Friday, October 21, 2011

Adding to My Survival Library

I've been actively preparing for well over a year now and my list of things to get and to do never seems to get shorter. It gets overwhelming when you realize just how much stuff it would take to survive a major societal collapse - or even a minor one, for that matter. I recently finished reading James Wesley Rawles' Patriotsand the protagonists in that book have an insanely tricked out survival retreat. It makes me feel more than a little inadequate!

The best I can do is set purchasing priorities and see them through. Number one on my list is food storage. We should have our year's supply by the end of 2011. Number two is information - books, resources printed off the Internet, etc. on all sorts of survival topics. The books are helping me plan my future purchases and they would be an invaluable asset in any sort of long term disaster. I think of them as a kind of Noah's Ark of information.

Part of our survival library

I prefer actual, physical books. You'll never see me breaking out a Nook or Kindle. It's not my style and in a grid down situation, you may lose access to the precious knowledge contained in an e-book. I suppose the best case scenario would be to buy both a physical copy/copies of an essential book and to also have an electronic version.

I'm collecting books in a variety of categories:

Food Storage Cookbooks
Animal Husbandry
"Hardcore" Survival Topics (ie. Foraging, Trapping, etc.)
Traditional Skills

At this point, I've pretty well gotten the first three categories taken care of. Since Hubby Dear is a medical professional, I'm not too worried about the last category, either.

Here's what I added to the library this month:
  1. Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cattle This book contains bits and pieces of all the "Storey's Guide to Raising..." books about these particular animals. I wasn't very impressed. I have and love the Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens because it is very, very thorough. Barnyard in Your Backyard? Not so much. I should have just bought the complete Storey's Guides for each of the animal species. 
  2. The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It A beautiful book. Inspiring and packed with lovely illustrations. 
  3. The Chicken Health Handbook If my hypothetical chickens get sick, I will be prepared. More than you ever wanted to know about chicken ailments. 
  4. SurvivorsThis is John Wesley Rawles' sequel to Patriots. I liked Patriots OK. I am about 80 pages into Survivors and it is driving me crazy! Ever seen a kid with ADHD hopped up on too much sugar?This book reminds me of that; it flits between so many different people that there is no narrative "flow". Please tell me it gets better!

What are your "Must Haves" for your library? Are you buying e-books or paper copies?  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Putting Up the Last of the Summer's Harvest

We just had our first hard frost of the year. Although we were sad when it happened, we were thankful that it occurred a bit later than is typical for our region. We still had tomatoes, peppers, and other tender summer vegetables flourishing, and it was a blessing that they did not get killed any earlier. When it was clear that the weather was finally going to get cold and stay cold, we made plans for one last picking party and decided what to do with it all.

Hubby Dear picked all the peppers in various stages of ripening. It was easy for me to decide what to do with them; I have well over 4 gallons of peppers in my freezer and zero room left, so dehydration was the only option available.

My pile of peppers

This pile of peppers pretty much filled up my 9 tray Excalibur Dehydrator but when it was dried, it only measured a little over 1quart!

It never fails to surprise me how tiny everything turns when it is dehydrated 

In addition to the bell peppers, we picked another pound of jalapenos (which I'll make into jalapeno jelly) and another 100 cayenne peppers. I plan to turn the cayenne peppers into ground red pepper or red pepper flakes once they all dry.

The tomatoes were a bit trickier. I didn't feel like frying green tomatoes or canning relish, so we decided to try a couple of different methods of ripening them indoors.

Upside down Roma beside chicken moat debris

The first and easiest method simply involved ripping a tomato plant out of the ground and leaving it upside down in our garage. This would not have been a simple task with one of our giant-sized tomato plants, but this Roma plant was modest in size and easily supported by the remesh tomato cage.

The tomatoes should continue to ripen and we can enjoy tomatoes straight off the vine for another few weeks. That's the theory, anyway! We've never had tomatoes survive to this point in the year to try it before.

We used another method on the green tomatoes from our other eight plants.

Hubby Dear giving the tomatoes a dip in bleach water

We mixed a weak bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) and briefly dipped each of the green tomatoes in it. We let the tomatoes dry and then packed them in a single layers inside a cardboard box lined with newspaper. We'll check on the boxes frequently and use up any of the tomatoes that are ripe.

