Thursday, November 15, 2012

What to do with a Large Basil Plant

Basil is my favorite herb. I love it for its taste as well as its fragrance. Last year I planted some basil, but it died. So this year, I planted twice as much. I started several plants from seed, but they didn't do well, so I picked up a couple of starter plants from a local nursery. They did great. 

It's now the end of the season, and the plants were trying their hardest to go to seed. I couldn't keep up with the flower plucking (if you let a basil plant go to seed, the plant will put on a bitter taste), so I decided to go ahead and harvest them.

I dehydrated the first plant, and wound up with two pint-jars of dried basil leaves, which is plenty even for me. I also like to have fresh basil on hand, but that's more difficult in the winter, for obvious reasons. Here's a way to preserve "fresh" basil for use during the non-growing season.

Here is about one-third of my plant, waiting to be washed and culled.

Even though I was diligent in removing flowers or seed pods, a few got by me. As I cleaned and stripped the plant, I saved any dried seed pods I came across. I will collect the seeds from those later.

As I cleaned and removed the leaves, I put them in my blender. Depending on the size of the plant, you may be able to process a lot of the stems with the leaves. However, this plant was so big that I didn't want to include the stems, because they were thick and woody.

Once I had a full blender, I just added some olive oil and blended. You can use a different oil if you want. I didn't measure the oil as I poured it in. The idea is to add enough to coat the chopped leaves, which will help with cohesiveness and also help the basil keep its color after freezing, which is what I'm going to do with this once I'm finished.

I set the blender on medium at first, but the leaves are so light that the blender's centrifugal force just blew the leaves to the sides where the blades couldn't reach. So I used the lower setting, which helped some. I still had to stop the blender and use a spoon to push the leaves back in reach of the blades a few times. If you own a food processor, you might have better luck using that over a blender. I just don't happen to own one.

I poured the chopped-up basil into an ice tray, pushing the leaves down into each opening and packing it in good and tight.

Once I had a full tray, I wrapped it tightly with some plastic wrap. The wrap won't stick to the tray, so I wrapped it halfway around again, where the plastic could stick to itself.

I wound up with two full trays from the basil plant. I let them freeze for about two days. I probably could have taken them out sooner, but I was busy, so I just left them in the freezer until I had time to work with them again. I pulled the trays out, unwrapped them and set them on the counter.

To loosen the basil from the tray, I tried the twisting trick that usually works for ice cubes, but it didn't work so great. I wound up using a knife to loosen up the basil cubes. Not that the basil was really stuck to the trays - I probably could have just turned the trays over and dumped out the basil, but I was trying to be neat.

The cubes came out mostly whole. This is the second time I've processed basil in this way. I think the first time I did it, the cubes held together better. I might have used less oil this time than I did previously.

We typically use these cubes to add to spaghetti sauce. However, they are also good for adding to soups and omelets, or you can drop one into your pan when cooking up meats or stir fry, too. You can use this in any recipe that calls for fresh basil (unless you need whole leaves, of course). This year's basil has a stronger flavor than the stuff I had two years ago, so I add half of a cube to a dish at a time, to make sure the taste isn't overpowering.

After the cubes are removed from the trays, I just store them in the freezer in sealable sandwich bags. You can leave them tightly wrapped in the trays if you want, but the baggies take up less freezer space. Any crumbs or broken cubes go into the bags with the whole cubes. Since I have so much this year, I might seal some in FoodSaver bags, to better protect against frostbite.

So there you have it. Yummy, "fresh" basil preserved for winter use. 

I left a small part of the plant in the ground and will allow it to go to seed, so I can collect the seeds for next year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lessons Learned with Calcium Hypochlorite

One of our neighbors is starting to be interested in prepping. The other day, he was asking questions about water storage. The hubster told him about calcium hypochlorite. This is usually marketed in swimming pool stores as high-test hypochlorite (HTH), or  "pool shock." I remember my Papa using this stuff to clean out his pool every year after winter. He would "shock" the pool, and we weren't allowed to swim in it for three days afterward. That's a long time when you're ten years old and you want to go swimming.

