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?
Sandy and I are city kids, through and through. Despite our urban upbringing and having spent the first ten years of our post-college life in Los Angeles and Chicago, we feel well prepared for life in a small town. I mean, hey! We’ve seen every episode of Green Acres. If ever there was a real-life Lisa and Oliver, it’s Sandy and me. But now that we’ve decided to start to prep, we’re really glad for God’s provision in moving out of the city to a small town several years ago. That’s God’s plan and wisdom, not ours. And like Oliver from Green Acres, we feel a need to get in touch with the land and grow some of our own food. (This coming from a guy who only strays into his yard to cut the grass once a week.)
A big part of prepping is learning useful skills, things that will help make us less reliant on outside sources. How long can I last if (when) the grocery stores get picked clean? The canned food I have in the house won’t last forever. I have to find a means of producing more of it. That’s where planting a garden comes in. In all fairness, we did plant a small garden once before, and we were stunned at how much food we were able to grow from it, but we’re just not “yard work” kinds of people, so any time the urge to plant another garden reared it’s head, we laid down until the feeling went away.
Not this time. We no longer view gardening as a “take it or leave it” pastime. It’s become more of a life-or-death necessity. So we’re going to take the plunge again this year, but we don’t want to over-extend ourselves until we get a better handle on it. We want to expand as we learn, so we’re starting small. And when it comes to small gardens, there are two very viable approaches that are wildly popular right now — container gardening and “square foot” gardening. We may do a little container gardening this year, but we’re going to focus our efforts on square foot gardening.
What Is “Square Foot” Gardening?
Square foot gardening is an efficient method of growing vegetables and herbs in small, organized spaces. So-called “square foot gardens” are raised beds divided into individual sections that are (wait for it…) a square foot each. So what’s wrong with conventional “row” gardening? Mel Bartholomew, the creator of the Square Foot Gardening Method, says it’s all wrong:
After looking at other people’s gardens, it was usually very predictable. Here’s what I found out about single row gardening: Too big an area, too much time, too much work, too much effort, too many seeds, too many weeds, too many plants, too many problems, too costly, too much harvest, too many tools. IT’S JUST TOO MUCH OF EVERYTHING!
People can grow 100% of the crops they used to grow in large plots in just 20% of the space. These smaller, more organized gardens are easy for beginner gardeners, can be located close to the house, and are easy to protect from pests and frost.
What You Can Grow
Herbs and bulbs are great for square foot gardens, as are beans and most vegetables. (You can grow flowers, too, but I don’t think you’ll want to eat them.) The only things that don’t work well are bulky vegetables like artichokes, ground spreaders like melons, and root spreaders like blueberries. Good picks are:
- Cherry Tomatoes
Picking a Location
- 6 – 8 hours of sun a day
- Away from trees where shade and roots can interfere
- Close to house for convenience
- Good drainage
Making the Raised Beds
Raised beds are made from frames or boxes that should be 6 inches deep and 4 feet x 4 feet square with no bottom. (We’re framing ours with concrete cinder blocks.) Actually, your beds can be as long as you like, but they shouldn’t ever be more than 4 feet deep. You need to be able to reach into the raised beds to tend the plants. If you have access to all sides of a bed, making it 4 feet deep will mean that you only need to reach in 2 feet from either side. If you are placing your bed against a wall or other barrier, make it only 2 feet deep so you can reach all the way into it.
Square foot gardening doesn’t require to you till the soil before you plant. Instead, you fill the boxes with new potting soil, ideally a mix of 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite. So even if you live in an area with crummy dirt like hard clay or light sandy soil, no problem! You’re not using the dirt from your yard. Your plants will grow great in this “potting soil” mixture. Each box should have a permanent grid on top that divides it into 1 foot x 1 foot squares. Don’t skip this step or you’ll miss out on many of the benefits of square foot gardening!
Planting and Care
You plant a different “crop” in each square foot. Some crops grow one plant per square foot — others 4, 9, or even 16. If you’re growing from seed, plant seeds sparingly. Water the entire bed gently by hand with tepid water (never cold). As you harvest each square foot you can add a little potting mix, then replant it.
Of course, you’ll have to deal with insects and critters just like you would in any garden, but it’s much easier in a square foot garden. To keep hungry critters like deer and rabbits out of your garden, it’s easy to build a removable wire mesh cap. If you end up with garden pests, use organic pest control methods so your food stays safe to eat.
For more information on Square Foot Gardening, check out Mel’s excellent website at www.SquareFootGardening.org. Other great resources for small format gardening are RaisedBeds.com and Eartheasy.com. EarthEasy is very slow to load, but it’s a great site. Your patience will be rewarded.
