Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Primitive Bow Making - Part 2

Now that you have a cured log to work with, it's time to split it up into staves or the rough pieces from which you can make a bow. But before we start splitting, let's take a moment to get an idea of what we're working towards. What you are wanting to end up with is a one piece wooden bow often called a "self bow." If you look at the end of a log, you will see a series of concentric rings starting with a small circle in the middle and working all of the way out to the bark of the tree. Each of these rings is a layer of wood that represents one years growth of the tree. The wood fibers in any given layer are tightly inner twined with each other to form a strong but flexible ring of wood, however the separate rings are not tightly attached to each other. If you want to test this statement, take a peeled hickory log and start banging on it with another heavy stick. After a while the wood will start to separate and you can peel it off in strips that are exactly one growth ring thick. Now try and tear one of these splits in half. You will find that it is very hard to do. By the way, this banging on the log to split it into layers is one method of producing hickory splits for basket weaving. So what does all of this have to do with bow making? Well, the back of a bow (that's the part that is away from you when you are shooting the bow) is under tremendous stress when the bow is drawn. If the back of your bow is one unbroken growth ring from end to end, it will hold tightly together even under the stress of being bent. If, however, you cut across the growth rings when you are shaping the back of your bow, the growth rings will separate from each other when the bow is bent. Where the growth rings separate the bow will break. So we want to produce a bow that has an unbroken growth ring for the back. The easiest way to do this is to use the outside of the log for the back of your bow.

Now let's take a good look at your log and see where we want to split it in order to produce four staves that can be worked down into bows. First check and see if the log has stayed fairly straight while it was drying. If it has become badly bent you can still probably get one good stave out of it, but if it stayed straight you may get several. Let's assume that the log is still straight. Look at it. Where can you get the best bow out of it? Are there knots or scars on the log? If there are, it would be best to avoid them. If you can't avoid them then it is best to try and keep them in the middle of the bow. The handle is not under nearly as much stress as the limbs, so if you have a knot in the handle it probably won't weaken the bow. Small knots on the limbs will not weaken the bow too badly as long as they are in the center of the limbs and not on the edges. We will talk more about knots when we start shaping the bow. Pictured below:straight five foot long log of American elm.

Now that you've decided where you want to split the log, take a look and see if that is where the log wants to be split. Are there any checks in the log? If it has already started splitting on its own you might want to reconsider and see if you can't just extend those splits rather than starting some new ones. If you left plenty of extra length to work with a few end splits probably won't bother you, but if you're running short on wood you may have to go with the natural splits even if it means losing a stave or two. Whatever you do don't ruin your log by trying to force it to give up four staves. Its far better to have one really good stave than to have four third rate ones. Pictured below: Splitting the log with sledge and steel wedges; and log split in half.

Once as an experiment on doing it the old way I used some wedges made of elk antler and a hickory club to split out a bow stave. It worked fine, but under normal circumstances I use steel wedges and a sledge hammer to split out my staves. Just stand your log up on end, pick the place that you want to split it, lay the blade of one ax across the end of the log, and use the other ax to start hammering it down. Once the log starts to split it will usually split pretty straight down the center, but don't count on this. Go slow and make corrections where necessary. When you have successfully split your log in half, take each of the halves and split them in half. You will now have (maybe) four staves to work with. Pick the best one and you can begin laying out your bow on it. If you removed the bark before seasoning your log you may go directly to laying out the bow. If you seasoned your log with the bark on, you will need to carefully remove the bark before laying out. Be sure to not cut into the whitewood that will become the back of your bow. Pictured below: two staves, one with the bark peeled and ready for layout.

Now let’s lay out the bow. First you will need to decide on the shape of bow that you want. I usually make plains style bows that are 48" to 52" long and taper evenly from about 1 1/2" wide at the handle to 3/4" wide at the tips. You may want to make a bow that is narrow at the handle, widens out on the limbs, and then tapers down at the tips. Or you may want to make an English longbow. The choice is yours and the procedure is basically the same. The following directions are for laying out a plains style bow.