Some preppers keep calcium hypochlorite around for water purification purposes. Here and here are some good articles about it. The only thing is, it's a pretty serious chemical. It's an oxidizer and when a large amount of it mixes with a small amount of water, it can be highly reactive, generating high temperatures. HTH is self-reactive anyway, and produces chlorine gas as it decomposes. The fumes can be deadly if a person breathes too much of it. As an oxidizer, it's also corrosive, so calcium hypochlorite - and its vapors - need to be kept from contact with anything metal. It's probably not a good idea to store it around electronics either. Lastly, keep it away from other chemicals. If a spill were to occur and calcium hypochlorite accidentally mixed with another chemical, a fire could result.

We had several bags of HTH, and the hubster decided to give one to The Neighbor. The photo above is not the actual stuff we bought, but what we did buy was packaged in the same style - a sort of plastic, one-pound bag. (I've since learned that calcium hypochlorite is packaged in breathable containers to avoid pressure buildup while in storage). When we originally bought the calcium hypochlorite, the hubster put the bags inside a bucket, labeled the bucket with all kinds of warnings, and then placed the bucket inside a large, rubberized trash can we use for newspaper recycling. The idea was that the newspaper would soak up any humidity (or other moisture), hopefully keeping the HTH safe.

When the hubster opened the bucket to pull a bag out for The Neighbor, he found a surprise. Firstly, the fumes had built up in the bucket more than he anticipated, and he had to quickly step away to avoid breathing the chlorine gas. Once the fumes dissipated, he found that inside the bucket, the bags had grown brittle, and all but disintegrated in his hand when he tried to pick them up. He had also stored some instructions for use along with the store receipt inside a ziploc bag inside the bucket. The papers had turned a dull grey, making it unreadable, and came apart at the folds when I tried to take them out of the bag.  

So, what have we learned here?
  1. HTH is no joke. It's a very strong, very deadly chemical. 
  2. Don't leave HTH in the cheap plastic bag it's sold in. It doesn't take long for the bag to become brittle and fall apart. 
  3. While it needs to be stored in such a way that there's little, if any, chance that it could come into contact with moisture or with metal, one still has to be aware of chlorine gas buildup when opening the storage container. It's best to open the container outdoors or in a very-well-ventilated area. Be prepared to step away in order to avoid breathing deadly fumes.
  4. The bucket we have our calcium hypochlorite stored in, is probably not a full-proof, long-term storage solution. Eventually the bucket will probably become brittle and crack. We will continue researching better storage methods. I read at least one suggestion online to keep HTH in glass reagent bottles with a ground glass stopper. In the meantime, our plan is to check on the bucket about every three months or so to ensure its integrity.
Needless to say, we weren't able to give The Neighbor a bag of HTH. We did share the story with him, for informational purposes, and passed on some notes about using calcium hypochlorite for water purification. Make sure you do your homework before using, handling or storing dangerous chemicals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Did You Know

...that there really was a hermit named Arsenius?

I was reading one of my older blog posts the other day, and came across some comments from my blog-friend Arsenius the Hermit, whom many of you also knew. Wondering again what had become of him (he stopped blogging about a year ago), I decided to search for "Arsenius the Hermit" online.

I found several links that spoke of St. Arsenius, referring to him by different descriptions: the Deacon, the Great, and of course, the Hermit. The links did not agree on all points, but the gist was always the same. He was born around 350 AD to a wealthy Roman family. He tutored the children of one or more emperors, before fleeing to Egypt, where he lived as a monk and hermit after renouncing his worldly possessions. He became a Desert Father, and people from all around sought audience with him, for he was considered very wise. However, he almost always refused to meet with people, and lived a life of harsh austerity. When he died, he left all his possessions to his disciples, which reportedly consisted of a tunic, a shirt, and some sandals.

Maybe you all already knew of St. Arsenius, but in case you didn't, I thought I'd share. Here are the links I read:

I found no new news of our friend Arsenius; only lots of older comments he had left on various blogs. Hopefully he is doing well.
"Why words, did I let you get out? I have often been very sorry that I have spoken, never that I have been silent."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Using Jar Attachments with a FoodSaver, and a Review

A year or two ago, I purchased an outdated FoodSaver on craigslist for $20. We used it more for adding a final seal to mylar bags than for sealing food to go in the freezer (the price of the bags can negate any food-saving benefits, if you're not careful). It was a good machine, but I wanted an updated one that had an attachment port.

Several months ago, I found what I was looking for: a sale :) I was able to pick up a newer, clearanced model plus two rolls of plastic for a great price, and of course while I was at it, I ordered one large-mouth and one regular-mouth jar attachment. Here's how you use them.

