Recently in Self-Sufficiency Category

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My family is from the former Yugoslavia and it had been a family tradition to go back and visit the homeland of my grandparents. Unfortunately for me, by the time I could go, my father had passed and I found only one cousin willing to do it again. As luck would have it, it was the summer of 2000 and I thought the war had been long over. It was only recently I discovered that the horror continued right up until just before my arrival there.
After a short stopover in Frankfurt, we boarded a smaller plane to Zagreb. The flight was beautiful, the scenery, breathtaking.
I thought about the stories I was told about this place. My family were farmers there, and I was excited to experience the way of life that used to sustain them. I wanted to see the animals, horses, pigs, cows, chickens, the fields of vegetables, and how they did it all. I had heard about how they would slaughter the pigs, then salt and smoke them, and I really wanted to know how. I don't know if you've had them, but Yugoslavians are famous for their cabbage rolls. I wanted to know how to make the sour cabbage, and how they did all this for ages without refrigeration. I was fascinated with the idea of being self sustaining off the grid, and how they managed even after the war.

We rented a van to get to the tiny village of Covac near the larger city of Okucane. I was surprised at the military presence there still, there were checkpoints with armed guards asking to see your passport. Luckily most of them spoke English and didn't actually seem that concerned with us. We must have went through three before getting to our destination.

Arriving in Covac, it was like nothing I had ever seen. One gravel road, off of another gravel road, one small store at the corner. There were maybe 40 houses altogether, surrounded by fields and farther back, forests. At one time this place was beautiful. Now, unreal. Most of the houses had been destroyed and abandoned. Some had walls missing, bullet holes marred the surface of the concrete, trees even growing where the roof once was. The town pavilion that once held meetings, dances and parties was reduced to rubble. We pulled into the gravel driveway of the house we would be staying at. 

Our hosts came out to greet us, a young lady and her elderly mother. The house was small by western standards, a concrete square with a kitchen, bedroom and cold room. The kitchen had a table and chairs, a woodstove and small counter, and a laundry line all lit with a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The bedroom held two single beds, and a dresser with a television with rabbit ears atop, again all illuminated with a single bulb. The cold room was farthest away from the woodstove, just a concrete room with shelving on all sides which interestingly doubled as the room to bathe in. The outhouse was about 40 feet away, past the open well, unlit of course. My cousin told me a story about using the outhouse while a chicken pecked her from below, I guess that's when they closed it off at the back. Regardless, I still had some anxiety about using the outhouse at night. The well was open, like the ones you see in old fairytales, with a roof and a bucket on a rope. Looking down into the water, I counted four frogs swimming around down there. I hoped they boiled the water before drinking. They didn't. Meals usually consisted of smoked, salted meats, sausage or bacon, eggs, fresh vegetables like tomato and onion, bread and soups.

I remembered my Grandmother telling me about picking beans in the fields, and moving the livestock from the forests to graze, and back to the barn. Looking out at the fields, there was nothing but weeds. The only livestock in the town was some chickens and a cow. I asked what happened, the stories I was told and the place I was in seemed vastly different. When the war came here people fled and later were forced out or had their homes destroyed or taken over. Most of the younger people never returned leaving a town of mostly elderly. There was no one to do the hard work involved in farming here, and no one could afford the start up costs again even if they could. At one time this land was self sufficient, the people were happy and free, now barren, a way of life lost. I wanted to walk in the fields that sustained my family for generations, I was told I was not allowed. Not allowed? Apparently it had not yet been cleared of land mines so it would be an enormous risk. I still can't believe that a tiny village, so far away from a small town had been hit so hard in this conflict. I recall a story from my Grandmother about her family hiding from the Nazis back in the war. That happened here, at least twice people were murdered in war, here, on this tiny strip of houses, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

We went to visit other relatives in nearby Gredjane, I had hoped they fared better, they didn't. My Grandfather's brother and his wife lived in a small brick house, the size of a shed. The four of us couldn't all be inside at once it was so small. It held a single bed, a woodstove, and a table and chairs. Nothing here was refrigerated, they had no electricity, not even a light. The towns people came by to say hello. Once again I was surprised at the age of the people who remained here. It amazed me that the elderly people chose to stay or come back while the youth took to the cities and stayed there. Leaving that place, it would be the last time I would see my relatives again. My Grandfather's brother died two years ago, six months after my Grandfather.

Back in Covac, it was bath day. My gracious hosts had to heat buckets of well water on the woodstove for me. I bathed in the cold room, in a plastic bucket a foot deep, two feet across. It wasn't pretty, but it did the job. I had to get used to brushing my teeth outside, and just spitting on the grass. I had never done laundry by hand, that wasn't so bad. All in all, life there seemed so quiet, peaceful. It was actually hard for me to sleep at night, I wasn't used to it being so dark, and so quiet. There were no streetlights, no traffic sounds, not even the familiar sound of dogs barking.

They did have a small garden close to the house. They grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes and beans. Since the summer was ending we did get to help with some of the harvest. At this time, they didn't pull out all of the root vegetables, just some for the cold room to use, and some for next years' planting. We put the seed potatoes in a hole near the house. It was full of hay, we placed the potatoes and onions inside then covered them with hay and buried it. The cabbage was harvested, washed and placed in large tubs with brine, enough to just cover them.The tubs were stored in the cold room, then covered with fabric, a wood plank, and weighed down with a brick. Unfortunately my stay was not long enough for me to try them once the process was complete. I must say, although delicious when cooked up, the smell of them fermenting was a little harsh.

I did not have the opportunity to see any meat processing but I was told how it was done. Once ready, the meat was salted, and then smoked in smokehouses. This would occur in the fall so the meat was then hung in the attic which vented the woodstove smoke in one end and out the other. This would continue the smoking process thus preserving the meat longer for later use. After my visit, the smell of a wood fire always reminds me of my trip, and the taste of homemade smoked bacon.

Three weeks had gone by so fast, even here where there were no distractions in daily living. On the long ride home I had a lot to think about. I believe the one thing that made the deepest impression was the fact that this village, so remote, and so small was so deeply affected in their own TEOTWAWKI. I had just assumed that in almost any situation fleeing the cities is always plan A, this trip taught me otherwise. I believe we need to be careful in creating a plan for disaster that is sort of one size fits all. In this situation, in this civil war, the resources in the city were better. Those left in the country were completely alone in a horrific time and to this day, many of their stories remain untold.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Introductory Disclaimer: Many ideas expressed within this article may not be legal in all jurisdictions.  Items covered and methods discussed are strictly theoretical in nature unless otherwise stated.

Many people have a love of fishing.  Take a pole, and maybe a youngster, down to the shore, or a dock, baiting up, casting out, and waiting for a bite.  It’s a great time to just sit, talk, and enjoy nature.  Right?
Not after TEOTWAWKI!  There will not be many ‘restful’ days, or nights for that matter.  Our group has a saying that: “Sportsman-ship goes out the window when Survival-ship comes in the door.”  Catching as many fish as you can properly make use of with a minimum of effort will become the rule.  It is wasteful to catch more of any game than you can make use of.  If you can dry and/or smoke ten pounds of fish per day don’t go out and catch a hundred pounds unless you have the means to keep the unprocessed fish from spoiling.
Looking back at the Native Americans and their ways is a good place to start. In the Columbia River Drainage they fished with both nets and spears.  They still do, where the white man hasn’t messed up the stream flow.
Let’s discuss several methods of catching many fish.  Gigging, Netting, Bow Fishing and Trot Lining.


Gigging involves using a device that resembles a spear with two or more points.  A quick search online for “fishing gigs” will show the full range of styles that have been used and are in use today.
Using a fishing gig generally requires being able to see the fish you are hunting, getting close enough to reach it with the gig, and doing all that in a stealthy enough manner that you do not spook the target.  Another method involves finding a spot that fish are known to pass, setting up and waiting for the fish to come to you.  Again, you must be ready to strike at the proper moment.  You may miss the first few times.  There is a trick of optics called ‘parallax’ that we will discuss in depth a little later on.  A fish is not where it seems to be and the gigger must learn about and adjust for this before many fish are gigged.


The net has been used down through the centuries and has evolved into very sophisticated ‘fishing systems’ used on all modern fishing vessels.  In this paper we are talking about a simple net you weave yourself and use up close and personal.  Go online and do a search for fishing net making.  You will find the size and shapes of the shuttles that are used, and the one very basic knot that creates all good nets.  Generally you need to decide where you are going to use the net before you begin to build it.  If it is a stream situation, then determine the width and maximum depth at the place you will be fishing.  If I were to make one, I would generally make a net that is one and a half times the width of the water and twice as deep as the water.  The size of the net openings is determined by the size of the fish you wish to catch.  For instance, if you are going out to catch all the fish you can regardless of size, then a net made with a mesh opening of 1 inch would probably be good.  If, however, you only want to catch large fish [say, for splitting and smoking] then a net mesh size that will allow the smaller fish to escape and keep only the larger fish then you want to make a mesh size commensurate with the fish size.

EXAMPLE: We have a large annual run of German Browns every fall in a small creek off a large reservoir. The larger fish can be well over ten pounds.  The creek is about thirty feet wide and 5 to 6 feet deep (at a spot that would work for netting).  Personally [If I were going to net this creek which of course I am not since it is not legal], my net would be about forty to fifty feet long and ten to twelve feet tall.  One note to remember, a 4” mesh net takes ¼ as many knots as a 1” mesh.  When you multiply that out to the total size of your net you might come to the decision to make a course net first.  Maybe you should/could make just a small one to keep the deer out of your garden, before you tackle a really fine net.

One word of caution.  You will read many articles and, in fact talk to many people who will write or speak of making a ‘gill net’.  I see the word tossed about as if it were the only net to make or use. A gill net is a very sophisticated fishing tool that is sized precisely to the size fish you are going to take.  Fish too small can swim right through it.  Fish too large will run into it and go away.  Only the ‘right’ sized fish will be able to poke its head nearly through the primary netting to the extent the much smaller gill strands of the net will catch behind the fish’s gills and hold it securely until harvested.  I will not say you cannot make one.  I will say I would never invest the time and precious materials needed in making and then maintaining a gill net.

Bow Fishing

Anyone who has used a target bow, a hunting bow, or a sophisticated archery competition bow might want to consider its’ use in the area of fish harvesting, provided of course that it is legal in your area.  For many summers when I was a kid I would take my trusty long bow, attach an old spinning reel below the grip with electricians tape.  I would take an old, damaged but pretty much still straight target arrow shaft, drill a small hole through the metal tip just about as far back on the ferrule as I could and still be on the metal.  I would drill the hole so a 1½ to 2 inch finishing nail would fit loosely.  The head end of the finish nail plus about a ½ inch would be bent 90 degrees? and hammered flat enough that I could attach a small fishing swivel-snap to it through a very small hole I drilled in the flattened nail head.  I would then slide the nail point through hole in my shaft.  The pointy end would now be bent about 45 degrees?, such that the swivel-snap and the point would both be pointed up the shaft.  Attach some old about 30 lb monofilament or braided line to the swivel-snap and wind about 50 feet onto the reel.
When I went fishing I would nock the arrow, open the bail on the reel and I was ready to fish.  Carp were always in season [and legal at the time to hunt with bows].  Upon spotting a likely candidate I would draw my bow and loose the arrow.  If I struck the fish I would play it on the spinning reel.  When I landed the fish all I had to do was make certain the barb went completely through the fish.  Then a light pull on the shaft would flip the barb/swivel-snap/nail over so it was pointed down the shaft.  Then the arrow could be withdrawn with minimum damage to the flesh of the fish, and no damage to the arrow.  I could be back to fishing in under two minutes once I had landed the fish.

The tricky part is learning to compensate for the parallax that occurs when you look into water at an angle. [The natural tendency is to aim too high, so if in doubt, hold low.] All I can say is, you will get lots of fish just as soon as you figure the angle out.  The variables include 1) the angle you are looking into the water at, and 2) the depth of the fish in the water.  Each shot requires a fresh mental computation.

Trot Lining

Simply stated, a trot line is nothing more than a long line with many hooks.  However, there is a little more to it than that. 
Not having lived in the southern states where trot lining for catfish is nearly akin to a religion, I’ll just share the simple way I was taught up in the Pacific Northwest.  In the 1960s I had what I consider to be a real honor to know a gentleman in the State of Washington I will call ‘Bob Ford’.  Bob was an octopus fisherman.  He was on a scientific register back east somewhere and he supplied octopus parts for many science research projects.  Bob ran three trot lines.  As I recall two of the lines were 1,000 feet long and the big one was 1,500 feet long.  They were set in the shelter of Dungeness Spit in areas where he knew the bottoms to be sandy and free of snags.  Bob would go out every day and ‘pull’ his lines.  He would start by going to his marker buoy and hauling up the 75 to 100 feet of anchor line that anchored the trot line against the tides.  He had a roller assembly on the forward, port gunwale where he placed the line as he pulled it.  When he got to the anchor he would move it over the pulley and keep on pulling on the trot line. About every fifty feet or so was a cedar box that was about twelve inches square and four feet long.  One of the twelve by twelve inch ends was open.  Each trap was on about a five foot tag line off the main trot line.  He would pull each box up to see if it held an octopus.  Then he would pull again to the next box.  Now you might say one person pulling well over 3,500 feet of wet, soggy line festooned with a bunch of heavy anchors and water logged cedar boxes every day, and sometimes twice a day, is a little hard to believe.  Well he did it.  He did it every day for over twenty years.  I knew him when I was the Keeper of a nearby Lighthouse.  At the time Bob was in his ‘younger’ eighties as he put it.  Nobody, not even the young loggers in the area, ever challenged him to arm wrestling!!  Every Friday morning the Oriental market buyers would come over from Seattle to bid on any ‘extra’s’ Bob had caught.

So, how does this story fit in?  Well, if you want to be a successful trot liner you need to follow every one of the rules that old Bob taught me.  1) You need a bottom that is free of snags, 2) you have to attach your hooks to the trot line in such a way that the main line will not get tangled and broken, 3) you need to put each hook on the end of a short leader, and 4) fish with the right bait.  Old Bob’s ‘bait’ was the cedar box.  You see, octopi like darkness.  They feed at night, but when the sun comes up they look for a cave to hide in.  Well, in our area there must have been a real cave shortage because the octopi would crawl into the cedar ‘caves’ and defend it all the time it was being hauled to the surface.  A really large octopus would even fight him when he tried to get them out of ‘their cave’.  In your case you too have to use ‘the right bait’.  Yours will probably be something you know the local fish like to eat.  In our area I am well stocked up with many flavors of ‘Power bait™’.  It stores well and the fish around me don’t seem to care if it’s five or six years old.  My mainline is 100 pound test braided synthetic line.  Every six feet there is about a ½ to 1 inch dropper knot tied in the main line. 
For each dropper there is about an eighteen inch, 20 pound monofilament leader with a swivel-snap [see my aforemention of bow fishing] on the dropper end and a #6 or #8 2x treble hook snelled onto the business end of the leader. (You may want to use a different hook and system for your local area.)  A short study on the web will teach you the dropper knot and how to snell a hook.  I direct you there because Mr. Rawles properly frowns on pictures or drawings as some readers have trouble downloading them.

The leaders are all carried in a bucket. They are all pre-baited and placed in the bucket with a little water over them so they don’t dry out.  Each end of the mainline has an anchor on it and an anchor line that goes to the surface.  I frown on marker buoys as too many people might see them from too far away.  A small piece of driftwood three or four feet long works just fine as an anchor line float and has a much lower profile.
I put down one anchor and begin to pay out the main line.  Each time I come to a dropper knot I snap on a swivel snap with its’ leader and pre-baited hook.  When I get to the far end I set my second anchor, anchor line, and marker buoy.  You should always put a marker buoy on each end so if one marker buoy gets loose or damaged you can go to the other end and not lose your trot line.
Depending upon your situation you may need to place small weights every so far to keep the line where you want it.  Many cat fishers set their lines in the evening and pull them in the morning

As I stated earlier: You have an obligation to get food and keep your family fed.  But, you have an equally important obligation of not taking more than you can make use of at any one time.  So, I recommend you start small until you get an idea of what a ‘normal’ catch might be.  One method to do this is to only put a swivel, leader, hook and bait on every second or third dropper while you are ‘testing the waters’.
As a side issue, we like crawfish.  They supply some of the nutrients our other foods might be otherwise lacking.  We have a stash of crawdad traps picked up for peanuts at garage sales.  Anything you can open, close, and punch holes in will make a bait can.  Why not make use of the fish offal, I think that’s the word.  I call them fish guts.  Use them to bait a few crawdad traps.  If you get more ‘dads’ than you can eat at one time [a rare occurrence at our house!] they can up great with a water bath canner and a little vinegar and pickling spice.

