Recently in Aquaculture Category

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

James Wesley:
In reference to CentOre's recent article, "Subsistence Fishing After TEOTWAWKI", one method not mentioned which works very well (speaking from experience) is to kill a non-edible animal like a prairie dog and hang it over a bank.

After a couple of days maggots begin to fall off of the decaying carcass and the fish learn to come to that bank to get a free meal.

Then using yo-yo fishing lines you bait whatever hooks you use with scraps and pretty much I've never gone without a pan full of fish a day to eat.

The other method is to use 12 volt DC current.  This is the same trick that the fish and wildlife guys use to do fish counts.  Place a couple of copper rods several feet apart in the water -- driven into the ground.  Hook up your jumper cables from your vehicle and let it run for a bit.  The 12 volt DC current acts as a fish magnet and you can pick and choose which ones you want to eat. - Hugh D.

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.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

In many states, it is illegal to transport fish from public waters to private waters [or vice versa].  You might be okay going from private waters to private waters.  The concern is that you might introduce disease from one area to another and thus contaminate another area.  He should probably look into stocking his pond from a legal supplier. - Alan W.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Food storage is important for short term survival, and everyone should have at least a six months to a multi-year food supply. But long term survival requires that you grow your own food. Whether it is TEOTWAWKI or just losing your income because you were laid off from your job, a home food production system is essential to your security.

Most successful food production systems involve using a greenhouse for year round food production, as a greenhouse extends the growing season, and shields your crops from severe weather. Another advantage is that a greenhouse is better protected from nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare than open field farming. And a greenhouse has greater physical security than an open field against pests and animals that might want to share in your harvest, whether they have four legs or two.

One problem with a greenhouse is providing an efficient watering system that doesn't require you to hand water your plants, and that will reclaim the run-off or excess water that would otherwise be lost into the floor of the greenhouse. Water is always an expense, and if your city water supply or electric powered well pump is not working, then it would be almost impossible to manually haul enough water by hand to maintain your greenhouse plants. Another problem is how to keep the temperature of the greenhouse stable without using propane or electric heaters. A greenhouse needs to store the heat collected during the day, and slowly release this heat so that the plants won't freeze when the sun goes down. I believe that the concept of "Aquaponics" solves both of these problems, and is the perfect technique for growing food off the grid in a greenhouse.

Aquaponics is a combination of Hydroponics (growing plants in water), and Aquaculture (growing fish in water). Aquaponics uses low energy water pumps to move the water from the fish tank through a gravel-filled bed to filter the water for the fish, while providing water for the plants growing in the gravel bed. The low pressure water pumps recycle the water for continuous use, and require a very small amount of electricity power which can be provided by a solar panel.

The fish in an Aquaponic system are a good survival protein source, but more importantly the fish create ammonia as a waste product, which provides fertilizer for the plants. The fish ammonia is converted into liquid nitrate fertilizer by autotrophic bacteria that reside in the gravel-filled growing beds, which is where the plants are raised. The water pump moves the water from fish tank into the gravel filled grow beds and back to the fish tank, thereby watering all of the plants automatically, while purifying the water for the fish by removing the ammonia. Around 98% of the water is conserved and reused, with very little makeup water needed. This solves the large water consumption problem that most greenhouses have. And, the large amount of water contained in the fish tank (ours has nearly 1,000 gallons) acts as a temperature buffer, which moderates the daily swings in temperature in the greenhouse by storing the excess heat during the day, and gently emitting the heat each night to keep the plants from freezing. The thermal storage capacity of the water based Aquaponic system fully complements any "Solar Greenhouse" design.

Aquaponics produces a large amount of organically grown food, as much if not more than a standard hydroponic greenhouse, without purchasing any hydroponic chemicals. Once you have the system set up, it pretty much runs itself with much less effort than traditional gardening. And if you can grow your own fish food from duckweed, black soldier fly larvae, earthworms, crickets, etc., then the system becomes almost completely self contained.

Our setup is pretty simple, and cost around $1,500. We built a small greenhouse frame using recycled wood. Inside we built our Aquaponic structure that is 8' x 8' wide and 8' tall. The foundation of the structure is an 8' x 8' wide by 2' deep fish tank made out of 2x12 lumber lined with a 12 mil rubber liner, all of which rests on concrete blocks. Above the fish tank are 4 gravel filled grow-beds mounted on 8' tall 4x4 posts. The grow beds are wooden boxes made from 2x12 lumber that are 8' long, 2' 6" wide, and one foot deep. The grow-beds are spaced 5' and 8' off the ground directly above the fish tank, mounted on top of each other like bunk beds with a walkway between them. Since the grow-beds are only 2' 6" wide, there is room between them for a 3' catwalk over the fish tank to let us stand and work between the two sets of stacked grow-beds.

There are a lot of ways to build a cheaper aquaponic system. Once way is by using recycled plastic barrels for the fish tanks, and making the grow beds by cutting plastic barrels longways and laying them on their sides on a wooden rack and filling them with gravel, and then plumbing everything together with PVC pipe. You can also do it on a small scale with a standard aquarium and small water pump to push water through your potted plants on the windowsill, as long as you have a place for a "biofilter" such as a gravel filled bed or refugium where the bacteria that changes the ammonia into nitrogen can reside.

A working "biofilter" is the key ingredient to a good aquaponics system, as the bacteria in the biofilter keeps the fish water clean, and changes ammonia into nitrogen for the plants. The bacteria need to reside in a wet environment that has plenty of oxygen, and little or no light. A gravel bed that is alternately flooded and drained, is perfect for this type of bacteria to thrive in. Other aquaponic solutions, such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Deep Water Raft Technique, use a large amount of netting submerged in the water to give a place for the bacteria to reside. We chose a grow-bed filled with 1 foot of gravel as our biofilter, as it is simpler to build.

The bacteria in the gravel biofilter changes the ammonia into nitrogen in two steps. The first step is performed by the Nitrosomonas bacteria, which changes the total fish ammonia (NH3 and NH4+) into nitrite (NO2). The next process is accomplished by the Nitrobacter bacteria that changes the nitrite (NO2) into nitrate (NO3), which the plants use as fertilizer. The ammonia and nitrites are very toxic to fish, while the nitrates are fairly harmless, so it is important to monitor the bacteria by testing the water quality using the inexpensive aquarium test strips sold at any pet store. As long as you have a large amount of gravel or other media for the bacteria to colonize, your water quality won't be an issue. If you are using sterile media, you won't have any bacteria to start with, and you will need to purchase the bacteria from an aquarium shop or from Fritz-Zyme. We used gravel from a creek, as the Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria is always abundant in river gravel. Since these two types of bacteria work in tandem and do not reproduce quickly, it may take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to ramp up the bacteria to full production. So, it may important not to add a large number of fish at the same time unless you already have a good supply of bacteria at work in your system.

Our first step in construction of our Aquaponic system was to lay an 8' x 8' "carpet" of around 40 concrete blocks for the foundation of the fish tank. It took a long time to get the blocks level using a spirit level and a long 2x4, but this is probably the most crucial part of the construction. The next step was to build the fish tank out of wood, that would ultimately be fitted with a rubber liner. I created a square box out of 2x12 lumber standing on their edges, that was a little less than 8' x 8' and held together by wood screws. I designed it so that the 2x12's had an extra 3.5" overlap or "flap" on each of the corners, so I could drill holes and put carriage bolts through the 4x4 posts and 2x12 sides from two different directions on each of the outside corners. This holds the wood seams together. It is very important to "overbuild" the tank seams on a wooden fish tank with carriage bolts, wood screws, etc. as the water pressure is very great. Once I had my square box built, I made sure it was perfectly "square" by measuring the distances diagonally across from each corner. When these two distances were the same, I knew it was square. Then I covered what was to be the bottom of the tank with 8' long 2x4s, nailed into the 2x12s with a 2" gap between each 2x4. When I turned the 8'x8' box over and placed it on the concrete block foundation, the gaps between the 2x4s allowed me to put shims between the blocks and the 2x4s, so that each concrete block was helping to evenly support the 2x4s that held up the fish tank.

For the bottom of the fish tank, I nailed an 8'x8' section of heavy duty 1" flooring over the 2x4s that were shimmed against the concrete blocks. The next step was to secure the second set of 2x12s standing on edge on top of the first set, to bring the fish tank up to two feet in depth. I again secured it to the 4x4s with carriage bolts in all of the corners, all the while making sure the 4x4 posts were plumb. Copious amounts of wood screws were added wherever possible. After this I inserted the rubber liner to make the tank hold water.

