Sunday, August 30, 2015

Start Your Own Seed Bank

There is probably no better way to store food for the long term, than in the form of seeds.  Seeds are just amazing.  I did at little project this year to see just how much food seeds would produce.  I planted 50 pole bean seeds of one variety.
When I harvested the beans I weighed 100 of them and then I weighed the entire harvest to get an approximation of how many beans I produced.  My fifty original seeds produced over 3200 beans.  Just amazing. 

I planted six tomato seeds that were so light they wouldn’t even register on my digital scale. 
These six seeds produced over 80 pounds of tomatoes.  So storing seeds is a very compact way of storing food.  Of course the food is not instantly available, but if you can survive for up a year on stored food, your stored seeds will make you self sufficient from that point forward.

As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, I only plant non-GMO, non-hybrid, heirloom seeds; and I save seed to replant.  Even though I follow this path faithfully, I still think it is a good idea to have a long term seed bank.  My seed bank acts as a back-up to the seeds I save each year, plus the seed bank is small and easily portable.  In other words if I have to get out of Dodge, I can grab my seed bank and take it with me.

The concept of a seed bank is not just a crazy prepper idea.  Many of you have probably heard of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, often referred to as the “Doomsday Seed Bank.”  For those of you who haven’t, the SGSV is a vast storage of seeds of all types from all over the world.  The seeds are stored in an underground concrete bunker complete with blast doors and motion detector security.  It is located in northern Norway on an island that is about 800 miles from the North Pole.  The island was chosen because of its cold temperatures, its lack of earthquake activity, and its elevation above sea level.  The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto and several other agri-biz giants, and other assorted organizations.  The purpose of the Svalbard Seed Vault is to preserve seeds of various plants that might be destroyed in regional or global disasters.  Scary stuff.

Somehow, I don’t think I’m on the mailing list to receive any of these seeds if there’s a global disaster, so I decided to follow their lead and put together my own seed bank.  What I did is spent about $40 on various different varieties of heirloom seeds that I know grow well in my area and that I have had experience raising.  I took these seed packets and sealed them in zip-lock freezer bags, placed them in a sealed Sterilite container, threw in a few oxygen absorbers, and stuck the container in my freezer. 

The seeds should keep this way for at least 10 years, probably much longer.  There is plenty of information on freezing seeds on the internet.  As usual some of the info is good, and some is not so good.  You’ll just have to decide who to listen to.  If it’s any consolation, I will tell you that I know personally that you can plant beans and field peas that have been in the freezer for 10 years. 

I have noticed that several companies sell pre-packaged survival seed collections for long term storage.  You could go this route, but I think you would be better off selecting seeds that you have experience with and that are specific to your growing climate.  Just make sure that the seeds you store are non-hybrid, heirlooms.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Make a Comment

I have been writing this blog for a few years.  I’ve posted over 240 articles, and I’ve had about 1.2 million hits.  So I guess it is to be expected that I would receive a few obnoxious comments over the years.  Actually, I’m surprised that there have been so few given the lack of civility in our world today.  But, there have been a few, so I thought I’d take a moment to address folks on the proper way to make a comment.  That would be a comment on this blog, or anybody else’s blog, or to your next door neighbor as far as that goes.

Acceptable comments are comments that ask for clarification on a point, or comments that add additional information to the article, or comments that recommend another source of information about the topic at hand, or comments that reflect an individual’s personal experience with the subject.  Comments that represent a different point of view or dispute some fact within the article are also perfectly acceptable so long as, and here’s the hard part for some morons, they are presented in a polite manner.  There seem to be a very limited number of individuals who have nothing better to do than troll the internet looking for things to comment on so they can express there absolute superiority to the rest of us mere mortals.  There comments generally start with something like, “you obviously have no clue what you are talking about,” or, “the information contained in this article couldn’t be more wrong.” 

