Monday, December 31, 2012

Guest Post - Seed orders and barren gardens

A Warning About Seed Orders and Barren Gardens

By Steven Gregersen

I love it when the seed catalog arrives with the Christmas cards. We used to spend hours drooling over the latest offerings, comparing growing days and zones, resistance to diseases, prices and other data relevant to our location and needs. Although we made our seed orders early we were never in a hurry to receive them because most years we have snow on the ground until at least the end of March. We had plenty of time we thought.

Then one year our languorous affectation was blown completely away! We'd made our normal seed order in early January then waited. Waiting was nothing new to us. In our northern climate we often specified that fruit trees be shipped in the spring after the snow was gone. We usually got our order in parts and we'd never experienced problems in the past. But this time it was different!

That year in particular, after rising fuel prices made everything else expensive a lot of people began gardening to alleviate the skyrocketing price of fresh vegetables. And I mean a LOT of people. Even in our area we met dozens of people who were planting their first garden. We were so thankful that so many were going to experience the joy of eating actual fresh vegetable that we never considered the problems it would cause nationally. At least we didn't until January slipped past, then February, then March, and then April, and we still hadn't received our seed order.

Inquiries were made and each time we were reassured that our order would be shipped "in season." Finally we got our package from the seed company with about half of our order in it. The apology and explanation was short. It seems that they'd underestimated demand and had run out of the seed we'd ordered. They shipped out orders to the warmest places first, expecting to have more seed available for the colder climates but the new seed never materialized. They were sorry for any inconvenience and encouraged us to order the missing items from other suppliers.

To say we were angry would severely understate our emotions at the time. We'd done business with this company for years! Naturally every other seed supplier was also out of the varieties we wanted. Some were out of almost all of their seed. We were relegated to purchasing from the very limited selections at our local merchants and chain stores. What a disaster! Especially when we depend on the garden for most of the food we eat.

But that disaster brought some needed changes in our lives. We now save our own seed instead of depending upon suppliers a thousand or more miles away.

I'm not going into the "how-to's" of seed saving because it would be too lengthy for this type of forum. I just want to sound a warning to those who rely on outside sources. If for some reason you cannot replenish your seed yourself be sure to include instructions to ship your order immediately. Second; try ordering enough extra to save some for the next year. Rotate your stock and make a new order every year and you'll always be a year ahead ... just in case!

If you've never saved your own seed now is a good time to start. By that I mean ordering heirloom and non-hybrid varieties that reproduce themselves. Most seed companies have them and you can also look for seed exchanges in magazines like Grit and The Mother Earth News. Plus, by starting now you'll have time to study and learn the seed-saving process before harvest time.

If, like us, you are striving for self-sufficiency saving your own seed is one more step forward on the road to independence.
Thank you, Steven.
Steven, by the way, is my husband.  He writes for magazines, including Backwoods Home Magazine, Backwoodsman, Back Home Magazine, Fur Fish & Game, Primitive Archer, Traditional Archer, and others.  He has two published books and is working on another.
As always, please leave comments or questions below, or by email at
 PS:  There's been a tremendous amount of mail lately and I'm working my way through answering everyone's emails.  Please be patient!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dehydrating Eggs

Four dozen dehydrated eggs in a quart jar
A few years ago I started dehydrating my extra eggs over the spring, summer, and fall.  The main reason I did this was because from about November until March our chickens don't lay eggs up here in the cold north, with our short winter days.  We didn't like having to eat store-bought eggs during the months our chickens got their break from laying.  In the summer we gave eggs away to everyone we could push them off onto, and it seemed a shame to give away so many eggs, then have to pay to buy them in the winter, as well as buying feed for the chickens during those months too.
We live off-grid with solar electric power, so putting lights in the chicken coop isn't an option.  Winters are cloudy and the days are short, so we have to conserve electricity during those months. 
Dehydrated eggs have the disadvantage that you have to use them as scrambled eggs.  That means no fried eggs in the winter, but lots of really good and creative omelettes!  They can also be used in baking.  I use one tablespoon whole dried egg to 1 tablespoon water, to make one reconstituted egg.
You can also separate the eggs and dry the whites and yolks separately.  If you like to bake things that call for egg whites, or to make meringue, you can use the dried whites.  The dried yolks can be reconstituted and cooked for eating, or used in baking.
My Nesco dehydrator came with one plastic liner for making fruit leather.  I use it when I dehydrate eggs and I line the other trays with wax paper.  I cut the hole out in the middle so it would sit on the tray, and trimmed the edges with extra so I could bend it up and form a lip around the edge so the egg wouldn't run off the trays.  I'm careful with the wax paper and re-use it for several batches before having to cut fresh wax paper.
Each of these trays holds four eggs.  If you have a different dehydrator you can experiment to see how many it holds.  Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk them until the yolks and whites are evenly mixed, if you're dehydrating whole eggs.  With the lined dehydrator tray sitting on the dehydrator, so you won't have to move it after filling the tray, carefully pour egg onto the tray.  Move the bowl around the tray and pour until you have a good covering.  You can use a spoon to further spread it.
You don't want it too thick or it'll take a long time to dry. I poured mine about the thickness of a plain chocolate candy bar.  Try to spread it evenly so that you don't have part of the tray finished before the thicker parts.  It won't be perfect, but take a few minutes to spread it as evenly as you can.
This is partway through the drying process.  You can see the 'skin' forming on top.  Set your dehydrator to the hottest setting, if you have a temperature control on it.  Mine is 135 degrees.
You can dry eggs in the oven on a low setting, but use the absolute lowest temperature setting your oven has.  You don't want to cook the egg, you just want to dry it.
If you live in a dry climate you can air-dry the eggs.  Watch them closely and pour them thinly on the trays.  I tried flipping mine partway through once and it was a messy disaster.

