Tuesday, February 21, 2012

With Whom Do You Share Information About Your Preps?

Are you prepared?
Do you have water stored? How do you plan to get water in an emergency?
Do you have a stockpile of medicine at your house?

If someone approached you and asked those questions, how would you respond?

"Just what are you up to?"
How do you deal with your own Gladys Kravitz?

Hubby Dear was asked these very questions recently. The lady is one of those people who will come to see him for a specific reason and spend the next 45 minutes talking about weather, the state of her daughter's uterus, the price of corn, and everything BUT the reason for her visit. She has asked him preparedness-related questions before, but this time she was persistent. She had been watching Doomsday Preppers and it filled her with burning questions including whether her well would still work if Texas was suddenly pushed up to where Canada is today. (Yes, she was really scared about that!)

Hubby Dear remained very general, telling the lady that, yes, we are prepared for basic emergencies like ice storms but we don't have a stockpile of medicine. Both of these are true statements (for the moment - the stockpile of medicine will be forthcoming!), but he certainly could have divulged more information had he chosen to do so. It is possible that this lady and her family could be potential prepper allies, but we simply don't know them well enough to gauge their intentions. Could it be that they were sizing up a potential target for looting post-SHTF? Could it be that I am overly paranoid? ;)

How would you respond to something like this? Do you let your freak flag fly? Or do you keep your prepping secret for OPSEC's sake?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Garden Plan

I don't know what the weather's been like where you live, but around here it hasn't felt anything like winter. It's been so spring-like that I have felt an urgent desire to get our garden up and running. Despite the balmy temps, it is still a bit too early, but it won't be long before we'll be planting our early spring garden.

We learned a lot from our garden in 2011. Some things will stay the same in 2012 but of course we're also going to make some changes. I can't help it. I'm a fiddler. Sadly, that doesn't mean that I play the violin. I just keep fiddling with things even if they are perfectly fine. It's a sickness.

The first big thing we're doing is adding yet more square foot garden beds.

Please excuse my sloppy handwriting and failure to use a ruler! 

In the oh-so-beautifully-freehand diagram above, our existing garden is to the left. Our ultimate goal is to double the size of our garden, but since constructing and filling all those beds last year nearly killed us, we're taking it in stages. We are building just three new beds this year and saving our energy for expanding our orchard and dealing with our chickens.

In some of the space that will be filled with boxes in the future, we are going to plant sunflowers for our chickens. We'll see how well they do considering the prior luck we had gardening in our poor clay soil.

The current garden plans for both halves of the garden are below. I'm sorry they came out kind of blurry - not sure why the scan is so poor.

The "Old Garden"

The New Garden

The boxes are color-coded with the approximate date of planting for Zone 5.

Although we are growing many of the same types of vegetables as last year, we are changing quite a few varieties. Many of the changes aren't because the previous variety was a failure; this year we simply decided to focus mainly on open-pollinated, heirloom varieties.

We ordered our seeds, plants, and bulbs from several sources: Johnny's Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Saver's Exchange, Peaceful Valley, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Stark Bro's.

Beet - Bulls' Blood
-We selected this type of beet because of its particularly excellent greens. "Greens" is a bit of a misnomer, though, since the leaves are dark red in color. We may or may not eat the greens (I may save them for our rabbits and chickens), but we'll definitely eat the beets!

Broccoli - Waltham 29
-We planted a different variety of broccoli last fall and it didn't get very far. I really think we should be starting seeds indoors and then setting out transplants, but we thought we'd give direct sowing another shot with this variety.

Cabbage - Farao
-The Thinker planted this cabbage last year and it was ridiculously delicious. I also think the plants are absolutely gorgeous and want to plant some in some concrete planters I have by our front porch.

