“If it’s for free, it’s for ME!” Those are words that I live by. That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. There are tons of free books available for the Kindle. Don’t own a Kindle? No problem. Amazon has free Kindle software that will allow you to read Kindle-formatted books on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Sandy and I both own Kindle devices, but we also use the free Kindle apps on all the other devices. Your Kindle account and library can be shared by several different devices, so all of your books can be available to you on every device. You can also share an account with family members or others. Click here to link to the Kindle app download page so you can tap into the treasure trove of free books.
The reason for this blog posting is that last night I found a bunch of good looking free Kindle books. A word of caution here: Kindle books that are free right now might not be free tomorrow. Authors will sometimes make their book free for a short time to bump their rankings on Amazon, then switch it back to the retail price. That’s why if you’re a freebie skimmer like I am, you have to look at what’s available for free frequently, because it’s always changing. And for any book that you think is free, you need to make sure that it still says, “Kindle Price: $0.00”.
With that said, here are links to a number of interesting looking books I found in the Kindle freebie bin last night that had some bearing on prepping:
Prepping 101: A Beginner’s Survival Guide. 90 pages. Retail price $8.99
Modern Rustic Greenhouses and Gardening: A Homesteader Guidebook. 77 pages. Retail price $2.99
Jerky: The Ultimate Recipe Guide. 66 pages. Retail price $12.99
Growing and Cooking Your Own Herbs. 82 pages. Retail price $2.99
Things Mother Used to Make — A Collection of Old-Time Recipes. 120 pages. Retail price $7.58
50 Natural Remedies to Prevent and Heal Everyday Sicknesses. 31 pages. Retail price $2.99
Tabletop Aquaponics. 74 pages. Retail price $2.99
Container Gardening: Secrets for the No thumbs Gardener. 31 pages. Retail price $2.99
Backyard Vegetable Gardening in Winter. 47 pages. Retail price $12.99
Hunting with the Bow & Arrow. 181 pages. Retail price $6.99
The Big Book of Camp Cooking. 134 page. Retail price $3.99
I haven’t actually read any of these books. They might be worth exactly what I paid for them. But sometimes the best things in life are free.
In our last blog, we talked about raised bed gardening. Square Foot Gardening is a refinement of raised bed gardening. It uses high-intensity gardening methods to get the most production out of a modestly-sized raised bed garden plot.
Square Foot Gardening is the brainchild of Mel Bartholomew. Mel is an engineer by training. After retiring, he started gardening the traditional way. Here’s how he described his experience with planting a small garden in rows: “To an engineer [it] was so obviously inefficient, wasteful, and just too much work.” His search for an easier and more efficient way to garden blossomed into a new career. He founded the Square Foot Gardening Foundation to share his methods with the world in the goal of ending world hunger by enabling everyone to grow their own vegetables. His book, All New Square Foot Gardening is both interesting and informative. The book gives you all the details, but his website www.MelBartholomew.com, provides a summary of the process, which can be broken down to into four main steps:
- Build a frame to contain your garden
- Fill the frame with Mel’s recommended mix of soil components
- Overlay the frame with a grid of one-foot squares
- Plant each square foot with its own crop
Traditional farming plants in rows, allowing space between rows for walking. This wastes space – lots of it. In square foot gardening, you plant in the raised beds, allowing space for walking between the beds. You will save space – being able to grow the same amount of produce in about 20% of the space. You will save water – because you won’t water all that space between the beds where you’ll be walking. You’ll save time and effort by not needing to weed all the area that you walk on to prevent the weeds from taking over your planted rows. And you’ll experience all the benefits of raised bed gardening.
The Square Foot Gardening Mindset
If you’ve gardened before, moving to square foot gardening will require some change in your thinking, but you’ll quickly adapt. Gardeners typically think in terms of rows of plants and they lay out their gardens accordingly. In square foot gardening, you’ll be thinking in terms of square foot sections in a 4′ by 4′ grids. Generally, each 4 x 4 grid is broken into sixteen one-square-foot sections for planting (like the one in the picture above). Within each square foot section, you’ll place one type of plant (either seeds or transplants) and you’ll plant 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants in it. Yep, you read that right, you’ll plant as many as 16 plants in some of your squares! For some larger plants such as tomatoes, you’ll use multiple squares for a single plant.
Building Your Raised Beds
In your first year of square foot gardening, you’ll find that less work is required than preparing a traditional garden, but you’ll incur more expense. Instead of spending your springtime preparing your soil by weeding and roto-tilling the dirt, you’ll build raised bed frames and fill them with a custom soil mixture, at least some of which you’ll have to buy. After the initial start-up costs associated with building these beds, you’ll find subsequent years to be easier and less expensive than traditional gardening.
One of the great things about raised bed gardens is that you can place the beds anywhere. Don’t feel limited to the spot in the back corner of your yard that had previously been your garden plot. Of course you’ll want to put it in a sunny place, but because the garden will be in beds, you can put it nearer the house and it’ll look great. Putting it closer to your house will also be an encouragement to go outside and grab some fresh produce to add to your meal! And it usually puts it closer to your water source which – you guessed it – makes your gardening easier and more likely to be done!
Mel recommends creating your beds from wood, but you can use anything that will create the squares – bricks, decorative garden edging, or concrete blocks. Last year was the first year we did any square foot gardening and we opted for concrete blocks. They’re not as pretty as the other alternatives, but we wanted the flexibility of creating some beds that were 4′ x 8′ last year, but changing it up to being 4′ x 4′ this year if that made more sense when 2014 planting season came around. (As it turns out, we’re sticking with the 4′ x 8′ bed.) Also, we knew that we wanted our beds to be two blocks high instead of just one high. While this increased the cost of creating the beds, it was kinder to our backs and we were more comfortable growing root vegetables in it. We’ve always been fans of function trumping form so the concrete blocks won out. But we readily admit that wood beds look much better.
