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Phil Hovatter

I just bought a new rifle. I could cut to the chase and just tell you what I bought, but I like letting you in on my thought processes regarding why I bought the one I did. There will be a bunny trail or two along the way. Here goes.

First Steps

One of my first steps into prepping was the purchase of a handgun for home defense. When I started prepping, in addition to storing water, food, and other basic necessities, I reluctantly came to the realization that when the going gets rough I’ll need to be able to discourage others from taking the supplies I’ve invested in. If (when) things get ugly, I might need to be able to defend my life or the lives of others. So I got some training and bought my first handgun, a full-sized Springfield Armory XD in .40-caliber.

Yeah, my “first” handgun. The mighty XD-40 is a great gun for home defense, but a bit on the large size for concealed personal defense, so it was back to the store to buy another. (Sandy wrote a really excellent piece on this site some time ago called “How Many Handguns Do We Need?” which chronicles her side of that chapter in our lives. It’s a good read.) Needless to say, I’ve gotten a couple of other handguns since then, and if I don’t make it out to the range to practice at least twice a month, I start to get cranky.

For those of you who have the proper mindset (a combination of maturity, self-control, wisdom, and determination to use a gun if the situation warrants it) I strongly recommend that you get training, get a handgun that is appropriate for you (different strokes for different folks — there is no one “best” overall handgun), and get lots of regular practice. In that order.

What Next?

But the question arises, is a handgun enough gun? While it’s a good option for home defense and your only option for concealed carry, a handgun is not a “one size fits all” solution to my prepping needs. If you can become a reliable marksman at 30 feet with a handgun, you’ve done well. When you need to extend your reach further than that, you need a long gun.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and we hope that you will enter your email address in the block near the top left corner to subscribe), you know that we approach prepping in stages. Once you’ve met your basic needs in any of the many areas of prepping, you’re ready to step up to the next stage. These stages won’t be the same for everyone. If you’ve grown up in a rural area and been a hunter for most of your life, you probably have a nice selection of rifles and shotguns. That would be Stage One for you, and moving into handguns could be your Stage Two. Being a “townie” who has never hunted a day in my life, my firearm acquisition stages came in the reverse order. For the past several months I’ve been in the process of learning about and clarifying my values regarding long guns. I found a couple of very popular options.

The Gold Standard

Remington 870 Express

Remington 870 Express

Many people consider a 12-gauge pump action shotgun to be the premium home defense piece. Just the sound of it being racked will give any reasonable, prudent bad guy second thoughts about their intended course of action. It holds anywhere from 5 to 14 shells at a time, and it’s good for hunting, too, as shells can be loaded with anything from granular birdshot to solid lead slugs. One downside of shotguns is that they aren’t good at longer distances. Because shot pellets spread out as distance increases, the effective range using shot is only about 25 yards. Solid slugs are good to about 100 yards. This might be a good, logical, and appropriate Stage Two gun choice for you, but we already have a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun. It’s a nice little gun and a decent option for home defense, but it only holds three cartridges in the magazine and one in the chamber (3 + 1). I want more ammo capacity than that and I wasn’t sold on the idea of a second shotgun. I had a rifle in mind.

A Real Crowd Pleaser

Customized AR

Customized AR

For many, the choice among rifles is almost a no-brainer. Get an AR-15 and you’re good to go. ARs are hugely popular and, like the shotgun, they hold multiple rounds. 30-round magazines are standard equipment on most ARs. (Thirty rounds for an AR is not high-capacity – it’s standard capacity.) I’ve only shot an AR one time and it was fun. That’s not my highest criteria for a gun, but why would I want one that I don’t like to shoot? There are a lot of advantages to an AR-15. They’re light, easy to maneuver with, holds a lot of rounds, and are endlessly customizable. Just like you may know a computer guy who builds his own PCs from parts and pieces that he cobbles together, there are a lot of people who build their own ARs the same way. And let’s face it — ARs look bad-ass. Cradle one of these babies in your arms and you’ll look like you’re ready to go commando.

