Saturday, 28 June 2014

Economy Frugality and Preps

I've read about preppers who are buying dehydrated food because it keeps for a long time, and "provides more meals per dollar" than tinned meals. This is too many fallacies in one statement for me to pass up. %)

Fallacy 1 - you do "frugal prep" by buying cheap food and storing it so it will survive for the long term.
You do NOT save by buying cheap food. By all means, buy food when it's cheap, but do not buy cheap food. You'll be sooooo sorry you did. Because of a range of reasons, one of which is that there's a simple economic equation that says there are no "magic ingredients" that will make soya flour more nutritious while reducing costs.

You will NOT get a nutritious healthy meal if it's routinely low-priced, and that could cost you dearly if you're in a situation where you need as much health and energy as possible. Okay, so some of us may be Rambo Incarnate but the rest of us are carrying our fair share of anchors already, and having one more thing chipping away at our health is not an optimal outcome.

Fallacy 2 - you do "frugal prep" by buying cheap food and storing it so it will survive for the long term.
What? Again?

Yep. The fallacies just keep on coming up. Second is that you're storing food for the "long term." If you do, you're dooming yourself, for  variety of reasons. I could expand this here, but in a few more paragraphs I hope to demonstrate it fairly simply.

Fallacy 2b is that you should even do frugal prepping. As I'm about to explain, "frugal" should be a way of life already, and your prep foods shouldn't be more frugal than your daily diet. You should already be comfortable at whatever level of food quality you opt for.

Fallacy 3 - preps are for post shtf scenarios.
No. No, no, no. If you treat your preps like this then you're just another prepper that will not last. If you're saving your preps for a mythical and possibly never to come post-apocalyptic time, then you will live wrong in the here and now, and if there ever IS an event, you will live at best miserably afterwards. Anything that you can't obtain more of after a year or two, you're better off learning to do without it now.

Fallacy 4 - preps will carry me after the shtf event, even if there is no recovery or rebound afterwards.
No. Just stahp, 'k? Stahp! It doesn't matter how many kilos of pickling salt you put by in your stash(es) for the future, at some stage you will run out.

If you're not already working on finding a way to extract salt from common weeds, ashes, and other sources; if you don't already have a way to get your hands on more vinegar; if that a pallet of tinned baked beans is the only source of pulses in your diet; then you WILL run out at some stage.

Enough fallacies, already. What can you do to not become a victim of fallacy?  

Here's the simplest way to make your preps frugal, economical, and most importantly - effective. You don' need to spend half as much this way, you don't have to worry yourself about expensive ways to keep your food for decades, and if an event does occur, you'll be able to ease into it much more easily than anyone else. And that's the main purpose of prepping, to reduce the IMPACT of a shtf event on you and yours.

Idea 1 - If your lifestyle will not change much after an event, then you're better prepared to meet the scenario and will survive better.
That should tell you some things.

  • One, that you are really aiming to make it so that your lifestyle that you lead right now, will not be adversely affected after an event. 
  • Two, if you reduce your lifestyle expectations in the here and now in order to accommodate that, then you'll just be unhappy now, and just as unhappy after an event.
  • Three, therefore, the best way to be prepped is to live a reasonable lifestyle now, and try and ensure that you can maintain that lifestyle for a reasonable length of time.

Idea 2 - That in turn should tell you that your prep stashes need to be used NOW, and new stock replace what you took out.

  • There is no point storing a hundred kilos of dehydrated meals ready to eat, if you're not already eating them now. The change of diet will sicken you and reduce your survival success.
  • No point to bottling all your chickens and rabbits now if you don't routinely cook with bottled meat. Far better to let them live until you need them, and saves a lot of botulism anxiety too. 
  • On the flip side of that, get used to cooking with some bottled vegetables and things now, add them to your repertoire now and get used to them. I've julienned carrots, and just put them into a vinegar / salt pickle in jars, kept in the fridge for up to a YEAR and still crisp and healthy. 

Idea 3 - therefore, you don't need expensive, complicated, or unsustainable methods of storing the prep supplies.

  • I use those 3 litre plastic milk jugs for a lot of my dry goods. It's said that they don't last long, but I USE the contents regularly already. By the time a milk jugs goes brittle, I've already got five or more of it successors in my pantry. 
  • I've successfully kept dry goods and apple cider in well cleaned milk jugs for three years so far, and those jugs show no sign of degrading because I am keeping them in a dark place where the temperature stays fairly well regulated.
  • Things like flour are treated with too much reverence. Trust me. To keep it pest free, buy it in 2kg bags, wrap each bag in half a dozen turns of plastic cling wrap, and put them in the freezer for 24 hours, then stash in cheap plastic buckets with lids. 
  • This achieves a few things. It breaks the stash into multiple smaller packages so that you can hide them if you feel so inclined. Pests or thieves won't be as much of an issue this way.
  • Rotate everything  physically each time you take an item or add a new one. Yes it's more fiddly to deal with a larger quantity of smaller units, but that's how life is.
  • Get in the habit of writing in-stock dates on everything. That way, if you notice during your rotation that the shrink wraps from 2017 are starting to look a bit tatty, you can re-wrap or decant to a new cheap milk jug, all the items in storage from that same era. As a bonus, you start to get an idea of how long these really cheap storage ideas last.

Idea 4 - Prepare to replace one thing with another as you go.