Here’s a heads up for people who write comments like this.  I know that when you are writing this, you are picturing yourself as Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Predator, but trust me when I tell you that the rest of us are picturing you as Paul Blart in Mall Cop.  All of the real experts that I have met over the course of my years have all shared two characteristics; (1) they have all been extremely humble about their knowledge and abilities, and (2) they have all been unfailingly polite.  Rudeness is a sure sign of an insecure poser or to put it in the modern vernacular a “mall ninja.”  I have never received a comment from one of these individuals that was factually correct, and in most instances it has been obvious that they haven’t even read the article.

So, if you are an individual who likes to make snotty comments on the internet, I have some advice for you.  Lose some weight, move out of your parent’s garage, and try dating a real flesh and blood girl.  This will give you something to do in the evenings instead of trolling the internet.  If you still feel the urge to be a pompous horse’s ass then you should try and get a cable news program where you will fit right in.  As for commenting on this blog; you will go straight to the spam folder, because I’m the one who moderates the comments, and, by God, we will have civility here.

Okay, my rant is concluded.  Since there wasn’t any real survival info in this post, I will do another one in a couple of days on how to start your own seed bank.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Weather Measurement and Prediction

What with weather satellites, Doppler radar, 24 hour weather channels, and internet weather reports we’ve become pretty spoiled at knowing what the weather will be; but this is all fairly recent stuff.  It hasn’t been all that long ago when televised weather forecasting was pretty much a crap shoot, and before the age of television it was even harder to know what to expect from the weather.  Just about any house built in my part of the world before World War II had a storm cellar.   When a storm suddenly appeared people just didn’t know what to expect.  It could be a tornado or it could be just a passing thunderstorm.

What you need to understand is that if there is some kind of major infrastructure breakdown, we could be right back in those days once again.  With this in mind it would be a good idea to try and learn a bit about how weather was forecast back in the pre-mass communication days.

If you’re going to be raising your own food, which everyone will be eventually, then two things that will be very important to you are rain and temperature.  You need to be able to predict rain, and you need to be able to record how much rain you have had.  You need to keep an eye on temperature so that you know when seedlings and young plants need to be protected.  To do these things you will need three weather instruments; a barometer, a rain gauge, and a thermometer.

I’m going to suggest that you go old school on these items.  You can buy very fancy, digital home weather stations, and they are very nice.  My sister has one of these set-ups, and she doesn’t even have to get out of bed to look over and see what the outside temperature, barometric pressure, and rainfall levels are.  Here’s the problem, these things run on electricity, so you have to have a reliable source of power; and they are digital which means that they could be susceptible to EMP.  A solar set-up could solve the power problem, but you’re still left with the possibility of the system being fried by an EMP.  So, I decided to go old school with an aneroid barometer, old timey thermometers, and a bucket rain gauge.

I have a small barometer that I mounted on the wall of my porch.  A barometer tells you the air pressure.  High barometric pressure is usually associated with fair weather, and low barometric pressure is usually associated with stormy weather.  Since the pressure most often begins to change before the actual weather develops, a barometer can help to predict when rain may be coming.  A falling barometer could mean that rain is on the way.  The faster and more dramatic the fall in barometric pressure; the more eminent and violent the weather may be.

Thermometers are so abundant and so cheap these days, that there is no excuse to not have a bunch of them.  Thermometers are very useful in everyday life, plus think “great trade item.”   I have three thermometers set up around my house.  One is mounted about five feet away from my bedroom window so that I can look out and see what the temperature is. 

I have it mounted away from the window so that any radiant heat from the house won’t affect the reading.  I have a large dial thermometer in my green house, and then I have a small thermometer inside the germinating tent which is in the green house. 

With these three thermometers I can pretty well keep track of what I need to be doing with my plants.

My rain gauge is super high-tech.  It’s a three gallon plastic bucket that I leave out in my garden. 

