is anti-bacterial hand soap.

Overall, preparing for pandemic isn’t much different than preparing for any other disaster.  The best course of action during the spread of any disease is to simply avoid exposure as much as possible.  By limiting exposure to crowded areas and avoiding direct contact with those already infected won’t ensure you won’t fall ill, but it will reduce the chance of infection more than anything else.

 

Stuff or Skills

When we first get in a preparedness mindset, it seems overwhelming on everything we need to do.  I remember when I first started.  There was all that food and water I needed stored.  All that ammo, too.  Of course I needed more guns to protect all that stuff.  Then there’s the need for the biggest, baddest bug out bag available.  A 3 day bag?? No way, I wanted a week!  My vehicles needed prepped, and not just the basics.  I wanted mobile bug out locations.  I was excited and couldn’t wait to get it all done and be ready for a pandemic of Mayan zombie hurricanes!  Finally I was awake to the possibility that things could go wrong and I didn’t have a second to spare.

It didn’t take long before reality set in and the cost of all this stuff smacked me in the face.  It was time to prioritize since I couldn’t just run out an buy everything I thought I needed.  As time went on and I was slowly building up all of this stuff, I had an epiphany.  All of this gear and all of these supplies were great for becoming self reliant, but self sufficiency should have been the goal.  I’ve heard that self reliance is how long you can go without systems of support.  Self sufficiency is how many systems of support you no longer need at all.  A 30 day store of food means I can avoid the grocery store for a month.  Learning how to hunt, fish, and garden means I can avoid the grocery store indefinitely.  Of course, feeding myself 100% from the land would be hard in the best of times but if we can become 30% self sufficient in food, that is 30% less dependent we are on a system.  My epiphany centered around the idea that with enough learning and skill development I could rely on the things around me to provide what I need rather than an expensive piece of gear.

If our grandparents knew we were having this conversation, they would just laugh at us.  They understood the importance of learning skills and learning to rely on themselves.  100 years ago, kids were put to work in the garden when they were old enough to walk.  Developing life skills started as early as possible with past generations.  These days our children are told that survival skills involve using a computer to do English homework.  If they need anything, there is a product at Wal-Mart we can buy to take care of that need.  I’m guilty of it myself, as I’m sure most of us are.  How many of us can build a fire without matches, or even with a single match?  Why should we bother when we can get a starter log and have instant fire!  It only took me about 30 minutes to teach myself to get a fire going with a single match.  Once I had that down, learning to do it with a fire steel took about 5 minutes.  It sounds like it would be as easy as touching a lit match to some dry grass, but if you haven’t tried it you can’t know for sure.

A large aspect to learning a new skill is saving money.  The more you know, the less you rely on someone else to provide a service or product.  An example that comes to mind is dehydrating foods.  That skill is pretty simple to master, but can save a lot of money on the grocery bill.  It can also help you preserve foods that would otherwise go to waste.  If we wanted to take the example to the extreme, we ca, with a little ingenuity, you can bypass purchasing a $100 electric dehydrator and build a solar dehydrator from scrap wood and some metal screen.  Now we have eliminated that purchase and our dependence on electricity to dehydrate food.  The concepts behind solar dehydrators are simple, and designs abound on the internet.  With an investment of a couple of hours, you can have a solar dehydrator up and running.

Most of the problems we have in our day to day lives and any we might face in a survival situation can be overcome with just a few basic skills.  I could go on with a list of important skills until this article turned into a book, but that’s not my intent with this article.  My point is to say that we should evaluate what skills we feel we lack then start to learn them.  With all of the resources available to us these days, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to learn anything we want.  We live in a time when all the information in the world is at our fingertips.  If you want to learn it, there is probably a video on Youtube to show you how.  If not, someone has written an article or book about it.  It’s amazing at how many skills I’ve learned this way.  However, learning takes more than just watching a video or reading an article.  You have to practice that skill to become proficient.  Too many times I’ve read about something and assumed I was an expert on the subject only to find out it was harder than it looked online.  But with a little practice, I’ve figured out that I can learn just about any skill I want to.

Part of the reason I started my website was to share skills that I’m learning as I learn them.  It not only lets me help others, it makes me really focus on learning a skill fully so I feel qualified to share it with others.  Stay tuned for future articles where we will cover some basic but important skills.  Some of the subjects might seem simple to some people, but remember that we all started somewhere.  What seems simple to some of us might be a revelation to a new prepper.

Just another knife? Hardly the case!

It should comes as no surprise that I have a bit of a gear addiction.  It’s also safe to say that my addiction includes knives.  I have knives of all sorts, types, and configurations.  So much so that I pretty much have a knife for every occasion.  I know better than to look at new knives because it usually results in purchase of that particular knife.  The responsible part of me has learned to only buy knives when they fit a specific need (I believe this is called justifying an impulse buy!) and have a fair price tag.  Sometimes this works well for me, and sometimes I buy knives I can’t really justify.  My latest purchase turned out to be the former.

