self sufficiency

A Great Firewood… If You Are Brave Enough!

Here at the homestead, we are situated right where the prairie meets a creek bottom.  Wildlife is abundant and the scenery is very pretty.  It also means we have some great soil for growing.  One of the downsides, however, is that we don’t have many of the typical “firewood” trees around.  Most of us in the south instantly think of Oak as the firewood of choice.   It burns slow and hot, and one tree usually contains enough wood for a winter of fireplace use.  Folks in other parts of the country have their own first choices for firewood.  I don’t have any of the “favorites” on my place at all.  I’m not even sure where they nearest Oak tree is.

One tree species I have an abundance of is very wicked and hateful Honey Locust.  How can a tree be so wicked and hateful?  It all has to do with natural defenses.  This species has thorns.  Big, ugly thorns that will pierce right through the sole of work boots and car tires.  It cares not for your denim and cotton duck clothing or leather gloves.  The goal of this tree is to make you bleed, and it achieves the goal frequently.   Most thorny trees have thorns on the branches.  The Honey Locust has them too, but it also grows thorns up and down the trunk.  Vicious, multi-pronged thorns that can grow to 8 inches in length.

Most sane people would ask the question, “Why would you mess with a hateful tree like that?”  The answer is simple.  The wood is very hard, straight growing, and the trees have very few branches.  It really makes for some beautiful firewood.  Because of the lack of branches and the straight grain, this wood is probably the best splitting wood I’ve worked with.  It burns slow and hot, which really helps heat the house on frigid nights.

So how do I deal with getting this tree from a thorny mess to the woodpile?  I’ve developed a couple of different approaches.
The first approach is the easiest.  The second takes a little more time, but will save you some bleeding.

The first approach is to fell a tree where I can back my Jeep in close enough to strap on to the trunk.  Once the tree is down, I will cut the branches off and leave them be for the time being.  Then I run a chainsaw across the trunk, which will send all the thorns flying.  Once it is de-thorned, I’ll pull the main trunk to another spot to cut it up.  This leaves the thorns well away from my new work area.  Just remember to be careful if you walk through that section of woods in the future!

The second approach is what I have to use when felling these trees close to the house where I expect foot or vehicle traffic.  I try to drop the tree to an open area if I can.  This time, I de-thorn the trunk using an axe, so the thorns fall straight to the ground around the trunk.  This will keep the work area from becoming a minefield of pure pain.  Once the trunk has had all the thorns removed, I take a leaf rake and rake them all to one spot.  The rake does a great job of gathering all of the thorns up from the ground.  Now I have a safer area to work on cutting the trunk into firewood sized pieces.  At this point, you can go back to the thorn pile and shovel them into a box or bucket.

If you get creative, you might come up with some uses for the thorns.  I’ve thought about using them in specific areas to deter the local wildlife.  Since they are extremely hard, they would probably make for some excellent primitive fish hooks.  If your creative side is lacking, they burn completely and very well.

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!

Save Money by Rolling Your Own… Ammo That Is!

A major part of being self reliant is the willingness to take our personal protection into our own hands.  As survivalists and preppers, most of us own firearms and are at least somewhat proficient in their use.  That takes practice and ammo costs money.  I believe that training and practice are worth every penny, especially if you ever need the skills in a defensive situation.  If you shoot much at all, you’ve noticed that the price of ammo is constantly going up.  Honing the shooting skills can quickly get expensive.  The best way to reduce this cost is reloading your own ammunition.  I want to give you the basic information that will let you decide if reloading is an endeavor that would benefit you personally.  I won’t be going into great detail on the processes because I’m a firm believer that the most important information should come from published, trusted sources.  I can recommend where to get technical information about reloading processes and load data.  You should never trust load data that isn’t published in a book from a component manufacturer.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to learning to reload is the misconception that the initial startup costs are too high.  I’ve proven personally that you can get the equipment and components you need for a reasonable price, less than $100 in some cases.  Another major stumbling block is the idea that reloading is complicated and dangerous.  It’s a very simple process and will only be dangerous if you don’t follow simple directions and pay attention to simple safety guidelines.  I’ve been reloading for years and years without any sort of accident or mishap.  Reloading is no more dangerous that filling a car up with gas or using household cleaning chemicals.  With all of that said, we can get into the fun stuff!

The best place to start is to cover how ammunition is constructed.  Then I’ll move into the actual reloading process.  I’m going to be breaking this into two Articles, Centerfire cartridges and Shotshells.  Each has its own basic construction and process, and use different equipment.  Today we’ll be covering centerfire cartridges.

 

Centerfire Cartridges

Centerfire cartridges can be anything from the little .25 ACP up to the 50BMG.  As different as they may seem, these two cartridges are constructed the same way and of the same materials.  All of the components in a cartridge are a case, a primer, a bullet, and a propellant.  Cases are generally made of brass, but some are steel or aluminum.  Brass is the only suitable material for reloading.  Bullets can be made from all sorts of materials, but the most common are lead alloys and lead alloy jacketed with copper.  A primer is the small round button on the bottom of the cartridge.  They are a small metal case with a chemical mixture inside that ignites with explosive force when struck by the firing pin of a gun.  This small explosion is the “spark” to ignite the propellant charge.  Propellants, commonly referred to as powder or gunpowder,  come in various textures and burn rates but all of them serve the same purpose.  They burn rapidly and create a high volume of hot gas.  This hot gas expands rapidly and provides the force to move the bullet down the barrel and out to the target.  Different propellants have different burn rates that are suited for specific purposes.  Generally speaking, pistol and shotgun powders burn very fast compared to most rifle powders.