And that’s why I stayed away from the AR (or as gun enthusiasts call them, an MSR — modern sporting rifle). People are afraid of ARs. Not just the guns themselves, but also those who use them. As the gun control culture picks up steam, there is a continual cry for an all-out ban on these types of guns. Some states are passing this kind of legislature right now. Places like New York, Connecticut, Illinois, and California are unfriendly environments for people who own ARs.

Do I care what other people think of me and what I do? You bet I do! I want to have as much control over how people evaluate me as I possibly can. Sometimes I want to send the message that I’m not a guy that you want to mess with. But other times (probably most of the time) I want people to grossly under-estimate me. I don’t want to telegraph what I know, what I have, or what I’m capable of doing. That’s part of OPSEC (operations security). We don’t practice a lot of OPSEC here at TADPrepper because our mission is to get the word out that we need to get ready for hard and potentially dangerous times to come, and that means being open and transparent about sharing information that we would much rather keep private. But just as I carry a handgun concealed so as to not alarm anyone or let those around me know that I’m equipped to stop a threat, I want a rifle that would fly under the radar as well as possible while still meeting my needs.

My Solution

I wanted a rifle with more effective range than I could get with a handgun. I wanted a rifle that held a decent number of rounds of ammo. I wanted a rifle that met multiple purposes — suitable for both defense and hunting, usable by both Sandy and me, fairly economical to shoot, easy to reload the ammo, and that didn’t scream “bad-ass commando (wannabe)” to anyone who saw it. So where do you find something that meets all those criteria? I found mine 122 years in the past.

Here’s something that I’ve found to be a general (but not entirely universal) rule of thumb about prepping. The solution to many of your prepping issues is to go as old school and low-tech as you can get. If the electricity goes off, you don’t want all of your preps to be computer-controlled. You want to be able to thrive in semi-primitive conditions. For me, that meant no gun that looks like it was used on the set of Battlestar Galactica. I went for an antique, a cowboy gun designed by John Moses Browning (the most brilliant gun designer of all time, IMHO) way back in 1892. I chose a lever-action rifle made by Rossi, a clone of the classic Winchester Model 92.

When I arrived at this conclusion there were still some decisions to be made, most notably which of the calibers that it’s available in would I like. I was initially drawn to the .357, with the hopes and dreams of someday pairing it up with an excellent .357 revolver. Seemed like a good idea at the time, with one notable problem. You can’t find them anywhere. I asked for one at my favorite gun shop and the man laughed in my face. He said they get a shipment of them once in a while, but they sell out in no time. I found none of them at any of the big online gun dealers, either. Time to go to Plan B.

Plan B

Plan B wasn’t a bad option. I was getting excited about it. It was the venerable .30-30, the cartridge credited with harvesting more deer and elk in North America than any other round. Some of the reloading forums also said it was an ideal round for beginners to start with. And availability wasn’t an issue. Every store that sells lever-action rifles carries it in .30-30.

With my mind firmly made up, I made the pilgrimage to a gun shop about an hour’s drive from my house. I had never bought from them before, but I had visited once and was greatly impressed with their inventory. They have things that you only see in magazines but are never available in any other gun shop I’ve been in. And their prices are rock bottom. What’s not to love? Sure, they had the lever-action .30-30 that I had decided upon, but there was another little beauty in the rack, a .44 Magnum with a stainless steel barrel. I love stainless steel guns. Love ‘em. I know that they’re not as discrete as a blue barrel, but I love ‘em just the same. And they don’t rust.

Plan C — or was it Plan A?

I was just about to call an audible and buy the .44 when something caught the corner of my eye. It’s not easy for me to read those little tags they have on guns from my side of the counter, but I could have sworn that one of them a few slots over from the .44 said .357 Magnum. Naw. Couldn’t be. You can’t get them anywhere, as the past six months of Internet window shopping had abundantly proven to me.

But there it was. Brand new. Calling to me. “I saved myself for you, Phil. Take me home with you.”

No stainless steel barrel, but it was $80 less than the .44, it holds four more rounds than the .30-30 (10 + 1 versus 6 + 1), it’s cheaper to shoot, and easier to reload. The action was so smooth I could cycle it with just one finger and the trigger was fantastic. And here’s the kicker — the shop owner said that it’s illegal to hunt deer in the great state of Ohio with a .30-30 because it’s too high-powered, but they’ve recently changed the law to say that you can hunt deer with a .357. I don’t know if I will ever set foot in the woods with this gun, but I wasn’t going to let this Holy Grail moment slip away from me. The .357 went home with me that day.

