I’ve been writing this blog for a couple of months now – sometimes life gets hectic and I wanted this to include some free helps. We’ll get to that. I’m releasing this as a partial blog today because…BIG NEWS – the excellent book The Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook by Rashelle Johnson is currently available for FREE (as of this writing) as a Kindle book from Amazon.com. Get your copy here. What – you say you don’t have a Kindle? No problem! There are free Kindle apps for computers, tablets, and smartphones. Read our blog about that here: http://theapproachingdayprepper.com/free-prepper-book-downloads/
Now, on to my essential oils blog. Because I’m rushing this to post, you’ll only get Part 1 today. I’ll publish Part 2 with some free downloadable helps in a few days.
Essential Oils 101, Part 1
I’ve always thought of aromatherapy as nothing more than making your house smell good. In my ignorance I considered it a waste of time and money. Then on a whim I bought a nice-smelling orange spice oil…which proceeded to make my eyes swell from an allergic reaction. Nope, essential oils weren’t for me…or so I thought.
About eight months ago I was having trouble sleeping and a friend gave me some lavender oil. She told me to rub a small amount on the bottom of my feet before I go to bed, then inhale the residual that was on my hands. Rub oil on your feet to help you sleep better? What kind of voodoo is this? With a bit of trepidation I tried it. To my surprise, I found that my sleep was consistently more restful when I used it. I convinced Phil to try it…same result for him.
Hmmm…maybe there’s something to this after all.
So about six months ago I started doing some research on essential oils. I spent a lot of time reading about them and within a few weeks I assembled a “starter kit” of oils. After looking at a number of pre-packaged starter sets, I decided that I could get a better price by buying select individual oils from a number of different vendors. Since then I’ve added a few and I’ve been putting all of them to good use. More about my starter kit in my next blog.
Now that I’ve studied the topic and applied what I’ve learned, it’s for a first blog on essential oils. It’s so hard to know where to start because there’s so much info to share. Let’s start with some Q&As.
Q. What makes essential oils a prepper topic?
A. It’s a prepper topic because essential oils are a great alternative to western medicine, and we seem to be drawing closer and closer to a time when access to doctors and medicines will not be as easy as it is now. For example, if you can’t get antibiotics for an infection, there are essential oils that may work just as well or even better. (Not to mention that the more I read about essential oils, the more I think they could be better solutions to many of our health issues than western medicine, but that’s another blog.)
Q. If I’m using the oils in a massage before bedtime, won’t they stain my sheets?
A. Good question. I was concerned about that. But guess what! Essential “oils” are not really oils at all! They are actually liquids from various parts of plants. They aren’t greasy. You will mix them with a carrier oil that really is an oil (certain types of vegetable or nut oil), but the purpose of the carrier oil is to dilute the highly concentrated essential oils and to help your body absorb them. The carrier oils you’ll mix them with will quickly absorb into your skin. No stains!
Q. Preppers store things for future use. Can essential oils be stored for long periods of time?
A. The shelf life of essential oils varies quite a bit, but most will maintain their properties for at least two years if stored properly. Some have a shorter shelf life, and since the carrier oils that you frequently mix them with are true oils, some are good for only nine to fifteen months.
Q. I’ve seen some wild claims about what essential oils can do. Can an essential oil really do so many different things?
A. As I began to study about essential oils, I was a bit put off by the many claimed benefits of various oils. For example, eucalyptus oil is a favorite of many and considered a “must have” in your first kit. I’ve read many sites and seen it recommended for the following:
- Improve the circulatory system
- Help with respiratory issues including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and pneumonia
- Help with alertness
- Help eliminate congestion and coughing
- Cools your body temperature and is therefore good in treating fevers
- Its antiviral and antibacterial properties make it great for infections and for adding to cleaning products
- Helps with digestive problems and diarrhea
- Combats sore muscles whether they be from over-exercise or the flu
- A natural insecticide
- Help with sinus issues including rhinitis and sinusitis
OK, seems like we are solidly in snake oil territory. How can one oil accomplish so many different things? As it turns out, essential oils contain an average of 100 different “constituents” – components or elements that make it up. Many of these constituents have some serious therapeutic value. With that being the case, I can understand how it can do so many things.
