In my previous National Preparedness Month blog, I encouraged you to review what preps you’ve made in the past year and consider strategic purchases to improve your preparedness position. Some of you know off the top of the head what your highest prepping priorities are, but for most of us, I’m guessing a more directed approach to evaluating your preps would be helpful. We’re here to help. Use the Preparedness Check and Challenge checklist below to evaluate where you are now and where you want to be.
There are more areas in which we need to prepare – communications, transportation, and medical, to name just a few. But our readers tend to be beginners in prepping, so we’ll stick with these basic topics for today’s blog.
We’re still working on every area (of course), but we’re making progress. My personal challenge for September is to complete a 3-day and a 1-month food plan with recipes. As I was writing this blog and explaining my alternate approach to evaluating my stored food, I realized that I can easily look at my pantry and evaluate if I have the necessary food to meet my immediate and short-term needs. Today, that is. That wouldn’t be the case in an emergency. You see, cooking is a weakness for me. Phil can grab ingredients and make good food. I can’t. I used to become paralyzed in video rental stores – there were just too many options. I also become paralyzed when faced with an immediate need to make food if I don’t have a plan.
So, by the end of September, I hope to have several written menus for the first three day s and first month of an emergency, and make sure that we keep all the ingredients on hand to make those meals. If we don’t have the ingredients in stock, the menu plan isn’t worth anything.
Let me urge you – spend a few minutes reading this brief checklist, then challenge yourself in one area. Set a specific goal of what you want to accomplish before the end of September (National Preparedness Month). That’s only two weeks away, so be reasonable about what you might be able to do, but don’t be too easy on yourself. The harder you work now, the easier you’ll have it when you need it.
- Recommendation: The government recommends 1 gallon per person (and pet) per day for drinking and cooking. We say more is better, but 1 gallon is a minimum place to start. Oh, and if you want to keep yourself and your things clean, plan on needing more water.
- How much water do you need/want to store:
____ (Number of people/pets) x ____ (number of days) x 1 gallon
- How much water do you have stored: ________
- What are you going to do to upgrade your water storage and/or purification capabilities?
- Recommendation: The average adult intake is about 2000 calories/day under normal conditions. In an emergency, you’re likely to be burning more calories than that, so if you can plan for 3000 calories/day, that’s a good thing.
- How much food do you want/need to store:
____ (Number of people) x ____ (number of days) x _____ (number of calories)
- How much food do you have stored: ________
- Don’t forget pets. If you have pets, how much do they eat each day? Multiply that by the number of days and you know how much pet food you need to have stored.
An Alternate Approach — Having just given you the formula, let me tell you that I don’t use the formula any more. I did at first, as I was developing my plan and understanding of long-term food storage. Now I take a different approach. I consider my preps in three stages: immediate, short-term and long-term. I approach my evaluation according to these three stages:
- Immediate: How many meals can I make with little or no preparation in the first 72 hours? My goal is 3 meals per day for 6 people. I can easily look at my pantry and determine if I am at that goal.
- Short-Term: How many meals can I make from my pantry with minimal dipping into my long-term storage food during the first month? My goal is 3 meals per day for 8 people, with some desserts added to help keep up morale. Again, I’m going to visually inspect my pantry to determine if my goal is met.
- Long-Term: How much long-term food do I have? Phil and I met our one-year plan for the two of us last year, so now we look at how many other people can we help.
- If the power grid is down, do you have the capability to cook the food you have? What key purchase would allow you to say “yes” in response to that question? Consider a propane camping stove (don’t forget to store some propane), an outdoor fire pit with grill, a rocket stove and/or a solar oven. (I have plans for a DIY solar oven that I can’t wait to try. Oh if there were just enough hours in the day!)
- Do you know how to cook the food you have with the cooking method(s) available?
- If for any reason your current shelter is no longer available, do you have a backup plan? Where will you go and how will you get there? What kind of challenges are you likely to face in getting there? What will you take with you? What do you need to be able to make the trip? How quickly can you be on the road?
