Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reaction to Doomsday Preppers, Month Thirteen in Review and July Preps

I hope you all got a chance to watch "Doomsday Preppers" on Monday night. I enjoyed the show a lot and was pleasantly surprised it didn't have more of a "preppers are crazy" slant. Not that it was perfectly balanced and truthful, mind you. Read the Survival Mom's take on her appearance on the show if you haven't already. Some things (such as the night delivery of food storage) were staged by the production company and/or edited for dramatic effect. If you wanted to watch the show but don't have the National Geographic Channel, here ya go. (If you're reading my blog in a feed reader, you may have to come to my actual blog site to get the YouTube box to show up.)







What I accomplished in June:


1. A whole lot of gardening. Gardening may be work, but it is so rewarding to reap the rewards from your efforts. We ate all of our radishes. Our lettuce and salad mix keeps producing and has yet to turn bitter. We've also been eating regular English peas and pod peas all month, though they are pretty much done. I made a few pickled beets from The Thinker's crop and they were d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s! The Thinker also provided us with cabbage that I made into bierocks. Who knew homegrown cabbage was that much better than store-bought? It had such a delicate flavor and super-crisp texture.

Time to make hay while the sun shines!

2. Got a dehydrator and experimenting with drying garden produce and herbs. We bought an Excalibur 9 Tray Dehydrator and a ParaFlexx Non-Stick Drying Sheet (Yes, only one for now. I want to try it out on some fruit leather before I buy enough sheets for all my trays.) The only thing I have dried thus far is oregano, but I know I'll be giving it quite the workout over the next few months. I'll post more reviews as I try other applications.

3. Stocked up on canning supplies. I did go ahead and buy 6 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids. I haven't needed to use them, so I can't really give an opinion about them yet. I did happen to buy some for my mom for Mother's Day (We're a practical family, can you tell?) and she seems to like them. I really need more jars, but they weren't in the budget this month.

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids


4. A bit more food storage, of course. I got some bottled lemon juice for canning purposes, a case of dry milk, and some spices.

5. First Aid. I picked up another box of nitrile gloves. I really was intending to buy more in this category, too, but you'll see that I spend the remainder of my budget on #6.

6. Added to our Survival Library.  I love books, real books. You won't find me anywhere near a kook Nook or Kindle. I selected these titles to add to our Survival Library:
Reviews are forthcoming. I have a review of Where There Is No Doctor that I'll post as soon as Hubby Dear finishes his contribution. Yes, Hubby Dear will finally get his say on my blog. :)

Oh, and the book about chickens? Let's just say there's something called a chicken moat in our future...

7. Hubby Dear and I also did a massive de-cluttering and reorganization of our storage room. We dropped off the kids for a weekend of candy-fueled hyperactivity with Grandma and completely filled our van with items to donate.

After: Glorious Floor Space!

I forgot to take a "before" picture, but it was bad. The middle of the room was pretty much covered with stacks of buckets and pieces of disused furniture.

Buckets tucked out of the way

Now the buckets are tucked underneath the stairs with my water storage. The process of taking everything out of the storage room helped me to update our inventory spreadsheets. Now we have a very good idea just what we have and what we need to purchase.

8. I also learned how to make yogurt from dry milk and had waaaaaay too much fun doing it. I've become such a food storage dork! Click here to read how to do it. It's easy and it really works.


JULY PREPS:

I have changed my prepping plan for July about five or six times already. Originally, I had intended to split my budget between several categories (defense, first aid, food storage, and miscellaneous). Then I started watching the Sun Oven videos posted by Crystal from EverydayFood Storage.Net and so I wanted to buy one of those. I still do want to buy a Sun Oven and everything else on my list, but I feel Spirit's whispering to me to finish our food storage. It's never a good idea to ignore the Holy Spirit (remember what happened to Jonah?), so I think July will be one of those mega-food storage months.
  1. Add to our long term food storage. We're getting much closer to having a year's supply!
  2. Try to find an aloe plant. Not really food storage (though some people drink aloe juice), but something good to have on hand.
  3. Keep up in the garden.
  4. Eat, can, freeze, or dehydrate our garden produce. Stock up on canning supplies.
What did you do to prepare in June?