Disclaimer: Many thoughts expressed here may not be legal in some or all jurisdictions.  Consult your state's fishing and trapping regulations! Items covered and methods discussed are strictly theoretical in nature unless otherwise stated. - CentOre
(CentOre is a loosely connected group of people in the Oregon High Desert interested in improving our existing skills, and learning new skills that will enhance our odds when it hits.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If I am to survive TEOTWAWKI, then I intend to live in a style to which I’ve become accustomed.  That is, I intend to continue enjoying music, sweets, wine, cups of hot tea in the winter, stories, plays, and humor.  I plan to keep my pets around.  I hope to do so with the full participation of my family, however it evolves over time.

I began working on maintaining this style almost 20 years ago, when we moved to a hobby farm in one of those “fly-over” states that has good soil and low population.  The farm is capable of providing the basics.  It is highly unlikely I will have to evacuate this area.  The farm has a well with potable water, in addition to multiple natural springs, and we have enough buildings to shelter equipment, family, and livestock.

When we bought this place, it was a small, row-cropped mess, with massive erosion problems.  We had scores of weeds and very little wildlife.  Of the weeds we had, few were edible, even by the standards of Euell Gibbons (as described in his classic book Stalking The Wild Asparagus.)  Although we had cattails, have you ever tried eating them?  They may sustain life, but the bulbs are by no means great cuisine by my standards.  I can’t speak personally to their use as a substitute for flour, though that may taste better than the bulbs. 

Each year I’ve worked to prevent erosion, improve the soil (with compost), and increase both plant and wildlife diversity.  After 20 years, my efforts have improved the arability of the land, decreased the erosion, and greatly diversified wildlife (especially reptiles, amphibians, and birds).

I began by planting an orchard big enough to feed my family, several other families, and roaming wildlife.  This orchard has peach, pear, apple, and plum trees.  I also planted a number of grapevines and berry bushes.  And, of course, our vegetable garden is full of heirloom varieties from which we save seed from season to season.  (I obtained the heirloom seeds, berry plants, grapevines, and orchard saplings through membership with Seed Savers Exchange, based in Decorah, Iowa.)

Then I researched wild foods native to the area (or escaped from human plantings and spread wild through the area) that taste better than cattails.  Based on that research, I collected seeds, rootings, and/or saplings (with permission from neighbors, if appropriate) and planted them on our land.  Among the wild foods I now have producing food are wild grapes, raspberries, wild plums, black walnuts, asparagus, and ground cherries.  Best of all, birds, squirrels, and other animals help spread these wild foods even more widely than I planted them.  I sometimes come upon non-poisonous wild foods, such as morel mushrooms in the spring, when I’m really lucky.  I have yet to figure out how to reproduce these where and when I want them to appear, but I’m grateful when they do show up.

All of the food varieties I grow are disease resistant, so I don’t have to use any chemicals on them.  I compost any plant trimmings, leaves, and food waste as fertilizer.  The resulting produce provides nutritious food.  But just getting enough to eat is not my idea of style.  That’s just staying alive. Style involves other things, such as sweets for my sweet tooth and wine with my dinner, and a lovely cup of hot tea in the winter.  For my sweet tooth, I have fruits, berries, and maple sugar.  Any of the fruits can be made into wine (as can the dandelions (the yellow flower only) that grow rampant). 

At the same time, I planted some 2 foot high sugar maple saplings—lots of them.  Like all types of maple trees, sugar maples can be used to produce maple sugar (the sugar maple sap is just higher in natural sugar content).  Now, 20 years later, some spiles (whittled from non-poisonous tree shoots), a bit and brace to bore holes in the trees, buckets to collect sap, and a fire of deadwood with a kettle over it are ready to reduce sap during the spring run.  (If you try this, be aware that you get only about 1 part syrup from 40 parts sap.  You should also know that this must be an outdoor operation, as the moisture resulting from reducing the sap to syrup will strip your wallpaper faster than any commercial product on the market!)  So now I have a natural sweetener for my natural sweet tooth.  And every year the trees send forth “helicopter”-like seeds that produce more sugar maples.

As for the hot tea I crave in the winter, I collect and dry raspberry leaves during the spring, just as the flowers begin to bud out.  I am careful not to strip any cane of all its leaves, but instead take a few from each plant.  I dry the leaves thoroughly (currently using an electric dehydrator, but the back window of a car sitting in the sun works quickly, too).  Then, when winter comes, I place 3 dehydrated leaves in 8 ounces of boiling water and let it steep for 5 to ten minutes.  I currently collect rose hips to make tea as well, but roses are rather fussy plants that sometimes require fungal control.  I don’t count on the rose hips to survive “the end of the world.”

One additional consideration is that the food, wine, tea, and sugar I produce can serve as a good basis for barter with neighbors.  Since you never know what you might need in the future, it seems optimal to have items to barter to fulfill those needs.

I also started my homeschooled children playing instruments from the age of five on.  We play all kinds of music and I collect books of music and lyrics of all types.  None of our instruments require power (other than lung and tongue, or finger power) to play, and together we can raise a joyful noise.  Some of the instruments are quite portable (such as the trumpet, flute, and harmonica), while others are stuck in place (my grand piano).  So another part of my style will continue uninterrupted—music whenever and however I want to play it or listen to it.  ([The famous polar explorer] Shackleton knew this when equipping his expedition to the Arctic, so I paid heed to his advice.)

As another part of homeschooling, I encouraged my kids (and myself) to memorize poetry, plays, and stories.  We spent long hours writing poetry, plays, and stories.  In addition to our original works, I built up an extensive library of useful non-fiction, and enjoyable fiction.  So the part of me that absolutely loves to relax with a good story can continue to do so—whether that story is oral, printed, or composed on the spot.

My whole family also practices creative arts for enjoyment.  One daughter knits and draws.  One paints, weaves, and embroiders.  I sew and dabble in a little bit of everything.  These arts can be useful (those cattails I don’t like to eat can be woven into nice rush-type seats for chairs), but they can also define the difference between enjoyment and drudgery in day-to-day life.  And while none of us has done significant pottery making, our piece of land even has a “red clay spot” (as identified on USDA soil survey maps).  This clay could potentially be used to produce pottery.

Now, this part may seem too girlish, but I like a place that doesn’t smell too awful.  Earlier settlers considered this when building the old farmhouse we live in.  So, while I’ve got a 5-gallon bucket, fitted with a toilet seat and kitty litter for the short survival times (such as tornado weather), I also have small lilac groves just to the northwest and just to the southeast of the house.  These are ideal settings for any future outhouses (the northwest to be used in warm weather, when winds prevail from the south and east, and the southeast to be used in cold weather, when winds prevail from the north and west).

Even my pets (a very important component of my lifestyle) have a place at the end of the world.  One dog, well over 100 pounds, is built perfectly as a draft animal.  He is already trained to harness and is learning to pull loads of deadwood from the pastures.  (We have frequent wind and ice storms, so dead wood is a seemingly endless commodity on our place.  I use handsaws to cut it up.)

Another dog, a mere 30-pounder, patrols the border of our land continuously.  Nothing gets past his attention.  And quite recently, he realized I’m starting to suffer some hearing loss.  He decided (all on his own) to be my “hearing ear” dog and alerts me to visitors, mail delivery, and the game animals (deer, geese, turkeys, pheasants, and rabbits) that pass through our place.  Our cats work to keep down the rodent population in our buildings and the garden.  And my hens provide eggs…until they provide stew meat.
As for other protein sources, we have a lot of available wildlife.  We have bow and arrows for hunting, and traps for smaller prey (up to the size of groundhogs).

Lastly, I’ve worked hard to instill a sense of humor and play into my children.  We try to find the humor in everything that happens to us (even if we need some distance before we can do so).  Then we re-tell the story, enact the story as a play, or otherwise make the humor stay alive.  For without humor, what’s the point of going on?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I may be a little late to the party, but I have spent a considerable time lately worrying about what to do if this economy of ours crashes.  I started thinking about what I would do if TSHTF. I had no answer. I have read about lot of peoples concern over solar flares, and 2012 scenarios, and while they may happen, I am more convinced of the coming collapse of the dollar and the global economy. I think this is much more of a probability and certainly less speculative that the other fears---at least at the moment. So, rather than let my already damaged IRA drift further down the road to worthlessness, I decided to bite the bullet and pull money out to secure a retreat for my entire family. It will be a place we can go to in any type of disaster. I paid the taxes and penalties like a good American, and set out to find a place to go. I also put a large sum of money into hard assets (gold and silver). I will call for delivery of it on the first sign of trouble. The rest I have left alone for the moment. I set some criteria for what the retreat would have to have. Fresh water, the ability to heat without power, the ability to grow a large garden, the ability to harvest game, and a place to house 10 people. I had to do this all for less than $100,000.

I found a newly renovated 1,950 square foot home, on seven acres, with a fresh water spring, a seasonal pond, wood stove, no central air or heat, two acres of cleared land, five acres of deer infested cedars, a lake close enough to fish, a 30 x 30 barn and a 10 x 30 - three-horse stable. The property is half a tank of gas from where I currently live. I have taken a sample of the spring and will have it tested this week. My son will be moving into the home soon and we will begin to get it set up. There are some things I know we need to do, and I can use any advice anyone has to move us to the point of self sufficiency. I have bought a couple years worth of heirloom seed for the garden. I have am ATV we can use to till the garden spot. I need to get power to the barn while we have it because we will need to build storage capacity for food and supplies in the barn. I have all the woodworking tools I need to do this. I imagine I will need to cut some cedars for posts so we can fence off the garden. Right now the deer walk through the yard every morning right past where the garden will go. I plan on setting up a perch on the upper level of the barn so when the time comes for surveillance of the home and property, we can do it from there. The barn will give us full view of the home and road leading to it. It sits about 100 yards from the home. We’ll also build a wood rack big enough to hold a cord of wood. In the meantime we need to get started with gathering emergency supplies like food, first aid/medical, canning supplies for when we harvest the garden etc. So, if the Republicans can mouth off some debt reduction rhetoric, and buy me some time to get a first garden harvest in, we will have food, water and shelter covered by fall of next year.

We will also have time to get our survival supplies stored up which will shorten the time we need to be ready. I have put together a list of critical items I will need to haul out of my current residence if I have to bug out on short notice. I am hoping that a lot of it can be relocated soon. These items include my lawn tractor, 4 wheeler, tools, guns and ammo, (except the ones I will keep for my travel to the retreat), all my hunting and fishing supplies, and the like. I have a 12 foot trailer so it will probably take a couple of preliminary trips to move all the things I want to move ahead of time. That will leave me with enough room in our two vehicles and the trailer to bug out with the remaining essentials I really can’t move early. But like I said, if the rhetoric from Washington will just settle the markets for a little longer we should be okay. If not I will just have to re-prioritize. As for whatever is left behind, we’ll just need to learn to live without it. I have a list of survival stuff to gather/purchase and have begun getting it together. It includes food, food processing equipment, a portable solar generator, water filtration, fuel storage, some security and personal protection items, medical supplies etc. I have learned a lot from this blog. Keep the posts coming and I’ll take whatever advice you all have. - Paul F.

JWR Replies: Congratulations for having the courage to cash out and buy a retreat.

My advice on precious metals is simple and hasn't changed in more than a decade: Buy precious metals only after getting your beans, bullets, and Band-Aids squared away. And then when you do buy, purchase only physical precious metals that you keep very well hidden at home. Bonded vault storage and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and other promises of future delivery are just promises, and modern history is replete with broken promises. Take immediate delivery!

Friday, December 24, 2010

It’s one or two years after an EMP attack and you are safely tucked away in your retreat somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  Your storage foods have mostly been used and your high tech electronics is useless.   The really bad stuff is mostly past.  Now it’s try to stay fed and alive and pray that civilization as you know it is coming back.  You’re going to have to work your environment to live.  Ever wonder what life might be like?  What would it really be like to have no running water, electricity, sewer, newspaper or Internet?  No supermarket or fire department close at hand?

I have a good imagination but I decided to talk to someone who would know first hand what it was like: my mother.  She grew up on a homestead in the middle of Montana during the 1920s and 1930s.  It was a two room Cottonwood cabin with the nearest neighbor three miles away.  She was oldest at 9, so she was in charge of her brother and sister.  This was her reality; I feel there are lessons here for the rest of us.

There was a Majestic stove that used wood and coal.  The first person up at four thirty A.M., usually her father, would start the fire for breakfast.  It was a comforting start to the day but your feet would get cold when you got out of bed. 

A crosscut saw and axe was used to cut wood for the stove and after that experience, you got pretty stingy with the firewood because you know what it takes to replace it.  The old timers say that it warms you when you cut it, when you split it, and again when you burn it.  The homes that were typical on homesteads and ranches of the era were smaller with lower ceilings than modern houses just so they could be heated easier.  The saw and axe were not tools to try hurrying with.  You set a steady pace and maintained it.  A man in a hurry with an axe may loose some toes or worse.  One side effect of the saw and axe use is that you are continuously hungry and will consume a huge amount of food.
Lights in the cabin were old fashioned kerosene lamps.  It was the kid’s job to trim the wicks, clean the chimneys and refill the reservoirs. 

The privy was downhill from the house next to the corral and there was no toilet paper.  Old newspaper, catalogs or magazines were used and in the summer a pan of barely warm water was there for hygiene.  During a dark night, blizzard, or brown out from a dust storm, you followed the corral poles-no flashlights.

There were two springs close to the house that ran clear, clean, and cold water.  The one right next to it was a “soft” water spring.  It was great for washing clothes and felt smooth, almost slick, on your skin.  If you drank from it, it would clean you out just as effectively as it cleaned clothes.  Not all clean water is equal.

The second spring was a half mile from the cabin and it was cold, clear, and tasted wonderful.  The spring itself was deep - an eight foot corral pole never hit bottom- and flowed through the year.  It was from here that the kids would fill two barrels on a heavy duty sled with water for the house and the animals.  They would lead the old white horse that was hitched to the sledge back to the buildings and distribute the water for people and animals.  In the summer, they made two trips in the morning and maybe a third in the evening.  In the winter, one trip in the morning and one in the evening.  They did this alone.

Breakfast was a big meal because they’re going to be working hard.  Usually there would be homemade sausage, eggs and either cornmeal mush or oatmeal.  More food was prepared than what was going to be eaten right then.  The extra food was left on the table under a dish towel and eaten as wanted during the day.  When evening meal was cooked, any leftovers were reheated.  The oatmeal or the mush was sliced and fried for supper.  It was served with butter, syrup, honey or molasses. 

The homemade sausage was from a quarter or half a hog.  The grinder was a small kitchen grinder that clamped on the edge of a table and everybody took turns cranking.  When all the hog had been ground, the sausage mix was added and kneaded in by hand.  Then it was immediately fried into patties.  The patties were placed, layer by layer, into a stone crock and covered with the rendered sausage grease.   The patties were reheated as needed.  The grease was used for gravies as well as re-cooking the patties.  Occasionally a fresh slice of bread would be slathered with a layer of sausage grease and a large slice of fresh onion would top it off for quick sandwich.  Nothing was wasted.
Some of their protein came from dried fish or beef.  Usually this had to be soaked to remove the excess salt or lye.  Then it was boiled.  Leftovers would go into hash, fish patties, or potato cakes.

Beans?  There was almost always a pot of beans on the stove in the winter time.
Chickens and a couple of milk cows provided needed food to balance the larder.  They could not have supported a growing family without these two resources.
The kitchen garden ran mostly to root crops.  Onion, turnip, rutabaga, potato and radishes grew under chicken wire.  Rhubarb was canned for use as a winter tonic to stave off scurvy.  Lettuce, corn, and other above ground crops suffered from deer, rats, and gumbo clay soil. Surprisingly, cabbage did well.  The winter squash didn’t do much, only 2 or 3 gourds.  Grasshoppers were controlled by the chickens and turkeys.  There was endless hoeing.

Washing clothes required heating water on the stove, pouring it into three galvanized wash tubs-one for the homemade lye soap and scrub board, the other two for rinsing.  Clothes were rinsed and wrung out by hand, then hung on a wire to dry in the air.  Your hands became red and raw, your arms and shoulders sore beyond belief by the end of the wash.  Wet clothing, especially wool, is heavy and the gray scum from the soap was hard to get out of the clothes.

Personal baths were in a galvanized wash tub screened by a sheet.  In the winter it was difficult to haul, heat and handle the water so baths weren’t done often.  Most people would do sponge baths. 