- In a no-power-grid situation (whether it’s from a snow storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power-grid failure) do you have a plan to keep you family warm? Start with buying extra clothes and blankets. Add to it by developing an alternate heat source.
- Is your home an easy target for being broken into? What can you do to “harden” your home? (Think about things like upgrading your entry doors or planting thorny bushes under first floor windows.)
- Are you prepared to protect your family? What do you need to do to become more prepared and better trained?
- How’s your prepper notebook coming? Read more about it here. People tend to put off gathering important documents and creating a prepper notebook. If this is the one thing you do during National Preparedness Month, you will have done a good thing.
What’s your Preparedness Check and Challenge goal for this National Preparedness Month?
Today’s article is by Gale Newell, a young woman who is taking positive steps toward becoming self-sufficient. Gale has written for a number of prepper blogs and submitted the following article to us to help us get control of one of our most important resources — our money. This may become the first installment in an ongoing series on financial issues from a prepper perspective. I’ll turn this over to Gale now, and chime in with my own comments below hers.
Budgeting for Prepping
Paper currency will always be a major factor in your life, unless you plan on disappearing into the mountains to live the rest of your life in a cave. Some of us (including me) hope to do this someday, and live a self-sufficient life. Even then, someone will probably find you and want money for something. Until TEOTWAWKI comes and the foundation of our society crumbles, paper currency will continue to hold value in our world. So, what can you do now, as a prepper?
Step 1: Keep track of all of your expenses. There is still a lot of value in balancing your checking account. In addition, recording all your transactions in your checkbook’s register allows you to double check everything your bank does, without relying on an internet connection. A bank has thousands of transactions every day and mistakes, while rare, do happen.
I personally don’t carry my checkbook on me. While this means I can’t record my expenditures as I make them, I keep the receipts from all my transactions in my wallet and then add them to my checkbook’s register at the end of the day. It only takes few minutes and it provides me with an organized record of all my expenditures. Furthermore, it provides me with an accurate, up-to-date balance. Online banking is great, but it can take a day or two for transactions to clear.
I personally like to sit down and compare my checkbook’s register to the information available at my online banking. It’s a quick way to double check my work and the bank’s numbers. This could be seen as an optional step, and it is, but I highly recommend doing it. If everything is accounted for and looks good, it’s time to create categories to sort your finances into.
Step 2: Budget. After about a month of recording transactions, the process of creating a budget can begin. Here are some very useful budgeting forms from www.DaveRamsey.com, which can help you divide your overall budget into meaningful categories. If you are looking to cut certain expenses out of your life you could label a category “unnecessary expenses.” Once you have sorted your various expenses into their proper category, add them up. The totals in each category should give you a good idea of where your money is going.
Step 3: Evaluate. Now that you have a good picture of what you are actually spending your money on, you can decide which areas require some cutbacks. If you created an Unnecessary Expenses category, you could immediately use that money somewhere else. The Unnecessary category could be very handy if you need to save up money to put towards outstanding debts, or if all your debts are paid off, put that money towards additional preps. All you would have to do is set aside the amount you would normally spend on expenses you deemed unnecessary into something like a savings account. Any money sitting in a savings account should not be touched for any purpose other than putting a down payment on a house or getting out of debt.
Hopefully this will help readers see how staying organized and planning ahead can reduce the stress of living within the current times. Budgeting is not something over the head of a prepper. In fact, it becomes doubly important for reducing your financial footprint and making strides to getting off the grid. In a capitalist economy in which everything revolves around money, remember there are things much more important than material goods and extra stuff. Use saving money as a chance to reconnect with friends and family, not spending so many nights out or making impulse purchases.
Gale Newell is continually working on being a self-sufficient human being. She finds herself spending her summer days outdoors, whether raising food in her organic garden or playing cards with friends and family. She enjoys grilling meals on her old-school charcoal grill and has overcome an addiction to multiple television series. Gale feels freer than ever and is truly happy. She is prepared for the future and ready for whatever happens next.