I was looking for a small fixed blade knife that would look appropriate when I’m sporting tactical style pants.  I have a small Marbles knife that has served me well, but the brown leather sheath and stag antler handle stand out like a sore thumb on a BDU belt and tactical pants.  I could usually care less about how I look, but for some reason this style faux-pas was unacceptable.  So the search for the perfect knife begins….

The number of “survival” and “tactical” knives available is staggering.  A lot of them are nice, some are complete crap.  Each one that seems to work well has a cult following.  I decided to delve into the information on the internet to see if I could sort the wheat from the chaff.  As is turns out, only a few knives seem to have great reviews.  With the state of Texas having laws in place that limit us to 5.5 inches, that narrowed it down a little further.  I tend to hate any sort of radical design for fixed blade knives, so now there are even fewer.  That was a lot of searching to find most companies either have a stupid looking design or are made of substandard materials.

I’ve heard of the RAT Cutlery knives for years, and the guys over at In The Rabbit Hole Podcast seem to really like them.  I figured they were worth looking at.  Some internet research revealed that the RAT name is licensed to Ontario Knife, and that the original manufacturer now uses the name ESEE. I managed to snag one at the local gun show for a little less than retail price.  Make no mistake, these aren’t inexpensive knives.  These are top quality in both material and construction.  After much rambling, it’s time to get to the particulars of my perfect new belt knife.

The model I ended up with is the ESEE Izula II.  Apparenty, the Izula is a pretty serious little ant in the Amazon jungle.  The knife lives up to its namesake.  It is sleek, slender, and ready to sting.

 

To save time, I’m going to borrow the specs directly from the ESEE website.  I hope they don’t mind!

O.A Length: 6.75″
Blade Length (end of handle to tip): 2.88″
Cutting Edge Length: 2 5/8″
O.A. Blade Length: 2 3/4″
Maximum Thickness: .156″
1095 Steel – 57 Rc.
Blade Width: 1.0″
Grind: Flat
Handles: Canvas Micarta
Weight: 3.2 Ounces (Knife & Handles Only)
Sheathing: Injection Molded, Black
Pommel: .550″ Diameter Hole To Accommodate Carabiner
Spine: Thumb Grippers
Finish: Textured Powder Coat

My initial impressions were pretty favorable.  The knife balances very well and they handle shape and size is very comfortable.  The Micarta handle offers a no-slip grip.  But as always, the best way to judge a knife is to use it.  Here at Surviving Modern Life, I prefer to abuse the hell out of something before I give it a favorable review.

A weekend camping trip proved to be a great testing ground to see if this knife could handle my particular brand of abuse.  Like I said, I wanted to give it a thorough test, so I wasn’t concerned about marring the finish or chipping the blade.  Turns out, I didn’t need too.  The first round of testing involved wild onions.  They were growing everywhere in the rocky soil around the creek.  Out comes the knife and into the ground it goes.  It turns out that wild onions can really hold on to the ground.  Each onion dug out required digging around it and loosening up all the rocks to get it out.  When you use a knife to dig, you generally don’t like to hear crunching or scraping sounds.  There were plenty of knife killing sounds going on.  I got my harvest of onions then washed the knife off in the creek.  I did dry it on my pants before resheathing out of habit.

The next round came before dinner time.  It was time to start a fire and I went all out on knife abuse.  The blade is less than 3 inches long, so it isn’t optimal for batoning wood.  I’m not one to let “less than optimal” hold me back.  Into a chunk of oak goes the knife and I proceed to beat on it with another log.  Pretty soon I have a neat little pile of kindling and a couple of bloody knuckles.  Now I know why a longer knife is preferable for this technique!  Now I finally have some damage on my knife.  The powdercoat finish on the blade flatten out a little bit.  It didn’t peel off at all, just lost some of the texture.  Functionality isn’t affected at all, just the cosmetics.

Now it’s on to dinnertime.  I could have grabbed my Mora.  I could have grabbed the kitchen knife we brought.  Oh please, we’re in the middle of a gear test!  After a quick washing, the Izula is in the camp kitchen.  Of course I can’t find many ways to abuse it in the kitchen.  The best I could do was some food chopping on the aluminum table.  Since the knife has a Rockwell hardness of 57, I could have cut the table in two without damaging the blade.

At this point I decided to call it on further testing.  I couldn’t think of any other sinister tests that would mimic real life use.  I have to say I was very impressed.  Now onto my not impressed impressions.

The sheath that comes with the knife is a hard plastic job that the knife fits into snugly.  Unfortunately, it’s just a sheath.  It doesn’t even include a belt clip.  These are sold separately.  I ended up using paracord to lash it to my belt for the weekend.  Even if I was inclined to buy a belt clip, the knife would sit way too high on my belt.  There are folks out there that offer leather and Kydex sheaths in a traditional style.  This is the option I took.  I found a great sheath from Endless Mountain Supply on Ebay.

