Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In Front of the Camera on Food Storage.

While we've spent a little time talking about WHAT to store, I haven't yet said much about WHY I'm doing this.  Here is a pretty good explanation of my Food Storage philosophy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 4

Week 4 - 20 Cans of Fruit - $19.37
Running Total - $70.99

This week's food storage item is canned fruit.  It is not unreasonable to think that nearly everyone reading this enjoys sweets.  According to the FDA, the average American eats between 150 and 170 pounds of sugar a year!  Less than 100 years ago, we ate less than 4 pounds of the sparkling white stuff in the same time period.

While fruits are not as nutrient dense as beans, rice, and corn, it is important to include comfort foods in a food storage program.  Since we have a pretty good foundation of staples at this point, I chose to add them now.  Nearly every situation that calls for food storage is a stressful one.  Eating good food can help bring a bit of brightness in dark times.  With a little flour, some lard, salt, and this fruit, lovely tarts can be made to warm the heart and cheer the soul.  Fruit can be added to oatmeal or cooked rice with a little cinnamon to make a bland breakfast delicious.

Just as with vegetables, there are a lot of choices when it comes to canned fruit.  I chose 5 cans each of peaches, pears, mandarin oranges, and pineapple.  These choices were the least expensive and had the most uses.  You could also choose fruit cocktail, but I'm not all that fond of it myself.  I did my best to get all similar sized cans for ease of storage, but pineapple cans seem have rules of their own.  I'll just stack them separately.

The first month is finished and I'm $9.00 below my estimate so costs are pretty close to what I expected.

Check back to see what next week brings!

Friday, January 8, 2016

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 3

Week 3 - 20 Cans of Vegetables - $13.60
Running Total - $51.62

The first two weeks of food storage were very simple.... 20 pounds of long grain white rice, and 20 pounds of pinto beans.  I could have gotten Jasmine rice or black, white, or lima beans, but the choices were quite limited and I had already decided to go with what was cheapest in this area.  Rice and beans are basically meal extenders, allowing me to make more servings from something more flavorful, and are not meant to be meals unto themselves unless things get really desperate.

Week three is a little different and required some careful thought.  This week's item was 20 cans of vegetables.  Because there are so many possible choices, I needed to carefully consider several factors.

What does my family normally eat?  Now is not the time to try new foods and there's no point storing things you won't eat.  Once we have our storage set up, we will begin using it and just purchasing replacements as we go along.  If you want to try new things and start adding them after your basic storage plan is set up, that's great!

What can I use to make a meal out of the other things I have?  Beans and rice are a great source of calories, but you can't eat them alone for very long without getting very tired of them.  Adding some vegetables and meat or bullion cubes will help create variety.

How easy are these to store?  It's much easier to store cans that are all the same size.  They stack better and you can utilize your shelves to their fullest. (Cans are heavy!  Make sure your shelving is strong enough for the weight).

Three weeks in and we're at just over $50.00.  I'm a little behind, so keep an eye out for Week 4 in the next couple of days.

Monday, December 21, 2015

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 2

Week 2 - 20 Pounds of Pinto Beans (plus a bucket) - $22.41
Running Total - $38.02

One thing you will find missing from my 20 weeks of food storage list is wheat.  One reason for this is that the list is intended to be easy to follow, without requiring expensive, specialized equipment.  The second is simply because I have bought whole wheat and ground our flour for quite a while.  Wheat is one of the most well-known disaster preparation foods and there are some very good reasons for this.  Even at $36 per 50 pound bag, wheat packs a huge nutritional punch for your money.  Wheat is incredibly easy to store, requiring just good airtight containers placed somewhere with reasonable temperatures.  It can be stored for very long periods of time with little loss of nutritional value.  Wheat can be made into many dishes from hot crusty bread to luscious egg noodles.  It seems like wheat’s the perfect way to go.  But there is an issue.....

While wheat berries can be cooked and eaten in unprocessed form as a sort of cereal, almost anything else requires that it be ground to various consistencies.  You can make cracked wheat or farina (Cream of Wheat) in a food processor, but for bread, tortillas, and noodles you must have a grinder specifically designed for flour.  Also, for it to be useful in a disaster situation where electricity may not be available, it must be able to be used as a hand grinder.  