It takes my dehydrator about 8 hours to dry four trays of eggs.  When they're done I lift the wax paper off the dehdrator tray and I turn it upside-down over a cake pan.  The dried eggs should peel off without leaving a mess on the wax paper, other than a few crumbs.  If it's still wet and slimey, put it back on the dehydrator tray and dry it longer.

When they're crumbled in the pan they resemble cornflakes.  I broke them into crumbles, then spooned them into the blender to make egg powder.

The finished egg powder is in the bowl.  I later started just packing the crumbles into a jar and crushing them down with a wooden pestle from a mortar and pestle set I have.  When reconstituted, it works just about as well as 'powdering' it in the blender.
It doesn't make a dry powder.  It makes a somewhat-greasy powder.  If you have trouble reconstituting it try using different temperatures of water.  It will look grainy when it's reconstituted, but when you cook it, as either scrambled eggs or omelettes, it comes out with an even texture and a bit spongy rather than fluffy.  The taste is the same as fresh eggs.

We take it camping, so I put some in a ziplock bag for that purpose.  This bag in the picture traveled with me on a 1,100 mile bicycle trip in spring and early summer 2010.

Dumped straight out of the trays and before further crumbling the dried eggs look like peanut brittle without the peanuts.
The majority of our dried eggs are packed tightly into glass jars and stored in our dark, cool root cellar.  Most summers I dehydrated around 24 dozen to store for winter use.  It's been a big savings and a great way to have 'home-grown' eggs over the winter.
If you have comments or questions, please leave them below or email me at:

Monday, December 24, 2012

D.K. Richardson Guest Post - Nutrition: Food and Cooking

Nutrition: food & cooking
This segment focuses on putting together your own meal, ready to eat. Using commonly available long shelf-life commercial products, you can make your own tasty and easy-to-cook or heat-to-eat meals. I discuss several common problems with home-made MREs and show you how to avoid the problems. Finally, since you should store what you eat - and eat what you store. Here, I show you how to incorporate your homemade MREs into your day-to-day diet so that rotation and out-of-date foods should never be a problem.

I'm going to focus on ~about 72 hours of food for an individual. You should be able to eat most the items without cooking; the items should have a good shelf life - more than 6 months in the kit and be relatively low cost.

Food for your kit should require no refrigeration, be easy to make and simple to clean up. The food should also provide real calories - in a disaster you'll need anywhere from 2K to 5K calories per day, depending on the weather. Minimal water use is also something you should factor in as well.
Remember, even if you eat nothing, you will still need at least two liters of water, per day.

Let's look at some possible choices for your kit food. I'll stick with brands that can be had here in Alaska - you should have no problem finding them where you live as well.

Clif Bars - 230 Calories - 30 from fat

Oatmeal (fast, not instant)- 150 Calories per 1/2 cup serving (4 days is only 2 full cups)

CoffeeMate dry creamer 15 calories per packet (1 tbsp) shows 1 g of fat

Sugar, packet 15 calories

Instant potatoes - (Baby Reds) 4 oz pouch - 110 calories (no serving size listed, I'm assuming per oz as it is a carbohydrate)

Minute rice - 250 Calories per 1/2 cup serving per the producers website
Note - other sources show 150-185 calories per single cup serving or 'rice'.
Note - With Minute Rice brand rice - 1 cup dry is a 1 cup serving. For unprocessed rice, it is 1/2 cup rice = 1 cup cooked.

Peanut butter (JIff to go) 250 calories, 150 from fat. per 1.5 oz serving

SPAM (classic, slice in bag) 250 calories per 3 oz serving. (Other choices are tuna in the larger bag, chicken breast in the pouch, and dry salami. See below)

Trail mix (Planters, 6 oz) 150 calories, 80 from fat per 6 oz bag

Lipton Soup (dry) Chicken noodle - 60 calories per packet

Sun Maid raisins 1.5 oz (28g) box 90 calories

StarKist light tuna in water (Pouch, 2.6 oz) 80 calories, 5 calories from fat.

Bumble Bee chicken breast (pouch, 4 oz) 150 calories

Sailor Boy Pilot bread - 100 calories per cracker

Hormel roast beef and gravy (12 oz can) ? The product page lists servings as "varies' then shows 130 calorie per serving. Lean roast beef is about 46 calories per oz. Call it 500 calories per 12 oz can.

A Mountain House Beef Stroganoff (2 serving pouch) gives you 500 calories for 4.6 oz.

A single MRE gives (about) 1250 calories and each one weighs in at between 0.8 pounds and 1.8 pounds (depends of menu item and packer) stripping out some of the packing will shave off some weight. Cost of a single MRE is around 8 US dollars as of the time of writing.

Hormel Dinty Moore Beef stew, DAK premium canned had (16 oz), Corned beef & corned beef hash, and other canned meats may be more to your taste - this is an exercise in counting calories and trying for some balance in your food choices.

To reduce clean up, wet items can be served in a sandwich bag - used as a liner - held by a bowl. Doing this will reduce your clean up tasks. Rice and oatmeal only need hot water, the stew may be (carefully) heated in the opened can using a water bath, the water being saved for washing up after your meal..