The next issue I take with the knife is the Micarta handles.  They start out a very pretty subdued greenish gray color.  After using it with dirty hands for a weekend, it darkened quite a bit.  Now it’s almost black.  The functionality and grip are unaffected however.

I’m so impressed with the durability and craftsmanship in this knife that I’m now planning to purchase the ESEE 4, which is the same knife with a 4+ inch blade.  I love the size of the Izula, but some jobs require a little more blade.  I can safely say that if you are in the market for a higher end knife, you can’t go wrong.  It has all the attention to details that you usually find from custom makers for a fraction of the custom price.  ESEE gets the Surviving Modern Life endorsement.  I look forward to getting the ESEE 4 and giving it the same style of abusive testing.

 

 

Worried about overstocking? Not with these items!

There are a lot of lists out there on items that you should have in your preps. These include items for barter and items to have on hand even if you don’t know how to use them, “just in case” someone else might know how to use them.  I think stocking items like this will tie up money and storage space that can be much better used for items that you can and will use in daily life or if the world goes to hell in a handbasket.   Having all sorts of great HAM radio gear costs a ton of money to buy and can take up quite a bit of space.  Being a licensed radio operator, I can assure you that just having the equipment will do you no good whatsoever.  There is a significant learning curve on using HAM to make contact with other operators.  Unless you are practicing these skill already, you won’t have the ability to use this gear when you need it.  I encourage everyone to become proficient in communications, but I’ll never recommend that someone buy radio gear “just in case”  For the price of a good transceiver and antenna you can put back a ton of beans.  Literally a TON of beans.   In my opinion, barter items are in the same boat.  If you overstock ammo with some trade in mind, that’s not too bad because you can use that ammo yourself if there is no need to barter.  I hear a lot of people that store liquor for barter, but they don’t drink at all.  I like a good drink, so I know exactly how expensive liquor can be.  Don’t get me wrong, if you drink it’s all good to store some of your favorite beverage.  It will store indefinitely and I can think of nothing better than facing the end of the world with a nice Bourbon to take the edge off.  However, I’m not going to tie up hundreds of dollars to store a luxury item before additional food or medical supplies.  Now that I have my rant out of the way, we’ll look at some items that you can feel confident about storing without worrying about overstocking.  Of course, I’m a proponent of “Store what you eat, eat what you store”, so rotating these items shouldn’t be a major problem.  You should only be limited by the amount of space you have available to you.  This list isn’t meant to be completely inclusive, so use your judgment on what would serve you and your family.  Also, note that the list is not in any particular order, so don’t feel the need to add any items in order of appearance.

Food:

Water – You can never have too much, but it is bulky.  Have a way to purify water from outside sources!
Rice – White rice stores a really long time.  Wild and Brown rice have a much shorter life span.
Beans of all types
Canned vegetables
Canned meats – only store these if you are willing to eat them!
Pasta
Powdered milk – You’ll need to learn to cook with this, so practice now.
Home canned goods.
Dehydrated foods – These take up very little space and store for a long time.
Freeze dried foods – These are a little pricey, but can’t be beat for shelf life.
Dried eggs – Check out the OvaEasy brand.  They are amazing!
Sugar
Flour
Baking supplies
Powdered drink mixes
Coffee
MREs – Try before you stock up.  They are calorie dense, but some people despise the foods within.

Personal:

Soap – Bar and liquid
Toothpaste
Dental floss
Shampoo and Conditioner
Deodorant
Toilet paper
Feminine products
Razors
Shaving cream
Baby powder

Medical:

Band-Aids
Gauze
Medical tape
Q-Tips
Nitrile gloves
Rubbing Alcohol
Hydrogen peroxide
Saline solution
Antiseptic solutions
Hydrocortisone
Over the counter medications
Antibiotics

Supplies:

Batteries – all sizes and types used in your household
Duct tape
Sewing supplies
Cordage – stock a variety of sizes and types
Trash bags
Zip-Loc bags
Foil
Plastic sheeting
Ammunition – This is also a great hedge against inflation since the price only seems to go up!
Propane
Gasoline – Gas must be treated to increase shelf life, so plan for this if you have long term in mind
Kerosene or lamp oil
Seeds – Heirloom varieties ensure a supply of seeds from the garden year after year
Currency – None of us can ever have too much money!
Canning lids and rings

 

Like I said earlier, this isn’t a complete list, nor is it in any particular order.  Each person or family’s needs will vary a little bit, so each of us will need to evaluate what should be in our preps.  If I have any glaring oversights, please feel free to leave a comment so we can build this list up on items that we can never have too much of.

 

 

 

 

Garden Time In Texas!