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    ALERT: New Show About Prepping - TONIGHT!

    Tonight, the National Geographic Channel is airing a show called "Doomsday Preppers".   Click here to see more about it or watch the following clip from the show.




    The show looks like it features at least two preppers I've seen on YouTube, plus Lisa Bedford, a.k.a."The Survival Mom". I know I'll be DVRing it and forcing Hubby Dear to watch it with me. ;)

    "Doomsday Preppers" airs at 9pm (8pm central) on the National Geographic Channel tonight (Monday, June 27th).

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Using Your Food Storage: An Easy, Sneaky Trick with Wheat

    Don't you love it when you get ready to fix dinner and find out that you're missing a key ingredient? That happened to me last night.

    I got all set to make one of  Hubby Dear's favorite meals. You'll be astonished to hear that it was a casserole. ;)  Uh oh - I had only thawed 1 lb of ground beef and the recipe required 1-1/2 lbs. What was I to do? Eating out was not an option. Literally. There aren't many options unless we want to drive 45 minutes away.

    In a temporary flash of genuis, I remembered a post I had read on the Honeyville Farms Cookin' Cousins blog. What about extending the ground beef with cooked, cracked wheat? If you've been following me over the long haul, you'll remember that my first experience with cracked wheat was less than stellar. Nevertheless, I decided to give it the ol' college try.

    Getting ready to crack wheat in my blender

    My Wondermill Juniorwould have been the best choice to crack the wheat, but I was feeling lazy, so I decided to try using my blender again. I had the bright idea that the blender might do a better job cracking the wheat if I poured the wheat in while I had it running. I don't know what possessed me - maybe I was thinking of when you make salad dressings and pour in the oil slowly at the end. Needless to say, the wheat shot back at me, giving my complexion the "been in a dust storm" look and adding to the lovely lived-in look of my kitchen. 

    Much like the last time I attempted to crack wheat in the blender, I ended up with a mix of whole kernels, cracked kernels, and flour. Sigh. I decided to proceed on anyway.

    I brought a cup of slightly salted water to a boil and threw in 1/4 cup of cracked(ish) wheat. I stirred it every now and then as it cooked down and softened. It took about 15 minutes or so and then I threw it in with the cooked ground beef and onions for my recipe.

    Adding cooked, cracked wheat to the beef and onion mixture


    When you stir it in, you can barely see it


    I added the sauces and seasoning and followed the rest of the recipe as written.


    The Results:

    It worked!! My kids couldn't tell anything was different at all. Hubby Dear noticed a bit of a difference in texture, but didn't say anything until I quizzed him. I actually think I prefer it with the wheat. The slightly toothsome texture was welcome.

    I wouldn't hesitate to substitute cooked, cracked wheat for part of ground beef in a recipe. As long as it is going to get seasoned or incorporated into a sauce, the wheat just blends in with the rest of the dish.

    I never thought I'd say this but cracked wheat came to my rescue!

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Going Vertical in Your Garden

    No matter what method of gardening you embrace, there are many benefits to encouraging large, sprawling plants to grow up. This is especially true in Square Foot Gardening, where you pack so many plants into a small area. If we didn't go vertical, our pumpkins, tomatoes, etc. would completely smother the rest of the garden.

    Hubby Dear and I installed the last of our garden supports last evening.


    It was a gorgeous evening - perfect for working with rusty steel wire and PVC pipes!