  • Don't think that just because you've got seventy kilos of raw sugar, you're set for life. Shit happens, food spoils, a sudden peak in demand sees your stash wiped out. 
  • If (for example) you rely on sugar for making jams, then you need to be prepared to replace your raw sugar with sugar extracted from sugar beets or home grown sugar cane.
  • If the seasons change a bit due to some unforeseen weather pattern changes and your kale all bolts to seed then you should already have a successor crop in mind, and preferably already have tried it. 
  • If a once-numerous weed that was your main source of Vit-C is in decline, have you investigated the newer weeds that will be filling the niche?

Idea 5 - There WILL be curve balls.

  • You can't control that. Things just happen. There may be no definitive "trigger" for shtf. There may just be a gradual slide that becomes your personal shtf point when you realise that you can't afford to buy both milk AND sugar in the same income cycle.
  • There may be a scenario you didn't plan for. What if the 60's nuclear fallout shelter builders were right, and everything should be underground? What about if we find out that there really ARE aliens out there, and they decide bunkers and any structure larger than a tent are potential threats? What if North Korea wins several decisive victories?  
  • If your preps equip you to survive in a particular scenario and that happens to be the one that transpires, then you're lucky. 
  • If something else happens than you planned for, and you can adapt, then you're lucky.
  • What I'm trying to say is that... Sometimes, some of us won't be lucky... This is why it's far better to try and maintain what we have than to invest our efforts trying to prepare for all possible scenarios. Sometimes, you won't survive.

Idea 6 - If you intend to live forever, then maybe prepping is not for you...
This is the other reason I feel that overstocking may be bad. I have chronic illness, I'm in the second half century of life, medicines won't be as freely available - I have a fairly limited use by date if the shtf.

Last thoughts on my preps.

I can't stockpile guns and ammo, being in Australia. But I totally would, if I could. Not because it'll help keep me fed, not because I feel I'm a real chance of defending my location. I'd do it because years after the shtf, when the aggressiveness has settled down, they will be worth a lot in barter. And who knows? In the intervenin g time, I may have found time to go and practice and become a fair hunter myself.

I mentioned that I need some medicines. I can stockpile a certain amount of them, but others just won't keep, and those I need to learn to replace. I'm working on some of those things right now, and I figure that the sooner I can stop paying money for those medicines, the sooner I can buy something useful with that money.

Practice doing a bit of mental triage when you go shopping. Buy those ten dollar superduper food storage buckets and do with one less bag of rice? Buy the cheap dehydrated food and store it, or rely on the fact that there will always be a way to make meals of you're not totally exhausted?

When it comes to equipment you'll need to rely on like cooking pots, tools, fire starting gear, and so forth, you need something that will last a long time but not at the expense of other equally important things like good quality beans and grains.

When it comes to clothing, you need things that will last and put up with a lot of maltreatment, but again, weigh the expensive stuff versus your need to have enough food to fill that survival vest with the solar rechargers and twenty-five compartments and pockets and a Kevlar inner lining...

Most important, I think, will be to be attuned sharply to your environment, and also to the world in general. Learn to tell what sort of a year it's going to be by watching where the local animals make camp at night. If a new weed shows up in your bug (in/out) location, know what it is, try using it, incorporate it.

I guess, remain flexible. Don't let any particular aspect of prepping become a sacred cow, keep an open mind, roll with things, and hopefully survive better.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Not A Writing Skill Needed

Word about being soppy sloppy sentimental heart string tugging mendicants: NO!

I like a certain organisation that promotes writing skills. And I opted in to their newsletter. So imagine my surprise when they sent me an email asking me to reach back into my childhood and remember who encouraged me to write. Some words along the lines of "someone who believes in you is priceless" or some such sentimental pap. And then, the huckster line:

"Well, now we can put a price on it for you! Just ten dollars ... blah blah yada yada." I tuned out, but I'm livid. How FUCKING DARE THEY? If you want a donation for writing skills resources, fucking well ask for it. Don't play this fucking schmaltzy emotional suck game.

The irony that they are supposed to be promoting good writing and are using this maudlin claptrap as the bait email, didn't escape me. But no matter what, they've done their dash with me. Newsletter unsubscribed, and probably my account there deactivated too.

I think maybe I'm being overly sensitive because I'm on a pension  and our government is busily screwing us over, one benefit at a time, so I can't afford to be generous with my donations. But even if I did, paying some shill that wants my money to provide intangibles to first world children is probably NOT my idea of how to make the world a better place.
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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Reasons

If you have me friended on FB or follow the Body Friendly Zen Cookbook page, you'd know that we're moving. For some people, this is a rare thing. Not so much for me, it'll be my 49th move... As you can imagine, this makes it hard to prep, and yet - I manage it.

My two most important prep considerations are physical security and safety, and food security and safety. And I've managed to maintain those from place to place, to some degree. How, even I'm sure I can't explain. But that won't stop me posting about it at some stage, at great length... %)

For now, this post isn't about all that. It's about mourning, and justification. Mourning, because this is one of only about four places I've ever felt so happy in my life, and justification, because the place we're moving to may well become the fifth place, and perhaps a tad more permanent.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

  • New place has a large yard with several fruit trees already.
  • It has sheds and outbuildings that will be very useable. 
  • It's actually in the outskirts of a town in a dairy region.
  • Hard for the zombies (== city dwellers) to reach, so more secure to begin with.
  • It's in a town so community is at hand, many of them will be dependent and thus likely to support us.
  • Locals used to growing their own food, less need to hoard, more chance to barter.
  • Landlord after long term tenants. 
  • F-L-A-T terrain, no more killing myself to garden.
  • Larger range of foods to barter for. Dairy and meat, for example. 

Reasons To Be Tearful

  • This place is like paradise. Temperate rainforest valley.
  • Weather is ameloriated by terrain to be less extreme than most places.
  • Rainfall is great.
  • Soil is rich.
  • One advantage to the slope - a range of biohabitats for different species, in the space of a few hundred yards. 