Use a pencil or charcoal and draw a line across each end of the stave where you want the ends of the bow to be (we will call these the end lines), then draw a straight line down the center of the stave from top to bottom (we will call this the center line). Now measure from your two end lines to determine where the center of the bow is. Make a small mark here that crosses the center line (we will call this the center mark). I lay out my handle by measuring about three inches up from the center mark and three inches down from the center mark and drawing a line across the stave at these two points. I then measure out 5/8" on each side of the center line and draw two lines that run from the top of the handle to the bottom. The handle is now laid out. It is a rectangle 1 1/4" wide by 6" long and centered on the stave. Now go to where your center line meets the end marks. Measure out on the end lines 3/8" on each side of the center line and make a mark. These will be your bow tips. Pictured below: handle layout and tip layout

To lay out the limbs you need only draw four lines. Each line will start at a corner of the handle and extent up or down to its corresponding mark on the bow tip. You now have the front profile of your bow laid out. We will not worry about the side profile until we have cut out the front profile. You may use your ax, knife, and/or draw knife to carefully trim away the side wood leaving only the front profile of your bow. Be sure that you leave the sides of the bow straight up and down. You don't want the sides of the bow to slant in or out from the back to the belly (the belly is the part of the bow that faces you when you are shooting). Pictured below: handle and limbs laid out and ready to start removing wood.

In the next post we will discuss laying out the side profile of your bow, and the all important tillering of the bow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Primitive Bow Making - Part 1

I have had a couple of people express some interest in primitive bow making which is a long-time hobby of mine. This is the first of a series of posts that I’m going to do on bow making and arrow making. This will comprise a total of about nine posts. I usually try to vary the topics that I write about, but this really needs to be posted as a series and in order; so if this isn’t a topic that appeals to you, please accept my appology in advance. I will return to other topics as soon as this series is through. So if you’re still with me, let us begin………….

In primitive times, when people lived close to the earth, any individual could produce the ultimate weapon of his or her culture, the bow and arrows. The ability to produce powerful, reliable, and accurate bows and arrows was a skill that meant meat on the table and protection for one's family and clan; and not just by the native people of the Americas. The bow was developed and played a major role in cultural evolution on every inhabited continent in the world except Australia. The bow is the natural weapon of choice of anyone who is living off the land. It can be made entirely from native materials and manufactured using only stone tools. Of course we won't go quiet that primitive, but you will be able to produce a high quality bow and arrow using nothing more than an ax, a knife, a drawknife, and a wood rasp.

The first step in building a good bow is to select the proper raw material to work with. There are several good bow woods that grow in East Texas, including Bois d'arc which is considered by many to be the best, but I am going to strongly advise you against using bois d'arc for your first bow. Bois d'arc is very difficult to work with, and the least mistake in construction will cause the bow to shatter under use. I have been making bows for many years and just two weeks ago I had a nice bois d'arc bow blow up in my hands. On close examination I had left a tiny cut (really more of a scratch) across the back of the bow when I was removing the sapwood, and in time this weakness allowed the fibers to separate and the whole growth ring let go snapping the bow limb like a pencil. It's a shame to think of the hours of work that go into a bois d'arc bow only to have it splinter in your hands. If this were my first bow I don't know if I'd every even try to make another one.

For your first bow you really should use one of the white woods; hickory, ash, elm, or white oak. I always recommend hickory because you can make every mistake in the book and still end up with a good, serviceable bow. It may follow the string a bit (that means it still stays a little bent even after you take the string off) but it will make a strong and dependable shooter, capable of downing a whitetail with ease.

So let's get out in the woods and collect a good tree to make our bow from. Since it's Winter time and the sap is down, this is an ideal time to cut bow wood. But, what are we looking for? Well, there are three main qualities that we want to consider. First, the tree needs to be relatively straight; second, the tree needs to be as knot and scar free as possible; and last the tree should be from five to eight inches in diameter. If you can find the perfect eight inch tree, and if you can do a perfect job of splitting it into staves, you can make four bows from this one tree. Yea, I've never done it either.

I usually cut my hickory from a place in the woods where the trees grow close together. This makes them grow tall and straight in an effort to reach the sunlight, and it also reduces the number of limbs found on the lower trunk. This also does the least damage to the forest since you are thinning trees that are already over crowded. Cut the tree with an ax or chainsaw as close to the ground as possible, then cut as long a straight section as you can. If you are only going to make a four foot bow and you have eight feet of straight tree trunk in front of you, cut all eight feet. There are so many things that can go wrong. There may be a hidden knot under the bark, or a bad twist in the grain, or the ends might split badly while you are curing the log. It's just a good idea to have as much wood to work with as you can. And by the way, don't waste the rest of that tree. Take it home to burn in the fireplace, or better yet use it to barbecue or smoke jerky.