Rossi Model 92 Lever-Action .357 Magnum

Rossi Model 92 Lever-Action .357 Magnum

I haven’t fired it yet, for all the same reasons that we haven’t posted a new blog on this site for the past three weeks — our  life has exploded a bit and we’ve been swamped, but soon I’ll get it to the range…and hopefully, often. I’ll let you know how it goes when I do.

retro-tvOur humble little blog has attracted the attention of a television production company in New York City. While I’m not well-versed in the world of cable TV production companies, I have heard of Pawn Stars, one of the shows this organization is responsible for. They are in the process of casting a new show that will allow participants to showcase their survival skills in the wild and they invited us to audition for the show. While Sandy and I would describe ourselves as “preppers” we are a far cry from being “survivalists.” That’s a horse of a different color. Out of our league.

End of story, right? Nope.

They gave us their contact information and told us, “If you happen to know any exceptional self-reliance experts, instructors, students, or colleagues, feel free to pass it along to them as well.”

Our loss could be your gain. You could be a TV star.

Here’s more of what they sent us by email:

In the real world, survival is not a game and there is little room for failure. Survival is a matter of self-reliance that cannot be faked.

  • Are you a TRUE survivor in every sense of the word? Is self-reliance a way of life for you?
  • Do you believe that the act of survival has become trivialized in popular culture today?
  • Do you want to prove that you have the skills, determination, willpower and strength to take part in THE ULTIMATE survival experience?

No gimmicks. No film crew. No games.

From the producer’s who brought you Pawn Stars and American Restoration on The History Channel and Clash Of The Ozarks on Discovery comes the biggest survival experiment ever attempted. The series will feature a group of self-reliance experts as they battle the elements and fight to survive on their terms with nothing but what they can carry on their backs. Their mission: to survive alone in the wild and document their journey every step of the way.

Whether you’re an outdoorsman, homesteader, adventurist or survivalist, if you’re ready to take on the survival challenge of a lifetime, we want to hear from you!

If that’s got you licking your chops in anticipation, give Natalie a call at 212-564-2607, ext. 2652. Or you could send her an email at Casting@LeftfieldPictures.com.

Been There, Done That

On a similar topic, here’s something that we haven’t told very many folks about yet. We were contacted by another TV production company last fall. This one was the company that does the show Myth Busters and a bunch of other programs for National Geographic Channel, Discovery, and other cable channels. They were shooting a show on “faith-based preppers” and they asked us to be a part of it. After several phone calls and a Skype interview with various members of the production staff, we agreed to do the show.

They sent a film crew out to our house in December and spent two days with us. They came to our church and filmed the entire service on a Sunday that Sandy preached. While they never put words in our mouths or scripted us in any way whatsoever, they were visibly disappointed that Sandy wasn’t preaching about some apocalyptic topic. They had a list of end times related Bible verses and let us select several of them to read and discuss. They filmed us doing everything from taking target practice to walking our dog. The point of the show was to express how our Christian faith impacts our prepping and I know that I didn’t make my point well at all. It was one of those situations where two days after they were gone I went, “Doh! I should have said this!”

Sorry. No do-overs. In the blink of an eye they were on their way to Arizona and Georgia to film the other participants.

We don’t know when the show will air, but we know that it will be on the Destination America channel (DirecTV channel 286), one of many cable channels that Discovery owns and operates. So we’re waiting for our show to air. If they give us any advanced notice, we’ll clue you in as to when it will be on. If you miss it, I know they rerun their shows a lot on Destination America.

So you see, Sandy and I have already become TV stars. Are you up for your 15 minutes of obscure cable TV fame? If so, contact Natalie at Leftfield Entertainment, and tell her The Approaching Day Prepper sent you.

How easy is this to build? A nylon mesh tacked to a wooden frame.

How easy is this to build? A nylon mesh tacked to a wooden frame.

We’re wrapping up our series on Making Gardening Easier with a refinement that can be applied to any of the types of gardening that we’ve discussed — whether traditional farm-style rows or raised bed, container, or straw bale gardening. Vertical gardening can add a whole new dimension to the way you grow vegetables.

