Monday, October 26, 2009

Portable Solar Power

My wife recently received a handy little device from the Dell computer company. It is a portable solar panel that can be used to recharge cell phones, walkie-talkies, and other low voltage electronics. The interesting thing about this device is that you can set it out in the sun and charge it up, and then it will hold the charge for up to three months. At any time during that three months that you need to charge a cell phone, or other device; all you have to do is plug it in and let it charge. It takes about an hour to charge a cell phone, and according to the enclosed instructions you can charge about three cell phones before the device needs to be set out in the sun again to recharge. What a great thing. If you have this little beauty charged up, it doesn’t matter what the weather is outside; you have a source of power to recharge your phone, blackberry, or whatever. Pictured Below: Dell solar recharger, about the size of a cell phone.

I went to Radio Shack and bought a cable and some connectors so that I could hook up my portable CB radios to this charger. It comes with a variety of connectors that will fit most of the common cell phones to recharge them. Of course there wasn’t one to fit an LG brand phone which is what my wife has. Not the first time that we have run into this kind of problem with her phone. It doesn’t fit any of the connectors on my hand cranked radio either (the generator on this radio can be used to recharge cell phones also). Even Radio Shack didn’t have fittings to go to her cell phone. The salesman there said that LG is a world of their own and that we would probably have to go to them to get a connector. Hey, here’s an idea; it’s about time to upgrade and we just won’t buy an LG phone. Anyhow, check out these little re-chargers. They could be real life savers in a disaster situation. I’ll bet a lot of hurricane Katrina victims wish that they had had one of these. Pictured below: Dell solar recharger hooked up to my walkie-talkies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home Heating - Woodcutting

It’s mid-October. I know that in some parts of the country there is already snow on the ground, but here in East Texas we think that it is cooling down because it only gets into the high 70’s during the day. So now is the time that I am starting to cut wood for my stove this winter. I hold over a little wood from the previous year so that I will be sure to have some that is already seasoned. By the time I burn it, my newly cut wood will be dried out enough to make good firewood. When possible I like to cut wood that is already dead. That way I’m not cutting any live trees. My second choice is to cut trees that I need to get out of the way. This might be a tree that is in danger of blowing down on a power line, a tree that is shading my garden or orchard, or a tree that might fall and block road or driveway. Of course if these trees are not a good hardwood, I have to find another use for them or just let them lay. I prefer to cut oak or hickory. These split easily and burn hot. I sometimes cut an elm if it’s in the way but they are hard to split. Pine and sweetgum are very common on my farm but are not good firewood.

In these times when everything is good, I use my chainsaw to cut wood; then I haul it up to the house where I cut it to stove wood length and split it. I still use wedges and a sledge hammer to split wood. I can’t see the financial advantage to a log splitter. It’s easier to split wood, but those things cost a fortune, they use fossil fuel, and I need the exercise anyway.

If times were bad (i.e. a total breakdown of the social order) I have my old stand-by, a crosscut saw. Actually I have three crosscut saws of different sizes. I wouldn’t want to make all the noise that a chainsaw does, and believe me; you can hear a chainsaw from a very long way off. A chainsaw would only attract attention that I don’t want, so the chainsaw is out during hard times.

The basic tools that I use are a chainsaw, an axe, a sledge hammer, and some splitting wedges. I use a Poulan Pro chainsaw with an 18 inch bill. Don’t wear yourself and your saw out by buying an undersized chainsaw. Also, learn how to work on the saw yourself. Sharpening a chain, cleaning the air filter, and replacing the sparkplug are easy to learn and will save you a ton of cash. Because of our mild winters, I only need about a cord to a cord and a half of wood to make it through the winter with my wood stove. The difference between burning wood and using my electric central heat is dramatic. When I don’t burn wood my electric bill is over $300 a month. When I use my wood stove religiously, it reduces my electric bill to about $100 a month in the winter. Quiet a difference.

I keep my firewood up off the ground but I don’t cover it. I do keep about 4 or 5 days worth of wood on my covered porch so that I have dry wood. As I burn the wood on the porch, I bring new wood up from the woodpile. I have a kindling box built into the garden shed outside of my back porch where I keep a lot of split pine kindling. Getting a fire started in the stove is usually no problem, but if the wood is too wet and it is hard to get a fire going I use a little rich pine for kindling. This stuff will burn under any circumstances. I have even soaked it in water and then set it on fire with a single match. It is so heavy with pine rosin that it is almost like having wood that has been soaked in kerosene.

Remember, a wood stove is not a good choice if everything has gone bad. That wood smoke might attract attention that you don’t want, so keep the kerosene heater ready for use at first, and wait a while on the wood stove if possible. Still, with that said, there’s nothing that says home to me more than driving up and smelling the hardwood smoke coming out of my stove pipe. It just makes me fell at peace with the world.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Survival Garden Greenhouse

This last summer we finally saved up enough pennies to complete a project that we’ve wanted to do for years. We built a green house on to the back of our country home. Some friends of ours had access to some glass that had been cut for patio doors that had turned out to be the wrong size. The glass panel are double glazed and clear so they were perfect for what we wanted to do. Our friends gave us eight of these glass panels as well as a double insulated single-hung window, and we thought we were well on the way to having a greenhouse. We didn’t want a huge greenhouse, just something about 8ft. by 10ft. We figured that we could knock something like that out in short order. Funny how we can always convince ourselves how easy something will be.
I won’t go into all of the gory details of construction but I will give you a brief outline of how we built our greenhouse:
• We removed the sod from the area where the greenhouse would be and replanted it.
• We dug a 14” wide by 9” deep footing, leveled up our form boards, threw in a couple of rebar, and poured about 30 bags of sackcrete.
• On top of the footing we laid a 20” high wall of cinderblocks (the first time I ever laid brick or block, I was amazed that it turned out both level and square to within a quarter inch).
• We dug down to a waterline running under the greenhouse and added a faucet inside of the greenhouse.
• We framed up the wooden portion of the green house and painted everything.
• We screwed on a corrugated clear fiberglass roof and caulked all the seams.
• We installed the single hung window on the East end of the greenhouse.
• We built the potting benches inside the green house out of treated lumber.
• We built an extension of our existing deck over to the greenhouse.
• We built steps down into the greenhouse out of treated lumber.
• We laid patio blocks and gravel on the ground inside of the greenhouse.
• We built a set of double doors with Plexiglas inserts and mounted them in the West end of the greenhouse.
• And last, we installed the glass panels.

Pictured Below: The finished greenhouse.

It was a lot more work than we had anticipated, and the weather was a lot hotter than we anticipated, and we had to spend more money than we anticipated, but we were very happy with the results. The greenhouse looks like part of our house and not just an add-on. We are looking forward to having fresh hothouse tomatoes this winter, and we will be starting a lot of plants for our spring garden in the new greenhouse.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Home Power - The Generator

The first thing that you have to understand about gasoline powered electrical generators is that they are not a long-term power source. They are useful during power outages, but even the most efficient units use a lot of gasoline if you keep them running full time. Even during power outages it is wise to use the generator only when necessary. Since I have kerosene lamps, a wood heater, and a propane cook stove; I only really need to run my generator a few hours a day to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold and to pump water for a bath and to flush the toilets. While the generator is running anyway, I take the opportunity to recharge my flashlights, my radio, my wife’s cell phone, and her laptop. These items draw very little wattage.

I have had a generator for several years. I did a lot of research and a lot of comparing before I bought my generator. I ended up getting a Black Max Generator from Sam’s Club. It has a surge rating of 6560 watts and regular operating rating of 5250 watts (more about this below). I wanted a generator that had enough power to run my home, but I didn’t want one that would be overpowered and eat up a bunch of gasoline. I also wanted a reliable unit, and the Subaru motor on this generator has worked without fail so far. Pictured Below: My generator ready to be plugged into the house.

One thing that has always been a pain about operating my generator is stringing out extension cords and plugging and unplugging various appliances. I recently had a plug and switch installed on my house so that I can plug the generator into the end of the house and throw the switch which disconnects me from the grid and switches over to generator power. The switch keeps the generator produced electricity from backfeeding into the power lines and electrocuting some innocent lineman who is working on reconnecting the power lines. Pictured Below: The big gray box to the left of the meter box is the switch that disconnects me from the grid and connects me to the generator.