Cantaloupe - Kansas
-Our beloved "Minnesota Midget" melons just didn't like to grow on a trellis, so we searched for a new candidate that might like trellising better. The description of "Kansas" from Baker Creek drew us in, "The vines are vigorous and the yield is great; oval-shaped, ridged and netted fruit; the flesh is orange and has exceptional flavor; very delicious! A very dependable variety; fruit weigh around 4 lbs. One of our most endangered varieties and also one of the best."

Carrot - Danvers 126 Half Long
-We have reserved a double-depth box (12") for carrots this year. I'm hopeful they will grow larger and straighter with the extra room. It was kind of fun finding all sorts of funny shaped roots last year, though. I try to keep it family friendly on my blog or I'd post some of the more unusual specimens. ;)

Cauliflower - Snowball Self-Blanching
-We had the same problem with cauliflower last fall as we did the broccoli, though we did at least get some small heads. We shall see if "Snowball" does better.

Unrelenting heat and lack of rain really hurt our corn last year.
At least we've figured out a support system that works for
square foot gardens.  
Corn - Golden Bantam
-Corn is our Achilles heel. We never have been able to get a decent crop, which is pretty ridiculous considering we live in corn country! We're trying a dependable old variety and reducing the number of boxes we're devoting to corn this year.

Cucumber - Double Yield
-I favor pickling-type cucumbers. They are good for pickling, of course, but they are great for fresh eating as well.

The "Provider" beans in the foreground were pretty much toast but miraculously returned
to life and gave us another crop 

Green Beans - Provider 
-How could we not plant this variety? Not even last year's record heat could knock these beans down; they literally returned to life after getting fried, leading to my pet name for them - "Zombie Beans". High yielding, too.

Garlic - Music
-We planted many cloves of "Music" garlic last fall. It was heavily mulched with straw. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the field mice left it alone over the winter!

The Thinker's box early last year (Clockwise): Beets, Pod Peas,
Farao Cabbage, Winter Density Lettuce

Lettuce - Winter Density, Encore Lettuce Mix
-After a slow start, lettuce was one of our big successes last year. We're planting "Winter Density" again plus an organic version of the lettuce mix we enjoyed so much. Again, any extras will go to the chickens and/or rabbits.

Nasturtium - Empress of India 
-Mini Me wanted to grow some flowers in the kids' garden box and this was her selection. Nasturtiums are edible, but I imagine we'll mostly just enjoy their beauty.

Onion - Copra
-We're planting transplants this year rather than sowing seed or growing from sets. Hopefully they will grow larger than last year's marble-sized crop.

Pea (Shell) - Lincoln and Pea (Pod)- Sugar Sprint
-If we can keep the mice away, we should get a nice crop. Sugar Sprint doesn't need stringing - bonus!

Peppers - Ancho GiganteBull Nose Bell, Chocolate Beauty, Jalapeno, Orange Bell, Tolli’s Sweet ItalianKing of the North, Cayenne
-Peppers did so well for us last year! New varieties to try out for 2012 plus my nemesis, cayenne

Potato - Yukon Gold
-Another repeat variety from last year. 

"Cherriette" radishes we harvested last spring

Radish - Purple Plum                                                                                                                                        
- Radishes are the one veggie I don't get very excited about, but they are one of Hubby Dear's favorites. He couldn't resist trying out this purple variety.

Spinach - Corvair
-We weren't able to get spinach to grow last fall, but we're bravely forging ahead in the spring. 

Strawberry - Earliglo, Tribute
-One of our boxes of strawberries mysteriously died last spring. (Dang, now that I type all our failures out, it seems like 2011 wasn't so good after all!) We are replacing that and filling in the remainder of the box that Mini Me successfully nurtured.

Sunflower - Peredovik Black Oil
-This type of sunflower is supposed to produce high quality seeds for bird feed. They will be treats for my chickies. 

Swiss Chard - Five Color Silverbeet
-Everyone says that Swiss Chard is a pretty much foolproof vegetable. I can vouch that it is not! All the chard we planted last fall failed to germinate. Well, these fools are trying again! 