The point of vertical gardening is that you grow your garden up, not out. There are a number of advantages to this approach:

  • Less space — By growing vertically instead of out horizontally, you can fit more plants into less space. Vertical gardening is a natural add-on to your patio or balcony container gardening, but it also works well with any other form of gardening.
  • Less soil and water — People have been using some vertical gardening techniques in traditional row-type gardens for centuries, but when you apply it to container, raised bed, or straw bales gardens, you’ll need only enough soil to grow the plants in and you water a smaller area, too.
  • Less weeds, pests, and diseases — Growing your plants up a trellis, mesh fence, or other structure will keep them from dragging on the ground and give the leaves and roots more exposure to air circulation and the sun. This will reduce or eliminate the environment that some garden pests and diseases thrive in, making your plants healthier and more productive.
  • Less work (hence making gardening easier) — You don’t have to till and cultivate a large plot of ground to have a successful vertical garden. Or you could, if you wanted to. You make the call. But you can grow a productive garden in very little space, making vertical gardening ideal for city dwellers or for anyone who wants to make the best use of a sunny spot.

Good Climbers

watermelon_balcony_aug

Growing watermelons vertically — on a balcony in Tokyo!

There are some plants that are more prone to growing vertically than others. Pole beans come to mind. (Remember Jack and the Beanstalk?) So do peas, cucumbers, grapes, squash, melons, tomatoes, and grapes. Anything that grows on a vine is a natural choice for vertical gardening. These guys will all gravitate toward a stake, cage, trellis, mesh, or chain-link fence. Whatever they can sink their tendrils into. All of these are tasty candidates for your first vertical garden. (Squash and melons in a vertical garden? Yes, it can work!)

Vertical Gardening with a Traditional Row-Type Garden

One of the best ways to integrate vertical gardening with a traditional farm-style row garden is by means of erecting a trellis over one or more rows of the garden. The trellis can be a metal wire fence mesh stretched over a frame, or it could be a lightweight nylon mesh stretched between poles. The trellis could be straight vertical, or it could be an A-frame that allows your plants to grow up at an angle. Any way that you want to do it, just make sure that you’re trellis mesh and frame are strong enough to hold all the food that will be growing on it. Also take into consideration that you’ll want good access to your plants from both sides of the mesh. If you build an A-frame with tight chicken wire for your mesh, you might be constructing a barrier that keeps you from harvesting all of your crop.

Of course, everything that you can do with a traditional garden can also be done with a raised bed garden.

Vertical Gardening with a Straw Bale Garden

In a previous blog with talked about Joel Karsten’s straw bale gardening method. Joel says that one of the keys to a successful straw bale garden is to pair it with vertical gardening. He recommends that you rig up an espalier (yeah, we’re getting fancy with French words now) trellis over your bales. Joel uses sturdy metal stakes at either end of his row of bales and strings wire between the stakes at ten-inch intervals up the length of the stakes. He adds a 2×4 header that he attaches as the top frame on the stakes to keep them from sagging and collapsing inward as weight builds up on the trellis strings.

Straw-Bale_Esaplierpg

Using an espalier trellis with a straw bale garden. Image credit: www.StrawBaleGardens.com

Vertically Challenged?

But what about those edibles that we might call “vertically challenged”? Is there any way to use them in a vertical garden? Lettuce, carrots, broccoli, onions, herbs, and strawberries aren’t exactly good candidates for creeping up a trellis. This is where container gardening fits into your vertical gardening plan.

GutterGardening

Growing lettuce in a gutter garden.

ShoeCaddyGardening

Shoe caddy gardening. How much space do you think this takes? How much time and effort?

Low-growing plants can be grown “vertically” by using creative ways to arrange their containers vertically. For instance, you could use the blank space on a garage wall or boundary fence to attach rows of rain gutters. These make great containers for lettuce, herbs, and strawberries. Some people have taken a closet-door shoe caddy with lots of pockets for pairs of shoes, filled each pocket with soil, hung it on a sunny wall, and grown food in it. (While this can be done successfully, some garden supply companies have adopted this approach and made fabric multi-pocketed containers that are designed with the specific goal of creating the best environment for growing plants, not storing shoes.) And don’t limit your concept of vertical to just mean growing upwards. You can grow pole beans or peas in a hanging basket and have the vines spill over the edge of the basket and grow downward.

