What Preparedness Lessons Did You Learn From Hurricane Sandy?

We’re interested in hearing from our east coast readers about how they rode out Hurricane Sandy. How did the storm impact you? How did your preparations work out? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Hurricane Sandy was a reminder to us to take a look at our preparedness. We may not have monster storms here in Los Angeles, but we certainly are overdue for a big earthquake. It’s been a long time since we’ve taken a look at our supplies and emergency equipment. I’m considering a drill–living without power/gas/water for a few days to see what we can improve.

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Prepper Cat

I predict we might just have a new internet meme here: please say hello to Prepper Cat. The image comes from an outfit selling a “Cat Evacuation Kit.” Prepper Cat looks crabby enough to be on an episode of Doomsday Preppers.

I think it’s a good idea to have a pet evacuation plan. But Prepper Cat looks like he might just be a feline mall ninja.

Thanks to John Zapf for the link.

How To Dry Food With the Sun

Drying Apricots in Southern California–early 20th century style.

Dehydration is one of my favorite food preservation techniques. Drying food concentrates flavor and is a traditional technique in our Mediterranean climate. Best of all, drying food is one of the best applications for low-tech solar power. In many places, you can simply set food out under cheesecloth to dry in the sun.

But there’s a catch to sun drying: humidity. Food dries best when temperatures are above 85º F and below 60% humidity. If you live in a desert, humidity isn’t a problem. But in most other places in North America it’s simply too moist to set food out under the sun. It will rot before it dries. In Los Angeles, due to the influence of the ocean, it’s slightly too humid most of the year for sun drying to work well.

But there’s an easy way to overcome humidity: convection, i.e. hot air rises. Most solar dehydrators take advantage of the passive movement of hot air to lower humidity enough to dry food. Here’s a couple of solar dehydrators that harness this simple principle to dry food without electricity:

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Doomsday Preppers: Exploitative, Uninteresting, Unreal “Reality”

Doomsday Preppers, a series on the National Geographic channel, is part of a cloud of meaningless cable drivel that envelopes our national psyche like the smog that hangs over Los Angeles. In many ways Doomsday Preppers is indistinguishable from countless other low rent reality TV shows. Does anyone really sit down and watch this endless parade of house flippers, dance moms and custom motorcycle enthusiasts? Or is it all a kind of background, tranquilizing, electronic wallpaper?

I bring up Doomsday Preppers because many of its subjects are engaged in precisely the types of activities we write about on this blog and in our books: growing food, keeping livestock, building solar ovens, preserving food etc. And I finally got a chance to see the first episode and a few segments from later shows.

Of the three “compounds” profiled in the first episode, the most interesting was the family of Dennis McClung in Mesa, Arizona and the Kobler and Hunt families, who share a rural homestead. McClung has built an amazing tilapia farm in an old swimming pool in their backyard. They also have chickens and goats and have integrated the livestock into the greenhouse/tilapia project. It would have been interesting to see how the system McClung created works as a whole. But the producers were more interested in filming the family putting on gas masks and making duck weed smoothies. The Kobler and Hunt families operate what seems like a pretty normal rural homestead. What is unusual is their social arrangement: two families living together. It would have been interesting to explore that relationship. Instead the producers gave us endless scenes of the family shooting AR-15s.

Memo to the National Geographic folks: the internet has been bringing educational video content into living rooms for many years now, showing us how to actually grow tilapia, keep goats, etc. McClung, in fact, has his own website, gardenpool.org, which shows all the things I wanted to see on the TV show. Doomsday Preppers, on the other hand, has no redeeming educational content.

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Disconnect to Reconnect: Ditching the “Flushie” for a Composting Toilet

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

We’re lucky to have another guest post by Nancy Klehm (see a nice interview with her on foraging here). Nancy visits us at the Root Simple compound at least once a year. What follows is an account of a plumbing misadventure she had on her last visit. 

To give you some context, ever since we’ve remodeled our bathroom and switched to a low-flow toilet we’ve had periodic backups. We think there is a low spot just within reach of our turlet snake. The toilet flushes OK most of the time, but at least once a week I’ve got to deploy that damn snake.

Here’s Nancy:

I don’t use a flushie often, I made the decision to ‘go dry’ years ago, adopting the bucket toilet + sawdust system as it pairs nicely with my composting obsession and food growing habit.

I stayed at Erik and Kelly’s back in February. Their low flush toilet and antique piping can’t seem to handle even the most modest bodily donation. Once a flushing attempt proves unsuccessful, and immediately following the ‘oh no…’ guilty grimace, a light-hearted blame game plays out and then according to homestead rules, Erik snakes the toilet. The closet augur is kept on the front porch (to greet visitors?). Erik augers for a few minutes, flushes successfully, marches the tool back outside to air out and we settle back into our routines relieved that our burdens are flowing into the larger mystery of pipes and their soupy contents to the municipal waste treatment plant miles away.

But with Erik and Kelly out of town on one of the weekends during my stay, the daily chores of feeding the kittens, letting out the single hen to roam the yard and snaking, if so needed, fell on me. And yes, the toilet clogged and no, I did not assume the blame. I am regular enough (2-3x/day) as are Erik and Kelly for the record [editor’s note: the editors demur from either acknowledging or disavowing the hypothetical frequency of their natural propensities.] to avoid creating such monsters and yet, the flushie needs snaking every day soon after the post-caffeine effect.

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