Everybody worked including the kids.  There were always more chores to be done than time in the day.  It wasn’t just this one family; it was the neighbors as well.  You were judged first and foremost by your work ethic and then your honesty.  This was critical because if you were found wanting in either department, the extra jobs that might pay cash money, a quarter of beef, hog or mutton would not be available.  Further, the cooperation with your neighbors was the only assurance that if you needed help, you would get help.  Nobody in the community could get by strictly on their own.  A few tried.  When they left, nobody missed them.
You didn’t have to like someone to cooperate and work with him or her.

Several times a year people would get together for organized activities: barn raising, butcher bee, harvest, roofing, dance, or picnics.  There were lots of picnics, usually in a creek bottom with cottonwoods for shade or sometimes at the church.  Always, the women would have tables groaning with food, full coffee pots and, if they were lucky, maybe some lemonade. (Lemons were expensive and scarce)  After the work (even for picnics, there was usually a project to be done first) came the socializing.  Many times people would bring bedding and sleep out overnight, returning home the next day.

A half dozen families would get together for a butcher bee in the cold days of late fall.  Cows were slaughtered first, then pigs, mutton, and finally chickens.  Blood from some of the animals was collected in milk pails, kept warm on a stove to halt coagulation and salt added.  Then it was canned for later use in blood dumplings, sausage or pudding.  The hides were salted for later tanning; the feathers from the fowl were held for cleaning and used in pillows or mattresses.  The skinned quarters of the animals would be dipped into cold salt brine and hung to finish cooling out so they could be taken home safely for processing.  Nothing went to waste.

The most feared occurrence in the area was fire.  If it got started, it wasn’t going out until it burned itself out.  People could and did loose everything.
The most used weapon was the .22 single shot Winchester with .22 shorts.  It was used to take the heads off pheasant, quail, rabbit and ducks.  If you held low, the low powered round didn’t tear up the meat.  The shooters, usually the kids, quickly learned sight picture and trigger control although they never heard those terms.  If you took five rounds of ammunition, you better bring back the ammunition or a critter for the pot for each round expended. It was also a lot quieter and less expensive [in those days] than the .22 Long Rifle cartridges.

If you are trying to maintain a low profile, the odor of freshly baked bread can be detected in excess of three miles on a calm day.  Especially by kids.
Twice a year the cabin was emptied of everything.  The walls, floors, and ceilings were scrubbed with lye soap and a bristle brush.  All the belongings were also cleaned before they came back into the house.  This was pest control and it was needed until DDT became available.  Bedbugs, lice, ticks and other creepy crawlies were a fact of life and were controlled by brute force.  Failure to do so left you in misery and maybe ill.

Foods were stored in bug proof containers.  The most popular was fifteen pound metal coffee cans with tight lids.  These were for day to day use in the kitchen.  (I still have one. It’s a family heirloom.)  The next were barrels to hold the bulk foods like flour, sugar, corn meal, and rice.  Everything was sealed or the vermin would get to it.  There was always at least one, preferably two, months of food on hand.  If the fall cash allowed, they would stock up for the entire winter before the first snowfall.

The closest thing to a cooler was a metal box in the kitchen floor.  It had a very tight lid and was used to store milk, eggs and butter for a day or two. Butter was heavily salted on the outside to keep it from going rancid or melting.  Buttermilk, cottage cheese and regular cheese was made from raw milk after collecting for a day or two.  The box was relatively cool in the summer and did not freeze in the winter.

Mice and rats love humanity because we keep our environment warm and tend to be sloppy with food they like.  Snakes love rats and mice so they were always around.  If the kids were going to play outside, they would police the area with a hoe and a shovel.  After killing and disposing of the rattlesnakes- there was always at least one-then they could play for a while in reasonable safety.

The mice and rats were controlled by traps, rocks from sling shots, cats and coyotes.  The cats had a hard and usually short life because of the coyotes.  The coyotes were barely controlled and seemed to be able to smell firearms at a distance.  There were people who hunted the never-ending numbers for the bounty.

After chores were done, kid’s active imagination was used in their play.  They didn’t have a lot of toys.  There were a couple of dolls for the girls, a pocket knife and some marbles for the boy, and a whole lot of empty to fill.  Their father’s beef calves were pretty gentle by the time they were sold at market - the kids rode them regularly.  (Not a much fat on those calves but a lot of muscle.)  They would look for arrow heads, lizards, and wild flowers.  Chokecherry, buffalo berry, gooseberry and currants were picked for jelly and syrups.  Sometimes the kids made chokecherry wine.

On a hot summer day in the afternoon, the shade on the east side of the house was treasured and the east wind, if it came, even more so.
Adults hated hailstorms because of the destruction, kids loved them because they could collect the hail and make ice cream.
Childbirth was usually handled at a neighbor’s house with a midwife if you were lucky.  If you got sick you were treated with ginger tea, honey, chicken soup or sulphur and molasses.  Castor oil was used regularly as well.  Wounds were cleaned with soap and disinfected with whisky.  Mustard based poultices were often used for a variety of ills.  Turpentine, mustard and lard was one that was applied to the chest for pneumonia or a hacking cough.

Contact with the outside world was an occasional trip to town for supplies using a wagon and team.  A battery operated radio was used very sparingly in the evenings.  A rechargeable car battery was used for power.  School was a six mile walk one way and you brought your own lunch.  One school teacher regularly put potatoes on the stove to bake and shared them with the kids.  She was very well thought of by the kids and the parents.

These people were used to a limited amount of social interaction.  They were used to no television, radio, or outside entertainment. They were used to having only three or four books.  A fiddler or guitar player for a picnic or a dance was a wonderful thing to be enjoyed.  Church was a social occasion as well as religious.
The church ladies and their butter and egg money allowed most rural churches to be built and to prosper.  The men were required to do the heavy work but the ladies made it come together.  The civilizing of the west sprang from these roots.  Some of those ladies had spines of steel.  They needed it.

That’s a partial story of the homestead years.  People were very independent, stubborn and strong but still needed the community and access to the technology of the outside world for salt, sugar, flour, spices, chicken feed, cloth, kerosene for the lights and of course, coffee. There are many more things I could list.  Could they have found an alternative if something was unavailable?  Maybe.  How would you get salt or nitrates in Montana without importing?  Does anyone know how to make kerosene?  Coffee would be valued like gold.  Roasted grain or chicory just didn’t cut it.

I don’t want to discourage people trying to prepare but rather to point out that generalized and practical knowledge along with a cooperative community is still needed for long term survival. Whatever shortcomings you may have, if you are part of a community, it is much more likely to be covered.  The described community in this article was at least twenty to thirty miles across and included many farms and ranches as well as the town.  Who your neighbors are, what type of people they are, and your relationship to them is one of the more important things to consider.

Were there fights, disagreements and other unpleasantness?  Absolutely.  Some of it was handled by neighbors, a minister or the sheriff.  Some bad feelings lasted a lifetime.  There were some people that were really bad by any standard and they were either the sheriff’s problem or they got sorted out by one of their prospective victims.
These homesteaders had a rough life but they felt they had a great life and their way of life was shared by everyone they knew.  They never went hungry, had great daylong picnics with the neighbors, and knew everyone personally within twenty miles.  Every bit of pleasure or joy was treasured like a jewel since it was usually found in a sea of hard work.  They worked hard, played hard and loved well.  In our cushy life, we have many more “things” and “conveniences” than they ever did, but we lack the connection they had with their environment and community. 

The biggest concern for our future: What happens if an event such as a solar flare, EMP, or a plague takes our society farther back than the early 1900s by wiping out our technology base.  Consider the relatively bucolic scene just described and then add in some true post-apocalyptic hard cases.  Some of the science fiction stories suddenly get much more realistic and scary.  A comment out of a Star Trek scene comes to mind “In the fight between good and evil, good must be very, very good.”
Consider what kind of supplies might not be available at any cost just because there is no longer a manufacturing base or because there is no supply chain.  In the 1900s they had the railroads as a lifeline from the industrial east.
How long would it take us to rebuild the tools for recovery to the early 1900 levels?

One of the greatest advantages we have is access to a huge amount of information about our world, how things work and everything in our lives. We need to be smart enough to learn/understand as much as possible and store references for all the rest.  Some of us don’t sleep well at night as we are well aware of how fragile our society and technological infrastructure is.  Trying to live the homesteader’s life would be very painful for most of us.  I would prefer not to.  I hope and pray it doesn’t ever come to that.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

As our population continues to increase and expand, the small towns are now big towns, the rural outskirts of town are vibrant mini-metroplexes and quaint little mountain towns are growing communities. With this progression of population and expansion of where we are choosing to live, the fusing of nature and your home is becoming an everyday occurrence. Drive through your neighborhood and you will see the cute little bunny rabbits sitting in the corners of the lawns. How many bird feeders and birdbaths do you see with a songbird sitting on the edge watching you drive by? Watch for the grandpa sitting on the front porch with his granddaughter holding a few slices of white bread, rolling them into small doughy balls, and letting his granddaughter throw them to the two cute squirrels that seem to get closer and closer to eating from her hand every day. You are now passing the community pond; in the center there is a fountain launching a perfect flower shaped cascade of water into the air. Take your focus off of the fountain and see how many ducks and geese have made the small pond into their home. Wait until it cools down a little and drive by this pond again. This time as you drive by you see that same older man with his granddaughter, they are feeding those same doughy balls of white bread to the ducks and geese, but you also notice the tackle box and the fishing pole with a line in the water.

Now you are home and you are ready to go inside when your neighbor, who is outside mowing his lawn, shuts off the engine and calls your name. You respond with a “hello” as you meet him halfway. He proceeds to tell you about his morning walk with his dog. He saw a coyote and he offers up some neighborly advice. He tells you to be careful because he has heard of small dogs being taken from backyards by these coyotes. You drift off into imagination land and snicker to yourself as you think of life without your wife’s yappy little ankle-biter of a dog. Jokingly you tell your neighbor “maybe I will start letting my wife’s dog into the backyard more often.” You both laugh as you part ways.

You are now sitting reading bedtime stories to your children as you hear a familiar sound. First, you hear your trash cans crash to the ground, followed by one of them rolling down the driveway. All this commotion has the neighbor’s dog across the street barking up a storm. You know from past experience that this barking will last for a while until the owner makes his way to his screen door. A “shut up!” rings across the lawn as your neighbor tries to quiet his dog. You are cleaning up the scattered trash from the driveway and lawn because those annoying raccoons have gone after your leftovers again.

This neighborhood is your average neighborhood. I live here and you live here. Your parents live in a similar neighborhood that you visit every Sunday afternoon. We are surrounded by Mother Nature’s little critters, the larger animals that hunt those critters and the waterfowl, like geese, that you curse every time you wash off the gifts they left in your driveway. Take a minute to think back to your childhood. You are peering from behind the rosebush as the unsuspecting squirrel scavenges the front yard for little morsels of food. You explode from behind the bush and are in hot pursuit of this squirrel. Either you got dumber or the squirrel got smarter because it became harder and harder to get the jump on him. Now that you are older you do the same thing; you are now constantly trying to rid your yard of these animals that cause you extra work.

You now have become the home engineer trying to figure out a way to keep the squirrel from eating all the birdseed and how to keep the geese from using your driveway as a porta-potty. Also you have avoided planting particular flowers and plants because you don’t want to deal with rabbits feeding on them. It is time to break these habits. Stop for a second and think about how much wildlife lives around your home. This is an opportunity for you to provide yourself with a food source in the event of “The End of the World as We Know It”. Do practical things now that will help you if you are faced with the need to provide your family with food.

Animals are creatures of habit; time and time again they will return to the places where they know there is food and water. You see it in the neighborhood pond. The geese and ducks use it as a place to stop on their way south. You have seen them year after year. The squirrel knows you have a well-stocked bird feeder, so he stops by once a day to fill up. You always see the rabbits in the same yard because that home owner happened to plant the flowers that those rabbits like to eat. And, of course you feel as if that pesky raccoon only enjoys going after your trash cans, but you have many neighbors who feel that the raccoon only comes after their leftovers. The fact of the matter is not that you have one giant glutton of a raccoon that makes his rounds to every trashcan; it’s that you have more raccoons in your neighborhood than you would have thought.

Imagine that you are actually in the situation of a huge catastrophe. You have hunkered down in your house for the long haul. However, a lot of your neighbors have vacated in the hopes to find help. You have done your best to prepare but are wondering how long you have to make your supplies last. Will it be a month? Will it be six months? Or, will it be longer? Should you start rationing the food to your family? What will you do if you run out of food or water before things turn around? Now imagine being able to substitute and supplement your stash of food with fresh meat. How much longer would your stash of food last if you were able to supplement it with other things? How much could you add to your stash if you were able to dry and preserve some of the things you were able to harvest?
How do we accomplish this?
Here are some practical tips you can do today that will help you tomorrow:

  • Install bird feeders and bird baths in your front and back yard, but more importantly than installing them is keeping them well-stocked with food and water. Birds aren’t looking for a place to hang out; they are looking for a place to eat. If you provide a consistent supply of these things you will quickly see a regular group of birds starting to visit.
  • Install platform feeders on your fences and on your trees. Keep these well-stocked with some sort of birdseed or feed, and you will start to see regular squirrel visitors to your yards and trees. They will learn that they can always come there for food.
  • Instead of throwing out that half loaf of stale bread take the time to sit on your porch and feed the geese. Also, go to the pond that is close by and feed the geese and ducks. When you make that trip to the pond take extra bread and maybe some frozen corn. Pick a spot on the pond that you have easy access to the water’s edge, and that the water is somewhat shallow. At least once a week visit this same spot and put some bread pieces, corn, or some other type of food source into the water. The fish will quickly start to frequent this area of the pond. After a while at any point you should be able to walk to this area of the pond and see a few fish hanging out looking for a quick meal. How easy would it to be to just take a net and scoop up one of these fish.
  • Buy a small pail or use an old coffee can, and when you clean up after dinner, instead of throwing your scraps into your trashcan put them into this can. When you set your trash cans out put this can near them. You will soon learn that your trash cans will not be knocked over as much. The raccoons will be happy to take the easy food source found in your small can of scraps rather than working to get into the trashcan. Doing this will provide raccoon visitors, and possibly other scavenger visitors to your home on a regular basis.
  • Take the time to ask your neighbors what plants they have had that the rabbits keep eating. Now take that knowledge and do some gardening. Within a few months you will see rabbits at your home regularly to do some feeding.

Yes, this will take some time and effort on your part, and a small bump in your weekly grocery bill. You will also have to incorporate this into your existing plans to build up a stash of survival food and water. You will need to have enough supplies of bird feed, squirrel food, food for the fish and scraps of food for the raccoons to continue to keep them coming back. This plan of action will do you no good if at the point you need to utilize it you run out of the items that you used to keep the animals coming to your home. But in the long run it could be a life saver.

In the event of a major catastrophe not only will resources for humans be depleted, but the resources that these animals rely on will become depleted as well. You can take advantage of this situation by creating a habitat in your own front and back yard that animals will know they can visit for food.

Now go back to that thought of actually being in this survival situation. You are able to turn your six month supply of food into a year supply of food because of your ability to supplement it with fresh items. Would you feel a little better about your situation if you were provided with this extra source of food?

I personally live in a urban environment, and the plans that I have laid out are specifically geared towards those of us who do live in your average urban city neighborhood. Some special considerations to this plan of action will have to be considered if you live in more of a rural region. Those of you who live in bear country surely already know that you have to be very careful in the ways that you store food and garbage as to not attract bears to the outside or inside of your home. For those of you who live on a larger piece of land you will have the ability to garden not only to grow things for your family, but you will be able to grow items specifically to attract animals to your area. You know your surroundings better than I do, so tailor your plans specifically to your own needs and your surroundings.

In closing: If you are willing to add this to your routine of chores around the house you can get the gratification of seeing a food source visit your home every day and the thought of having to survive becomes little less intimidating.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Editor's Note: The following letter, suggested by a SurvivalBlog reader, is reprinted with permission of Backwoods Home magazine--which was one of my favorite print publications, even a decade before they became SurvivalBlog advertiser.

Dear Jackie,
I have to disagree with your Ask Jackie column answer to Joe Leonetti's questions about getting started in self-sufficient living in Issue #124 (July/Aug 2010). They missed all the most important points that a "city" person would have to master first. Here are my own suggestions:

Joe, forget thinking "self-sufficient" and start thinking "frugal;" if you have the consume-and-spend mindset so prevalent today you'll need to do this anyway to prepare for retirement. The excellent news is, many things you'll need to know no matter where you live can be learned and practiced right in the middle of town, and little by little. For instance:

*Start by preparing all food and beverage at home­then with no frozen foods­then from scratch­then from storage foods (e.g. canned goods)­ then with only a stove (no microwave, other gadgets)­then without refrigeration (for ingredients or leftovers). If you're an average urbanite, you'll save a boatload of money that will help you to...