Will either of the two tomato ripening methods work? Which will we prefer? I'll keep you posted.

The last bit of garden business we accomplished before the frost was to dig up and bring my rosemary plant indoors for the winter.

My rosemary plant - Cheerio box added for scale! :) 
Rosemary most definitely will NOT overwinter here, so unless I want to buy a new rosemary plant each spring, I have to bring it indoors. Rosemary isn't always a happy camper inside in the winter, but it's worth a shot! My rosemary got very large this year and I took the opportunity to clip it back quite a bit and dry the clippings.

Thyme and rosemary. I prefer to air-dry woody herbs. 

Our garden hasn't been completely put to sleep yet. We still have cauliflower, beets, and other hardy fall vegetables out there. We have a pound of garlic cloves to plant sometime in the next month as well.

Are you still gardening? What's ready to harvest at your house? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fresh from the Garden: Raspberry Bars

We grow the Heritage variety of red raspberries. Heritage produces two crops of berries, one in June and one in September. If you cut the canes back in late fall/winter, however, it will produce one, larger crop in the fall. That is our preferred method of management which means that we are still in the midst of our raspberry harvest.

I've used a lot of our raspberries to make the following recipe for raspberry bars. Beware! The recipe makes a large amount of these very rich, completely irresistible bars. There's something about that tang you get from the fresh raspberries that makes these bars addictive. Don't say I didn't warn you if you find your pants a little snug the day after you make these!

Raspberry bars

Raspberry Bars (slightly adapted from this recipe on

1-1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch salt
1/2 c. coconut oil (You can substitute shortening for this, if you wish.)
1/2 c. shortening
1 egg
4 c. fresh raspberries
3 t. cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13x9 inch pan.

Combine 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in the coconut oil and shortening and then blend in the egg. Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and berries. Place mixture over dough in pan. Crumble the remaining dough over the tops of the berries.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until the top is slightly brown.              

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sun Oven, Part IV: Baking Bread with the Sun

I gotta admit that I was feeling a bit defeated this morning as I threw together the ingredients for bread. The results of my first Sun Oven experiment? Inedible, chemical-tasting cookies. The second one? Inedible, uncooked soup. Yipee, now I had the chance to make bread inedible.

After the first rising
I prepared my usual quadruple batch of EZ Whole Wheat Bread. My word, I love this bread. It would be a travesty to ruin an otherwise perfectly good loaf. I read over the pointers that Crystal (the same Crystal from Everydayfoodstorage.Net who developed that bread recipe) posted about baking bread in a Sun Oven. It seemed like it might be a good idea to forgo the second rising since the bread would be cooking at a low temperature for an extended time. All that extra time would give the bread the chance to rise to full height.

I preheated my Sun Oven and the thermometer read 300 degrees when I put the bread in.  The remaining three loaves I baked in my electric oven for comparison (and for insurance).

Bungee set-up

My beloved readers gave me lots of great tips in the comment section after my last Sun Oven fiasco. I took Julene's advice and raised the leg to capture more of the autumn sun and also used bungee cords to stabilize the reflectors. The bungees made a huge difference and it was definitely a windy day that put them to the test.

By 20 minutes, the glass door was covered with condensation. That was a problem. Condensation = less sunlight entering the box = a temperature drop.

Look! It's actually rising! 

I tried a couple of different methods of removing the condensation. First, I simply unlatched the door and the majority of the condensation went away. It came back within a matter of minutes, however, so I ended up wiping the inside of the door with a dishtowel.

I checked to see if the bread was done at about 45 minutes. It wasn't brown, but I thunked the top. It didn't have that hollow sound that bread should have. After another 10 minutes, the bread was ever so slightly brown and it did sound done.

"One of these things is not like the other"

Here's the finished product! Guess which loaf was baked in the sun? I read a tip somewhere that if you gently mist the bread with water prior to putting it in the Sun Oven, it enhances browning. By the time I remembered that, the bread had already been baking for a while. Besides, I used all my spray bottles to apply garlic-cayenne insect repellent this summer. Garlic-cayenne bread might taste good, but it was not what I was going for!