The thing is, it will take us a year to get up to speed with food production. We already have food stored, and our capacity for both will actually increase at the new place.

I already have a plan for an aquaponics greenhouse / rabbits shed to combine ecosystems. Because of being pensioners, we already have to plan for extreme economy, so it's all being done OTC. (On The Cheap.)

A few wicking beds will increase my growing spaces for things like vine cucurbit crops, tomatoes, alliums, carrots turnips etc.

But yep, I will miss this little slice of paradise, although not so much the neighbours...

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Monday, 9 December 2013

The Thing About Paraffin Wax

... in a SHTF / TEOTWAWKI scenario is that unless you've stocked up on candle-making supplies, you won't have any... Also, by the ethos I promote, if you aren't going to be using it in your day to day living right now, then why are you stockpiling it?

The only two reasons that I might stockpile a thing like this would be if I used candles for light now (I don't) and hoped to avoid the inevitable by having plenty of materials on hand to make more (which is a useless prep anyway) or if I figured that I could simply not do without candles if an event happens. (Which is the same useless "unprep" prep thinking.)

See, if I decide that I don't need or need to use candles right now, then I must have a way to continue to live the same way when an event does happen. It's all very well to say I'll have LED torches for a long time to come, but every prepper instinct in you is yelling out "you'll run out of batteries, you idiot!" isn't it? Yeah, because batteries have a shelf life, and keeping more batteries is just keeping a whole bunch more of toxic chemicals and metals that'll turn into ballast one day long before I can use them. Probably the day before that SHTF... And of course, once they're gone, they're gone. No handy hardware store to go get more...

So I'd have to be rotating my way through battery stocks right now in order to use up the oldest stock and keep newest stock in my stash. But am I really using my LED lights as my sole light source right now? Of course not. So I'll use fewer batteries than I'm putting is stock, and that means that no matter what, my pool of stock will gradually get older and older.

THAT right there is why I use the "right now" approach to my prepping stores. If I'm not already using it, then my stockpile will gradually experience age creep, and end up useless to me at the end of its service life, which is generally going to be the exact time I'll need it.

Paraffin wax has no such short use by date, really - you can wrap  brick or two in plastic and mylar, box it up, and store it for ages. However it suffers from the second problem of stockpiling, it uses up space and money you need right now to build up stocks of more useful supplies. I'd prefer to buy more medicines or foodstuffs thank you.

So while in principle I find this article to be a handy resource, and will maybe even make a few paraffin wicks out of a few old tealight candles, I won't be relying on these at all. After all, I don't use them now, and if I figure to rely on them in a disaster, I'll eventually run out and then have to find other ways to achieve fire anyway.

So What's The Alternative?
Well, I already make beef dripping and heat a fair bit of that into tallow. For general household use, and still perfectly good for cooking. Tallow... That's what they used to make candles out of, in the good old days before paraffin factories and being fussy about smells...

So I'll keep making my tallow and lard and other rendered clarified fats, and know that besides using this skill right now so that I'll always be proficient at it, that I'm sure to have a bit of spare animal fat around after my stock of tallow (which actually has a useful life close to that of paraffin, and is edible in all that time besides) is exhausted. And because I use those fats on a daily basis, I also know that my stockpile is well rotated and fresh.

Another word about lard, dripping, and tallow: It preserves finely shredded meat just perfectly. Check out "pemmican" online. So I make the odd pemmican right now as well. Because this way, I'm getting an idea of how long pemmican stores for, how to make the best pemmican, and - much much MUCH more importantly - if I ever need to subsist on it, I'll already know the best recipes to use, my body will be used to having a rich protein source like that in my diet, and it won't be yet another thing I have to learn at the worst possible time when I need my energy and resources for dealing with the stuff you can't plan for.

And I think I may have mentioned tealight candles - now there is something I do stockpile, because we use them all over the house right now to save a bit of energy, they cast enough light to be useful, a pack of 100 costs a few dollars, and they have the same shelf life as paraffin wax. In a SHTF situation they'll be used as much as they are now.


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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

New Free E-book, "The Pensioner Prepper" out!

New Free E-book, "The Pensioner Prepper" out! Follow this link to the download page. Or read the transcript right here:

Pensioner Preppers
- an ancient "new breed" of survivalist.

With the statistic that our population is tending to consist more and more of older people, it's time to put vanity aside and admit something to ourselves - we are not getting any younger. Despite claims that medical science claims to be enhancing and extending lives, they seem only to be doing one of those things. That means that we have a situation here, where we live longer, draw pension longer, and need more care for longer. We need to break out of that mold.

My spouse and I have both known the health decline, and we've both done something about it. We hope there's no "Stuff Hitting The Fan" (SHTF[Note 1]) or "The End Of The World As We Know It" (TEOTWAWKI[Note 1]) event in our lifetimes, but we intend to be in the group that survives if it ever happens. We've both faced debilitating illnesses and lost some functionality because of them, but we've also regained some health that our doctors were busy telling us we would never regain, by changing our lifestyles. They say that as we age, we'll lose mental acuity and survivability - we say that wisdom and preparedness will overcome youthful enthusiasm every time...

So allow me to present this series of e-books on doing things smarter rather than harder, healthier rather than convenient. (Yes, you read that right - making things easier, but more things to do. Variety is the spice of the PP life.) We've both learned a fair bit about that, and I'm sharing.

We're The People Our Parents Warned Us About - No, We're Our Parents Now, Actually!