I calculated the weight of the water in the tank as follows: 8' x 8' x 2' equals 128 cubic feet of water, times 7.5 gallons per cubic foot, equals 960 gallons of water. With around eight pounds per gallon, this would give a total of 7,680 pounds of water, not to mention the gravel beds. So, I am giving a lot of detail on how to over-engineer the fish tank, as with this much weight and water, there will be no small failures, only big ones.

Now this is a very large tank, and as you can always add more grow-beds or an NFT system to the tank, but it is not so easy to add another fish tank that is incorporated with the pumps into the same aquaponic system. The general ratio from the research I have read is that you can use 2 cubic feet of gravel growbed for each cubic feet of water in the fish tank. Since I plan to feed my family off this system, I thought it was better to start with a moderately large fish tank, and then add more grow beds later. And, the larger your tank, the less problems you will have with any rapid changes in temperature, pH, Ammonia, or other problems. A larger tank with over 500 gallons of water buffers most problems, and gives you more time to find a solution and correct it.

The construction of the grow beds was much easier, as there were no real water pressure issues. I nailed 2x12s to the upright 4x4 posts to form boxes that are 8' long, and 2'6" wide. For the bottom of the grow-beds, I nailed 2x4s laid on their sides, and covered them with 1" flooring, topped off with the same 12 mil rubber liner I used on the fish tank, which I purchased at FarmTek.

The next part was the plumbing. I used rubber Uniseal bulkheads to hold the 1" PVC pipe straight up for a stand pipe drain in the bottom of each grow bed. The Uniseal is great, you just drill a hole with a hole saw through the rubber liner and 1" flooring in the growbed, and insert the rubber Uniseal bulkhead, and then slide the PVC pipe through the bulkhead. The 1" PVC pipe is a tight fit, but there are no leaks, and you can pull the pipe out later if you have a problem. To keep the gravel away from the stand pipe, I used a 3" PVC pipe about 8" long that I drilled with about 50 ¼" holes and nested the 3" pipe around the 1" standpipe.

By stacking the grow-beds on top of each other like bunk beds and placing the inputs and drains on opposite ends, and I make the water traverse the entire length of each of the two gravel-filled grow-beds in the stack before it can return to the fish tank. I use two 330 gallon per hour fountain pumps I got from Lowe's to pump water to the top growbed. Since it takes about 15 minutes for the grow-beds to fill up, and about 45 minutes for them to drain, I set a timer that runs the pumps for 15 minutes on the hour. This gives me the "ebb and flow" water system that is crucial to aquaponics. Each growbed needs to fill up with water to irrigate the plants and the bacteria for the system to operate. But each growbed also needs to dump all of the water back out, so that oxygen can reach the plant roots, and the bacteria can function. If you don't drain the water, you will have an anaerobic condition (no oxygen), and your plant roots will die and harmful types of bacteria will begin to develop.

One way to create an "ebb and flow", or "flood and drain" cycle is to use a Bell Siphon, which will automatically siphon all of the water out of the grow bed once it reaches a certain depth. Bell siphons are widely used in Aquaponics, and the University of Hawaii has a good research PDF on how to build one. However, the bell siphon can malfunction, and they assume that your water pumps will run continuously. That is, with a bell siphon, if your pumps quit working, you may end up with a grow bed half full of water and no drainage. I opted to build something simpler, with just a 6" long stand pipe out of 1" PVC, with a ¼" drain hole just above the bulkhead. The stand pipe is the main drain pipe, that sticks straight up and keeps the water from ever cresting higher than 6" deep, as it will just flow into the pipe. The ¼" drain hole just above the bulkhead keeps a continual drain going, but the amount of water it relieves is less than the 330 gallon per hour pump is putting into the growbed. So, after the growbed fills up and the water crests over the standpipe, the timer will shut the water off and the rest of the water will slowly flow back out through the ¼" hole at the bottom of the standpipe. I found this approach to be more energy efficient for an off-grid system, and the water retention period in the growbeds is long enough for the ammonia-eliminating bacteria to function completely.

Using "free" river gravel for the media in the grow bed is the cheapest option possible, but other media options are vermiculite, perlite, expanded clay balls (which are sold under the trade names of Hydroton and LECA for Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), and coconut fiber, which is also called "coir". We have tried adding a layer of coir over our river gravel, and found that it makes it easier to start the plants from seed over planting directly in the river gravel. The coir does not deteriorate, is PH neutral, and wicks the water up to keep the seeds moist for germination. You can get 35 pounds of coir in compressed bricks from Terra Prima Industries for around $70 with shipping.

Fish selection is another topic for Aquaponics. Tilapia are the most commonly used fish, as they are herbivores that eat algae and aquatic plants, grow very fast, handle crowding well, and are very prolific breeders. Tilapia are mouth-brooders, and raise their young inside the mother's mouth. Tilapia have a lot of advantages, but they cannot handle cold water. The White Nile Tilapia, which grows the fastest of the species, will show stress at water temperatures less than 62 degrees, and will die at 55 degrees. The Blue Tilapia is the most cold tolerant, but will die at temperatures less than 50 degrees. Tilapia really need 80 degree water. If you are off the grid in a cold climate with Tilapia, you will need to find a way to heat the water to these temperatures, year round. This means some sort of solar thermal panel that will thermo-siphon or otherwise pump hot water up to the fish tank. Fish cannot handle thermal shock or any quick changes in water temperature, so you will have to construct some sort of heat exchanger that can fit inside the fish tank. This adds a lot of complexity to an off grid food production system.

For this reason, I chose to go with Bluegill, as they can handle water temperatures down to 39 degrees, and the greenhouse always keeps the water at least that warm without assistance. Another reason I chose Bluegill is that they are much cheaper than Tilapia, as I cannot get Tilapia locally. The "Tilapia Source" is a great company to work with, but they would have to overnight them to me for $70, plus charge $2 a fish – for a total of $170 for 50 Tilapia fingerlings. Instead, I bought 100 Bluegill for only $40.00 from Farley's Fish Farm from their truck that came to our local Farmer's Co-Op. Farley's serves about 12 or 13 states here in the Southeast USA, and I found them to be a very reasonable resource for fish.

Bluegill is a good fish for Aquaponics, as they handle crowding well, can tolerate various PH and other water quality issues, and do not generally eat each other. Other fish used in Aquaponics are Catfish, Yellow Perch, Bass, Koi, Goldfish, and sometimes Trout.

I had a minor problem in the beginning with a fish disease called "Columnaris", which I diagnosed from from a "Fish Pharmacy" web site. Columnaris is a small white growth that occurs on the fins. The Fish Pharmacy web site had a toxic pharmacy solution for every fish problem. However, in Aquaponics you are not going to be able to treat the fish with anything that is not organic, or that you would not eat yourself. This excludes all of the anti-fungal treatments, or any medicine that contains some type of poison. Even the regular antibiotics that are meant for fish are not meant for humans to eat, and need to be excluded. I found from research on the web that Columnaris responds well to the addition of salt and other minerals to the water, on the order of 1 tablespoon for every 50 gallons of water. For my setup, I put over a cup of sea salt into the water, and the disease has began to retreat, with only one fish still showing signs. Columnaris is in almost every fish tank, and probably came in with the fish, or in the river gravel I used. It finds an opening when the fish are mishandled in some way. My mistake was to not acclimate the temperature of the fish when I brought them home in a bag from the fish truck, which created a lot of stress. We should have let the bag float in the water for 15 minutes before letting the fish out. The thermal shock and other rough handling I did on day one is probably the reason for the Columnaris problem. But since I only had to add sea salt to the fish tank to correct the problem, I will have no worries about eating the fish at some point. I can discard any fish that show signs of Columnaris, if they still have that problem when I harvest, and only eat the best. I know exactly how these fish have been raised, and what has gone into them, which is much better than what you buy at the supermarket. But what I find most reassuring about raising and eating fish I raise is that when the fish are eaten fresh, there are very few diseases that fish have can be passed on to humans, unlike the trichina worms that pigs can give to humans, tularemia in rabbits, tetanus in horse meat, etc. These diseases can kill you if you live in a time without access to modern medicine. Columnaris won't hurt humans, and aquaponically raised fish will not generally have diseases that affect humans, and so are a very healthy source of protein.

But the real purpose of the fish in Aquaponics is not just for food, but to provide the ammonia to power the bacteria-based fertilization system. If you don't have fish, any organic ammonia source can work. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, the ammonia contained in human urine can work just as well as what the fish produce, and while waiting for my fish to arrive, I actually used this technique to jump start the bacteria in the system. The result was that the water clarity improved once the bacteria were given enough ammonia to thrive. Another option if you don't have fish is to use the ammonia and nitrogen found in a "manure tea", which is made by placing horse manure in a burlap bag and immersing it in the water tank for short periods of time.