The jar attachments are made for use with canning jars.  Either one connects to the FoodSaver with the same small hose (there will be a small port on the front of the FoodSaver, but the exact placement  of the port varies with the model). The hose came with my FoodSaver unit, but I had to purchase the attachments separately.

Once your jar is filled, place the lid, but not the screw-on ring, on top of the jar. (The lid does not have to be heated or softened like it does for canning). Then simply fit the jar attachment over the top of the lid.  Now you should have the attachment fitted on top of the jar, and the jar attachment connected to the FoodSaver unit via the hose.

Next, if your FoodSaver has a lever that you must lock when sealing bags (usually on the side of the unit), go ahead and lock it.

Then, push the "Vacuum and Seal" button. The unit will make some noise while it sucks the air out of the jar. You will notice that as it gets closer to being sealed, the noise tone will change.

Once the FoodSaver is done removing the air, the noise will stop, the "Vacuum and Seal" button will remain lit, and the "Seal" button will automatically light up. The unit is sealing the jar now. After a few seconds, both lights will go out. Your jar should now be sealed.

Release the pressure by unlocking the lever on the side of the unit. You will hear a hissing noise when you do this. Then you should be able to pull the jar attachment off of the top of the jar.

Check your jar to make sure it is sealed. Try picking up the jar by the lid. If the lid comes off in your hand, then the jar didn't seal properly. If the lid does not come off, set the jar back down and place the tip of your finger in the middle of the jar lid, and push down. If the lid moves up and down, the jar did not seal properly and air is still able to get into the jar. Remove the lid using your fingernails or a butter knife. If you can remove the lid without damaging it, you should be able to reuse it. However, if you bend the edge of the lid while opening it, the lid will not be able to achieve a good seal again. Throw it away and use a new one when resealing the jar.

Jars sealed with FoodSaver & oxygen absorber.
The jar in the photos above is the jar of cranberries I recently dehydrated, and blogged about. Since I plan to use them up soon, I didn't add an oxygen absorber to the jar. I know that the FoodSaver is supposed to suck all the air out of the jar before using it, but I'll talk more about that in a minute. If I am putting food up for long-term storage, I add an oxygen absorber and use the FoodSaver as well. That way, if one fails, hopefully the other will finish the job.

Now, that's the short story. Here is what happened when I tried to seal some jars with the FoodSaver and the regular-mouth jar attachment.

I have used both sizes of the jar attachments previously, with no problems. However, this time when I tried to use the regular-mouth attachment, the FoodSaver would go through the motions and seal the jar. But when I tried to remove the attachment from the jar, it would pull the lid off with it. I tried it a few times and it kept happening. Then the rubber gasket inside the jar attachment came off. I reseated it (it's not glued in or anything; it just fits in a groove), but after that, it came out almost every time I tried to use it. I don't know what changed from the previous times when I used it without incident; maybe the gasket warped or something, but that's just a guess.

So, after trying about a hundred times to get the jar to seal, and then getting the hubster to try, I got online and googled the jar attachment. I found several reviews on Amazon where other people had had the same problem. I guess it is a fault with the attachment. However, no one seemed to have the problem with the wide-mouth jar attachment. Weird.

I saw where a few people said they had luck with placing two lids on the jar and then using the jar attachment, so I tried that. Lo and behold, it worked! I will try that from now on if I continue to have problems. However, some of the reviewers said that worked for them sometimes, but not always. It may be that I have to just use wide-mouth jars with the FoodSaver from now on, and save the regular-mouth jars for actual canning.

At least one reviewer on Amazon doesn't think the FoodSaver actually removes all the air from the jar. He tested it by turning an empty, vacuum-sealed jar upside down in a bucket of water, and then prying the lid loose, and seeing how much water could actually enter the jar. Water could only fill 20% of the jar, which, he says, means the other 80% of the jar was filled with air. Sounds plausible to me, but then, I wasn't in the room when he did the experiment, and rather than try to recreate it myself, I think I'll just add an oxygen absorber to the jar for long-term storage.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cranberries & Mushrooms, revisited

I checked the dehydrator when I got up for work the next day. The mushrooms were drying nicely, but weren't quite done, so I turned the temperature down about ten degrees and left the dehydrator running while I went to work. The hubster gets home first, so I called him that afternoon and asked him to turn off the dehydrator. When I got home, I checked the mushrooms and they looked great.