Before I plug in the generator I turn off all the breakers in my breaker box and then, after the generator is running, I turn on selected breakers for the circuits that I want to operate. Lights and ceiling fans draw little wattage. The refrigerator and freezer draw significant wattage, but they only need to run for two or three hours a day to keep everything cool. It's simply a matter of running them during the day when the lights are off. The one-horse 220v. well pump draws a lot of wattage when the motor kicks on, so I try to have the refrigerator and freezer off when the pump is running. Central air conditioning, electric heat, and an electric cook stove are out. They draw far too much energy to be powered by a generator. I do have a small window unit air-conditioner that I can use to keep one room cool in really hot weather. In general, anything that produces heat or has a good-sized motor will draw a lot of wattage. Pictured Below: Small storage building where I keep my generator and a can of fuel.

If you are considering purchasing a generator, you are probably as confused as I was about what size you need. After all, these things run on gasoline or propane, and the bigger the generator, the more fuel you will use. You don't want to burn fuel to produce more energy than you will need, but at the same time you want to be sure that you have enough power to run the things that you need. Let me try and save you some headaches by telling you how I finally arrived at a formula for picking the right size generator. The first thing that you need to know is that generators have two ratings. One is the regular operating wattage, and one is called the surge wattage. You see, some appliances, like a light bulb, use the same amount of watts at all times, while other appliances, like a well pump, take a lot of watts to get started but less watts to keep running once they are in operation. These extra watts to get an appliance going are where the surge rating comes in. Your generator's surge rating tells you how many watts the generator will provide for a short time, but this is not the wattage at which the generator was designed to produce power for an extended period of time. To figure out how much generator you will need, you must add up the total wattage, including surge wattage, of all the appliances that you plan to run at one time. Your generator needs to have a surge wattage rating equal to at least this amount. Now add up the operating wattage of all the appliances that you plan to run at one time. Your generator needs to have an operating wattage equal to two times this number. The reason for this is because your generator will work most efficiently if you only draw on half of the rated operating wattage. More than this will put undue strain on the generator.

If you try to run all of your appliances at one time you will need a huge generator; and you will, consequently, burn a huge amount of fuel. It is much more efficient to use your breaker box to control which circuits you will have on at any one time. I have each breaker in my breaker box marked with the amount of watts that are drawn by the appliances on that circuit (this is somewhat inexact because you may not have all the appliances on a particular circuit turned on, but it gives you a guideline). I have a card tacked up over the breaker box that shows the operating wattage and surge wattage of my generator. When I get ready to turn several circuits on, it's a matter of simple addition. The total wattage of all the circuits operating at one time must have a surge rating of less than the surge rating of the generator and an operating wattage of one-half of the operating wattage of the generator. If I am about to throw a breaker that will exceed either of these numbers, then I know that I'm going to have to turn something else off first.

Of course it doesn’t do any good to have a generator if you don’t have any fuel for it, so keep some gas on hand (stored well away from your home, of course). I keep about 25 or 30 gallons in five gallon containers. About every 2 or 3 months I pour this gas into my truck and go refill the gas cans. This way I always have fresh gas. I keep a few bottles of fuel stabilizer on hand but it is too expensive to use if you don’t have too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cool Survival

What I’m writing about in this post is not a long-term survival strategy. I have never, thank God, been in a long-term survival situation; but I am in short situations all the time where I can’t depend on any outside power. It’s just one of the down sides of living in the country. The power goes out, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for days. I am pretty well equipped for power outages. We have a propane cook stove, wood heater, kerosene lamps, bottled water dispenser, hand-crank radio, and a good generator with plenty of fuel.

When we crank up the generator life is almost normal except for one thing. Cool air. You see, our house, like most these days, has central air; and our generator is not powerful enough to run a central air unit. Now if you’ve never been in hot, humid, muggy, East Texas in July and August; you probably think air conditioning isn’t all that important to survival. And you’re right. You can survive without it. I lived here for quiet a few years without any air conditioning, and I survived. But here’s the thing. I enjoy being cool, and if I can be cool without too much trouble I’m going to be cool. So, when my local hardware store put their little Frigidaire window units on sale for $100 dollars, I went down and bought one. There’s no installation other than sitting it in the window and pulling out the little side curtains. It runs on 110v. current and it only draws 515 watts of power, well within the capability of my generator. It is not a big unit, but it is enough to cool down one bedroom very nicely.

Yesterday I got the chance to try out my new toy. It had been overcast and muggy all day, temperatures in the 90’s. Just before sundown a storm blew through bringing some much needed rain, unfortunately it also knocked out the power. The house hadn’t really started getting hot yet, but I wanted to see how my new A/C would work; so I cranked up the generator, plugged in the window unit, and turned it on. Ah, cool air. The power was only out for about three hours, but at the end of that three hours the rest of the house was getting noticeably warm. My bedroom was as cool as a fall day. I was pleased with this trial run, and the next time we lose power for 4 or 5 days in the summertime I’ll know that I can sleep cool.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Food Storage - Dried Tomatoes

When the tomatoes start coming from the garden they can just overwhelm you. You can only eat so many fresh tomatoes, and then you have to start figuring out how to store them. Of course you can always can tomatoes, and we do a lot of that. Stewed tomatoes, salsa, stewed tomatoes with jalapenos, and canned spaghetti sauce all find their way into our pantry. But still, we have tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes can be stored in a small space by drying them. I have a small counter-top, electric dehydrator that my daughter and son-in-law gave me three years ago, and it is really convenient for drying tomatoes and other vegetables and meats. My dehydrator is made by NESCO, and I have been very happy with it. This little dehydrator only takes up about a square foot of counter top, but because of its stacking-tray design it will hold from 15 to 20 medium sized fresh tomatoes at one time, and it will dry them in a day. Pictured below: NESCO food dehydrator.

Drying tomatoes couldn’t be easier. You just slice the tomatoes about a quarter inch thick and lay the slices out on the trays. Try not to let the slices touch each other so that you can get maximum air circulation. Stack the trays, turn the dehydrator on, and check it periodically to determine when the tomatoes are dried just right. You want to drive enough moisture out of the tomatoes so that they won’t spoil, but you don’t want them to be so dry that they are brittle. They should be about the consistency of dried fruit leather. Dried tomatoes will not re-hydrate to the point that they are like fresh tomatoes; but they will work great in soups, on pizza, in casseroles, or just to munch on. Pictured below: Dried tomatoes on dehydrator tray.

When my tomatoes are dry, I seal them in clean canning jars and store in the pantry. They will keep all winter long. Pictured below: Fresh Arkansas Traveler tomatoes and a one quart canning jar with 16 dried tomatoes in it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food Storage - Homemade Bread

Nothing beats the smell and taste of a good loaf of fresh homemade bread. The ironic thing is that none of the ingredients in “fresh” bread is really all that fresh. They can all be stored in your food storage for months at a time. This is my recipe for homemade bread. It is the easiest recipe I have ever come across, and it is virtually foolproof. Where I list flour in the recipe, you can use whole wheat flour, all purpose white flour, or a combination for both. Sometimes I substitute a quarter cup each of cornmeal, quick oats, millet, and buckwheat flour for one of the cups of wheat flour. This makes a nice multi-grain loaf. For the milk I you can use fresh milk, buttermilk, or instant powdered milk. If you don’t have any of these, just use plain water; you’ll still get a good loaf of bread.

