jump to navigation

Hoarding for the apocalypse. October 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. I saw a headline on the Yahoo! home page yesterday about the 36 items you need to hoard against an economic breakdown, or some such thing. Admittedly, since it was one of those one-by-one slideshows rather than a simple list, and I didn’t have time to spare, I didn’t read it. But this is a topic our friend Ben and I think about a lot. So of course last night I was lying in bed thinking about the most essential items to have on hand in case you couldn’t get to the store for a while, or if you did, the shelves would be stripped bare. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Toilet paper. This always heads our list of necessities. Our ancestors used dishcloths instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex, and cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. If we had to, we could, too, which is why OFB and I keep a supply of each of these on hand. But toilet paper? What would you use instead of toilet paper?! Wrapped in its original packaging, toilet paper will keep practically forever (as long as it’s kept dry). The issue here is space; toilet paper takes up a lot of it. 

2. Soap. Our ancestors used soap to bathe, as shampoo, as laundry detergent, and as dishwashing liquid. Their hair might not have been as glossy or their clothes as fresh as ours, but simple bar soap did the trick. Bar soap keeps forever and takes up remarkably little space. Investing in an assortment of laundry soaps (like Fels-Naptha), bathing/deodorant soaps (like Dial), kitchen soaps (try a French-milled dish soap), and all-purpose soaps (such as a glycerine or olive-oil-based soap) could pay off if you were abruptly cut off from access to our usual array of specialty products.

3. Toiletries. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash. Nail scissors, emory boards, nail clippers, orangewood sticks, tweezers. Q-Tips and cotton balls. Deodorant and lotion. Hair ties. Vitamins. Aspirin. Bandages. If all the stores shut down, would you have enough to survive for a month? For a year? OFB and I believe that all of us should keep a year’s supply of these necessities on hand, along with a comprehensive first-aid kit that contains sting and dental kits along with allergy relief like Benadryl. And if you wear glasses or contacts, extra pairs, contacts, saline solution, and the like are a must.

4. Backups. We’re firm believers in everything from extra pillows and blankets to extra pillowcases and sheets, towels and washrags, tee-shirts, socks, jackets, shoes, jeans, sweaters, gloves, boots, earmuffs, hats, you name it. If you use it or wear it, you should have more of it. What if you can’t get more and yours wears out? What if it’s really cold inside and an extra blanket or comforter or two would mean that you could still get a good night’s sleep? Solar technology has transformed devices from calculators to radios and flashlights to smartphone and computer chargers. Wouldn’t it pay to invest in a few? Seems like cheap insurance to us. 

5. Meds. OFB and I are lucky: Vitamins and aspirin pretty much do it for us, and we can buy those in unlimited quantities if we need to stock up. But what if you need a prescription drug to survive? We don’t really have an answer here, since it seems to us that doctors are very reluctant to prescribe on a more than month-to-month basis, for whatever reason. If anybody out there’s had luck getting a longterm prescription, please share your secrets of success!

6. Heat and cooking. In much of the U.S., staying tolerably warm in winter would become a major challenge  if conventional sources of heating, such as electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy broke down. The same would be true of cooking. Getting an efficient woodburning stove and an ample supply of cut and cured wood might mean the difference between staying marginally warm and freezing. On a sunny property, solar energy could heat a house and its water supply. Solar stoves can be as simple as an aluminum-foil-lined box or as complex as a high-end array, but they allow people to cook without a heat source other than the sun.  

7. Water. City dwellers may only think of water in terms of their monthly water bill. Water and sewer are one of those things that happen, and will always happen, automatically no matter what. Not so for those of us who depend on wells and septic systems. The second the electricity fails, we have no light, no internet, no water, no plumbing, no heat, no cooking, no nothing. If the electricity were to go down for an extended period, we would be driven to using the chamber pots of the 18th century and hauling water from the nearest creek or pond. Those who can afford non-electric composting toilets or whose communities still allow outhouses, go for it! Those of us who are fortunate enough to have propane (gas) stoves know that a match will give us hot food even when our electric stove starters fail (as will a woodstove, even if it’s a simple heating unit, as long as you have plenty of dry wood stored), but the same is not true of water. Storing water for drinking, water for flushing, and water for washing is essential for emergency survival.