Vertical gardening is a way for you to let your fertile imagination (pun intended) run wild. With just a little bit of nutrient-rich soil and a sunny spot anywhere in your yard, porch, patio, or driveway, the sky’s the limit.

Resources


We found an excellent book on vertical gardening by Chris McLaughlin. She covers growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs vertically with specifics about which varieties work best. There is a very helpful section on vertical gardening structures. A great book for those who are just getting started.

 

Photo credit: www.RootSimple.com

Photo credit: www.RootSimple.com

Have you ever noticed that some plants grow best in places where they shouldn’t be growing at all? I have some bare spots in my lawn that I can’t get to grow grass, but at the same time I grow a bumper crop of grass in the cracks in my driveway.

Joel Karsten noticed the same thing when he was growing up on a farm. They stored straw bales in the barn, but any broken bales got stacked outside next to the barn. Joel noticed that weeds that took root in the straw bales outside grew twice as big as the same weeds growing in the dirt next to the bales. Curious, eh?

The Discovery

Fast-forward several years. Joel grew up, left the farm, earned a degree in Horticulture Science, and moved into a house in the city. He wanted to plant a vegetable garden in his back yard, but he discovered that he had no usable topsoil. It would cost a bundle to truck in the amount of topsoil he would need to do the planting he wanted. What to do?

That’s when he remembered the straw bales from the farm, and the rest (as they say) is Making Gardening Easier history.

An afternoon we spent at the local Home & Garden Show last month included a seminar by Joel as he  taught us about straw bale gardening method. I’d never heard of it, but now I can’t wait to try it. We’re planning to include about twelve bales in our garden this year. In those twelve bales, we’re hoping to grow beans (both bush and pole), brussel sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, okra, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and strawberries. Hmmm… sounds like a lot of plants to this old boy – but that’s how excited I am about this concept. We’ll see what works best and report back to you. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

How Do Straw Bales Make Gardening Easier?

We have previously blogged in this series about raised bed gardening, square foot gardening, and container gardening. Straw bale gardening bundles all of these methods together and accomplishes it with bales of straw. The bale is the container in which you plant and, by its very nature, is a raised bed –one that is much higher than your typical raised bed. It doesn’t adhere to the square foot grid, but conceptually it is more like square foot gardening than traditional gardening because you will be thinking about planting in rectangles instead of rows. So you are getting the best of all three worlds along with the additional advantages of using straw as your growing medium.

Straw bale gardening evangelist Joel Karsten lists the following advantages he claims his method offers:

  • 75% less labor – of course this is somewhat dependent on how extensive your garden is
  • No weeding
  • Low start-up costs
  • Doesn’t require crop rotation
  • Is “green” – as the bales are used, they degrade, creating rich compost for the next year
  • Holds moisture well, yet is impossible to over-water
  • Prevents disease and insect issues
  • Extends the growing season because the temperature within the bale will become warmer than the outside air


That’s a pretty impressive list, and one that caused us to take notice. You can learn more from his website, by attending one of his seminars, or by reading his very thorough book Straw Bale Gardens. Or do all three like we have!

Straw 101

For our city friends – straw and hay are not the same thing. Both are baled and to the non-farmer are easily confused. Hay is usually baled alfalfa or grass. The whole plant is cut down (grain heads and stalks), baled, and used to feed animals. Hay will have the heads of grain in it (which become weeds in your bale garden) and won’t hold water as well. Hay usually costs more than straw.

Straw is the dried out stalks of various grains (so it has little nutritional value) with the heads of grain removed. It is baled, then used primarily for animal bedding. Straw stalks are like little drinking straws – that is, they are tubes that hold and conduct water. What a great idea for gardening, right? [FYI, if you like the science of gardening, Karsten’s book is great. He fully explains the science behind the method, including how the straw pulls the water into the tube instead of just letting it run out. It’s kind of geeky and kind of fun.]