I also checked on the cranberries. They had been soaking for almost 24 hours by this point, so I drained them and spread them out on a pizza pan lined with parchment paper, and put them in the freezer for two hours. This is supposed to help them dehydrate faster, but I'm not sure I believe it.

The hubster brought me two canning jars from the back where we keep them, and I proceeded to fill them with the dehydrated mushroom slices. I had so many I had to grab a third jar. We will eat these relatively quickly, so I didn't add an oxygen absorber to the jars, but I did seal them with my FoodSaver.

24 oz of cranberries = one pint dehydrated.
After two hours, I pulled the cranberries out of the freezer and transferred them to the dehydrator trays. I  lined the dehydrator trays with plastic wrap so the berries wouldn't fall through the holes in the trays. I set the temperature at about 155 degrees and left them to dehydrate overnight.

I checked them periodically throughout the next day, but they were dehydrating very slowly. I did notice a berry or two that didn't seem to be shrinking at all. I punctured them with a steak knife, just to make sure the skin was severed enough to allow the berry to dehydrate properly. I also pulled back the edges of the plastic wrap lining the trays, to allow better air flow in the dehydrator.

I'm not sure how long I left them in the dehydrator. It was well over 24 hours. I'm still worried that they didn't dehydrate well enough to put them up for long-term storage, so I will probably try to use them up fairly quickly. Anybody have a good recipe that uses craisins?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cranberries & Mushrooms

No, not together. I recently got a good deal on some mushrooms (cheap) and two, 12-oz bags of cranberries (free!), so I thought I'd dehydrate them both.

I have dehydrated mushrooms before and we use them in all sorts of stuff - soups, sauces, spaghetti, omelets, etc. I have never dehydrated cranberries before, so I thought it would be fun to give it a try.

I started with the cranberries, giving them a good rinsing while I put some water on to boil. Cranberries have a slightly tough, waxy outer skin, and if you just threw them into the dehydrator like that, they'd turn into rock-hard little balls. You have to crack their skins, similar to what you do with tomatoes when getting them ready to can, only you don't have to remove the skin from the cranberries - just crack it.

Cranberry, too mushy for dehydrating.

I put about half the cranberries into the boiling water at a time. It only takes a minute (maybe less) for the skins to start cracking. They actually make a popping sound, kind of like popcorn popping. As soon as the skins crack, take them out of the water. If you leave them in too long, they quickly turn to mush and aren't good for dehydrating.

After I finished cracking the skins, I let the leftover water cool for a few minutes, then added it to some sugar to make a simple syrup. I used about 2/3 cup of sugar to 3/4 cup of water and stirred it til the sugar dissolved, then added the cranberries. I covered them and let them marinate overnight. You can skip this step if you don't want to sweeten your cranberries, but I wanted to minimize their tartness.

An adult beverage seems to help the slicing go faster.
Meanwhile, I had this big pile of mushrooms to deal with. They all had to be washed and sliced. Once upon a time I walked into a store and found already-sliced mushrooms on sale. Once. Since then I've only found whole mushrooms at the bargain price, but that's okay...I don't mind the slicing. Much.

One-third down, two-thirds to go (the mushrooms, not the drink).

I'd slice a bunch, then stop and put them on dehydrator trays, then slice some more, then get the picture. I put them on the trays kind of thickly because I was worried they wouldn't all fit. Turns out I had room to spare, so I went back and thinned them out some, which will help them dry faster. Once I had the trays filled, I turned the dehydrator on at about 135 degrees.

While I was slicing mushrooms, the hubster was making dinner. By the time I got done with the cranberries and the mushrooms, I was ready to get off my feet and enjoy my tostadas. The mushrooms will dehydrate and the cranberries will marinate overnight.
The hubster says I make my tostadas too puny. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Emergency Notebooks

Recently I've been spending a lot of time researching and printing out information that might be useful in a grid-down, or really any, emergency situation. I've culled the best stuff from a bunch of websites (with credits, of course), printed it, organized it, and voila! I'm now the proud owner of a 5-notebook library on emergency survival.