Gardening is a tradition that goes way back in my family.  I’m not sure how many generations, but I do know that my grandfather put in a garden so large that it required use of his Farmall Cub tractor.  That’s no surprise considering he had 8 kids to feed on a working man’s salary.  I remember being impressed as a kid by the rows of green beans that literally stretched for a couple hundred feet.  I wasn’t so impressed when it came time to pick those beans.  Wheel barrow load after load would be picked and carried over to the porch where we would string the beans or run them through a roller he had to remove beans from the hull depending on what kind of beans we were harvesting.  Then my grandmother would take over and fire up the pressure canner.  This process would be repeated as different produce came into harvest time.  Sadly, my grandfather passed away many years ago so the garden spot now sits fallow.  My grandmother still loves canning though, and it’s a treat to go visit and get a jar of her famous salt brine pickles.  Just make sure you take the empty Mason jar back or you’ll never get another pickle, and her memory is amazing on who has her jars!

Since I was a kid, my dad and I have put in a garden.  It’s nothing near the size of my granddad’s, but we are notorious for planting too much in our small space.  When the tomatoes start producing, we usually can’t give them away fast enough.  The canner runs all summer and we still make our co-workers happy with bags and bags of tomatoes going to work with us.  I do have to say we get stuck in a rut though.  A lot of the same crops get planted year after year and the only variation is decided by how many jars we have put away.  For instance, we still have a ton of canned green beans, so this year we won’t be planting any.

This weekend was garden time again.  It’s usually a time of concern for us since Texas is bad about throwing a late frost at us after we plant the garden.  This year there was no doubt that it was a good time.  Winter was almost nonexistent this year for us.  We could have safely planted weeks ago, but our main indicator hadn’t triggered yet.  We watch the Mesquite trees in the area.  Being a non-native, awful, invasive species from much further south, they will not bud out until they are sure winter is over.  They have only lied once in the collective memory.   I’ve been watching with guarded caution as the fruit trees flowered and the grass turned green, but this week the Mesquites budded so winter in Texas is gone and Spring is upon us.  Learning to garden is a generational thing.  My dad taught me as his dad taught him.  We normally use a conventional approach.  Till it up, plant in rows, and water like crazy.  Listening to guys like Jack Spirko and Paul Wheaton started me questioning this methodology.  Their talk of No Till and Permaculture sounded a lot like voodoo at first, but their results can’t be argued with.  My dad isn’t one to be convinced by talk.  He wants to see results before he is willing to change his entire way of thinking.

Enter the experimental garden!  The regular garden spot is tilled up and now planted in rows just like always.  We have an old chicken run that has been fenced off and unused for years.  When the chickens were there, they left manure all over the place.  Then leaves fell in a 6 inch layer.  It stayed this way for years.  It was the perfect compost pile.  Nature has been working its magic.  When I pull those leaves back, the soil is some of the blackest, loosest dirt I’ve ever seen.  It’s full of life.  I’m sure it would be the envy of organic gardeners everywhere.  This should be the perfect case study for chemical free, no till gardening.  I’ve started small with this area and over the next couple of weeks there will be more going on.  We’ve got a few tomato plants randomly placed with some peppers along the fence.  A little bit of spinach will be going in this week, and maybe some green beans along another section of fence so they can trellis and go vertical.  Planting was easy enough in the loose dirt.  All I needed to do was pull back the leaves, dig a hole by hand and transplant the seedlings.  As they take root I’ll pull leaves back around each plant to mulch.  Nature has provided everything but the seedlings.  The only place I used any sort of tool was for a small Hugelkultur bed.  This is more of that Spirko/Wheaton voodoo.  For those that have never heard of Hugelkultur, it is simply placing a bunch of topsoil on top of a bunch of woody material.  I have an abundance of oak branches available, so that was my material.  The concept is that as the wood breaks down, it acts as a sponge to soak up water.  This water is slowly released out so the plant can access it.  This should reduce irrigation requirements.  I used a mix of fresh hardwood and partially rotten wood to give this little bed a head start.  I set it up like a typical science experiment so I can see if there is any difference between a plant grown with this method and a plant grown in the normal soil.  The variable and control are habenero pepper plants of similar size.  If the Hugelkultur pepper does better, then the concept will be going into much larger use next year.  I have high hopes for this little experimental garden spot and think it will be a driving force in getting more natural approaches applied to the rest of the garden spots we plant.