Tomato -  Amish Paste, Green ZebraBrandywine, German Pink, Rosso SicilianGold MedalItalian Heirloom     
-The heat last summer really stunted our tomato production, but even so, we managed to have fresh tomatoes from our garden until January! I'm hopeful that I'll be able to can many more quarts of spaghetti sauce in 2012. 

Watermelon - Golden Midget
-This is an unusual type of watermelon. One of our problems with the "Little Baby Flower" melons we grew last year was that we couldn't tell if they were ripe or not. Since they were trellised, we didn't get the usual yellow-white spot on the ground. We checked tendril browning, thumped the heck out of them - none of the usual methods of determining ripeness worked. Golden Midget shouldn't be a problem because the melons turn yellow when they are ripe! 

Zucchini - Costata Romanesco
-Carol Deppe gave rave reviews about this zucchini in her book, The Resilient Gardener. Apparently it is great both fresh or dried. 

That's it! More than you ever wanted to read, I'm sure. What plans are you making for your spring garden? Are you growing anything new and exciting this year? 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is it Possible to Make Artisan-Style Pizza in 5 Minutes?

Here comes an admission that I find pretty embarrassing: I regularly buy frozen pizzas.

We reserve such pizzas for crazy days like the one we'll have tomorrow. Mondays start bright and early at our house since we have to get ready for a visit from Sweetie Pie's speech therapist. That means I have to get all of us bathed and dressed (as well as vacuum up the graham cracker crumbs that mysteriously got ground into the living room carpet) by 8 AM. There is also a piano lesson for The Thinker and separate basketball practices for The Thinker and Mini Me. (Did I mention that basketball practice is a 45 minute drive from our home?) In between all the appointments, I manage to squeeze in homeschooling and laundry.

Frozen pizza just fits our schedule on days like that.

But what if it was possible to make homemade pizza in the same amount of time it would take to bake a frozen pizza? What if you could save money, cut out preservatives, and break yet another link to the processed food industry? Oh, and did I mention it would taste far better than frozen fare?

Enter the book Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day. After I read an article on this quick method of making homemade pizza in Mother Earth News, I decided to spend part of my February prepping budget on the book.

The method literally could not be easier. Mix up a four ingredient pizza dough, all from your food storage. Refrigerate. Use any time within 14 days.  The refrigeration actually improves the dough, making it easier to handle and giving it a bit of a sourdough flavor. Plus, you can make enough dough for eight+ pizzas at once, saving you time and dishes to wash!

Here's the recipe for a basic crust. This will make enough dough for four, 12-inch pizzas:

1-1/2 c. lukewarm water
1 T. yeast (instant or dry active - doesn't matter)
1 t. table salt
3-3/4 c. unbleached, all purpose flour (The authors of the book say the recipe won't turn out right if you use bleached flour.)

Add water to a large mixing bowl or other container. Add yeast and salt, stir. Add flour and mix until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic or a loose lid (you don't want it to be perfectly air tight). Allow to rise at room temperature for about two hours. Refrigerate for up to 14 days or use right away. The dough is easier to handle after it has been chilled.

This pizza is designed to be baked at high temperatures on a baking stone,which gives the crust its wonderful texture. You can also use a heavy duty baking sheet if you would prefer.

You can use canned pizza sauce if you like, or do what I did and make sauce ahead. I took 2-28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes and seasoned them with minced garlic, oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper. I simmered the mixture over low heat for two hours. I then measured out 1/3 c. portions (enough for one 12" pizza) and froze them individually. Now all I have to do is quickly defrost however many bags of sauce while I preheat my baking stone for 30 minutes at 550 degrees.

The crust is rolled out to 1/8th inch thick and is topped with about 1/3 c. of pizza sauce and whatever else you like. I used 1-1/2 oz. turkey pepperoni and 3 oz. fresh mozzarella.

The trickiest part of the process is baking the pizzas, or rather, transferring the crust and toppings to the baking stone without it sticking to your pizza peel (I don't have a peel so I used a baking sheet like this one.)