*Get out of debt completely. Debt is a chain that will imprison you to your current job forever. It may be the single most common reason why people fail at a simplified lifestyle change. Pay as you go with cash, use credit cards only for car breakdowns and other emergencies, and pay the plastic off every month. And speaking of cars...

*Trade your late-model, banker's-dream for a used, great-condition vehicle that will serve you well on rougher roads (my advice: one without a computer "brain" where everything goes when it goes) and start learning to maintain and repair it yourself. This is a rough lesson but your vehicle is your only lifeline in remote living and doing work yourself will save you more money than almost any other single thing. A car repair class (or full course at your local community college) will also teach you what tools and equipment you'll need. Then get the car totally paid off. While this is in progress, start learning how to...

*Live without electricity, unlimited running water and central heating. Practice washing laundry, dishes and yourself using very limited quantities of water; use only electronics that have solar chargers; get up with the sun, go to bed when it's dark, use a flashlight or battery lantern in between. You'll also find that you need to adjust many household choices to accommodate the new regime­the type of clothes you wear, wearing them more than one day, your soaps, your hairstyle, and a whole lot more. You'll also need a wooden drying rack, a charming rustic decorator touch for any contemporary condo. Boy, will you ever feel sorry for yourself at times, but once you get good at it, it's also very empowering. And very soon you'll figure out that...

*You won't adapt to everything, so find out what is crucial to continuing and then keep going. Concentrate on paring down your present lifestyle to as little expense, as little stuff and as little time as possible, and then it's all forward progress. You can also whittle transportation expenses if you investigate public transportation, or...

*Get a durable pair of walking shoes, a big backpack (used) and create a sturdy, homemade wheeled wire shopping cart, maybe even a bike and bike cart. These things may be your lifeline if the car goes kerflooey one time too many. Do shopping on foot or by bike several times a week, in all kinds of weather; you'll be out in it anyway if you build or garden in a remote area. And speaking of which...

*Now that you're outside more, start practicing being comfortable inside with no central heating. Turn the thermostat down to 60 and wear long underwear, warm vests, heavy socks, hats, and gloves inside the house. Heavy bedclothes are good here, too, especially a rectangular sleeping bag zipped open for use as a comforter. Scout out every thrift store in your county and find these gems there; if your present lifestyle permits, you'll need a good selection of warm clothes if you...

*Purchase a used, self-contained (bed, toilet, kitchen) travel trailer or camper and learn your skills­carpentry, wiring, plumbing, gas piping, whatever­restoring it. You can use this for living in when you first move onto your rural land­that's where the warm clothes come in. When it's ready, take it out camping frequently for practice. As you sit in the silence, you will also realize that...

*Urban areas have lots of entertainment, but rural areas do not have sports stadiums, multiplex theaters, opera halls, megastores, even chain video rental places. You can't work all the time and you must learn to entertain yourself in other ways; with solar chargers you can still watch a DVD (for free, no less) obtained from...

*Your regional library that participates in an inter-library loan system, without which you won't consider moving to the area anyway. Get over any attitudes about libraries being for students and go apply for your card. Then order every book they have on camping, outdoor living, bike repair, cooking from scratch, wood-stove use and the basic design and construction of small homes. Libraries also stock popular DVDs and CDs, magazines and newspapers, and may have public-use computers as well as free wireless access for your own laptop. College libraries may be open to public use as well, and their inventory might include a selection of more specialized periodicals geared to their high-tech classes. Your taxes are paying for it, so you might as well get your money's worth.

*Lastly, you stated that with your background it would be very easy for you to get into teaching. Begin now getting the proper certification and begin job hunting for weekend or evening teaching spots; it may be harder to break into the field than you anticipated, and if you ever suddenly need new employment, nothing works in your favor like an established track record.

*Now, are you still with me, Joe? Have you thrown down the magazine and run away screaming yet? The majority of these lifestyle-changes can be done even if you're presently living in a high-rise condo with a view of Manhattan. Bear in mind, the very best hedge against future money troubles is the ability to live well on very little. Think ahead to retirement (just how much will you collect on Social Security?) and start planning now for a total lifestyle that is exactly what fits you and sustainable well into the years ahead. - Liz C. in Washington

(Reproduced with permission of Backwoods Home magazine from Issue 125, Sept./Oct., 2010.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

For many years I have been working towards self-reliance. I like to use the older term self-reliant simply because I feel “survivalist” doesn’t describe the lifestyle properly. I don’t intend to just “survive” but “thrive” – would that make me a “thrivalist?” Yes, I know that was a bit corny. In all seriousness, let’s assume you are an average Joe living in perilous times. What I have to say is speaking to a revelation I have had over the recent years based on my over confidence and belief that somehow I was different than the average Joe just because I know the big one is coming.

My History:
Before getting to the point of my article let me flash back to the beginning of my journey. My official introduction to the concept of survivalism was done unknowingly by a friend and group of survivalists that were preparing for Y2K. I was invited to come out to a friend of a friend’s cabin on acreage in Southern Georgia where we were going to “camp out” for the weekend. Before the weekend, my friend called and said “by the way, bring a holster for your handgun, and a sling for your favorite rifle, a backpack with essentials, a good pair of boots, plus anything else that could be carried on a hike.” I didn’t quite understand the request but of course complied figuring we were simply going to hike too our campsite.

Immediately upon my arrival I was overwhelmed and excited with what I saw. Throughout the property were small cabins being constructed by individual members of the group along with bulk storage areas for fuel, food, ammunition, and other essentials. Again, this whole concept was very new to me though it seemed to strike a cord in my inner being as something that was necessary and logical considering my concern for Y2K. I followed my friend as we made our way to where our campsite would be and a long the way I heard several conversations discussing weapons types, plus and minuses, creating group standards, food storage, and so on. Of course all of these conversations seemed odd to me at the time yet captivating.

The moment everything settled everyone began discussing practicing a patrol. Immediately everyone around began forming up two columns (apparently something they had done before). Having been in ROTC throughout high school I immediately followed suit. A gentleman took charge and then proceeded to instruct us that we were going to perform a practice patrol of the surrounding land and that each column of the formation would be independent squads. We then moved out as a group and individuals from each squad volunteered to be squad leaders and forward scouts. After we were well out of camp the squad leaders led their squads around a predetermined patrol path utilizing forward scouts and practicing noise discipline along with hand signals. At this point I felt like a complete fish out of water to say the least – and was thinking “what in the heck has my friend gotten me into!?”

As the patrol continued, I did my best to comply with my fellow squad members. I had a limited knowledge of hand signals so I was at least able to keep in step with my squad for the most part. Several points a long the way the forward scout would stop the squad to listen – after being satisfied there were no threats we continued our patrol. We stayed off of most trails and pushed our way through the thick Southern Georgia swamps. The patrols were mostly uneventful but exciting. I was fascinated with the whole concept of this exercise and felt energized though we hiked with weighted packs through tough terrain and over significant distances. We returned from the patrol and discussed as a group the issues, weaknesses and strengths of our different packs, slings, harnesses, and various tactical equipment. The weekend itself continued at this tempo with several more “hikes” as we called them and intense conversations about the possibility of disaster this coming Y2K pursued. I met some very interesting folks and maintained several of those relationships even till this day.

After Y2K came and went without the slightest indication of catastrophe the group slowly broke apart and no longer met and personally my interests in the subject dwindled but not entirely. I continued my interests in shooting and somewhat frequently made it to the range with my friends and still had several conversations on the subject but really did not formulate or act on any concrete plans.

Life happened and other things took priority. I met my wonderful and present day wife and have been blessed with five children. Our lives were that of a typical family with not the best priorities but I would say better than average. We led a fairly frugal life but a comfortable one. Several years ago, the same friend that introduced me to the “group” back in 1999 recommended I grab the novel "Patriots" by James Rawles and “give it a read.” The moment I began reading the book I couldn’t put it down. Immediately I was consumed with the aspect of survival laid out in a way I never really conceived though I had experienced different aspects of it, but never congruently. My interests were reinvigorated and I began to consume more information on the topic resulting in research and many more conversations with different friends.

As a father of three at the time, my concept of survival changed significantly. I now had a wonderful wife and three children (with more on the way). I didn’t want to just “survive” but to thrive in post-catastrophe. I felt it is my responsibility as a father and husband to make sure my family had the best possible life. Fortunately, my wife is and was always very intelligent and open to the concept. Slowly we talked about the prudence of being prepared as a family. I remember initially feeling almost powerless at the task ahead. We had a fairly large family and no real resources to throw at the problem.

Shortly there after we were met with financial hardship when I took a significant loss in work. I lost a major client while retaining some smaller clients causing a huge deficit in our income versus expenses. This went on for 18 months. We lost just about everything including our home. The sense of depression was significant and further amplified by the concern of a coming catastrophe. Then everything changed. We reached a point where after serious soul searching we knew we didn’t want to embark on the typical American life represented as nothing but shallow consumerism. We wanted self reliance not just for our own family security but for the wholesomeness it would bring to our children. Life no longer became about shallow possessions but about meaningful content and the pursuit of happiness by our achievements.

With God’s grace, work came our way again almost like God had waited for us to learn this lesson before he gave us another chance. My wife and I spent two years looking for land that was both remote yet still close to family in our native home of Florida. We finally found the right community and area of Florida where self reliance was still a way of life, most people kept gardens, and agriculture and ranching is still the line share of business. Our credit was destroyed from our previous hardship so we had to use cash for everything. It seemed at every step of the way God provided opportunity and a means assuming of course we were open to it. We are by no means a perfect family but our path was indeed more wholesome and proper this time round.

A Revelation

Again, I began to formulate self reliance and survival in to our plans. After much thought and discussion with my wife we felt having a food supply of not just of stored food but active production was critical. With that in mind we have labored the past year turning our virgin land in to a farm and ranch using self sufficient methods of farming and ranching modeled after Joel Salatin and others in the Polyculture movement. Most TEOTWAWKI scenarios suggest a grid down situation where fuel and byproducts of fuel such as fertilizers and pesticides would become scarce – though that being the case most “typical survival plans” utilize fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers stored in bulk to support their eventual plans of gardens and food production. One really has to ask the question “is this sustainable?”

I find the concept of supplying a remote retreat where there is no current food production, to where one would “Bug Out” and survive whilst planting a garden for long term survival to be flawed and likely resulting in disaster. For the past year my wife and I have had the benefit of an income, hardware stores, the Internet, and many other things that would not be available post-catastrophe to help us achieve self reliance. We are no where near the point of producing at least 20% of our nutritional requirements. Sure there is a wealth of knowledge on farming and raising animals for food in books and on the Internet but the common-sense “every day stuff” is not spelled out, nor could it be grasped without actually doing it. Not only will the thousands of survivalists turned farmers learn food production from the school of “Hard Knocks” they will also be under constant threat of starvation when their food stores are exhausted, let alone the other stresses, including defending the retreat.

Let me create the proper image of the “average survivalist plan”. Let’s say you have 24 months of food stored up and of course every gadget imaginable. Six months have now passed and you decide it’s time to start on your farming endeavor. Lest we not forget you have a full time job of retreat security. Imagine working stressful 8 to 12 hours days 365 days a year and then coming home to work on your homesteading projects – I can tell you from experience it is hard to muster the energy today even though I am just into my 30s. Getting the picture? Most of us have great reasons why we shouldn’t begin this phase of our survival/self reliance plans now but are you really willing to bet your life on your first-timer’s success?

It isn’t until you begin planting a garden do you realize the seeds you bought are not optimized for your agriculture zone or even simple infrastructure items like near by water sources for irrigation, compost bins, and garden fencing to keep the critters out are in place let alone the right tools. Sure you may have gotten a handy list of these items but invariably it was written by someone that lives in an entirely different agricultural zone, soil conditions, and garden pests all together. Do you have a true understanding of the time investment to get these infrastructures items in place? How long to mature your compost and sources of nitrogen and carbon to feed your piles? Or even the proper garden spot that has ample sunlight. Oh - you need to remove a few trees to make room for your garden – got tools for that too? Each job will dovetail into other jobs you may not have even anticipated, let alone the tools and supplies you never realized were necessary. Ask any homesteader how long it took to get up and running – I can guarantee you most will tell long stories highlighted by serious trial and error over years of work and effort. Each homestead is different; there is no one universal method to success.

Especially if you plan to grow without pesticides and fertilizers – like an artist it takes much practice to master the conditions in your area to be a consistent grower. Imagine the stress you would feel having your first season crops fail or produce very little. Do you even know what plants are indigenous to your retreat area? Remember – simply observing your large local farms is poor indication of this. They typically practice monocultural growing methods which are highly dependent on farming equipment and copious quantities of pesticides and fertilizers – all things you will eventually deplete. You really need to research what grows locally without much help from bug protection and soil augmentation. You really should adjust your diet to reflect not only seasonal foods but indigenous foods of your retreat area. Otherwise, most folks will simply try and fail to grow things they like to eat now, regardless of season and feasibility.

Another example of a lesson learned that could easily result in devastation of your group’s food supply would be predators – the four legged variety. Do you have traps available for capturing predators like fox, coyotes, raccoons, or possums? A good meat bird (non-broiler) or egg layer takes a long time to raise – imagine losing half your flock in one night! Not long ago my wife and I awoke to a massacre of our chickens. The strange thing was there was no sign of the chickens in the form of body parts or feathers just simply they were gone. The only evidence was a small hole dug in to the coop. We have two German Shepherds that slept only 150 ft. from the chickens and they didn’t even stir other than a few random barks that evening. Only after many nights of sleeping in the dining area where we had a view of the chickens did we finally catch a glimpse of the predator – a fox. I had my Ruger 10/22 ready but the fox was too sly and on top of that I couldn’t make out his silhouette in the pre-dawn hours for a good shot. This brought forth the realization I need night sites or a good scope to shoot in low light conditions. It took three separate occasions before I managed to get a good shot and bag our predator. Imagine if we had depended on this flock of chicken for our egg and meat requirements and the possible ramifications of its loss--ranging in seriousness from inconvenient to starvation!

On the subject of chickens, how do you plan to raise them? Do you realize most modern chicken breeds have had their broodiness bread out of them making you almost entirely dependent on incubation to hatch eggs? Do you have an incubator and a means of powering it for the incubation period of anywhere from 21 to 28 days? What about a heat source for your newly hatched chicks, ducklings and poults while they grow in their feathers and can maintain their own body heat? What about the source of your eggs and chickens in the first place? What’s the likelihood you would be able to come about them without having to make dangerous hikes far from the retreat to locate and obtain them through barter? Personally, I would prefer to let a broody hen do the work of hatching and raising chicks but this is something you don’t just do since finding good broody hens is at best hit and miss these days. [JWR Adds: For broodiness, we've had the most success with Bantam hens. Bantams lay small eggs, but they don't object to sitting much larger fostered eggs.] As you can see this will take time to master – time is invaluable when the clock never stops ticking on your food supply.

I know – homesteading and self-reliance just isn’t exciting and sexy to the average survivalists. Typically, our focus is on tactics, guns, and exciting conversations on possible scenarios that may or may not come to pass. As survivalist we normally are avid researches to the point we neglect to really practice or act on the mountains of information we have read or debated. Do you believe that some how you will be exempt from the newbie mistakes of most homesteaders and farmers? Do you realize the convenience of a hardware store or even a quick Internet search will not be there to assist you?

As survivalist, have we not accepted the principle of self-reliance and independence from a system that we all believe may/will eventually fail us? Do you live in denial of this lesson based on the actions of your every day life? If you truly believe we are living unsustainable lives and this world is on a crash course to a catastrophic end then perhaps you should consider changing your own life now?

A Second Wave of MZBs

My greatest fear should the Schumer hit the fan is that well-armed survivalists who are ill-prepared in the food production capability will become the “Second Wave” of Mutant Zombie Bikers (MZBs). They will threaten those who survived the first 6, 12 to 24 months of chaos. We all know too well how desperation will lead even the best of men. Let alone desperate men that are well armed, trained, and experienced. It is my hope by exposing these potential flaws in common survival planning that I will protect my family and others from a deadly Second Wave attack or at least decrease its intensity.

Possible Solutions

So what to do? Unfortunately the answer is not all that easy. If you are planning to but out to a remote retreat you may want to consider finding one close enough to allow frequent trips for building infrastructure while the hardware stores are still open, doing test plantings to determine what really grows best while the Internet is still up to research your results.

As we begun our own homestead these have been the things of our focus:

1) A reliable water supply capable of operating with out grid or petroleum power machinery. [JWR Adds: Nothing beats gravity-fed Spring water.]