Since I didn’t want my fiancee’s little girls left out of the gardening experience, we decided to get them involved at their house in the city.  Each girl got to pick out a couple of vegetable plants at the nursery and learned how to transplant them in the back yard.  Once again, I went with a no till method.  We picked an out of the way spot in the yard that should get good solar exposure and started planting the seedlings in a semi-random pattern.  The only thought I gave was to place them so that larger plants wouldn’t shade the smaller ones.  Both girls really enjoyed getting to play in the dirt, and seemed to like the idea that we would be able to eat the produce of our labor later.  The concept that we might need to work on is patience.  I was asked if we could pick tomatoes in the morning.  Don’t we all wish it worked that fast!!  My biggest hope is for this little urban garden because we’re not just planting seedling, but planting the seed of self sufficiency in two young minds.  This should pay dividends when Sarah and I can finally realize that dream of establishing our homestead and raising children to know where their food comes from and how to be independent from the systems we all seem to depend on.

Now that the dirt time is done for the weekend, I’ll be spending time figuring out how to get pictures posted so everyone can see the results of a day of dirt time.  Rumor has it that Wordpress is pretty user friendly about posting pictures, so hopefully I won’t have any trouble.  Stay tuned for pictures and updates of the three very different gardens!

Light a Fire? Sure you can!

Build a fire.  Sounds simple enough, right?  We can all agree that the skill of building a fire is an important one.  Whether it is to provide light and heat during a wilderness survival situation or just getting the fireplace going for a romantic evening at the house, everyone should be able to start a fire.  This subject came to mind when I was looking at all the “cheater” options for getting a fire going.  Modern technology makes getting a fire going entirely too easy.  You can douse your firewood with lighter fluid or if that is too complicated, you can just light the paper bag containing a log made of compressed sawdust and an accelerant.  Maybe we could go old school and pile up some sticks and logs then pour on some diesel fuel.  Any of these methods should get a fire going, but are we cheating ourselves out of a skill that could save out lives if we are in a true survival situation and need fire to keep from freezing?   I’ve been guilty of this myself too many times.  I’ll want to get a fire going for any number of reasons, but I want it going now.  Out comes the petroleum products and a lighter.  Instant fire!  When I was younger, I could put together a nice little fire with a little piece of charred cloth and a flint and steel.  That’s not a skill I’ve practiced in many years, so I’m not sure if I could still do it.  That is something I need to refresh on.  In the meantime, it’s handy that I smoke, because I always have a Bic lighter with me.  It’s part of my EDC, all day every day.  Even having a lighter doesn’t mean that someone can build a good fire.  It still takes skill to turn that small ignition source into a fire that can sustain itself.  We’ll look at the skill of starting a fire, but this article is just as much a “Can You?” as it is a “How To.”  Each of us should honestly evaluate our ability for firecraft.  If you find yourself lacking, then practice now so that the skill is available if you truly need it.  I know I need to improve my skills quite a bit.

Getting Started

I’ll cover some basics and explain how I go about starting a fire.  There are as many ways to set up for building a fire as there are people.  Some are no doubt better than others, so if my way conflicts with a method you already use just go with what works best for you.

The first thing I like to do is figure out where I want to build my fire.  Once it’s lit, a fire is pretty difficult to pick up and move.  Select an area that is safe above all considerations.  Lighting fires under low hanging tree branches or on grass in the middle of a prairie are both really bad ideas.  Keeping your fire from getting out of control is a major responsibility.  I like to find an area close to where I need fire that is already as free from vegetation as possible.  Before I do anything else, I remove anything from the site that can catch fire.  I push or scrape back leaves and grass.  If possible, I’ll dig a shallow hole to help contain the fire.  Adding a ring of rocks can add some additional safety.  Just be careful if you use rocks from a river.  They can contain water that will boil and can cause the rock to explode.  I thought this was a myth until I had a rock blow up rather violently.  Once I’ve got my spot prepared, I start gathering my fuel for the fire.

The Fuel

There are three types of combustible materials used in starting a fire.  They are tinder, kindling, and finally the main fuel source (usually logs).  Tinder can be any material that takes a flame easily and burns rapidly.  Dry grass is a favorite, but you can use any number of materials.  If need be, you can take larger sticks and use a knife to shave off very thin slivers to create tinder.  I figure out how much tinder I think I need, then collect about twice that amount.  Next we move on to gathering up kindling.  Kindling is simply small twigs and sticks.  These sticks should range in size from very thin to sticks about the thickness of a finger.  When I’m laying out my kindling, I sort it from smallest to largest.  This makes it easy for me to grab it in appropriate order once I have a flame going.  Now I start to gather larger pieces of wood to use as my main fuel source.  These range from the diameter of my thumb up to as large as I can find.  I lay these out the same way as my kindling.  Having everything at arms length and ready to go makes starting a fire much easier.

The Setup

There are several methods of laying out the materials to start the fire.  Most common methods have names that are self explanatory such as the “Teepee” and the “Log Cabin”.  I prefer to start out with a log cabin design then move over to a teepee once the fire is well established.  With some experimentation, you will find what works best for you.