Once you have collected a good log it is time to take it home and let it cure. There are many theories as to how to cure a log and how long it should take, and bowyers love to argue about these things; but let's keep it simple. If you cut your hickory in the winter when the sap is down you will probably be safe to go ahead and remove the bark for curing. The bark should peel off easily in long strips. You want to remove both the outer and inner bark, and be sure not to cut or otherwise damage the wood itself. This is very important since this outer layer of wood will be the back of your bow (the part that is away from you as you are shooting), and any cut in the back of the bow can lead to breakage when the bow is placed under stress.

When the bark is removed, stand the log as nearly vertical as possible in a dry, covered storage area. You don't want the log to dry out too fast as this will lead to checking (splits in the log that run in the same direction as the grain), so it's best to avoid storing your log in a heated or air-conditioned area or in a really hot place like an attic in the summer time.

Now it's just a matter of waiting until the log is cured. But how long is long enough? Another source of argument among bowyers. The Turks aged their bow wood for five years, but who wants to do that? There are many who would call this hearsay, but I believe that you can make a serviceable bow from hickory that is dried for one month. I have even made bows from hickory that was fresh cut and they turned out OK. Maybe not great, but who wants to eat wood rats for a year while you're waiting for a bow stave to cure. Bois d'arc, on the other hand, must be cured for a minimum of six months and it's really better if you can cure it for a year.

So go on out and cut a good log and set it up to cure, and in the next post we'll split it into staves and start shaping a bow out of it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings from Your Survival Storage

As I've mentioned previously, the food we store is the food we eat; and this is one of our favorite recipes. We eat this pretty often in the winter, and we've even served it to company. Nobody seemed to notice that they were eating "survival" food. Check the list of ingredients below and make sure to add them to your food storage if you like this recipe. You probably already have most of the stuff.


1 can all white meat chicken
2 chicken bullion cubes
2 cups water
pepper to taste
1 16 oz. can mixed vegetables (Veg-All)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1/2 cup water


• Break up the chicken into bite-sized chunks and place in a large cook pot along with the liquid from the chicken can
• Add 2 cups of water and 2 chicken bullion cubes
• Add 1 can of mixed vegetables including liquid
• Add pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp.)
• Bring all ingredients to a boil then reduce to a simmer while you make the dumplings

To make dumplings:

• Place 2 cups of flour in a medium size bowl
• Add 1 tablespoon of baking flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and mix together
• Cut in 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening
• Add 1/2 cup of water and stir ingredients together
• If the dough seems too sticky add a little more flour
• Turn the dough out onto a floured cutting board and roll until it is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
• Cut dough into 1" squares
• Dredge dumpling in flour and drop into simmering chicken and vegetables
• Cook for about 10 minutes or until dumpling are done
• Do not overcook or the dumplings will fall apart and you'll have a pot of chicken and goo.

Not a bad meal to come out of your storage closet. If you like this recipe keep your eyes open and I'll have some more in the future.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Foraging for Wild Plants is Not a Good Survival Plan

I really enjoy knowing about the wild plants in my area. I have studied them for years. I had one really good teacher who actually lived for nine months by foraging, hunting, and fishing just to see if he could do it. He did do it, but it wasn't easy. He, like our ancient ancestors, devoted nearly every waking hour to searching for food. If you think about it, man never really was able to advance himself until he developed agriculture. When you live a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, starvation is always at your door. It's a nice romantic notion that you can just take off to the wilderness with your rifle and an axe and live off of the land, but the reality of the situation is harsh rather than romantic. Native people had an intimate knowledge of their environment. They learned to hunt, fish, and gather wild plants from birth. They learned to live with hunger, and they learned to eat things that would disgust a cat. And please note that their average life expectancy was about 35 years. Also, the hunter/gatherer lifestyle requires a vast territory. Even the most productive wilderness will only support about 1 person per square mile. That means over 2500 acres to support a family of four. That's a lot of land, and remember that the starving hoards will be looking for a meal too. The same family of four could raise a one acre garden and feed themselves well.