Turkey pepperoni and fresh mozzarella pizza

After about eight minutes in the oven, I became nervous about the pepperoni burning so I took the pizza out. That was a bit too early as the crust wasn't quite as crispy as it could be and the cheese should have browned more. I'll get all the ins and outs figured out with practice. Even so, the pizza tasted amazing! The kids snarfed it down so fast you would have thought they were in a competition. And would you believe that a 1/4 of this pizza is only 225 calories and 7 grams of fat?

This was so quick and easy to make, I think it is safe to say that we've kicked frozen pizza to the curb.

Here are some resources if you're interesting in trying this method out:

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Perfect Survival Chicken: Selecting a Chicken Breed

This is part two of my chicken keeping series. Those of you who have been keeping chickens for years will have to excuse the new girl's giddy excitement. And please chime in with your own opinions in the comments!

If you missed part one, check it out here:
Part I: Peeps or Pullets? Ways to Get Started in Chicken Keeping


Once I coerced Hubby Dear into the whole chicken keeping business and decided to start with chicks ordered through the mail, it was time to decide on a chicken breed. If you've never paid much attention to chickens before, it might surprise you to find out just how many breeds there are out there. The hatchery I settled on as the source for my chicks, Meyer Hatchery, carries literally dozens of breeds.

What should you buy? That depends on your answer to the following question: Why are you keeping chickens?
  • Are you mostly interested in eggs? There are breeds out there that will reliably pump out 300 eggs a year. 
  • Do you envision your chickens mostly as a meat source? You'll want to raise chickens that dress out into plump carcasses and put on weight quickly. 
  • Would you like chickens for both their meat and eggs? There are breeds that are good for both, though they will not produce as many eggs as the best layers or put on weight as fast as the dedicated meat birds. 
From a preparedness standpoint, it makes sense to choose a breed from the last category, the so-called dual purpose breeds. If you were facing a crisis of some kind that would definitely be the type of bird you would be interested in because they are so versatile. Here are some other considerations for those of us of the preparedness mindset:
  • Some breeds are better at foraging for their food than others. In the event that you have to completely free-range your chickens, it is important to select a breed that is active and does well outside of complete confinement. 
  • You'd want a breed that would go broody (attempt to hatch chicks on their own). We humans have removed broodiness from the genetic makeup of many poultry breeds. That's great if you want to create birds that lay continuously (broody birds stop laying and focus completely on their clutch of eggs), but that is not so good if you want to expand your flock naturally (ie. without an incubator or a hatchery order). It goes without saying that you'll need a rooster if you want fertile eggs. Chickens will lay eggs without a rooster, but it still takes a rooster strutting around the chicken yard to make babies. 
  • You would want a breed that agrees with your climate. Some chickens tolerate heat well; others are perky even in bitter cold. In a grid down situation, you're not going to be able to heat or cool your hen house artificially. And who wants to do that, anyway? Why not pick a breed that is suited to your climate and make it easy on everyone?

A last consideration has less to do with survival and more to do with you. What kind of personality do you feel comfortable working around? Some breeds are more flighty or have a history of aggression. Others are usually calm. Some breeds tend to be friendly and personable with their human caretakers while others couldn't care less about you.

After sifting through all these factors, we decided to select a dual-purpose breed that had known broody tendencies, does well free-ranging, handles cold weather and is generally docile. That still left me with many, many chicken breeds to pick from. In the end, I couldn't pick just one breed. I selected nine! We may decide later that a certain breed is our favorite and stick with it, but for now I can't help but smile in anticipation of the multi-colored display that will soon be pecking around my chicken moat.

These are the breeds we selected for our seventeen chickens:

Buff Orpington
Image from backyardchickens.com

Buff Orpington is the breed we ordered the most of. We want a rooster for our little flock and decided to purchase a Buff Orpington cockerel, too.