I start with a big handful of tinder and fluff it up a little to allow airflow.  Once the tinder is ready, I lay it out and put some of the smallest kindling on it.  When I’m first starting the fire, I don’t add anything bigger than the diameter of my pinky finger.  I have larger pieces of kindling within easy reach to add as the fire starts to grow so I don’t have to move from my position.

Light It Up!

Now that everything is laid out and I have my tinder and small kindling ready, it’s time to break out the ignition source.  Like I said earlier, I prefer Bic lighters, but matches work wonderfully.  Fire steels also work well if you are proficient in getting a good stream of sparks from one.  I try to light my tinder on two different sides as quickly as possible.  Once the tinder catches, you should see the small kindling start to catch pretty soon after.  As it catches, carefully place more kindling on the fire.  As the new material catches, start adding the larger pieces.  Within a couple of minutes you should be adding some of the largest kindling if your fire is healthy.  At this point,  the fire should be burning pretty well without having to constantly add material to it.  Once I get to this point, I start laying pieces the diameter of my thumb and larger in that teepee design.  Now it usually looks like a pretty good fire.  Through the whole process, I add progressively larger pieces of wood until I’m using material from my main pile.  At this point, it is easy to adjust the size of the fire normally by adding wood as it needs it.

Fire Safety

A lot of fire safety is basic common sense.  First and foremost, touching the fire is a bad idea.  Don’t do that under any circumstances.  It might seem obvious to us, but make sure any children around are well supervised.  This is one lesson kids don’t need to learn the hard way.  Also, be aware that metal is a great conductor of heat, so if you are using coat hangers or metal skewers to cook hot dogs, they will heat up.  No need to turn a hot dog roast into an exercise in cattle branding.

If you cheat and decide to use an accelerant, please be careful.  Vapors can be explosive and any spilled liquid can combust easily.  Pour the liquid then light it rather than pouring flammable liquids on a fire that is already burning.

Control that fire!  By starting a fire you assume full responsibility to control it.  In most places, you even assume legal responsibility for any damage resulting from your fire.  Before starting a fire, be sure you have a way to extinguish the fire.  If winds start to pick up, monitor any blowing embers to make sure they can’t start another fire.  When in doubt, just put it out.

 

Beef Jerky Made Simple!

I know this subject has been covered at least two million times on the internet, but I’m a firm believer that there can never be too much information about it.  Jerky has sustained man for thousands of years, and even in modern times it is still a staple.  Second only to bacon as they best food ever created, simple dried out flesh satisfies a craving that every man (and most women) have.  Historically, jerking meat was a way to preserve meat when no other means were available.  Primitive man couldn’t always be sure when the next game animal could be harvested, so he needed a sure fire way to save some meat from the current harvest without it rotting.  Some guy in a cave discovered that if you cut meat thin enough, it dries out and keeps for a really long time.  Then he discovered if it was dried it in the smoke of a fire, it dried out better and had a wonderful smoky flavor.  I’m sure this guy became very wealthy bartering his incredible new creation with others in the caves.  Of course, this history is anecdotal and can’t be verified.  Primitive people the world over had variations on drying meat for preservation, from basic sun dried jerky to Biltong to Bakkwa to Pemmican.  Each has its own methods and processes, but the basic concept is the same.  Get the moisture out of meat and it will keep a lot longer.  Chemicals can be introduced to help the process along, but isn’t required to get good results.  The most common chemical aid has traditionally been salt.  Salt really helps pull moisture out, but we can cover that in another article, since its uses are so broad in food preservation.

Here at the Surviving Modern Life household, we always have grand plans of jerking meat and having it available for long term storage.  Sadly, it rarely works out.  Any time I make a batch of jerky, the house is filled with a wonderful aroma.  Everyone in the house starts craving the product before it is finished drying.  You can imagine what happens when the process is complete.  Everyone needs to taste test it to make sure it’s good.  For some reason, one piece is not good enough for this testing.  Within a couple of days, the product has been fully tested but there’s not any left.  I might or might not be guilty of participating in the testing.

I’ll risk copyright infringement by say that making jerky is so easy a caveman can do it.  I know this to be true because they actually did.  The process is extremely simple, but it seems modern man can complicate anything.  A lot of recipes available recommend specific amounts of salt or even potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate.  These no doubt have their place in preservation, but just aren’t required to make jerky.  I do use ingredients that contain salt for my marinade (even a marinade isn’t required), but that is simply for flavor.  Other recipes call for using various sugars as a preservative for jerky.  Once again, some of my ingredients contains sugars, but they are for flavor.  Jerking meat simply means removing the moisture by drying.  Marinating the meat before drying can be done to impart flavor.  I’ll be sharing a rough version of my overly complicated recipe a bit later.  A rough version is the best I can do because none of the measurements are exact, or even written down.