• 1 cup warm water
• 1 pack dry active yeast
• ¼ cup canola oil
• ¼ cup honey, molasses, or sugar
• 1/3 cup milk (I have used regular milk, and instant milk and water with equally good results)
• 1 ¼ tsp. salt (I use sea salt)
• 4 cups flour
• 3 tsp. wheat gluten
• 2 more tablespoons of canola oil
• 1 tablespoon Crisco

• Pour 1 cup warm (not boiling) water in large mixing bowl
• Add 1 pack dry active yeast and stir to dissolve
• Add oil, honey, and milk and stir well
• Add 1 cup flour and stir
• Add 1 ¼ tsp. salt and 1 tsp. wheat gluten and stir
• Add 2nd cup of flour and 1 tsp of wheat gluten and stir
• Add 3rd cup of flour and 1 tsp of wheat gluten and stir
• Add remaining flour a little at a time while working it in by hand. You may or may not need the entire 4th cup of flour. Let the consistency of the dough be your guide. Kneed ball of dough for about two minutes. Dough ball should be only very slightly sticky. If it is too sticky you may need to add a little more flour, but don’t over-do it.
• Remove dough ball from bowl and set aside. Rinse out bowl thoroughly, dry, and add two tablespoons of oil.
• Use your hand to coat inside of bowl with oil
• Place dough ball in bowl then turn it over once so that entire ball is coated with oil
• Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until dough is doubled in size (about 1 to 1 ½ hours)
• Punch dough down and kneed in bowl for about a minute
• Turn dough out onto a floured cutting board and press down fairly flat (dough will be like a big tortilla that is about an inch thick)
• Fold sides of dough to the center and fold the ends in to form a loaf
• Place loaf in a bread pan that has been well greased on bottom and sides with Crisco
• Set uncovered loaf in a warm place to rise
• When dough has risen 1 inch above the sides of the bread pan, place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven
• Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until top of loaf is browned
• After removing bread from oven, turn it immediately out of the bread pan onto a cooling rack
• Allow bread to cool, slice, and enjoy.

Pictured Below: A fresh from the oven loaf of homemade bread

I think that you will really enjoy this bread, and the nice thing is that you can make it entirely from ingredients from your food storage. I do not recommend that you try to store a large quantity of whole wheat flour, as it will go rancid on you. If you want whole wheat, you will need to buy sealed buckets of hard red wheat for storage and then grind it fresh when preparing to make bread. White flour will store for much longer periods of time, but of course it doesn’t have the nutritional value of whole wheat.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Survival Hunting - The Crossbow

This weekend I had the opportunity to try out the ultimate in quiet hunting equipment, the compound crossbow. My brother-in-law, Devin, gave my son and I the opportunity to do some target shooting with this awesome weapon. I was very impressed. The crossbow that we fired is powerful (150 lb. draw weight), but it makes less noise than clearing your throat. It is pin point accurate; and, most impressively, it requires very little skill to operate. My son and I both shoot primitive wooden bows, and after years of shooting we are pretty good with them. This was the first time that either of us has ever fired a crossbow, and we were both shooting 2” groups from 60 feet from the very first shot. Of course the crossbow will fire much farther than that with deer killing accuracy, but we just had a small high density foam target, so we were shooting at fairly short range. The aluminum arrows (called bolts) were penetrating a full 12 inches into the high density foam with no problem.

By now you know my philosophy of keeping a low profile as the cornerstone of home defense. This is the weapon to do it with. Easy to use, deer killing power, reusable ammo, and virtual silence. What more could you ask for? I guarantee you that this will be my next survival weapon purchase, and if hunting is part of your survival plan I would recommend that you do the same.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Food Storage - Onions

Onions are one of the plants that it makes a lot of sense to grow in your garden. They are so cheap and easy to grow, and they are so expensive in the grocery store that it’s really a no-brainer whether to plant them or not. An onion may cost as much as a dollar in the grocery store, and I can raise a couple of hundred of them for five dollars. My onions may not be quiet as big as the ones at the store; but they are a lot cheaper, and they don’t have any pesticides sprayed on them. I buy onion sets and the local hardware store and plant them in late February to early March. I plant them in a 3 foot wide bed about 6 inches apart in each direction, broadcast a little 8-8-8 fertilizer on them, and water them well. You will have to weed them a time or two as they are growing, and keep them watered if the rain is not regular. When the green tops begin to die and fall over in late May, they are ready to pick. Pictured below: Bed of garlic and onions early in the season and then later on about two weeks before harvest. Garlic is in the foreground, and onions are in the back.

After picking I brush the dirt off on the onions and lay them out on a table under my porch to cure for a week or two. When they are cured and the tops are pretty dry, I braid the onions into strand about a foot and a half long, tie the ends with string, and hang the braided strands from the beams in our living room (I know, it sounds weird, but it doesn’t look that strange in our country home). Pictured Below: Onion braids hanging from a livingroom beam.

Now we have a good supply of onions to use throughout the fall and winter. All we have to do is walk into the living room with a pair of scissors and snip an onion or two off of the braid. Easy, fun, and money saving. Who could ask for more?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Food Storage - Homemade Pickles

I love the taste of home canned dill pickles, and they are really easy to make. I grow my own cucumbers. I always plant Boston Pickling cucumbers. They are an old heirloom variety that is specially suited to canning. I like to raise my cucs on a trellis to save space in the garden and to keep them up off of the ground. I use an old galvanized cattle panel and wire it up on metal T-posts. Then I plant my seed about 6 inches apart along the bottom of the panel. A little 8-8-8 fertilizer and careful watering will produce a good crop. Pictured below is my cucumber trellis before and after.

When the cucumbers start to get ripe you have to watch them like a hawk. One day they’ll be little bitty things, and the next day they’ll be six inches long. I pick them when they are about 5 or 6 inches long, wash them thoroughly, and store in the refrigerator until I have enough to make 4 quarts (nothing magic about this number, it’s just what my water bath canner will hold at one time). Pictured below: Garden fresh cucumbers.

Here’s my recipe for homemade dill pickles.

Dill Pickles (4 quarts)

4 quarts cucumbers cut in ¼ inch slices (I use Boston Pickling Cucumbers)
½ onion cut into slices ¼ inch wide
5 cups white vinegar
5 cups water
5 tbsp salt
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp celery seed
2 tsp dill seed
6 pepper corns
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp cinnamon
4 whole cloves
¼ tsp ginger
½ tsp garlic
¼ tsp turmeric

To Prepare:
• Sterilize jars in boiling water
• Sterilize lids and rings in boiling water
• Heat water, vinegar, and salt in pot
• Place all spices in spice bag and suspend in boiling water, vinegar and salt.
• Reduce heat under spices and liquid, and boil at low temp. for 15 minutes
• Remove jars from boiing water and drain
• Pack sliced cucumbers and onions in sterilized quart jars
• Remove spice bag from boiling liquid
• Pour liquid and spices into jars leaving ½ inch head space
• Wipe jar rims and screw on lids and rings
• Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes making sure that water covers tops of jars by ½ inch
• Remove from water bath and allow to cool
• Make sure lids have pinged (lids should be bowed down after jars have cooled)
• Label and date jars
• Pickles will be ready to eat in approximately one week
• Discard any jars whose lids have bowed up while in storage as this is a sign that contents have gone bad.

If you have any of the pickling liquid left, you can store it in a closed jar in the refrigerator and use it on the next batch. Enjoy. Pictured below: the end product

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Survival Garden - Green Beans

I always plant a bed of Blue Lake green beans in the garden. They taste great fresh, and even better canned. The bed I planted this year was 3 ½ feet wide and 32 feet long. I plant my seed about an inch deep and four inches apart in each direction. I planted in mid-march. I have stated before that you can get an unbelievable amount of produce from a small garden by using the bed planting method, and Blue Lakes are a good example of what I am talking about. After I picked and snapped the beans I had 30 quarts; this is off of a little more that a hundred square feet. Also, because green beans are an early crop (I picked mine at the beginning of June) that same 100 square feet of garden is now available for a second crop. I planted the same bed with purple hull peas. Pictured below: Former Blue Lake bed has been replanted in Purple Hull Peas.

Don’t fertilize beans or peas. They produce their own nitrogen and actually improve the fertility of soil that they are planted in. After I have picked over my beans, I never pull up the vines. I cut them off at ground level. This leaves the roots and their nitrogen nodules in the ground.

Green beans can be stored in several different ways. One is to make Leather Britches, a type of dried bean. To make Leather Britches, take the whole green beans and string them on a piece of twine. Use a needle to string them. Push the needle through the side of each bean about in the middle, then hang the string of beans up to dry. By the way, tying a knot in the thread when you start will not work. The beans will slide off. I usually tie a button or a small stick on the end of the string, and this keeps the beans on the string. They will keep for months without refrigeration. Too prepare the beans just slip them off the string into a pot of boiling water. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer for a couple of hours. They will not look like fresh or canned beans; they will have a kind of wrinkled leather-like appearance. Hence the name Leather Britches.

