Tuesday, December 16, 2014

food/preservation-lessons learned

As homesteaders, our food supply and ways to preserve our food are very important to us. It is, in many ways, what makes us homesteading and self sustaining(ish) people. We only purchased what we could not grow, hunt or forage  around us. The only things we really purchased were oils, sugar, coffee, tea and  some cooking/baking spices.  Even these items were purchased in bulk quantities and stored  until we needed them. We are not preppers and did not have an end of the world stash hanging around, but we like to be prepared and had a couple years of food and other essentials put back in the event of injury or some other emergency. These items/supplies are what  hurts us and bothers us the most in regard to the fire. The house was just a shack, but the food, and supplies associated with our food, are much of what identifies us as homesteaders, and now that is gone.

Below are some of the things we have thought about, learned or are relearning in regard to  food/supplies.The biggest lesson in all this is: Dont become complacent and lazy! Much of  the important (to us) stuff that was lost could have been prevented had we not become that way.

Stored seeds were all kept in boxes and containers and they burnt up. This was not just a seed supply for the  next year, this was seed supply that we traded, bartered, and gave away. The seed supply   could have provided seed for years to come.  Some of them were crops we had been working on for several years to adapt to our growing conditions and will take years to reattain.  This will never happen again as they will have their very own fire safe for storage.  In the event something catastrophic happens again, we can just scoop them up with the important-junk fire safe and take them with us.

 All our canned foods ( about 500 jars were kept on shelves in the living room area of the shack.  All of our jars  (another 600 or so), canners (3),  rings, lids (2-3000),  and so on were in a closet and stored away.  All our veggies were also in the living room as it was a cool and dry area to store them (70 pounds sweet taters,  200 pounds of squashes, 30 pounds taters, 15 pounds onions, garlic,  wheat, corn etc). We also had  all our herbal  medicines stored there  and our grain grinder,  dehydrator and other preservation equipment. There was no good reason for any of this We have a perfectly good root cellar we built several years ago. It, however, was down the hill in the  holler and it was inconvenient to walk our happy asses down there and store or fetch food. This will never happen again as foods will be stored in several places. Not only will food be in the root cellar but canned goods and canning supplies will be stored away from living areas and in more than one location. What was the cistern is going to be converted into a storage area where our supplies for preservation will be stored, as well as most of the canned foods.  Things will never be stored in one location again. 

A freezer allows too much comfort. Instead of canning or drying foods, we opted to freeze a lot of it. We always thought about a long term power outage and we had decided  we could have a long canning session or two and take care of the problem. Burning it to a crisp never really crossed our minds. When we burned, the absolutely-full freezer also burned along with anything in it. Had it been canned and in a dry storage area, we would still have all of it to fall back on.

Herbal remedies were also made and stored in bulk. Boy, we could sure have used some passion flower tincture those first couple weeks. I now will be investing in small bottles and having them in a ready to go container. Bulk bottles will be stored out of the house and in a safe place. Other first aid supplies will be the same way. They will be stored in no less than two locations.

Knives, guns and other butchering/hunting items will also be split up and stored in separate locations. Though we were able to grab the guns, every knife we owned was burned up. These too will have a secondary and possible tertiary storage location. 

Having all these items in  two or more places would have allowed us to save at the very least a portion of our self sufficiency and  pride.  We still would not have been able to save it all but it would  have given us a greater level of comfort  knowing we still had it to fall back on. Instead, on top of everything else that was lost, we find ourselves needing to replace every stitch of it within a matter of a few months. Gardening season here in the south  is pretty much a year round effort only tapering off in the months of November and December. The new planting season begins in January and by March the preservation processes begin again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

we have water.... or will when it rains

Many of you know that our main source for water here was the cistern. When the shack burned, it took away the entire system leaving us with no easy way to source general-purpose water.  Of course, we have the pond, a pump and tank, but the truck we used to haul water also burned. And, we also have the critter water which is a mini cistern system. Without most of the animals we are not using much water down there so we  manthing has been bringing it to where I need it by the five gallon bucket or  we capture it when it rains (only twice in  over 4 weeks).