Black Australorp
Image from backyardchickens.com

Columbian Wyandotte
Image from http://chicksnchillens.blogspot.com

Golden Laced Wyandotte. Could they be any more spectacular?
Image from http://www.freewebs.com/djchooks/goldlacedwyandotte.htm

Silver Laced Wyandotte - too pretty to resist!
Image from mypetchicken.com

Easter Eggers
Image from redtractorranch.com

Easter Eggers are kind of an interesting breed. They are a bit of a mongrel breed that is kept primarily because they lay eggs in shades of green, blue, or pink. From what I've read, they vary on the outside just as much as the color of their eggs. Who knows if my girls will resemble the pullets pictured above?

Delaware - The Thinker's pick for prettiest chicken
Image from http://www.hobbyfarmliving.com/chicken-breeds-backyard-flock/

Speckled Sussex
Image from washingtonfeatherfanciers.webs.com

Barred Plymouth Rock
Image from Wikipedia

Any good book about chickens will have charts detailing the attributes of the various breeds. My favorite chicken reference for this purpose is  Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. I found the hatchery websites to be very helpful, too.

If you raise chickens, what breeds do you have? Do you raise them primarily for eggs, meat, or both? If you don't have chickens but wish you did, what do you think you would do? 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Using Your Food Storage: Chocolate Caramel Graham Crackers

Looking for a quick and easy treat for your sweetie this Valentine's Day? Look no further!

These Chocolate Caramel Graham Crackers taste like buttery chocolate-covered toffee and best of all, I didn't have to go to the store to be able to make them.  All the ingredients are ones I have as part of my three month and/or long term food storage. Try it - I promise you'll love it! 

If you can stop after only eating two pieces, you have far more self-control than I do! 

Chocolate Caramel Graham Crackers - Slightly adapted from a recipe published in the January 2003  Gourmet magazine

12 graham crackers (If you don't have graham crackers in your food storage, you could even make your own!)
1-1/2 sticks of butter
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/8 t. salt (If you use salted butter, feel free to skip this.) 
1-1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped pecans

Preheat your oven to 375. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, leaving a 2" overhang it each end. Line the bottom of the pan with the graham crackers. 

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add brown sugar (and salt, if using) and cook, whisking constantly, until the butter and sugar are smooth and well combined. The mixture be separated at first, but a minute of whisking over heat will bring it together. Pour over crackers, spreading evenly. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 10 minutes. 

Scatter chocolate chips evenly over crackers and bake in oven until chocolate is soft, about 1 minute. Remove pan from oven and gently spread chocolate. Sprinkle nuts over chocolate and cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then pop the pan in your freezer for 15 minutes. 

Lift the crackers from the pan by grasping both ends of foil. Peel foil from crackers and break them up into chunks. Devour!

Supposedly these crackers will keep, chilled and layered between waxed paper in an airtight container, for two weeks. I wouldn't know since they've never lasted that long at my house!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January 2012 in Review and February Preps

January was a quiet month for me on the blog, but not so much at home. I have been so busy. Between my kids' homeschooling, extra-curriculars, and the normal insanity of having two toddlers (including one who is doing her best to give up her afternoon nap), life has been pretty nutty. Hubby Dear and I have also been going full-throttle with diet and and exercise, which has eaten up time I normally spent on the computer. My derriere is thankful for the change, however, and I've managed to lose 10 pounds in the last month!

Even though I didn't get time to blog, I most certainly worked on preps during the month of January.

1. Sales!

I hope many of you were able to take advantage of the sales at markdown.com and Honeyville Grains. I am very happy that I was able to stock up on both Tattler canning lids and freeze dried foods.

2. Reading, reading, and more reading

I read quickly through The Small-Scale Poultry Flock and have been mulling over all the interesting ideas it gave me for the role poultry can play on our homestead. Next, I bought a copy of The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way. Talk about wow. If you are interested in growing fruit organically, you've got to get your hands on this book! The focus of the book is building plant health, starting at the soil level and working up. It has me re-imagining the layout of our orchard and has piqued my interest in permaculture. I really can't recommend this book enough.