The process to reloading these cartridges can be boiled down to inserting a primer into a case, adding a powder charge through the neck of the case, then seating a bullet into the neck.  Of course this is stating it very simply and there are a lot of other factors that go into reloading.  There are a couple of steps added if you use cases that have been used before.  Depriming is the first.  The old primer needs to be removed. Resizing is a big step in using fired cases.  This forces the brass back into specified size and shape.  Cases that have been fired multiple times can “grow” in length, so they must be trimmed back to proper length.  Once these steps are taken, the case should be back to factory specs and can be reloaded.  For the step by step, we’ll assume the use of new brass that won’t require additional steps.  The basic steps are as follows:

1. Priming the case

This step is pretty self explanatory.  You use a priming tool to insert a new primer into the primer pocket on the bottom of the case.  Because the case now contains a live primer, it should be handled accordingly.  Treat it as you would a live round.

2. Adding the powder charge

Using published load data for the cartridge and powder you pick, you add a very specific amount of powder to the case.  Different equipment setups do this by different means, but it can be as simple as pouring a measured amount through a small funnel.

3. Seating the bullet

Once powder is added, a bullet is seated into the neck of the cartridge.  The bullets usually are of a slightly larger diameter than the case neck, so it is a tight fit to protect against the bullet falling into the case or coming out of its own accord.  Some processes call for using a special tool to crimp the bullet into place.  This usually isn’t required, but it does have some benefit.

At this point you have a live round of whatever cartridge you are loading.  Now I’m going to get considerably more technical about components.  You can’t just pick powder and bullet combinations at random.  The first step in selecting a combination is finding published load data for the combination you want to use.  The reason you should only use published load data is because the cartridge, bullet and powder combination have been thoroughly tested to ensure they will work together in a safe and efficient manner.  Developing your own load data requires substantial knowledge and specialized equipment.  You might run into some reloaders that claim to develop their own loads by estimating chamber pressures and velocities.  This is an unsafe practice since there are countless variables that can influence pressures and velocity.  Sticking to published load data from bullet or powder manufacturers is the only way to ensure the load you use is safe.  A lot of people decide what bullet they want to use, then look at load data to determine what powder will meet their needs.  For any given bullet and cartridge, there might be a dozen or more suitable powders.  I base my powder choices on several things; recommendations of other shooters, availability, and price are determining factors for me.

Bullet selection should be based on your desired purpose.  Are you going to be using this ammo for practice?  An inexpensive full metal jacket (FMJ) should work well.  Are you going to be big game hunting?  There are hundreds of bullets designed specifically for hunting.  Are you shooting long range at varmints?  “Varmint” bullets are available that basically come apart on impact to prevent ricochet.  Other experienced shooters and reloaders can help you select the right bullet for the job.

Some words of advice and caution…  I’ve been pretty adamant so far about following published load data in this article.  That means follow the load data to the letter.  Do not substitute powders or bullets.  Any deviation from the data can take a safe load into the world of ruined gun and injured or dead shooters. I’ve intentionally been vague on details of each step of the process and the equipment to use because no one should read an article on a blog and think they know enough to jump right into reloading.  At this point, if you are interested you have some reading to do.  A good manual on reloading is invaluable to a new reloader.  A mentor with years of experience is even better, but that’s not always an option for some of us.  I never had a mentor and I’ve been successful as a reloader.  For those that plan to be “self taught”, I cannot recommend a specific book highly enough.  It is Modern Reloading by Richard Lee.  Richard Lee is the founder of Lee Reloading, a reloading equipment manufacturer.  With this one book, you will gain enough information to become a competent and safe reloader.  I’ve read several books on the subject, but this one is by far the best.  The book is very inexpensive, so if you are interested but still unsure if you want to reload, you can buy it without much investment.

Since I mention in the title about saving money, I thought it was only fair to show you how much money you can save by reloading.  I’ll use one of my favorite cartridges as an example.  The .270 Winchester cartridge is a pretty common cartridge so it usually isn’t expensive to buy factory ammunition.  Premium hunting ammunition ranges from $35 to $45 per box of 20 cartridges.  If I reload using comparable components, I can load a box of 20 for $13.50.  If I save by brass cases and don’t need to buy new brass, that cost drops to $9.20.
If I reload the 40S&W pistol cartridge using brass I already have, I can put a box of 50 rounds together for around $11.
With prices like this, practice starts to get a lot more manageable.  I can shoot quality ammunition made with good components for the same price or even cheaper than buying cheap imported ammunition with steel cases and crappy bullets.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me with the first link in the blogroll on the right side of the webpage.  Hopefully this article will give you enough information to figure out if reloading is something you might be interested in.  Stay tuned for a companion article on reloading shotshells.

