Monday, March 21, 2011

The First Sprouts of the Season!

As previously mentioned, we started our garden indoors this year, and now, just one week into the process, we are already seeing some vegetables of our labors. Our broccoli and cauliflower are sprouting very nicely. If our goal was just to get sprouts to eat, we would already be harvesting the young, succulant greens. But, we have bolder ambitions for those little verdant stalks, introducing a new strain of broccoli to our town.

Coping With Disaster... and Children

Parenthood can be stressful enough, but dealing with disaster and small children sounds like a recipe for an aneurysm. However, it doesn't have to be a painful experience, at least, more than the crysis itself will demand. One small step in helping your kids cope is to make them familiar with things that will be around even after a disaster. Today, we purchased two Lego dynamo flashlights for our youngest boys. The friendly faces and bright colors will help keep their spirits up, no matter how dark the night. They are fairly large, but they put out a significant amount of light from each foot. With LED bulbs and a dynamo charger, there's no worry about the kids burning them out or running batteries dead any time soon. Granted, their time to play with them is limited and supervised, but helping our kids become familiar with the equipment that may some day be relied on so heavily will give them some basic mechanisms to cope with a world that is otherwise so chaotic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Gardening Season is Officially Here

Today marks the beginning of the 2011 Gardening season. It was a great day to start tomatoes, celery, and several other crops indoors. Our planting is usually done in little Dixie cups, and we had to finish last year's store of them before moving on to our biodegradable planters. Over the last several months, we have saved all of our empty toilet paper tubes. When cut in half, then notched and folded, they make great planting cups that can be used, then transplanted with the young plants when we pass the last frost.
I also started my long procrastinated indoor herb garden. Basil, cilantro, thyme, and oregano are now sitting in their new homes, basking in the little bit of south facing sunlight we receive until the days grow longer. My wife spent most of her early afternoon planting the vegetable seeds, her hard work is definitely adding an urgency to the garden expansion and new beds that need to be put in before mid-April.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Looking towards the short term as well

If the events in Japan these last few days have proven anything, it's be prepared in the short term as well as the long term.

This weekend has been a real eye opener to my wife and I as we have noticed our 72 hour kits have become woefully disorganized and underequipped. Looking at the most likely potential disasters for our area, we've realized we need to really focus on those disasters and hope anything that really happens either falls in those categories or is generic enough to be survivable with common sense and good basic equipment.

We have also gone through our pantried food storage and reorganized our shelves after the Ridley's case lots sale purchases. It's amazing both how much and how little food one can have, plenty of food to survive for 3-4 months, but there are some gaps in our coverage that need to be addressed. We have plenty of canned vegetables and fruits, and plenty of dried grains and legumes, but basic items like yeast, salt, and vinegar need to be built up considerably.

With all the focus on Japan, let's not overlook the lessons taught to us from this tragedy. If the tsunami that hit Sendai had hit any metro area on the West Coast, the death toll would be considerably higher. Japan has encouraged it's citizens to be prepared for exactly the event that happened, and it paid off in a big way.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Small Disappointments

Well, this weekend I was reminded that I do not have control of everything. While hoping to get the rain cisterns buried, I instead woke up to find a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground. As tempting as it is to dig a 5 foot cube in frozen ground, it will be thawed again in a few days and we'll try then.
On another note, I found this morning that my 2 year old had found one of the jello cups we made over the weekend and smeared it across the carpet and walls. It cleans easily off the walls (heat does wonders for sugars), and the floors cleaned up using our homemade floor cleaner. To make up for lack of progress on the water cisterns, I'll include the recipe we use instead.

Carpet Cleaning Solution

1/4 C. liquid dish soap (preferably without dyes)
1/4 C. hydrogen peroxide
2 C. water

Mix ingredients together. Soak area to be cleaned with mixture and let sit for 1 minute. Then scrub with stiff bristled brush, the foam should gain the color of the stain. Remove excess mixture with a clean rag. Let dry, then vacuum. Stronger stains may require additional treatments.