So hay is for eating, straw is for sleeping…and planting. For straw bale gardening, you want (… wait for it …) straw bales.

Container Gardening with Straw Bales

So think of your bale of straw as your container. That means, first and foremost, that you will NOT be un-baling or un-bundling the straw. It will stay in its nicely bound rectangular shape. Turn your bales so that the wire or twine that bounds the bale should be on the sides of the bale, parallel to the ground. Once the bales have been placed, you can plant both the tops and sides of the bales. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Once you have your container (in this case, the straw bale), you need soil, right? Well, sort of. If you do your container gardening in buckets, you have to fill the bucket with some kind of soil or growing medium. With straw bale gardening, the straw bale becomes the growing medium. To make this happen, you’ll be doing a process Karsten calls “conditioning” your bales.

Conditioning the bales transforms the dry straw into a fertile growing medium. You don’t scoop straw out of the bake and fill it with dirt. The bale becomes the dirt. And pretty darned good dirt, at that. More like compost, really. But to hasten the process of straw becoming compost, you need to condition it.

Conditioning is accomplished by soaking the bales with water and treating them with fertilizer over a period of several days. As the fertilizer is pushed by the water into the center of the bale, the internal temperature of the bale will rise as it begins to decompose. After about 12 days of the treatment process, the bales will have cooled down to an appropriate planting temperature.

Tips for Successful Straw Bale Gardening

Throughout the straw bale gardening process, you’ll need to keep the bales watered sufficiently. If there is one downside to straw bale gardening, it’s the amount of water that’s required. This will be a deal-breaker for those living in a drought-stricken area. Even for the rest of us, using water from a rain barrel or catchment system of some sort will help to keep our water bill down. A soaker hose is the ideal means of watering bales. Putting a hose timer on it makes it even more low-maintenance.

Joel stresses on his website that another key to making the straw bale method work is the use of a good trellis system. He recommends installing steel posts at either end of your row of bales and stretching wire between the posts. Space rows of wires 10 inches apart as you go up the posts. This gives your plants the support they’ll need as they grow and provide maximum exposure to the sun and air. (More about this in next week’s blog about vertical gardening.)

A straw bale can be used for up to two growing seasons, depending upon how well they hold up. After they have deteriorated to the point where you can’t use them as a growing container anymore, you can then use the entire bale (or what’s left of it) as compost in some other area of your garden.

We’re stoked on straw bale gardening and look forward to trying this method as another way of making gardening easier.

Web Resources
www.StrawBaleGardens.com/
www.no-dig-vegetablegarden.com
www.SimpleGiftsFarm.com/straw-bale-gardening.html
www.Root.Simple.com

Book Resource

Exclusive Offer for TADPrepper Readers

TADPrepper readers have been given an exclusive offer for a discounted price on an incredible tool for use with traditional row gardeners. Check out our blog on the RowMaker, a tool that makes creating planting rows in garden of any size quick, easy, and fun. Spend minutes instead of hours setting your rows just the way you want them. The cost is just $239 plus $10 shipping (to the continental U.S. only). This tool will let you plant a bigger garden faster and easier than you could ever image.

“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.

Frame-It-All 4 x 4 Square Recycled Resin Raised Garden Bed

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

Build your raised bed frames to any height to best meet your needs.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

View 20+ Styles of Raised Garden Beds - Eartheasy.com

Photo credit: www.UltimateReloader.com

Photo credit: www.UltimateReloader.com

Disclaimer

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.

My Story

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.

LeeClassicTurretWhen 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.

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.

USA flagHas the world always been as fragile as it is right now? It seems like we’re on the tipping point for disaster in any of a number of areas: worldwide economic concerns, nuclear threats from the rogue nations of North Korea and Iran, ecological disasters, extreme weather, earthquakes and volcanic activity — the list goes on and on.

One of the purposes of this website is to alert our readers to potential threats that could trigger bigger problems. We don’t want to be alarmists. We prefer a calm faith based on a saving relationship with a loving God. But with so many potential threats, we feel it’s just common sense to be prepared to face a significant disruption of our current way of life. To me, that’s what prepping is all about.