    These are the types of support we use in our garden:

    Tomato cages



    Our tomatoes and cages right after installation (mid-May)

    We tried using store-bought tomato cages once and found that they are far too flimsy. We now use the tried and true method my Dad came up with years ago. We use steel remesh, which is wire intended for use in concrete work. The remesh comes in a large roll and is readily available at home improvement stores everywhere. Simply snip off the appropriate length of remesh with some bolt cutters, bend it into shape, and voila! Instant, mega-strong tomato cages. We secure the cages to the ground with T-posts, which are also easy to find at a hardware or farm store.


    Pumpkin, Cucumber, Watermelon, and Canteloupe Trellis

    Trellis along the north border of our garden for pumpkins and watermelon

    The thing about steel remesh wire is that it comes on looooong rolls. The only size our local Lowe's had was 150' long. This meant that we were left with a lot of remesh left over after we made our tomato cages. No problem - we needed something to use for our vining plants.


    Pumpkins

    We stretched the remesh out and attached it to T-posts. The vine plants will climb up and over the trellis. If you plan on trellising your vine plants, you need to make sure you pick the right types at planting time. The pumpkins, watermelon, and canteloupe varieties we selected have fruit on the small to medium size. Our trellising is very strong, but I'm not sure what would happen if we had a couple of 50 lb pumpkins hanging off it!

    Corn



    Another windy day on the ol' homestead. Soon the corn will be tall enough to get supported by the framework.

    Corn is not something that you usually have to support. Here's the deal: Mel's Mex is great, but it is also soft. Corn is liable to get pushed over in a high wind, even in normal soil. We got the idea for this corn support made out of PVC pipe from this post on MySquareFootGarden.Net.


    My garden looks like some crazy plumbing project now, but if it is productive, it will all be worth it!

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    My List of Essential Spices, Plus a Tip For the Frugal Wannabe

    If you look over the list of meals in my three month supply plan, you'll notice that I tried to include a fair bit of variety. The menus may be heavy on the rice and beans, but the flavors range from Indian to Italian to Mexican-inspired.

    One thing that you need to have as part of your food storage if you value variety (and sanity when you're existing only on wheat, beans, and rice, for that matter) is spices. The more kinds you store, the more options you give yourself.

    The problem with stocking spices is that they have a relatively short shelf-life. Confession time: up until recently, I had a jar of Chinese five-spice powder that I bought over a decade ago. It was almost like a keepsake at this point, but I did finally pitch it. Whole spices last a lot longer than ground spices and storing them in a cool, dark place helps prolong their life. You can repackage spices in canning jars and vacuum seal them for additional shelf-life. One tip I read on the Granny Miller blog is to put a piece of paper towel over ground spices in a jar to avoid jamming up your FoodSaverwith particulates.

    I usually go the cheap route and buy spices in bulk at Sam's Club. Unfortunately, Sam's does not carry bay leaves, a key seasoning for many of the soups and stews in my food storage plan. I could have bought a bunch of those little jars they sell at the grocery store, but I instead got a decent deal on 4 oz. of bay leaves from Penzey's Spices.

    Ever wonder how much 4 oz. of bay leaves is? It is enough to pack 3 quart sized canning jars. I don't think I'll be needing to buy bay leaves anytime soon!


    
    Bay leaves and my two freebies

    You all probably know this tip, but I'm new to this whole frugality thing and I want to share this with my fellow clueless souls. I just now figured out that you can find all kinds of discounts if you simply google "coupon code" along with the name of whatever Internet retailer you are buying from. I found a coupon code at retailmenot.com that got me that jar of chili powder for absolutely free. Penzey's also included a sample of their BBQ 3000 seasoning.


    Penzey's carries over 250 different spices. I have somewhere around 40-45 that I keep on hand, but the following list contains the ones that I store in bulk. These are the seasonings that we would really miss after TEOTWAWKI.