If you’re brand new to food storage, you might want to read the following two articles to help you understand how to implement the two simple rules.
- Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Can I Store for an Emergency?
- Food Storage 101: What Types of Food Should I Store for an Emergency?
Now, on to the “2 Simple Rules”
I like to keep things simple. When it comes to food storage, there are two simple rules:
- Store what you eat — Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean that you have to eat things that you don’t like. You may have heard somewhere that pickled squid stores well, but that doesn’t mean that you have to eat it (or try to get your kids to eat it). Too many people buy things that they really don’t like because they’re on sale or whatever, with the mindset that during an emergency they’ll be grateful to have anything at all. That may be true, but only up to a point. If all you’ve got to eat is slop, it will wear away at you at a time when you don’t need anything else to be a hardship. You might start skipping meals rather than eat slop again at a time when you need fuel to keep your body running well. During stressful times, we often gravitate toward foods that we like especially well. We call these “comfort foods.” You shouldn’t deprive yourself of comfort food during an emergency. Play your cards right and mealtime might be the best part of your post-apocalyptic day. So plan on storing the kinds of food that you actually enjoy. And be sure to stockpile a wide variety of foods. Fatigue sets in quickly when you have to eat the same thing day after day.
- Eat what you store — Even if you store a variety of foods that you like, it’s a virtual certainty that your food consumption will be different during a long-term emergency from what it is right now. Goodbye McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Hello rice and beans. Since changes will have to be made, don’t wait until the situation is forced upon you to begin to make those changes. Do it now. Learn how to use the foods that you’ve stored, including your really long-term storage foods. This means that you will have to break down and open some of those 25-year shelf-life cans of dehydrated or freeze-dried foods and learn how to make meals with them. You might need to learn to make more one-dish casserole-type meals to conserve fuel. Practice now. Learn how to do it so you don’t have to throw out or eat your mistakes while you’re in crisis mode.The other aspect of eating what you store has to do with rotation. You don’t want your food to go bad sitting on your shelves. Practice “first in – first out” inventory management. Be aware of the expiration dates of your food items and use your food before it goes bad.
We want our readers to participate in this blog. If you have a good recipe that used food storage items, share it with us. We want to be a clearinghouse for good ideas. If we publish your recipe, we’ll give you all the credit! Just email us – Recipes@TADPrepper.com or comment on our Facebook page.
In my previous blog we looked at the types of food that are available for medium to long-term food storage. These included canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried foods. As you can well imagine, each on has its pros and cons. That’s where this blog comes in. Read on…
Canned food provides the widest variety of types of food products. You can buy everything from soup to nuts in a can. I once heard that you can even buy beer in a can. There are a lot of heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat entrees in cans (this can be a critical factor in an emergency situation), or you can buy individual recipe components in cans and whip up your own concoction. Canned goods are familiar and readily available. One huge plus for canned food is that you almost never have to add water to prepare them. If anything, you’ll be draining water out of them, rather than adding it in.
The downside with canned goods is their relatively short shelf-life, as compared to dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Use it or lose it, baby. Although canned goods can be still be usable for years past their printed “best by” dates if stored in a cool location, those “best by” dates are often just one to three years out. People who base their food storage plan on canned goods need to practice rotation religiously.
Other downsides to canned foods are their size and weight. You don’t find many backpackers who lug canned goods with them on mountain trails. In the same way they make for a poor option for bug-out bags. Canned goods are fine for being stored on a shelf in your basement or stashed under your bed, but if you need to pack up and go, canned goods are a major burden to bear.
Dehydrated food is the best value among long-term storage (LTS) foods. As of this writing, Emergency Essentials, one of the leading vendors of emergency food and supplies, offers a 2,000-calorie-per day one-year food package for $1,300. By comparison, their 2,000-calorie freeze-dried kit sells for $4,500. (Let’s see — do I want three and a half years of dehydrated food, or one year’s worth of freeze-dried?) If you’re on a budget you’ll want dehydrated foods should rank pretty high in your long-term food storage plan.
Long shelf-life is a huge advantage – many LTS dehydrated foods are rated at 20-25 years. The food you last today can safely stored for longer than you’ll live in your current house, most likely.
Small storage footprint is also an advantage for dehydrated foods. Because the water’s been removed (and removed in such a way that reduces the size of the original product), they take up lots less shelf-space. You can fit a lot of food in a #10 can. That makes for the most compact storage option among the three types of food.