What kind of meals can we make form these basic ingredients?
So, how about a big breakfast of 1 cup of oatmeal (300k), 1.5 oz of raisins (90) a couple of CoffeeMates in leiu of milk (30) and a packet of sugar (15) - you end up with 435 calories and a pretty filling start to your day. Requires hot water to be palatable for most people.
Optional items, Swiss Miss hot coca mix or freeze dried coffee.

For a lunch - as most folks are habituated to a noonday meal, even if not necessary.
Lunch of 6 oz of trail mix (150) + 1 Clif bar (230) consumed thru the day, will give 380 calories and will keep you going. No cooking required.
Optional items would be Crystal Delight or other low-cal drink.

Dinner of SPAM, diced (250) in a soup mix (60 ) over 1 cup of Minute rice (500) gives you a full dinner of 820 calories + drink. A 'desert' of a candy bar will add several hundred more calories.
This requires cooking, making a "One Pot meal".

Daily total 435 + 380 + 820 = 1635 - still short of what would be necessary except for the very short term.

Even the roast beef and gravy over 4 oz potatoes would still leave you a bit short of 2000 calories. Adding a Jif peanut butter packet on a couple of Sailor Boy crackers at mid-day would add an additional 450 calories - meeting the 2K goal per day.

Taking a few minutes to plan now and making a list of items to pick up as part of your regular shopping cycle will help keep costs under control. Since you know what you and your group enjoys to eat, these are suggestions to follow when planning your disaster kit food menu choices.
Why no MREs? Those are good enough for the Army!
You are correct. Each MRE retails for about 8 dollars, or about 25 dollars a day. You can do better - cost wide. You can certainly plan for the evening meal as an MRE and know you will go to bed with a full tummy and likely have some leftovers to eat the next day.

Canned food? That stuff weighs a ton! Why would suggest canned food?
This is a DIY disaster kit, not something you would use for crossing the high Sierras on foot. Canned food makes sense if you will be traveling by automobile - I'm sure most of us would prefer that over walking. Canned food (also called wet pack) normally doesn't require additional water to cook.

Why would I pick an MRE over a nice freeze dried meal?
Rarely is a back-packer 'meal' a full meal - a popular brand of FD food - like Beef Stroganoff is lightweight and tasty. Add two cups of boiling water and you have -- a bit over two cups of beef stroganoff.
With a single MRE, you get a lot more - for a couple of dollars above the cost of freeze dried - if that. Open that funky brown plastic bag and you'll find -
Entree - the main course, such as meatloaf
Side dish - lots of choices here, rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc. These are available separately of you wish to build your own custom menus.
Cracker or Bread choice - tortillas even!
Spread - peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread. Yum.
Dessert - a cake or cookie choice.
Candy - This is normally a commercial product - in some cases, not even repackaged.
Beverages - coffee, tea, sport drinks and so on.
Hot sauce or seasoningare found in some menu choices
Flameless Ration Heater- if you don't have a stove or don't want the hassle of a stove - these work pretty well, with MRE packaged items.
Accessories - spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.
I was in the store and saw some "Heater Meals". Are they any good for this?
Good question.
Pros - These and so-called microwave pacs are lighter than canned food, these wet pack items can be readily heated in a hot water bath. The Heater Meal brand has something like the MRE flameless ration heater to warm the meal. I have eaten several different brands as lunch while working in Cubeville. Most are decent tasting - but I will caution you to try any of your choices first to avoid any ugly surprises later.
Cons - These are not as rugged as canned food. You must be careful on how you pack and carry these, least you open your disaster kit and find it full of spaghetti and meatballs. The same caution applies to the peel-top cans as well.

"How about those sandwiches from the new First Strike Ration?"
I was a bit excited when they first came out at the backpacking stores here. The reality was less than thrilling - long on bread, short on filler. At $4 or more dollars - per sandwich, I find them pricy. That said, I still have some in my bag because you can eat them cold and they are something of a comfort food.

"I don't think I could eat a whole can of...say, chili. What can I do?"
There are a host of smaller, peel-top cans which, when heated and poured over rice, potatoes or pasta make a good filling and hot meal.

"I don't like the taste of parboiled rice. I don't want to carry the fuel needed to boil the water for 20 minutes to make real rice. Any suggestions?"
I hate to make those kinds of choices as well. I carry a thermal flask and use it to cook 'real rice' and real oatmeal, for that matter. It's also great for heating water the night before to make a hot breakfast without fussing with a stove in the morning. Check out any number of "Thermos cooking" websites for more ideas. For this - practice makes perfect...

"What else will work for breakfast? It's a big deal for the start of my day."
There are several dry mix products that will allow you to cook pancakes, bannock (AKA fry bread or pan bread) - or you can roll your own and store the ingredients in a zipbag or plastic container. Make sure your fuel budget covers the extra cooking time and that you have enough water for both cooking and cleaning up.

"I dunno, this all looks pretty complicated."
Good point, if you eat out all the time or your meals are mostly fast food, this can seem intimidating. In that case, the MREs are your friend. If you have even basic cooking skills, you can mix and match to suit your tastes.
It is really as simple as making a 4 x3 grid - three meals for 4 days, and filling in the blanks. Remember to check the "Use by" dates on any food before it goes into your DIY kit and make a mote of the dates you need to swap out your food supplies.
If you only do one or two practice campout trips a year, you can eat the food before it expires and get some practice on your cooking.