Today we hung gutter on the cabin so that we have a closer and larger supply of water. We took and  set the 330 gallon tank up there and put gutters up (supplied by our heroes same folks with the bobcat,and produce).  This will allow us to have water that is  much  closer to where we are, have more of it on hand and hook a hose to it and gravity feed it to where we are. In time, we will fix the old 12x21 cistern for dry storage,  gutter it, get another 330 gallon tank, and daisy chain the two together and hook them to the tin can internet cafe. That will give us 660 gallons of storage or about a third of what we used to have. But.. it's a start. This will allow us to have running water and hot showers for about 9 months a year. and during the cold winter months we can still  have water via five gallon bucket.

As the manthing said, " they area lot like me! They aint pretty,in fact they kinda ugly but they will work!"

Sunday, December 14, 2014

solar power, power, phone and internet

Our first big step back to the somewhat modern world was purchasing a solar panel kit for the cabin. We had always talked about it but because we were not spending much time there in recent years, it was not worth the cost. Once we had to stay in the cabin, however, we quickly realized that propane lanterns were not cutting it. The small propane canisters are 3 bux a piece and only last a few hours.  In the darkest days of the year, that meant we were burning through a tank every two days. Beyond that, they don't provide much good light, are relatively scary to operate and serve no purpose other than provide light.  Since the kits have come down in price and we received some Amazon gift cards, we got one set of panels and a battery  to charge the phone, have a small clock radio and provide light for us. I must say... it is wonderful and we should have bought them years ago!! 
The next step was to get a power pole  for an RV put in place.  We  first had to get a permit to place it but thankfully, they  did not charge us for it. The following day the electricians  came and placed the pole.The day the fellers came out to put that in was a joyous one  indeed! I even declared it the prettiest pole in the world though it is rather ugly. Two days later the power company came to hook us back up to the electrified world but first they had to take down the final  dangerous  and burned tree. Poor Percival, the younger dog, did not like it so much, however, and he ran off to the woods again to hide. We think the poor lil guy has a bit of PTSD and as soon as the truck  backed up and lifted the bucket he ran to the woods to hide.

This week, the phone company was finally able to  be called and the phone and internet reinstalled.  A portion of that line had burned as well so once again the bigger truck rolled in, the bucket went up and the dog ran off.  By Tuesday evening we were finally back online and with a real land line hooked to the camper. This marked another small milestone as it meant that I had the ability to get back to work. Now if  I could just get work to send the equipment, I would be all set.  This also means that I can get rid of that ridiculous smartphone, although, I have almost come to like it, but not quite.

We still have a long way to go in this process. It is far from over and far from ideal. The tin can is tough to heat and warm up on a budget or at all for that matter. After two hours, it is currently about 54 degrees in the camper. There is no current source of water except for the spring or rainfall captured in bucket. Cooking is done over open fire which I am used to and don't mind but, it isn't exactly an outdoor kitchen like I am used to and I simply do not have the tools and implements I once had. While I can cook and even have fresh veggies n such, I do not have the ability or space to make breads and tortillas or get too fancy in what I make. Dishes are done outside which again isn't bad but dang it is chilly out there and dark so early. Showers are non existent unless we drive to them. While  awesome to have one (thank you Mulberry Gap) it is not exactly convenient. We take bird baths, which again, are done outside because of the time of year and the tin can is winterized. Our bedroom and entertainment space is in the cabin but our internet n current  kitchen space is at the camper so we spend a fair bit of time running place to place and heating both as needed. 

I am not complaining. It is what it is and it is how things are going to be for the foreseeable future.  There is no real budget for rebuilding as I simply do not make enough for that and we do not want to go into debt. Things will improve. We will have  a water catchment system in place soon. We will  turn the old cistern into a dry storage area. We will rebuild the outdoor kitchen and we will get some sort of covering over the tin can as time and money allow. It is just going to take patience and perseverance unless of course I finally decide to sign a contract for a "reality show"  and that just aint happening unless I can sign a two-show guest appearance for 20k a show.