Phil’s Two Cents Worth on Budgeting for Prepping (pun intended)
Gale brings up some excellent points. The late, great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar was known for saying, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen.” Next to tithing and providing for the needs of your family, budgeting for prepping may be the most important thing you do with your money.
Creating a realistic budget can be terribly difficult because it forces us to be deadly honest with ourselves. The things that will really kill your budgeting process are the dreaded occasional expenses. We all have WAY more of them than we are aware of. I read recently that the Back To School season is the second biggest shopping period of the year, second only to Christmas. The average family spends $600 per child on back to school expenses. Did that annual expense make its way into your monthly budget? I just had my roof replaced a couple of years ago. It cost thousands, and it’s something that typically has to be done about once every 15 years where I live. Is that in my budget? How about medical expenses, insurance, car maintenance, saving for my next vehicle, replacing my aging water heater, or the need to travel across the country to visit a sick or dying relative? How do you budget for these kinds of things? I’m going to need to replace virtually everything that I own at some point. Do I have that in my budget? Do you?
I recommend making the most realistic budget you can possibly conceive of, then adding about 30% to it, which you stick in the bank or your private vault, and guard it against foolishness and dissipation until you really need to tap into it. Great advice, Phil. [ Note to self: Maybe I really need to start doing this myself, instead of continually being taken by surprise and driven into debt. ]
An obvious way to squeeze the most out of your prepping budget is to buy items when they’re on sale. September is National Preparedness Month. (Who says our friends at FEMA aren’t looking out for us?) You’ll find some deep discounts on prepping supplies from all of the following vendors. We’ve bought from them and are able to recommend them to our readers.:
Once again, our thanks to Gale Newell, who saw a need and stepped up to address it. I look forward to more thought-provoking articles from her in the future.
In case you haven’t seen the emails or heard the news, allow me to let you in on a secret — September is National Preparedness Month. That brings several questions to my mind:
- Am I more prepared today than I was at this time last year? In the light of the very long list of things I could (and want to) be doing to be better prepared, it’s often easy for me to be discouraged by this question. That’s when I say “STOP! Take a deep breath and let’s get specific.” When I made a specific list of things I have done this year to become more prepared, it turned my discouragement around. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Stop. Take a deep breath and encourage yourself before you move on. (Having trouble identifying what you’ve done to improve your preps this year? Maybe reading our list will help. It’s at the end of this article. We’re providing it just to help you jumpstart your list of things you’ve done.)
- How can I take advantage of National Preparedness Month? One obvious answer is to take advantage of the sales that most preparedness vendors are having this month. It’s a great time to make some very strategic purchases. The definition of “strategic purchases” will be different for everyone, so before you make those purchases, now is a great time to evaluate your preparedness – otherwise, how can the purchases you make be strategic? While we generally have the perspective that buying more food is always a good thing, our cash available for purchases isn’t unlimited (not even close to it). That means that we have to balance our spending and fill in some of the gaps in our preparedness plan. So, as good as the food sales might be, perhaps the most strategic purchase would be a sun oven or a rocket stove to help you cook some of that food if your normal energy sources aren’t available. Maybe it will be a solar energy kit. We can’t know that until we take a step back and evaluate where we are. Don’t let your “wants” leave you with a long list of “needs.”
- How can we help our readers take advantage of National Preparedness Month? We are all at different places in our preparedness. Those of you who have been prepping for a while undoubtedly have a list of “next steps” or “wish list” items, many of which will require making some purchases. Later in this article we’re including a list of some of our favorite vendors. You’ll also find ads from some of them in the sidebars of the various pages of our site. Let me offer a bit of help to those who are new to prepping. The question we get asked most often is “How do I get started?” If you’re in that category, stick around! In a month or two, we’ll be starting a “Prepper 101 Club” (or something like that). It will help you get started in prepping with a logical and easy to follow approach. In the meantime, what can you do this month? A great place to start is by reading our article, Getting Started with Prepping. After that, start with the most basic stuff – water and food. Below you’ll find some links to other articles that will help you get started.