The most successful and numerous Native American tribes were the ones that developed agriculture in addition to hunting and gathering, and I highly recommend this as a sensible approach to long term survival. Learn how to hunt with gun and bow, learn how to fish, learn how to trap, and learn about the edible wild plants in your area; but if you want a reliable source of food, learn how to garden and raise small livestock. I've gone bird hunting and come home empty handed, but I've never gone out to my chicken pen and failed to come back with a chicken. Keep your romantic notions, they're fun to have; but be sensible at the same time and learn how to produce what you need.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Cattail: Nature's Wilderness Survival Supermarket

The cattail is widely known for the edibility of its starchy root, but this is not really my favorite part of the plant. I much prefer the green, sausage shaped flower heads that can be harvested in the spring. Break the entire flower head, including the stalk, off of the plant and boil it for 15 minutes. Put butter, salt, and pepper on the heads and eat them like corn-on-the-cob. Unfortunately the flower heads are only a good edible for a couple of weeks in the spring.

There are few wild plants that are more versatile and more useful than the common cattail (Typha latifolia). The cattail provides food, shelter building material, cordage making material, medicine, and fire starting material; a pretty impressive array for such a common, wide ranging, and easily identifiable plant.
The starchy root is available year round but don't buy into the myth that you can dig it up and cook it like a potato. You will be disappointed at the tough, fibrous nature of the root. The best way to take advantage of the starch in the cattail root is to peal of the outer layer off the root, wash the root thoroughly, and then pound it into a mush. Add water to the mush and you will be able to separate the root fibers from the starch. The starch will settle to the bottom of your bowl, and the excess water can then be carefully poured off. You can boil the remaining mush until it firms up a bit and then add butter, salt, and pepper to create a dish that is somewhat like mashed potatoes. Alternatively, you can use the starchy mush as a thickener for stews, or you can let it dry out completely to form a kind of cattail flour.

If you cut a green cattail stalk down near the root, you can peel off the green outer layer; and you will find a clear, slimy liquid between the inner layers of the plant. This slime makes a soothing burn ointment.

The leaves of the cattail are very useful for making cordage and baskets, but they cannot be used directly from the plant. The large amount of moisture in the leaves will cause them to burst if you try to twist them when they are still fresh. Pull or cut the leaves and lay them out in the sun for a day or two. This will remove enough moisture from them so that they can be twisted into cordage or woven into baskets. Cattail cordage is not strong enough to support much weight, but it is useful for tying together shelters, lashing items onto a pack board, or etc. Photo below: Cattail basket.

The dried fluff from the flower heads can be used for insulation, and it also makes a good addition to fire starting tinder. Cattail fluff will not flare up by itself, but it will catch a spark very well. Work some fluff into your shredded cedar bark tinder and it will catch a spark quickly and spread it through the tinder.

Cattail stalks and leaves make good covering for a shelter. Gather the leaves and stalks into a three or four inch bundle and tie together with a wrap of cordage about six inches from the root end. Leave a few extra inches of cordage handing lose off of the bundle. Tie each bundle to the crossbars of you shelter frame with the points of the leaves hanging down. Start at the bottom of the framework covering the bottom completely, and then work up, overlapping the bundles like shingles. A well built shelter covered with these bundles will stay warm and dry.

Dried bundles of cattail leaves can be tied together to form a sleeping mat that will insulate you from the ground. Instructions and illustrations for making a cattail sleeping mat will be included in a future post.

A dried cattail stalk can be used as a hand drill (along with a yucca stalk fire board) for starting a fire by friction. I have started a fire using this method on a couple of occasions, and I can guarantee that once you've done it, you will never leave home without a disposable cigarette lighter again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Post Apocalyptic Economy

What will a post apocalyptic economy look like? Nobody can really know. It will depend to a great extent on what the precipitating event is. If it is an economic meltdown we will be left with one type of situation, a pandemic, or a nuclear war would both leave very different situations. No matter what the event, the first few months will be chaos. Think hurricane Katrina. I think that if a powerful government response is not forthcoming, we will probably see the development, over time, of a kind of decentralized group of independent communities based on an agricultural economy, something akin to the many small feudal kingdoms of medieval Europe. I think that without the ability to provide power, water, and sanitation; the large cities will be doomed. I believe that most human effort will be directed toward producing food and the other very basic necessities of life. There will be little call for occupations that do not produce tangible goods or necessary services. At first, independent communities will have to be highly self-sufficient, producing all necessary the goods and services within the community; but, over time, trade in goods and services will develop between communities. Banditry and inter-community conflicts may be a problem, calling for the establishment of community protection organizations.