Dissolved oxygen in the water is another important topic. Using an air pump to diffuse oxygen through airstones in the fish tank improves water quality by helping the aerobic bacteria to grow and the fish to be active and healthy. Without an air pump, you cannot raise enough fish to power the nitrogen needs of the plants. I purchased a 65 liter/minute Eco Plus Commercial Air Pump from AquaCave for $79.95. This pulls 35 watts on 110 AC, and is quite sufficient, as it easily powers four 12 inch airstones in the tank, plus 4 48" flexible air curtain diffusers I buried under the gravel in the grow-beds to help aerate the bacteria there. This is a floating piston commercial type of air pump, as the standard diaphragm pumps would not have enough power or longevity. For a backup system when the power goes out, I bought a 25 watt 12 volt DC air compressor from AquaCave that runs directly from a 125 amp-hour marine battery, which gives over 2 days of run time. To kick in the DC compressor when the 110 AC power goes out, we used a small plug-in DC transformer to hold open a relay, both of which we ordered from Jameco. When the 110 power goes out, the transformer loses current, and the relay closes which completes the circuit for the DC compressor to draw power from the battery. For a large Aquaponic system with over 100 fish, you have to have redundant air systems, for if the fish go for more than four hours without air they will asphyxiate.

In calculating our total power consumption for running the Aquaponic system using solar panels, the two 330 gallon per hour water pumps for the grow-beds draw 13 watts each, but run only 15 minutes each hour, for an average hourly usage of 6.5 watts. Adding the 25 watt DC air compressor gives a very low total power consumption rate of 31.5 watts. Solar panels and a few marine batteries can easily power this system if you are permanently off grid, and I hope to do this soon.

But to be truly off-grid with Aquaponics involves more than just using solar panels, as you need to create your own fish food as input to the system. Right now, I am using some water containers to grow Duckweed (which is an aquatic plant with high protein that the fish love), but mainly rely on Purina catfish food to feed the fish. To close the loop that would make me independent, I will be building a compost pod that harvests Black Soldier Fly Larvae, along with giving the fish the earthworms from the compost pile. Another protein source I am using is a small electric light about 4 inches over the fish tank with a timer that turns on at night. The bugs fly in and bounce against the light and into the fish tank, where the bluegill snap them up. Now that's a good bug lamp!

The output of produce from the Aquaponic setup is phenomenal. The cucumbers, tomatoes and basil are growing about 3 times faster than in my container garden, and 5-6 times faster than using traditional soil techniques. For more scientific proof on the superiority of Aquaponic gardening, a Canadian research group has written a paper that indicates how Aquaponics outperforms hydroponics. Will Allen of Growing Power has a great video that shows how he grows 1 million pounds of food on 3 acres using Aquaponics. The tremendous production potential of Aquaponics over traditional gardening techniques should make anyone that has a greenhouse investigate Aquaponics.

My next step for the Aquaponic project has been to develop a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) setup, which consists of running the fish effluent through 20' long sections of vinyl gutters, which feeds the plants that are mounted with their roots in the gutters. Thin plywood is mounted on top of the gutters, with a 2" hole drilled every 6 to 8 inches. Inside the holes I put nylon netting that holds some pea gravel to provide support for the plant roots in the nutrient-rich fish water. The top of the plants grow on top of the plywood. The gutters have a 40:1 slope (6" over 20'), and a small pump puts water into the high end, with the water transversing the gutters and draining back into the fish tank. This is nearly identical to a standard hydroponic setup, except I am using renewable fish effluent from the fish tank instead of purchasing standard hydroponic chemicals to feed the plants.

YouTube is an excellent video resource for understanding the various Aquaponic systems. A quick search on YouTube for "Aquaponics" will bring up many videos. Be sure to find the videos by Will Allen at Growing Power (an aquaponic farm in downtown Milwaukee ), or by Nelson and Pade who did much of the original Aquaponic research, or any videos by "Backyard Aquaponics" which is located in Western Australia. Aquaponics is very big in Australia as it is a good solution for gardening in a dry climate. One of the best technical articles online to understand the technology of Aquaponics is "Optimization of Backyard Aquaponic Systems." Any articles written by Dr. James Rakocy of the University of the Virgin Islands would provide another expert source for Aquaponics. Wikipedia also has a good article that gives an excellent overview of Aquaponics, and the picture in Wikipedia of the "small portable Aquaponic system" (which came from Growing Power) is the model I used for my system. I just kept looking at this picture, and it finally dawned on me how simple this is. For more technical advice, the book "Aquaponic Food Production" by Nelson and Pade will teach you everything you need to know.

Most preppers live, or hope to live, as far away from the city as possible. But the problem with rural life is the lack of a steady income. An Aquaponic greenhouse can potentially earn enough to make rural living possible, as long as you can occasionally get to a market to sell your produce. Aquaponics is the only type of hydroponic vegetables that can be certified 100% organic, as all other types of hydroponic vegetables use inorganic chemicals for their nutrients. Premium organically raised vegetables will command much higher prices at restaurants and stores that cater to health conscious buyers. But Aquaponics gives you something that no other organic producer can create, and that is, organic produce with roots that have never touched any soil. You can sell lettuce and other vegetables with the roots attached, as no dirt will have ever been on your roots. By leaving the roots attached and not injuring the plant, the "living lettuce" and other vegetables you sell will keep much longer and your profit will be greater.

The one final thing I have to say about Aquaponics is that it gives any prepper something even better than a nearly endless supply of food, and that is, a large quantity of water. If everything else fails and I end up eating all my fish and produce, I still have 960 gallons of water that I can filter and use. In fact, if I extract the water as it comes out of the gravel-filled grow beds, it already has a good amount of filtration, and is probably healthier to drink than the chlorinated and fluoride filled water that comes out of a city tap. Every prepper needs a large amount of stored water, and this is a great way to do it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I grew up in South Louisiana, so seafood was a staple of the family diet. Shrimp, Crabs, Fish, and Oysters were easy to come by, or at least it seemed that way as a kid because we ate seafood two or three times a week. Fried Shrimp and Oysters, Crab Stew, Shrimp Gumbo, baked Flounder or grilled Redfish, it was all good and those meals made for many a great family memory. However, as much fun as we had watching our mothers and fathers and grandparents cooking those great Cajun dinners, as kids we had infinitely more fun catching as opposed to cooking the seafood. Those lessons are just a part of this brief tip sheet, which hopefully will enable some of you and your family to enjoy fresh filets of fish roasted over a campfire when you are ready for a change from MREs and beans.

Times have certainly changed over the past 40 years. One thing that has changed greatly is the legal means of harvesting seafood. As a kid, I helped the grownups run gill nets and drag a 210-foot saltwater seine in the surf. We also set trotlines in freshwater and saltwater, used Oyster Tongs in the bays and estuaries, and set crab traps in shallow brackish water and right off the beach. The old trusty rod and reel was fun, but to make a pure meat haul nothing beat a gill net, seine, crab traps or trotlines. While gill nets and seines are now illegal in many states (with the exception of bait seines), I have still have a functional seine net stowed away in storage for the day that might come when survival trumps game laws. I realize that most people will not have the great fortune to have inherited or otherwise still own a good gill net or seine. If you do, you are extremely lucky – guard them like gold because they are expensive. If not, then you really do need to think about taking one of several possible routes to obtain this material to supplement your family’s survival chances and pleasure quotient if that terrible day ever comes when all you have left is canned beans.

As mentioned previously, a good gill net or seine is expensive. If you afford to buy a 100-foot gill net or 150-foot seine, by all means do so. You will want the net to be made of braided nylon, not monofilament. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is longevity of the net. You will want the mesh to be at least 2 inches stretched for a pure fishing net, or much smaller for a bait seine or shrimp seine, maybe ½ to 3/4 inches stretched. A proper seine or gill net will have lead weights on the bottom rope to which the net is attached, and wooden or Styrofoam floats on the top rope, depending on when the net was made. A gill net is used by fastening both ends of the net to sturdy poles that are anchored in the water. You always want to set a gill net in water that will be near chest-deep at high tide, and always where there will be tidal movement. A great place to set gill nets is near inlets where fresh water meets salt water. A net set overnight can easily yield enough fish to feed a hungry crowd for several days. I remember one early winter morning running a gill net with my grandfather and taking 30 big Flounder out of the net.