    My Essential Spices and Seasoning Blends:

    Oregano (You'd never have guessed, right?)
    Parsley
    Sage
    Rosemary
    Thyme
    Basil
    Garlic Powder
    Cumin
    Coriander
    Bay leaves
    Chili Powder
    Black peppercorns
    Curry Powder
    Cayenne Pepper
    Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
    Cinnamon
    Taco Seasoning
    Cajun Seasoning
    Italian Seasoning
    Lawry's Seasoned Salt
    Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning
    Worchestershire sauce


    I also stock chicken and beef bouillon. I do not use them on a regular basis since I prefer fresh or canned broths, but they are valuable because of their extensive shelf life and space saving vs. cans of broth.

    Lastly, here's a test to see if you share my twisted sense of humor. When Penzey's shipped my order, they included a bumper sticker with their slogan. This is how it appeared when I opened the box:


    Just what kind of survivalist do they think I am?

    Unfolded bumper sticker

    What are your "must have" seasonings? How much are you storing?

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    The Excalibur 9 Tray Dehydrator: A Review in Progress

    I'm calling this post a review in progress because I've had my Excalibur dehydrator for a just few days and I've only had a chance to try it out on one type of food. So far, though, I'm pretty happy with my purchase.

    Hubby Dear pruned back the oregano in my herb garden this morning and brought in a large pile for me to process.

    
    Mama mia! That's a lot of oregano!
    

    The best time to harvest oregano is right as it goes to flower. We cut it back to about 10" in height, which gives me an ample supply of oregano to dry for use over the next year. Normally, I dry oregano by hanging it up for a couple of weeks in my laundry room.
    
    Yes, my laundry room is the color of Pepto-Bismol. Want to make something of it?
    
    It works well and doesn't use electricity. I just had to try out my new dehydrator, though, so that's what I opted to do this time.

    Here's the Excalibur 9 tray dehydrator. It's not a small appliance.


    I've owned microwave ovens that were smaller than this.

    It's not something I would want to leave out on my counter every day. I'm not sure where I'm going to store it, though, so I'd better work on figuring something out!



    The door on the front of the dehydrator comes off, revealing 9 trays that slide in and out.

    I started out removing the leaves one by one from the stems and placing them on the tray, but I soon got tired of that. After I finished one tray like that I started loading in entire stems. 




    The dehydrator was easy to figure out how to run, even for a technophobe like me.


    I plugged it in, turned the dial, and the dehydrator took care of the rest. The instruction manual said herbs should take 2-4 hours at 95 degrees to dry. That may be true for some herbs, but not oregano on the stem! In total, it took 6-8 hours for everything to get completely dry.

    I ran my fingers down the stems and was able to easily pull the dried leaves off. I placed the dry oregano in canning jars and vaccuum sealed them with my FoodSaver.

    Last year's harvest gave me 1-1/2 pints of dried oregano leaves and I've still got a bit leftover. By the time I'm through with that pile on my table, I'll have more than 2 quarts of it. Anybody need some oregano? ;)


    Last year's oregano harvest. Multiply this by 3 for this year.

    In the future, I think I'll stick to air-drying with oregano. The Excalibur did a nice job, but it is easier to just hang it up in bundles and let time do the work. I'm curious to see if all the great reviews for the Excalibur are also true when it comes to things like fruit leathers, vegetables, and jerky.

    Sounds like a part two for this review is in order!

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Mid-June Garden Update

    It seems like all my posts have been about gardening lately. Well, here's another one! I thought I'd give another update on our garden. If you read my guest post at "Safely Gathered In", you saw what my garden looked like about a month ago. Things have changed a lot since then.

    This is what it looked like yesterday evening.


    June 13, 2011


    Everything is growing nicely!


    We're planting three plots of corn, each two weeks apart. The corn in the first box is nearly 1 foot high, the second is 3-4".

    It was a windy day yesterday, as you can see by the corn. Hubby Dear recently fertilized them with bloodmeal to give them a nitrogen boost. This is the first time we've used that product so we'll see how it works compared to standard, non-organic fertilizer. We planted our corn nearly a month later than a lot of the people around here, so it is still pretty short.