I feel that once some sort of trade develops it will probably be based on a barter system. Without a strong central authority, currency and coin will have no value. Some say that gold and silver will be used, but I don't agree. The only way that gold and silver have value is if we agree that it has value. There are so many people today, and so little gold and silver, that most Americans have probably never even owned a gold coin and only a few more have probably had silver coins. Gold and silver have been out of common usage in this country for so long that I don't think most Americans have the proper mind-set to see it as having any intrinsic value. There is a long list of things that most people would probably rather have than a silver coin.

So what kinds of things would make good barter items in a post apocalyptic society? To answer this question let's look at some trading systems from the past.

The Salt Trade
Salt is a mineral that we basically take for granted today. Most of us get too much salt in our diets. Salt is in all of our foods, it sits in shakers on our tables, and every time we get take-out food they hand us packets of it; but it hasn't always been this way. You see, a certain amount of salt is necessary for human health, and in the past salt has sometimes been a hard commodity to come by. Roman soldiers received part of their pay in salt. This is where the saying that a "man is worth his salt" comes from. It is also the Latin root for our word "salary." Salt caravans still make their way into equatorial Africa where natural sources of salt are scarce. There are places in Africa where if you give a man a handful of sugar and a handful of salt, he will throw the sugar on the ground and eat the salt. When it was discovered that salt could be used to preserve meats and vegetables, this only increased salt's value. Many early American settlements developed because of their proximity to salt licks of salt springs. Boiling down water from salt springs to obtain the salt was a common colonial industry. So I would put salt high on my list of valuable barter items, and at about $10 for 50 pounds it is far more affordable than gold.

The European Trade with the Far East
In the Middle Ages when Europe began to develop trade with the Far East, many of the items imported were luxuries. Today many of those luxuries have become virtual necessities to us. Many of the spices that we use in cooking today were rare and valuable in the Middle Ages. Pepper, for example, was valued at its own weight in gold. Most of these spices are relatively inexpensive today, but that is only because of global trade and cheap transportation costs. If trade and transportation were interrupted you would once again see the price of spices soar. Who can imagine cooking any kind of meat, these days, without pepper to put on it. Other spices that can only be obtained by import include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and turmeric. Try to make a decent jar of pickles without these. You will want to lay in a good supply of spices for your own use, but some extra for trade items would not be a waste of your money.

The Western Fur Trade
Before the white men came in search of furs, the Native Americans of the far west had a perfectly functional society. Nature provided them everything that they needed and had been doing so for thousands of years. This makes the Western Fur Trade a perfect laboratory to answer the question of what items an already self-sufficient society would like to add to its economy, if they could get them; and it is an interesting list. Some of the items are to make their daily lives easier, some items are luxury foods, some items are for self adornment, and some items are purely recreational.

In the make life easier category we have things like guns and ammunition, metal traps, metal cookware, blankets, cloth, thread, needles, fish hooks, knives, and axes. Luxury foods would include coffee, sugar, flour, dried fruit, and spices. Beads, ribbons, and jewelry were for self adornment; and recreational items included liquor and tobacco. Quiet an interesting list. Most of these same items will probably still be in demand, although standards for self adornment have changed somewhat over the years.

Two other important trade items will probably be food and medicine. I believe that food will probably be the first important export item of communities that can produce a surplus. Heirloom seeds, bedding plants, herb plants, and breeding animals will also be in demand. Medicines will be hard to come by since most of our modern medications depend heavily on manufacturing and transportation. Medicines would be a very good item to stockpile, especially if they have long expiration dates. Medicines for pain, diarrhea, and infections will always be in demand. Many medicines are viable for much longer than the listed expiration date. In general, dry powder or tablet medicines will store longer than liquids. Check with your physician to see how long you can safely store medicines.

One final word. Skills will be a valuable trade item. Learn how to do something that people will need. It may be making pottery, carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing, wine making, or any number of similar skills. It could be a fun hobby now and a valuable skill in the future.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Survival Hunting - The Gun that Shoots Forever

We've all heard the old saying that the government doesn't have to outlaw guns; they only have to outlaw bullets. Well, what if I told you I have a deer rifle that will never run out of ammo? Would you believe me? Would you believe that my grand-children will probably be able to keep shooting this gun? You probably think I must have a warehouse full of ammo, but that's not the case at all. What I have is a .45 caliber flintlock rifle, the ultimate long-term survival weapon. Sure a flintlock is a little slow to load, and it only fires one shot at a time, but I can make my own primers, cast my own bullets, and even make my own gunpowder for it. Photo below: .62 caliber smoothbore, shooting bag, and powder horn.