Questions? Ping Susan and I'll get an answer back to you via the webaite.

Thanks and Happy Holiday!
(Thank you, Mr. Richardson.  Excellent information as always, and I'm glad to have you back with us.)
From all of us here at Poverty Prepping
Merry Christmas!
Have a safe and wonderful holiday season.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

My "Bucket" book

My new book is out just in time for Christmas!

"Food Storage: Bug-out Buckets, Specialty Buckets, and Transition Buckets, for Preppers"

Buckets are often used for food storage, but they can also be handy as bug-out buckets, 'specialty' buckets, and 'transition' buckets. Bug-out buckets are what they sound like. They're packed with the things you would need if you had to bug out of your home in a hurry.

'Specialty' buckets, so named because I couldn't think of anything better, are buckets you pack with things that would be a treat several years after a major SHTF event. It could include things like coffee, white sugar, store-bought candies, and non-food sundries like matches, lighters, toothpaste, and fingernail clippers. Imagine brewing up some coffee a few years after your family ran out of stored coffee!

'Transition' buckets are mainly for children, from toddlers to teens, so they have some of their own comfort things in their own bucket. They can pack, or help pack, these themselves, choosing books, toys, small games, or whatever they like, plus a few special snacks.

I've included suggestions and tips, as well as things that do and don't work, and some how-to's for storing or caching buckets. Even if you don't choose to use a bucket to store or carry these items, there are many good ideas for keeping yourself and the people you care about safe and comfortable, whether you're preparing for natural disasters or Armageddon, or anything in between.

It's available in Kindle format for .99
and will be available in print the day after Christmas, for $4.99,
both at

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guest Post - Melting Snow For Water

Melting Snow for Water
By Steven Gregersen

Have you ever heard the old quip, "pure as the wind driven snow?" Well, it doesn't hold true in these parts! When the wind blows and the snow falls here we end up with snow that's full of pine needles, leaves, lichen and sometimes soot.

We don't know everything about melting snow for water but since most of our water in the winter time comes from melted snow we’ve learned a few things to make the job easier and more efficient.

First, it takes a lot of snow to make a gallon of water. It would be nice if there was a formula involved like "four quarts of snow equals one quart of water" but it isn't that simple. Any avid skier can tell you that there are different kinds of snow. Warm, heavy, wet snow and corn snow have a higher moisture content than cold, dry, fluffy snow. In addition cold snow doesn't pack as tightly as warm snow. Old snow also has more moisture by volume than new snow because it's had time to compress and may have gone through some thaw cycles which make it denser. What this means is that if you need one quart of water the amount of snow you'll have to melt may vary greatly depending upon the time of year, the location, the age of the snow and the temperature.

One way to estimate the moisture content of the snow you're melting is by weight. Say you're using a one gallon container. One gallon (US measure) of water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds. If the snow in your one gallon container weighs four pounds then the water content of the snow is almost 50 percent which means it will take two gallons of snow to make one gallon of water. The water content of most snow is way, way, way below that but you get the idea of how to get a quick estimate of the amount of snow you're going to have to melt to meet your needs.

Second, whether melting snow at home or while camping in the woods use the largest container you have! I love my canteen cups but in winter, even when backpacking, try to include a large, lightweight pot for melting snow. It makes the job go much faster.

Third, whatever container or utensil you're going to use for scooping up the snow should be cold and dry. If it's not then the snow will stick to the sides and bottom when you dump it into your melting pot. It's not a big deal but it's more hassle. Along the same line of thought, if your water is boiling and putting out steam when you dump in new snow, the steam will coat your "dumping utensil" and the next batch of snow will stick to it. Again, it isn't a big deal, just annoying.


Fourth, keep some water in the melting pot. For your initial use you may have to begin with just snow. If so, use low heat until you have at least an inch of water in the bottom of the pan. I've heard that you can scorch snow but I've never seen it happen. You can, however, seriously burn your pan if the heat's too high. The actual moisture content of snow is low so the base layer contacting the heated pan bottom may melt and turn immediately to steam. The steam is quickly absorbed by the snow above it and you have a "cave" of sorts in the bottom of the pan. This is dead air space and air is not as efficient at conducting heat as water. The result is a pan bottom that may become red hot in places while there is still unmelted snow only an inch or so above. When we empty the water from the kettle we leave at least a couple of inches of water for the next load.

Another benefit is that you'll be able to get more snow in the pan each time you "reload" it. The new snow is melted by the hot water until it cools the water off. Even then the cold water will saturate and melt the new snow so you can get a larger volume of snow in the pan. Eventually the snow you add will no longer melt until you add more heat. The thing to remember is that water is a better conductor of heat than air. Snow has a lot of air space which makes it a good insulator which means it’s slow to absorb the heat. The less air space, the faster it will heat up.

Fifth, purify and strain the water.  Remember what I said about pine needles, leaves, lichen and soot at the beginning? When the wind blows here the snow is full of debris. Depending upon what kind of debris we're talking about, it may not hurt to have a little in the snow. You can make a healthy tea with some kinds of pine needles and lichen! Decaying leaves and soot are another story! As the snow melts, strain any undesirable elements out with a dipper. Do it before the temperature increases or you'll be drinking tea instead of water. It's not so much a matter of purity as it is taste. If you bring your water to a rolling boil as we do, anything in it will be “purified.” But it will also have imparted some of itself in the form of taste and discoloration. After our water has boiled we pour it into a barrel using a coffee filter to strain out the undesirable elements. You can use any other filter of your choice for this. We use coffee filters because we have a bunch of them. The filters will become clogged so replace them when the water no longer flows through.