I have owned two different hand grinders.  My first grinder was the “Cadillac” of hand grinders, the Country Living mill.  This is a quite expensive mill that starts at $429 with no options.  It is very sturdy, all metal with a powder coated finish.  It comes standard with the pulley wheel so you can motorize it and uses steel burrs.  It can only be used for dry grains, no oily seeds.  It grinds fairly easily by hand, but you know you’ve earned your bread by the time you have enough flour for it.  It produces up to very fine flour.  I found it rather difficult to take apart and clean with a strong spring that had to go back in just right.  Personal circumstances forced the sale of this mill a couple of years ago.

My second mill is the Wonder Junior Deluxe mill.  It is a little less than half the price of the Country Living mill at $219.  This price does not include the pulley for motorizing, but you can obtain that for an additional $49.  The Junior Deluxe is also all metal and has a powder coated finish.  It comes with a set of stone burrs for flour and steel burrs for grinding oily seeds such as nuts for nut butters.  It grinds very fine flower with the stone burrs and takes similar effort to do the grinding as my first mill.  It is smaller than the Country Living Mill and has the most ingenious clamp that allows you to move it easily.  It is also very easy to clean. Either one of these mills is an excellent choice.

Once you have your mill, start using it!  Storing wheat does you no good if you don’t know how to cook with it.  By grinding your own flour, you are learning how much time and energy it takes to supply yourself with what you need for regular cooking.  Be sure only to grind enough for the day, or at most the next few days.  Freshly ground flour is a whole food and the oils will go rancid in a short time.  It does not keep forever like store bought flour that has had all the oil (and nearly all of the nutrients) removed so it will store indefinitely.  Your favorite recipes may need to be adjusted a bit when using fresh whole wheat flour and you will notice foods baked with fresh ground flour have a distinctly different flavor, much richer than store-bought.   

The best food storage plan is one where you use all of the things you are storing as part of your regular routine.  An emergency is not a good time to drastically change the way you cook or eat.  Of course you want to replace things as you use them, but this ensures that nothing in your store gets outdated or old.  It will also allow you to see what you are storing, but don’t use.  Get rid of those things (maybe a local food bank would like them) so you have more space to store what you do use.  This way, if the need arises, you won’t have to worry about “What’s for Dinner

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Living Fence....Again

One of the most important tasks in Micro/Urban homesteading is learning to see everything has multiple uses.  There simply isn't space here for anything that just has one purpose.  You may remember that I attempted a willow "fedge" or living fence several summers ago.  While the essential idea was sound, my choice of plants wasn't appropriate for WeeHavyn. It is dry up here and willow likes wet feet. 

Yet I am determined to have my living fence.  I adore the idea of a woven row of trees, intertwined in an intricate network of branches.  It is a fence that does not require the digging of post holes, an arduous task in our rocky soil, and repairs itself with proper care.  A fedge is, by its very nature, multipurpose.  Not only will it serve as a property boundary, but provides habitat for insects and birds.  Depending on the type of tree planted, it may also produce fruit and fodder for livestock.  I had chosen willow with the idea of feeding the nutritious prunings to the goats and rabbits.  My new choice provides even more....

Today I ordered 100 seedlings of native red mulberry for my new fence, to be delivered in February.  I chose mulberry for several reasons.  Mulberry leaves are extremely high in protein and very palatable to livestock.  After all, it doesn't matter how nutritious the food is if the animals won't eat it.  I coppiced one of the wild mulberries in our hedgerow last Spring and the goats ate the resulting sprouts like candy all Summer.  While some of these seedlings will  be male and won't produce any berries, mulberries can be quite tasty and each tree will be a little different.  The downside... mulberry bird droppings stain!