2) Chicken, goat, and other small livestock shelters.

3) Construction of fencing for pastures, paddocks, and gardens.

4) Compost piles and other soil enrichment

5) Support buildings for harvest and animal processing

6) Storage areas for harvested plants and animals

7) Planting of orchards [vineyards, berry patches] and other plants that takes time to mature

This is just a very general list to get started. We have had a year to work on this “grid-up” with help from friends and family with no fear of MZBs and we have hardly made a dent! Can you tell me without hesitation that you could plan every aspect of this operation in advance, in just one trip to the hardware store, years before needing it, without having done it before? Sure, the human spirit is very capable when under pressure but unlike our Savior you will not be making wine out of water.

I doubt even the most experienced farmers and ranchers placed on virgin land would have immediate success. Sure the pioneers were able to do it but they had the benefit of everyday knowledge learned firsthand or that was passed down by the generation of pioneers and farmers before them. Common man is completely out of touch of these once generally known survival skills and therefore will be subject to a learning curve.

If it is absolutely not in the cards to be near or live on your retreat then I would strongly suggest you consider a 3 to 5 year food supply to give you enough time to establish your future homestead. I can guarantee that you will not have all of the required tools, skills, and supplies therefore the ability to adapt, substitute, and use what is at hand will become the rule of the day.

Let me jump back to what I said in the beginning about thriving instead of surviving. If you truly believe in self reliance and the prudence of preparedness then why not act with your principles and embark on what you feel to be necessary and wholesome? Make the life change and increase your odds of survival by living it now and not later.

Another option to consider if you have formed a group is to allow the most capable member(s) of the group with the most flexibility to live on the retreat property and where they will engage in daily infrastructure improvement/homesteading activities. If local work or income is not an option, then perhaps a small monthly donation from all group members would subsidize members manning the retreat. In the mean time group members could make frequent trips to the future retreat to assist in major infrastructure projects, plantings, and harvests of crops. This would even allow the opportunity of animals to be kept at the retreat. Think about the benefits of stored food costs that could be saved by actively growing your own as a group? You could also establish your pastures and raise meat cattle to provide a source of fresh meat for the group and sell the excess to processors as another means of revenue generation. The same could be done with chicken, goats, and so on. Make this an investment that will pay for itself in what it generates for the group. There is no reason a retreat needs to be a liability constantly requiring capital to maintain. If you are successful at this then you know without doubt not only will you have a secure retreat but a productive one capable of supplying your group of its basic needs. Besides, wasn’t this the reasons for homesteads in the first place?

A third option is to find a self-reliant minded homesteader that is looking to find others to populate their homestead turned retreat should catastrophe happen. At least in this case you have a viable farm / homestead with active and a history of successful production. Nothing is more critical than the long term aspect of survival. If you are literally just making ends meat and simply survive versus thriving then how do you intend to come to the aid of others and participate in the rebuilding of our communities?

I understand these may not seem like realistic options. But they still do not change the reality of the situation and the points I bring to the table. I fear most have severely under estimated their long term plans and have only focused on short term survival. Survivalism is really self reliance in the sense of traditional homesteaders and the Patriot farmers who founded this nation. It is time to reject today’s shallow society and embark on true substance filled journeys bound to bring true happiness and fulfillment.

A lot of folks will read this and either take it for what it is which is “my real life experience and revelations on the matter” or they will discard it for more interesting topics on survival while ignoring the elephant in the room. Don’t be the latter, take a serious look at your plans. Boilerplate survivalism is not the answer – to be honest it is more like consumerism. You will have to analyze your personal situation and take the proper steps to experience first hand what your challenges will be. Don’t take my advice or anyone else’s for that matter. Go do it yourself and graduate from the school of “Hard Knocks” before TSHTF and while you still have the luxury of failing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I believe that in a severe crisis, most of the problems are going to have to be solved at the local level. State and federal government are too big and dependent on technology to survive a severe crisis once the grid drops and all services start to erode. Local governments, too, are ill prepared to assume this crushing responsibility, but they are much more resilient because their scope of control is smaller. Most of them have never even considered what they would do.

This article is a discussion piece to stimulate thought on the subject of small community recovery after TEOTWAWKI. I hope it will also be useful as a rough blueprint or checklist for local community leaders, or at least a starting point for a comprehensive plan. I wrote it from the perspective of a fictional town mayor. Most of the issues I mention apply to many levels of local government and law enforcement. I realize that A mayor never acts alone or has absolute power. They have a lot of people helping and advising them. I am hoping you will help yours make and implement the right decisions and that this paper will help in some small way.

Before I start spouting off about what I think will occur, I need to tell you who I am. I am a retired Army Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence Warrant Officer. I spent over a decade working on Army planning staffs at various levels, and was a professional action officer on the USAREUR DCSINT planning staff for more than four years. I got the rare opportunity to see many failed states and regional crisis and how people, communities and economies react. But I have never held any office in local government. Also, unfortunately, I am not a wizard who can see into the future. The following are my own conclusions and suggestions drawn from my own experiences. I may be wildly wrong, or overlooking factors that seem obvious to you, especially if you have a lot of experience in local government. So, take this for what it's worth. Hopefully, it will provide a basis for discussion and planning and generate a dialog. I am hoping to hear corrections and other ideas. I am never insulted by disagreement, so if you see things differently, I would be very happy to hear it.

First, we need to define what kind of crisis I am talking about. I am talking about a large scale disaster of some kind that effects a huge geographical region and forces local communities to solve their own problems and precludes getting help from outside. I am talking about an event that would cause a complete failure of basic services such as finance (banking) or the electrical grid and prevent the Government from repairing it quickly enough to prevent a general cascading breakdown of other services. I will use a major EMP event as my example because that would be just about a worst case event. Some of what I say will be applicable to regional or short term events, but some of it won't.

I believe that most communities are doomed. Many American and European communities are artificial constructs entirely dependent on modern society to keep them running. You can tell if your town cannot survive by looking at the population density, arable land, water supplies and other resources. If your community is in a desert and trucks in all their water, you can't possibly survive long term. If your whole population is suburban or urban and you have no working farms or farmable land, then you are doomed. Sorry. If you live in a doomed community, I don't know what to tell you. For this article, I am assuming a smallish town with a good water supply and a lot of working farms that don't require electric irrigation. Even a perfectly situated town will have huge problems and may not survive a major EMP event. Anything less than perfection is going to require superhuman effort, no mistakes and a large touch of luck.

Somebody has to take charge quickly:
Anarchy is the dirtiest word in the English language and should be avoided at all costs. Whenever I see some teenager wearing a T-shirt espousing anarchy, I get a strong urge to show him a little anarchy by beating him up and ripping it off his back..and then ask him if he still thinks Anarchy is "cool". I have seen chaos and virtual anarchy up close and I was frankly astonished at the depravity of mankind. Without law and order of some kind, the strong will take from the weak. The cruel will torture and kill wantonly. Rule of law is essential to any progress or recovery. I am writing this in the firm belief that when our society crashes, some communities will maintain order and some vestige of humanity. That's going to require a delicate balancing act because the two concepts are not mutually reinforcing and can be at odds with each other. Communities are going to have to make some very hard choices if they are to maintain order and survive. Lets hope they can maintain their humanity and Christian values while they are doing this.

Let's imagine that you are the mayor of a small town when this horrible event occurs. The lights go out, most cars don't work, and personal battery powered electronics malfunction. How quickly would most small town mayors realize it was EMP? I am guessing that most of them will figure it out within minutes or hours. There are enough smart folks around to advise them even if they are not knowledgeable. So what are your actions going to be?

What are your resources? The town owns some land and some buildings, some vehicles and maybe some utility equipment. But by far, your biggest asset is a limited amount of capital in the form of authority and good will. You represent a body of voters, which gives you more legal legitimacy than anyone else. You have a police force of some kind and the authority to spend money on behalf of the government...sort of. Your authority is real, but it's based on some fairly fragile cornerstones. Some of them may not exist anymore. The monetary system may be completely wrecked. You may not be able to pay anyone for anything. The Federal and State Governments are both out of communications and may not exist anymore. Any indecision or misstep on your part could destroy your authority, leaving nothing in it's place.

What, exactly is your authority? Where does it overlap with county or other governments? What gives you the authority to maintain order? Impose martial law? Appoint armed deputies, Set up roadblocks? Commandeer fuel and food stocks? The Army NCO academy teaches that there are five types of power that an individual can wield. You will need to use all of them.

a. Legal: You have limited direct "Command authority" in a military sense. Unless you have a body of laws to back you up, you can't lean on your command authority too much. Check on this, but your town is unlikely to have bylaws giving you much power in an emergency. Instead, you have to assume that you possess Delegated authority. You are the representative of both State and Federal government and have to assume their roles and responsibilities until you can re-establish a chain of command. In the absence of orders or directives, you are free to "assume" responsibility and authority. At least that's a good legal theory and may be enough. If this were ever tested in court, it might not be upheld, but by that time, the crisis will be over, right? Everything you do is "Legal" until you are overruled by a court...or ousted by a mob of your constituents. Your real authority is your mandate from the people. It rests on your ability to make sound decisions and convince others that you are doing all the right things. That buys you more authority in a crisis than all the documents ever printed.

b. Coercive: Unfortunately, brute force is always a factor. As long as you maintain control over the police force or sheriff's department, you have authority. You must gain firm control of your police and public employees first, before you try to do anything else. Without them, your authority can be dissolved by a few hot-heads with weapons. You are going to be forced to make some very unpopular decisions and part of your community is going to be extremely angry with you. Get your troops in place first or you won't keep your authority long. You must also be very careful not to abuse this authority or let your troops abuse it. A good way to do this is to immediately beef up your police force with out of work, solid citizens. You can take on a fairly large number of deputies from the community. That gives the community a sense of ownership in the police and helps prevent excesses.

c. Reward: You will initially have almost no ability to reward anyone. If the finance system is gone, you have nothing to trade for goods and services. You will need to change this immediately by setting up some kind of economy for your town. (This topic is covered below). If you don't lick this problem immediately, your police and city employees are going to stop showing up for work very quickly. They have to feed and protect their families somehow.

d. Charisma: Unfortunately, (or fortunately perhaps) personal charisma and magnetism are much more important than we like to admit. If you can sway a crowd or argue persuasively, it doesn't matter if you are right or wrong. This sword cuts both ways, of course. You are going to have to face very charismatic personalities around town and persuade them to go along with you, or at least stay neutral. You need to gain the immediate support of community and church leaders. Figure out who can cause you political trouble and approach them to get them on your side or otherwise neutralize them, or you will be facing a "minority party" that will eventually oust you.

A good tool for dealing with dissension is to trap your opponents into stating a preferred way to resolve some problem and then enlist them to oversee it. There are a lot of ways to "skin a cat". Let them try their way if it can work. Pull them into your administration. Remember, you are all on the same team at some level. Find that level and stay on it. I believe that in a crisis, everyone has a tendency to follow anyone with a firm voice and the appearance of a plan. Just be sure you have a good plan and you will keep dissension to a minimum.

e. Expert: Knowledge is power. Anyone with unique and useful knowledge has value and power. It's much easier to sway an audience if you have a degree in the topic or an acknowledged expert in your corner. You should surround yourself with experts. When a new problem arises and an expert or two are identified, pull them into your circle of advisers. Doing this not only makes you a better leader with better decisions, it gives all of your followers the sense that you are open to suggestions and good ideas from any quarter.

So, you take charge quickly and start issuing orders. What are those orders?You have a lot of things to worry about, and all of them are urgent and critically important. The following is my list of issues that you need to address immediately and some suggestions on how to address them. Local conditions, laws, resources and public opinions are variables that effect how you must react. Think it out in the context of your local conditions and try to at least have a tentative plan to put forward immediately. The venue for putting forth your agenda should be as transparent as possible, either a public meeting or a written decree or order. That way, everyone not only knows your decisions, they know the reasoning behind them. If you can get consensus from a town meeting before you put out an emergency decree, you will have less trouble,but some of these issues require immediate action.

1. Communications:
Without communications, you are powerless. You must be able to communicate with your police department and other public service folks, the people of the town, the county seat, the State, and lots of others. Unfortunately, a big EMP event will wipe out electronic communications in a blink and leave you isolated, just when you need to be at the center of activity. There are a couple of things you can do to mitigate this if you plan ahead, but you are still going to have to somehow establish some kind of communications with your neighboring towns and other polities...and hopefully higher echelons of government.

If you can store some short range radio equipment and maybe some old-school TA-312 or TA-1 type telephones in a Faraday cage, they will be worth their weight in gold. Even a few old telephones (and wire) can enable you to keep in touch with the town down the road, or your own guard posts. Another thing to add to your Faraday cage is a couple of battery-powered shortwave receivers. These will allow you to catch long range HF broadcasts from working stations possibly overseas. Shortwave may be your most reliable source of news. A ham radio rig, if it survives, might be very useful too.

If you don't have working radios, think back to a time when radio and even telephone didn't exist. Our founding fathers didn't have those luxuries and still managed. The solution is a central, easy to find headquarters, official written communications, and messengers. You will need plenty of paper, (with your office letterhead if possible), envelopes and some kind of official seal you can use. You might even consider a wax seal, like they used in the 18th century, but a notary seal (or something similar) with your signature over the top will look a lot more official than a blank paper. You will also need carbon paper or a working copier, but probably won't have them.

Small communities in the past used church bells, beacon lights, gongs, bugles, whistles, sirens and flags to communicate locally. These methods require some planning, but they still work.

Public notice boards were a major tool of government in the days before electricity. Designate a board outside city hall or somewhere convenient and section it off into five sections (or more if you wish). Post public policies and directives in one section and "good advice" such as water purification procedures in another. A third section of the notice board should contain a calendar or event log to keep people advised on upcoming events. (Also, you should somehow let people know what day it is). A fourth section of the board can contain news items picked up on the shortwave or from other communities.

The fifth [and very large] section should be made open to the public. Remember, they have no reliable communications means and may need to link up with missing relatives or communicate privately with other community members. A board is a good way to do this and can substitute for a public mail service. Set up a drop box for personal messages (controlled by someone at city hall or at the post office or whatever) and maintain a list of people with "refugee mail" on the public notice board. That way, if someone wants to send a letter or something to anyone else, they drop an envelope in the drop box and write the addressee's name (and a date) on the public board. When the addressee picks up his mail, he crosses his name off the list. Any person traveling to a nearby town can carry mail to that town.

You may need to regulate your public notice board by requiring people to date their notices and limit the time something can remain posted. Otherwise, the public board will quickly get out of hand, no matter how big it is. Try not to get too draconian. Allow people to post anything they want (subject to whatever constraints make sense to the town). Your board may be the best and only information service most people have.

You should also expect to do a lot of face to face meetings with crowds and individuals. Consider setting up a weekly town meeting where you can put out orders and public service information in person and invite discussion. Town meetings used to be a great source of entertainment and gave everyone a chance to blow off some steam about things that bothered them. When electronics fail,You will need to be able to do a lot of business face-to-face. If you move your headquarters to an easily accessible area, like downtown main-street, or near a marketplace, everything may be easier. Unfortunately, messengers and face to face conversations require working transportation of some kind (as discussed below).

2. Building an emergency economy
You are going to have to set up some kind of economy to replace the crashed finance system. You are not going to be able to rebuild the crashed economy, but will have to build an entirely new system, almost from scratch. If you get this one wrong, everything else will fall apart very quickly. This is a huge undertaking, but it must be done quickly. You simply cannot use the existing financial system or hope to rebuild it. About 4/5ths of your town will need food and most of the town's food will be owned by a very few individuals or controlled by a store manager in the case of a corporate chain store. If you allow the market to "work itself out", these few store managers or individuals will suddenly control all the wealth and be able to charge people anything they see fit...or withhold critical resources as the whim takes them. Some people will have nothing of value in the new economy [except their labor]. How will these people buy what they need? "Money" is not the fiat currency we are used to dealing with. It is something of value exchanged for something else of value. Any finance system has to be able to allow people to exchange what they need for what they have or it will fail. In this example, the likely results might be a riot and immediate looting.

Mitigation: None possible? I don't know how you can prepare your town for a total financial crash. If anyone has a suggestion, I would love to hear it.

We might as well deal with this topic right away. Are you going to try to have a strictly capitalist system? If so, a lot of people who don't currently have exactly what they need, or anything that happens to be valued in your new economy, are going to die. (More likely, they are going to revolt and try to take the resources they need.) A free market is a wonderful thing, but it requires time, security and communication to form. You won't have any of these. People who don't have food won't wait long enough for you to form a fully functional free market system, which could take months or years. Without perceived equitable distribution of "wealth" in the form of whatever your community members need, you will have violence and mayhem very quickly. A free market capitalist trade system will never get a chance to form without a precursor system to hold it up until it gets established.