As far as being able to really put a mess of good fish in the cooler, nothing beats a large saltwater seine (usually deployed from the beach, as opposed to lakes or bays). It takes 3 or 4 people to manage the net, depending on the surf. You will almost always need at least 2 people on the deep end and sometimes 3 will be necessary. In rough water, it could take 5 people to handle the net, especially if you hit a school of Redfish or a large shark. The way to maximize your catch with a seine is to be methodical. The people dragging the leading (or deep) end should head out from the shore at 90 degrees until the people at the shallow end are in knee-deep water. At that point, the team should begin dragging the net parallel to the shore. The team should drag the net for at least 200 yards before angling back in to the beach, unless you get hit by a school at which point all hell will break loose and you will want to get that net on the beach as fast as you can. A good team should be able to make 3 or 4 drags in about 3 hours. I can tell you that it is possible to catch enough fish in one drag to make you put the net up. I remember many times as a kid where 3 drags yielded over 100 Speckled Trout, several Redfish, and the assorted Shark or Stingray.

Enough on gill nets and fish seines. After you have cleaned your fish, you will always want to use the heads for crab bait. 2 or 3 crab traps properly baited with fish heads and placed in brackish water with moderate tidal movement can easily bring in 2 or 3 dozen crabs per night. That’s enough for a feast, especially when used in a gumbo.

Now for my one of my favorite foods - Oysters. Oysters are a great treat when prepared properly. When eaten fresh, they are hard to beat. When cooked right, they are impossible to beat. They are a great source of protein and vital nutrients. The problem is they are difficult to gather. Oyster Tongs are essential. With a pair of Oyster Tongs and a small boat, it is possible to harvest enough Oysters to feed whole family several times. However, it is difficult work akin to digging post-holes. In fact, Oyster Tongs resemble post-hole diggers. You can gather Oysters by hand, but it is much more difficult and dangerous due to the very sharp edges of the Oyster shells and the fact that some of the best Oyster months (the “R” months) are in the fall and winter when the water will be cold. Like fishing for Crabs, your best results when looking for Oysters will be in salt water that gets influenced by fresh water inflows. Shallow bays near freshwater inlets are usually fertile Oyster grounds. In a good area, you will usually be able to see the Oyster beds at low tide. Mark the spots by throwing old fishing floats with weights attached, and return at high tide when the beds are accessible by boat and load up on Oysters. 

The main point to remember in your quest to prepare for being able to harvest seafood in difficult times is to think creatively. Man has been gathering seafood for as long as we have lived near oceans. Even Gerry-rigged saltwater trotlines fashioned from old nylon rope or clothesline and curtain hooks can be effective if deployed and baited properly.

Lastly, here are a few essential items to add to your stockpile to be able to effectively handle cleaning and preparing your saltwater catch without wasting valuable meat. These items will prove almost irreplaceable, so consider having more than one, especially since they are cheap.

  • Filet Knife – most important knife to own
  • Oyster pry-knife – you can catch all the oysters you want but without this tool, you will be limited to eating them steamed
  • Crab cleaner -especially useful to obtain lump meat when you have many dozens of crabs to clean. This one item can save hours when cleaning crabs. This item can be made from 2x6 boards and flat iron and angle iron attached to heavy duty hinges. Rather than giving a long explanation of how to build one, I will describe the one my grandfather made and that we used often. When laid fully open on a table top, the two boards lay end-to-end, connected by the hinge in the middle which was bolted to the flat iron/angle iron mounted on the end section of each board. On one board, the flat iron piece was mounted to the end section. On the other board, the angle iron was mounted so that one of the 45-degree angles came flush to the flat iron when the board with the angle iron was raised upright from the table. Crabs can be par-boiled, shelled and halved, than placed so that the iron mashes out the meat when compressed.
  • Steel-mesh fish cleaning gloves – a lifesaver, literally. If you happen to take a deep stab from a hardhead catfish barb when heading it for crab bait, you could die from the infection without proper antibiotics. These gloves can save your hands from incredible damage when cleaning or working with fresh seafood like Oysters and Crabs. 
  • Monofilament Cast Net – essential for catching small bait fish, and highly effective for catching shrimp in the right location in the fall.

If you live near saltwater or even if you don’t, consider adding these items to your arsenal of tools so you will be prepared to gather some great seafood to supplement the family diet if times get bad enough to have to rely on your stash of dried and pre-packaged foods. Your health and well-being will be greatly enhanced by being able take advantage of what God put in the oceans for us to eat.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I was thinking about the fishing e-mails and thinking: why are we talking [about using hand-held] rods?

In a true TEOTWAWKI situation [where present-day conventions and legalities on sport fishing have gone by the wayside] I don't want to be standing there for hours trying to catch dinner just like I don't want to be sitting in a tree stand trying to shoot dinner either. Like hunting, which I tend to agree with you on (you do it all the time by carrying your rifle and being ready at all times -- or at least some firearm capable of taking big game)...the same goes for fishing.

Should I find myself near a lake or pond that has fish in it I'll rig up a trot/trout line and get it set across the lake or between to jutting trees etc. Then I'll go back to surviving and check the line later in the day, even the next day. I don't have to sit there and watch it so I can gather wood, work in my garden (should I be fortunate enough to have one) etc etc..

When I was young I remember an older native lady who used to set up multiple poles on the pier she fished from. It was up north in British Columbia and far anyone so no worries about getting in trouble with the law. The point is, she put multiple hooks in the water then went back into her little shack and waited out the day doing something else.

She always caught lots of fish and you'd never know unless you watched her pull them up or put the lines in...she often set trout lines from one wharf to another also and always caught fish on them.

How did I know? I was an enterprising young lad who spent hours with my rod and reel to catch one or two fish, while she caught 10 or 12.

So it's just lines, hooks and gear of that sort for me with one or two compact rods to use if traveling.

Otherwise, why waste the time? - Erik

While a good discussion on fishing gear please remember that post-collapse the "old" rules no longer apply.

There are two excellent methods for getting fish that have not been mentioned.
The first is courtesy of Larry Dean Olsen (primitive survival expert) and I have tried this myself and it works like a champ. Basically you trap a small rodent (ground squirrel, prairie dog, etc. that you would not eat) and hang it over a deep cut bank on a stream or lake. As flies come maggots will grow and gravity being what it is, they will drop off the carcass and into the water. This process takes three days at a minimum. But it conditions the fish to come to that spot for a "free" meal. Then using a large net or other means, the fish are relatively easy to catch.

The second is courtesy of my brother who worked doing fish surveys for the Division of Wildlife in the back country of Utah for a number of years while finishing his education. Basically you drive two copper rods into the bottom of the stream or pond and attach them to your vehicle's electrical system (I use jumper cables). The 12 volt DC current acts as a magnet for the fish and you can pick and choose which ones you want for supper. Now I've only tried this in areas that are predominately populated by trout and char (brook and lake trout) so I do not know if it works on other species. - Hugh D.

Many of your readers seem to think that hunting and fishing are going to be feasible ways to feed their families after the balloon goes up. I guess this is possible in very remote areas, but I would caution them not to count on it. Even assuming the disaster that caused the collapse doesn't destroy wildlife (radiation for instance), wild game is a very undependable food resource.

The assumption is that without game laws, a resourceful fisherman can take many times more fish from a body of water than if he were following rules. This is absolutely true. Having fished with grenades in the past, I can vouch for the effectiveness of unrestrained fishing techniques.

Unfortunately, game laws are there for a reason: to keep the resources from being over-exploited. I participated in an exercise with a Tahan Pran unit (Irregulars attached to the Royal Thai Army) in 1986 and watched a platoon fish out an entire section of a fairly large river in just a few days. By the end of a week, they stopped throwing grenades in the water because there weren't enough fish to justify the activity any more. This small group of people basically denuded several miles of river and harvested all the fish available, including minnows. We ate a lot of fish that week, but their technique was too effective for long term use.

Even a large body of water has a finite carrying capacity and I expect most of them will be exceeded after the balloon goes up. Even if nobody is fishing with dynamite, lots of people are going to have the same idea and most bodies of water are going to be exploited much more heavily than they currently are. Most lakes, rivers and ponds are stocked regularly with fish to keep anglers happy. Without constant re-stocking and feeding programs, the watershed will be dependent on native fish breeding to restock. This is a slow process at best. Add to that over fishing by lots of hungry people and I expect water resources to be quickly depleted in most areas.

Hunting is even more prone to over-exploitation. Shooting deer from a feeding station or spotlighting them is very easy, but the downside is that anyone can do it. Deer, bear, and other large game may be poached to extinction in most areas and are going to be scarce wherever there are hungry people. Even rabbits and squirrels are likely to be in short supply.