Another factor with dehydrated food has both pluses and minuses. You won’t find many, if any, dehydrated food entrées. (Well, there are a number of dried soup mixes, but I don’t always count that as an entrée.) Instead you’ll find separate ingredients. The bad news is that this means that you have to cook. No “just add water” and have a meal. The good news is that you can cook anything you want, any way you want. You can add things to a ready-made entrée to customize it to your liking, but you can’t take anything away from it that you don’t like. I’ve always marveled at Taco Bell. They’ve got something like 30 items on the menu, but they’ve only got about five ingredients in the kitchen. It’s all just different combinations and preparations. Same thing with dehydrated food. You can make anything you want, but you’re the one who has to make it. I’ve always felt that the flexibility provided by dehydrated food gives it the greatest potential for assembling the healthiest meals.
The most significant downside for dehydrated (and freeze-dried foods) is that they’ve been dehydrated — you have to have a supply of clean water to reconstitute them. When trouble comes, water may become a precious commodity. You need a minimum of a gallon per day, per person. That seems like a drop in the bucket now when the water is flowing freely. You leave the tap running while you brush your teeth. You throw a piece of tissue paper in the toilet and feel like you have to flush it. You take long showers. All of that goes by the wayside when water no longer flows from your faucets at will. So whether you’re bugging-out or bugging-in, the availability of clean water for re-hydrating these foods becomes an issue. Score one for canned food.
Here’s another related downside to dehydrated food. Cooking them is energy intensive. Do you ever cook with dried beans? (If you don’t, you should start now.) They take forever to cook. You soak them overnight, but they still want to simmer in your crockpot all day or cook on the stove for a couple of hours. That’s what I mean by energy intensive. Besides having enough clean water, you also need to have a sufficient energy source to cook dehydrated food. Dehydrated food is the worst of the three types of food in this respect.
I’ve already pulled this one into the discussion in the comparisons above, but more can (and will) be said about freeze-dried food. I pointed out that freeze-dried food is 350% more expensive than dehydrated. So why would anyone want to shell out that kind of money for it?
Because it’s good. Almost all the best features that you want for long-term storage food can be found in freeze-dried. The freeze-drying process retains the appearance, texture, color, flavor, and aroma of the original food it comes from. By comparison, some dehydrated food gets shriveled, loses its fresh color, and can be a bit tough or chewy if you don’t cook it thoroughly. When you add water to freeze-dried food to reconstitute it, you can’t tell it from fresh.
It’s also lightweight and portable.
And there’s plenty of variety. Freeze-dried can take you places that dehydrated can only dream of. Dehydrated cheese? You have to settle for powder, like the packets that come with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. You can make a cheesy sauce from it, but that’s it. With freeze-dried, you can have real shredded cheese. Or cottage cheese. Or blueberry cheesecake. Or freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches. Starting to catch the vision?
Freeze-dried fruits and veggies are very good, but one area where freeze-dried really shines is with just-add-water entrées. The leading brand of freeze-dried entrées is Mountain House. Their products are available from a lot of emergency supply vendors. They offer such family favorites as beef stew, beef stroganoff with noodles, pasta primavera, teriyaki chicken and rice, lasagna, and so forth. And it tastes good. Like real food. BTW, Mountain House has a sale twice a year. Watch this space and we’ll let you know when it’s happening.
Freeze-dried meats are good, too. You can buy cans of diced chicken, turkey, beef, pork, or ham. (Yeah, I know ham is pork, but it’s different.) You can get crumbled sausage or ground beef. You can’t do that with dehydrated. The closest that dehydrated can come with meat and poultry is TVP (textured vegetable protein) made from soy beans and gussied up to vaguely resemble bits of meat. I’ve had some TVP that wasn’t bad, but I’ve had some that was. The freeze-dried stuff isn’t TVP. It’s the real deal.
Like with dehydrated food, freeze-dried needs water to reconstitute it and energy to cook it, but it requires a lot less energy than most dehydrated food. For fruit, you just soak it in water. No heat required. For many entrées, you bring the needed amount of water to a boil, stir in the dry mix, cover it, and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes, and presto! Hot and tasty food.
The two biggest downsides to freeze-dried are cost and size. We addressed cost above. Freeze-drying doesn’t shrink the food, so it takes about the same amount of space as fresh, even though all the water has been removed. For example #10 (gallon-sized) can of sliced strawberries weighs only 7 ounces (less than half a pound), but it takes up a gallon of space. When reconstituted it provides more than 9 cups of sliced strawberries, but it takes up a lot of shelf space during storage.
So what type should you buy and store?