The most important thing to realise is that "they" won't fix everything. "They" aren't going to be interested in you or me when there's a rich banker or some famous starlet to rescue. And "they" will for sure not care if a pensioner couple here and there just stop costing "them" a pension or gratuity... We have to be prepared to fend for ourselves, as far and as much as our resources will allow us to. And then be prepared to go farther and more, when an event happens...

One of the first things to go if there is a disaster event, is the availability of regular medical aid. With medical services stretched thin, there just won't really be time to fill out your prescription. If the event is a long one, then you're not likely to be able to refill prescriptions for weeks, maybe months. It's best to be off as many of them as possible, when you understand this, and be on minimal dosages of others where possible. Also, study herbal lore and folklore and alternative medicines. You may find that the iodine in seaweed will work almost as well as the iodine tablets you take for thyroid, or at least allow you to eke your supply out to years rather than months.

Have you thought what might happen if you have temperature-sensitive medications and then the power goes out? For a month? Six months? Everywhere? These are some of the additional problems we need to be mindful of, of having a store of medications we can't do without, and having alternatives for those that we can replace in any other way or fashion.

There's also the issue of just doing general everyday things. We're used to flicking on the light on a dim staircase where a younger person's eyes are still able to see fine. Turning on the a/c instead of jumping in the pool for a cool-off and then finding a shady tree. We'll take the car to go a quarter mile to the shops, and then wonder why we're out of breath climbing the stairs. (And this one I can definitely offer my opinion on, for reasons I'll explain later.)

Working in the garden or doing other jobs, become more taxing as we age. The alternative to either being young again, or else having done it all one's life and thus knowing every shortcut and labour-saving trick, is to have a well-tuned mind and putting it to use solving these kinds of day to day problems. A little ingenuity can go a long way.

And when something unexpected comes along, we're even more at a disadvantage. You need to be able to think, and to think fast, and solve problems. The best way to develop such skills, is to exercise them as often as you can. When you see someone doing something, work through the steps they use, understand why they do the things they do, and then try to devise a more efficient way that you'd use. Imagining these kinds of things lends you mental flexibility, so if something untoward does happen, you'll be able to work it out as you go, and save some hassle and exertion along the way.

Also, use that increased mental acuity to imagine the things that you might face, in your situation, if the lights go out one morning and stay out for several weeks. Imagine what might transpire if a storm or flood takes out everyday life for ten days. What about an earthquake?

Think about the best way to disguise the fact that in a world temporarily and locally gone a bit mad, you have drugs. There are addicts out there that will happily steal your prescription painkillers (and think nothing of injuring, maiming, or killing you in the process) if they have any idea that you have a stock. And if some thief does come for your supplies of whatever, do you have a sacrificial stash as well as your real stash?

The saying used to be that people don't naturally want to kill or be evil. Over the last four decades, that has slowly fallen from the popular viewpoint, and is borne out by statistics of violent crimes. People are bastards, pure and simple. Giving up one's sacrificial stash may ensure one's safety. or it may not. Make no mistake, life and death for the aged is a far more precarious proposition than that of a younger person.

So yes - we're in a far different situation than the preppers who seem to be all the rage these days. And just being aware of it makes our situation that little bit less so. So in this e-book (or blog article if you're reading this online) I'll revisit the above scenarios and add a few more that need serious thought.

The Issues.

To be honest, an older prepper faces a much steeper entry curve to survival in a SHTF event. We're behind the bell curve in fitness and health, our eyesight is generally not so wonderful any more, and let's face it, 200 years ago any one of a dozen geriatric diseases would have already taken us out. Trust me when I say that an event will definitely test us, and continue to test us for as long as that event transpires. Events morph. They change fluidly from one moment to the next. One day, everyone's still civilised and polished, the next, they're so hungry they'd kill you for the bowl of rice on your table. The day after that, they'd kill you for a long pork rump steak out of your leg...

And the issues of currency - not money, but freshest stock first. What's the use of having 50kg of fine white flour if you have to unseal it all at once, two days into the event, and by six weeks there's weevils in it? (Do people even remember flour weevils? They're yet another species we've brought almost to the brink of extinction. Makes you think...)

Generally there's only the two of you at home. You can use maybe a kilo of flour per week, if you have plenty of other sources of nutrition then maybe even just a half kilo a week between you. Caching your goods in month-sized batches makes a lot of sense. That is, wrap individual paper flour bags in plastic and store them, leave pasta in the cellophane packs, wrap those, and cache them.

So the currency issue gets resolved by doing this. If you're prepping properly, then you won't be caching things you don't use in everyday life. So storing it in small quantities makes far better sense. To go back to the example of flour: If you don't use flour, why are you caching it? Do you think that somehow, magically, you'll learn to love flour and use flour and live on flour happily? Probably it would just add to the misery of post-event life.

Store only what you generally use, then there's every chance that as you buy new stock and add it to the cache(s), then all you need to do is take the oldest package and use that rather than buying a new fresh one and using it directly. The stock gets rotated, and you can be sure the cache stays fresh and useable. As to locations, having a dozen caches spread out all over the place is better than having a dozen caches' worth in one location, unless this major cache is in a very secret and well hidden place.

I for one couldn't shinny up a tree, inch out along the branch, and then scramble into the old dead hollow tree every few weeks to get the next few weeks' worth of stores from my cache. I need a solution that keeps the cache(s) close to hand. HIPS[Note 1] is one such answer. By hiding caches in plain sight that makes it easier to access our stores. By splitting into sensible portions, we preserve currency and perhaps ensure a longer usefulness out of our stores.