In my humble opinion (after seeing many different monetary systems over the years) there is no alternative to adding a very large socialist component to a post-collapse emergency economy. If you don't strictly regulate critical resources, they will not be distributed equitably and many people will needlessly suffer and perhaps die. Even if that's okay with you, consider what you would do in their shoes. Would you watch your family starve while there was food on the shelves down at the Wal-Mart? Not very likely. You might decide to gather some like-minded folks up and storm the Wal-Mart. If the police try to stop you, what will you do? You will fight to the death because there is no valid alternative. For that matter, the police force may be leading the charge. What are you planning to pay them with? Patriotism? Whoever controls the food and other scarce resources controls the reins of power. It simply cannot be left in the hands of random individuals.

To avoid total anarchy in a societal collapse, you will need to form a centrally controlled economy in the short term, designed to equitably re-distribute and manage critical resources. You will need to slowly build a free market as you are able, but trying to do it immediately will undermine everything you must accomplish during the crisis.

In order to form a centralized economy or even pay for the services the town is going to desperately need, you need to gain control of most of the "publicly available" critical shortage resources and use them as your basis of wealth. Scarce resources are the basis for a currency system. At a very basic level, Food is cash. Once you have a warehouse of food under your tight control, you can pay for labor and other commodities and resources with that food. A better system might be to pay for labor and services with "ration cards". That ration card entitles them to eat a single meal at a community soup kitchen, or entitles them to a set amount of grain or other commodity on demand from the town warehouse. In essence anyone needing community resources "works for the community" and gets to eat at the mess hall...and earns a little surplus to use for other necessities. This arrangement will also give you a huge manpower pool to work with almost immediately. You may find that you will need most of them.

Avoid giving "handouts" to anyone. You need everyone to work as hard as they can. You need them to use their incentive. Handouts that compete with the local economy are counterproductive and destroy human dignity.

Without machinery, manpower is your biggest resource. Cherish each unemployed citizen. Make them work for their pay and use them to build capital for the future (see below), food production, military duties, messenger services, trash collection or anything else that needs doing. Remember, these are not freeloaders, they are solid citizens who want to work and feel like they are part of a larger effort. Don't worry about having so many people on "welfare". Most of them will get to be self sufficient as fast as they are able. Pay them a slight surplus and they will feel that they are working toward something and not living hand to mouth. You may find that they invest the surplus and build your free market economy for you.

If you let private citizens keep their food and fuel and other scarce resources and only confiscate and control corporate or "large retail or wholesale stocks" (explained below), any citizen with resources can also hire help at roughly the same rates you are paying, which helps the whole community and drives down demand for public stockpiles. (You have established a minimum wage of 1 ration card per hour). Everything else could be bartered using food or the town ration cards as currency. If you establish a set value for your ration cards and a safe marketplace in town (perhaps even a market day, where other communities can join in the trading), you have the beginnings of a free market with as little pain as possible and almost no stink of socialism. Since food is established as the gold standard, you also add incentive to immediately start farming, hunting, and otherwise adding to the public larder.

So where do you get the resources you are going to control? I am not talking about collecting up everyone's food and gasoline. That would be an economic disaster in the long term. People need to feel secure in their property rights or they won't be willing to invest in the future. And you need a lot of private investment to get your community through the crisis. You will need to collect taxes later, but not until there is a harvest or something to collect.

You have to be careful which resources you initially confiscate and only gather large retail or wholesale stocks meant for re-sale. Anything owned by an individual for his own use is his property and must not be touched. Any critical and scarce commodity owned strictly for resale should be confiscated for the common good and held by the community. Make sure you provide a receipt to any owners you can locate or at least keep records of what is taken. This will allow much easier accounting if someone ever tries to rebuild the old

Our free enterprise system has provided the opportunity for some families and even individuals to amass huge fortunes. It also allowed groups of individuals to "incorporate" to form legal entities that own vast resources. In normal times, this is an overall goodness that generates wealth and (at least in theory) raises everyone's standard of living. In normal times, an individual is free to own thousands of acres of land and all the minerals under it. He is allowed to farm it, bulldoze it, burn it, deny it's use to others or use it pretty much any way he wants. It's almost certain that critical resources in your community are "owned" by a corporation or private investor. In theory, a single individual can legally "own" all the arable land in a community and prevent anyone from farming it, even if they are starving.

In an emergency, I feel that this cannot and must not be allowed. Moral imperatives and common sense must prevail over law in some rare cases and this is one of those cases. Private property for use by the individual is morally different from corporate property or privately owned property that is held for the "wealth" it generates. If someone "owns" something and has no intention of ever using it himself (or even seeing it), he cannot morally control it in an emergency. I believe that corporations are legal fictions that have exactly as much validity as the rest of our complex finance system. When the dollar crashes and all the banks close, (IMHO) they cease to exist in a moral sense.

Any corporate or investment property belongs to the state in an emergency. Did that sentence scare you? It does me. But I believe it will come to pass. The state has the ultimate responsibility to answer to the people and has legal power over all corporate entities. The government's charter (by constitution and a huge jurisprudence system) is to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. In normal times, this is best accomplished by jealously guarding a clearly documented body of property rights for individuals and corporations. But this is not a universal law of nature. If corporate interests collide with public welfare needs, the government has the right and the responsibility to negate corporate or individual rights for the common good.

As mayor of a community, you are going to have to make some hard choices and convince others that you are right. One of these choices might be to confiscate corporate property and redistribute it as needed for the common good. That specifically includes local merchants who hold stockpiles of needed resources meant for resale, such as gas station and grocery store owners. The whole retail system with it's complex accounting and "ownership" laws are part of a finance system that no longer exists after a severe EMP event. You (and your community) need to sit down and determine a whole new set of ownership rules. I urge you to think hard about this and perhaps appoint someone wise and respected to arbitrate individual cases. Farmable land owned by a absentee landlord is easy; he's not there and owns it only as an investment, therefore it now belongs to the community. Large corporate holdings, like the stock of a chain department store are easy matters. That corporation is dead and gone and the goods now belong to the community. A large Agra-business hog farm is easy, confiscate the hogs and their feed. But what about a silo of corn owned by a Co-op of local farmers? What about a local farmer with 1,000 acres of standing corn clearly meant for commercial sale? What about a rancher with 100 head of cattle? You really have to be careful where you draw the line between private ownership and "retail goods", but draw it you must. Your new government is going to need a lot of capital to survive the tribulations coming.

3. Transportation and fuel
Your police and city vehicles may not work after an EMP event. In my opinion, the testing of EMP effects on vehicles outlined in the congressional EMP report "2008 Critical National Infrastructures Report" was flawed. Their simulator was only capable of generating 50kv EMP and only generated a E1 event, not the (perhaps) more damaging E3 wave. The cars were tested only until they exhibited a fault of some kind and then the testing was halted. Many of the vehicles showed some kind of failure or "faults" at lower voltages, but were never subjected to high voltage EMP, yet the conclusion includes these cars as having survived with no permanent damage.

Also, there is no reason to assume that 50kv is the upper limit in a real world HEMP event, it was simply the limit of the test gear available. I believe the test gear used was strongly influenced by the Master's degree thesis by Louis W. Seiler, Jr., "A Calculational Model for High Altitude EMP, report ADA009208". That thesis, while brilliant, computes E1 gamma burst for the peak EMP at ground zero for a burst above the magnetic equator, where the Earth's magnetic field is far weaker than it is at high latitudes (nearer the poles). Further North or South, the magnetic field lines converge (increasing the magnetic field strength). It's generally accepted that the peak EMP is almost directly proportional to the power of the Earth's magnetic field. That means that real world voltages in real world equipment may easily exceed 50kv. In fact we have some evidence of this. The Soviet above-ground warhead test #184 produced ground zero EMP intensity estimated by Soviet scientists at 350 kV. Also, remember that the cars used in the commission's testing were older cars build between 1986 and 2002. Have cars gotten more EMP resistant since then? No. My conclusion is simple. A lot of cars may not survive a real world event.

If a lot of vehicles survive, fuel stocks may be depleted almost immediately unless you take steps to protect them. I know this sounds draconian, but the police force and emergency vehicles should have priority for fuel and the only way to assure this is to implement some kind of rationing plan immediately. Fuel stocks are a public resource owned by private citizens. Once they are gone, your community may never get any more. This is a case where you are going to have to exercise some emergency powers and appropriate property from private citizens. If possible, you should "pay" for the fuel immediately. If you cannot, at least make sure you give the rightful owner a receipt so you can pay him back later if someone manages to re-build the economy.

Keep your town's vehicles in good shape and look into storing them inside a shielded garage when off duty. Being indoors may prevent some of the damage. If you are able to afford it, buy a reserve fuel supply for the police department. I don't know how much this would cost for a specific town, or how much fuel it should hold, but if you could somehow talk the town into the merits of a municipal reserve to last even a few weeks, it might someday prove very useful. If you bought two tanks, sized to last the police department a month or less, you wouldn't have any extra expense for fuel additives. You could rotate your fuel.

As distasteful as this is to Americans, I can't see any alternative likely to work. You need to seize and ration all bulk stocks of gasoline, Diesel, propane, fuel oil, coal and other fuels used or held by the town. The town will desperately need these fuels for heating, emergency services and agriculture. You may also be forced to confiscate privately owned vehicles if yours are damaged or you need specialty vehicles (like fuel tankers, for instance). You need to work out a method of doing this without stealing. Any time you confiscate resources from any private citizen, you need to somehow reimburse them as fairly as possible. A better approach may be to exclusively hire them as the driver and let them retain ownership.

Your town may also have a stream of refugees pouring through or past it from a nearby city. This is a very bad situation that has to be dealt with immediately. If they have access to your town's fuel stocks, they will drain every drop in a day or two. This may need to be your first order in an emergency. Every hour you delay may be critical. (Refugees are discussed below).

Another distasteful, yet lucrative opportunity you may have is to confiscate fuel (and other resources) from passing highway traffic. Whether you call this piracy or taxation, If trucks are still moving on the big highways, they may contain resources your town really needs to survive. I am not suggesting that this is a moral or desirable option, but someone in your community is bound to bring it up. Think out your position in advance and be ready to argue your point. Personally, I believe that any interference in long range commerce or transportation is detrimental to all of society and also undermines the very laws that prop up your own authority. No matter what you call it, the act of a government stealing is a slippery slope.

4. Water and sewage

Modern towns are very wasteful of water, but can't survive without it for more than a few days. Most people have never thought about how to purify water or deal with waste. If you don't do something quickly, a lot of your citizens are going to start defecating outdoors and many of your citizens are going to drink unsafe water. The results will be catastrophic in terms of public health.

Your town may be in good shape, but probably not. You will want to get some expert advice on this immediately. Many towns rely on pumped water, often from towers in or near the town. If so, you have a few days until the tanks run dry. You will need to figure out a way to keep this system going if you can. You still need to add chlorine and get the water high enough to maintain water pressure. If the machinery for doing this is broken, you need to set a crew working on water immediately.

Some towns won't be able to keep their water flowing and will have to use extreme measures to provide water for their people and deal with wastes. You may have to haul water to a central point and purify it manually, or even set up public latrines and wash points. Without ready supplies of water, most private residences are going to be uninhabitable in the long run. The folks with homes you cannot supply may need to move closer to your water point.

Talk to your water providers now and get them thinking about it so they can come up with options for you. Ask them to do a formal assessment of your town's situation and resources and suggest mitigation strategies for emergencies. What do they need to manually run their system during a power outage? If they can't run manually, you might consider buying a backup generator to run pumps and machinery. (Make sure you budget for a good Faraday cage to protect this generator and keep it disconnected and keep all cables inside the cage until needed). You may need to stockpile fuel or extra chemicals or buy extra equipment that can be run manually. If your town can't afford any of this, You may need to buy some mobile water tanks for the town. Any of these preparations could be very useful during a whole range of situations and natural disasters.

These will depend on your town's system. But you need to keep your eye on the ball. You need to provide at least a gallon of water per resident every day, just to keep them alive. You will need much more than that to keep them healthy in the long run. You also need to tell the community how to get pure water and warn them against drinking or using tainted water. Is your area dependent on irrigation agriculture? You will need to figure out how to supply that water too.

5. Solid waste disposal and burial of dead.
Without fuel, trash collection and burial can be very laborious. These problems would be a lot simpler if everyone lived within easy walking distance of town, but unfortunately this is almost never the case in the US. You may need to solve this by distributing simple instructions on how to do it using old-school techniques. Old homesteaders had an outhouse to deal with sewage, a compost pile to deal with organic waste and a burn barrel (or fireplace) to get rid of burnables. Anything else, they threw in the "trash pile" out back. (The solid trash pile for non-rotting, non-burnable trash was often a used outhouse cesspool, which was then covered over with dirt). On the bright side, municipal rubbish volumes are going to diminish and be replaced mostly with compost-able plant waste. Anything that can be recycled and reused, like old cardboard boxes will be treasured and kept. Our throw-away society will be over.

Burial and funeral services used to be handled very locally at the neighborhood church or even on your own property. Embalming and cremation are modern innovations that will be too expensive to maintain. [JWR Adds: The only exceptions will be in heavily-timbered regions or in coastal communities that are in driftwood deposition zones. There, perhaps there will be plentiful firewood for use in outdoor cremation pyres.] You will need your medical people to oversee and recommend procedures for burial. Make sure they consult the church leaders or you may make problems for yourself.

Actions: Check with a local doctor and have him recommend procedures for waste disposal. Find a way to distribute them and encourage people to follow the procedures by explaining why.

6. Food. (Short term provisioning)
This is going to be a real problem. You need to provide some minimum of calories and nutrition for all your citizens until the community can grow (and the free market can distribute) all the food needed by the community. This is going to be a tall order. Most people don't store a substantial amount of food in their homes and will quickly be dependent on town stocks. Most of the food in most communities is owned by very few people or corporations.

The only way you are going to save a substantial percentage of your population over the short term is to gain control of and ration most of the food centrally. You are going to have to locate and safeguard as much food as possible. you will need to establish a warehouse of some sort and guard it well. Pre-historic villages and other primitive cultures always locate their food stocks in the center of their living space to ensure it is guarded. This might be a wise choice. You may be able to use a church, school or other public building close to the town center for this purpose. If that building also has a substantial kitchen and cafeteria that you can get working again, it will save a lot of transportation problems.

Don't be shocked if your town is forced to fight some other town to keep the food you stockpile. Historically, when food gets scarce, communities fight and take what they need. Be ready for this behavior. I would station my police force inside my granary, in the center of town if possible.

Sources of food you can confiscate or otherwise control:

a. Department stores and food stores: Large food stores are the most obvious place to look for food. They will not last long whether you confiscate the food or not. People are going to either buy or loot everything in a matter of days or even hours. Unfortunately retail stores don't maintain much stock these days. If it's not on the shelves, it's probably not in the back room either. With modern stocking practices, nobody maintains a well-stocked warehouse on site anymore. The non-refrigerated foods should all be salvageable, but if you hurry, you might be able to make use of much of the frozen foods and fresh produce or even salt some away using other preservation techniques before it goes bad.

b. Co-ops and large commercial farms: These may have livestock and large amounts of feed grain and other dried foods on hand. Whoever manages these establishments are also probably experts at food preservation, storage and a whole range of agricultural issues. Seek them out and get their input and help to secure their food. You want to avoid spoilage and loss as much as possible and these people can help. Hire them. You may need to keep the grain right where it's at (and guard it) or provide power (if possible) to dry out the grain or you may need to provide manpower to manually harvest crops. Listen to your experts.

c. Feed stores: Most animals in your community are going to have to be slaughtered during the first year. Save as much edible feed as possible for human consumption. Most feed mixes are good for humans to eat. Even the big bags of dog food should be preserved. You will probably need them. They are mostly grain and if ground into flour and thoroughly cooked, all of them are safe to eat. Alfalfa pellets and other "non-human-food" products may be used to feed livestock.

d. Pet stores. Bird seed is nothing but grain and oil seeds. Most pet foods are edible and should be saved for human consumption. The issue of what to do with pets is going to be a hard one, but logic dictates that the community refrain from using up useful food stocks on animals unless they add substantially to the local economy. However, keep in mind that people get very emotional about their pets. If you try to get people to give up their animals, they may lynch you. (Your commissary should sell the pet foods, just like they do people food. If the pet owners work hard enough to support their animals, you should not try to get heavy handed. Any other approach will put you at odds with part of your population.)

e. Regional distribution centers: If you are fortunate enough to have one or more of these in your reach, you should act immediately to secure them. These centers typically have very substantial stocks of food on hand. Unfortunately, much of this food requires refrigeration and will go bad very quickly. The centers with dried and canned goods will be in big demand very quickly, so you need to dispatch work parties (with lots of trucks) as quickly as you can organize them.

f. Standing commercial crops: Depending on the season, one of the first tasks you need to tackle may be to help farmers with their harvest or planting or other tasks. Modern farms are only manageable with the aid of heavy machinery. Without this machinery, even routine tasks are not possible. Without combines, farmers couldn't possibly complete their own harvests. Without security of some kind, their crops may never make it to maturity. Refugees would strip them bare without your help. You can strike a deal with farmers to bring in their crops and help in return for some kind of payment in kind or a cut of their crop and others in the area. (Remember, most farmers are mono-crop farmers with little use for 60 tons of corn with no market). They may be more interested in what you can provide in the form of machinery, power or labor. Talk to them, explain your situation and strike a deal that benefits both of you.

g. Lakes and rivers: Fishing resources are very limited, but important sources of food in many areas if you can protect them. You need to prevent poachers from destroying their production capacity by over-fishing (maybe with dynamite) or polluting water resources.

h. Bakeries and food processing plants: Processing plants usually have very limited stocks of food on hand, but may have quite a lot depending on what they are making. They may also have usable machinery that can be converted to use.

i. Colleges, Libraries and bookstores. These don't contain food, but they contain knowledge about foraging for wild plants. You may be able to extend your resources by sending out forage parties to collect locally growing wild resources. If you get lucky, you might be able to gather a large harvest of acorns or maple seed or some other highly prolific food species. Appoint someone (maybe a survivalist or old hippie) as "wild food forager" and cross your fingers.