Because each oil has so many constituents, man-made reproductions are totally inadequate substitutes. They may approximate the smell and perhaps even have a few of the qualities of the oil it approximates, but they can’t come close to the real thing.
Q. How can the same essential oil do things that seem to be exact opposites – for example, help me relax and perk me up when I get the afternoon blahs?
A. This one really bothered me. Lavender oil is a favorite of many because it can be used to help you relax (hence it’s great at bedtime) or help energize you (so it’s the great afternoon pick-me-up). OK, now we’re really talking snake oil, right? Well, no. It turns out that there are oils that are called “balancers.” Lavender is one of those oils. What they do is bring your system into balance – so it makes sense that it can either help you sleep or keep you awake in the afternoon.
Q. How can smelling something really improve my health?
A. Yeah, at first thought that didn’t make much sense to me either…but then I thought again. You may remember the anthrax attacks from a few years ago. Simply coming in contact with the anthrax spores – breathing them in or having them come in contact with your skin – can kill you. Well, if there is stuff that can kill us simply from breathing it in, I can believe there is stuff that can make me better simply by breathing it in.
As it turns out, essential oils work much more efficiently than taking a pill. Medicine that is taken orally must first go through the digestive system which (1) takes time and (2) breaks down some of the medicine’s properties. Essential oils, on the other hand, are often applied topically to the source of the ailment or are inhaled, which gets them into our membranes and blood much more quickly.
And if I still doubted that inhaling thing…I only need to remember what I do when I have the occasional asthma flare-ups — I inhale medicine through a nebulizer and almost instantly breathe more easily.
Q. Why is there such a difference in price for the same kind of essential oil?
A. That’s a challenging one. The short answer is that it’s a combination of quality, marketing, and greed. It turns out that some companies that sell essential oil at a premium advertise their products as “certified” or “therapeutic grade.” The truth is that there is no regulatory agency that certifies essential oils and there is no official category called “therapeutic grade.” These are just made up terms that have no official meaning. Some companies that capitalize on such terms are doing so to both justify higher prices and gain market position. For example, one well-known brand of essential oils is doTerra, I have no doubt that they sell high quality products, but in their marketing they use a registered trademark phrase, “Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade® (CPTG)”. It’s just a marketing gimmick. It means whatever they want it to mean. There is no organization that has certified them but themselves. It’s a promise to the consumer that their oils adhere to their own standards, not some authoritative third party. Like I said, I have no doubt that their standards are high and their essential oils are good – I just take a bit of exception to their misleading marketing. [End of rant.]
Other companies may use the term “therapeutic grade” simply because their competition use it and they want to communicate that they provide high quality oils. Again, there is no organization or governing body that certifies oil or classifies them by grade. So if no one is doing any certifying, how do you know what you’re getting? It’s not easy.
Key words to look for are “perfumed oil” and “fragrance oil” – stay away from them. “100% pure” is a good thing, but it still doesn’t speak to where the plants are sourced from or how they are inventoried. Quality essential oils are sourced from quality plants, are processed properly, and are stored properly.
“Quality plants” – We’ll leave that for another time because each oil comes from a different plant and many times the plants are grown in many regions. If you are a tea enthusiast, as Phil is, you know that tea can have different shades of flavor depending on where it’s grown and how it’s harvested or processed and stored. Essential oils are a lot like that. If you’re just getting started, stick with reputable retailers. You’ll find a few listed in my next blog.
“Properly processed” – Generally you want to purchase essential oils that have been steam distilled with no added chemicals and undiluted with carrier oils. You can select your own carrier oils for your particular preference or application.
