Prepare for disaster is a motto I grew up with living in rural Michigan. Back in the day, when the power went off due to a winter storm, it could be off for several weeks. Today we have much better electrical systems and our current provider has kept us in good shape. We have never been without power for more than a few days. But even that can be disastrous if we are not prepared. Today I want to talk about how we prepare for disasters that may or may not happen.
First, let me take a moment to say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. Thank you so much for your time and attention. I appreciate you all so much and I couldn’t do it without you. It’s midwinter and life goes on here at the homestead.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
The cold weather has been consistent for weeks. Not too cold, getting just below freezing at night and 40s and sometimes 50s during the day. This is a typical Southwestern Virginia winter. I look for a few days of freezing weather sometime in the near future. A typical winter will have at least four or five days when the temperatures drop all the way to the teens and occasionally single digits overnight. That four or five day stretch usually happens at least once and sometimes twice, usually in January. It hasn’t happened yet. Still waiting for that shoe to drop. We did have some unseasonably cold weather in December, but January is proceeding right long the normal line.
The cows are handling the cold weather as they always do. It amazes me that these animals can go through the winter without seeming to notice it too much. I go out there and the cows are moseying around, eating grass and/or hay looking like they don’t have a care in the world. If they are eating, they are laying down, relaxing and chewing their cud, again, like they haven’t got a care in the world. Personally, I don’t handle cold very well, but I’m so glad they do.
The donkeys handle the cold very well also. Their coats are full and thick. Just about everyday they come up to the milking shed looking for a treat. Scott or I will give them a small handful of sweet feed and a petting. When they are finished, they head on down to the creek and out to pasture with everybody else. Our donkeys are the friendliest animals on the homestead.
Sheep and Goats
The sheep and goats always prepare for disaster in winter. They have really thick coats. Our goats are cashmere goats. They have a really thick undercoat of cashmere that they shed in the spring. Our sheep are hair sheep which means they also grow a thick coat of wool and shed it in the spring. No shearing for these sheep. I was watching the ewes graze in the front pasture. Just like the cows, not a care in the world.
The quail are even more amazing to me. They have feathers and I can’t see that they have any extra feathers for winter. Whatever they have is what they have and that’s it. My ladies and gents have it better than they would out in the wild. There is a box shelter where they can get completely out of the wind. They can huddle together for added warmth. Sometimes I go out there and they are kind of fluffed up, but other than that, not a shiver. Nature is amazing.
This time of year is the time to plan for the spring garden. What plants will we grow? How many? What will be rotated to another location? And so on. I’m a bit behind on getting started with that but I just can’t seem to drum up the energy. It’s too cold and I don’t want to think about going out in the garden when it is cold. Anyway, I’ll get to it in the next couple of weeks.
The creamery roof is nearly complete. Scott is putting the finishing touches on the peaks. He spent much of the day yesterday rigging up a way to safely move around up there. Today he is full steam ahead getting those ridge caps completed.
Still to come is all of the ends of the building above the ground floor. I think they are called dormer walls or something like that. It’s basically the area from the top of the block building to the peak of the roof. All of that will be covered in the same metal as with the roof.
It’s cold out there every day. And every day Scott is out there working in it. He doesn’t mind the cold and he prepares for it with layers of clothes.
Preparing for Disaster
Speaking of being prepared, let me get into how we prepare for disaster. Some of it anyway. I could probably talk all day long about how we created and executed our plan. Some of it is still in progress.
No matter where you are in the world, there is always something you can do to prepare for disaster. You simply never know when power is going to be out or something disrupts the flow of goods. For instance, I got caught short this summer because there was a shortage of canning jars and lids. In the end, I did have enough for what I needed to save our harvests, but it was touch and go sometimes. Recently I came across canning jars while in town and I purchased just about everything they had on the shelf. Still no lids but I got a better stock of jars than I have had in the past. We learn from our mistakes.
Let’s start at the beginning. The first thing to stock up on is water.
You should always have water on hand or access to clean water. Making this happen doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Today, we have a hand pump connected to our well so we can always get water when needed whether we have power to the well pump or not. Still, we keep water on hand in the house. While it’s easy to go out there and hand pump some water, it is still easier to reach back in a closet or go into the spare bathroom and get some water for cooking, cleaning and flushing.
The recommended amount of water you will want to store is 7.5 gallons of water per person per month. A family of four would have 15 gallons of water stored if preparing for a short-term disaster lasting a few days or weeks. That’s where you always start. How much do I need for 2 to 4 weeks? Then get it done. You have the blue 5-gallon containers at Lowe’s, Home Depot, the grocery, and so on. Invest in a few of those and you are good to go. Strapped for cash? Buy one a week or even one a month. Your stored water will need to be refreshed regularly. Either use it or pour it out, but replaced what you have stored in the containers every 6 months or so. You don’t have to get there all at once. But you do want to get your water situated first.
The second item is food. This one is a little trickier and takes quite a bit more time. So, start now. There are many methods for building up your food stores. Set several goals with this one.
How Many Days to Prepare for Disaster?
First, how many days of food do you need to store? That depends. Start with a week, then go to a month, then three months and so on. Ideally, you get to a place where you have a full year’s worth of food stored for your entire family. That may seem like a lot and it actually is a lot. But for my peace of mind, I wanted a full year of food. You may make your cutoff date sooner – and some even plan for longer.
What Food Should Be Stored?