Water comes first. How adequate is your water supply? (Hint: You need more than you think.) How do you go about collecting and storing water? Check out these blogs:
Our Three-Layered Approach to Prepping – This blog is a good intro about to our approach to prepping in general (short term, medium term, and longer term), and we use water storage as our example, so it gives you an idea about how to plan for your water storage needs.
Food is next. We recommend starting with our two-part Food Storage 101 series:
Once you’re past that pre-school stage, browse our site for other articles on food storage, preservation, gardening, and more.
Now food and water are just the beginning, but everyone has to start somewhere and we don’t want to overwhelm anyone. Wandering around our site will help you understand prepping more and will help you identify where you should spend your money and time this month.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite vendors:
Both of these vendors are preparedness superstores. They’re best known for their food products, but they both offer a wide range of preparedness products. Both of them have frequent sales.
Augason Farms is almost exclusively a food vendor. They also run great sales, especially on their large pails of staples. When they put stuff on sale, their prices generally can’t be beat.
We buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. So much so that we have a membership to Amazon Prime, which gives us free 2nd-day shipping on most items.
One of the most overlooked area of food storage is spices. All of those buckets of beans, rice, and wheat are going to taste pretty bland without a good supply of spices. Spices For Less sells a wide range of spices and seasonings in any quantity you want, with good discounts applied to larger quantities.
It’s no secret that The Approaching Day Prepper is a site that has Christian beliefs and values at its core. We believe that God sometimes gives warnings of approaching calamities and that when He does, He expects people to prepare themselves for those events. We also believe that if a prolong period of hardship were to come upon our nation, people who have never given much thought to spiritual matters will seek God. Part of our preps is a stockpile of inexpensive Bibles and New Testaments that we’ve purchased from Biblica.com. We want to be ready to lead a network of home Bible studies and we recognize that in today’s culture, not every home has a Bible. Ours now has dozens of very affordable Bibles that can be given out freely to anyone who will use one.
Here’s what we’ve done to improve our preparedness this year. We still have LOTS more to do. But perhaps reading our list will help you identify your own progress since last September.
- We’ve started making and storing meals in jars. (Watch for a future blog on this topic!).
- We expanded our garden by 50% this year and we learned tons more about gardening that we didn’t have time to implement this year. That’s OK. Learning comes before doing, then doing enhances the learning. We’re making plans for next year’s garden right now, applying some of our “lessons learned” during this growing season, so that we’ll be able to increase the size of our garden next year.
- We rotated our water and increased our water reserves. This included buying a food-grade water barrel, a rain barrel for the garden, and a Katadyn water filter that can process thousands of gallons of water.
- We’ve bought an ammo reloading press, dies, components, and supplies.
- Bought a new rifle that could be used for both hunting and home defense.
- We’ve picked out a pellet stove that we’ll be buying next week. Watch for an article on that purchase decision to come soon. We know buying a pellet stove doesn’t make sense to many people from a true preparedness point of view, but we decided that it was our best option.
- We’ve added storage racks and begun to reorganize our long-term food storage.
- We increased our inventory of long shelf-life food.
- We’ve purchased many non-food survival items – paper products (at last count we have about 300 rolls of toilet paper, enough facial tissue to last a year, and plenty of paper towels) and miscellaneous supplies like tarps and tape.
- I learned a lot about essential oils and use them regularly.
We’re making progress. It’s a continual process – one that sometimes gets interrupted by the necessities of work and family, but is never abandoned. We hope that you will take advantage of the sales offered by some of the vendors represented on this site during National Preparedness Month, and that you will become more prepared tomorrow than you are today. Also, watch our Facebook page as we’ll put notices there about sales we find interesting.
We’re sorry that you haven’t seen many blogs from us over the past couple of months. Well, any blogs actually. That’s because work and life has exploded for us and we’ve had to put The Approaching Day Prepper on the back shelf for a short time. But that doesn’t mean that our personal prepping efforts have stopped. We didn’t do all we would have liked, but we did more than nothing.
Perhaps your life gets crazy sometimes, too. During those times, your prepping efforts don’t need to come to a standstill. Here are some ideas for moving your prepping efforts forward when time is at a premium.