Filling the Raised Beds: Mel’s Mix, a Grid, and Some Plants or Seeds
Once you’ve got your raised bed frames made, you’ll want to fill them with soil. Mel recommends a mixture of 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite – equal parts of each, measured by volume, not by weight. You can find all of these ingredients at your local plant nursery. Our nursery delivered everything to us just hours after placing the call to them.
Once your frame is made and you’ve filled it with Mel’s mix (or your own custom soil recipe), an important step remains – you must add the grid to it. It’s not square foot gardening if you don’t have the actual grid in place. You can use furring strips or heavy twine or anything you like, but don’t skip this step. You can’t rely on your ability to eyeball a grid that isn’t actually marked out. Take the time to create the grid and place it in or on your raised bed frame. We used wooden furring strips that cost almost nothing at our local hardware store.
Then comes the planting. The trick is in knowing how many plants each square can accommodate, and that depends on what you’re growing. Mel’s book [INCLUDE LINK] gives tons of details about many vegetables – including info about starting, growing, harvesting, and the all-important number of plants per square foot. If you’re not buying the book, check out this link: [http://www.mysquarefootgarden.net/plant-spacing/].
Here’s the number of plants in each square foot for the plants we planted last year:
- Pole beans – 8 plants per square
- Carrots – 16 plants per square
- Cucumbers – 2 plants per square
- Bell peppers – 1 plant per square
- Potatoes – 1 plant per square
- Tomatoes – 1 plant in 4 squares with a cage
We loved it. The truth is that we don’t really enjoy traditional gardening. If we had more space, that might be the best way to go, but for our in-town backyard, it just doesn’t make much sense. Yet we thoroughly enjoyed our first foray into square foot gardening. The only down side was that we got a late start. Where we live, gardens should be planted in the last two weeks of May. We got our garden planted in mid-June. It severely impacted our harvest because we ran out of growing season before all of our plants were ready to pick, but we still did pretty well. We planted Roma, cherry, and slicing tomatoes, beets, pole beans, cucumbers, carrots, onions, bell peppers, and lettuce. We had lots of tomatoes (many that we picked green and allowed to ripen after we brought them at the end of the season), lots of pole beans, some beets and cucumbers (they were really good). We also had a few carrots and onions. We have absolutely never been successful with peppers and we weren’t successful with them in our raised bed garden. But we’ll try again because I like peppers but they are so expensive in the store. Also, our lettuce didn’t work at all. We had an extremely rainy season, so that may have hurt our lettuce.
We are definitely going to do more square foot gardening this year. Every gardener continues to learn something every season, and we’re eager to put what we learned last year into place for this coming summer. Growing some of your own food is tremendously rewarding. In our predominantly urban culture, vegetable gardening has become a lost art. The time may come when we need to rely upon it as a primary source of food for our families. Don’t wait until you have to know something to start to learn it. We encourage you to start a garden this year, even if you’ve never done it before.
No series on Making Gardening Easier would be complete without a discussion on raised bed gardening. Raised beds are typically frames built in your yard that are filled with planting soil of some sort. These frames can be constructed from a variety of materials and they don’t have to be very deep to grow a lot of food. Six to eight inches is plenty, and many folks have good results with as little as 4 inches of soil.
But how does gardening in shallow box make gardening easier? Let me count the ways:
- Many yards are cursed with poor soil, whether it be that the topsoil is too thin or too sandy or too much clay or whatever. Improving your native soil can be a lot of work. It’s easier to start from scratch. Raised bed gardening doesn’t use the dirt from your backyard. Instead, raised bed gardening allows you to fill your beds with whatever planting medium you want — topsoil, compost, vermiculite, peat moss, and so forth. Dream big. If you have more than one raised bed you can experiment with different mixtures or you can have custom blends for the specific types of plants that you’re growing in each bed.
- Since you’re not growing in your native dirt, you don’t have to till the garden plot. Even a small tiller, though very handy to have, can be expensive. There’s no need to buy or use one to prepare your soil with a raised bed garden. The growing medium that you fill it with will be loose from the very start. And it will stay loose because you build your beds in such a way that you can reach every part of your garden from the outer edge. That means you never walk on your bed, so your soil doesn’t get compacted.
- Raised bed gardening allows you to have a productive garden in places that you never could before. Since you fill your raised bed with your own soil mixture, you can place the frame on a concrete patio or asphalt driveway if you want to. What’s under the frame doesn’t matter. It’s what’s in it that counts.
- Raised bed gardening is ideal for those who have very limited space available for gardening. This is a city dweller’s delight. While most raised bed gardens are 8’ x 4’ or 4’ x 4’, you can make yours whatever size and shape that works best for you. There are many people who have successful raised bed gardens on the balcony of their urban apartment.
- Raised beds make gardening easier by being more productive and efficient. You will be able to grow more food in less space than you could with a traditional garden. The combination of custom soil, optimal placement of the bed for best exposure to the sun and its small size all contribute to high-yield growing.
- Some gardens are plagued by burrowing critters that chow down on your plants from underground. It that’s a problem in your area, you can construct your garden frames with a wire mesh in the bottom that will keep the hungry critters out, but still provide good drainage.
- One of the best ways that raised beds make gardening easier is that it reduces the number of weeds in your garden. If you build your frame on top of a weed blocker that allows for good drainage, you won’t be getting any weeds from the surface of the ground. The fresh soil that you fill your beds with should be free from weeds. That leaves only airborne seeds as a source for weeds, greatly reducing the amount of weeds that you’ll need to deal with in your raised beds.
- The soil in your raised beds will warm up sooner than the regular dirt in your backyard. This means that you can plant earlier. A longer growing season gives you extra time.