I divided all the information into five main categories, which then became the notebook titles you see in the photo. Then, within each notebook I divided everything into subcategories, with a sort of table of contents at the front of each notebook to hopefully help make it easier to find what I'm looking for.  Each topic is housed in its own sheet protector, making it easier for me to remove it from the notebook when I need it without having to open the binder, while also lessening the wear and tear on all those sheets of paper.

I had some store-bought dividers that I tried to use for the subcategories, but they were smaller in size than the sheet protectors, so I spent more time searching for the dividers than just flipping through all the pages. The hubster suggested using some manila folders he had in his file cabinet. I cut the folders in half, put masking tape along the cut edge on the side of the folder with the tab (as reinforcement), and then punched holes through the folder and tape so I could insert them in the notebooks.

The new tabs extended farther than the sheet protectors - well, for the most part - making them easier to see and read.

I was able to scavenge the notebooks themselves from various places. I did wind up having to buy more manila folders and more sheet protectors, but now I have plenty of both, so if I want to add to my notebooks or even make up an additional notebook, I should be able to do it without having to buy anything else. 

Giveaway: Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities

Just a quick post to say that Kendra over at New Life on a Homestead is hosting a giveaway of a new book called Keeping Bees in Towns and Cities by Luke Dixon. You can check out her review of the book and enter the giveaway here. Check out Kendra's blog while you're at it. She's a homesteading diva who's got it all goin' on at once :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on the RNC

I watched part of the Republican National Convention last night, for the first time ever, I think. I usually skip it as just so much pomp and circumstance. It's probably a sign of the times that I decided to watch: politics are becoming more important to people my age and younger who have never dealt with times like our grandparents went through, and so have dismissed a lot of political rhetoric because it hasn't really touched our lives. I mean, while I was growing up it didn't seem to make much difference whether we had an R or a D in the Oval Office: I still had food and shelter and all my other needs met. Really, until the last five years or so, it hasn't seemed that my daily life was affected by who held any political office. Not so, anymore. Once it hits you in the pocketbook you start to take notice, eh? And once you start to take notice...well, it's almost like a loss of innocence, in a way. Once you know, you can never go back to not knowing.

But, I digress.

While I was watching, I was thinking in terms of future presidential nominees. I liked John Kasich (Ohio governor), John Barrasso (Wyoming senator), and Luis Fortuno (Puerto Rico governor). Of course, these were first impressions, but first impressions are important, in my opinion. I'll be paying more attention now to these three. Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, has been in the spotlight here and there since assuming office, and usually with favorable reviews from vocal Republicans, but my mind isn't made up yet. He tries too hard...or something. There's something about him I don't quite trust yet. The rumor around the interwebs is that he plans to run for president in 2016. Guess we'll see.

Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin spoke at the convention, but I guess she didn't get air time (at least not on the station I was watching). A co-worker told me he saw a clip of her speech on the news, and she looked/acted like a beauty queen contestant. I can't comment since I didn't see it. I plan to try and find the clip online.

And, could they not find any Republican commentators? I know there's slim pickings in media land, but it seems like they could have found some. I was watching PBS and I thought their anchors were as close to openly antagonistic as they could get without overstepping boundaries. It seemed more like an inquisition than a conversation. Really, PBS? I thought that was in poor taste.

On a different note, has anyone seen the website put out by the Obama campaign, Who is Fighting for Middle Class Tax Cuts? You can input your family's income and see your tax savings and/or increase according to Obama's and Romney's tax plans. Of course, no matter what income level is entered, you have tax savings with Obama's plan and a tax increase with Romney's plan. Let's just pretend for a moment that this is not skewed at all, absolutely no assumptions were made, it's completely unbiased and all facts are known. Umm, so what? We're in debt, people! How can we expect to get out of debt without spending any money? It's sad that many Americans would have made better choices, and wouldn't have put our nation in the crisis we're currently weathering, and now those same people (read: you and I) are going to have to shell out to fix it. But I don't see any other way around it. Do you? It'll definitely help (a really LOT) if we cut wasteful spending, but that won't get rid of the debts we now owe. Just my two cents on the subject.

Alright, then.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What are You Doing with Your Cash?

There’s so much advice online, on television and in print media about how to protect your assets from the feared, impending economic collapse. However, disparity reigns. It’s almost impossible to find two sources that agree with each other.