Build Prepping Into Your Everyday Shopping
- Find a sale on something that you use a lot of? Stock up. It doesn’t take any longer to buy ten of them than it does two.
- Perhaps it’s not on sale, but you can still buy two of some of the things on your shopping list – one for now and one for your storage shelves.
- Add a case of bottled water to your cart.
Shop Online – Especially for Bulk Supplies
- When placing an office supply order for our business, I add cases of toilet paper, facial tissues, and paper towels. We’ve been getting our stuff from Quill.com. (Watch for sales.) We get free shipping with two-day delivery. One day our whole front porch was filled with big boxes that weighed almost nothing! They packed one 20-pack of toilet paper in each carton. The shipping cartons are worth almost as much as their contents.
Do a Quick Project
- Rotate the batteries in your battery charger. (You are using rechargeable batteries, aren’t you?)
- Plan or prep a new storage area. We bought three new 5-shelf storage racks online a couple of months ago. We put them in a spare room on the second floor and started to move some of our food from the basement (which could flood if our sump pump failed) to the storage racks upstairs.
- Write down some “lessons learned” from this year’s gardening season. What should you do better or differently? What would you like to try next year?
- Stay up to date with a good prepper blog. www.SHTFblog.com is one of our favorites, but there are gobs of others. (Note to self: Post a blog about our favorite prepper websites.)
- Spend some time researching your next major purchase. We’re looking at wood stoves and learning more about solar energy.
- Find a new recipe for your long-term storage food and add it to your personal long-term food storage recipe book. (If you don’t have such a book, start one.)
- Squeeze in some handgun dry-fire training time.
- Practice some skills. How are you at tying knots? Or building a fire?
We all get pinched for time, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t cram some prepping tasks into a few minutes of down time. What ideas do you have? Drop us a note in the Comments section below.
Once in a while I stumble upon a free resource that’s so good I want to get it into the hands of all our readers. I didn’t actually “stumble upon” this one. I’m a subscriber to Melissa Norris’ excellent blog on pioneer living. (The “city kid” in me still shakes his head in amazement when I say things like this. What a long, strange trip it’s been.) Melissa has a number of valuable resources available for download through her site. Today she’s out-done herself with the Preserve Food at Home Ultimate Resource Guide.
I’m a snake-bitten skeptic. When I see superlatives like “ultimate” bandied about, my BS radar goes on full alert. But hey! It’s free, and you know what I always say — “If it’s for free, it’s for me!” So I punched the link for this so-called “ultimate resource guide” and loaded it. All nine pages of it. And that page count includes the front cover. Another over-blown pamphlet that calls itself an “ultimate guide”?
Not this time. This ultimate guide really delivers. After you get past the attractive front cover, you’ll find that it’s a true resource guide, chock full of links to other sources — web sites, articles, videos, product reviews, books, online courses, etc. Be advised that not all of the resources that the Guide links to are free, but if you’re looking to learn about these topics and will need to buy some of these things, the Guide is a real time-saver. It covers the most common means of food preservation (canning, freezing, and dehydration) and some lesser-known practices like salt curing and using alcohol or oils to preserve foods and make your own extracts.
It’s no secret that we here at The Approaching Day Prepper aren’t experts in the topics that we discuss. We are perpetual newbies. That’s why I love it when someone like Melissa not only does all the heavy lifting for me, but then she freely gives away the fruits of her labor. There are a lot of links in her Guide that I want to dive into. Things like:
- Which pressure canner is best? The budget-priced Presto or the spendy All American?
- How to can meat
- How to make your own vegetable powders
- How to dehydrate cantaloupe (say what??? )
- How to cure and store onions and garlic (you can NEVER have enough onions and garlic in your preps)
- How to dehydrate ground beef safely (I presume that the operative word here is “safely”)
I’m pretty jazzed about this resource guide. So much so that I stopped what I was doing as soon as I found it and posted this blog. Click here to link over to Melissa’s site and grab a copy of it for yourself.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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