“Properly stored” – That’s pretty easy, at least at the basic level. Essential oils should be stored in dark colored glass bottles. Yes, glass bottles. If the place you’re buying from provides them in plastic, you’re probably not buying high quality oils – unless you’re buying in bulk. When buying in large quantities, the shipping cost for glass bottles is prohibitive so most vendors ship in plastic or aluminum. You should transfer them to dark-colored glass bottles as soon as you receive them. Store your oils in a cool place that is not subject to temperature changes and out of direct sunlight. Do not store with a plastic/rubber topped eye dropper as a lid. Essential oils do not turn rancid like vegetable oils, they simply lose their effectiveness.
Those were my top questions. If you’ve got others, post your question on our The Approaching Day Prepper Facebook page (“like” us while you’re there) or as a comment on this blog and I’ll do my best to respond.
In my next blog, I’ll share the contents of my starter kit and my own experience. I’ll also identify resources – both companies and books. And, I’ll share some of my own essential oil recipes and a set of cards I created to help me remember how to use each oil. You’ll be able to download the cards for your own use.
For now, check out the FREE (as of this posting) Kindle book.
As preppers, we believe that is highly likely that life as we know it is going to be interrupted – it’s going to go crazy. We might not agree on what will cause that craziness, but we prepare so that when it happens we’re among the less crazy people.
At TheApproachingDayPrepper.com, we want to always remember that the first and best preparation is spiritual. I posted a blog today at ApprehendingGrace.com about staying grounded in God.
My life has been crazy over the past couple of months. As it begins to return to normal, I am enjoying routines that ground me – dissipate the negative energy of the world and refresh and recharge me with positive energy from God. I’m also recognizing the importance of those activities that we maintain in times of chaos that keep us grounded.
Friends, if we don’t learn to stay grounded before chaos ensues, we’ll be hard-pressed to develop patterns that keep us grounded in the midst of chaos. Check out my blog on ApprehendingGrace.com for symptoms of needing to be grounded and ways to accomplish it.
I don’t know about you, but where we live, we had a LONG, COLD winter. The weather’s starting to get nicer, but it’s been too long since we’ve been able to get out to our outdoor range. Sure, we could have gone to an indoor range, but that holds almost as much appeal to me as going to the outdoor range in 10°F weather. I’ve been told by a number of instructors that you should get some kind of practice at least once a week and I wasn’t about to make weekly treks to either an indoor or outdoor range between November and March. That left me with a problem. What to do?
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation for any of a number of reasons (perhaps you’re short on money or ammo, or your schedule just doesn’t allow time for the range this week, or you’re laid up with an injury), the answer to your dilemma and mine is dry fire training.
What is Dry Fire Training?
Dry firing is when you go through the motions of firing your gun, but with no ammo in it. If done properly, it helps reinforce the muscle memory you’re building up to be able to draw your weapon, get it on target, and squeeze off an accurate shot in a minimum amount of time. It can be especially helpful for new shooters as they learn the proper stance and become comfortable handling their gun without the possibility of the bang and recoil you get when you pull the trigger.
“Without the possibility?” Well, that’s the key. Safety first. Dry firing can be very dangerous unless you focus on safety first and always. An overwhelming majority of gun accidents occurred because the gun handler thought the gun was unloaded when in fact, it had at least one bullet in it. So let’s talk safety.
Safety First (and Always)
Dry firing can be completely safe if you follow a precise set of steps every time – every time – you begin and end a dry firing session. While we’ll add to this list, first let’s review our six rules of gun safety and discuss how they apply to dry firing.
Rule 1 – Get enough training to be proficient and keep your skills current.
Before dry firing, be sure you know how to use your weapon properly. You should especially know how to check your weapon to be sure it is unloaded with no bullet in the chamber or magazine.
Beyond that, consider dry firing to be a critical part of your training. Dry firing will help you learn and reinforce of the fundamentals of shooting. The fact that it lets you do that without an explosion occurring at the end of every trigger pull helps you develop a smooth trigger pull, avoiding or helping to eliminate a flinch.
Rule 2 – Never mix guns with drugs or alcohol.
While this would seem to be irrelevant when dry firing, you should view your dry firing session as real fire arms training. Any practice performed with a real gun has the potential to be deadly, and drugs or alcohol have no place in that effort. Guns and drugs or alcohol should never mix — even if you believe the gun isn’t loaded, because drugs and alcohol keep you from thinking clearly, and you don’t want to find yourself with a loaded gun that you believed to be empty. Which leads us to the next rule.