For those of you not familiar with how a flintlock works, I'll provide a very brief description. The flintlock is a muzzle loader, meaning that you load the powder and bullet down through the front of the barrel. You pour a measured charge of powder (I use 60 grains) down the barrel, and then you place a small greased patch of cloth over the barrel. Next you place a round, lead rifle ball on top of the patch and use your thumb to push the ball just below the crown of the muzzle. You cut of the excess patching, and then use a long stick called a ramrod or wiping stick to push the powder, patch, and ball to the bottom of the barrel and pack it all down tight. Remove the ramrod. The "lock" or hammer assembly is on the side of the gun just above the trigger. The outside of the lock has four main parts: (1) the hammer, which has a clamp holding a small piece of flint-rock, (2) the powder pan, which is a small pan that holds priming powder, (3) the pan cover, which is a small, hinged lid that closes over the top of the powder pan, and (4) the pan spring, which keeps a little tension of the pan cover to keep it closed. There is a small hole, called the vent hole that runs from the powder pan through the side of the barrel. To "prime" the rifle you pull the hammer back to half cock, open the pan cover and sprinkle a small amount of gunpowder in the powder pan, and then close the lid. You then thumb back the hammer to full cock and you are ready to fire. When you pull the trigger, the hammer falls and the flint rock strikes the upturned portion to the pan cover, called the frizzen. The pan cover is knocked open and a shower of sparks from the flint falls into the powder pan. The sparks ignite the powder in the powder pan. The fire from the powder pan flashes through the vent hole and sets off the main charge of powder inside the gun barrel which propels the rifle ball out of the gun. Now this all sounds complicated and time consuming, but a good rifleman can load and fire a flintlock in 20 seconds. And, these rifles are deadly accurate. Photo below: Close-up of lock mechanism.

But how is it that you can shoot a flintlock forever without having to buy ammo? Well, let's look at what's required to fire the rifle. First you need a primer. In this case that's going to be a piece of flint rock that has been shaped, or knapped, into a rifle flint. Even a person with only moderate skills can pick up a flint rock, knock a flake off of it, and shape it into a rifle flint. This is why the old mountain men carried flintlocks even after the more modern caplock was available. When you're a thousand miles from the store and run out of caps, your gun is nothing but a club. If you have a flintlock you can always just make a new rifle flint. Lead rifle balls are easy to cast. I use a combination of old wheel weights and plumbers lead to make mine. The lead can be melted on a kitchen stove or over a campfire. The little single-ball mold that I use will fit in the palm of my hand. The old-timers always tried to recover their rifle balls from any animal that they shot so that the balls could be melted and recast. I've even read of individuals who tried to only shoot an animal if it was standing in front of a tree so that if the ball passed all the way through the animal, the hunter could dig the spent ball out of the tree. That's carrying recycling to the limit in my book. Personally, I think that the fifty pounds of lead that I have will last me long enough. On the question of gunpowder I am going to yield to other sources. There are hundreds of sources telling how to make black powder. Some use saltpeter, sulphur, and charcoal; some use saltpeter and sugar. Do some research. One good source is book number 5 of the Foxfire series. Whatever formula you use, exercise common sense. Black powder is an EXPLOSIVE. Take all possible safety precautions and never make a large batch all at one time. Photo below: Rawhide shot bottle, round ball and shot, lead ladle, and bullet mold.

There are several makers of quality reproduction flintlocks. Pedresoli and Lehman both make good guns. In addition there are dozens of makers of custom flintlocks. A good, off the rack, flintlock rifle will cost you about $700 to $800. A custom built rifle will run from $1200 to $2000 or more. That's a pretty steep hit for an old country boy, but it's not a bad deal when you stop to consider that you now own a gun that you can shoot forever.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Survival Garden - Heirloom Seeds