I’m including this link as a resource.  It is very thorough and contains more information that I can give in one article.  While it is very thorough, I still recommend buying a copy of Modern Reloading to have as a reference.

I suck at the Internet.

I’ll start out by apologizing for not getting a post up on the site sooner.  Apparently, I’m not nearly as internet savvy as I originally thought.  I managed to lock myself out of my own website and had a little trouble setting up the email account through my hosting company.  That’s the trouble with the DIY mindset.  Sometimes, you don’t actually know enough to do it yourself, but that won’t stop someone as stubborn as me from pushing on!  I could have resolved the issues a lot sooner if I had called tech support, but I knew I would figure it out on my own (by the way, I didn’t figure it out and had to call tech support).  I’m still winging it for the most part, but the important pieces are coming together.  I haven’t deleted any files that make my webpage work since the second day.  I’m pretty sure I’ve learned enough about WordPress to make this post available.  I might even be able to get pictures uploaded and in posts soon.  If you check back and get some awful error, rest assured I will be working to get it fixed, even if I have to make a dreaded call to tech support!

 

I’d like to point out that there is a “blogroll” to the right of where you are reading right now.  Blogroll is just a cuter, bloggier way of saying “Links”.  If I knew more about code language, I would change it to “Links”, but that might result in a very poor looking webpage.  We’ll leave it alone for the time being.

On that blogroll, I’ve added a few links that I visit often.  These websites have been a great source of information for me.  Of particular note are the Backwoods Home link, and the Ask Jackie Clay that is a part of BWH.  Backwoods home is a print and online publication that specializes in homesteading and self reliance.  They have some of the most knowledgeable writers out there on anything related to homesteading.  Jackie Clay is one of their more popular bloggers.  To say that she is an expert on food storage would be the understatement of the year.  I’ve learned more from reading her blog and reader questions than I’ve found in a dozen books.

Two more of the links are for the Survival Podcast and AgriTrue.  The Survival Podcast is by far the most popular podcast relating to survivalism and self reliance.  It is done by Jack Spirko, and he is one of the sharpest guys out there.  He’s been podcasting for over three years, and has built an awesome community.  AgriTrue is a new concept of his that is just getting off the ground.  I could go into detail about it, but that would take up a lot of space, and it would rehash what is waiting for you if you click that link.

Zombie Squad is a group based in St. Louis, with chapters all over the world.  At their core, they are an emergency preparedness and survival group that focuses on education.  It draws a younger crowd than normally found with groups of that type.  I’ve met a lot of great people through Zombie Squad and I’ve learned a LOT.

Last but not least, there is a link for the Freedom Feens podcast.  It is hosted by Michael W. Dean and Neema Vedadi.  I met Michael a few years ago through a message board and have been keeping up with his many projects since then.  The Freedom Feens are libertarian while still being fun to listen to.  Its not a lot of the same monotonous drivel that seems to permeate the liberty movement.

Please take some time to visit these sites.  I’ve learned a lot of great information, and hope that everyone else can too.  I’ll be adding more links as time goes on, but these folks are near and dear to my heart so I wanted to give them special attention.

Now that I’ve got the basics figured out on this new world of websites, I’ll be getting stuff posted more frequently.  I’m going to start with some gear reviews, then venture into subject that interest me.  A little gardening, some food storage, energy, the potential for flesh eating hoards to come shambling down my road.

-Justin

Introduction

A little while back I realized that I spend too much time thinking about a few specific subjects.  I’m constantly pondering emergency preparedness, self reliance, homesteading, and self defense.  I also spend way too much time considering the outcome of a full out zombie uprising.  While it would be nice to have a large homestead that is fully self sufficient and fortified against the hordes of the undead… time, finances, and normal life seem to be in the way.   This website is a public outlet of working toward these goals, however lengthy the journey may be.  I believe that the mind is the most powerful tool in any survival situation, so I focus on learning as many skills as possible.  I still have a lot to learn.  I also believe knowledge is best shared, so I’ve created this website to share what I’m learning with anyone interested.  I’m by no means an expert on survival or homesteading, so take this as a disclaimer.  There are many out there with a lot more knowledge and expertise on these subjects.  I’m not trying to become the next Bear Grylls or Dave Canterbury.  I also won’t focus on one specific area, like wilderness survival or homesteading.  I like the “Jack of all trades, and master of none” approach.

Another subject dear to my heart is liberty.  We have become a society that is more than willing to trade freedom for security.  So long as our routines are not upset, we will submit to just about anything that encroaches on our individual rights.  We will go where we are told, eat what we are told, and live the way we are told.  We are told who to vote for.  Sure, we are given two choices, but those choices are for essentially the same thing.  We have become completely dependent on these systems that take our freedoms and offer us comfort and entertainment in return.  I’ve been unplugging myself from as many of these systems as possible, and being self reliant is a natural step in that direction.  I’ll try not to turn this site into a political rant, but some of the content will be political in nature.

Thanks for taking time to read this and I hope to have you back soon! Please feel free to jump in and comment on any content, or offer suggestions for content or improvement.

Thanks,

Justin