Greens beans can be frozen and stored in plastic freezer bags, but you really need to blanch them for a minute in boiling water before freezing them. Blanching stops the enzymes in the beans from working and helps protect the taste.

My personal favorite way to store green beans is by canning, but you must pressure can them. Don’t ever try to can green beans by using the water bath method. It will not work, and it is dangerous. If you have a pressure canner, follow the canning directions that came with it. If you don’t have directions, you can buy a USDA publication on home canning that will tell you everything you need to know.
Pictured below: Home canned Blue Lake Green Beans in the pantry.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Survival Garden - Building a Movable Fence

My garden is plagued by rabbits. They love my pole beans when they are first coming up and they think my greens are their own personal salad bar. I tried a lot of things to get rid of rabbits without success, and I finally decided that I was going to have to build a fence. But, I have several problems with the idea of a fence. For one thing, my garden is constantly changing size and shape, so I hate to lock myself into a specific area for gardening. For another thing, many of the things I grow don't seem to attract the rabbits and don't need to be fenced, but I rotate my crops to different parts of the garden each year, so I would have to build a fence around all of my crops whether they needed to be fenced or not. And lastly, to keep rabbits out I would have to build a fence out of the smallest (and most expensive) welded mesh wire. I thought about it for a while, and finally decided that what I needed was a fence that I could put up around the crops that need a fence, but that could be easily taken down and moved when the location of those crops was moved. So, I developed my slightly ugly, but highly effective portable anti-rabbit fence. For fence wire I chose 2 foot high chicken wire. It is relatively inexpensive and has a small enough weave that rabbits can't get through it. For posts I ripped a bunch of 3 1/2" cedar fence pickets in half, cut them three feet long, and sharpened one end to a point. You don't have to use fence pickets. I just happened to have a lot of old fence pickets lying around. You could cut small saplings, use PVC pipe, old re-bar, or just about anything for the posts. Once you have your posts in hand you can use a hammer to drive them into the ground around your crop. I drive them in about 6 or 8 inches and put them about eight feet apart. One hint; don't place the posts too close to your crop. Leave yourself plenty of room to work. Now that you have the posts in place, it's a simple matter to take some tie-wire or other light gauge wire and wire the fencing to the posts. I put one loop of wire at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom of each post and give them a couple of twists with pliers to keep them tight. You're not building the Great Wall of China, so don't wire the thing together like it's going to be there forever. Make sure that you have the bottom of the fence wire down on the ground. If you leave any room, those rascally rabbits will sneak under your fence. If the fence is too loose at the bottom, you can use coat hanger wire or bailing wire and make stakes to hold the bottom of the fence down. I put mulch down on both sides of the fence so I don't have to mess with weeds. Now you have a (hopefully) rabbit-proof fence around your crops. It's only 2 feet tall so you can easily step over it to get into the garden and work. Next year when you move your beans and greens to another location, you can move the fence along with them.

Rabbits also seem to love broccoli, Brussels's sprouts, and other plants when they are young. I build little round cages out of small mesh welded wire to put around these types of plants. The cages are about a foot across and a foot tall.
By the time the plants grow up out of these cages they can pretty well survive on there own, plus spring is now well advanced and the rabbits have more choices of wild plants that are easier to get to than my caged plants.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Get Out of Debt Now

One of the things that seems to plague people the most these days is personal debt. And look at the examples they have to follow. Our own government is trillions of dollars in debt, and every year they set a budget that they know going in has more debt built into it. Everything that you see on television tells you to buy, buy, buy. Never mind if you can’t afford it; just charge it. Our whole economic philosophy is just one big Ponsey Scheme. The only way to keep the economy going is for everyone to keep buying, whether they need to or not. What was George Bush’s advice to the country after the 911 attack? “Go shopping.” How sad is that? I read a good quote somewhere. It said, “Most people spend their whole lives working at jobs they don’t like, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they can’t stand”. Sad, but pretty true. We have allowed advertisers to convince us that if we don’t have whatever they’re selling, that our mates won’t love us, our children will feel neglected, and our friends will think that we are losers. They are drawn to our insecurities like sharks are drawn to blood. And poor pitiful us, we believe them, and we pile up mountains of debt so that we will feel worthy. Well, no more. Now is the time to make your own personal Declaration of Independence. Quit being motivated by your insecurities and start putting an end to personal debt. No, you won’t be helping the American economy. But, it’s already in the toilet anyway, placed there by the escalating consumerist policies of the last 50 years. It’s time to thumb your nose at the economic experts, and start helping yourself. If this sounds appealing to you, read on and I will outline my plan for developing your economic independence; and by the way, unlike your friendly financial adviser, I will tell you right now that financial independence does not mean being rich.

Step One – Learn Patience
When I was a kid, television was in its infancy, had been around less than 10 years. I remember how I used to wait and look forward all week to Saturday morning, because that was when I could get up and watch Hop-Along-Cassidy, Lash LaRue, Roy Rodgers, and all of my other favorite TV shows. What do kids look forward to on television now? Answer: nothing. If they want to see something they Tivo it, or order it from pay-per-view, or just scroll through the 150 channels they have until they find it. They totally lose the joy of anticipation. If a kid wants a toy, they don’t visit the toy store every Saturday for three months looking longingly at the object of their desire, and going over in their minds how much fun they will have when they finally save enough allowance to buy it. They just badger their parents into pulling out the credit card and going deeper into debt.

We, as a nation, no longer have any patience. We want it now, and the advertisers, the banks, the economists, and our national leaders all assure us that we can have it now. Here’s the truth, and you should make these words the preamble to your economic declaration of independence, IF YOU CAN’T PAY CASH FOR IT YOU CAN’T HAVE IT NOW.

Well, you say, how can anyone buy a house? No one can save up that much money. I must, respectfully, disagree. When my wife and I moved to our farm we bought a used trailer. It was 8 x 32 feet. We paid $500 dollars cash for it. It was no mansion, and it wasn’t the house we wanted to live in, but it was what we could afford. I worked at my job, and each week we would set money aside. In the evenings we would draw house plans, and read books and magazines about houses, and talk about what we wanted our house to be like. When we saved up enough money, we’d go and buy building materials. We had to save for a long time to get the slab poured. This was our single biggest one-time expense. After that, it was buy a little lumber every week or two and start framing up the walls. We did nearly all of the work ourselves. I won’t go into all the details, but seven years latter we moved into our new three-bedroom dog-run style country home; and the day we moved in, it was ours. You may say, “Seven years! That’s a long time to wait on a house.” Well it is a long time, but at the end of seven years we owned our home. For most of our friends it was another 23 years before they had their houses paid for; that’s if they didn’t move into a newer, bigger house and assume a newer, bigger mortgage. Over the years we have had economic down-turns, job losses, and unexpected expenses; but it has always been a comfort knowing that our house is ours. And by the way, we also saved about $70,000 dollars in interest payments by paying cash for our home, so patience can pay off in the long run.

Example #2. I just bought a new/used truck. My old one had 160,00 miles on it. My new truck cost $10,000. I paid cash for it. Where, you ask, did a poor country boy come up with cash to buy a vehicle? Well here’s my approach to buying vehicles, and the nice thing is, you only have to exercise patience the first time you buy one. Save your money and buy a used car that you can afford, then set up a bank account and start making a car payment to yourself every month. It doesn’t have to be as big as a regular car payment that you would make to the bank because you’re not paying any interest. You could put aside something like $300 a month, and at the end of four years you would have over $14,000 dollars to spend on a new vehicle. And, if anything should happen in the meantime, no one is going to repo your vehicle. Just a little more peace of mind in a stressful world. I will have to admit that I had to fudge on this a little last year. My son needed a new car to go off to college in, and a friend of mine had an almost new car that they were offering at a really good price. It was a little more than we had put back and so we had to finance part of it. It ticks me off every month when I pay that note knowing that the bank is making money off of me. My philosophy is that I make money off of the bank.