When I survey the landscape of potential threats, one that stands out to me is the global lack of competent, sane leadership. The Bible clearly describes a future in which the world will be united under the strong leadership of one man, the Antichrist. While we’ve been seeing the world moving in the direction of a worldwide government and banking system, what kind of event will eventually trigger the acceptance of a globally unified governing system? Economic collapse seems like a likely contender, but along with it (and indeed, probably the leading contributor to it) is the lack of leadership in the world. People are starved for a strong leader.

What we’re seeing on a worldwide scale is that the good intentions of government leaders are backfiring on them. The solutions that they propose and enact only serve to make the problems worse. One obvious case in point is the bungled implementation of the Affordable Helthcare Act. It was pushed through as a means to provide lower cost health insurance so that more people could be insured. The results have been the opposite of the stated intentions — insurance rates are skyrocketing and more people will be uninsured than ever before.

But I digress.

What prompted this blog was an editorial in the New York Times written by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Great Britain, entitled Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone. The Saudis have been waiting patiently for coherent, consistent, and competent policies from America to bring stability to their region in the face of mounting problems in Syria and Iran. They have waited as long as they can. Now they’re planning to “go it alone.”

For my entire life (and I’m no spring chicken) America has been the leader of the free world. Our leadership has crumbled. Some think it’s because of our fragmentation as a nation. We are a house divided, with nearly every important vote virtually split at close to 50-50 with no clear majority. Author and documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has speculated in his book and movie Obama’s America, that this is all part of President Obama’s master plan to weaken America:

America as we know it—wealthy, powerful, assertive—is not what Obama wants. He wants a smaller America, a poorer America, an America unable to exert its will, an America happy to be one power among many, an America in decline so that other nations might rise—all in the name of global fairness. To Obama, the hated “one percent” isn’t just wealthy Americas; it is America itself. In Obama’s view, America needs to be taken down a notch.

While it certainly seems to me that this is precisely the direction America is headed in, I’m not entirely convinced that President Obama is smart enough or powerful enough to pull off such a colossal undertaking. Perhaps instead of attributing these “accomplishments” to a diabolical master plan to dismantle American power, we should apply Occam’s Razor and say that a simpler explanation for an event or phenomena is more likely to be the real cause than a complex explanation — namely a lack of competent leadership.

Whichever of these explanations you choose to pin the blame on for the direction our nation is headed, one thing is clear: We can’t depend on the government to help us. There will be no personal “bail-out” for you or me. We need to put our faith and trust in God, become more self-sufficient, and less dependent on government-based financial programs. For many of us, that will require a major shift of worldview and focus. Have you been counting on Social Security and Medicare to carry you through your retirement? You might want to come up with a new Plan A. Does a retirement check from a military or teaching career or other public service position make up a large portion of your income? It might not always be there for you. What are you doing now to prepare for it?

Aristotle sagely noted that nature abhors a vacuum. Something will always fill the void. That something isn’t always good. Faced with a worldwide vacuum of leadership, I propose that you and I step up to become leaders in our own households. We might not have much say about the direction that our nation or the world is going in, but we can take positive action right now to put our own household in a better position to thrive in a time of chaos.

Like the folks at Nike say, just do it.

When most people start prepping, they go on a buying spree. I know we did. There were just so many things that we needed that we didn’t have. We started buying things that I thought we’d never had any use for before — things that weren’t on our radar before we became aware that the lifestyle that we enjoy right now might not always be available. We bought long-term storage food and stackable water storage containers. We bought hand crank powered appliances such as a radio, grain mill, and lights. We bought a couple of knives that we had no intention of using in the kitchen or dining room. And we still have a list of wants and needs that’s as long as my arm.

Acquiring all of these new tools and necessities is fun and exciting, but one of the keys to prepping is preserving the things that you already have to protect them and make them last longer. A great tool that I’ve found for helping to preserve stuff that I want to keep is a vacuum sealer.