Perhaps more serious is the topic of security. After TEOTWAWKI I expect fishing to be extremely hazardous. Water courses and lake shores are lines of drift and attract people. Standing around dangling a hook in the water seems to me to be a very dangerous activity and drifting around in a boat can make you a convenient target. You are vulnerable to rifle fire from basically anywhere on the shore. Tramping around in the woods is little better. If you run into anyone, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an ambush, or at best, in a battle, far from help.

Hunting and fishing are very time consuming (with the exception of traps and trot-lines). After TEOTWAWKI, there may be better uses for your time and energy. If you are truly isolated, hunting and fishing can be valid ways to put some meat on the table, but if you are anywhere near a population center, I would forget about buying fishing gear and use the extra money to store more food. - JIR

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This is in response to the articles on fishing. Depending on where you are, I would assume that everyone and his relations will be sitting on the bank and hoping for a fish to bite. Fishing is hit or miss, unless you have a boat and have spent a great deal of time on the water, you will starve to death waiting for a fish to bite. You will be sitting exposed and probably looking over your shoulder.

I have a better solution and it is one that will work every time it is tried. Assuming you are operating in survival mode, a device my dad and, now I, have is a simple thing called a crawfish (crayfish, or freshwater lobster) rake. You make a rectangular wire basket with a long pole on the top and the end facing you open. You thrust it out into the water and let it sink. Then you rapidly pull it back in by letting it drag along the bottom. You dump it on the bank and poke through all the leaves and sticks for all the small fish (occasional big fish), crawfish, frogs, mussels etc. You not only have bait, you can also add this to a pot of stew or gumbo, it may not look good but I assure you it will be good for you. I am attaching a picture of one I've used for 25 years. You can probably describe it better than I can for your readers.

You can easily supply the protein needs of a family with what you can drag out of a ditch, or most any still body of water. The murkier the water the better.

Another devise is a minnow seine, one or more persons will have to get in the water. One end is secured on land, the other is walked out into the water and then in a wide arc as it is slowly walked until you get the other end on shore. Then you simply keep walking until the net and its contents are on shore. I recommend at least a 20 foot one.

There is also a device called a cast net, it requires practice, but is very effective at catching fish.

Webbing is very effective, this requires a boat or shallow water and is extremely effective at snaring fish, turtles, etc. I have a 100 foot one stored in a duffle that will go with us when we bug out.

A hoop net is another type of net. There is a company in Jonesville, Louisiana called Champlin Net Company. They have been making and selling nets for as long as I remember (Hoop, webbing, gill, and even baseball). [JWR Adds: OBTW, the large mesh commercial fishing netting (1.5-inch squares) is also perfect to use for the base layer for assembling ghillie camouflage ponchos.]

Although bulky, fish and crab traps are also effective. They can be hidden and out of sight, just remember where you deployed them. And don't forget the trot line and simple lines tied to tree limbs that you run at intervals during the day and night.

Everyone likes to get out the rod and reels, but ask anyone who goes fishing how many trips they make to Wal-Mart or Academy Sports for supplemental gear for every trip. There may not be a sporting goods store to go to, so keep plenty of hooks, line and sinkers. Don't just keep monofilament line, it goes bad from old age.

Hope this helps, catching a mess of fish is great and the eating is good. But using any or all the techniques I have described above will feed you every day. Thanks, - Ken G.


Mr. Editor,
No offense to W. in Atlanta - but that isn't a TEOTWAWKI fishing article, it is geared more toward "what to consider before your weekend fishing trip" article.

First, my nephews catch just as many pan fish (from shore) on their $12 SpongeBob Squarepants and Batman poles as I do with my 10x more expensive Shimano/St. Croix rods. So while it's a good idea to have some more expensive/reliable equipment, you might also consider getting a number of bubble pack rod/reel units too. More hooks in the water, lots of spare parts,
and cheap.

Regarding fly fishing - It's difficult enough to remain semi-hidden when fishing from shore, but a fly fisherman flipping a 9' rod around while wading in waist deep water can be seen from a great distance. It also puts you at a serious disadvantage tactically. Another advantage of the cheap bubble pack rods is their short length, making it easier to cast from the cover of weeds, trees, or rocks - albeit at less distance.

Some additional equipment I'd add would be:

1) Gill nets with mesh sizes appropriate for the fish species in the nearest bodies of water, and nylon rope for trot lines. Draped under the waterline after dark, these hopefully go unnoticed during the day for retrieval the next night. These also allow you to be 'fishing' while you're performing other activities.

2) Minnow nets/traps for bait (and pet food).

3) Ice fishing gear, if applicable (or again, another use for the short bubble pack poles).

4) Devices capable of producing an underwater shock wave. ('Nuff said).

Lastly, don't forget to store lots of brine ingredients, seasonings, and freezer bags/wrap, cause at TEOTWAWKI we're going catching - not fishing.

Merry Christmas, - Off-Grid Al

Friday, December 25, 2009

Much has been written in these pages and elsewhere about prepping for food: maintaining protein and caloric intake. Fish are an excellent source of protein, and will continue to be so under most post-SHTF scenarios. How does a person go about preparing to catch them, and convert them to food?

I write this as someone who has had the good luck to have fished over the last fifty plus years in every continent but Australia, and survived, and who has designed and built hundreds of rods in pursuit of every conceivable species of fish using a wide range of techniques. I prefer the anonymity that others on this blog use, but my articles on fishing have appeared in national and regional magazines over the years. I also happen to be a prepper. More correctly put, I have been a prepper for a while without realizing it, until I read Patriots and other writings by Mr. Rawles, and others!

I must qualify any recommendations I make:

  • First of all, fishing gear is the subject of exhaustive discussions on every possible media. It’s the nature of things that fishermen and women get very detailed, and opinionated, in what works and doesn’t. By making recommendations, it is not my intent to stir the pot. I have tried to keep my comments as brief and as practical as possible.
  • Secondly, name brands of gear. I happen to lean towards Penn and Abu reels with a preference for the older models, and make most of my own rods from blanks made by Calstar, Seeker, Loomis, Sage, Lamiglas, Amtak, Cabela's, Tiger, and more. However, these preferences are meaningless for the purposes of this letter. There is a lot of other gear out there that is high quality, made by these manufacturers and others such as Shimano, Daiwa, Bass Pro shops and others. Instead my recommendations are based on line capacities, which drive size, weight and to some extent drag performance, and commonly available rod lengths and lure sizes. You must pick out the outfit(s) that fit your situation.
  • Third, I am assuming in a TEOTWAWKI situation you will have no access to a boat (or if you do then you may lack a vehicle to pull it with) and will be on foot. In a boat, you can get by with a lot less casting, so the equipment recommendations may be different. What I present below is a set of opinions based on distillation of a lot of ideas and my experiences.
  • So, this is addressed to those intrepid souls who have their wits about them, even if not a lot of fishing infrastructure, as they diligently prepare for scenarios they may be confronted with. I’ll start with outfit types then move to terminal tackle, then inexpensive alternatives.

The spinning outfit. If I were limited to a single outfit for a vast majority of the situations I would encounter anywhere in the Americas it would be a spinning outfit. The technology enables a user to cast and manipulate small and large lures and baited hooks efficiently across a wide spectrum of applications, and species of fish.

The actual size outfit will vary, however, depending on where one is located:

  • For 80 percent of the applications in the Americas: that is where one may encounter fish up to, say, 20 lbs., in relatively unobstructed water, a rod in the 6 ½ - 7’ range designed to handle lures from ¼ to ½ ounce or so, with a reel having a line capacity of 200 yards of 10 lb. test line will handle things nicely.
  • If in higher altitudes and latitudes where trout, small salmon and char predominate, I would lean toward a lighter outfit; something in the 6 - 6 ½’ length designed to handle lures from 1/8 to 3/8 ounce or so, with a reel capacity of 200 yards of so of six pound line.
  • In lower altitudes and latitudes, in water full of trees and brush, as well as for light salt water use, I would go with a rod in the 7’ range designed to handle lures from 3/8-3/4 or so, sporting a reel having a capacity of around 200 yards of fifteen pound line.

A decent outfit meeting any of these descriptions can be had starting at about fifty bucks, and going upward from there (substantially upward!).

If you can, buy extra line for the reels in various line classes at, above and below the recommended ones, as these can be used as replacement lines or to quickly add a leader to the existing line of a smaller diameter to fool finicky fish, or larger diameter to prevent toothy fish such as pike (in fresh water) and mackerel (in salt water) from biting through your line.