Step 2 – Know Where Your Money is Going
Make a list of all of your expenses for a month. House payment (if any), car payment (if any), insurance, 1/12 of you property taxes, gasoline, utility bills, estimated grocery bill, etc. Now write down how much your take home pay for a month is. Compare the two figures. If you are like most folks, you will find that about a third of your paycheck has disappeared without explanation. Eating out at lunch, buying a soft drink and candy bar everyday, making impulse purchases, buying a new piece of clothing when the closet is already full, spending $20 to see a movie that will be out on DVD next month; it just sort of disappears. Now, I’m not telling you that you should live like a monk. I like to go to a movie every once in a while, and I consider the occasional 6-pack of beer a good investment; but we’ve got to rein in some of that disappearing paycheck. What I would suggest is that you take half the difference between what you bring home and what your known expenses are, and have it automatically deposited from your paycheck into a savings or money market account. It’s fairly painless that way because you never see the money in the first place. Try it for a couple of months and see if it has any major impact on your life style. You can always go back and lower or raise the amount that’s deducted. I bet you will be surprised to find that it doesn’t really make all that big a difference in how you live, and you will be surprised to see how quick your little account will grow.

Step 3 – Avoid the Credit Card Trap
Some people can handle credit cards, and some people can’t. If you have nerves of steel, and can avoid the siren song of the advertisers, carry a credit card with you. There are some places that you have to have one. Renting a motel room or a car is just about impossible without a credit card. I personally use a credit card for buying gasoline because I feel that it helps me keep better track of my gas consumption, but I try to use cash for everything else. Market research shows that credit card purchasers spend about 18% more than cash purchasers; that’s why the banks and merchants want you to use them. If you do use a credit card, it is imperative that you pay your full balance every 30 days. Carrying an unpaid balance on a credit card will cost you interest that would have landed a banker in jail for loan-sharking in the old days. If you can’t control your credit card spending, then don’t carry one. Leave it at home and only take it out of the drawer for a specific purpose, then put it back in the drawer after you’ve used it. If you can’t handle that then cut the thing up and get professional help; you’re problems go way beyond financial management. If you do have a credit card, I would suggest that you just have one. Mastercard and Visa are accepted almost anywhere, and if all of your spending is reflected on only one bill it will make it easier to keep track of what you are spending and harder to fool yourself about how much you are spending.

Step 4 – Invest in Preparedness
If the bottom should fall out of society I would rather have a year’s supply of food than a $100,000 in the bank. I’m not saying that you should cash in your 401-K and buy MRE’s. I hope to retire someday, and I have a retirement account that I hope to get to spend, but I want to be prepared if things should go unexpectedly sideways. It doesn’t have to be painful. Couldn’t you keep wearing your old watch and buy a generator (and a lot of other things) with the money that you were going to spend on that new Rolex. How about investing in a good food storage program instead of that new set of golf clubs. Just be sensible and try to maintain a balance between living in the world as it is, and preparing for the world that might be.

Well, that’s my program. It may seem kind of out of place to you on a blog about survival, but I think that being financially independent is an important part of preparedness and self-sufficiency. I hope that some of what I’ve written here will be of help to you.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Survival Hunting - The Pellet Gun

When I was growing up, nearly every kid's first real rifle was a pellet gun. We ranged far and wide through the woods with our pellet guns, and birds and squirrels feared us. Of course we soon graduated to .22's and shotguns and our childhood pellet guns were forgotten in the back of the closet. Well, it's time to dig into that closet and pull out your old friend, because a pellet gun can be a handy survival tool. Think about it. The pellet gun is accurate, it's quiet, it's powerful enough to kill small game, and you can hold 250 bullets in the palm of your hand. And if you don't have your old pellet gun anymore, go to the store and look around. Your old model may still be there along with some interesting new arrivals. Pellet guns all operate by using compressed gas to force a small lead or alloy bullet out of the rifled barrel, but the system for compressing the gas is different in different styles of gun.

The Pump-Up Gun
When I was a kid the Benjamin Pump was the king of pellet rifles. The air was compressed in a holding chamber by pumping a lever located beneath the barrel. The more you pumped (up to a point) the more power behind the pellet. The Benjamin came in .177 caliber and .22 caliber. I never have really figured which caliber was better. We argued about it as kids, and as far as I know the debate continues to be unresolved. The .177 has a faster muzzle velocity, but the .22 has a bigger bullet and thus more shock power. I guess they both must be pretty good, because after all these years; manufactures still make both calibers. I had, and still have, a 177. caliber; but that's just because that's the one that my dad bought me for Christmas. You can still buy a Benjamin, and they haven't changed over the years. The cost now is about $125, and they still spit out a pellet at about 1000 ft. per second. My brother-in-law recently bought a good, working Benjamin at a garage sale for $25. I've offered to give him twice that for it, but he won't bite. Several other companies now make pump pellet guns including Daisy and Crossman, but they just don't seem to be the same quality as the Benjamin. For one thing the Benjamin still has a real wood stock, and for another it's made in the USA.
The CO2 Gun
There is a whole class of air rifles and pistols that are powered by CO2 gas that comes in small cartridges. They are hard shooters, but I stay away from them because they are worthless without the little compressed gas cartridges. I'd rather have a gun that I can compress the gas in by hand.

The Break Action Pellet Gun
I had one friend, when I was a kid, that had a pellet gun that broke open like a shotgun. Breaking the gun open to load it also compressed air into a holding tank to fire the gun. I was not particularly impressed with this gun, because it was not very powerful. These break open, one stroke air guns have improved a lot since those days. They now fire with as much power as the pump guns. The Germans developed some particularly high quality, and expensive, guns of this type. This type of pellet gun has become increasingly popular, and there are several companies making them. The level of quality is all over the board. There has been a recent flood of 22. caliber, Chinese break action guns on the market. They are inexpensive, around $30, but the quality is poor. My son bought one at an army-navy store and it shot pretty well, but didn't have as much power as the Benjamin, and it didn't last but about six months. Personally I'd pay the extra and have a gun that I know will last a lifetime. I recently bought a Beeman break action pellet gun, and I have been very happy with it. It is made in the U.S.A. It has a real wood stock, it came with both .22 and .117 caliber barrels, and it has a fairly good scope. I shot it into a catalogue from 75 feet and it penetrated 100 pages. At 120 feet I was consistently hitting rabbit sized targets. This seems to be a good quality gun for the mere $135 it costs, but only time will tell.

Pictured Below: top, Beeman break-action pellet rifle; middle, Benjamin pump; bottom, inexpensive Chinese single pump.

If you do buy a pellet rifle, make sure that it is a compressed air gun and not a spring powered BB gun. A BB gun does not have the power or accuracy to be considered a real hunting weapon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food Storage - Dried, Canned Hamburger

I came across this recipe for preserving hamburger meat on the End Times website a couple of years ago and I have been using it ever since. It is a great way to store meat without having to rely of your freezer, and the meat is always ready to use, no waiting for it to thaw out. I usually buy ground chuck in the five pound logs. You are going to cook and drain all of the fat away, so the leaner meat you start off with the less waste you will have. If you are going to can the meat for long term storage, you will need to sterilize your jars and jar lids before, or at the same time as, you prepare the hamburger. Five pounds of ground meat will fit in 2 to 3 pint jars, or 4 to 6 half-pints; depending on how fatty the original meat is.

Directions for preparing hamburger:

• Thoroughly brown the meat in a large cast iron skillet.

• When meat is browned, pour off the grease and transfer the meat to a colander.

• Rinse the meat thoroughly under hot running water to remove any remaining grease

• Wipe any remaining grease out of the skillet and place the drained hamburger back in the skillet.

• Heat the hamburger in the skillet until steam quits rising from the meat. Use a spatula to turn the meat and keep it moving so that it doesn't burn.

• When the hamburger quits steaming, spread it out in an even layer on baking sheets and place in a 200 degree oven. Leave the oven door propped slightly open and let the hamburger dry for about 2 hours.

• Place the, still hot, dried hamburger in hot sterilized jars, and cap tightly with sterilized lids and jar rings. In about 15 minutes the lids will ping and you will know that you have a good seal. Label and date the jars, and place them in storage.