- Raised beds make gardening easier by increasing accessibility to the garden. It’s amazing how much easier it is to pull weeds when they are just 6 inches off the ground. If that’s not high enough for you, you can build your frames deeper and add a ledge around the edges of the bed frame that you can sit on while you tend your garden. Still not high enough? Who says you have to plant your raised bed garden on the ground? You can construct (or buy) a raised bed that sits on a platform, making the garden accessible even to people who are wheelchair-bound. Disabled people can continue to enjoy gardening.
Here’s a tip about the materials that you use to make the frames for your raised beds. Don’t succumb to the temptation to use pressure-treated wood. It sounds like it would be a good idea, but treated wood can leach chemicals into your garden that you shouldn’t be ingesting. There are other materials that are rot and insect resistant. Options include cedar, concrete building blocks, brick, and composite vinyl.
Traditional gardening in long rows is great if you have the space for it, but raised bed gardening is a wonderful approach for many other folks —newbies who want to give gardening a try on a small scale, people with limited space, gardeners with physical challenges who can’t bend over very well – or just folks who want to make gardening easier!
You know the process – before you can get to the fun part of actually planting your seeds or starter plants, you’ve got to till the soil until it is loose and well aerated. When that’s done, you still have the tedious process of making your rows. That’s where the RowMaker® comes in. (Click on any of the photos for a larger view.)
The RowMaker is a one-of-a-kind garden tool that takes the work out of making farm-style rows. It is completely manual (powered by just two feet and a cool drink of water) and you’ll have all your garden rows done in minutes instead of hours. In the video below, after an introduction to the RowMaker, you’ll watch as rows are completed for a 27′ x 19′ garden plot in just two minutes. Yes, two minutes! You simply pull the RowMaker behind you and as you slowly walk backwards, your rows are made. Because you can make them so easily and quickly, if you change your mind, you can simply remake them – without even raking them out if you’re really in a hurry.
About this time last year we were introduced to the RowMaker by its inventor, a retired Army officer from Texas. We were so impressed with it that we’ve helped launch the company’s website. When you watch the video, it’s Sandy’s voice you’ll hear doing the narration. That’s how much we believe in it. Watch rows being made in less than two minutes in this video that demonstrates how to use the RowMaker.
You can learn more, see more images and see alternate ways of planting in the rows made by the RowMaker on the RowMaker website. But…don’t push the buy button from their site because they’ve offered TheApproachingDayPrepper readers a special price. Read on.
The RowMaker is in the introductory phase of its launch. It is available from their website at the introductory price of $239 plus $10 shipping. When the first 100 units have been sold, the price will increase. For a limited time, RowMaker is offering TheApproachingDayPrepper readers a special price of $225 including shipping. Purchase using the link below to get our special price. If you purchase from the RowMaker website, you will pay the full introductory price plus shipping.
The RowMaker uses two defining phrases – “We Make Rows Easy!” and “Powered by two feet and a cool drink of water.” Both phrases say it all – using your RowMaker will make getting your garden ready for planting quick and easy. And all it takes is your two feet (or a helpful 10-year-old’s feet) – then reward yourself (or the helpful 10-year-old) with a cool drink of water.
Remember – to get the discounted price of $225 including free shipping, you must purchase from the buy button below. Visit RowMaker’s website to learn more about the product, but come back to The Approaching Day Prepper and purchase it by clicking on the button below.
This blog is the second in our Making Gardening Easier series. Sign up to receive our blog by email and you won’t miss a single one! Simply add your email address to the subscribe block at the top left of this page. Click here for a previous of the Making Gardening Easier series.
I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but I’m guessing that for many of you it feels like gardening season is a long way off. I have good news and bad: It’s really not. It will get warmer and the snow will change to rain and plants will come back to life…sooner than you think…but perhaps not as soon as you’d like. The flip side of that, of course, is that it’s going to be planting season sooner than you’re ready for it if you don’t begin planning for it now.
Seems like a perfect time for a series about making gardening easier. If you’re a regular reader of The Approaching Day Prepper, you know that we are novice preppers. We come from a totally unprepared background. So the bottom line is we’re just learning, folks. Last year was our first foray into gardening. Even with our late start we enjoyed fresh green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers with many meals. Our other plants didn’t like the late start so much, so we didn’t get a lot of action from them – a few squash, onions, carrots, and beets.
But that was last year. We intentionally started small so as to not become so overwhelmed that we didn’t want to try it again. That worked – this year we’re raring to go and looking forward to expanding upon what we learned from last year. We’ve been researching many topics and plan for this to be a year of experimentation with many different types of gardening techniques.
This blog is the first in a six-part series on ways to make gardening easier:
Part 1 – This introduction — Were introducing the upcoming blogs and sharing some tips for starting out the right foot.
Part 2 – Introducing the RowMaker – This blog will be directed toward traditional gardeners — folks who have the space to plant a medium to large garden with farm-style rows. We’ll be reviewing a great new gardening tool called the RowMaker. It will significantly – and I mean significantly – cut your garden prep time. More on that tomorrow. If you want a preview, head over to their site, but here’s a spoiler alert – don’t buy from their site unless you want to pay the full introductory price. They’ve given us a special discounted price that is even lower than their introductory price, and it will be available in our next blog.
Part 3 – Raised bed/Square foot gardening – “Square foot gardening” is really just a refinement of raised bed gardening principles, so we’ll talk about both in this blog. This was how we did most of our gardening last year. Loved it. Now we’re ready for some modifications to it and to try new things.
Part 4 – Container gardening – Phil’s sister gardens extensively year-round in Florida and she does more and more of it in containers. Container gardening is a great approach for apartment dwellers, but Phil’s sister has a big yard and has simply found container gardening easier than traditional gardening.
Part 5 – Straw bale gardening – Gardening without dirt in bales of straw! Using bales of straw as your growing medium, you can plant a garden with no soil at all. We recently attended a seminar on this and are looking forward to trying it this year. Initial start-up costs are minimal, it’s flexible, portable (how many gardens can say that?), and very low-maintenance. We’ll be doing at least a few bales of straw bale gardening this year.