Rule 3 – Always assume all guns are loaded, and act accordingly.
Any time you pick up your handgun you should assume it’s loaded. That means your first step in dry firing will be to check your gun (both the chamber and the magazine) and unload your gun. Kathy Jackson of CorneredCat.com (a site I love) suggests that you also put the bullets in a different room. It’s an extra step to ensure your safety. You’re not going to reload and then take an extra dry fire practice shot by accident when you have to go to another room to get your bullets.
Rule 4 – Never point your gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
When you know your gun is empty and you’re in the process of practicing by dry firing, you’re going to be looking for a target. It can be very tempting to point the gun towards something that you would never want to destroy. Sure, that thing (or person) makes an easy target to focus on while you practice, but if you are unwilling to destroy it, don’t point your gun at it. That’s how a lot of TVs and wall switches have met their demise.
“Why?” you ask – “I mean, I’m only dry firing, right?” Well, there are two very good reasons for not pointing your gun at anything other than a safe target:
- People make mistakes (even smart people like you and me), and if you’ve made a mistake about your gun being unloaded, you’ve just placed that person you’re pointing the gun at in a life-or-death situation. A slip of your finger (or the purposeful pulling of the trigger, because you are, after all, dry firing a gun you believe to be unloaded) may very well kill that person.
- If you let yourself get lazy about where you point your gun when you believe that it’s empty, you’ll get lazy about where you point your gun when it’s loaded. The purpose of dry firing is to develop good habits that become automatic – you are training your mind and your muscles to perform movements that will happen “automatically” in a crisis. You only want to point your gun at another person when your life or someone else’s life is on the line.
Rule 5 – Always keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you are ready to shoot.
When dry firing, handle your gun properly (that is, with your finger outside the trigger guard) until you are taking aim at your target and are ready to dry fire. Again, don’t develop lazy patterns when dry firing because they will become automatic every time you pick up a gun.
Rule 6 – Know your target and what’s beyond it.
Bullets can travel through walls, ceilings, and floors. Be sure you know what’s on the other side of the wall where you’re dry firing. If you don’t know what’s beyond your target (you did put a target up, right?), don’t fire. See rules 3 and 4. Don’t just aim at something in the room where you happen to be sitting (remember rule #4). Build a safe backstop where you’ll set up a target. Then let dry fire training begin.
Will Training Without Bullets Really Improve Your Shooting?
In a word – yes! If done properly. Dry firing isn’t just pointing your gun and pulling the trigger. If you ever need to use your gun to defend yourself or someone else, your circumstances are likely to not be ideal. It might be dark. You may be woken up suddenly from a deep sleep. You might be in an awkward position. A dry firing training regimen will help you learn to deploy your weapon safely, quickly, confidently, and accurately. The goal is to make safe and effective gun handling as automatic as possible. Concentrating on each element of shooting will help you learn good habits and gain control and confidence, and those things will translate into improved shooting. Here’s what to practice when you dry fire:
- Get comfortable handling your gun. Pick it up and put it down. Do you always do both actions safely – with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and with your finger outside the trigger guard? Learn to establish a good shooting grip as you pick it up. You don’t want to fumble with your grip and need to adjust it.
- Learn to ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. As part of your dry fire practice, go through the motions of moving, changing direction, and scanning the area around you while keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction. It’s harder than it sounds. Don’t assume that you already know how to do it and that it will be automatic for you when you need to do it.
- Become adept and purposeful at flipping the safety on and off. Someday you might need to operate the safety while you’re in the dark or while you’re focused on a threat. Learn to tell if the safety is on or off by feel and learn how to operate it without looking at it.
- Practice racking your gun. Learn multiple ways to rack it — overhanded, the “slingshot” method, with either hand, and even with just one hand.