    
    Green beans, lettuce, and a few of the peas that survived the rodent enslaught

    The insect repellent seemed to work pretty well. You can see a few holes in the green beans, but it is definitely better. The damage isn't extensive enough to kill the plants or hurt production. We continue to see a few Mexican Bean Beetles in the garden, so we're going to spray the repellent again and perhaps put out some diatomaceous earth (DE).

    Our lettuce is still going strong and we're having a hard time keeping up with it. I donated some of our excess to our neighbor's chickens. Hopefully next year we'll have our own chickens to eat our extra greens!
    
    Pumpkins
    
    Our vine plants - pumpkins, cucumbers, and cantaloupe - are doing well. We just planted watermelon, but it should be sprouting soon. It won't be long before Hubby Dear has to put up the trellises to keep them from taking over the entire garden.


    Potatoes

    Take a look at this box of potatoes! The box is double deep (12"). We started out with only 6" of Mel's Mix and as the potatoes grew, we kept covering them with dirt until they reached the top. They look fabulous.

    Unless we have some strange weather or the birds get them first, we should have a bumper crop of blackberries.

    Blossoms on our "Triple Crown" thornless blackberry vines

    There were so many blossoms on our blackberries that it looked like snow. Now the blossoms have mostly fallen off and the berries are beginning to form.


    
    Baby berries
    I forgot to take a picture of our tomatoes, but they look very promising as well. You can see them in the very first picture in this post.

    It is so nice to have good things to report about our garden after several years of discouraging harvests. If you have had a hard time gardening or you don't know where to start, I highly recommend square foot gardening. It has made a world of difference for us.

    In related news, my dehydrator arrived this week. I harvested the oregano in my herb garden and took the dehydrator out for a spin. I'll be posting about that soon!

    What garden successes/failures/progress do you have to report?  

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Homemade Bug Repellent for Your Garden

    Our garden did wonderfully in the month of May. We harvested buckets of lettuce and the newly planted tomato and peppers shot up quickly. We had minimal weeds and no pest problems at all.

    Enter June. Weeds galore - even in our newly made garden boxes - and bugs going to town on our itty bitty green bean plants.

    The weeds we dealt with the old-fashioned way, but what were we to do about our pest problem? If this had happened a few years ago, we would have broken out a can of Sevin dust and happily gone about our business. That won't cut it now since we're trying to go all organic.

    I did a little bit of research on organic pest control and decided to try my hand at making a homemade bug repellent before I went out and bought a pricy can of organic pesticide.

    Sinus-Clearing Bug (and Husband) Repellent: 
    1. Peel and mince a full head of garlic and place in a quart Mason jar.
    2. Add 2-3 teaspoons of mineral or vegetable oil. I used the food grade mineral oil that I rub on my wooden cutting boards.
    3. Sprinkle in a goodly amount of ground cayenne pepper. I used about 1/4 teaspoon.  
    4. Let soak for 12-24 hours, then press the mixture through a fine sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Put the liquid back in the Mason jar, discarding the solids. 
    5. Add a couple of squirts of biodegradable dish soap and 2-3 cups of water. Shake the jar to combine. 
    6. Pour mixture into a squirt bottle and spray on the affected plants.   
    When I presented the idea of a homemade bug repellent to Hubby Dear, he had some doubts. After he took a whiff of the potent mixture, he wondered if the brew might kill the plants in addition to repelling the bugs. Nevertheless, I took my little spray bottle out the garden and boldly set to work.

    Don't you love the great tan I got from our week's vacation in Florida? 

    It has been several days since I applied the repellent and it actually seems to be working. The plants have put out new leaves and there does not appear to be any new damage. Just one caveat: if it is a windy day when you apply this spray, make sure you are not down-wind! Ask me how I know!

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Using Your Food Storage: King Ranch Chicken

    I have a confession to make. I am addicted to casseroles.