Some financial “experts” will try to tell you they know the safe way to invest your money. Others will say, “Cash is King,” and by that they mean real, in-your-hands cash, not “digital” cash that you have tied up in banks or stocks or bonds. Others say that cash will soon be worthless; you need to invest in precious metals, because gold and silver won’t lose value even if the dollar fails. And still others say that cash will soon be worthless and so will precious metals, because once the monetary system fails, people will be wanting practical items, and gold isn’t good for eating, wearing or building.

So my question for you is, what are you doing right now with your cash? Are you still investing? Are you keeping it in the bank? Or are you stashing it somewhere safe? Are you diversifying? Buying precious metals? Stocking up on supplies and items to barter? Are you of the mindset that cash will be king, or that cash will be toilet paper?  Or, maybe you are looking at it percentage-wise? (i.e., keep 30% of your assets in cash, the rest into other options).

I’m not asking for numbers, of course, and I’d rather you didn’t give any. But just in general terms, how are you protecting your assets?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Time Flies

My favorite new hangout
And just like that, July is over and August is in full swing. Seems like just yesterday I was freezing and wondering when it would warm up. I might be in the minority here, but I like it hot - just not as hot as last summer when we had 60+ days over 100 degrees. I find it easier to cool down than to warm up. A warm, sunny day makes me happy, especially if it's spent alongside a lake or paddling down a river.

However, the heat and the drought have been working against us here in Oklahoma. Much of the state was on fire over the weekend. I read earlier this week that over 93,000 acres had burned, and there were still some active fires. I think all the fires are out - at the moment, anyway. Originally, arson was suspected in one of the fires (dubbed "the Luther fire" - I think it made national news). Now they're saying they suspect arson in at least four more of the fires. If that’s the case, the arsonists better hope the police catch them and protect them before some good ol’ boys, who lost homes or crops to the flames, find them instead.They might get a notion to take the law into their own hands, and really, who could blame them?

Things have been hectic around here. We've been non-stop busy. Well, at least it feels that way. The hubster and I both caught "the crud," and passed it back and forth for a while. Then the growing season came on, and the garden took up most of my time. We've had some family issues and some job-related issues, and coupled with everyday worries about the economy, etc., we've been pretty stressed out at times.

Bike Night on Beale Street
We have managed to have a little fun. We've gotten to know our next-door neighbors better, and have spent some time fishing and hanging out with them. We also took a cross-country trip, the point of which was to visit my sister and meet my nephews and brother-in-law for the first time. However, we also stopped in Memphis, where we got some kick-ass barbecue and I got to walk on Beale Street for the first time. We got there on a Wednesday, and were happy to find out that every Wednesday is bike night. It was fun to walk around and people-watch and see all the bikes. We also stopped for a night at my dad's house, where I got to see him and my stepmom and my brother. It was a great trip for me, as I don't get to see my family very often.

We had a storm shelter installed this month. We had to choose between a 6- to 8-person unit, or a 10- to 12- person unit. At first, we decided on the smaller unit. But after sleeping on it, we called the company back and upgraded. Now that it's in place, I'm really glad we did. We could get 10 people in it--heck, we could probably get 20 people in it if we had to--but it wouldn't be comfortable. Hopefully we'll never have to use it, and if we do, hopefully we won't be down there for more than a few minutes. We've told four relatives and as many neighbors to come on over if a tornado's headed our way. As far as our pets, the plan is to throw them in the utility room, which has no outside walls, and hope for the best. At any rate, we're both glad to have the shelter.

I've been learning more about my camera, which I bought near the end of last year. It's a nice camera and can do way more than I know how to make it do. I've even attended a couple of meetings for a photography club, and will probably join soon. I like to take pictures; I'm just not that good at it. Yet. But I might start participating in some photography blog hops, just to get some practice in.

Well, that's a long enough synopsis of what I've been up to for the last several months. Hopefully I'll get back into the blogging groove now. I've missed you guys.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Water, Water, Everywhere? Options for a secondary water source

This was my entry for the Safecastle Freedom Award. 

You don’t need to be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to know that clean water is a basic necessity for healthy human life.

Many of us depend on our municipality or rural water district to provide water to our homes. Where these are not available, each home may have its own water well.

But what if municipal service was interrupted? What if the electricity to run the pump in your well was suddenly cut off? How would you meet your basic water needs if your primary water source was eliminated?