Part 6 – Vertical gardening – Another favorite of city dwellers, vertical gardening allows you to grow a lot of plants in a small space. You can train many plants to grow vertically instead of spread out over the ground. We incorporated a bit of it into our square foot garden last year, but we want to learn more. Now’s the time.
Who knew there were so many approaches to gardening? And this is by no means a comprehensive list. But it’s probably more than anyone can start with – although I think we’ll be doing a nice combination of most of them.
We have some recommendations for getting started, and it all starts with having a plan. Yes, this is part of making gardening easier, because establishing a good plan ahead of time will get you off to a good start and keep you on track through the growing season. Planning as you go isn’t really planning at all. It’s more of a knee-jerk reaction, and it often leads to re-doing work you’ve already done because halfway through you realize that you didn’t think through the potential pitfalls.
- Start small – Especially if you are a novice gardener. Starting with a large garden is a recipe for failure regardless of the approach you take. You will find that it is more work the first year than subsequent years and you may quickly become overwhelmed. That leads to a neglected garden, a lot of effort put in for little results, and quite possibly a negative attitude towards gardening that keeps you from enjoying food picked from your own garden for years to come.
- Decide what plants you want in your garden – Think first about the food you eat and/or would like to eat. If you’re a novice gardener, you’ll want to start with plants that are easy to grow. Tomatoes and beans are great vegetables for beginners. Cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, squash, and peppers work well for most folks, too. OK, we’ve had no luck the two whole years we’ve planted peppers, but they grow like weeds for other people. I think the rabbits have always gotten ours.
- Consider what gardening method(s) most appeal to you – Traditional, square foot, vertical, container, etc.? We’ll discuss each of these in upcoming blogs.
- Create a planting layout:
- Consider the best area of your yard for direct sunlight and for ease of watering. (Lots of people forget the ease of watering part and get really frustrated dragging a hose across the yard every day.)
- Consider how tall your plants will grow as they will provide shade for things planted near them. Shade may be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s usually a bad thing in vegetable gardens.
- You can download a grid here to use in developing your layout.
- Create a schedule for preparing your soil and planting your garden. Timing is an essential element in gardening. It’s why we’re doing this series while it’s still winter.
- The easiest way to create your schedule is to start with your desired planting date and work your way backwards. The best way to determine your planting date is to ask other gardeners in your area. They’ll have the best answers for you. Bear in mind that different vegetables like different starting dates. Some are cold weather crops and others need the soil to be warm before they will grow well. We’ve provided a scheduling assistant with the grid layout. Download it here.
- Whether you start your plants from seeds or you buy starter plants from a nursery, you don’t want to get a late start (like we did last year). A late start will mean a smaller harvest or perhaps no harvest at all because you’ve run out of growing season.
- If you are using starter plants and wait too long to buy them, it’ll be slim pickins. The best plants will be gone and all that will be left will be the less popular and less healthy ones.
- Allow enough time in your schedule to prepare your garden plot, containers, raised beds, or whatever other method you choose.
- Properly prepare your soil. We’re not going into detail about that here, but suffice it to say that it can make you or break you. In some of the options we’re going to talk about, local soil conditions aren’t a factor at all, specifically raised bed, straw bale, and container gardening. This can be a huge factor in making gardening easier. Stay tuned for more.
As we said at the start of this blog, we’re still newbie preppers, as are most of you. We spent a lifetime avoiding prepper-type things like gardening, but now we see the need for it so clearly that we can’t stay on the path of blissful ignorance that we once enjoyed. Storing food is good and necessary. We hope you have a ton of it, but it will eventually run out. You need sustainability, and that means being able to grow your own food. That’s what’s got us out there digging in the dirt. We’re looking forward to this growing season. Check out the coming blogs in this series and you’ll find ways to make gardening easier.
What you’re about to read is the result of a lot of reading, learning, and comparison shopping. The final product was the formation of an opinion as to the best choice of a first reloading press for me. I expect that if you go through the process carefully, you’ll find the best press that meets your needs, but I don’t necessarily expect you to arrive at the same conclusion that I did. I’m not trying to persuade you to agree with choice that I made. There are a lot of good presses made by lot of good brands. Each of them has the potential to be the absolute best option for someone. I present this article to you because there are a lot of people in the same place I find myself in — relatively new shooters with no previous reloading experience who have come to the conclusion that reloading is a valuable skill for a prepper to have. Making the right choice about where to jump into the reloading craft is an important decision.
Last summer, after waiting two months to get an order of 9mm and .380 from my local ammo fabricator, I decided that it would be in my best interest to learn how to reload. I just couldn’t face another year of ammo shortages and escalating prices. Sandy and I didn’t shoot nearly as much last year as we did in 2012. Money was tight for us and ammo was hard to find. Shooters who weren’t sitting on a big stockpile of ammo curtailed their practice sessions because they didn’t know when they’d be able to restock their supply — and at what price. Sandy and I have set a goal of shooting more in 2014. Having the ability to make our own ammo goes a long way toward ensuring that we’ll be able to keep that resolution.
Sandy’s only stipulation was to make sure there was no exclusion in our homeowner’s insurance policy that would cause a claim to be denied because we make ammo in our home. I called them and was told that reloading for my own personal use would have no impact on my insurance coverage or rates so long as I limited my supply of gunpowder to less than 20 pounds. You should check with your insurance company to see if the same holds true for you.
Single-Stage Presses — The “Training Wheels” of Reloading
OK then, what kind of press should I buy? Conventional wisdom says that you learn the craft of reloading on a single-stage press — a press where you batch process one cartridge at a time, performing one reloading function at a time — in order to thoroughly learn all of the stages of the reloading process at a safe and manageable pace. Making ammo is inherently dangerous, but it is completely safe if you approach it with sanity and wisdom. The object for newbie reloaders is not to make ammo as fast as possible, but to learn how to not maim or kill yourself as a result of your ammo-making.