The most important part of jerky is selecting the meat and getting it cut up.  Any lean cut of meat is eligible, but I’ve had best results with cuts that have long grain.  My favorite cut for this is Eye of Round roasts or top rounds.  They are even grained and the tissue is very lean.  Whatever cut you use, you want to make sure there is as little fat marbling as possible.  Fats left in the meat will not dry out well since oil cannot be dehydrated.  These oils will turn rancid in a few days and can ruin any pieces of jerky that contain them.  I learned this the hard way by losing a whole batch by not trimming fat away enough.  Another common mistake is cutting the meat too thick.  I like to cut mine 1/8 inch thick, but you can get away with cuts as thick as 1/4 inch.  The thicker the cut, the longer it takes to dry.  Some folks want to try to make the big, thick nuggets like you buy at the store.  Keep in mind they never dry completely and will turn bad on you within a couple of days.  The reason the store bought stuff keeps is due to chemical preservatives.  I’ve experimented with several different ways to cut up meat and by far the easiest is to use a deli slicer.  These can be cost prohibitive, but if you end up making a lot of jerky they are invaluable for convenience.  I did spend several years slicing meat by hand and have a couple of recommendations for this method.  Most importantly, keep your knife sharp.  Like really sharp.  Another trick was taught to me by a friend that is a chef.  He pointed out that if you put the meat in the freezer for a couple of hours to the point that ice crystals start to form, the meat is considerably easier to handle and cut.  You don’t want it frozen too solid though.  Freeze it just enough that it starts to feel a little firm.  As long as you pay attention to the thickness, sizing your pieces is really up to you.  I’ve made long, thin pieces and I’ve made pieces as large as my hand.  Either works well, so use your preference.  Now on to turning those pieces of dead critter into jerky…

Once you’ve selected a lean cut of meat and have it all sliced up, you are faced with a dilemma.  Now is the time to decide what you want your jerky to taste like.  There are as many recipes as there are people making jerky.  Of course, everyone will tell you that theirs is the best.  I feel the same way.  My super secret jerky/steak marinade is probably the best tasting stuff on earth… for me at least.  A lot of how you want the end result to taste is dependent on what you add to the marinade.  Any good steak marinade will work, or you can customize a recipe to satisfy your tastes.  Some like it sweet, some like it spicy.  Personally I prefer a salty jerky with a little spicy kick to it.  If your tastes are really simple, you can just lightly sprinkle the meat with some salt and pepper and go straight to the drying process.  Most of us will want a bit more flavor.  My personal recipe starts with several spices like onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and a touch of paprika.  Then I add in a few dashes of Worchestershire sauce, a pretty healthy dose of Soy sauce and top it off with a can of Coke.  I let the meat marinade for at least 4 hours.  I’ve gone longer, but the flavor gets  more intense the longer is stews.  Overnight is too long for me.  There are hundreds of recipes available online, so find one that sounds good and try it.  You can always improve on it to meet your needs for future batches.

The dehydration process is what turns that raw meat into wonderful jerky.  There are a few ways to accomplish getting that moisture out of the meat, but the simplest is a dehydrator.  These are usually counter-top units that have trays that allow fan forced air through them.  Most integrate a low wattage heater to dry the air as it passes through.  I’ve been using the same American Harvest dehydrator for over ten years.  If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, you can use the oven for the process.  Using inexpensive oven dehydrating racks, but you can use the existing racks if you don’t mind scrubbing them after you are done.  Just set the oven to it’s lowest heat setting and leave the door cracked.  This method is pretty energy intensive and runs up the cost of making jerky.  Overall drying times will vary depending on the method you use.  The best bet is to check on it after a few hours to see where it’s at.  I’ve got my time nailed down pretty well, but it took a lot o practice.  My dehydrator seems to make perfect jerky at 8 hours.

Once you have your jerky at the level of dryness you want, it should keep for a long while.  Of course, for longer storage time, you want a drier product.  A couple of lessons I’ve learned are that if there is any fat or oil in the meat, eat it pretty soon.  If it is still a bit moist, it will start to grow mold after a few days.  This is accelerated if you store it in a plastic bag.  I prefer storing in an open Mason jar or in a paper bag.  If you put it in anything that seals moisture in, it will go bad a lot sooner.  I once found a couple of pieces in a paper bag on my counter under a huge stack of paperwork.  It had probably been there for at least three months.  I looked it over and didn’t see anything funky, so I decided to try a piece.  It was bone dry, but tasted just the same as it did when I made it.  Of course I will leave it up to each person to determine if eating 3 month old meat is something they want to test!

Before parting, I want to share my thoughts on food safety.  Once the meat comes out of the refrigerator and you start cutting it up, you want to get it drying or marinading as soon as possible.  Marinating in the fridge is your safest bet unless you are very comfortable with the idea that your particular marinade is salty or acidic enough to prevent bacterial growth.  Bacteria that cause foodborne illness thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 F.  You are fine once you start the drying process, since this will deny the bacteria the moisture it needs, but you shouldn’t let raw meat sit at room temp for very long.  Using a little common sense in the kitchen will go a long way toward preventing any nasty issues.