That also makes certain HIPS problems less devastating. (Okay okay - I couldn't resist the pun... %) Hiding In Plain Sight is one way to conceal your stash - buckets of flour and pasta and rice on the bottom bookshelf behind the end table and reasonably out of sight. HIPS caches make good sense because often they will be overlooked by scavengers, and the cache is generally close to hand for when you need it. For us, the advantages are that our stores are to hand and not physically difficult for us to get to. And by portioning, we reduce the impact that a discovered and raided cache would have on us.

It's a bit devastating if someone does find and raid your HIPS cache. If all of your flour is in one spot, then if someone finds the cache all your flour is gone. If you'd been packaging it in smaller quantities and rotating the stock through the caches to your kitchen, you'd have only lost a month's worth or so. So why use HIPS then, aside from making it easier on ourselves? Well, if someone does find you and turn your location over, they'll find the plain sight stash and probably be satisfied that they got it all. Your better-hidden caches might survive. Plan on this happening, and you'll be ahead of the game.

Now it's time for another observation: An empty nest is still a nest. The chicks may have flown, but it's full of trinkets and memorabilia and things of sentimental value. Don't let it hold you back if your intuition tells you it's time to bug out. You could die holding onto a photograph that meant a lot to you. But you'd be dead. Better to leave those things, not to dig yourself in if your location is a hotspot, and hope you can come back to the treasures later. Make this accommodation with your heart now, before push comes to shove. If it never happens then that's good. But if there is an event, you'll have done all your agonising already and not let sentiment slow you down.

NOTES
Note 1 -
Acronyms are a big part of the prepper folklore. I use them in this book because I'm lazy, and I want to appear savvy and smart. Also, to prepare you for the jargon you may hear if you ever find another prepper or go to their websites. Here goes...

  • SHTF = Stuff Hits The Fan. A SHTF event is one where the manure has hit the fan.
  • TEOTWAWKI = The End Of The World As We Know It. Pretty self explanatory.
  • OPSEC = a term preppers borrowed from the military and meaning OPerational SECurity. The art of hiding all the little details as well as the big plan. General security of an operation, and for preppers that means their survival plan.
  • HIPS = Hiding In Plain Sight. Just what it says. Sometimes, the most blindingly obvious hiding spots are the ones overlooked.


This document is written and published by RO (Ted) Russ and is protected under world copyright. The document is freely available, free to read, and free to distribute, provided you do not alter it in any way, and do not profit in any way from copying and redistributing it. If I find out you're down doing the wrong thing by me, I will do a Liam Neeson on you.

If this document or any of the series was useful to you, entertaining to you, or made you more aware, you can feel free to donate any sum you like at my Paypal using the donation link below or just pay to my Paypal email address teddlesruss@hotmail.com - all donations cover my work and time on these books for the last seven years, using myself as the guineapig for each and every stage, and all donations will go towards my retirement farm. (Seriously, I am hoping that your response to the series will allow me to retire to my dream farm hidden away in the country. Is that any different to asking for Kickstarter funds or a Kiva loan? And this way, you get useful information, a warm fuzzy feeling, and the fact that I'll keep on writing for you... %)

Please follow this link to donate on the OFTHA website. http://www.oftha.com/BFZCBII/
This ebook is part of a series which is a complete re-write of The Body Friendly Zen CookBook which I first published in 2007 as an online e-book. This reprint has been made into several smaller sections, or the whole book is also available at the site where you got this as a single e-book.

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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Aquaponics Progress Report

As some of you know by friending me on Facebook, I've now assembled three different aquaponics systems but never got the chance to put the first two into production due to moving. The third system though, that has been full of water for almost three months now, and I've managed to conduct a few studies along the way.

First of all, you'll want to know if it works. Hell yes! HERE is a Youtube video I made just recently. If you note the difference in the cos (romaine) lettuce plants in the early part of the movie you'll see the difference in size.

Here's the interesting thing:

The small size of the plants, that was after around six weeks of running the system with seaweed extract and fish emulsion in the water. You can't use harsh fertilisers because they would pollute the water for the fish. And I wanted the system to have the nitrogen bacteria before I put fish in, so I let it run for long enough to be pretty sure that the fish emulsion was rotting to ammonia, and the ammonia was being converted by bacteria.

The larger size of the plants, that's only two weeks' growth after the first few fish were introduced to the tanks...

I'm pretty sure that the fish excrement is far better for the ammonia / nitrite / nitrate cycle than anything else, and that I'd luckily built up a decent colony of bacteria that must have been just under some critical mass. But the growth has exceeded my wildest expectations.

So the history of the system has been: Two weeks of running the system with water only, to iron out plumbing kinks and peculiarities. Two more weeks with only half the grow bed full of gravel, and plants in that half. Four weeks with the grow bed totally filled and a few more plants. And then two weeks with fish in the tanks and a HUGE growth spurt of the plants.

I can now honestly say that even a tiny system such as mine is, can produce a significant amount of plant growth, and a larger system would probably provide a significant proportion of one's vegetable requirements.

By the way, if you're in Australia, and more specifically in Victoria, I can now build you such a small system (250 litres - 600 litres) for around $400-$600 dry, depending on how large a system you want and how expensive the pumps etc that you want. ("Dry" means without gravel.) Shipping isn't really an option for something as bulky as this, so it has to be close by. Next project will be wicking beds, and I estimate around $250 for a pallet sized wicking bed.

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The Whole Disaster Thing 4

The Whole Disaster Thing 4 - Now What?

So now it's a few days after a SHTF event, you're travelling really well, got all your supplies worked out, able to replenish much of your consumables, you have tools and materials to build or do anything. What's next?