Remember, filtering does not purify the water. It only strains out the debris. You must either heat the water or use a chemical means to purify it.

At this point we'll use it for drinking or washing as the need arises. If we're drinking it we may filter it further. If we're melting water for livestock we won't filter it or bring it to a boil.

A caution on drinking melted snow. There's a lot of discussion about the purity of snow. It's possible that it may have picked up impurities from the air as it falls to the ground or pollutants such as jet fuel may be mixed in with it. You'll have to decide for yourself if this is a problem. In my opinion (which is only valid for me!) rain and surface water have the same risks. Even wells can be contaminated by underground pollutants. If it's not an emergency and you have reason to believe the snow is polluted then my advice is to not drink it. But that decision is one you'll have to make!


Thank you, Mr. Gregersen, for the post.  If anyone has questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below or by email to

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dave's kitchen - Sugar-cured beef

Sugar curing beef is similar to salting/brining except that the
preservative is sugar instead of salt-based. If you have ever
eaten a Country Ham or Beef Jerky you know that it can be
too salty to eat a large enough quantity to satisfy your dietary
needs without planned preparation.

With sugar cured meats the salt content is largely replaced
by sugar, and can be sliced and eaten directly off the slab
without overloading your system with salt and risking nausea,
dehydration, or worse.

Select a mostly fat-free roast about 2 inches
thick and of a size that easily fit into your container without
bending or rolling it. Some fat is OK, light marbling is good but
trim off any excess or pieces not firmly attached to the roast.
I prefer Rump Roast or Round Roasts, about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds
in weight.  They have about the right amount of marbling and
easily fit into my containers. The "Recipe"below is for a
cut that is 2 - 3 pounds.
Raw, washed 2 1/2 pound Rump Roast

How to Sugar Cure Beef

In a 3 gallon or larger pot, measure in about 1 1/2 gallons of
water and add 4-5 cups sugar and 1/2 to 1 cup salt. I use
regular table sugar and coarse rock salt. The rock salt is
cheaper than table salt and I have quantities of it stored
for food preservation. A general rule for the curing solution is
that it should be strong enough to "Float an egg".

Bring the liquid to a boil and ensure that all the salt and sugar
dissolves, then let cool to a temperature that will allow you to
put your hand into it without scalding or discomfort.

Place the roast into the solution.  It will try to "float" and will
need to be weighed down. Canning jars full of water work well
to keep the meat down below the water level.
Canning jar holding down roast
If the "Roast
Floats" or any part rises above the liquid,it could spoil or
attract insects. Cover the pot and keep in a cool to cold
place until the cure "Strikes Through" the cut of meat.
Roast after having been "Struck Through". Notice
the deep red to almost brown color. Important!

The cure usually takes at least 2 full days to " Strike", you
can recognize that it is done when you can remove the cut
and it will hold its shape and appears darker in color. Its
better to stay too long in the cure than to be taken out before
its done.

When the roast is removed, rinse it in clean water and allow
it air dry to the point that water does not drip from it when it
is held in the air, it should still be damp and tacky enough
to hold a coat of salt.
Roast coated in and sitting on a bed of table
Place it in a container on a bed of
table salt and make sure salt completely coats it, then leave
it to air dry. Turn the cut several times a day so it will dry

To speed the drying, I put a small fan blowing over the
container to help evaporate the liquid drawn out by the
salt. As the meat dries you may notice the bed of salt
it is laying on becoming damp.  No worries, the liquid that
doesn't evaporate into the air will be drawn into the bed
and evaporate from there.

Drying will take about 7 - 10 days in a good cool dry area
and when the meat can be pinched between your fingers
and no moisture surfaces, it is done. The roast should
hold its shape when held horizontally by one end.
Finished Roast with slices cut from the end

With a sharp knife, slice a thin piece off one end to check
the color and texture. The inside should be a dark red to
brown color and be very dense, and any fat marbling should
be solid and the color of shortening. Any loose or ragged pieces
of meat or fat should be trimmed off and any salt/cure should
be brushed off with a vegetable brush.

Some old recipes say to dip the cured meat into a pan of
boiling water for about a minute to remove any crusted
salt and/or cure and to kill any germs that may be present
then left in the open air to dry before storage.

Some old procedures for storage call for the piece to be
wrapped in fresh clean paper and placed in a muslin bag
and kept in a cool dry location until needed. It is said that
meats preserved in this manner can remain good for up
to 5 years or more.
Cotton pillow case holding the cured roast
wrapped in Butcher Paper(notice no grease of fat
stains on the pillow case)

Personally, I'd shoot for 1 year to safe.  I have pieces
wrapped in paper, covered with a cotton pillow case and
hung from a hooks on a shelf to promote air flow and to
help keep pests away. I also have pieces vacuum sealed
and they seem to be doing well after about 3 - 4 months,
so far. I'm not sure if the cured cuts need to breathe yet
or if vacuum sealing is a better option, but the experiment
is still ongoing here.
Vacuum sealed Sugar-cured roast

Please leave comments below, or email us with comments or questions at:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lights, when the lights are out

Like most of my posts, I'm going to talk about what I have.  There may be other things out there that you can buy, but these are the things I have first-hand knowledge about.
In the top left of this picture there is a Jeep LED lantern.  It uses eight "AA" batteries, and because of the low power draw of the LEDs, the batteries last a long, long time.  This lantern also has a switch that works like a dimmer switch.  When you twist the knob the lamp comes on with a dim light, and as you twist it gets brighter.  If you don't need as much light, you can turn it down, further extending the life of your batteries. 