3. Miscellany

I socked away items like work gloves, bandannas, and safety pins.  These are all cheap, readily-available preps that could be important to have on hand in an emergency. Bandannas alone have countless uses.

4. Chicken business

Our chicks are due to arrive in early March. I spent a good portion of my prepping budget this month on various chicken paraphernalia.

Feed storage

I bought a couple of galvanized steel trash cans to store feed in and a couple of bales of pine shavings. Since I intend to use the deep litter method of manure management, I need mucho mas pine shavings.

Random chick stuff 

I also picked up the supplies I'll need for our chick brooder. Hubby Dear and I weighed out a variety of options (including crafting our own brooder out of a plastic storage bin), but for reasons of ease, the number of chicks we'll be brooding, and because I'm a total sucker for a so-called complete kit, we bought the Deluxe Brooder Starter Package from Randall Burkey.

The Deluxe Brooder Package from randallburkey.com 

You're supposed to have at least 1/2 a square foot per chick in your brooder. This set up will give me just about the right amount of space for the 17 chicks I'm expecting.

I also bought chick-sized grit, a bag of starter feed, and forage cakes. I'm glad that February always flies by so quickly because I am more than ready for my chicks to arrive!

Oh, and there's this little something that arrived via tractor trailer.

After some trial and error (including a dead lawn mower battery and creative use of a tire iron),
Hubby  Dear got the coop hitched up and moved it around to the back yard

This is an 8x8' chicken coop built by Horizon Structures. The delivery driver arrived after sunset one evening and decided that he couldn't make the turn into our driveway with his 75' long trailer. That meant he had to put the wheels on our coop and unload it directly on the country road we live on. Then he and I wrestled this nearly 1700 lb coop off the road and up enough of our hilly, rutted driveway to finally make it onto our yard. Hubby Dear, of course, was at work and missed all the fun. ;) The next day, he hitched up the coop to the lawn mower and moved it around back to take its place of honor in the chicken moat.

It was tricky business to get the coop positioned in the moat. It took many tries to get it right.

Horizon Structures is located in Pennsylvania and I... am not. Take a look at the amount of road dust that collected on the outside of the coop during the long journey to our home! It would have been better to buy locally, but I didn't have any luck finding something with the size and features I wanted.

In place and ready for action! Now we just need to finish the chicken moat.

This coop has a lot of upgrades, including an easy-clean glassboard floor, electrical package, and automatic chicken door. I'm pleased with the overall quality of construction, but was disappointed that the roof and paint got damaged during transport. Thankfully, Horizon Structures is not only sending me touch-up paint and extra shingles but also hiring a handyman to make it right. That's a business that knows how to treat its customers.

What's up for next month?

February Preps:

1. Books - You know I had to have more books on my list! Continuing the theme of permaculture, I plan to get (the unfortunately named, but useful) Gaia's Garden. I also find the concept behind Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day to be very intriguing. I make all of our bread, but the recipe I use for homemade pizza recipe takes long enough that I don't make it very often.

2. Chickens - I still need to get a few odds and ends for the chickens, namely a long, high-quality extension cord so that my coop can have power. We need to finish constructing the north wall of the chicken moat as well.

3. Orchard planning - Our apple trees and blueberry bushes will arrive in March. Ahead of that, I need to work on our plan and get some of the supplies that I can't find locally.

4. Garden - We are expanding our square foot garden next year and so we need to build a few more boxes and make more Mel's Mix.  

5. First aid preps - I have a huge list of items that I have yet to buy. I hope to make inroads on this.

6. Feminine products - After my ill-fated cloth pad experiment, I kind of abandoned this area of preparedness. Time to get back to it.

So that's me. Any big plans for February or accomplishments from January you'd like to share?