When it rains I go out and measure the amount of water in the bucket (usually just by sticking my finger down in it), and empty the bucket.  If I don’t have an inch of rain in a week’s time then I know I need to start watering the garden.  I’m not collecting data for NOAA here, I’m just trying to keep my garden producing.  Of course you can buy a much better quality rain gauge, but the bucket has been working fine for me for many years.

So, that’s my weather set-up.  Just the way I like things; simple cheap, and low-tech.  Prepare today, and you’ll have a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Time isn’t all that Important, but the Date Is

Our modern society is fixated on time.  We need to know what time to get up in the morning.  We need to know the time so we aren’t late to work.  We need to know when it’s time for lunch, when it’s time for dinner, when it’s time to pick the kids up, etc, etc, and etc. 

But time hasn’t always been that important.  Before society became so complicated, people didn’t need to know the exact time.  You got up with the sun and worked for awhile, then you had a morning meal, then you went back to work.  When the Sun was in the middle of the sky you had a mid-day meal and then rested for awhile.  You went back to work until the Sun got low, and then you came in for the evening meal.  A short time after dark you went to bed because creating light out of the darkness was not an easy task; and besides, you were very tired from all of that physical labor.  Am I talking about Stone Age man here?  No, I’m talking about my Dad’s life as a boy growing up on a farm in the early 1900’s.  This is the way it was for most of rural America in those times.

Of course there have been time keeping devices around for millennia but clocks as we know them today are a relatively recent invention, and they weren’t invented for the convenience of the average Joe.  The first mechanical clocks were closely guarded military secrets that were developed to help sailing ships navigate on the vast oceans.  Specifically, they were used to determine a ship’s longitude.

If you have a compass you can determine your direction of travel, if you have a transit you can determine your latitude, and if you have an accurate clock and a book listing the time of sun rise each day (this is a huge over simplification of the process) you can pretty well determine your longitude.  These three instruments revolutionized ocean navigation, and the mechanical clock was the last one to be invented.  Prior to mechanical clocks, ships were equipped with an hour glass to keep track of the time.  Must have been a pain to make sure that the thing got turned over on time.

So clocks were very important to the Navy, but to the average rural resident, the time wasn’t too important, and it probably won’t be real important to you either.  I know that since I retire, I rarely look at a clock.  I do, however, keep a close eye on the date; and you probably will too if our current technological society ever bites the dust.  The date will be important so that you know when to start seedlings, when to plant various crops, and when to expect the first frost.  Most everyone plants by the calendar today, so a good calendar is a must for home food production.  You won’t be able to look at your cell phone or computer to see the date, so you need to plan on going old school with a paper calendar.  Personally, I printed off 120 blank calendar pages to be filled out if and when necessary.  After 10 years I guess I’ll have to start carving notches on a post like Robinson Crusoe.

There is one method of determining planting dates that does not require a calendar.  I’d never heard of it until my sister, the Master Gardener, told me about it. It’s modern name is  “phenological gardening”, and it’s based on the study of the life-cycles of plants.  The old timers probably didn’t call it phenological gardening.  To them it was probably planting by the “signs,” but the idea was that when certain wild plants and flowers bloomed it indicated that it was the proper time to plant various different domesticated crops.  Here are some examples of this planting system:

When the daffodils bloom it’s time to plant peas.
When the catalpas bloom its time to plant broccoli
When bearded iris bloom it’s time to plant peppers
When shadbush blooms it’s time to plant potatoes
When lilies-of-the-valley are in bloom it’s time to plant tomatoes

It’s an interesting system.  It might be worth looking into how it would apply to plants in your area and making a list of signs to look for.  I know that I’ll be watching my catalpa trees this year to see if they bloom when my planting guide says it’s time to plant the broccoli.

For more information on phenological gardening my sister recommended the book, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way.  You can also do an internet search on “phenological gardening” and you will find a number of interesting sites about this planting system.  In my next post we’re going to talk about weather prediction. and we’ll be talking science rather than “signs.”