Friday, July 31, 2015

Packing Grain and Beans for Food Storage (The way I do it)

As part of my prepping plan I practice what I wrote about in my book "Poverty Prepping: How to Stock up for Tomorrow When You Can't Afford to Eat Today" (Click here to see the book).  I buy one or two 'extra' of something every month, even if it's just a one dollar bottle of a spice. 
In times when I have a little more money to spend I buy things like a big bag of rice, beans, flour, or sugar.  This month we were able to buy a 50-lb. bag of wheat and a 50-lb. bag of oatmeal (rolled oats).
Our wonderful acquisitions!
(I don't know why both bags are upside down)
We've been lucky in being able to get buckets with tight-fitting lids from a grocery store bakery where one of our adult children works.  Most of them are about 2 1/2 gallons, which is a good size for me.  I have a hard time carrying full five-gallon buckets, so these smaller buckets are great.  We do have a few five-gallon buckets but I need the wheel barrow to move them from the shed to the house.
Scooping oatmeal into a bucket.
These buckets have been used over and over.  When I empty them I wash them and stack them in the shed until I have something to put in them again. I keep a bag nearby for lids but somehow I always seem to have more buckets than lids. 
I set the bucket on a stool and then I sat on a chair and scooped oatmeal with a 6-cup plastic measuring cup until the bucket was full.  But wait.... was the bucket really full?

Holding a plate on top of the oatmeal in a bucket.
Some foods compress better than others, but no matter what grain or bean I'm packing into buckets, I tap on the sides to help it "settle".  If you've ever bought things like cold cereal or potato chips at a grocery store you'll see that the bags or boxes appear to be half empty when you open them.  This is because the food settles in shipping.  When you first put foods like oatmeal or flour into a bucket there is a lot of air in with them.  By tapping on the side of the bucket you can jiggle it enough that the food settles and there will be more room at the top.  Then you can add more of whatever you're putting in the bucket.
I like to place a plate on top and hold it down while I tap the sides of the bucket.  This helps keep the oatmeal, or whatever food, from shaking out of the bucket, but more importantly, it helps push the food down as you tap on the sides.
There are two reasons I like to get as much air out and pack as much into the bucket as I can.  One reason is that the more I can fit into the buckets, the fewer I need and therefore I have more buckets available when I have food to put in them.
The second reason is that air oxidizes food and reduces it's storage life.  Some people buy oxygen absorbers or Co2 packets to put in the buckets when they pack them.  I figure the best I can do is to get out as much air as I can by packing the food as tightly as I can into the bucket.  This works especially good with foods like flour and oatmeal.  If I'm patient I can pack an amazing amount of flour into a bucket by tapping and by tamping it down with a plate.  Hard grains like wheat are harder to compress this way, but you can still tap on them to jiggle them as snugly together as possible, and reduce the amount of air in the buckets.
Being smaller it's easy for us to use the food in the buckets quickly and keep them rotated.  If you're packing five-gallon buckets for long-term storage you might want to buy oxygen absorbers to place inside the buckets.  Here's some available on amazon so you can see what they look like and get an idea of price: Oxygen absorbers .  This pack is $9.99 for 100 ct.

Six buckets of oatmeal, ready to be moved out to the shed.
The buckets have wonderful things on the labels, like donut glaze and pink icing and cream cheese frosting!  But inside they have oatmeal.  We also have wheat, whole corn, barley, rice, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans in similar buckets.

I date the buckets so I can keep them rotated.

This is the wheat being scooped into a bucket.
Recently I also put rice in buckets.
I have some of these buckets stored in the house in various places where they're not in the way, but most of them are in our sheds.  I try to put them near the ground on the north side of the shed, and cover them with old blankets to make sure they stay dark.  I don't like to set them right on the floor so I put a pallet in the shed and I set the buckets on that.  The air can then circulate under the buckets and help keep frost or condensation off of them.  I've never had moisture get inside one of these buckets, but it's still unnerving to go out on a winter morning and see frost on the outsides of the buckets. 
The storage life of all foods is lengthened by being kept cool and dark, in addition to removing or reducing the oxygen.  Wide swings in temperature are hard on foods, including grains and beans.  Daily swings are harder than seasonal swings, but to some extent we can't do anything about that.  I cover mine with several old blankets and then stack other things on or around the buckets.
It helps to have a master sheet of what you packed into buckets and when you did so.  It's constantly changing in our case, since we actively eat out of our buckets, so I keep my master list on the computer where changes and updates are easy to make.  But if my computer goes down I will lose my list, so I am planning to start printing it up a few times a year so I at least have a somewhat-recent copy of what we have stored in buckets.
Many stores with bakeries will give away or sell the buckets that frosting and other food comes in.  Check with stores near you.  Wal-Mart and other stores sell food-grade buckets, usually in bigger sizes such as 5-gallon. 
In addition to oxygen absorbers some people line their buckets with mylar bags to further extend the storage life. They usually come with oxygen absorbers as well.  These inside a bucket with a good seal can give you many years of storage life, often in excess of ten years.
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  1. Great suggestions. I keep my bags in an old freezer that no longer works. It still seals up tight, though.

  2. I started the buying what extras i can afford several months back. Your storage idea is fantastic. I will now start bucket collecting.
    Thank You.