I’m sure you’ve seen the infomercials on TV for these things. They show you how the vacuum power is so strong it can crush a beer can and they deliver the long awaited good news that now you can buy a big block of cheese on sale at the warehouse club store and vacuum seal it so it won’t go all green and fuzzy on you. All of this is true! It’s also a great prepping tool. Two of the worst enemies of preservation are air and moisture. A good vacuum sealer can help you with both of those problems, opening up a nice range of prepping applications.
FoodSaver_GameSaver

Food Storage

  • Most obvious is the fact that you can use it to keep your everyday food fresh for a longer period of time. Use vacuum sealed plastic bags to keep meat, cheese, or any kind of dry food fresh longer, especially if you freeze it. One of the biggest benefits pointed out in the vacuum sealer infomercials is that sealing your food means that you save a lot of money because you’re not throwing away food that has gone bad. Saving big money on food means more money to spend on preps.
  • Many vacuum sealing systems have an optional accessory that lets you vacuum seal canning jars. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, including vacuum packing wet foods.  You can’t use the regular vacuum sealing plastic bags for wet foods, but now you can put them in a jar and vacuum seal them for longer freshness.
  • Preppers are known for having a stockpile of the gallon-sized #10 cans of dehydrated or freeze dried food. In the past, you once you opened a big can you had to use it up quickly to keep the food from going bad. Now you can vacuum pack the leftovers in canning jars. The shelf life of food in a vacuum sealed jar is only five to ten years, far less than the 25 years for an unopened can, but hey! — you’ve already opened the can, so you’re going to use the contents sooner than that anyway. Keep it fresh for years by vacuum sealing it in canning jars.
  • Freeze dried entrées are good, but they’re really expensive, and many of them are loaded with sodium or other ingredients that you might not want. You can save money by assembling your own entrées from individual freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients and vacuum sealing them in canning jars. When you assemble your own meals, you can customize the recipes to your personal taste and dietary requirements. There is a wonderful website run by a lady who calls herself Chef Tess that has many good recipes for putting up meals in vacuum sealed jars. Highly recommended.
  • In case of an emergency, I want to be able to share what I’ve stored with others. I’d rather be able to give someone a couple of jars of entrées that I’ve vacuum canned than a bunch of dehydrated ingredients that they wouldn’t know how to use. These meals in jars are very simple to prepare. For most of them, you just add the contents of the jar to boiling water and simmer for 25 minutes or so. This is a great option for sharing your food with others.
  • When times get tough, you can also use food as a bartering item. It’s so much better to be able to barter a meal in a jar than ingredients to make a meal – easier for you and whoever you’re swapping with.
  • The bad news about canning jars is that they’re breakable and relatively heavy. No one is going to go backpacking with quart-sized glass jars of entrées. The good news for all you bug-in types is that canning jars are reusable. If you’re careful when you pry the lid open, both jar and lid can be reused over and over and over again. Take out half of what you’ve sealed in a jar and seal that bad boy once again.

Are you catching the vision for this? Let me widen it just a little. While not a prepping application, we also love meals in jars as our homemade quick dinner option. Having one of those days when the last thing you want to do is cook dinner? You know – one of those days when fast food or eating out is so tempting it’s about all you can do to steer your car toward home instead of the nearest establishment that will put food in front of you. Knowing you can go home, put some water on to boil, change into comfy clothes, grab a jar and throw the ingredients in the boiling water, relax for about half an hour in your comfy clothes and favorite chair and then enjoy a tasty dinner curbs that temptation.

Vacuum Packing Other Items

OK, like I’ve said, food preservation — both short-term and much longer-term — is the first and most obvious use for a vacuum sealer. What else can I vacuum seal?

  • Vacuum seal important documents or books in plastic bags (again, not a prepping application, but we’ve vacuum sealed Sandy’s grandmother’s Bible that has all her personal notes in it – what a treasure!)
  • Vacuum pack your medications and first aid supplies, either in bags or jars
  • Personal sanitation supplies
  • Tools or small parts
  • Matches and fire starting supplies
  • Cash

SpaceBags

Think Bigger

There are much larger bags that you can buy (“Space Bags”) that allow you to vacuum pack clothing, blankets, pillows, etc. The vacuum sealing process squishes these items so that they take up a small fraction of their normal space and keeps them dry to boot. Once you open the bag, the air fluffs your stuff up again and it’s back to normal. These space bags are generally reusable, whereas the smaller food vacuum bags are generally not.

Vacuum sealers really suck  – sometimes that’s a good thing. Put one to work in your prepping plan.