I don't know how long the hamburger will keep when stored this way, but I can attest from personal experience that it is at least 2 years. To reconstitute the meat all that you have to do is put 1 cup of dried meat in 2 cups of water and let it soak for a while. I usually keep a pint can of dried hamburger in the kitchen pantry and when I make spaghetti sauce or vegetable beef soup, I grab a handful of meat and toss it in. It will re-hydrate as the other ingredients are cooking. You can use this meat in tacos, lasagna, chili, or any other recipe where you would normally use loose hamburger.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What to Plant, What to Buy at the Store

What to Plant, What to Buy at the Store

Like me, you may have limited garden space. Maybe you live in the city. My problem is that I live in the middle of the forest, and to make more garden room I would have to cut down trees. I do have one area that I'm slowly clearing so that I have the potential to have a much larger garden, but for now I'm limited to about 1600 square feet. So, I can't plant everything I would like to. I've had to make some decisions about what to raise in the garden and what to buy at the grocery store. I take mainly three things into consideration; flavor, price, and storability.

Take bell peppers for example. I was at the grocery store the other day, and one green bell pepper was $1.19. I bought it (stir-fried pepper beef doesn't taste right without the pepper), but it ticked me off. Last Spring I bought 6 bell pepper plants for $1.79. I turned up a little patch about a foot across for each pepper, planted them inside of a little PVC collar to keep the cut worms away, sprinkled a handful of 8-8-8 fertilizer around each plant, and laid down a good bed of mulch to keep the weeds down. That was it. Total work time about 45 minutes. I had to water occasionally, and when the plants got bigger I staked them up for support. What I'm saying is that there was no intensive labor involved here. I figure that at $1.19 each I must have harvested 75 or 80 dollars worth of bell peppers off of theses 6 plants. I picked bell peppers from June to November. Now that is a good return on investment.

Onions are another good example. A good onion at the grocery is $0.75 to $1.00. I can grow 300 onions for $5.00. We pull them, braid them, and hang them from the ceiling beams, and have onions all winter. Again, a good return on investment.

Now pinto beans are another story. I could plant my whole garden in pinto beans and not harvest as many as I can buy at the store for $10. It just doesn't make sense to take up garden space for pinto beans. I plant a few just to enjoy a meal or two of fresh picked beans, but that's all.

I plant purple hull peas for flavor. Dried peas or canned peas just don't come close, so I plant bed of purple hulls and get enough for ten or twelve meals of fresh peas.

Tomatoes are a good example of planting for taste and to save money. Eight or nine tomato plants will yield hundreds of tomatoes. My Arkansas Travelers yield all summer; even in the heat of August. I eat fresh tomatoes that are so much better than store-bought that it can't be described. I can tomatoes, can spaghetti sauce, and can hot sauce. I also dry tomatoes, and I give a lot of tomatoes to friends. All of this for the price of about 5 tomatoes at the grocery store.

I plant Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce, a type of leaf lettuce. It is fairly heat tolerant, and a dollar's worth of seed will yield many bunches of lettuce. A good return on investment here, plus you know it's not loaded down with DDT or contaminated with ecoli.
Boston Pickling Cucumbers are great for making pickles. I plant about a dollar's worth of seeds along a trellis and get pounds and pounds of cucumbers. Last year I planted a trellis about eight feet long by 4 feet high and put up about 30 pints of pickles. Of course there's some additional expense and labor involved in canning pickles, but man are they good. You can also eat these cucumbers fresh, but I'm not a big fan of fresh cucumbers. They give me heart burn, but if you can tolerate them, the taste is good.

I can't understand why squash is so expensive in the grocery store. I plant about 4 or 5 hill of it (7 seeds to the hill), and I get sick of squash I end up with so much. I eat it, I freeze it, I give it to friends until they run when they see me coming, and I still have squash. I like Yellow Crook Neck, Zucchini, and in the fall I plant Butter Nut. Squash seeds are super easy to save. Plant one good crop and you'll have squash for life.

Potatoes are good when they're fresh from the garden, but when they're planted in the traditional way they take up a lot of space relative to the yield that you get. I'm trying a new method of potato planting this year where you plant the potatoes inside of wooden frames and add more frames and mulch as the potatoes grow up through successive layers. The yield is supposed to be huge for a very small area. We'll see. If it works I'll do a post about it; in the mean time, potatoes remain on the buy-it-at-the-store list.

I currently buy flour and cornmeal at the store, but this year I will be trying my first corn crop in my new garden area and we'll see how that works out. I would love to be able to raise a good crop of Country Gentleman each year and grind it on a home grist mill.

Well these are just a few of my thoughts that may be of some help if you are planning a garden and wondering what to plant. By the way, if this is your first garden, plant some radishes. I don't really like radishes, but they come up so fast its almost like an instant reward. A good confidence builder.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Survival Garden - Forget Rows

One of the most common mistakes that beginning gardeners make is plow up a huge garden and plant rows and rows of crops, then they spend the rest of the spring and summer fighting weeds. You will get higher yields from a smaller area and do lots less work, if you plant in beds. Many people think that crops are planted in rows because the plants need a certain amount of space between them in order to grow. It's true that plants do need room to grow, but they don't need near as much as is usually recommended on seed packets. Row planting was developed as a system when man first started using plows. Space was left between each row so that the plow animal would have a place to walk during cultivation. When mechanical agriculture came on the scene, the rows were spaced even wider. So unless you are using a mule or a tractor to cultivate, you don't really need the space between rows. Look at your typical seed packet of bush beans. It will probably say something like, "Plant seeds 6 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart." If you are doing hand cultivating using beds you can forget about the 2 feet apart. I plant bush beans in beds that are 4 feet wide, and I plant the seed 6 inches apart in each direction. Now think about it, I am planting 500 plants in a 100 sq. ft. bed. To plant the same amount of beans in rows that are 2 feet apart would take up 500 sq. ft. of your garden. And guess what's going to grow in that empty 400 sq. ft. You got it,---WEEDS. The way I plant, the beans are close enough together that the weeds don't have anywhere to grow. So while I'm sitting on the porch drinking iced tea, you're out in your garden hoeing weeds. Doesn't seem fair does it? Pictured below: A bed of different kinds of greens in early March.

Another advantage of planting in beds is that once a bed is established it takes way less effort to keep your soil loose and workable. I have permanent beds in my garden. I plant different crops in them each year, but I keep the same beds. My beds are about 4' wide and I leave an 18" walking path between the beds. I pile about 6" of pine needle mulch on the paths to keep weeds from growing in them. I hand turn the beds with a turning fork to a depth of ten to twelve inches; and once a bed has been established, I never walk on it again. All planting, cultivating, and harvesting is done from the paths. By staying off of the beds, the soil does not become compacted and is easy to turn for the next planting. I do fudge a little bit by stepping into the beds when I re-turn the soil each season, but that's about the only exception to my "don't walk on the dirt" rule. My garden is about 1200 sq. ft. I have been gardening the same patch of land for over 25 years, and I have never used a tractor or garden tiller on it. I couldn't do this if I was row planting, but by planting in beds it is easy to keep the garden up with nothing more than a turning fork, a rake, and a hoe. Pictured below: A bed of garlic and onions. This bed has 25 garlic plants and about 300 onions in about 100 square feet.

The one concession that I make to mechanical gardening is that I use a gas powered weed-eater to cut down bush bean vines after I have picked them clean. I tried cutting them down with a yoyo but this tended to pull the roots up along with the vine. I want the roots, with their attached nitrogen nodules, to stay in the ground and enrich the soil; so I yielded to modern technology in this instance.

Bed planting cuts way down on the time you will spend weeding. As mentioned above, I don't have to weed bush beans or field peas at all because of the dense planting. My walking paths are kept mulched so there's no weeding there either. I mulch around my tomatoes, squash, peppers, and cucumbers so that I only have to weed a very small area right at the base of the plants. I do have to weed a little along my pole beans; but here again, mulching right up close to the vines keeps weeding to a minimum. The only thing that I just flat out have to weed is my onion patch. I haven't figured out a way around this one, but if you have tried anything that works I'd sure like to hear about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why Are They Persecuting Bernie Madoff?