    I don't care how far the humble casserole is from "haute cuisine". I love throwing together leftovers or miscellaneous pantry items and watching them magically come together into a hot, flavorful meal. It's hard to go wrong, especially if the end result is covered in cheese!  

    Here's a tried and true casserole recipe that is, of course, food storage-friendly.

    One thing you have to consider with this recipe is that it calls for corn tortillas. There are several substitutions you could use for fresh, store-bought corn tortillas.

    First, corn tortillas do freeze well. Stack the tortillas with pieces of waxed paper in between them and then place in a freezer bag. Simply thaw them before you use them. I like to wrap them in a paper towel and gently defrost them in the microwave. 

    Second, you could add masa harina to your food storage and make your own corn tortillas. Here's a recipe for that.

    Third option: use flour tortillas instead. They are easy to make from scratch and use ingredients pretty much everyone stores. Here's a recipe

    A fourth, advanced option: make your own masa by 'nixtamalizing' corn kernels then use the masa to make tortillas. You have my full respect if you do this for a lowly casserole!   

    Is it pretty to look at? Not really. But my family thinks it is pretty tasty!

    King Ranch Chicken


    King Ranch Chicken, adapted from a recipe published in Southern Living


    1 large onion, chopped OR about 1/3 c. dry onion, rehydrated
    1 large green bell pepper, chopped OR about 1/2 c. dry peppers, rehydrated
    Vegetable oil
    Cooking spray
    2 cups chopped cooked chicken breasts OR 1 pint home-canned chicken OR 1 can of commerically-canned chicken
    1 can cream of chicken soup
    1 can cream of mushroom soup
    1 can diced tomato and green chiles (Rotel)
    1 teaspoon chili powder
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    12 (6-inch) corn tortillas (fresh, frozen and thawed, or homemade)
    8 oz. shredded Cheddar cheese OR freeze-dried, stored waxed cheese, canned cheese, etc.


    Sauté onion and bell pepper in a large skillet coated with a bit of oil over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until tender.Stir in chicken and next 6 ingredients; remove from heat.

    Tear tortillas into 1-inch pieces; layer one-third tortilla pieces in bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top with one-third chicken mixture and one-third cheese. Repeat layers twice.

    Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    No inflation here! (Cough)

    How much will this buy in 2011?
    Every few months I add to our supply of dry milk by ordering a case of it from Walton Feed. The last time I bought it was in March, during our Food Storage Blitz Month. It cost $78.92, including shipping.

    I bought another case of it today and had an unpleasant shock. 

    My total this time was $95.05.

    I checked various online food storage vendors and found that Walton Feed is still the best deal for me, even with the $16 jump in prices. (Check out this post if you want to know how I came to that conclusion.)

    I'm sure this has nothing to do with inflation. Uncle Sam has been telling us that there is no inflation and the government is never wrong. And it probably has nothing to do with people deciding that things in our country are going down the tubes and that they should stock up on food storage.

    Nope. I'm probably imagining the whole thing. I'd better check my Quicken account for errors. (Massive eyeroll.)


    Have you noticed inflation in your neck of the woods? Is it affecting your family's preparedness efforts?

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Quick Tip: Add some freebies to your Bug Out Bag

    Some of the freebies in my BOB: shampoo and conditioner, lip balm, deodorant, and lotion
    In the first incarnation of my bug-out bag, 72 hour kit, or whatever you want to call it, I didn't include any toiletries. I figured that if I was hunkering down in the woods somewhere, I probably wouldn't care if my armpits were springtime fresh.

    That may well be true, but springtime freshness never hurts, especially when you can do it for free. Lots of companies offer free samples of their products in convenient travel sizes - perfect for your BOB!  The Krazy Coupon Lady and Money Saving Mom are two sites that frequently post offers for free products. As a bonus, the freebies often come along with high-value coupons to aid your stockpiling efforts.

    In a SHTF situation where we have to break out the BOBs, I can now comfort myself with the fact that my lips won't be chapped! ;)