After the bread cooled, I eagerly sliced into the loaf. The outside was crusty but the inside was very moist. It was good and didn't taste at all like industrial strength chemicals. I've finally gotten the chemical smell cleaned out of the Sun Oven! I did miss that dark, caramelized taste I get from the bread baked in my oven. It also required more "babysitting" (oven position adjustments, condensation removal, etc.) than sticking a pan in my electric oven. Overall, I prefer oven-baked bread but I certainly wouldn't hesitate to eat this bread. Anyone would be happy to eat this bread during a power outage or while camping.  Finally, I'm able to appreciate what a great preparedness tool the Sun Oven truly is. I'm feeling pretty victorious. :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September 2001 in Review and October Preps

September 2011 Preps

What did you accomplish in September? We had amazing weather all month long. We had very little rain or cloudy days and the highs were consistently in the 70s. The end result was picture-perfect fall weather. That encouraged this lazy woman to soak in the sun instead of prep or experiment with solar cooking devices.   

Even our sewage lagoon (our clay soil prohibits a septic tank)  gussied
itself up with a cloak of sunflowers this month. 

I did buy two bushels of apples and canned and dehydrated them. It was the first time I've used my Excalibur 9 Tray Food Dehydratoron something besides herbs and I was really impressed with how well it worked. I ended up with 3 quarts of dried apples that I'll use for desserts this winter and another 2 quarts of apples that I sprinkled with cinnamon and dried into crispy chips. The kids love snacking on those. I also made 3 pints of apple butter and 15 quarts of applesauce. Added to what was left from last year, we are fully stocked with apple goodness.

Our lovely weather is encouraging the garden to keep producing, albeit slowly.

I have enough green peppers frozen to last me until next summer's harvest. There are probably another 50 peppers still out there, so I think I'll try dehydrating the rest of them. We're still getting green beans from our remarkable zombie green bean patch and our raspberries are giving us the best harvest we've had from them yet. Not enough to can, but certainly enough for multiple batches of raspberry bars and fruit salad.

In between furious bouts of leisure and intermittent sprinklings of food harvesting and preservation, I also added some store-bought food to our food storage. I picked up some canned goods on sale at the grocery store as well as more clarified butter, coconut oil, freeze dried fruit, and tomato powder online. We are also prepared to stay warm during a winter power outage. And I'm excited to say that we were able to save up most of what it will take to buy the chicken coop of my dreams.

Oh, we also got one of these:

Christened "Goldie Butterscotch", but mostly called "Bunbun"

Mini Me has been obsessed with rabbits for about 2 years. We broke our "no pets in the house unless they live in an aquarium" rule and bought her this little guy for her birthday. Of course I also had to quickly buy a couple of months of food storage (timothy hay and alfalfa pellets) for the rabbit! That is not to be confused with using the rabbit for food storage. I don't think Mini Lops make good eating and it would definitely not be worth the trauma to our little rabbit lover.

What's in store for October: 

  • I'll be returning to the Sun Oven. I'm bound and determined to cook something properly! I think I'll go for bread next. 
  • After it frosts (Our frost date is quickly approaching ~Sigh~), we'll plant garlic. This will be the first time we've tried to grow garlic. Last spring we bought some garlic starts from the nursery as an impulse buy. They didn't do very well and therefore don't count! We bought a pound of "Music" variety organic seed garlic from Peaceful Valley.
  • We have TONS of green tomatoes out there. I'll definitely have to do something with those before it frosts. I have several solutions in mind, so stay tuned for that. 
  •  Maybe I'll do something with our pie pumpkins. We have about eight of them and while I enjoy using them as decorations, I'd like to try and cook at least a few of them. 
  •  Hubby Dear and I will begin the infamous chicken moat this week. We priced out several options for fencing and discovered that this project is going to be more expensive than we thought. I'm sure it will also be more difficult than we thought, too. That's generally the way projects are at our house. Since we have never built fence before, it should be a grand headache adventure. 
  • I'm still saving up for the chicken palace, but I should have some money in the budget to buy some miscellaneous preps. I'm not sure exactly what I'll buy, but it will definitely include food storage and probably more books. I'll keep you posted. 
So that's me. What did you do in September and what do you have lined up for October?