I can't for the life of me understand why everyone is so mad at poor old Bernie Madoff. I read that he is accused of perpetrating a Ponzi scheme. The way I understand it, a Ponzi scheme is where you get people to give you money and promise them that you'll give them their money and more at a later date. Apparently the illegal part comes in when you don't invest the money in anything tangible; but instead, you pay back the early investors with money that is given to you by later investors. As long as you can keep bringing more and more people into the scheme everything works out great. The problem is that eventually you run out of people to bring into the scheme, and the whole pyramid collapses.

How, I ask you, is this any different from the whole American economy? Think about it. Our whole economy is based on consumption. You have to have more and more people consuming more and more goods in order to keep the economy working. Years ago people bought what they needed and saved the rest of their income against a rainy day. The U.S. economy grew because the increasing population kept moving West, opening new land to agriculture and ranching, and discovering vast new mineral wealth. When the westward expansion grew to a close, no new real wealth was being created or discovered so businesses and financial institutions had to come up with a new way of keeping the economy rolling. "Presto!" they said. "Let's just get the people to buy more. That way we can continue to increase production and continue to grow richer." And there, my friends, is the birth of advertising. An entire industry dedicated to convincing you to buy things that you don't need. They convinced you that you're wife wouldn't love you if you didn't buy her a diamond. They convinced you that you're "friends" would think you were are loser if you didn't drive an expensive car. They made up holidays like mother's day and Valentine's Day and secretary's day so they could sell you more. And they perverted holidays like Christmas to turn them into two month long buying sprees. And it all worked great. You spent more and more, and saved less and less; and the economy grew like a Brontosaurus. But then a tragedy occured. You were spending everything you had. You couldn't spend any more, and the economy couldn't keep growing. "But wait'" the businessmen and bankers said. "All they need is more money. Let's loan them the money. Then they'll keep buying our stuff that they don't really need, and they'll have to pay us interest for the money that we loan them. Brilliant!!" And so now you really went to town. A mailman could live in a 16 room house. A barber could drive a exotic sports car. A secretary could vacation in Europe. A school teacher could buy a vacation home. All you had to do was take out a loan or put it on the card. So you consumed more and more. And the economy grew like a super nova. And then another tragedy struck. One day you woke up and realized that you could never pay it all off. The bankers kept loaning you money, even though they knew that you could never pay it back. You see the bankers had also loaned money to the businessmen so the businessmen could buy more machines to build more stuff for you to buy to keep the economy growing. And the only way they could get their money back from the businessmen was to loan you more money to buy the stuff that the businessmen were making. So they loaned you more money even though they knew you could never pay it back, and incidentally, they sold your loans off to investment groups. One of those investment groups was probably your retirement fund. You know, the thing that you were counting on in your old age. So, those clever bankers actually sold you your own loan. And then another tragedy struck. Your neighbor couldn't pay his loan back, so he gave up. He told the bankers, "I can't pay for it. You can have it back." And then another neighbor did the same thing, and another, and another. And the dominoes feel, and the pyramid collapsed. And that's where you are today. The whole thing was one big Ponzi scheme, and it finally fell in.

So why are they persecuting poor old Bernie? I'll tell you why. He made the mistake of stealing from the thieves. They've been doing it to us for years with their banks, and their investment firms; and they've packed it all away in the form of trust funds, and non-profits, and foundations. And Bernie broke the code and turned on them. Now they'll have their pound of flesh as surely as a South American drug lord would deal with his accountant ripping him off. The people that Bernie ripped off own the law, bought and paid for; and they own the media that's reporting on it. They will bring the full fury of these institutions to bear on him. Personally I care about this whole Madoff thing about as much as I care about rival gang members killing each other. Where has the outcry been about the Ponzi scheme that's been perpetrated on the American public for the past 100 years?

Will the economy recover? Yes. Will the powers that be want you to keep consuming? Yes. Take my advice. Don't be a sucker again. Live within your means. Don't buy it if you don't need it. And if I may contradict the words of our former illustrious President, "Don't go shopping."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Permanent Supply of Onions

I buy onion sets every year and plant them in my garden. I don't save onion seed because it's kind of a pain. Maybe after I build my green house I will try saving onion seeds and starting my on sets, but for right now I just buy the sets and put them out. This usually gives me a good crop of onions to harvest, and then my wife braids them into long strands which we hang from the ceiling beams in the living room. Yes, in the living room; we are definitely country folk. Anyway, they look kind of nice, and throughout the winter when we need an onion we just cut one off of the braid. It used to worry me though that our supply of onions might be interrupted if sets are no longer available. That is, it worried me until my sister in Arkansas gave me a start of multiplying onions. These are also known as walking onions or Egyptian onions, and they will actually propagate themselves and spread on their own. The way it works is, instead of going to seed, these onions produce small onion bulbs at the top of their green shoots. You can break these bulbs off, separate them and plant them just like onion sets. If you don't break them off, the weight of the bulbs will eventually bend the onion shoot down to the ground where the bulbs will then take root on their own. If you let the onions propagate on their own, however, they will grow very densely and it will inhibit good growth. Also once the onions have been allowed to form new bulbs, the old onion is past its best flavor. I pick some of the onions to eat, and let some of them produce new bulbs. I then harvest the bulbs and re-plant them like onion sets. If you use this method, you can move the onions to a different part of your garden each year. Multiplying onions do not produce a large bulb. They are more like a scallion, but they are perfectly edible, and the green shoots can be used like chives. If you don't know someone that can give you a start of multiplying onions, look on the internet. There are several places that sell them. Once you get a bed of multiplying onions started you will have onions from now on. This site offers walking onions for sale I have never ordered from them so I can't vouch for this outfit, but they might be worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Primitive Bow Making - Part 5

Now let's make a bowstring. Remember that you are using either wet rawhide or artificial sinew for your first attempt. All cordage is twisted up using the same basic technique. It is called the reverse wrap. Using the reverse wrap takes only a few simple steps, but it will take a fair amount of practice to prefect the technique. Yucca leaf fibers are used in the following description, however the same basic steps apply to wet rawhide or artificial sinew. The only difference is that you won't have to worry about splices, so there is no need to stagger your fibers as outlined in step three below.
If you are using artificial sinew, just start out with four pieces of sinew that are three times the length of your unstrung bow and proceed to step 4. If you are using rawhide, start with a single strip that is three times the length of you unstrung bow and proceed to step 4.
1. Decide how thick you want your finished cord to be and use half that number of fibers to start with. For example, if you want your finished cord to be as thick as 12 strips of yucca fiber, you will start out with 6 strips of yucca fiber laid out on the table in front of you. All of the big ends of the fibers are on the left, and all of the small ends point to the right.
2. Now take 3 of your 6 strips and turn them so that the big ends are on the right and the points are to the left.
3. ext you will need to take all six strips and place them so that the ends are all off-set from each other. This is very important. Everywhere that one fiber ends, a new fiber must begin, and this obviously creates a weak spot in your cordage. If all of the fibers ended at the same spot and new ones began, you would have a tremendously weak spot that would come apart when the first stress was applied. By off-setting all of the fibers, you make sure that you will have no more than one splice occurring at any point on the cord.
4. Now pick up all of the yucca fibers and fold them into a
"U" shape with the points of the "U" facing to your right and the rounded part of the "U" pinched between your left thumb and index finger. (Note: these instructions are for a right handed person)
5. Keeping a tight grip with your left thumb and index finger, grasp the upper bundleof fibers with your right fingers and twist them up and away from you several times so that they form a tight strand.
6. Now pull this upper strand of fibers toward you and down so that it crosses over the lower bundle of fibers. Shift your grip with your left thumb and index finger so that you are now pinching the two different strands where they cross.
7. Use your right fingers to grasp the bundle of fibers that is on top now (the ones that you haven't twisted yet). Twist them up and away from you several times until they form a tight strand.
8. Now take this newly twisted strand and pull it toward you and down so that it crosses over the lower strand of fibers.
9. Shift the grip with your left thumb and index finger so that you are pinching the two strands where they cross.
10. Repeat steps 5 through 9. That's all there is to it.