The oft-repeated rule of thumb is that each person needs one gallon of water per day to survive. Most people adhere to this rule when preparing a 72-hour kit or stocking a storm shelter for their families. But what if water service was disrupted for longer? There’s no way to store enough water to sustain a typical family for an indefinite amount of time. And that one-gallon-per-day rule only accounts for drinking water. If a real, large-scale emergency happened (think national) and basic services such as water and power were offline, you would need a backup water source.

If you live near a lake, river, or even a small creek or stream, that is one option. The water will need to be filtered before drinking, cooking, or washing dishes. Depending on what you suspect might be in the water (for instance, chemicals from an industrial facility upstream), you may even want to filter water before use in a garden. There are many options for filtering water, and I leave it to the reader to do his own research. 

If you live in a highly populated area, consider that most of the people near you will utilize that same lake, river or creek. How long will that water source last? Are there people farther upstream (or downstream) that will be counting on that water, too? And without services like sewer and garbage pickup, what will get thrown into that water?

If you’re confident that you can adequately filter any water collected from a surface source, you can also augment it with captured rainwater (filtered for consumption, of course). Cut off the bottom portion of your gutter and set a barrel or other collection container underneath it. You’ll be surprised at how much water a roof sheds during a good thunderstorm. And you’ll be happy for the reprieve from hauling water up from the creek!

If you live in an area where groundwater is accessible, another option is a well with an electricity-free pump.  Both hand-operated pumps and solar pumps are available. Solar pumps are the more expensive option, of course. Dedicated solar panels can be set up for the pump, or in some cases, you may be able to wire the pump to solar panels on your house. However, most solar-operated pump packages do not include a battery, which means you’ll only be able to operate the pump when the sun is shining or the solar panels have not yet lost their charge. Furthermore, solar panels must be kept clean (and in good repair) in order to maintain high performance.

Hand pumps are more economically priced, for obvious reasons. But they are not necessarily the lesser of the two options. Water is available from a hand-pumped well any time, day or night. Some pumps have the option to adjust the “stroke,” or how much pressure is needed to operate the pump. A smaller stroke means less physical force is necessary, so children or elderly people would be able to operate it. A larger stroke means more force is needed, but it also produces more water per stroke. Hand pumps typically come in two sizes: shallow-well and deep-well. If the depth to groundwater from the surface is less than 25 feet, you may be able to use a shallow-well pump, at a significant cost savings compared to a deep-well pump.

In many areas, a permit is necessary to drill a well. You will need to make inquiries with municipal as well as state authorities where you live to see what is required. Typically, though, less regulation is placed on wells designated for landscape, cattle or irrigation use than on wells designated as a primary drinking water source.

Groundwater may appear to be “clean” at first glance. But contaminants at the surface can leach through the soil and enter the groundwater. Additionally, some naturally occurring minerals and metals—arsenic, for example—can be harmful to humans as well. A good idea, after installing a well, is to collect a water sample and take it to a certified lab for testing. Before doing this, you might want to do some research on the geology in your area. Pay attention to what elements are naturally occurring. Also, look for scientific research conducted locally by the USGS or area colleges and universities. You may find information on naturally occurring contaminants, as well as any man-made debacle that might have affected the groundwater where you live. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what to have the lab test for. 

As you might expect, it’s not cheap to have a well drilled. (It’s possible to drill your own well, but not easy). Depending on the local geology and the depth to groundwater, expect to spend $4,000 or more. Also, consider if there is access to your property for the drilling equipment (is your back yard surrounded on all sides by other homes?), as well as whether you want a drilling rig driving across your manicured yard. Even the concrete in your driveway is probably not rated to support a 20-ton (or heavier) truck. But then, yards can be repaired or re-landscaped. Even concrete driveways can be replaced. In a world without basic infrastructure services, a secondary water source is better than money in the bank.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two Great Blogs, One Great Giveaway

Angela of Food Storage and Survival is giving away a copy of the Food Storage Made Easy Binder. If you haven't checked out either of these blogs yet, you should. I happened to notice today that Food Storage and Survival is ranked #51 on the Survival Top 50 Blogs (where they actually are currently showing the top 119 blogs). She has a lot of great information about homesteading and emergency preparedness on her blog. The Food Storage Made Easy girls also do a great job covering (what else) food storage and preparation. Both blogs are on my go-to list for informative articles.

So go check out the blogs and sign up for the giveaway. If I don't win, I'd be thrilled if one of my followers did!