We've had a lot of lanterns over the years, and this one wins, hands down, with our family.  I've attached a link so you can read more about it if you're interested.
Next to the lantern in my picture is a red flashlight.  This flashlight is sealed shut and has a capacitor inside it instead of batteries.  You shake it and the magnet inside slides up and down, charging it so that you have light.  The down side of these is that they don't give light for more than 5 to 10 minutes, and it grows dimmer and dimmer.
The 'up' side is that as long as you don't mind shaking it for a few seconds you'll always have light.  I had to walk nearly a mile in the dark one night when my car got stuck in the snow, and although the light got dim about every five minutes and I stopped to shake it for a minute every so often, I never had to worry that I would be out of light in the dark woods.

I couldn't find the exact one I have when I searched online, but this one has the same features.  I recommend it as a good emergency flashlight since you never have to replace a battery on it.  I've had mine for four years and it's just as bright as ever, after some shaking.  There's a great description of how it works, here on the product link.
The next flashlight in the picture is a solar-charged flashlight.  That's my number one flashlight.  I've taking it on bicycle camping trips, with it in the clear plastic map holder on my handlebar bag.  We've laid it on the dashboard of the car on trips, to keep it charged.  At home I keep it on the window ledge of my south-facing bedroom window, and I always have a charged flashlight.  It uses re-chargeable AA batteries, and I've used it for reading in the tent in the evenings, sometimes for 2 or 3 hours, and still had light left. 

Again, I've had mine for 4 or 5 years and I couldn't find one just like it.  I've posted a couple here that you can go look at. I'm not real impressed with either one, to be honest.  Both use 'funny' batteries.  The one on the left says it has 3 back-up 'button' batteries, and the one on the right uses non-replacable NiMH batteries.  Over time they would get to where they don't hold a charge for as long.  Mine uses rechargeable AAs, like I said above, and I can replace them after a couple years if they're not holding their charge.  But these will give you a jumping point if you're interested in solar flashlights.

I can't find it right now but we have a wind-up flashlight too.  It's a pretty good light.  Like the capacitor flashlight that has to be shaken regularly, the wind-up light has to be wound fairly often.  It has a battery but it doesn't last long.  However, give it some winds and it's lit again! 

This is the one that we have.  It's come down in price from the $19.99 we paid a few years ago.  Either that or we got "took" from the store where we bought it! 

The next 'lights' in the picture are candles.  It's a box of six candles, each candle being 1" tall and about that big around.  I keep boxes of them around, packed here and there among supplies, but I don't recommend them as the best light.  For one thing, they can be a fire hazard, and for another, they can be dangerous to children, who don't always look where they're bouncing around!  I'd still recommend having candles with your stored supplies, but use them with caution.
On the top right in the picture is an oil lamp.  They can be found at most box stores, such as Wal-mart and Target.  The little antique store in a nearby town has a bunch of them for amazingly low prices, from $4 and up.  You can also buy them online, but there are so many that I didn't even know where to start, to give you a link.  However, here's one that has a special feature that I really like:

See the thing that looks like a lamp shade?  That is great if you set the lamp on a table and you're trying to read, play cards, or other games.  It shields your eyes from the light, so that you can see, and it focuses the light down and out to the sides, rather than sending light up to the ceiling.  We made these using foil pie pans.  We cut a hole in the center and slid it down over the glass chimney.  You can buy a cheaper lamp and make one yourself.  Then slide it off if you want to throw more light around the upper part of the room.  If you have a white ceiling it can help light the outer parts of the room.

There are 'outdoor' oil lamps, too.

This is a typical outdoor kerosene lantern that we always called 'Hurricane lanterns'.  I'm not sure why, because when we've walked with them outside it didn't take much wind to blow them out.  Before we had solar power I used to take one with me in the winter when I went to milk the goats.  I'd hang it on a hook from the ceiling in the goat shed. I really loved walking through the dark, snowy light and looking at the circle of soft light it cast.  Sometimes the kids would come along and it was easier for them to see than a narrow flashlight beam.
There are many other types of oil lamps, such as alladin lamps, which are designed to put out a brigher light, and there are lamps that have reflectors, which are usually a round metal disk on one side that mirrors the light out into the room.  There are tabletop lamps, wall lamps, and lamps that hang from chains or hooks,
Some people call these "kerosene" lamps instead of oil lamps.  You can burn either lamp oil or kerosene in them.  We've used red-dye off-road diesel for oil.  I don't know if you could burn kitchen oils (vegetable, olive, canola, etc.) in them in an emergency, but I'm hoping someone who has tried it, will write and tell us about it.
Keep the glass globes/chimney's clean.  They'll get a sooty black residue from the oil.  Trim the wick when it starts getting a charred edge.  Be sure the lamp is cool when you do either type of maintenance on your lamp.  Store extra wicks and glass globes or chimneys, if you can.  Thrift stores are a good place to find the globes.  Craft stores and stores like Wal-mart often have the wicks.