Well, have you actually thought what might transpire? Let's see - oh yes, the looters. Those people who feel that any excuse will do for just stealing and vandalising. There's a survival advantage to the vandalising, of course. If they are experienced looters and they destroy anything left over, then you won't have the left-overs. Since they're going to be better at looting, they'll outlast you.

There are ways to stop this cycle developing but that's a bit beyond the scope of my article. If you want to see more on the subject look up any military manual on dealing with use of deadly force. I won't condone this but neither will I dismiss it.

Our aim is not to become a looter target. Are you cooking up tasty aromatic meals every day? Stop! Are you keeping your environment lit with candles by night or are you revealing it with a smoky fire by day? Stop!

That much should be obvious if you're a prepared prepper. Let on that you're (comparatively speaking) sitting on Easy Street to such looters, and you may as well just hand over your stores. And maybe your life. Just stop.

As the event unfolds, there will be progressively fewer and fewer of these opportunistic arseholes around. They'll starve. Not nice, but then neither is stealing.

Law and order. The old style L&O will be out of touch, and probably be more of a problem than the situations they will try and retain control of. Best to avoid where possible. New L&O will come from good old natural justice instincts. But it'll take time to establish, so for the first few weeks consider yourself to be on your own.

So a few weeks in, mostly the people with good survival skills will remain. These are dangerous, because they didn't get that far by being weak or stupid. Unless you're very vainglorious, also best to avoid. But it will be harder now, because any signs of survivors will draw these people. Is your garden all neat and tended and watered and green in the middle of a desolate waste? Stop that.

Does what you do make noise, or scents, or visible signs? Be damn careful, or better yet, stop. Stop anything that draws attention. This situation will not last forever, eventually the banding instinct will kick in and groups will form again.

So be prepared to live very much under the radar for a while. I favour spreading my vegetables out among other plants, so the fact that I actually have a garden isn't obvious to anyone just walking past. I also know there are around one or two dozen edible species growing wild around here, so I can supplement my food with any of those.

The main thing is not to have obvious sources of food, warmth, medicine, or tools. The second thing is to fly under the radar like that until villages and communities form again. Third is to form or join such a community, and the best way to do that is to have some skills that are useful.

People that just had food stashed and lived off that and now have no redeeming skills, are going to be a drain on a community. Don't be one of these. People that can make and use tools and weapons, that can make meals and do something no one else can, will benefit a community, and you want to be one of these.

Communities are not necessary, but they are desirable. If you kept a CB radio and some batteries, this can be of help by listening across all the channels for a few minutes every day. (With headphones on of course so you don't get heard for miles around if there's static or someone else suddenly calling...)

Weapons. Whether for hunting, defence, or offence, I think this is very much your personal choice. I believe we have the right to defend ourselves in any situation, but to me guns are not the only defensive weapon, and your mind is still the best defence you can have. We have a right to hunt, but if we do, we'd better be sure to be good hunters than to leave trails of wounded animals behind us.

On the subject of defence I'll just say that bulletproof vests are generally not able to resist spears, knives, arrows and quarrels the way they resist bullets. The way they resist bullets often makes the wearer of such a vest a bit too cocksure of themselves. Guns eventually run out of reliable ammunition and then they're just clubs.

An intelligent person is generally able to avoid places where bullets are likely, and to be able to avoid being clubbed by a firearm owner who's suddenly desperate because they're out of magic bullets. So the best way to survive is not to be where the shooting is, and not to rely on a gun to protect you...

On the subject of bows and arrows. A lot of prepper blogs run articles about the survival value of archery versus gunfire, and most come to the surprising conclusion that archery is actually better because the bow and arrow are relatively silent, and as everyone knows guns will run out of ammunition eventually. What they're not considering is that arrows will run out eventually too, and no-one is a natural fletcher or even knows what to do once their bowstring breaks.

In fact, not everyone is a natural marksman with a rifle or a bow, and it's easier to sneak to within 100m of your prey than it is to sneak to within 40m. And I won't even go into the relative survival value of shooting three arrows into the air to attract a rescuer's attention versus firing three rifle shots...

For hunting, I know I'd like a rifle more than anything else. But we have strict gun control laws in Australia, and besides, there's nothing survivable about giving away your location shooting game. So really do give this matter a lot of thought.

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Analysis: Explosives in Western Australia, Revelations of Embassy Spying.

Analysis

First, the Der Spiegel revelation that Australian embassies in Asian countries have been used for spying ops by the NSA. It's a move that seems designed to achieve several goals. Australia is collateral damage.

What does it achieve? Well, consider the timing. The States have just shown their disharmony and apparent dysfunction to the whole world. China has been watching, and apparently they are emboldened to make public their plans to nuke the States. Allegations that NSA used Aussie embassies to conduct spy ops from, just gives another reason for them to pick a fight.

Its other purpose is to slap a media manipulator where it hurts. No big secret that it was most likely only due to the support of Murdoch's media that Abbott got into power. Murdoch's "Little Tony" is a standing joke in Australia. And no matter that it was Labor in power (or even as far back as the last Liberal government) at the time these alleged spy ops took place, it's the current government that will bear the brunt and the ire.

Der Spiegel is not a Murdoch property. They have no reason to like the States, or Murdoch, or Abbott. Australia will just be collateral damage, and in fact if we wanted to be shut of the Mad Monk then they are ironically one of our best allies.

Also, in regard to Mr Hockey raising the debt ceiling. That might be to show China that we're tough and can afford to borrow high. Maybe we're playing a game of bluff to look like a less soft target.

Now the second thing, explosives found a few hundred kilometres south of Perth in Western Australia. Police initially presumed that the crystalline substance was to be used to make drugs, and drove it back to Perth to their labs, where it was discovered not to be a precursor because a careless officer got acid burns from not using gloves to handle it.