There are a lot of great single-stage presses on the market and they can be the most economical presses you can buy, so there is a lot of appeal to go with a single-stage. And the noble single-stage press is the way to go for the highest precision in reloading. Many competitive shooters and hunters hand craft each round on a single-stage for the ultimate in control and quality. Some of these presses include the RCBS Rock Chucker, the Forster Co-Ax, the Redding Big Boss, and the Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic. Great, great presses. I’d like one of each. And if you’re on a really tight budget, Lee make the Lee Reloader for less than 30 bucks. Obviously not in the same league as the others, but it’s enough to get you started.
But the downside of any single-stage rig is production speed. Eventually I would learn the process well enough that production speed would become an issue, especially when it comes to reloading for handguns. It takes multiple pulls of the reloading press lever to complete one round of ammunition on a single-stage press. Production speed isn’t an issue for those who reload for hunting rifles because they don’t shoot as many rounds in a year as I blow through in an hour of shooting handguns. Single-stage is the best way to go for high-precision hunting rifle ammo, but the online reloading forums are full of guys who say that if they had to load all their handgun ammo on a single-stage they’d rather give up reloading and just buy factory ammo. Those guys say that a progressive press is the way to go for handgunners.
Progressive Presses — The Speed Demons of the Reloading World
Once you’ve completed the first cycle, a progressive press completes a round of ammo with every pull of the lever. Instead of working on just one cartridge at a time and doing just one step of the reloading process at a time, a progressive press does it all at once. All of the dies are mounted in a circle with a cartridge in place under each die. Every pull of the handle engages each cartridge with the die it’s positioned under and then advances all the cartridges to the next die position. After a cartridge has made it through the entire circuit, a completed round pops out and a new empty case takes its place.
Once you get the hang of it, you can crank out 400 or more rounds of ammo per hour with a progressive press. Equip one with an automatic case feeder and bullet feeder and you’ll easily be able to do 600 or more rounds per hour. As you can well imagine, progressive presses, especially those that are tricked out with all the bells and whistles, are considerably more expensive than a simple single-stage press, but time is money, too. What is it worth to me to be able to make 600 rounds in an hour on a progressive press versus maybe 30 rounds on a single-stage press? Based on that, I started my search with a long, hard look at the progressives.
The seduction of lightning fast production rates was too much to resist. Despite the chorus of old-timers who were saying to start with a single-stage and work up from there, I decided to start my shopping with the progressive presses. Here are the contenders:
- Dillon — If you’re in the market for a progressive press and you don’t give serious consideration to a Dillon, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. I consider them to be the gold standard of reloading machinery. If there is a cult among people who reload, it’s made up of owners of Dillon presses. Dillon has a rabidly loyal clientele, some of whom tend to regard any other brand of equipment as not worthy of consideration. Dillon earned their reputation by consistently manufacturing top-notch machinery, backed by the best “no B.S.” warranty in the industry.You can’t buy a Dillon just anywhere. They control their marketing channels pretty tightly. If I were buying a new Dillon, I’d get mine from the website of top competitive shooter Brian Enos. His site is packed with solid info on the products and he has some kit bundles that are carefully thought out.Having said all of that, and believing in my heart the Dillon Precision sets the industry standard for reloading presses, I didn’t buy a Dillon for my first press. I looked longingly at their whole product line, drooling over their sturdiness and reliability. But the workhorse of their line, the RL 550B, doesn’t auto-index (automatically advance the cartridges being worked on from one die station to the next). For a progress press to not perform this automation function seemed to be contrary to the whole purpose of a progressive press. The next step up (the XL 650) and the one after that (the Super 1050) both auto-index, but they were just too far out of my beginner’s price range.
- But still wanting a Dillon, I dialed my sights down to their Square Deal B. This is a press that is just for reloading straight-walled handgun ammunition. Since that’s what I shoot, it looked like a real contender. But one of the significant disadvantages of it was that it doesn’t do rifle cartridges at all — just straight-walled handgun ammo. While I only shoot handguns now, I wanted to leave open the possibility of reloading for rifles in the future. Another big strike against the Square Deal B is that it is the only press that uses proprietary dies. The dies for this press aren’t interchangeable with any other press, nor can you use standard dies, even those made by Dillon, with this press. I didn’t like that. Time to broaden my search to other options.
- Hornady —Hornady is best known for their great bullets, but they also make a lot of high-quality reloading tools and equipment. Their progressive press is called the Lock-N-Load AP, and it’s a real honey. One reviewer who did an excellent comparison of progressives from Dillon, Hornady, and Lee (click here for How I Spent My Winter and Then Some). You really should read it and see how your values line up with his, but I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that he ultimately chose the Hornady LNL. And I almost did, too. All impressions I have of it is that it is a technically more advanced press than the rock-solid Dillon, and that it has some reliability issues that come with that distinction. Sandy actually encouraged me to buy one of these while we were at our favorite outdoor specialty store, but I wasn’t far enough along in my comparison shopping process to feel confident with this decision. When I did spring for my first press, I didn’t buy this one, but there very well may be a Hornady LNL in my future. They have tons of appeal.
- Lee — Let me say one good thing about Lee’s two progressive presses: they’re inexpensive. The Lee Pro 1000 can be found for under $200, and the Lee Precision Load Master goes for close to $250. But my experience was that on the forums I was seeing far more complaints and problems with them than anything else. Lots of folks, even those who loved other Lee products, had some less-than-splendid remarks about the Lee progressives. They have some very loyal fans, but the negatives seemed to far out-weigh the positives for these machines. A fool doesn’t learn from his mistakes. A smart man does learn from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others and doesn’t make them himself. I want to be a wise man. I didn’t give the Lee progressives any serious consideration.