- If you are planning on carrying your gun concealed (assuming you have a permit, of course), practice taking your gun out of your holster or purse, as if you were drawing it from the concealed position. Practice this very slowly at first. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Doing it slowly will reinforce the proper method and feel so that when you need to do it quickly, you’ll be ready to get it right the first time.
- Give the same attention to learning how to re-holster your weapon. A surprising number of accidental discharges happen while guns are being returned to their holster. The trigger snags on something like the drawstring of your windbreaker and makes the gun unexpectedly go BANG! and put a hole in your leg or foot.
- Dry firing is the key to improving your trigger pull. Your trigger pull is the most difficult aspect of shooting accurately. This is one of the reasons why shooting rifles is so much easier than handguns. Most rifles are much heavier than handguns, but they have lighter and shorter trigger pulls. That, plus their much longer sight radius, makes them a lot easier to shoot accurately. Keeping a handgun that only weighs 2 pounds on target through a 9 pound trigger pull is a real challenge. Practice gently and steadily pulling your trigger while keeping the sights on target. When shooting from a distance of 20 feet, being off-target by just one-sixteenth of an inch will cause your shot to miss your intended target by four inches!
- Do you have a flinch that sends most of your shots low and left? A shooter’s flinch isn’t a response to the noise and recoil of a shot being fired, but is the anticipation of it. We flinch during the shot, not after it. Dry firing helps you identify and overcome flinches. As you slowly pull the trigger you’ll also notice if you tend to pull the gun to the right or left, up or down. Be intentional about correcting these. The recoil from a handgun really isn’t that severe. It’s pretty similar to driving a nail into a board. Practice getting used to the recoil by laying a board in your driveway or patio and banging on it hard with a hammer. Focus on not flinching from the noise and impact.
- Practice your shooting stance. Practice picking up your weapon, holding it properly and getting into your shooting stance without a lot of fidgeting. Practice until the motion becomes natural.
- After you’ve gotten very good at your basic stance, learn and practice other stances. If you need your gun for self-defense, you might not be able to use the isosceles or Weaver stance that you use at the shooting range. You might need to shoot while moving, or from a sitting or kneeling position.
- If you ever need to use your gun for self-defense, it would be best if you could shoot from behind cover. But while cover provides good protection, shooting accurately from behind cover is incredibly difficult. If you can maintain all of the safety rules while practicing from behind cover, do it. Practice dry firing while kneeling behind a table or sofa and shooting around the side of it. Then practice it while not tipping over. (Personally, I’d like to practice it while being 25 years younger than I am.)
Yes, the weather is getting better and the range is calling me. I’ll also be training (without the cost of ammunition) between range visits by dry firing. And I’m looking forward to my range visits being more fun and on-target.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled gardening series to bring this announcement:
Udemy.com Online Training Courses 60% off through March 24, 2014 for TheApproachingDayPrepper.com readers.
Read on for details.
Udemy.com is an online training resource with courses offered in everything from popular to obscure software packages…From beer making to aquaponics…From foreign languages to growing medicinal gardens…From yoga to how to predict the weather or how to train your dog.
So whether you want to improve your on-the-job skills, learn a new hobby or increase some prepper skills you’ll find some courses at Udemy.com to help. We found courses on aquaponics, growing medicinal plants, aromatherapy, self-defense and gardening (as well as some business courses we’ll be taking). When you purchase a course at Udemy.com you have lifetime access to the videos.
Their website boasts that 2 million students from more than 190 countries are taking online courses at Udemy.com. Udemy.com has offered readers of TheApproachingDayPrepper.com 60% off the price of most courses purchased by March 24, 2014. Use coupon code THANKS317 when ordering. Click here to check out their courses. At 60% off, the aquaponics course is less than $20 (we’re kicking ourselves for buying it two weeks ago).
When I’ve thought about container gardening, I haven’t thought of it as “serious gardening.” I haven’t thought of using container gardening to grow enough food to make a dent in your grocery bill. Container gardening? That’s like a petunia in a pot, right?