Since I have not been able to find an example of anyone actually using mulberry to do this, I do have some concerns.... 
  • How will a tree that wants to grow up to 50 feet react to being kept at around 4 feet high?
    • Judging from the trees in the median, they should be fine.  These trees are mowed several times a year and seem to just put out new shoots and take it all in stride.
  •  Will I be able to graft the branches together to make a strong, integrated fedge?  
    • I would like my fedge to be tight enough to keep the dog in.  I know if you scrape the bark of a willow branch and tie the wounded parts together, the branches will graft into one tree.  I'm not sure mulberry will do this, but I guess we'll find out!
  • Will the severe pruning keep the trees from fruiting?  
    • While this isn't a deal-breaker, I would like fruit from the fedge.  Mulberries are highly variable in fruit taste and quality.  We have one volunteer mulberry tree that has tiny fruit with an amazing sweet-wild flavor and one with huge, almost tasteless fruit.  I'm curious to see what fruit variations would come of the fedge.
 Despite any misgivings, I am going to take the plunge and just try it for myself.  The only way to know for sure is to do it.  I'm brushing up on espaliering techniques and grafting so I'll have some idea of what to do once the seedlings get large enough to do anything with.  Mulberry is very fast growing (some consider it a weed and you know how I love those!), so there should be some semblance of a fedge by this Autumn.  After all....nothing ventured, nothing gained! 

What do you think, would you do this?

Monday, December 14, 2015

20 Weeks of Food Storage - Week 1

Week 1 - 20 pounds of rice (plus a bucket to keep it dry and free of pests) -$15.61

I have always had good intentions of developing an organized food storage plan.  But....it just never seemed to happen.  Even though we are working on producing a lot of our own food, there will always be many things that we lack the room or climate to grow.  WeeHavyn is more suitable for livestock products such as eggs, meat, and dairy.  We are working on a perennial garden and have the Garden Barrels and GunniGardens for annual vegetables and potatoes, but there is simply no room for bulk crops such as grain or beans.

I consider myself an optimist.  While I definitely see changes happening in the next few years, I think they will ultimately be changes for the better.  Yet I know that some of these things may be painful for the unprepared.  I'm not "prepping" for the end of the world.  I dislike that word as it tends to have an "every man for himself" connotation, a sure recipe for disaster. Rather, I am cushioning us from shocks or sudden changes. I have great faith that we posses the good sense and skills to overcome most any trouble, but it would be nice not to have to shop amid the panic of an ice storm threatening or something else unexpected.

With this in mind, I've decided to become systematic about our food storage.  I've created a checklist based on this article: 20 Items to Kick Start Your Food Storage Plan.  I found the article sensible and easy to follow.  I believe I will end up spending an average of $20 per week on this plan, for a total of about $400.  Each week I will highlight what I purchased for the plan and how much I spent.  By the end of 20 weeks I should have a respectable food storage program and a grand total of what it costs.

Do you have a food storage plan?  Why or why not?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

According to His Nature...

The photo of Hank with his nose on the chicken on last week's blog post has inspired questions about how I taught him to get along with something he might instead consider to be dinner.  I'd have to say that it's about half nature and half nurture.  Hank has a calm, gentle disposition.  He is obedient, eager to please, and has always been easy to train. I can take no credit for this.

The nurture part I can take some credit for.  Because pitbulls have a vicious reputation at the present moment, I decided when I rescued Hank that he would be a good representative for his breed.  I began his training the first day I got him, and have carefully established and maintained my dominance in our "pack".  We went to obedience class when he was a puppy.  However; I think the most important part of his training is that he was NEVER allowed to roughhouse with anyone or chase anything.  I know it's fun to wrestle and "mock fight" with a puppy.   But, they soon grow up and this "game" gets much less fun.  If Hank has something in his mouth I want, he's to give it to me and tug games would teach him the opposite. 

All that being said, while Hank is a very good dog, I never leave him unattended with the livestock.  He is still a predator and they are all prey animals.  He did not grow up with livestock (he was two before we got the goats and the chickens came later than that).  When I am out there, he looks to me as pack leader for direction.  He mimics how I behave with the livestock.  But I have no doubt that if he was left alone with only his deepest instincts to guide him, he would soon be having chicken dinner.  Even when I am there, there are moments that a sudden move or loud cackle will pique his interest.  His demeanor will change and I can see the hunter there, right beneath the surface. 

That is his nature....