The spin casting outfit. Also called “push button” “closed face spinning” and “under spin” reels, depending on whether they are mounted above or below the handle on a rod, these are instantly recognizable by their enclosed shroud inside which the line is stored. These are great outfits for kids to learn fishing with, but they have no place in a prepper’s set of tools, unless nothing else is available or as a backup.

I have a number of these reels, including some expensive models, and observe that drags are uniformly weak and the line pickups are poor. The line pickups for example are either a stationary – non-rolling – pin of steel or coated material, or are integral to the rotating head and have a serrated edge, not unlike like a bread knife, with a predictable impact on line wear. With these reels the line quickly twists and frays, as any dad with a fishing kid can attest. As a result, line life is very short compared to reels that have ball bearing line rollers such as spinning reels or reels where there is very little contact with the line as it is retrieved, such as bait casting reels.

Another factor: the design of these reels is utterly incompatible with saltwater because of its closed face which traps salt water, and quickly rusts the reel out unless you have the time and means to meticulously clean and air, re-lubricate and reassemble the reel after each use. So unless you have plenty of extra line and spare time to maintain the equipment, I wouldn’t bother with spin casting if prepping for a wide range of situations.

The fly outfit. These are far better suited to the gathering of fish protein than some would think, a fact which has been underlined by some well thought of outdoor writers such as HG Tapply of Tap’s Tips (Field and Stream) fame which I used to read avidly. In reality, the fly outfit is deadly at laying out not only flies and streamers, but also dangling worms from a distance, even flipping perch bellies for bass, pickerel and pike.

Once you figure out you are casting the line rather than the lure, things fall into place. Another plus is that, with a little practice, once you have made your first cast into an area it takes only a second or so to place a lure or bait into a productive fish zone if it has drifted away or if you are working a shoreline: there is no need to retrieve the line and cast it back out – you simply lift it off the water and with a flick move it to the next spot.

Simplicity is the key. For example, there is little need for a reel to do anything but hold line, so you can strip out the line you need when you start fishing, then wind it back on the reel when you are done (or need to move on to the next spot and don’t want to trail loops of line behind you on the ground). The fish is fought by stripping the line backward through your fingers. Thus, for most applications the typical “single action” fly reel is dirt simple: a spool with a 1:1 gear ratio which rotates on an axis mounted on a frame.

Some of the fancier reels for large fresh and salt water fish have serious drags so you can fight the fish “from the reel”. There are also “multiplier” reels where one turn of the handle generates more than one turn of the spool. But these are not a requirement for the vast majority of situations the prepper is planning for. The KISS principle applies here.

If I were to limit myself to a single fly rod, I would get something approximately 8 ½ - 9’ long that matches to a 7 or 8 weight line (with a preference for a “weight forward” or “bass bug” tapered line if I had either of those options over “level” or “double tapered” line) and a “single action” reel. I would attach a tapered leader to the fly line say 7 1/2 -9 feet long, and going down to as small as six pound test (10-12 lb. test for heavy situations such as farm ponds and larger fish).

For alpine lakes and rivers I would select an 8’ - 9’ rod that matches to a 4 or 5 weight line, with the shorter length rod being better suited to brushy streams, and the longer rod being for more open spaces. Leader would taper down to about 4 lb. test.

People ask, doesn’t one need an advanced degree in entomology (bug science) to be able to successfully fish a fly rod? Heck no! Here’s why: lots of bugs are “terrestrials” which is a fancy word for anything other than the genteel critters with the Latin names that “match the hatch”: Terrestrials are grasshoppers, bees, spiders, crickets and the like which occur pretty much everywhere. You can buy a pack of these flies at your local china-mart for a few bucks, and along with a few bare hooks (for garden worms, larvae, and strips of fish belly) are pretty much all you’ll need for terminal tackle for the fly rod. Tie one of those terrestrials on and the fish will hit it even if it does not match exactly their normal fare, because it will look like something that got blown into the water by the wind. By the time they taste it: too late!

You can buy a complete starter fly fishing setup including rod, line, reel and leader, with perhaps a few flies thrown in for about $80 at Wal-Mart or any reputable mail order catalog.

The bait casting outfit. This is a generic term for the revolving spool reel. This gear is most popular in the Americas in applications involving the casting of artificial lures and baits of 3/8 ounce and larger. They are by far the furthest casting reels in long distance casting competitions when a large weight of about 5 ounce is cast out three hundred yards and over (no kidding)! They are also excellent for trolling and bottom fishing, as quality models have the line capacity and the drags are able to tame very large fish. They happen to be my favorite category of reels.

For practical purposes, however, the minimum lure (or bait) size limitations will limit the usefulness of bait casting. In most fresh water applications the deadliest range of lures and baits for gathering fish protein is from about 1/16th to ½ ounce, and bait casting gear can comfortably accommodate only the upper end of that range. They are also more difficult to learn to use than, say, spinning gear.

Therefore, unless my retreat is on an ocean beach or a boat, I would not recommend this type of gear for the prepper except as a backup, especially when other choices are available.

Decent bait casting outfits can be had new for around seventy dollars and up.

Rod considerations. In the non-prepping world rod choices are generally lumped into one-piece (the best choice for most mainstream saltwater rods, and many bait casting rods), two-piece and “travel” (which may have three or more rod sections).

In the prepping world, where we are interested in addressing a wide range of applications with as little gear as possible, the choices narrow considerably (although they are still ample). First of all I would eliminate one piece rods, unless your plans call for staying in one place – they lack the portability of the multi-piece rods.

So the question becomes “am I better off with a two piece rod or a multi-piece “travel” rod?” The answer is not simple, because of a general rule that for the same amount of money, the quality generally goes down the more pieces your rod has. The best value is therefore a two-piece rod. However, if space and convenience is at a premium, a multi piece travel type rod may be the best alternative, even if more expensive. My advice would be not to scrimp, if you go the multi-piece route.

One option you may find very attractive is a combination travel fly and spin rod: one rod that can handle both fly and spinning applications. Eagle Claw and Fenwick came out with these in the sixties, and they were quite the ticket in those days, but the selection is greater now. This setup would be tailored for the lighter applications, however.

What about terminal tackle? For an extreme post-SHTF situation, you can get by with just some hooks, and perhaps an assortment of sinkers. One rule of thumb to follow is that – generally – you can catch a big fish on a small hook, but not a small fish on a big hook. Here’s a punch list since we have the luxury of shopping now. These are available from any Wal-Mart ("China mart") or outdoor mail order business:

  • Hook Assortment from about size 12 to about size 2. For saltwater, expand this hook size assortment to include hooks up to 4/0 (you’ll still want the small hooks for catching smaller fish and bait).
  • Sinker assortment from split shot to 1 ounce.
  • Bobbers or floats, from marble size through golf ball size.
  • Pre-filled “Beginner tackle box” sets loaded with hooks and sinkers, as well as some assorted lures can be had for perhaps 10 bucks.
  • Line – lots of spools in sizes ranging from 4-15 lb. test, as well as some 30-40 lb. test to use for leader material. This is inexpensive stuff. What you do not use will make excellent trading stock!
  • Some wire leaders. For most purposes single strand “piano” wire of 27 or 36 lb. test is the best of the alternatives.

Selection of artificial lures, some staples of which are:

  • Rapala floating minnows – silver in the 7 to 11 cm sizes
  • Mepps spinners – size zero through size 3. Also buy small ball bearing swivels if you use spinners.
  • Assortment of bucktail jigs.
  • Assortment of jig heads (unpainted) in sized 1/32 through ¼ oz
  • Assortment of “Curly tail” plastic lure bodies (which attach to the jig heads, above).
  • Selection of “terrestrial” flies, if you plan to fly fish.
  • A few “muddlers” “”black gnats” and “coachmen” (all purpose flies)


  • A couple fillet knives. These have a long, thin and flexible blade that allows you to separate the fish flesh from the bones.
  • A sturdy knife that can be used to sever heads from fish, or to cut bait with.
  • A simple knife sharpener. Can be a sharpening stone or steel.
  • Pliers: at a minimum a pair of needle nose pliers for removing hooks from fish. If you are in catfish country I’d add a standard set of pliers (for breaking spines and skinning)

The $5 or less solution! There are millions of folks out there (particularly outside the industrial northern countries) who fish with nothing more than a piece of line with a hook on the end. Now, their technique may not be as productive as with fancier gear, but if you are either not able or not interested in investing in this aspect of your survival preparations, you can certainly pull a kit together that will do the job, inexpensively even if not perfectly.