This sends up a few flags. First, the packages were found in a bay, implying that it was in the water. This is borne out by the fact that police divers then went along with dogs and men on foot to clear the area. Was this going out or coming in? Important distinction...

Secondly, there were two packages, the second one found after they wised up to what the first one was. The amount quoted in the news is 3kg but it's not clear if this was per package or in total. It's the difference between one backpack bomb and three, so it's kind of important.

Third, why was the substance not properly tested at the scene - I presume there are tests that should be carried out? If the Police went to that location expecting to find drug precursors or drugs, then it's a safe bet that there were actually also drugs moving through that area, which makes it a bit of a hotspot, and the Police a bit slapdash in the execution of their duties.

The substance was identified at TATP (also known as TCAP) and this is something you can make in a garage with a handful of chemicals and a good ice bath. It's also pretty unstable so you wouldn't want to transport it around too much.

It's a terrorist explosive of choice because it's so easy to manufacture, so it is probably connected to terrorist activities. But that creates another question - why Western Australia? The population density makes it highly unlikely that one or even three IEDs would produce as large a statement as most terrorist organisations would like. It's not newsworthy and there are few historic landmarks to blow up.

It does however make it appear as though the explosive might be related to political situation, perhaps a response to the recent actions of the government against boat people. If that's the case, I suspect that rather than civvie terrorists, these could be the actions of the military of a nation we have ties with.

It could also be in response to the embassy spy ops allegations. But actions like this will definitely hurt the current government, and perhaps picking a low-value target like that is meant to send a message.


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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Whole Disaster Thing 3

The Whole Disaster Thing 3 - Important Supplies

Most people think that they can buy a gun and perhaps a few tinned meals, stuff those into a closet, and be prepared. I call bullshit on that. Sorry, but that's a terrible plan. I don't plan to live like that.

First up, my pantry IS my store of food. I have extras of everything, but it all gets rotated and it's what I'd normally eat. I have tinned and dried beans and soups and pasta and rice and beef stews and whatever else - but if it doesn't get eaten in the course of normal living, then it's out. Why should I store a tin of Andalusian Otter Noses fro three years, and then discover when I'm forced to eat it, that I don't like Andalusian Otter Noses and also, they're spoiled after all that time?

Same with water, another often overlooked supply. We've just been through, in the last post, why water is important. More importantly, I have two type of water around. I have drinking water, and I have general purpose water, which can be boiled and filtered to make more drinking water. Lots of GP water, and enough drinking water for a few weeks at least.

So how do I manage to do this?

Firstly, my pantry is spread out around the place. There's a pantry cupboard in the kitchen where day to day use things are stored. There's a kitchen buffet unit that holds tinned goods that have been bought surplus to requirements, extra jars of pickles and ferments and preserves are stored. The way I keep track of what's oldest is simple - I push the newest items in at the back, meaning the oldest ones end up pushed to the front of the shelves.

There's stuff in the fridge/freezer combo that I'm using currently, and a small chest freezer where I put surplus, oldest items underneath. It means digging a bit when we buy extras, but it's so worth it  right now. By that I mean, I know stuff in the freezer may only last up to four days under ideal conditions if the power goes out - but right now, we can afford to buy more of other things because I bought when things were cheap and we won't have to buy some cuts of meat for months now, as long as the power holds. All the money I'd have put into meat, can now buy rice, pasta, extra soap and shampoo, and so forth.

It's worth stressing that. By being frugal in my shopping and being able to store what's cheap now, that gives me a few extra dollars over the next few weeks to buy other things and get stocked up ahead of time Also, frugality and storing has one other benefit that's not immediately obvious - saving you money.  
As your stock builds up, you won't be needing to buy coffee (for example) when it's $15 a jar, and can buy two or three or even more when it's on special for $8 a jar. That means that on the next few jars of coffee you've saved the difference of $6 per jar. 
Buy your usual five bars of soap when it's 25c a bar instead of $1.25 and you've saved $5. Buy your usual $6.25 worth of soap and you save the next five periods' worth of having to buy soap, in other words you've saved $20 that you can spend over the period to buy other things. 

So my pantry spreads out through the house a fair bit. When we buy something new, it goes to the back of the queue. The kitchen buffet isn't the end of it. Some larger bulk items (bags of flour, salt, rice, and other dried goods, are stored in bins in the shed. It's not ideal, but it means I bring in a bag of rice when I'm almost out, fill the pantry rice bin, and stash the rest of the bag in the buffet.

Having an interest in sausages and cheeses and so forth, I make dried and smoked meat products and some cheeses, and they also get stored in the fridge or the pantry. I don't, for example, make a ton of pemmican-like meat, nor do I make sausages I won't use in the next few months. But I keep on making those things and using them. We enjoy foods made with those products, and they'll provide meat and dairy for a few months if we need to establish new resources.

On a practical note, that means that we can live as we always have for at least a week until the perishables run out, then a month or two at a comfortable level, and then maybe two more months at a survival level. If I wanted to, I could eke that out to eight months tops. But in between, I've also got a garden, and chickens, and rabbits. By laying in a longer "tail" of dried goods, I could make our supplies last even longer.

That leaves water. Water in our area stops less than a day after the pumps stop filling the head tanks. I currently have a few 200gal tanks collecting rainwater, which is drinking water if you need it, but of that I only keep a few litres in the house for cooking and drinking at a time. The overflow goes into 18gal barrels and the aquaponics system. Some of the 18gal barrels feed water to ollas and wicking beds, some feed to the aquaponics system to replace evaporation losses, and some is drinking water for the chickens and rabbits.