- RCBS — This was the last of the major contenders I looked at. Best known for their outstanding single-stage presses, RCBS also make a progressive called the Pro 2000. I didn’t do nearly as much research on this one as I did with any of the others because the price stopped me in my tracks. With a list price of $777 for the auto-indexing version of this press ($694 for the manually indexed model), I was in the deep end of the pool. I have no doubt that RCBS makes a fine progressive. It may even be superior. But it was too far out of my price range to give it any consideration for a first-time purchase. Maybe some day.
All of this research in progressive presses left me with no clear winner between Dillon and Hornady, but one thing it did succeed in doing is convince me that I really wasn’t ready to plunge into a progressive as my first press. Others have done it with good results, but one thing that I kept reading in the forums were comments by actual owners and users that progressive presses require a fair amount of mechanical aptitude to set up, to operate, and to maintain. As Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry was prone to say, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” This is one of mine. I don’t tinker with machinery. Not with good results, at least. I barely know which end of a hammer you’re supposed to hold on to. The preponderance of comments about the need for mechanical aptitude caused me to abandon my quest for a progressive press. For now.
Turret Presses — The Middle Ground
If a single-stage press was too slow and a progressive press was either too expensive or beyond my ability to troubleshoot and maintain, was reloading out of the question for me? Thankfully, no. There is an intermediate class of presses that address some of the limitations of a single-stage without introducing the complexity and expense of a progressive. I’m talking about turret presses.
Like a single-stage press, a turret press only works with one cartridge at a time, but like a progressive, all the dies you need for the complete reloading process are installed and ready for use. You don’t need to swap out dies to go from one reloading step to the next. They’re already there, mounted on a turret that can be rotated to place each die over the cartridge that you’re working on in turn. This means that you don’t have to batch-process your cartridges like you do with a single-stage. You can do all the steps to go from an empty case to a completed round of ammunition before you need to swap in a new case.
Production speed can be a lot higher with a turret press than with a single-stage, but you can choose to operate a turret press in single-stage mode if you want to. (For that matter, you can operate a progressive like a single-stage, which might be a good idea in some situations, but still doesn’t overcome my personal reservations against going directly to a progressive.)
So the search was on for the best turret press for my needs. There are a number to choose from with offerings from Lyman, Redding, RCBS, Lee, and others.
I went shopping at my favorite outfitting shop and the reloading specialist gave me a strong sales pitch for the Lyman T-Mag 2 press kit. You can buy a number of single-stage or turret presses in kit form, with many of the the basic tools that you’ll need for reloading bundled together. The downside of buying these kits is that the tools they include are the cheapest and most basic versions available. Most reloaders will want to upgrade to better stuff almost immediately. My salesman said that if I was looking to buy a turret in a reloading kit, he’d recommend either the RCBS Deluxe reloading kit because he felt the kit contained some good tools — things that you wouldn’t have to go out and replace with the tools you really wanted anytime soon — or the Lyman Deluxe Expert kit, because it had a good case trimming tool. I ultimately decided against going with a kit and assembled my own selection of individual tools instead.
When I was considering a progressive press, I read a lot of negative about Lee’s progressives. This led to an unfavorable opinion of the company in general, but as I did more research on turret presses, the name that kept popping up was the Lee Classic Turret. Lee makes a couple of different turret presses, so don’t get confused by their names. The lesser of the two is called the Lee Deluxe turret press. There’s really nothing “deluxe” about it. The better of the two is the Lee Classic turret press. The word “classic” might lead you to believe that it is an older design, but it’s actually a newer and improved version of the Deluxe turret.
Among the many reviews that I read on the Lee Classic Turret was a great series of articles on the website RealGuns.com. Highly recommended reading. The author pointed out that the turrets on most turret presses are mounted with a single bolt in the center of the turret. The dies are arranged on the outside edge of the turret and the ram on the press engages the dies on this outer ring. That design essentially makes most turrets a “C” press, which is a weaker and less accurate configuration. By comparison, the Lee Classic Turret is supported by three rods in a triangular pattern on the outside edge of the turret, and the dies are mounted much closer to the center of the turret. This design allows for a more compact machine, and it also focuses the force of the reloader’s ram closer to the center of the turret.
Besides being impressed with the smart design of the turret on the Lee Classic, it also is the only turret press that auto-indexes, which is to say that as you pull the handle, the machine automatically rotates the turret to align the next die over your cartridge. This feature is common on progressive presses, but Lee makes the only turret presses that auto-index. The auto-indexing capability can propel your production rate to 200 rounds per hour or more. That’s not too shabby for a humble turret press.
You will be hard pressed to find a bad review of the Lee Classic Turret Press from someone who has actually used one. Sure, the web is full of Lee bashers who have a bad impression of their progressive presses or reloading snobs who view their budget prices as being indicative of inferior products, but Lee Precision is a company that has dedicated itself to giving you the best bang for the buck. So while you’ll see a lot of people who talk trash about Lee, you will also be amazed at the number of glowing reviews of the Lee Classic Turret. These reviews widely recommend it as the best press for a beginner to start with.
The Bottom Line
I’m glad that I kept an open mind and didn’t let negative reviews of one segment of a company’s product line sour me on the whole store. I chose the Lee Classic Turret for my first reloading press and I’m confident that I made the best choice for my budget and skill level. Your mileage may vary, but if you’ve decided that now is the time for you to get into reloading, I’d recommend you take a long, hard look at the Lee Classic Turret.
There are four rules of gun safety that are universally taught. You’ll find them on every reputable gun blog. Before I discuss those four, there are two I’d like to add, making this The Approaching Day Prepper 6 Rules of Gun Safety. Let’s get right into them.
Rule 1 – Get enough training to be proficient and keep your skills current.
