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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