Things to watch for are large grain mills and industrial cooking equipment. You may also find water pumps, power generation equipment, specialized vehicles, lathes, mills, presses and other industrial tools. If you can repair the EMP damage, power them and get them working, they can speed the recovery of your community and really enhance your economy.

Actions: Appoint a good commissary officer. Someone is going to have to oversee collection, storage and disbursement of not only food supplies but fuel, tools, fertilizers, seeds and other resources. Your commissary officer needs to be a very smart, honest person and he or she will need a fairly large staff. They are going to have broad powers, so find somebody that is morally good. Whoever you appoint needs excellent people skills and the meticulous attention to detail of a banker. This same person is really in charge of your whole economy and will probably be in charge of printing currency if you use it. A bank manager might be a good choice. If you have political opposition in the community, this is an excellent place to put them if they are up to the job. Once they are "holding the baby" they will be on your side and won't be able to accuse you of any misbehavior.

7. Heat and shelter:
When winter hits, you may be faced with a grave heating fuel shortage. People staying in private homes may not have access to heating fuel at all. The town council is probably going to have some number of refugees to care for and they require heat too. Your community may use oil, gas, wood or something else for heating and each of them pose their own problems. You will need to think this issue out in the context of your own community situation and come up with some kind of solution. The most efficient solution, of course is to co-locate everyone in a few larger buildings and heat them at 65-68 degrees. Setting up a shelter has it's own problems, but it's easier than trying to heat 500 single family shelters. The public shelter model of setting up in a big gymnasium can work, but it provides a very efficient vector for respiratory and other diseases. If you can provide each family (or multiple families) with a classroom or office room of their own, they will be much more comfortable and resistant to diseases.

Providing a warm place to sleep may be all you can manage. Some homes are going to be difficult or impossible to heat once the power grid goes down and the oil trucks stop delivery. You should make every effort to conserve liquid fuels that will be needed for spring planting and emergency machinery.

Mitigation: Location specific. You may be able to encourage your citizens to switch over to an alternate fuel source (like wood, if your community has a lot of forests nearby). Stockpiling fuel for the town may be a good idea if you can afford it, but this is a temporary solution. Look around your town for some suitable shelter buildings and food storage facilities and check out their heating and ventilation equipment. You may be able to improve your chosen buildings or buy alternate heating systems for them within your budget constraints. Laying in a large supply of cots and blankets is a good idea.

Actions: You should immediately set up a shelter and cafeteria of some kind after the emergency. Schools are probably your best choice for this. You will probably have homeless almost from the start, so you need to get this done quickly. Home fires are bound to be more common and some people who live too far from town will need to move closer to the cafeteria. The more people you can get to move into your shelter, the easier it will be to heat. (Each human radiates roughly the same heat as a 100 watt light bulb. It adds up fast.) Make things easy on yourself and appoint someone competent (a school principal for instance) to administer your lodging and cafeteria. The principal already has a staff dependent on the city payroll. You will probably have to feed your teachers and school staff anyway, so hire them to administer your shelters. Administration of a shelter is a big, frustrating job, so make sure you appoint someone level headed to oversee this effort.

8. Security and public order:
Whatever your town's current situation, you will probably need to greatly expand your security forces. In fact you will probably need an Army. During normal times, your town doesn't have it's own foreign policy or the need to defend itself. With a general society collapse, that changes. Your town will need the ability to fight off raiders or even other communities.

a. Some of your own civilian population is going to get unruly. Even a small percentage acting up can overwhelm your current police force. You need some way to punish them and bring them in line. Jails are inefficient and expensive and not very effective at curbing bad behavior. I suggest a simpler system of corporal punishment (whipping or caning) and for serious infractions or repeat offenders, expulsion from the community. Find a judge or other competent person to set up a simple system of justice that fits your circumstances, take a vote at a town meeting to get public buy-in and then appoint someone to run it. Your police force should be distanced from both judgment and punishment. Judgment and punishment should be accomplished by a different group, perhaps a randomly selected jury or something equally simple and fair.

b. You are going to have additional requirements for officers (or someone) to act as "messengers" to put out policies and community information. Without electronic communications, much more of your business has to be done in person.

c. You are almost certain to have extensive guard duty requirements. You will need to provide point security for foodstocks, livestock, roadblocks and critical resources like fuel, power generation, etc. Your uniformed police force is too valuable to bog down with these security positions. You need to hire out of work locals to augment them with a reliable guard force. (I recommend handing this responsibility over to your military...see below).

d. You may need to put a 24 hour presence at roadblocks or traffic control points to divert refugees away from your town. (see below for a discussion of refugees).

e. You may face a threat from outside polities. If so, you will need an Army or you will be destroyed. You may have to mobilize the entire population to fend off other communities. (see below for a discussion of inter-community politics.)

Your security forces are your "face" to the community. They will represent the town and embody your decisions and authority. You need to keep a tight reign on your police forces or some of them are going to be tempted to take unwarranted liberties and abuse their authority.

One of your first actions should probably be to call your security forces and emergency responders together and reaffirm your covenant with them. You need to reassure them that they are still going to be paid and their families taken care of. You need to get buy-in from them and make them feel they are part of something important and bigger than mere survival. Let them know your plans and your thoughts as clearly as possible so they can represent you well. You should also let them know that you will tolerate no misbehavior. They are your knights and have to act the part.

You should also set up some kind of "military" arm to deal with extraordinary requirements. Call it a militia or a town guard or whatever you want. In essence it's an army. If you have any doubts about the loyalty of your police chief or sheriff, the military arm should report directly to you or one of your representatives rather than falling under the police. All of your authority rests on the shoulders of your security forces, so you can't tolerate any dissension in the ranks or misbehavior. Choose someone loyal and skilled with a military background and good people skills to head up your military. Hopefully you have a retired officer or senior NCO available. Whoever it is will have to be able to effectively give orders to perhaps hundreds of people in an emergency, so choose someone charismatic and smart. He will also need an excellent grasp of tactics and the ability to plan for small scale military operations. Let your military commander hire his own personnel, arm and train them and instruct your commissary and police force to assist him in anyway possible.

Your military commander's first task will be to do some kind of terrain analysis and COA products to determine how to defend the community and try to predict future issues. His second task will be to build an effective military force. It should probably be a small offensive force backed up by a larger irregular militia comprising most of the town. He will need to set up some kind of training program and be able to pay people to participate. Military training is hard work, so don't expect anyone to take it seriously or work at it if you are not paying them. You can put your military commander in charge of all the guard duty requirements to assist the police as well as messenger duties.

9. Foreign relations and refugees:
Every community is going to face the same challenges you have. I expect most of them will fail and fragment. I also expect a huge outpouring of refugees from every city in the USA. City based communities have huge challenges that small towns won't. They have limited options and maintaining order will be desperately hard, perhaps impossible. Every community and group of people are going to face terrible, unsolvable provisioning problems. The ugly truth is, most citizens of the USA are going to starve to death after a society crash. It's simple arithmetic. There will not be enough food for everyone to live. Even if most of them last through a whole season until the first harvest, there is no chance that the first [post-collapse] harvest is going to be bountiful enough to sustain everyone.

The following is going to read like science fiction [a la Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank], but I call em like I see 'em. If anyone can find a flaw in my analysis, then please tell me about it. I believe you can expect large polities to attempt to take resources from smaller ones. If you are the mayor of a city with 100,000 or more people, you have no other choice. During normal times, the countryside (agrarian areas) produce all the food consumed by cities. Once the provisions stop arriving, your city is going to starve very quickly unless you can procure more. Your normal sources of supply are perhaps a thousand miles distant and might as well be on the moon. Your actual chances of sustaining your population long term are zero. If you are a smart leader, you will attempt to save most of your people by sending them to other communities that have more food and water. If you are not so smart, you will attempt to take what you need to keep going from the surrounding countryside and small nearby communities. The best a small community can hope for is that all the large polities (cities) nearby will fail and fragment quickly. If they don't the small communities may be forced to take in refugees or surrender food stocks to support the cities. Either way, the city people are mostly doomed, but if this occurs, so are the small communities.

A medium sized city could potentially muster an enormous army. I am not saying every city is going to manage the level of cohesion, organization and discipline needed to do this, but it's at least a possibility in some cases, especially for cities that have a military base nearby. You also need to consider smaller polities like boroughs or neighborhoods or even church congregations making demands on your community. How will you react when the mayor of a nearby town or city asks you for provisions?

Another probable development I expect to see is the "professional army". Groups may attempt to provision themselves by threatening small communities and extorting "protection" from them. This is another layer of taxation you probably can't afford, but if you choose not to pay, you must be prepared to fight. Think about it and make sure you discuss your concerns with your security leadership so they can form plans.

You can also expect to see a large stream of refugees pouring out of heavily populated areas. If they have vehicles, they will move outward from the cities along major roadways until they can't get more fuel and then stop. If the finance systems are still working, this refugee stream may burn up most of the available liquid fuel in the USA in a few days. If your community lies on a major line of drift, you can expect to have many thousands of thirsty, hungry refugees knocking at your door hoping for a handout. These are going to be US citizens, mothers and fathers, sons, daughters, and grandparents who are desperate and begging. If begging stops working, they will get hostile and dangerous. Maybe very dangerous.

I know this is a very disagreeable topic, but almost every refugee is doomed and you are powerless to change that fact. Think it out carefully and you will see that you simply cannot feed everyone. You are going to have to prevent refugees from consuming your community resources or you will perish with them. You need to stop the stream of refugees from entering your community. Once they are inside your community, they will exponentially harder to deal with. Effectively killing someone by evicting them from your town while looking them in the eye and listening to them beg is going to be hard to do. If you get soft hearted and let too many stay, you will be condemning your community to slow death by starvation. Discuss this topic with your community leaders, especially your security leadership and make them see that there are no alternatives to a strict quarantine. You need to have a plan and execute it immediately or you may be overwhelmed within hours.

One final note on turning back refugees: Do it as far from town as you can. The refugees are going to be truly pitiful and seeing this level of misery will cause your community a lot of pain and distention. You need very hard men to man your line and you need to be careful to leave the refugees another place to go. Don't block a major road. Instead, block a turn-off. It's okay to be as humane as possible and provide water at the roadblock, but you simply cannot afford to give away food or medical supplies. The only people you can let into your town are town residents. All others will have to continue down the road. The men on your roadblock are going to crack up fast, so rotate them often and watch them. This will be the most traumatic thing they have ever had to do.

10. Long term provisioning:
You need to appoint someone to oversee food production. This should probably be completely separate from your commissary department. You need someone with expertise in farming and more specifically, small scale gardening. They need to organize and assist everyone in the community with planting their own gardens and teaching such basic topics as drying, pickling and canning produce. They will also have to oversee a lot of coordination to grow and harvest grain crops and figure out the most efficient ways to store surplus.

Mitigation: Heirloom seeds and fertilizers are going to be in very short supply. If you can somehow trick (or talk) your town into stocking up on these, perhaps as part of a 4-H or school project, your town will be much better off. If you have any say in public plantings for parks or landscapes, try to plant as many food bearing plants as possible. An apple tree is just as attractive as a pine or elm and produces fruit every year.

Actions: Every piece of arable land in the community needs to be planted with something edible ASAP. Without power machinery, this is going to be a real challenge. Every lawn and every empty lot should be dug up and worked in order to build soils, even if it's not planting time. Working leaf litter and plant materials into the plots needs to begin almost immediately. The "Garden Czar" will probably take up the lion's share of the spare manpower in the town just planting city owned lots. He will need to procure hand tools by the hundreds and garden seed, both of which may be in short supply. The tools can be loaned or rented to citizens as needed for their own plots and the seed will need to be rationed out carefully until a stock of good seed can be built up.

The town's citizens may have no horticultural knowledge or gardening skills and will likely not be conditioned for long hours of manual labor. The sooner they start getting their hands dirty the better. Try to hire some skilled gardeners to assist and advise your citizens with their own plots. Building a surplus and a working economy depends directly on their success at working small private gardens.

You may need to pass some resolutions about gardening to prevent land from sitting idle. You can't afford a scrap of idle land as long as you have any seeds left to put in the ground.

11. Building a manufacturing capacity. At some point, equipment and tools will begin to break down. Before that time, you need to establish a manufacturing base that can support your community.

You will eventually need a machine shop capable of founding, forging and machining metal parts and tools. You may need this immediately to repair critical equipment for pumping water or grinding grain et cetera A simple blacksmith shop will be needed to create plows and simple hand tools like hoes and scythes that you are likely to need. You may also need a small foundry and machine shop to create replacement parts for critical machinery. Keep a lookout for likely skilled individuals and hire them to build the town a metal working capability. [JWR Adds: As science fiction writer S.M. Stirling aptly pointed out in his Dies the Fire novel series, leaf springs from abandoned cars and trucks make ideal steel stock that can be used to re-forge into crossbows, plows, small hand tools, knives, and even swords. Leaf springs should be very plentiful for at least one or two generations in a truly post-collapse society.]

You should have someone begin building hand plows and other animal and human powered agricultural tools ASAP. You will need as many as your metal shop can manufacture and I guarantee you will be able to trade surplus plows to other towns within a few months.

You will eventually need to replace or repair clothing. You will have a long grace period while you go through existing stocks from department stores, but within a few years, you will need new fabrics. Appoint someone to worry about fabric production. How do you build a loom? In less than four years, you are going to need a source of fiber and a fabric production capability, especially in cold climates.

Other manufacturing capabilities may be needed as you go along. You may wish to set up a pottery shop or produce adobe brick for building materials or set up a sawmill for lumber and firewood. Brainstorm this with your staff or at a town meeting.

12. Preserving:
A lot of irreplaceable things are going to be destroyed or lost if you don't make some kind of effort to preserve them.

a. Animals: A lot of people are going to be very hungry. Most of them are going to die. I expect most species of large animals in the USA and Europe, including livestock, to be slaughtered for food until they are scarce or even extinct. Think ahead. You are going to need draft animals desperately in a few months. You simply must preserve as many animals capable of filling this role as possible. Dogs are peerless burglar alarms. Cats keep vermin numbers down. Once all the chickens are gone, where are you going to get eggs and poultry? Saving even a small breeding stock of all the useful animals in your community is going to be hard when people are literally starving to death all around you.

Actions: You are going to have to put livestock under guard or they won't last long. Someone will poach them. Any private farmer trying to keep livestock is going to find out just how sneaky hungry humans can be. Someone also needs to start training your working animals immediately. It takes time to produce a working plow team out of average untrained cows or horses.

b. Knowledge: If you don't take steps to prevent it, people will burn most of the books in your town for fuel. I recommend keeping your library open for business. Your town or local school libraries may turn out to be very important for both entertainment and reference.

c. Records: You need to secure public and as many private records as possible. Without them, repairing our current culture will be much more difficult. Birth records, tax records, bank records etc. All of these may have
tremendous value in the future.

d. Art and historical treasures: If your town has any, you should safeguard national treasures for future generations. The very fact that you are making this effort will send a powerful message to your citizens.