If your room is sealed up pretty air tight you might want to crack open a window or door from time to time.  The lamps get very hot and are a fire hazard.  Be very cautious!

I'll mention the Coleman lanterns here, the ones that burn White Gas.  Years ago we had one but I don't remember much about it except that it was noisy.  It made a hissing sound that took away from the quiet beauty of wherever we were camping, which is usually some place remote and far from other humans!  It might not be as noticable in town.  It puts out a brighter light than an oil lamp, for a 'plus'.  The 'minus' sides would be that the fuel is more expensive, and you have to have special mantles for it or you can't use it.  They break easily, so keep a lot of extras on hand if you  go with this type of lamp.

I know I labeled this post for "when the lights are out", and this picture includes an electric lamp and two packages of LED light bulbs (lower part of picture).  If you happen to have a car or boat battery laying around, and a cheap inverter, you can set up a lighting system with the lamp and the LED light bulbs, and it'll draw hardly any power.  If you only turn the light on when you really need it, you could get a week or more out of the car or boat battery.
The way you do this is to hook the inverter to the battery.  Cheap inverters often come with 'alligator clips' that just clip onto the battery posts.  Be sure the "positive" clip goes to the positive post, and that the "negative" clip goes to the negative post.  There should be a plus or minus on the battery.  The inverter might have the plus or minus, or it might have red for positive and black for negative.
 Then you plug your lamp into the inverter and turn the inverter on.  Now you can turn on the lamp.

I've saved my favorite light for last.  These are solar garden lights.
 This solar light is almost ten years old.  We bought a pack of six of them when we moved up here to our off-grid homestead.  We still had four kids at home, ages 9 to 14, and the deep dark of living where there were no man-made lights was unnerving for them.  They wanted nightlights.  It was too dangerous to give them oil lamps, and all other types of lights either involved fire or using up batteries.  Then we thought of these solar lights.

 They're powered by AA batteries, which are charged by the little solar panel on the top.  Here on the underside you can see the small LED light in the middle, and the batteries on each side.  I glued a small piece of foil on each side of the light bulb to reflect light even more.

During the day the kids would put the lights in one of our south-facing windows and the sun would charge it.  In the evening they pulled one end of one of the batteries to keep the light off until they went to bed.  In the morning they would do the same when they got up, until the sun was up and could charge the light.  If it was a cloudy day they usually still got enough charge to run the light for a second  night.  However a long cloudy spell could require popping a different set of AA batteries in it for the night.

The light is just bright enough that the kids would lay the light on the pillow next to their head, with the cover off and the LED bulb pointing upward, and they would read until they got sleepy.  They also held them facing forward and used them as a soft-lighted flashlight to get around in the dark.  It was a savings over using regular flashlights.

The solar garden lights come with rechargable batteries, but we've also used these batteries from Costco.  They take a re-charge, even though they're not technically rechargable.  The light draws so little power that a set of these regular AA batteries will power the light at night for a month.

We eventually bought more of them and the kids used them to charge batteries for their cameras and hand-held electronics and anything else that used AA batteries.  I've heard some of the cheap, newer ones don't have as good of a solar panel on them; that they get 'filmy' after a while.  Some only use one battery and I prefer the ones that use two batteries.

Another way to charge batteries is a solar battery charger.
This one charges "D", "C", "AA", "AAA" and the square 9-volt batteries.  It also has a plug-in cord with different plug-in ends, which will power very low-watt things if you're in the direct sun.  An example is that I could plug in a small radio and set it in the garden and power it right off this solar charger.  It'll also charge cell phones and hand-held small electronics.

I ordered it from Amazon three years ago and I love it.  It was only $25 then, but guess how much it is now?

It's $44.99 from Amazon, and $38.99 from other vendors on Amazon (but with the Amazon one you get free shipping).  Wow, that's a big price increase in just three years!  Ouch.
I'm not an expert in emergency or preparedness lighting, but I hope you've enjoyed what I've shared with you.  I welcome letters and pictures with other options and ideas, and comments with questions or suggestions.

I hope the product links are not annoying.  Even though I have an amazon link on my sidebar and get referral pennies for people who use it, I mainly put links on this post because I keep getting emails from people asking where things can be found, and how much they are.  Please feel free to use these links to browse or just to get more information on what's available, or email me with questions and I'll look for answers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Getting to know me

If you're interested in reading more about me and my family, and our lives here on our remote off-grid homestead in NW Montana, my husband keeps a blog, which includes a lot of pictures:

There's about three years' of what it's like to live with solar electric power in the north, garden in this challenging climate, preserving our food, foraging, hunting, fishing, trapping, washing laundry in washtubs with a hand-cranked wringer, using rainwater and snowmelt for household use, living on what's basically a 3-mile, steep, one-lane, goat trail 4-wheel drive road, having grizzly bears, wolves, and mountain lions roam through our yard (pics from game camera!), and much, much more.

I'm not selling anything.  Just sharing it with those who are interested.