Line – there’s really no substitute for monofilament line. You could use cord, but you’ll still need a section of clear leader, and the cord may fall apart when wet. If I were limited to only one piece of line, and space was limited, I’d select about a 100 foot section of 30 lb. test line. For alpine lakes and rivers, I’d drop that down to 10 lb. test line. You can buy a hundred yards of line at a discount store for a couple bucks, easily.

Reel – For storage, you can store line simply by wrapping it around a piece of cardboard with a v notch at each end to hold it securely. For a reel, you can use, literally, a beer can – lots of people do. The line is wrapped around the outside and the “cast” is made by holding the can in one hand and pointing the can at your intended destination, then whirling the baited hook on circles with your other hand and letting loose with the line peeling off the end of the can. The retrieve is made by holding the can in one hand and winding the line back on with the other.

A variant on this is a cleaned out tin can with a plastic lid on it. The line is wrapped around the outside as per the beer can example, above. The can itself can be your tackle box, containing hooks sinkers, lures, etc. held in place by the removable plastic lid.

Other economical substitutes:

  • Small sinkers can be made from discarded metal nuts (as in nuts and bolts)
  • Big sinkers can be made from old spark plugs that have the electrode squeezed down to form a closed loop you can tie your line to. Clean off the smelly oil and gas sludge before using, the odor may (will!) repel fish.
  • Bobbers can be made from bottle corks. They can be attached to the line in a number of ways: a needle can thread the line through where it will be held under tension; or you can drill out a hole in the center then thread the line through, holding it in place with a match stick. Alternatively you can simply attach the line to the exterior of the cork with a rubber band, a twisty or a zip-tie.
  • The Boy Scouts tout the many uses of paperclips, including for hooks, but do yourself a favor - just buy an assortment of hooks.

The bottom line is that prepping for fishing is like lots of other categories of prepping. You can get about as detailed as you want. Just cover the basics if you have to!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Throughout the last few centuries, mankind has been building and building up, combining raw materials and energy to create... stuff. This stuff is scattered all over urban population centers, and many of it can be used for basic life-sustaining purposes. I thought I'd write in and share some information I've gathered over the years in my work and in my hobbies, as it relates to sustaining life if you're trapped in an urban area. I'm enumerating the primitive uses of some very basic components for those interested, this wasn't meant as a guide for building any of this stuff, further research is definitely necessary and DO NOT try any lab chemistry without becoming an expert first and observing all the appropriate safety precautions. [JWR Adds: Handling strong acids and bases also necessitates wearing goggles, extra long gloves, long sleeves, a safety apron, having proper ventilation, and having an eye flushing bottle (or fixture) and neutralizers close at hand!] I hope this inspires others to share similar uses for modern waste.

Many urbanites will not have enough room to grow self-sustaining gardens in the soil in your backyard, with the limited growing season, and even if you did it would become a target for looters. Construction of a greenhouse in your backyard with adequate security may be a worthwhile compromise. Using hydroponics in your greenhouse will maximize your yield. Hydroponics requires that you're moving fluids around in a growing medium, and this movement requires electricity in the simplest setup. It also allows you to maximize your space by eliminating huge buckets of soil. One downside to hydroponics is that it requires more advanced technology, and most often an energy supply. Another downside is a requirement for more specific fertilizers.

Car batteries can be used to power your food supply and your home, a typical setup is a very sturdy shelf to hold rows of the deep cycle variant. You can calculate how much energy you'd need to power your appliances but a better setup for survival would be to only power a single DC circuit, with some very energy efficient appliances; LED lights, laptop computers, radios, flashlight battery chargers. I have a circuit wired in my basement which can be switched to backup power, so for me it would just be a matter of wiring an extension cable out to my greenhouse.

The equipment to build a battery backup system is widely available, it's very mature technology and has been very easy to afford with the increased usage of solar energy. Solar panel prices have also dropped almost 40% in the last couple of years. I recommend that someone with the cash to spend, who has already bought a long-term supply of food and other essentials, build themselves a photovoltaic backup system to keep your electronics running for years, using deep-cycle marine batteries for storage. It happens to be the cheapest form of storage, the deep cycle batteries are available from Wal-Mart and Costco at the best prices.

I recommend some form of sustainable electricity. Most fuels will go bad with time, the easiest fuel to reliably store is propane and many homes are equipped with propane and natural gas powered backup generators. Propane is extraordinarily cheap right now as well. A 300-to-500 gallon propane tank can be bought used for around $500 in most places, and propane is selling in my area for $1.79/gallon. Propane is produced from natural gas and, along with coal, are the two fossil fuels we're least likely to see a shortage of. Regarding solar, you don't need a 5,000 watt solar panel farm to power your essentials. Just one large solar panel on a pole will be enough [to provide charging] for your odds and ends DC-powered electronics.

If you intend to use scavenged car batteries for home power, you will need to come up with a scheme to charge them. If you charge a random collection of batteries off of one charger some of them may overheat and explode. You need to have an individual charging circuit for each of them, a temperature probe is good but not necessary. The best way to do this with a generator setup is with a multiple-bank charger or charging station, or with multiple charge controllers in a solar setup. It would be a good idea to have backups, so you might as well have one charge controller for every battery. If you're running a generator, it is especially important that you use a battery backup system, as it allows you to use the energy more efficiently to charge up a battery bank which you can use for days to power efficient appliances.

Another interesting thing about car batteries is what you can do with them if you're not using them for power. Car batteries contain two main ingredients, sulfuric acid and lead. Sulfuric acid is used in many industrial processes. It's a source of elemental sulfur, and these strong acids are used to convert many other substances to something usable.

Hundreds of years ago people made saltpeter for formulating black powder by urinating in a jar and adding straw to it (almost too easy, huh?). A more industrious method would be to mix straw and manure into a pile and urinate on it regularly to keep it moist. This was called a "niter-bed". After a year, run water through it and then run the resulting mixture through a wood ash filter, and then air dry the resulting mixture in the sun. Any failed batches could always be used as [the basis for a larger quantity of] fertilizer. Your urine contains nitrogen in the form of a chemical called urea, which means it also makes a good fertilizer (1 part urine and 10 parts water immediately applied makes a decent fertilizer). The urine/straw mixture would change over the course of a few months to contain nitrates, mostly a chemical called potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. Wood ash contains mostly potassium compounds and can be used to convert remaining nitrates to potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate is a powerful oxidizer. Mixed with a fuel it forms the ingredients of many fireworks such as bottle rockets. Black powder is made with a mixture of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. Sulfur can be found on the electrodes of the car batteries, or it can be produced through electrolysis of the sulfuric acid. A good rocket fuel is 60% potassium nitrate and 40% powdered sugar, should you have a need for rockets, perhaps as a signal flare.

You can buy potassium nitrate over the counter from the hardware store (Lowe's and Home Depot). It's known as stump remover and is available in 1lb bottles. If you're doing that last minute shopping, it might be a good idea to swing by the pesticides shelf and buy all the stump remover while you're getting your fertilizers and everything. Potassium nitrate has an NPK rating of 13-0-38.

In the 1890s, widespread use of "smokeless powder" was adopted, which is about three times as powerful as simple black powder. This was a result of a substance called nitro-cellulose or guncotton, which is which can be made from cellulose and nitric acid and some other chemicals by means of nitration. Nitric acid is a very useful substance. Nitro-groups or nitronium ions can be added to certain chemicals to create explosives. Compounded with hexamine fuel tablets (Esbit fuel), it forms [the equivalent of ] RDX explosive. Compounded with glycerine, it forms nitroglycerine, that with added stabilizers forms dynamite or blasting gelatin. (Not to be confused with trinitrotoluene (TNT), which is generated by the nitration of toluene.) The most useful application of nitric acid though is in making smokeless powder, commonly just called "gunpowder" today, which is a compound of nitrocellulose and a number of other proprietary ingredients. It can be made from cellulose and nitric acid and some other chemicals by means of nitration. [Reader M.H. Adds: Doing any of this will take considerable study and storing some other chemicals, since nitric acid just by itself will not (to any significant degree) nitrate organic compound such as glycerine, hexamine or toluene. For details, see the book titled "Chemistry and Technology of Explosives" by Urbanski (available online).]