Dehydrator Update

I promised to give an update on the dehydrator I bought in December. Here’s the update: I still love it!
At this point I’m still very glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money on an Excalibur. My little store brand dehydrator does a fine job. If I had to pick one thing that I don’t like about it, it’s that the holes in the trays are a little too large, making it difficult to dehydrate small things like herbs without lining the trays with plastic wrap first. But that’s a small inconvenience, as far as I’m concerned. And I’ve been able to just leave the plastic wrap on the trays and reuse it multiple times without any problems. Since the fan is at the back of the unit instead of on the bottom, the plastic wrap doesn’t stop the heat/air from circulating around whatever I'm drying.
Of all the stuff I’ve dried so far, we use the mushrooms the most. It’s so easy to add mushrooms to a variety of dishes. I’ll be buying more mushrooms to dehydrate when they go on sale again.
We’re just using everything I’ve dried so far, but I’ve got some oxygen absorbers ready, and plan to start putting up some stuff for long-term storage, either in mylar or in canning jars.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Year, New Resolutions part 3

The final installment in my NYRs updates.

7.     Save more water, electricity, gas. Not that we’re big wasters, anyway. But there’s always room for improvement.
--> How’m I doing? I have the hubster “helping” me with electricity. You  know that commercial where the dad goes around turning off lights on everyone in the house in order to save electricity? That’s my husband.
Okay, not really. He’s not that bad. But if I leave a room without turning off the light (or sometimes when I’m still in the room but, say, watching tv), he’ll say, “Are you through with this light? It’s burning XX watts of power right now. “(Yes, he knows the wattage of every light bulb in our house). Or if I walk out onto the back patio, planning to set something down and come right back in, but don’t shut the door behind me, he has something to say about that, too. So, I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t “catch” me wasting electricity. I’m also doing more things like choosing the light in the room that uses the least electricity (for example, a one-bulb lamp over a ceiling fixture that has three bulbs). Kitchen appliances like the coffee maker or blender or can opener are left unplugged when not in use. I try to remember to always turn off the printer but I’m sort of bad about that one. We also leave our computer on all the time. Maybe we could start turning it off, at least when no one’s home.
I’m doing all the normal stuff with water: turn it off while standing at the faucet brushing teeth; only run the dishwasher when full; wash clothes once per week instead of several smaller loads throughout the week. We have a drip hose system for the garden. I try to reuse water when I can. If I’m going to give the dog fresh water, I’ll pour the old water on some plants.  I admit I’m bad about turning the water off in the shower while soaping down or shaving, etc. I hate to just stand there and shiver.
When I say gas, I mean both natural gas and gasoline. There’s not a lot to do about the natural gas, except we keep the thermostat on 69 in the winter and just wear a jacket or sweater if we need to. I guess here again with the shower, I could save gas if I turned the water off while scrubbing.
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on here before, but the hubster and I have a pair of Suzuki Burgmans. We bought them back in 2008 when the gas prices started spiking more heavily. Originally, we both had 400cc bikes, but the hubster upgraded to a 650. They’re fun and they’re gas sippers. Mine gets around 60 mpg in the city and his gets 50 mpg or so. We’ve gotten pretty efficient at using all available space in and on them, so it’s possible to grab some groceries on a bike or even stack some bags of dog food on the back and bungie them down.
The hubster will ride his in cooler temps than I will ride mine. I have about a 30-minute commute to work. If I ride when it’s any cooler than about 40 degrees, by the time I get to work my fingers, toes, ankles and anything exposed to the air hurt. On those days I take the car (27 mpg). To that end, I have been trying to get the best gas mileage out of the car that I can. I’ve dropped my traveling speed from 70 or 75 mph to 60 mph on the interstate (no, I don’t ride in the left lane) and the speed limit or slightly under the speed limit on city streets, where I used to average about 5 mph over. I try to time it so I can avoid coming to a complete stop at red lights. Although I’ve occasionally been known to turn the car off while sitting at a long light, I’m not quite into hypermiling. Seems like the wear and tear (by leading to additional maintenance) of turning your car off and on would outweigh the costs of just idling at a stoplight when you can’t avoid it. With these changes, the gas mileage on the car is creeping up – I averaged 28.9 mpg last week.

And that's it for my New Year's Resolutions, which really are more like goals this year. How're you doing on yours?