Hopefully I’ve been able to pass along a little bit of information about jerky, or at least brought a little humor into a subject that has been covered completely.  I know that jerky is one of my favorite foods, so I wanted to share my thoughts and processes with my readers.  I plan on branching out into other types of dried meats in the near future.  I’m especially looking at Biltong.  I’ve never made it before, so the results might be a little iffy.  I’ll be sure to cover any successes or failures in an article here.

Self Reliance Expo Dallas

This weekend the Self Reliance Expo made its stop in the north Texas area.  Sarah and I managed to sneak over for a few hours to see what was going on.  This was a pretty big feat for me since I had to violate a personal rule about crossing into Dallas County.  Dallas has a lot to offer and a lot of cool things going, for most people.  It’s there if I need it, but I can generally make due without the massive 6 lane freeways and the 5 mile long interchanges that involve half of the major interstate highways in Texas.  Couple that with all the drivers that feel like they aren’t moving unless they are passing you.  Yeah, I generally avoid the big city unless something really cool is going on.  Fort Worth can be crazy, but Dallas is usually pure insanity.  That “something cool” was there this past weekend.

We didn’t get to make it out that way until around noon on Saturday.  I like getting to events much sooner to the opening than that, but with prior obligations we got there as soon as we could.  I was hoping that showing up halfway into the second day of a two day event would still allow me to see everything available and meet the folks I was hoping to run into.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  We made it just in time to catch the presentation from Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy from Doom and Bloom.  It didn’t take long before they had our full attention.  For an hour they covered medical care for collapse situations.  Everything from broken bones to lacerations was covered in detail with a great slideshow presentation.  I’ve sat in on medical presentations in the past that bordered on boring.  A few have crossed over into true slumberland.  Not this round.  Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy are both good presenters and enjoy interacting with their audience.  Not once did I get the feeling that they were dragging.  I’m looking forward to getting my hands on their new book, The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook.  I was planning on getting one at the expo, but Doctor Bones explained that they managed to sell every copy they brought with them.

Once the presentation was over it was time to hit the aisles and see the vendor booths.  Food and water are always popular items at events like this, so I got to get myself familiar with the product offerings for both.  Berkey water filtration seemed to be a hit, so it took me a few minutes to get up to the booth and ask a few questions.  I was surprised as the number of options available for filtering water.  I knew about the big countertop units Berkey offers, but discovered they have other options as well.  Of note were water bottles with integrated ceramic filters.  Sarah pointed out this might be a good gift option for friends of ours that spend a few months each year in research in the jungles of Central America.  To say the water should be avoided down there is an understatement!

Next we were on to the food vendors.  The normal offerings were available including Mountain House, Wise and Thrive brand long term foods.  Sarah discovered Thrive’s freeze dried grated cheese.  We’re both a little leery of long term dairy, but this stuff was pretty good.  We’ll be adding some of that to the long term storage.  The hit of the day for me was the booth for OvaEasy Whole Egg Crystals.  I’ve had dried eggs in the past and the results were less than stellar.  After asking the important question… “Are these just powdered eggs?”  I was presented with a fork full of scrambled egg.  That answered the question.  “NO” these are not just powdered eggs.  They tasted like eggs, but more importantly, they had the texture of eggs.  Gonna have to add this one to the long term storage grocery list.

There were several booths extolling the virtues of alternative energy at the expo.  That’s a subject I’m interested in, but the product prices in that field are pretty much off limits for the prepping budget in the short term.  I didn’t spend much time in those booths, but will be sure to the next time the expo comes through town.  I spent a little more time with the custom knife makers, but their wares were out of the budget as well.  My lust for a custom knife will have to wait until more important items are procured.

The folks at Ready Made Resources were there showing off some of their cooler products.  I only got to speak with the proprietor for a minute since his booth seemed to be one of the most popular that afternoon.  They were showing off a solar power pack that looks incredibly portable and useful, but I didn’t get a chance to ask many questions thinking I could find it on their website.  No luck yet, so it looks like I need to give them a call.

On our way out the door, we paused to talk with the folks from Backwoods Home Magazine.  I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time, so I really enjoyed getting to meet Dave Duffy, the editor.  Since I think they do a lot of great work for the Survival and Homestead community, I decided to go ahead and get a magazine subscription.  They make a ton of info available on their website for free, so I wanted to support them on the side of the business that pays their bills.

Overall, I was impressed with the Self Reliance Expo.  I think it was well worth the ticket price to get in the door.  I hope the show was successful enough to expand to other cities, and I certainly hope to see it again in north Texas.  Now I I can just talk them into moving it a little west to Fort Worth so I don’t have to break my “No Dallas” rule again!