Baking Soda

A reader, Amanda, pointed this out to me last week: "My dad received the book last night. Read it and loved it. But I think baking soda needs a promotion. Baking soda can be used for dental health and, to me at least, something with a dual purpose is twice as valuable. We can live without shampoo, totally, but I just have this uncanny affection for my"
She's right!  I briefly mentioned it in the Poverty Prepping book as just one in a list of minor stock-up items, primarily as an 'ingredient' for cooking with the basic food storage items.  Yet we buy it in bulk bags and use it for a lot of things, and I consider it an essential part of our own storage. 
I did a quick search to find lists of uses for baking soday and I came up with dozens of sites; "35 uses for baking soda" "52 uses for baking soda" "18 uses for baking soda", and so on.  So I'm just going to write about how we use it here at our house.  I welcome more ideas from you readers.
As Amanda said, it can be used for dental health.  We've used it for tooth brushing at times, and as a mouth rinse when we had tooth aches or mouth sores. 
We use it for shampoo.  It works especially good with soft water.  Once our hair is wet we sprinkle about quarter cup of baking soda over our scalp.  It doesn't lather, and you have to be careful to work it all the way in to your scalp.  Sometimes you have to duck your head into the water for a second to get it wetter so you can spread it.  As you rinse it out, work it down through the ends of your hair, if you have long hair.  I started doing this about three years ago, as a way to reduce chemicals in my life, and to save money.
We use it for body soap.  It's slightly abrasive, which means it exfoliates the skin.  It leaves the skin soft.  The only 'down' side of using baking soda for hair and skin is that it has no fragrance.  Your hair and skin will just smell like hair and skin, and it can take a little getting used to.  One of my daughters makes soap with things like oatmeal, coconut oil, and green tea in it, so I sometimes use that instead.
We use baking soda as laundry soap.  It does a great job cleaning clothes and removing odors.  Again, though, it has no scent.  It was even weirder getting used to clothes that didn't smell like laundry soap.  Even the "unscented" soaps have a scent, and we spend our lives accustomed to that, so clothes that have zero scent are strange to get used to.  We hang ours outside to dry, which helps a little.  The clothes smell like fresh air, sunshine, and pine trees.  I experimented with adding scent to my laundry water.  In the summer I'd pick and throw in a couple handfuls of rose petals.  Sometimes I add a couple drops of vanilla extract.  Probably the weirdest but most pleasant things I've done is to make a strong "tea" of spices, strain it, and pour that in the laundry water.  My favorite is a pickling spice that is heavy on cloves.  I like to pour about half a cup pickling spice tea in my laundry water, and my clothes have a faint scent of cloves and other spices.  Another good one is cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spices. 
We use baking soda to wash dishes, instead of dish soap.  It cleans even the greasiest dishes, it's abrasive action cleans residue off of pans and other dishes, yet it's gentle enough not to scratch the surfaces.  We keep one sink filled with dish water and one with rinse water.  We put white vinegar in the rinse water, and I've never had such sparkling glasses and clean silverware.  I always wash each spoon, fork, and knive separately and thought they were clean, but the baking soda wash and vinegar rinse has our silverware looking "Wow!" clean.
I sprinkle baking soda on the counters and stove when I wash them, and I use it to clean the oven.  For baked-on stuff in the oven I lay a soaking-wet dish cloth over it for a while, then remove the wash cloth and sprinkle baking soda on the 'stuff' that needs cleaned off.  About an hour later I come back and clean it up.  Usually it gets everything off.
We use baking soda in the water we mop the floor with.  Then I give it a rinse with just water, and a final mopping with white vinegar in the water.  Yep, I end up going over the floor 3 times, but it's quick, it's cheap, it looks nice, and it's chemical-free.
I use baking soda to scrub out 'smelly' things, like coolers and the fridge.  I've sprinkled it on our throw rugs and rolled them up for half a day, then shook them out good and hung them on the line for the other half a day.  It keeps them fresh-smelling.  I've done this with sleeping bags before we went camping, to 'freshen' them.
My husband uses baking soda to clean the battery terminals in our vehicles.  He mixes a little with water and pours it over the battery posts and cable ends.  It dissolves all that 'crud".
We work it into our dog's fur as a 'dry shampoo', then brush her out.  We've sprinkled it on the car seats and floor matts, then vacuumed it out the next day, to deoderize the car.
Baking soda usually comes in a small box which, I think, is about a pound.  It's under a dollar.  If you have ( or know someone who does) a Costco card, they sell it in 13.5 lb. bags.  It used to be 14 lb. but I noticed when I took the above picture that it's now 13.5 lbs.  They cost somewhere around $7.  Sam's club might have them too, but they're not in our part of the country, so I don't know for sure.
I dump the bag into a 2-gallon air-tight, water-tight bucket.  The bags are heavy plastic and do work okay for storing it without opening it.  I keep a spare 1/4-cup measuring cup in the bucket.
Baking soda is a natural substance which is mined in Wyoming and surrounding areas.  For people who live in the inland western mountains and high desert, you can sometimes harvest it from the ground.  It's a white crust on the surface where puddles have dried up, out on the rangeland or in gullies.  Not all of it is baking soda, so test a tiny drop.  It should be slightly salty.  Scrape up a little bit and see if the county extension office will tell you, or take it to an agricultural school and ask. Farther south, in southern Nevada, we found what we thought was heavily concentrated baking soda.  It turned out to be salt!
Now it's your turn!  I'd love to hear of other uses.
 From the mailbox:
Dec. 16, 2012
"May I suggest that your husband wipe some Vaseline on the battery terminals. Of course it doesn't have to be the name brand but it will keep them nice and clean. This way he won't accidentally get baking soda in the cells. This is something I learned about 45 years ago or so, when I was but a wee lass and my dear old Dad would let me help him. 

I use vinegar and baking soda to clean the drains."  - Elaine