There is a lot of talk these days about genetically modified seeds. Most of the talk, or argument if you will, centers around whether genetically modified seeds produce plants that are safe for you to eat. One side argues that genetically modified crops produce higher yields, are more disease resistant, and take less time to mature. The other side argues that we don't know what the long term effect on humans might be. Well let me tell you about a very sinister gene modification that has prompted me to only plant open pollinated, heirloom seeds in my garden. Some of the big agri-business seed producers have started inserting what is known as a "terminator gene" into their seeds. If you plant a seed with a terminator gene you will get a lovely plant that produces lovely fruit, but the seeds from that plant will be sterile. The time honored tradition of saving seeds from one crop to plant next year's crop will no longer work. So where does the seed for next years crop come from? Well naturally you have to go back to your favorite agri-biz seed supplier and buy more seed. Sure works good for them; not so good for you. When it comes to the point where just a few companies can control the food supply like that, well it's scary. So there's been this whole movement develop that is seeking to preserve the old heirloom seed varieties that can be planted for generations without having to buy new seed. Most of the people involved in seed saving are like you and me. They are independent type folks that don't what to hand their lives and their freedom over to multi-national corporations. If you are interested in planting heirloom seeds you can join a group like Seed Savers Exchange or you can order seed directly from a number of different companies. I have obtained some of my heirloom seeds from individuals, and I have bought some from seed companies. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a nice variety and their shipping is reasonable. I have ordered several things from them on-line at I have also run into seeds from some unexpected sources. I bought a bag a Anasazi Beans at a grocery store in New Mexico that grew just fine in my garden and produced a good crop. I have also discovered that some of the seeds that I used to buy at the local feed store were apparently non-hybrid and non-modified, because I have planted several generations of seed from them without ill consequence. The problem with this is that it takes a couple of years of experimenting to find out if you have good seed, whereas you can go online and buy seed that you know for sure is open pollinated, non-modified. By the way, one big advantage of heirloom seeds is the flavor of these old time varieties. Modern agri-biz is interested in producing crops that will all mature at the same time, that can be mechanically harvested, and that will hold up well to shipping. The old homesteaders were interested in growing stuff that tasted good. If you want to learn more about heirloom seeds just do a Google search. You will come up with about 300,000 hits.

Saving Bean and Field Pea Seeds
Probably the easiest seeds to save are beans and field peas (purple hull peas, black-eyed peas, cream peas, etc). Just leave some pods on the plants when you are picking beans or peas. In a couple of weeks these will be thoroughly dried on the vine and you can pick them to save for seed. I usually shell out the dried beans/peas and put them in pint Mason jars. I place the jars of beans/peas in the freezer for 2 or 3 days to kill any bugs that might be on them, and then I label and date the jars and transfer them to my storage closet. You need to keep your seed dry and relatively cool to make sure that it is viable for planting the next season. If you skip a season of planting some of the seeds will fail to germinate, so it is best to plant your seed every year even if you only plant enough to make another crop of seed for the following year.

Saving Tomato and Cucumber Seeds
Tomato and cucumber seeds require a little bit different handling due to their slimy nature. Be sure to use only the seeds from fully ripened fruits. Cut open the fruits and remove the seeds. Place about a quarter cup of seeds in a pint canning jar. Fill the jar half full with clean water and stretch a clean piece of plastic over the top (I use half of a plastic sandwich bag. Screw a jar ring on to hold the plastic in place. Take a knife and poke about a 3/4 inch long slit into the center of the plastic. Set the jar aside at room temperature for two to three days. Shake the jar gently each day to help break up the slime. By the end of the third day the slime around the seeds should have fermented and disintegrated. Remove the ring and plastic and carefully pour off most of the water including any seeds that are floating at the top. Pour the remaining seeds into a tea strainer. Run cool water over the seeds and manipulate them gently to remove any remaining slime. Turn the seeds out onto a dish towel and place in the sun to dry. Turn the seeds daily and allow them to dry thoroughly. When seeds are dry break up any clumps, place the seeds in paper packets, label, and store.

Saving Squash Seeds
Squash seeds are fairly easy to save. Just remove the seeds from fully ripe, mature fruits and let them dry completely. Place in paper packets, label, and store.

Saving Pepper Seeds
Saving seeds from bell peppers, jalapenos, and chilies is not hard, but you must make sure that the fruits are fully ripe (this means red). Yes, even bell peppers and jalapenos will turn red if left on the vine long enough. Just split open the ripened fruit, remove the seeds, and dry thoroughly. Place the seeds in paper packets, label and store.

These are the main seeds that I save. Of course, you can save the seeds from greens, onions, carrots, and many other crops; but I won’t comment on these because I have not personally saved any of them. There is, as usual, a ton of information about saving seeds on the Internet. One good site on seed saving is the International Seed Saving Institute home page at Give it a look.