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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.net. While you are there, be sure to check out the huge amounts of free articles covering all things medicine.
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.
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.
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″
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.
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.
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 meats – only store these if you are willing to eat them!
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!
Powdered drink mixes
MREs – Try before you stock up. They are calorie dense, but some people despise the foods within.
Soap – Bar and liquid
Shampoo and Conditioner
Over the counter medications
Batteries – all sizes and types used in your household
Cordage – stock a variety of sizes and types
Ammunition – This is also a great hedge against inflation since the price only seems to go up!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!