Second, don’t store anything your family won’t eat. What are you eating right now? That’s what you want to stock up on. Forget the MRE’s and whatever else might sound great or someone might try to sell to prepare for disaster. What you want is food that your family regularly eats. Most foods have a shelf life of at least a year. If you rotate what you have saved, using the oldest stuff first and adding back what you have used in the back of the shelf, you can come up with a system that keeps you stocked up at all times. This is the first in, first out method. Instead of having one box of cereal, you have 12, or whatever you determine is the right number. Buy an extra box or two whenever you shop, or whatever you can afford. Build up slowly. You’ll be there before you know it.
One of the best ideas for food is to store some products in bulk containers. I’m talking about beans, rice, sugar and wheat or flour. You can live a long time on beans and rice. And if you are into making your own bread, having wheat or flour on hand at all times is a great idea. This is another place to build slowly.
The pieces you need to do this part effectively are: 5-to-6-gallon food-grade plastic buckets, mylar bags, oxygen absorbers and a standard household iron. The mylar bag goes in the bucket. The beans, rice, wheat, or flour go in the bag. Toss in a couple of oxygen absorbers and seal the bag with your iron. The oxygen absorber will suck out all the oxygen in the bag, And the sealed bag without oxygen will keep the food fresh for up to 30 years. I said 5 or 6-gallon buckets, but you can use smaller buckets. I like the larger buckets because I can buy 40 or 50 pounds of beans or rice and it fits in the larger bucket.
Let’s talk about canned goods. These can also last for a very long time – not so much as the beans and rice, but still a long while. Those “use-by” dates on the can are not expiration dates. They are CYA dates for the manufacturers. As long as the can is not damaged and the seal is in place, canned food in jars and metal cans will last for years. Food in jars needs to be kept out of the light. And all canned foods need to be kept at room temperature or lower. Keep that in mind when you are planning where to store your stuff. Strapped for space? Under the bed works pretty well. Use that cabinet space up high that is empty because you can’t reach it easily. Find used shelving at yard sales and put it up in your garage. Lots of ways to make the space you need.
And don’t forget the can opener. Not one of those electric ones. No! a hand-operated can opener is needed.
I’m not going to talk about this one because I’m not educated enough to know what to say. We do have weapons and ammo and such but Scott handles all of that. I’ll just mention it here and say find someone who knows what they are talking about with this and follow their podcasts or YouTube videos. It’s definitely important. And don’t forget to get the proper training. It’s no good to have weapons you don’t know how to use safely and care for properly.
This is the last piece I’m going to touch on today. There is so much to cover on this topic I couldn’t possibly do it justice. So, I’m just going to give you a bit of information to get you started. Every person’s situation is different and your energy needs are going to be different.
Keep extra gasoline on hand. That’s an easy one. We try to keep 12 containers at all times. I must say, we are not as efficient at this as could be desired. If you have 12 containers of gasoline labeled one each month, rotate through that stock at a particular date in the month. In other words, in January, you empty the container labeled “January” into one of your car gas tanks. Pick a day of the month that you do this. The first, 15th or last day of the month are good choices. Take the empty container and refill it. That newly filled container won’t be emptied for a year and it will require a fuel stabilizer to keep it fresh and usable.
Having a generator that has enough power to run your refrigerator and freezer is a great tool. Again, add these things as you can afford them. Get your food stores up to a couple of weeks at least before moving on to a generator. Your generator will need to be started once a month to keep it in tip-top shape and so you know it is in good working order. You don’t want to be without power and find out that your generator is no longer working.
Living off the Grid
You may decide to go completely off the grid – or at least be prepared to go completely off the grid. That takes a great deal of planning and the choices are endless so I’m not going to go into that topic. But I will say keep in mind that, while solar sounds really good, if you don’t live in a really, really sunny place it may not be the option for you. There are other options.
Having a wood burning stove is always good. At the very least you can use your gas grill to cook meals – if you have planned ahead and have an extra propane tank or two. We took out our electric stove and put in a gas stove. The oven won’t work but the surface burners can be lit with a match. Keep some of those on hand. I like using what I’m used to using for cooking, so this works for me. We have the wood burning stove as well – complete with an oven. I really should learn how to cook on that thing in the event we run out of propane.
This is the toughest one to get prepared for in my opinion. How do we communicate? As long as the cell towers are up and running and your phone battery is charged, we can communicate. Well, we would have to climb way up to the top of our property and then maybe, just maybe, we would get a cell signal.
Right now, we have all sorts of social media where we can find out what is going on with family, friends and co-workers. But what if you didn’t have that? How would you get in touch with people? Could you get in touch with people? This topic requires some deep thought, lots of planning, and practice sessions to make sure your plans work. You don’t want to be isolated.
There is a significant amount of banning of communication going on in the large tech communities. They have a great deal of power. Indeed, more power than the US government. They can turn off anyone with the push of a button. They can make you disappear. You might want to consider broadening your reach to smaller platforms if you can find one that works for you and your family.
I have created a page on a site called Locals. You can find me on locals by searching for peaceful heart farm. Once you’ve joined my community, you can post whatever you’d like on my page. We can have a conversation and share insights.
I think I’m going to end there.
The animals go on and on and don’t give a thought to whether there is power to heat the house. And as long as the grass and hay keep coming, they are good to go. For us, it’s more complicated. As I said, I don’t like being cold. I’m grateful for our wood burning stove. It saves on electricity in the winter and is quite useful in a pinch for cooking.
I’ve spent years gathering food, both for ourselves and now saving up in case our neighbors are not prepared or not financially able to make it happen. And our water supply will also help out – and indeed has – helped out our neighbors. There is so much more to prepare for disaster but these two pieces are key. Water and food. Start today. You just have no idea when the power lines are going to go down with a winter storm, a hurricane, tornado and so on. It may be only a couple of days but it very well could be weeks. Remember hurricane Sandy and what a disaster that was and not so long ago.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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