I’m learning that my thinking has been wrong, because that’s exactly what a growing number of people are doing. Phil’s sister was the first to introduce us to serious container gardening. She has containers all over her porch, along the back of her house and throughout her yard in Florida. She doesn’t do it because she has to; she does it because it’s efficient, effective, and so much easier than traditional gardening. And that’s what this series of blogs is about – making gardening easy.
In fact, container gardening might be the easiest of all approaches to growing food. But there are other reasons to consider container gardening.
Why Container Gardening?
- Looking for a way to start small? You can’t get any smaller than this.
- It’s great for city dwellers because you can garden on your patio, balcony or porch.
- It requires less weeding (the most time consuming part of gardening).
- If you move, you can take your garden with you! You will not have lost all the effort associated with making a traditional garden plot or raised beds.
- As with raised beds, container gardening can make gardening accessible to people with handicaps.
- Get your kids involved with gardening by giving them each one or more containers to tend. It’s way better than a pet rock.
- It allows you to extend your growing season in a number of ways. The soil in your containers will warm up faster than the ground soil, so you can plant sooner. You can move the containers around as the growing season progresses, taking advantage of the sun and shade appropriately. Covering your containers may be easier than covering a traditional garden so you can grow later in the season.
- Because you can locate containers in areas shielded from harsh weather or even inside your house, you can grow plants that are outside your growing zone.
- Try out new vegetable varieties on a small scale by planting them in containers. See which ones do best in your climate and go all in next year.
- Container gardening can add decorative elements to your home and yard.
Container gardening probably isn’t new to you. If you have any house plants, they’re probably in containers of some sort. But growing food in containers may be new to you. Imagine, though, growing cherry tomatoes in plastic milk jugs. Just step outside and have a tasty, healthy snack or pick some tomatoes to add to your salad. Or how about growing potatoes in a stack of old tires? If you can let your imagination go a bit further, imagine that you are growing a significant portion of your vegetables in containers.
It’s All About Pots, Baskets, and Other Containers…
Your container can be anything that holds soil and will allow water to drain. Anything. Be creative – you can grow plants in anything from a beautiful glazed pot to a piece of an old gutter. If you’re creating your garden on the cheap, search your home and thrift stores for pots, baskets, and other containers. I’ve seen pictures of people growing plants in plastic shopping bags filled with soil. Your containers can sit on the ground, hang from a stand or beam or attach to a structure (like a window box). Large containers will cost more to fill, but you won’t have to water them as often. Drainage holes are a must. Without them, you’re plants will drown. Terracotta pots will dry out more, causing you to need to water more frequently.
You’ll want to match your plant to the container. For example, a tall or heavy plant requires a container that won’t tip over as the plant grows and a spreading plant will need room to spread. Don’t use a container that is too narrow. Similarly, you’ll want to adjust the number of plants in the container to the size of the container. Remember, the roots of your plants will need room to grow.
…And It’s All About Soil
Your ground soil is may (or may not) be fine for traditional gardening, but it doesn’t work well for container gardening. It just doesn’t provide all of the air, water, and nutrients that potted plants require in order to be healthy. A better idea is a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, potting soil, and compost. This mixture will give your plants a loose soil that is ideal for the spreading of plant roots, and holds a good amount of moisture while still allowing for good drainage.
Everything has its downside, and container gardening is no exception. Here are a few things to watch out for.
Although your container garden will require much less weeding, your plants will require a bit more attention. Plants aren’t accustomed to growing in containers. They’re accustomed to spreading their roots to provide stability for the plant and to search for nutrients and water. Since they can’t do that in a container, you’ll have to take care, especially when the plant is young, to manage the plant and soil. Because there is less soil in the container, it will warm up faster than the ground soil – that’s the advantage. But the reverse is also true. Less soil also means that the soil will cool more rapidly when the temperature drops, so precautions have to be taken to keep your plants warm.
Because you will be watering your plants frequently in containers with drainage holes, the plant nutrients will get washed out of your soil and will need to be replenished. That means using fertilizer on a recurring basis.
Container gardening is as easy as it gets. With a very small space and some TLC you can soon be enjoying the fruits of your labor — without much labor at all.
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.
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.
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.