In any case, it means that there is just short of 2000gal around the place on average, and much of it replaces itself with rainfall. Pumps around the house are built on the "slow but patient" principle so that gusts of wind, good days of solar power, and good rain flows, all pump a small but steady trickle of water uphill.

These aren't done as a prepper measure, by the way. It just so happens that there will be water if an event does happen, we do actually have resources. The main reason for building this has been that we are pensioners, we can't afford a huge water bill nor a huge energy bill for pumping water uphill to working height, but we need working height water to water the gardens, water the chickens and rabbits, and instead of relying on a pure electric (and expensive to run) pump for aquaponics, I've designed a system that uses a head tank and a sump tank to maintain water pressure when the windmill or solar powered pump stops working.

Rainwater is cheaper for us than several kilolitres a year of extra water usage, so we collect it. Because rain falls downwards, it ends up well below working height and that means we have to pump it uphill. Because electricity to run pumps isn't cheap either, I've built bubble pumps, windmills, solar powered electric pumps, and have the odd electrical and petrol pump I salvaged and reconditioned for those times when wind, sun, and rain have failed for too long a period. There's also a few human-powered vane pumps and the like which I'm keeping an eye out for, because it turns out that an exercise bike can be more than just a way to exercise...

That leaves sanitation. We're both prepared to use less washing water, uncomfortable as that might be. We're both prepared to nail the toilet door shut and use a long drop down the hill from us. Because, of course, if there's no water pressure, you have to resort to using buckets of water to flush with. And you really don't want to be doing that when the sewage backs up due to no pumping stations and not enough sewage flow in the system causes blockages.

The reason it's downhill from us should also be obvious - rains and groundwater move downwards, carrying our waste away from the house not to it. I know that a decent composting toilet could solve many of these problems but they are expensive to buy, fiddly to make and run, and so while I'd love one right now, it can wait.

Now as to what I consider to be important but often overlooked supplies. Do you cook with vegetable or olive oil? Consider an extra jug of each one you use, and remember to use them and rotate them regularly.

Pasta can be made if you have lots of flour. Flour stores well if you plastic wrap each package and freeze that for 24 hours or more to kill any weevils or other bug larvae that might otherwise hatch and eat your supplies. I suggest tight wrapping with kitchen wrap, then a few layers of black garbage bag plastic. It might be troublesome, but if you're diligent and have a year's worth of flour laid in, then you'll be glad of this when you open that package in a year's time and there are no weevils or sour smells in it.

Pastas and noodles store well the same way - bundle several packs together, plastic wrap and shock freeze, then store. Don't make any package larger then you'll use in six months, preferably less. And remember to stick to rotation, don't be tempted to open a just-bought package rather than open up a stored pack.

Now imagine that the shops remain closed. You're still able to live at your home, you've established some kind of water supply, there's still enough food in your store, and opportunistic scrounger packs haven't ripped anything off.

But after three weeks of dealing with balky hatchets and splintery wood, knives that you're not used to using for preparing animals and cutting forewood for cooking - you're out of band-aids. The pack that everyone has in the back of the cabinet in the bathroom is finished, you hunted down the cartoon character plasters that the kids had when they still lived at home eight years ago and finished those too, and now you've got this problem of no dressings, nasty infection, and inability to hold a knife or hatchet properly any more.

I'd say wash the cuts often with soap and water, but uh-oh - soap ran out a week ago.

So my "pantry" extends to the cupboard in the laundry where cleaning stuff is kept, the bathroom cabinet where basic medicines are kept, a medicine "chest" in a storage box, and the cupboard I built in the bathroom to hold spare towels, hygiene requirements, and toilet paper. I'm prepared for the bad old days when leaves would be pressed into service, or (ouch) bark chips, or whatever else came to hand. I'm okay with a splash of water and then wash my hand thoroughly. But until the TP runs out I know I'm going to prefer to use it...

Add soap, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, and some medical disinfectant to your prep supplies.

That leads to another thing. In a short SHTF event, where order is restored relatively quickly, you'll find uses for some things you never thought you'd need, and probably just be running out of them when your world stops rocking. But in a longer event, you'll find you're missing these items a lot. Kind of like band-aids and disinfectant.

That might include... oh.... say.... you know...  things like matches, lighters, bicarb of soda, caustic soda, bleach, kerosene, washing soda, borax, firestarter blocks, and more. I've used chlorine based bleach to kill bugs in drinking water, borax to keep ants out of areas (you know, like where you keep opened jars of preserved meat or whatever) and a firestarter block and matches gives a decent start to boiling a small saucepan of water for a hot drink, and is indispensable for starting a balky fire.

For longer (up to and including permanent) events, check your shed. Do you have some rolls of wire? Ropes? Collection of hardware bits if you're a handy person? Tape? Duct tape, electrical tape, gaffer tape? Are any of your drills crank-powered? Do you have a hand saw or two? Chisels? Spades shovels picks or mattocks? Because all those lovely electrical tools won't mean a thing if the power is out.

So once you have food and water requirements in hand, see how many of these less obvious ones you can think of.

For maximising your money, try this: Decide what you're buying each shopping trip, and when you've bought it, anything you got in bulk or on special, note down the amount that you saved over paying normal price on it. When you get home, put that amount of money into a separate purse or wallet. Next time you go shopping, use that wallet to buy items that you wished you could stock. Keep doing this and you'll be surprised by how quickly you'll accumulate stock.

Most of all - think about the things YOU and your family would miss the most, like best, and eat the most of. Build up a stock and keep it rotating, and it won't feel so much like prepping and more like saving money and buying smart...

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