After you've made a few strings with solid material you may want to try putting one together using yucca fibers or real sinew. This requires a lot of splicing to make a proper string, and if you're going to try this let me recommend that you read Jim Hamm's chapter on the subject in his very excellent book, Bows and Arrows of the Native Americans. Pictured below: (1) Rawhide bowstring (2) Linen bowstring and artificial sinew bowstring.

Now you have a good bow. In the future I will post about three articles on how to make primitive arrows, but for now I will return to posting on sensible modern survival topics.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Primitive Bow Making - Part 4

You should now have a good shootable bow, so let's just add a couple of little touches to finish it out, and then we'll make a string.

To put an extra fine finish on your bow, use steel wool (Native Americans used fine sand sprinkled on a piece of damp leather) and rub both limbs down thoroughly. Try to remove every little scratch. A scratch may not look like much of a threat; but when a bow is at full draw, even the smallest imperfection may allow the wood fibers to begin separating. When wood fibers start to pull apart it is only a matter of time before the bow breaks.

When you have the bow as smooth as you can get it, rub more oil into the wood. You cannot overdo this. I have a small supply of bear grease that I use to oil my bows, but before I obtained it I used vegetable oil. The vegetable oil worked fine.

Although most Native-American self bows do not have grips on them, many modern shooters feel more comfortable if they do have a grip. A nice piece of brain tanned leather can be glued and stitched around the handle of your bow to form an attractive primitive looking grip.

And now to the question of bowstrings. Most surviving Native-American bows have strings made of sinew. Twisted rawhide was also used. The Cherokee, I am told, used twisted squirrel rawhide. Some Southwestern tribes used yucca fibers to make strings for their lighter weight bows (40 lbs. draw weight or less). All of these natural materials make good strings, but there is one problem with making strings of sinew or yucca. The fibers of both animal sinew and yucca fiber are shorter than a finished bowstring, so to make a string from these materials you will have to create a number of splices. The splices have to be off-set from each other to avoid weak spots, and the fibers must be spliced in only a few at a time in order to avoid thick spots in the string. All in all, it is a pretty complicated process to go through the first time you make a bowstring. For this reason I am suggesting that you use rawhide if you want to make a natural string or artificial sinew if you prefer a more modern material. Waxed linen can also be used to make a good string and was, in fact, the material of choice in Medieval England. Be aware, however, that many primitive competitions will not allow the use of artificial sinew or linen strings.

To prepare rawhide for string making you will need a dried deer hide with the hair and inner membrane removed. Lace the hide in a rack or nail it to the side of your house to dry so that it stretches tight and flat. Be sure to use a deer hide and not an elk hide. Elk rawhide is much weaker than deer raw hide.

It does not take much rawhide to make a string. A round piece about the size of a dinner plate will be large enough. Start at the outside of the piece of rawhide and cut a strip about 1/4" wide completely around the edge. As you approach the point where you started your cut, angle in a little and keep right on going. Spiral round and round until you have reached the center of the hide. You should now have a very long, curving strip of rawhide. Soak this strip in water over night to soften it. A little stretching will straighten out the curves, and you will have a long piece of wet rawhide that you can start twisting into cordage.

If you are going to make your string from artificial sinew, all you have to do is cut four pieces of sinew that are three times the length of your unstrung bow.

Next time we'll talk about how to actually twist up the string using a technique called the reverse wrap.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Primitive Bow Making - Part 3

Now it is time for the most important part of building a bow; the part where more bows bite the dust than at any other phase of construction. It is known as "tillering". Tillering is the cutting and scraping of the bow limbs to their final thickness and the balancing of the limbs so that they bend evenly when the bow is drawn. It's tricky, but if you follow a few basic rules and don't get in a hurry, you will end up with a good bow. Pictured below: Front profile of bow cut out.

You already have the back of your bow laid out and trimmed to shape. Now it is time to turn the bow on its side and draw in the side profile. For the plains style bows that I prefer to make, I do not draw in a distinct handle. I prefer to just make the handle area the thickest part of the bow (about 3/4" thick) and then taper down gradually into the limbs. You may wish to make a thicker and narrower handle. This is perfectly fine. It's just a matter of what suits you. It is usually best to use a ruler and measure the thickness of the handle first, then move to each end and make a mark to indicate the thickness of the tips (about 3/16" to 1/4" thick). Now you can go back and lay a straight edge from the mark at the end of the handle to the marks at the tip and draw in a straight line the tapers evenly from handle to tip. Please note that this will only work if your bow stave is perfectly straight, and they never are. You will probably have to draw in a very light straight line and then go back and make free hand corrections where the stave has slight bends in it. The idea is to keep the taper uniform. Any thin spots will bend too much and weaken the bow. I generally lay out my side profile on both sides of the bow due to the irregularities of any natural wood stave. Pictured below: Side profile laid out.

Now that you have the sides laid out, it is time to start removing wood. If you have a lot of wood to remove you can start with a hatchet, but be careful!! Keep turning the bow constantly and looking at both sides to make sure that you don't take off too much. When you start getting close to your lines, it's time to get out the ol' wood rasp. Work the limbs down carefully until you reach your lines. Pictured below: Side profile cut out.

At this point you will want to cut your nocks so that a string can be attached. I usually use a small rat-tail file for this and cut a nock on each side of each end. Some plains style bows have two nocks at the end where the string is permanently attached and only one nock at the end of the bow where the string slips on and off. Do it however you like. Pictured below: One style of nock.

If we lived in a perfect world you could now slip a string onto your bow and with the exception of a little sanding, it would be ready to shoot. But alas, the world ain't perfect, so rub a good coat of vegetable oil into your bow and let it soak in overnight before you string the bow for the first time.

When you do string the bow for the first time you want to be very gentle. Make sure that the bow is warm. Don't hold it over a fire or anything, just make sure that it isn't cold. Rub it briskly with your hand and flex it gently over your knee to loosen up the wood fibers a little. You will need to string the bow very carefully with a heavy string to prepare it for the final tillering, or balancing of the limbs. Don't pull the bow yet. Just string it so that there is about 5" distance between the handle and the string and then take a good long look at it.

Unless you are very lucky, one limb of the bow will probably be bending more than the other limb. In some cases it may be bending a lot more. The straighter of the two limbs is not bending as much because it is thicker than the limb that is more flexed. Obviously you can't add wood to the more bent of the limbs, so the only alternative is to remove wood from the limb that is thicker. Study the curve of the two limbs. Look at the straighter limb. Where does it need to bend a little more in order to look like the more flexed limb? Mark that spot with a pencil. I usually shade the whole width of the belly at the point that needs to have wood removed. Remember that the belly is the part that is facing you when you shoot the bow, and that this is the only side of the bow that we ever remove wood from. Picture below: Untillered bow. This one came out pretty close on the first stringing, but you can still see that the upper limb is not bending quiet as much as the lower limb.

Now take a sharp knife and, holding the blade perpendicular to the surface of the wood, begin scraping on your pencil mark. Scrape a fairly wide area. Don't dig a hole. When the pencil mark is gone, the limb will not have moved at all, but you must resist the urge to remove more wood. The actual results of your scraping will not become apparent until the bow has been drawn several times. Absolutely do not pull the bow back to full draw. Just flex it gently pulling the string back six or eight inches. Flex the bow at least ten times then stop and take a look at it. The straight limb should now be bent a little more, maybe not as much as it needs to be, but it is better. Now repeat the whole process; looking, marking, scraping, and flexing. Don't get in a hurry or you may wind up in the yo-yo syndrome. This is where you remove too much wood and now the limb
that was too straight is bent more than the limb that was too curved. So you have to work on the other limb and thin it down. If you're not careful you can end up with a bow that has a 10 lb. Draw weight. Pictured below: Laying the bow on a tile floor makes it easier to see where it is out of tiller.

Just take your time and do a lot of looking and a lot of flexing. As the bow approaches balance you can begin flexing it a little more with each pull, but you may want to stop and rub in a little more oil before pulling it too far. When you have the bow well tillered it is time to finish it out, which we will talk about in the next post. Pictured below: The bow is now tillered and ready to finish out.