13. Medical:
Your existing health-care facilities and drug supplies need to be safeguarded quickly. You will have a very limited stockpile of opiates and other painkillers and mind altering drugs that will be very attractive to some
criminal (or simply addicted) elements of society. Every pharmacy and clinic in town should be carefully confiscated and put under guard. Don't forget the pet hospitals and veterinarian clinics. Appoint a doctor or pharmacist to oversee this effort and support them with whatever resources they require (if you can). Some drugs require refrigeration and may not be salvageable if they are ever warmed.

Hire as many doctors and nurses as possible and set up a public health clinic near the town center. Have them take charge of public health and start an outreach program for self help and public sanitation. If your town has vaccines available, you will probably want to use them up quickly before they go bad. Your community may be able to avoid a lot of misery and casualties if you organize your health care.

Have someone in your manufacturing base or commissary department work with them to replace or recycle medical supplies. Something as simple as a building wood-fired autoclave might be beyond the capability of your health care folks but easy for your artisans.

Also, hire as many pharmacists, chemists and any other scientists you can find. You probably won't have too many of these once they are all accounted for. If you have a few, don't be afraid of tasking them to do some very difficult tasks for you. They are very intelligent folks and can perform miracles if you challenge them. Challenge them to set up a lab and try to synthesize antibiotics, or opiates. Or challenge them to figure out how to improve agriculture in your town or synthesize liquid fuel for your vehicles, or explosives. They may surprise you with spectacular results. These folks are valuable property, so try not to use them as unskilled farm hands or guards. The same goes for engineers. Give them challenging work and have them tackle real problems.

I recognize that most of us are not mayors. We are probably not the ones who will be called on to shoulder the numbing responsibilities of command during a crisis. I really wouldn't care for that job, even in peacetime. When the balloon goes up, it will be hardest on the leaders. Your mayor and police chief will need help. As a prepper, you are in a position to provide that help. How many of the jobs that I mentioned above could you competently fill? I implore you to help them. Having you available as adviser (and commissary officer or military leader, experienced gardener, metal smith etc) could literally make the difference between life and death. Your efforts could make a huge difference to a lot of people.

If your community has any chance at all to survive, those odds will increase exponentially if your leaders have a well thought out plan and make good decisions. Community leaders will need to make timely decisions on a host of issues they have never considered and have the conviction to act ruthlessly. You, as a prepper, have the advantage of thinking about it ahead of time and working out all the details in your mind. That and the skills you have learned can allow you to make a real difference. Will you step up to the plate and try to save your whole community? It seems like a superhuman job and daunting for a mere human. But if anyone can do it, maybe it's you.

Win or go down swinging, - J.I.R.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

As a member of the architectural profession, I am acutely aware of the multitude of sustainable issues emerging within our own society and the civilized world in general.  Urban homesteading is beginning to emerge because many people are beginning to come to the realization that there could be a major economic crash, Natural disaster, etc that could result in a disruption or failure in our food distribution chain emerging as directly applicable to many concerns facing many preppers regarding any failure or crises resulting in a disruption or collapse of the food distribution chain. But, urban homesteading is not the same as preparing for a crash or fall of civilized society.  Urban homesteaders openly farm and garden with marginal concern for crop or property security, but their approach rivals that of some intensive commercial operations and so do their results and unless you’re truly going to be happy living off an immensely deep larder, you better have another plan. 

Homesteading has proven to offer that and it also provides ample opportunity and direct experience at farm life skills, and the rewards of self confidence and self reliance associated with taking control of part of one’s life by being responsible for putting high quality food directly on one’s table, which is something you reap the benefits of almost immediately.

The biggest security concern for the homesteader is the open manner (and inevitably so) in which they often practice these skills amidst a large population surrounding them.  A successful homestead will make itself a beacon to those that are unprepared, and make them highly vulnerable to those that loot and raid, regardless of their reasons why. 

Beyond direct criminal activity, the largest threat to civil suburban social fabric is the failure of municipal utilities and the breakdown of food and water supply, both of which can be implemented locally, but only in so far as localized security permits.  The context of the over-all situation will be the determining factor in assessing when and if to implement those projects and is the key to being able to homestead openly in suburbia. 

For homesteading to be an effective strategy in suburbia, local and regional security will have to be addressed, which is out of this purview of this article.   Until that has been established, alternative methods of survival must be implemented, which will be the focus of this article- what to do in the meantime.     

The Suburban Homestead- Homesteading in insecure times
The ultimate goal of the homestead is that it be self sufficient, meaning that you’re able to grow or raise all the food you and your family need on your own plot.  Clearly in a highly hostile environment only marginal homesteading should be taking place openly, as in these times security is the primary focus, consequently you should be living off of stored supplies, but that doesn’t mean that aspects of homesteading cannot be done covertly and securely.  The more out of sight and less labor intensive the better.  In fact, consolidating your homestead efforts to within the home itself must be considered an absolute prudent security measure, especially that of livestock production. 

Something to Cluck About
In basic terms it is unlikely that anyone will be able to grow vegetable crops indoors to fulfill all their nutritional needs, as raising livestock can.  Therefore covert livestock farming inside of your residence should be your primary focus in planning and developing.   

From a nutritional perspective in a homestead environment little surpasses the nutritional value per square foot and time to raise of that of a chicken.  First it’s a food source people are familiar with and like.   It is also relatively small, easily managed, simply housed, has a short growth cycle (about 4 months) and provides a dual source of food; eggs and meat, whose feed can be readily stored in bulk.  A typical laying hen can produce over 200 eggs per year, with each egg providing about 155 calories each, with 12g protein and 10g fat.  That’s real world protein and fat, not third world protein and fat found in corn and beans.  And unlike vegetable crops do not need a tremendous amount of sunlight, space nor water to reach its nutritional potential. 

To understand my emphatic emphasis on chicken, review two studies done on nutrition; the 1944 Ancel Keys Starvation Diet Study in comparison to 1970 Yudkin Low-carbohydrate diet.  In each, the test subjects ate about the same nutritional level, 1,500-1,600 kcal per day, but with differing levels of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) combinations, which were almost polar opposite of each other, but both were calorically at levels normally considered semi-starvational.  The major difference between them was that in Keys study (high carb, low fat diet) the subjects showed clear signs of being starved, obsessed on food constantly, were excessively lethargic and some developed dangerous psychological disorders to the point of self injury.  In Yudkin’s study (low-carb, high-fat diet) the subjects ate unweighed, unmeasured, unrestricted meals and suffered none of the ill-effects prevalent in Key’s subjects and were considered to be in good health.  The difference was in the volume of fat consumed.  Finding a replenish able source of high quality fat will be essential in a survival situation, as you just can’t get enough from a vegetable sources on a calorie restricted diet. 

In simple terms, moving from a standard American diet, to a strict calorie restricted vegetarian diet is going to make some people crazy and suffer the debilitating effects of a vastly modified diet.  I know I would be one of them- you may be too; just ask yourself does becoming a vegetarian on a calorie restricted diet ‘seem’ appealing to you?  I’m planning accordingly and that means chicken is going on the dinner plate and on the homestead in a significant way, to the point that the gardening efforts are in support of this primary food source, in the terms of chicken feed and then to my supplemental nutritional needs.

Bathtub Chicken
One of the most accommodating spaces to immediately transform into a covert farming space is any spare bathroom, which has a bathtub or shower.  These spaces by their original nature are designed to provide protection against moisture, provide natural light and ventilation, have surface materials designed to be washed down and are fairly durable, which sounds awfully like good (small) livestock farm space to me.  They are also rooms that hold the least amount of personal clutter and storage. 

An ideal application for this space is that of a battery chicken coop (a series of stacked cages) over the bathtub.  Within this volume it is possible to design a variety of coops for meat, egg and chick production in a highly intensive and sanitary manner.   A combination of 10 laying hens (eggs production), coop space for a cock, a trio of hens (chick production), hatchery for the chicks and broiler grow out space for 16 broilers (meat production), would produce approximately 5 eggs a day and a broiler chicken in a pot each week. 

While the family garage may ultimately serve as a better location for this operation, I doubt most garages are in a state of current use that would allow for immediate transformation into chicken production and the fact that most operational homesteads only operate with a single cock and a trio of hens and thus would be putting the coop before the chickens. This though, should be your ambition, as at that point you will be able to produce all the caloric nutrient needs of your family right in the garage.  It is unlikely though that you will need the volume of a two car garage to do so, and it is for this reason that I recommend that the chicken coop be isolated (finished and self enclosed) to the rest of the garage, leaving the free space for storage or other uses.

In all likelihood, if you live in a suburb that zoning does not allow livestock to be housed there, you can locate a nearby live poultry merchant and purchase the chicken and ‘temporarily’ house them at your residence- ‘for consumption’, if you feel times are getting shaky.  For those that are less risk adverse, have been known to openly violate zoning ordinances and to farm poultry until they are directly warned by authorities not to.  In most cases, they do so in the open will little consideration at doing so covertly, often with little or no hassle from neighbors or authorities.  The key to this is to be low-key about your activities, dutiful in maintaining sanitation practices, and respectful of your neighbors regarding positioning of the chicken coops and the scale and size of the operation.                  

The Achilles Heel of Chicken   
Chicken feed is inexpensive and can be stored in bulk, but the Achilles heel to this is you’ll eventually run out of stored feed and you’ll have to grow it or specifically find adequate substitutes and ideally those that don’t appear like a food source for people.  One of my favorite is a maggotry (a form of carcass composting) because it’s almost unheard of in the western hemisphere and solves multiple issues of waste disposal and pest eradication, while contributing greatly to feed supplementation.    

Maggotry in particular will be a benefit as it is a direct protein food source and  consists of little more than a bait bucket of rotting meat (spoiled vegetables, dead animals, chicken entrails- that’s you’ve butchered, etc ) that entices the neighboring fly population to spray their eggs on.  By stacking one bucket with a large screened bottom and containing the bait inside, onto another you’ve created the basic system.  When the eggs hatch and the maggots have fully fed and desire to pupate they tend to burrow into the ground, and in this case, will travel to the bucket below. 

A nice addition to this system is including a fly trap.  By cutting the top 1/3 of a 5-gallon water bottle off and inverting it back into the remaining bottle and duct taping it in place, you then can place this whole contraption on top of the maggot bucket.  After the parent flies have sprayed the bait with their eggs, they have a tendency to always go from a dark space (the bait bucket) towards light (the water bottle).  Once inside the water bottle they will not normally go back into the bait bin (due to the inverted funnel) and thus end up dying in the water bottle, awaiting collection.  In essence it’s a form of fly population control and breeding restriction combined.                 

The maggotry can be as open or covert an operation as you wish (clearly an outdoor operation).  The beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to be a continuous operation though.  In fact, limiting it, I’ve found to have many benefits, the first is that the general foul smell is limited to a brief period and limited area and second that my ‘supply’ of rot is able to accumulate to a sizable portion prior to utilization for a larger maggot harvest.  A production run may only last a little over a  week, as that is typically the length of time for flies to find the rot, mate, lay eggs and for the maggots to grow to nearly full sized larvae.  The maggots can be fed immediately to the chickens or the surplus maggots can then be stored by blanching and drying until needed.  No refrigeration is required.

As a side note, the same smell of decay that attracted the flies will attract other animals and rodents as well.  Capturing them and integrating them into the rot bait rotation is relatively self sustaining process.  Keep in mind that rodent populations boom normally in the wake of catastrophic events.  Reducing their population is always a wise task, and integrating them into your food supply system even better one.  While I’m sure that I could consume the occasional raccoon, possum, rat or mouse I’d rather utilize them as rot bait, so that isn’t a delicacy I ever have to try.

[JWR Adds: Needless to say, consult your local ordinances before considering establishing a maggotry. If cycled properly, no flies will hatch and fly out of your maggotry. The life cycle is interrupted and a "full kill" (typically by incineration) is done before each fly hatch, and a new maggot batch is started. I must preemptively state that before you write to complain about this gentleman's maggotry suggestion keep in mind that this advice is given with the assumption that proper cycling and properly-timed full kills are accomplished.]

Container Gardening
One of the fastest ways to transform your home into a homestead is by containerized gardening.  Stocking up on several bags of peat, top soil, manure, potting mix etc, takes up surprising little room in a storage shed, is rather inexpensive and will be on hand and ready when you are, as are a large number of commercial nursery pots, their associative carrying trays and watering pans. 

The benefits of container gardening are multi-fold from a growing stand point; a strong measure of control over soil conditions (pre-purchased potting soil), vastly reduces the risk of plant diseases, pests, weed control, water usage, plant management ability, tight space utilization, transportability of the plants, extendibility of the grow out season (move them indoors) and requires a minimal amount of specialized tools and equipment, typically only a few hand tools.   As importantly, almost all ages and sexes can participate, not just strong bodied farm hands (think delegation). 

The most important benefit is that they can be started, indoors and away from prying eyes and moved about as needed, indoors or out.  This will be critical until regional security stabilizes.  

Nursery trays stacked up vertically on racks, in book case fashion, or in nursery bleachers takes up little room and the majority of your starter crops can get all the sunlight they need from a few windows.  Utilizing the same principals seedling grow pots will take up more volume, but by selecting crops that would minimize grow out volume, will produce more plants per window space.  In this regard small root vegetable crops like garlic, carrots and onions are an excellent choice, as are leafy greens. 

It will be important to divide window allocation between plant nursery operations, seedling grow out space, and high value plant grow out space (plants that would attract attention outdoors, like tomatoes.   One of the major benefits of having a plant nursery and seedling grow out system established is that new seedlings can immediately replace harvested outdoor vegetables and a system of rapid successive planting can be enacted, but also by having crops in succession you don’t noticeably transform a given area, by leaving freshly turned soil or by having a mass planting, thus calling attention to it.

Into the Open
 The majority of the outdoor crops should be small, low profile and lacking readily identifiable silhouettes and are nutritionally dense; root vegetables, such as potatoes, garlic, onions and carrots, are ideal which also can be readily grown in quantities throughout a suburban yard without drawing attention, and when harvested can be combined to make nourishing soups, stews and stocks or dried for storage.  The planting of these crops should avoid neat rows, regular patterns or formal concentrations.  They should be grown in the same manner and spaces that weeds would emerge from; along the side of the house, fence lines, shrub lines, former flower beds, pots etc…  basically anywhere they would be concealed and not looking like a crop.

In this regard, potatoes should make up the bulk of your root crop as it will be the largest producer and nutritionally dense food source and can be started indoors and transported outdoors after the seedlings have grown to about a foot in size.  Medium trash cans and open top barrels work well as containers for potatoes, but various methods should be employed so as not to call attention to the uniformity of cultivation, and hide the fact that it is a crop.    

For the most part, the large open expanses of lawn will have to go fallow, until localized security measures are reasonably in place, and is why I would stay away from planting grain crops, as they take up a tremendous amount of space, are difficult to conceal and are immediately recognizable as acts of cultivation, which will draw further scrutiny and unwanted attention.  I would also refrain from utilizing any portion of the front or side yards that are visible from the street.  Even if the plants are well camouflaged and positioned, you can still tip off their location or more importantly your efforts by showcasing your labor efforts- people with no food, don’t normally carry watering cans about.   

The Value of Good Herbs
A shadowing relationship to any garden crop is the inclusion of culinary herbs and spices that will enhance the flavors and seasoning of the staple foods.  Planning for, and doing so in appreciable volume will make the difference between choking down a meal and actually enjoying the nutritional value, especially if it’s a frequently reoccurring element.

Most people would not recognize growing herbs, as a valued food source, so in a time of crisis these can be grown rather openly and in volume, as long as they are situated to appear as weed over growth, to which many readily appear.  By mix planting root vegetables and herbs together it is possible to break up the massing of any single crop and effectively camouflage the overall activity.  Furthermore having large single groupings of Rosemary, Thyme, Marjoram, Sage, Oregano, Cilantro and Parsley, clustered in recesses, nooks, corners etc, will appear as major weed outcroppings and will likely go undetected. 

it sounds sad, but you can really learn something of value by observing the worst kept yard in your neighborhood, where at the fringes of maintenance weeds encroach and start to work at the seams of what’s being ignored.  The key is to learn and to apply those elements intentionally with food sources.    

Minimizing the Transition
The emphasis of the Homestead Movement is adopting a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle and by combining that with some of the best elements of the Survivalist movement you have an integrated life style that you can enjoy the benefits today and live a very similar one in times of deep drama.  Planning a homestead for survival is vastly more complicated than just growing food or setting up a garden, it requires a real understanding of the context in which you may have to survive.  Anticipating what that context is to be like, evaluating what you have at your disposal and understanding how those elements could work for you, will leave you in a vastly better position to not only survive, but thrive.

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