The government has made it difficult to purchase nitric acid without a valid reason. You can make it out of sulfuric acid, from the car batteries, and potassium nitrate, from the niter beds. You will need some basic lab equipment to do this, a glass distillery connected to a vacuum pump (a vacuum distillery), and a hot plate. With the leftover parts of the car battery, mainly lead [and wheel weights as a source of antimony for hardening], you can mold lead bullets. The lab equipment required to perform some of these reactions is useful in many other processes, such as an ethanol distillery, so it may be something you'd want, regardless. Take care that you don't cross into illegal territory with your experimenting. Potassium nitrate and black powder aren't controlled substances, but at some point gunpowder becomes classified as an explosive and requires a permit to manufacture. [JWR Adds a Strong Proviso: This summary information is provided for educational purposes only. EXTREME safety measures must be taken, and all the legalities and zoning issues must be researched, permits obtained, et cetera. Also, be advised that the instructions presented in many of the published references on do-it-yourself explosives making have insufficient safety margins. For example, the set of directions on making nitroglycerin in the book The Anarchist Cookbook, could best be described as a "recipe for disaster." It will get you killed or at least maimed, in short order!]

Another interesting thing I'll mention is that handgun calibers and muzzleloaders are better suited for lead bullets with no copper jacket, since they travel through the barrel slower they can be made softer. Forming a copper jacket around a bullet is difficult and expensive. [JWR Adds: One notable exception to this is making jackets for .22 caliber bullets, which can be made with discarded .22 LR brass and lead wire, using commercially available forming dies.] I think it's also worthwhile to own at least one muzzle-loading black-powder rifle, and bullet forming equipment. Manufacturing guncotton is not nearly as easy as black powder. You can no longer readily buy black powder [in gun shops] today, it is less stable and more expensive to ship. Even the modern muzzle-loader propellants (like Pyrodex) are smokeless powders. So, you may find black powder is all people are using one of these days, as they can make it in their backyard. Either stockpile thousands of primers or use a flintlock style rifle.

I mentioned that urine can be used as a fertilizer, nowhere is this more true than in a hydroponic system. Plants need three main chemicals to grow, all three of which must be in a soluble form. urine is easily the best source of nitrogen in soluble form. Potassium can be gathered from wood ash easily by running fluids through it. Phosphorous is the hard part, and many fruiting plants need phosphorus, so it is the area where you focus the most energy. Bone has phosphorus in it, and a commonly used fertilizer for plants is bone meal in the form of calcium phosphate. Bone meal has an NPK rating of 4-12-0. Bat guano is one of the best sources of phosphorous, and bird droppings ("Bird Schumer") can similarly provide a good supply. Be careful with bird droppings though, many contain diseases especially pigeons. You may want to boil it first. Match heads can also be used for their phosphorus content, if for some reason you have thousands of matches with no barter value.

Back to urine fertilizers: When you urinate into the water your urine and many other nitrate fertilizers begin to break down into ammonia, which needs to be filtered out. If you've ever maintained a koi pond you know this can be accomplished with the use of a bio-filter. Another way to do it is with an aquaculture setup, which means connecting a fish hatchery to a hydroponics setup. The fish and the plants thrive off of each other. This has evolved into it's own industry called aquaponics, and has proven to be a commercial success, mainly to serve as leafy plant production on top of a primarily fish producing setup. If you get sick of eating that dried corn, try feeding it to a 55-gallon barrels full of Tilapia. Tilapia has been the preferred fish stock as it will eat a wider range of things, but the temperature must be kept warm. It's possible that even in colder climates a greenhouse would provide sufficient trapped heat to keep the fish alive.

Many of these techniques can form the foundations of exciting hobbies such as model rocketry, aquaculture, hydroponics and gunsmithing. I strongly encourage you to absorb some of these hobbies in your life, if they appeal to you. [Do plenty of research, and get lots of practice,] especially when it comes to something sensitive like fish or hydroponics. Beginner's mistakes could spell the end of you if you're depending on this for your urban survival. I've opted to fortify my suburban home on a quarter acre and optimize it for survival, with over two years of food storage for me and my family to get started and enough energy to cook it. If this is all you can afford then make the most of it!

Letter Re: Making Do at a Rural Vermont Retreat

While I could wish to be west of the Mississippi, my wife and I will have to retreat where we are. My elderly parents are nearby, and my wife has made it very clear she has moved for the last time. Vermont is where we will be for the foreseeable future.

We live within a rural town of approximately 2,000 residents. We are about seven miles outside of a twin-city with a population of 28,000. We lack like-minded neighbors both in faith and preparedness. We hope our far-flung family will be able to rally here, but are realistic about their chances. Not an ideal location, but we work with what God have given us.

We own 60 acres, mostly wooded with some pasture, up and three miles out of town on a dirt road. Our home is close to the middle of the land, at the end of an 1,100 foot driveway and it is not visible from the road. The driveway could be easily blocked if necessary. We have cleared good areas around the house without giving up our privacy. We heat with any of three sources, wood, pellets, or oil. Our neighbors include a medical doctor and a nurse/midwife and two miles down the hill is a dairy farm with 400 head.

We have three spring-fed ponds, (one is stocked with trout), a deep artesian well and a developed spring with a concrete cistern. We use a small greenhouse to extend our short growing season and have apple trees and blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes. We can and dry fruits and veggies, I hunt and we both cook. We have about 18 months of food in storage (dehydrated, canned, frozen and grains) and expand our larder as we are able. We used to be cold weather tent- campers and have all of the equipment that goes along with that sport in both propane and white gas.
Our arsenal is varied, deep and redundant. It includes four muzzleloaders and supplies; they are hunting and hobby rifles, but they will still put food on the table or provide defense in a pinch.

We have much on our “things to do” list. Fuel storage is a problem in quantity due to permitting issues. We do have the fuel oil tank in the cellar for the tractor, but gasoline will be limited to our cans. Our only generator is small, only able to power the pellet stove, a couple of lights and a radio. We do hope to add solar in the future. Our home is not as defensible as I would like due to glass windows and doors and we lack man-power for long term survival.

We will never be as ready as want to be, but we will be as ready as we are able. Our greatest assets are Jesus and each other. - B.C.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I’m finding SurvivalBlog very interesting in these troubling times. I came across it in the bibliography of a good novel, "Last Light", by Alex Scarrow, which took me to Peak Oil, and then to your blog.

I live in a small city in the most unknown part of Italy , a southern region called Basilicata . It’s always been a region bypassed by history and its inhabitants have known a modicum of well being only in the past 20 years. You might have heard of a book called "Christ Stopped at Eboli" by Carlo Levi. Well, that’s here. Though of course right now, it’s a charming place to live, with a lively music scene, great art and new restaurants opening up every day, people still remember vividly a subsistence existence.

I think having been very poor could actually be a huge advantage if and when it is The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). There’s still a huge huge amount of knowledge in their DNA about how to make do under harsh conditions of extreme scarcity. I can’t imagine them panicking if horrible things happen because every home has a grandmother or grandfather or an uncle that tills a small field, that can make sausage and is really good at canning. They have literally thousands of years of experience in banding together in harsh conditions. My sisters in law know everything there is about storing food, canning, etc.

In many ways, the millennial poverty (now greatly alleviated) will probably prepare them well if things collapse. And maybe areas of the world that are used to living in scarcity will do better than rich urban areas. They might not collapse, just revert to a previous culture. Also, this area is very rich in water and they’ve just discovered the largest methane fields in Europe .

Anyway congratulations on your fascinating blog. Right now, there’s no food scarcity because Italians don’t have a long food chain. They are very careful to eat locally and by law food’s origins must be labelled and Italians prefer national food to imported food, because they are snobbish about the taste of imported food. Also, Italy grows most of its own rice. Best, - E.J.

JWR Replies: I wholeheartedly agree that in the event of a societal collapse, those that live close to the land will fare better than most others. It may go down in history as a Great Inversion--something analogous to France, during the Revolution, when wealthy people in desperation traded rings set with precious stones, gold necklaces, and fancy furniture for loaves of bread. Perhaps in the next collapse they'll be trading Jet Skis and big screen plasma televisions. This sort of inversion was aptly described by Pat Frank, in his early-1960s post-nuke novel "Alas, Babylon." The novel is set in rural Florida. The story describes how the erstwhile poor black residents coped much better than rich whites, simply because they were already accustomed to making do. When dollars became worthless, suddenly it was practical skills that trumped all else. Before the Schumer hit the fan, the "Po Folks" already raised gardens, kept small livestock, and were experienced subsistence fishermen. Their white neighbors had a lot of catching up to do, to reach the same level of self-sufficiency.

Could life imitate at? I think so. The most likely to prosper in a collapse will me middle class farmers and ranchers that are well-removed from urban areas . They can capitalize on their food production kills and infrastructure, yet will be isolated from most of the peril that will grip the cities and suburbs. A farmer with a pair of well-trained draft horses and old-fashioned (horse-drawn) machinery will do the best of all. These farmers with new-found wealth will of course have to quickly hire some mercenaries to protect what they have. Speaking of Italy, the days ahead may get downright Machiavellian.

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