8. Food supplies. If you have a reliable source of heat for cooking and water for hydrating, storing dry staples like beans, peas, lentils, pasta, popcorn, grits, cornmeal, and flour is a very smart idea. (Unfortunately, denatured flours and etc. like unbleached white flour will keep longer than whole-grain flours, so stock up on those vitamins.) Include lots of foods that add flavor and pleasure, not to mention concentrated nutrition. You can find dehydrated butter and cheese in powder form along with powdered milk. Don’t forget nuts and cooking oils, vinegars, condiments like mustard and ketchup, and a wide array of dried herbs and spices, as well as plenty of pepper and salt. We like RealSalt, Herbamare (herbed salt), and Trocamare (hot herbed salt).

Our friend Ben’s parents had a bomb shelter when he was a very young child, and he and his siblings loved to play pioneer in its alien confines, surrounded by bags of dried peas and jars of peanut butter. Having never eaten a pea, much less a dried pea, in his life, OFB was fascinated by this futuristic food, which brings up another important point: Learn to make good food with staples before you have to, and make sure your family will enjoy what you make. It will be hard enough to endure the inevitable deprivations of a crisis without being subjected to bizarre, tasteless foods you all hate. 

If, like us, you might find yourself without the means to reliably heat food, canned food can be an excellent storage option. You can open and eat canned beans, baked beans, corn, and the like straight from the can. Add some jarred salsa and a handful of tortilla chips, and you have a meal. (Shredded cheese and sour cream, plus hot sauce and/or pickled jalapenos, certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.) Those jars of peanut butter from OFB’s youth are a great source of calories and protein; pair them with your favorite crackers and keep those crackers in a sealed container to keep them fresh as long as possible. Dried pasta and cans or jars of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, puree, and the like can quickly make a spaghetti supper, and onions, garlic, mushrooms, cheese, herbs, and spices can make it a family favorite. 

Apples, pears, potatoes, and sweet potatoes all keep well in cold storage; so do winter squash, onions, garlic, cabbages, and Brussels sprouts. Turnips, broccoli, kale, and winter radishes are also reliable cold-weather crops. Dried fruit and high-protein, high-cal snacks like roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds are excellent additions to salads and cheese and fruit plates. 

In short, learn which foods keep well, how to use them to make food your family will enjoy, and how to combine them to balance your nutritional needs. You don’t need to build a bunker full of military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to survive a shortfall. But it will help if you have a pantry or larder stocked with long-lasting foods you can rely on, a couple of cookbooks devoted to cooking with storage foods, and a few reliable field guides to wildcrafting, aka supplementing your storage staples with locally available fresh greens and foods like wild mushrooms, poke greens, lamb’s-quarters, chickweed, amaranth, watercress, sorrel, purslane, ramps, even kudzu. 

9. Grow your own. You don’t need a farm to supply your family with food. A small raised bed or two, a few containers, some tomato cages, and you’re set!  You might choose to build a greenhouse for year-round food production rather than investing in a pool and hot tub, or pass up the latest prestigious landscaping trend in favor of a grape arbor, strawberry bed, raspberry trellis, chicken coop, blueberry bushes, or fruit trees. The important thing here is to know that raising your own food is work, time-consuming work, and it’s important to learn how to grow the crops you want, how to harvest them, and how to preserve them by canning, pickling, and drying (the three low-tech preserving techniques that will hold up if the electricity goes out).

10. Don’t forget Fido. Hard times aren’t just hard for you, they’re hard for your pets. Make sure you have plenty of pet food, treats, and toys on hand for your dogs, cats, birds and etc. Stock up on flea and heartworm preventives. And if your dog or cat is suffering from an illness, make sure you stockpile meds for them just as you would for any family member.

Last, but by no means least:

11. Make lots of local friends. This tip should probably be first, since it could save your life. By befriending your neighbors, you’re investing in priceless life insurance. You give eggs, fresh veggies, and home-canned goods to your neighbors. In return, they keep an eye on your property, drop in with home-baked treats, recommend reliable folks who can do specialized chores that are beyond your abilities (cheap), and make sure you know if anything unusual is happening in the neighborhood. This is how people have always survived. This is how we can survive now.

What are your best tips for being prepared?

           ‘Til next time,