I’m not an “either/or” kind of guy. I’m much more of a “both/and” kind of guy. Why limit yourself to just one type when all three have certain advantages? I have canned goods on hand for short-term emergencies like a power outage after an ice storm. They would also make for good comfort food during a longer emergency. Freeze-dried can offer a lot of comfort food capability, but it’s also great for situations where you need mobility. Its light weight makes it a grab-and-go winner.
On my budget, dehydrated foods make up the mainstay of my long-term storage food plan. For the best value, go with the big six-gallon pails of staples such as wheat, rice, dried beans, and oatmeal. (After you’ve opened a pail, you’ll need a plan for using it all within a reasonable amount of time to keep it from going bad, or have a way to reseal it for later.) Round out your collection with #10 cans of dried veggies and fruits, powdered milk, soup and sauce mixes. And store more than you think you’ll need for yourself and your family. When it’s crunch time, you’ll want to be able to reach out and help others who weren’t as well prepared as you are.
There is a lot of confusion among prepper newbies about what types of food to store for emergency use. Canned? Freeze-dried? Dehydrated? Yeah, I can understand being confused. Been there – done that.
To help sort this out, we need to look at the different types of food preservation available. You can’t develop a food storage plan that works best for you until you understand these basics.
Everyone knows what canned food is. We’ve eaten it all our lives. I’m mainly talking about the stuff that you get at the grocery store:
- Canned vegetables, such as garbanzo beans, creamed corn, pickled beets, and sauerkraut. (Have I hit everyone’s favorites?) Also think tomatoes in all their forms (whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, juice). Some vegetables seem to can better than freeze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a package of mushrooms or beets in the freezer at the grocery store. Beware of the sodium content in canned veggies.
- Then there are canned fruits, which include peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, and apple sauce.
- Don’t forget canned meats, like tuna, sardines, Vienna sausages (do they really count as a “meat” product?), and the ubiquitous Spam. OK, some of those are fish, not meat, but you get the idea. For that matter, you can buy canned poultry, too, in a variety of sizes. If you shop at the right places you can get canned bacon, too, precooked and ready to rock, but I find it to be a bit spendy for my budget.
- Ready-to-eat canned entrees include things like beef stew, chili, soup, La Choy Chinese dinners, and everything that Chef Boyardee has ever made.
That’s just hitting the high points of canned food. There are many others. I once bought a can of Pork Brains in Milk Gravy, just because I could. Let’s just say that you don’t want to be in a white elephant gift exchange with me. But I digress.
The shelf life of store-bought canned foods varies a lot. In most cases it can be from one to three years. Meat and fish seem to have a longer “best by” date than fruits and vegetables. Almost everyone has found that canned foods are still good for long past the stated “best by” dated found on the cans, provided that the cans are not dented and are stored at a cool temperature.
There is another broad category of canned food that we will cover extensively in an on-going series of blogs. This is home-canned food. Home-canned food that is properly prepared and stored can have a longer shelf life than store-bought canned goods, up to about 10 years. Watch this space for future blogs on do-it-yourself canning.
We buy more of these than we’d think. If the instructions say “just add water,” it’s a dehydrated food. Common store-bought dehydrated foods includes rice, dried pasta, dried beans, dried soup mixes, meal kits like Hamburger Helper, and spices.
But when preppers talk about dehydrated foods, more likely than not they mean the stuff from specialty vendors that comes in the big #10 cans (roughly one gallon) and is designed to have a shelf life of 20 years or more. These long-term storage (LTS) dehydrated foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, pasta, powdered milk and other drink mixes, sauce mixes, and baking supplies.
As with canned foods, you can also dehydrate your own foods at home. More on this in a future blog.
Freeze-dried is the new kid on the block. The process was invented during WWII to preserve medical serums that were being shipped to the troops. American astronauts were eating freeze-dried foods as early as Project Mercury in the early 1960s. Freeze-dried instant coffee was the first product that was available commercially.
They’ve gotten really good at freeze-drying foods now. All the water is removed from the food while it is deeply frozen. The resulting product looks like the original, retaining the same general size, color, flavor, and smell, but is much lighter. When properly packaged and stored, freeze-dried foods can have a very long shelf-life. We’re talking 25 years here.
Just about anything can be freeze-dried. For some foods (whole wheat, rice, pasta), dehydration works just as well and is much less expensive, so they don’t bother to offer everything in freeze-dried form. But you can buy long-term storage cans of freeze-dried vegetables, fruits, meats, and more. Anyone up for some yummy freeze-dried ice cream?
My next blog will discuss the pros and cons of each of these different methods of food preservation and where they fit into your food storage plan.
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