If you choose to own a gun, be sure to receive proper training in how to use it. Proper training means more than the first ten-hour basic instruction course. All that a basic class will really qualify you to do is to shoot very slowly at a stationary paper target. Start there, and then take additional courses that teach you how to use your gun in realistic situations and give you practice doing it. These classes will give you training that you probably can’t get at your range, as most ranges only let you do what a basic class teaches you to do — that is, to shoot at a stationary paper target. Advanced classes will give you practice shooting while moving, from behind cover or concealment, in kneeling or prone positions, and while drawing from a holster.
Yes, I hope and pray that I never need to use a gun to protect myself or someone else, but if I do, I’m certain that those first ten hours of training weren’t nearly enough to make me competent to use one in a life-or-death situation, which is the very thing that I wanted to learn to use a gun for. On-going training and practice are essential.
Rule 2 – Never mix guns with drugs or alcohol.
Guns are lethal weapons. There is no place for the use of drugs or alcohol with handling firearms, and by “drugs” I even include over-the-counter medications. One effect of drugs and alcohol is that they impair our judgment and actions. Another effect is that they make us unaware of that impairment. Don’t risk killing or maiming yourself or another person. A few months ago, I had a range date set with Phil and a friend of ours. The friend had come a long way to go shooting us. I hadn’t taken any medications or alcohol, but was experiencing dizziness or vertigo similar to what you might experience after a few drinks. I decided to stay home. My presence on the firing line would have been a danger to me and my friends. We knew someone who had an annual Fourth of July shooting party at his house. He called it “Fireworks – Firearms – Fire Water.” A dangerous combo. We stayed home.
Rule 3 – Always assume all guns are always loaded.
Even if you know you unloaded it before you put it away, when you get it out again check to be sure it’s not loaded. Then check again. Even if you’ve been assured by the person handing you a gun that it’s not loaded, check for yourself to be sure it’s not loaded. Then check again. Even if you watched someone check the gun before handing it to you, check to see that it’s not loaded before handling it. Then check again. The huge percentage of gun accidents occur because someone thought the gun wasn’t loaded.
Always treat any gun you pick up as if it’s loaded. Is the gun loaded? The answer is always “yes.” Even after you’ve double-checked that the gun is unloaded, never do anything with it that you wouldn’t do with a loaded gun. Always treat every gun as if were always loaded.
Rule 4 – Never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
That means never pointing a gun at another person you’re not willing to kill. Even an unloaded gun. (Because as we just learned above, you should assume all guns are always loaded. ) It’s a habit you never want to reinforce. It also means not pointing your gun at your TV unless you’re ready to shell out for a new one.
Stated another way, always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. A safe direction is away from people, animals, personal property, and objects that could cause a ricochet. This is especially important as you move, as you load and unload your gun, and as you check the gun for a malfunction. (We see more people at the range who lose all concept of where their muzzle is pointing while they try to figure out a malfunction than at any other time when they’re handling a gun.)
What this means is that any time a gun is in your hand, you must be very conscious of where it is pointed. Yes, even if it’s unloaded, which it NEVER is. (See Rule #3.) Once you have the gun pointed in a safe direction, you must keep it pointed in a safe direction, even if you are moving or you look away or turn your body a different direction. People have a tendency to sweep the muzzle over vulnerable people and property when they move even the slightest bit. Developing good habits with an unloaded gun will carry into good habits when the gun is loaded.
Rule 5 – Always keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot.
Don’t put your finger inside the trigger guard until you are looking at your target and ready to shoot. A bad habit to develop is slipping your finger onto the trigger as you approach your target. For newbies especially, keep your finger off the trigger! Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you are looking at your target and ready to shoot.
Don’t get lax, thinking that the safety is on so there’s no harm in having your finger on the trigger. First, it only develops bad habits. Second, don’t rely on the mechanical safety. It could fail. Better to develop the habit of keeping your finger away from the trigger until your target is in sight and you are ready to shoot.
Rule 6 – Know your target and what’s beyond it.
Bullets can travel a long way. Depending on your caliber, gun, and conditions, it could travel one or two miles. It’s not enough to know what your target is. What is your bullet going to hit if it misses the target or goes through the target? Know what’s beyond your target before you pull the trigger. In conjunction with Rule #4 (never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy), pointing your gun up in the air is NOT a safe direction. What’s your target? What’s beyond it? If the trigger is pulled while the gun in pointed in the air, either intentionally or by accident, the bullet will land somewhere. You just don’t know what — or who — it will land on.
The purpose of the rules are to reinforce behaviors that will become automatic so that you don’t accidentally shoot something you don’t want to shoot. Don’t handle your guns until you have them burned into your memory, and make them a priority in your first training sessions…and always.
We’ve signed up for the Survival Summit and are really looking forward to it. Twenty-nine (at last count) survival and off-grid self-reliance experts will be giving workshops throughout the week. The best part – it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE! Yes, they will offer the recorded workshops for sale but if you watch while they’re available during the Summit they are free.
And OK, maybe free isn’t the best part. In fact, I’m guessing it isn’t. I’m guessing the best part will be all the great info we’ll get. But free means it’s no-risk to check it out.
When all is said and done, they will have provided more than 37 hours of survival training. Here’s how it works: Each day, about five workshops will be uploaded and made available to those registered for the Summit. You have 24 hours to watch the videos for free. They will then take them down and upload another five for the next day. So each day five new workshops are uploaded and available for viewing free during that 24-hour period. Throughout the Summit you’ll have the opportunity to purchase any you miss or want to have for future reference. I don’t know but I’m guessing they’ll offer the entire package at a great price.
So, sorry for the late info on this, but click on the link above or below and register today so you don’t miss any of the workshops. Oh – not sure you’ll like the topics available? Well, the topics range from growing your own food to personal protection to fuel, housing and more. Check out the Schedule tab after you click on the link.
I think you can see by our track record here at TADPrepper that we don’t promote products just for the sake of the small commission we get from our advertisers. But when we find a deal that we are eager to take advantage of ourselves, we always want to let you know about it, too.
We have found just such a deal.