We have a light colored carpet (the naivety of pre-children decision making) and it works great, but as always, test it on a small, inconspicuous patch before attempting to use on your entire floor.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Projects for the weekend

Well, if it doesn't rain and snow all weekend, it will be time to continue one of our aforementioned projects. Currently we can only store 50 gallons of water, which is a 10 day supply for our family. As we do not live within walking distance of any open body of water and are currently reliant on municipal water, it was decided that our best option is rainwater capture. So this weekend, weather permitting, we will be burying 2 250 gallon containers and using them for rainwater collection. Their primary use will be to water the garden, but should the city water not be available, we can also filter it for our use. We will also have to build a filtration system going into the tanks, and a variant on the roof cleaner so we can prevent the majority of crud from our normally dry roof from getting into the tanks. With their position buried underground, they would be a pain to clean. I'm undecided at this point on whether to use a solar pond pump or a hand pump to retrieve the water, but as the project progresses, we'll make a final decision on that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Food Storage Deal of the Month

Update (3/8/11): Got the can rack from Ridley's, it is a smaller 42" tall model. I have a similar one already from Shelf Reliance, price there is $181.00. Although the ad says 340 cans and shows the rack pictured here, in actuality, it's about 200 cans (205 for the Shelf Reliance model) and not nearly the deal. I spoke with the store manager, they refunded my money and I hope to get things cleared up with their home office this afternoon.
Ridley's Foods ( has a FIFO Can Storage Rack for sale this week and next as part of their Case Lots Sale. For those of you who do not shop the Case Lots Sale, you're missing some of the best deals of the year for your stock up pantry. I strongly encourage you to check this sale out, it happens twice a year, once in March and once in October. However, the can rack is new to their list, and is special order only. According to the store, it is 6'hx3'w,2'd and stores 340 vegetable sized cans or 510 condensed soup sized cans. Normally it sells for $399, on sale for $178.88. Yes, we ordered one to supplement our Shelf Reliance 39" Pantry, the Pantry will be relegated to #10 can storage while our rotation of vegetables will be moved to the FIFO. This is a great deal if you do not currently have a solid can rotation system in place.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emergency Water Storage

The Department of Homeland Security requests that everyone keeps a 3 day supply of drinking water. As someone who took the Boy Scout motto way too seriously, 3 days is not nearly enough. Water is one of those few pesky things we cannot do without, so the more you can store, the greater your chances of surviving long blackouts or a loss of municipal services.

Our current method of water storage for drinking is 5 gallon containers that we can move about easily. With each container weighing 40 lbs, it's in our best interest to not make them too heavy so most of the family is capable of moving them around. We currently purchase our containers from and have had no complaints in the last 3 years of using them.
Each year, we drag them out of storage, dump them, clean them, refill them, and put them back in storage. The water after a year is still clean, and washing them with bleach helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria. With 10 of the containers, we are only storing a 10-11 day supply for the family, so future projects will involve expansion of our water storage capabilities.

The Big Berkey - The Review

On Monday, after running a few short errands in town, we came home to find a box in our courtyard. Thinking it was maybe some kitchen gadgets that we had previously ordered, we were ecstatic to find it was our brand new Berkey! It took less than a week to get to our door, and we didn't pay for expedited shipping.

Assembly of the Berkey was similar to building a nuclear weapon. Cleanliness and attention to detail are paramount, and with the stainless steel and black plastic bits lying around my countertop, it felt like an infinitely more nefarious project. The included directions were easy to follow, and after priming our filters, the Berkey was up and running. It wasn't as big as I thought it would be, more like an older coffee urn. If it wasn't for the knob on top, it would almost fit in the space between the countertop and upper cabinets.

I added 20 cups of water to start, and after letting the lower reservior fill a bit, lifted the lever to pour a glass of water. Nothing. Nada. So I ended up taking the spigot apart and now it seems to work, albeit dripping slowly. The warrantly on the Berkey is good, so I'll be contacting the retailer about getting a replacement spigot and washers. The water quality from municipal water, however, is excellent. As previously mentioned, we have a filter in our refridgerator, and the taste of the Berkey water is much cleaner with no metallic taste. I put in cool but not cold water, and the metal has done a good job keeping the water cool even in the 70 degree house. Besides the spigot issue, the Berkey is solid, and I don't forsee it being a weak point in the family emergency water supply.