This weekend only, from Jan 17 – Jan 20, 2014, Auguson Farms is having an up to 40% off sale on their 6-gallon pails of long-term storage food. Not all of their six-gallon pails are at 40% off, but they are all deeply discounted for this weekend only. We jumped on it, buying some staples such as salt and sugar that we didn’t have a significant quantity of, and adding to our supply of other basic foods like rice and beans.
I don’t get suckered by ads. “40% off ” sounds like a good come-on, but 40% off of what? So I did some comparison shopping at other food storage companies to see how Auguson’s sale prices compared with other vendors that I’ve bought from in the past. Blew ‘em away. No contest. But I’ve done enough online shopping to know that great prices are often diminished by horrible shipping fees. Not this time. I bought six 6-gallon pails of very heavy food and was charged only $15 for shipping. Auguson’s site lets you check your shipping cost for everything in your shopping cart before you actually authorize the purchase. I like that.
So I took this for what it was — an outstanding opportunity to store a lot of food for a very low price. I highly recommend that you take advantage of this short sale. With the escalating price of food, this might be the best deal you see for a very long time.
The holidays have come and gone…most of us have gotten back into the real world despite the crazy weather we’re having across the country. It’s time to think about 2014. Some people take a mini-retreat in December to do this, but that just doesn’t happen for most of us. So I want to encourage you to do some planning this week. Find a little bit of time to think ahead toward all that 2014 holds and set your priorities for the coming year. And be sure that part of that planning includes your prepping efforts.
Phil and I did it Sunday evening and we are really glad we did. Phil is by nature a non-planner, so when I suggested we actually use this calendar I created as a result of my blog about Living from a Prepper Perspective…well, let’s just say it was one of those “yes dear” moments. He was gracious enough because he’s a great guy, but in his heart of hearts he felt like he was about to swallow some horrible-but-good-for-you medicine. Before we were done, however, he was a believer. He agreed that the whole experience was positive. And we were all done in just about 30 minutes.
We started by listing all the things we wanted to accomplish, buy, or learn in the area of prepping in 2014. We know that our list is greater than our ability for the most part, but making the list allowed us to put things into three categories based on their cost in terms of time, effort, and money.
- Easy-Peasy – These are tasks or items that are simple enough, we just haven’t gotten around to doing them or buying them. They are things that are affordable on our “every day” budget. We expect we’ll be able to buy these items out of disposable income some time during the year.
- Requires Moderate Planning/Effort – These are tasks that are outside of our every day budget but do-able if we plan for them. They’re also tasks that might require more than a few hours to accomplish. Requiring more time means they’re not going to fit into my week without planning for them. This is the category that will get the most attention on our calendar because they’re the things we can do if we’re aware of when they need to be done, how long they’ll take to do, and make room in our schedule to include them. Without the planning they probably won’t happen. That makes them the tasks and purchases that will benefit the most from using a calendar.
- Wish List – Our wish list holds items that are so expensive they would keep us from doing much of anything else. Phil and I have two things in this category and we agree that buying the long list of other things is more important to us at this time. Still, putting these expensive things on our list will help keep us focused should we receive unexpected income throughout the year. It will also be a reminder each time we’re tempted to splurge on something else. We can make an informed decision about splurging or saving, instead of just letting impulse reign. Splurging is good sometimes. Other times it’s just squandering the resources God has given us, and derailing the plans that we made in a more rational moment. But I digress.
So, with our freshly made to-do and to-buy lists in hand, we pulled out the 2014 Prepper Planning Calendar (which you can download below) and began to slot things that are time sensitive into their appropriate months. For example, we want to plant more raised-bed gardens this year. That means we need to build them in April so we can plant in May. We also want to build a cold frame to extend our growing season. That got scheduled for late July or early August. After we put all the time sensitive tasks into our planning calendar, we slotted other tasks and purchases in other months, balancing both the time commitment and budget as well as we could.
After just half an hour or so, we had our 2014 Prepping Planning Calendar completed. Even better than that, we both felt a greater peace and confidence in our ability to accomplish more in the coming year without blowing our schedule or budget.
- Our to-do list and spending plan for the entire year is on paper so I don’t have to remember it any more. (Phil will be glad that I don’t have to ask him yet again when we need to build the cold frame.)
- We have a balanced plan for spending our time, effort, and money throughout the year that takes into consideration seasonal fluctuations in our availability and finances. If our income or our schedule changes, we can easily adjust the schedule.
- We don’t have this overwhelming pile of prepper “need to’s” looming in front of us all the time. Phil and I each have one goal for January. That’s do-able. We’ve both begun to make progress on those goals. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at all we have to do over the course of the whole year, we’re feeling a sense of forward progress. That leads to more accomplishment. Feeling overwhelmed only leads to binging on cookies on the couch in front of the TV. (But again, I digress.)
I’m guessing your weeks are something like mine…Mondays quickly become Wednesdays, and then Wednesdays becomes Fridays. We step into Saturday with a list of errands and then celebrate the Lord’s Day. Before we can blink it’s Monday all over again, and yet another week has gone by without me doing those prepper tasks I had hoped to accomplish. Our prepper calendar will help us move forward instead of just spinning our wheels.
I’m looking forward to 2014. It is a year that holds the promise of many things. I anticipate that it will have its ups and downs but I’ve learned that in both we can experience God’s blessings. Let me encourage you to spend a little time thinking about 2014. You can use this calendar to document your prepper plans. There are pages for each month…more or less. You’ll find that the pages don’t strictly follow calendar months – why waste a whole row if there are only two days in a week during that month? To provide more space for writing you’ll find some days from the previous or following months on your calendar page. You’ll also find pages to do the initial planning.
You can download your calendar below. Don’t be surprised if after entering your email address it seems that the blog has reloaded. Simply scroll down to the point and you’ll be able to download the calendar. Enjoy your planning time, friends! And here’s to a prosperous, healthy, and productive year in prepping.