Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Can I Plant Anything During the Winter?

When you see the term “winter crops,” what this refers to is actually crops that can be harvested, not sown, in the winter. I realize this terminology can be a bit misleading. If you were to google “winter crops” in hopes of finding some things that you can plant right now, your search would actually reveal a list of things that you probably should have planted 3 months ago.

Depending on where you live, there are some things that you can actually plant during the winter. Now if you live in Wyoming, obviously your ground is frozen rock hard right now and you’ll need to stay inside with some hot tea before you are able to get your hands dirty out in your garden. If you live in a cold climate and wish to grow food during the winter, you may want to explore indoor container gardening, or gardening in a greenhouse. A row of herbs in pots on a windowsill can grow well, even in the winter. But if you live in a warm climate, such as zone 9 or 10, you have a good variety of options.

Check out this graph at Digital Gardener, for example. It reveals that there are several different crops that can be planted in Southern California in December, such as beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, radishes, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips.

Now if you do not live in a warm climate, now is the time to let your garden hibernate, and perhaps focus on different activities within your garden other than sowing seeds. One that I particularly enjoy is filling all of my bird feeders and watching birds flock to my garden. For the winter I like to use nyjer seeds, which are high in calories and help birds to stay full during these times when food is scarce.

Winter is also the time when I concentrate on maintenance. I will take the time to make sure that all of my tools are clean and oiled. I will continue to check my garden for rotted plants and pests. I will also continue to add compost to my compost heap, and turn it regularly.

The first winter planting that I will do will be around February, and that will be when I plant lettuce. Now I now you are thinking, “didn’t you just plant lettuce in August?” Yes, I did. But that is the great thing about lettuce. Alth0ugh you cannot can or pickle it, it is a cool season crop. So if you plan it correctly, you can have fresh lettuce practically all year. Lettuce seedlings cannot handle a hard freeze, but they can handle a light frost. Ideally, high temps should be around 60 and low temps should be around 40 when you plant lettuce seeds. So depending on where you live, this could be as early as January or as late as March.

Regardless of the climate in which you live, December is a great time of year to start planning for spring planting. Take inventory of your seeds. Organize an heirloom seed swap with other local gardeners. Map out your spring garden, and decide what you want to plant where. Make lists of any new tools you will need to purchase before prime planting season begins, such as a rain barrel or a new hose. Start preparing to plant any bulbs you have that must go through a cold germination process. This way, you will be well prepared and ready to begin when prime planting season begins.


The Secret Life of White Vinegar

If there is one liquid that you should keep bottled in your survival food cache, make it white vinegar… Okay, wait. I take that back. If there is one liquid you should keep in your survival food cache, it is water. But if there is a second liquid you keep, make it white vinegar. With all of the sophisticated, high-tech products that are on the market today it is amazing to think that white vinegar, something that was discovered about 10,000 years ago, is better at many tasks than all of these products. Here are just some of the many uses for white vinegar.

Safe cleaning agent- White vinegar can be used to clean many things: no-wax floors, bathtubs, coffee pots, soiled fabrics, leather shoes, toilet bowls, stainless steel appliances and just about anything else you can think of can be safely cleaned with white vinegar.

Bug deterrent- If ants, fruit flies, or gnats threaten to invade your survival food storage area, wipe down your shelves with white vinegar.

Hand deodorizer- White vinegar will remove the smell of onion, garlic, and other stinky things from your hands. Just rub white vinegar into your hands, then rinse them with soap and water.

Weed killer- Distilled white vinegar can be sprayed on weeds full-strength to kill them.

Prevent frost on windows- When you expect frost, wipe down your car windows with one part water to three parts white vinegar. This will prevent them from frosting over.

Remove scorch marks- Remove scorch marks from the bottom of a teapot or an iron plate by wiping it with a cloth dampened with white vinegar.

Getting to the last drops- When you can’t reach the bit of salad dressing of mayonnaise at the bottom of the jar, pour in a little bit of vinegar, shake it around, then pour out the mayo.

Boiling eggs- If you are boiling eggs and a shell breaks, add some white vinegar to the boiling water. This will prevent the egg white from running out into the water.

Cooking fish- Try soaking any kind of fish in vinegar before cooking it. It will cause the fish to be nice and tender, and hold its shape well while cooking.

Freshen eggies- If your greens are slightly wilted, soak them in a mixture of white vinegar and cold water to perk them up.

Clean inorganic veggies- Pesticides don’t come off in plain water. But vinegar gets the chemicals off. Soak inorganic fruits and vegetables in a sink full of cold water and vinegar, then give everything a rinse in clean water.

Rid your house of stinky cooking smells- Let a pot of white vinegar and water simmer on your stove to neutralize any unpleasant odors.

Tenderize tough meat or game- Rub the meat with a mixture of oil and vinegar, then let the meat stand for two hours before cooking it.

Fluffy, stick-free rice- Add a teaspoon of vinegar to water before boiling rice in order to keep the rice kernels from sticking together.

Flavor Booster- Boost the flavor of your favorite gravy or marinade by adding a teaspoon of white vinegar.

Treat a cold sore- Dab white vinegar onto a cold sore with a cotton swab. The vinegar will help to dry up and heal the sore.

Winter Is Upon Us


With the first official day of winter quickly creeping up on us, I am reminded of the conditions that arrived with winter just one year ago. Remember seeing lots of newspaper titles such as Florida Freeze To Push Up Produce Prices, Florida Freeze Cuts Produce Supply, Sends Prices Higher and Bad Weather Causes Wholesale Prices… To Shoot Up?

On February 14, 2010, a total of 49 states in the United States received some measure of snow. The only one that did not is Hawaii. It seems crazy, but it did happen. And of course, many areas of the country that grow winter crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, citrus, and berries were entirely unprepared for this.

If you don’t remember the news about the terrible weather last year, perhaps you remember the strain on your wallet that was caused by high fruit and vegetable costs. Or the fact that restaurants all over the country found themselves rearranging their menus to exclude tomatoes, one of the most effected crops, from their menus. This is just one example of how vulnerable food and food prices are to inclement weather. Sure, it doesn’t snow that often in Florida. But as we learned last year, that doesn’t mean that it won’t.

This month, we’ve already seen a major cold snap all across the country. Here in Norfolk, we’ve been fortunate. The average temperatures lately have been highs in the 30s and 40s, and lows in the 20s- nothing extreme. But interestingly, many areas south of us, such as North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, have all experienced unusually cold weather lately. And yes, you are bound to see this reflected in your food prices.

Other areas of the country, such as Cleveland Ohio, have already received inches of snow. Some people were stranded in the cars on the highway for hours when a whiteout occurred. This is a powerful reminder that we are very vulnerable to weather. There is quite literally nothing we can do to stop or change a snowstorm when it is headed our way.

So what is the point that I am trying to make here? The point is preparation, of course. If the entire tomato crop of Florida is ruined again this year, and you have a stock of home grown canned tomatoes in your basement, then clearly this will not affect you. If you experience a terrible blizzard that leaves you and your family housebound for 4 days, don’t you want to have a fully stocked pantry of fresh, healthy foods? A survival food supply is crucial at any time of the year. This is simply a seasonal reminder that we, as humble human beings on this earth, are very vulnerable. The best thing we can do to protect ourselves is to be prepared.

What Foods To Store, Food Storage Part II

You already know that I am a huge advocate of growing my own food and living a self-sufficient lifestyle. But there are some things that I simply cannot grow myself, and have purchased in chain stores to add to my survival food supply. Here are 4 staples that I have stored, and that you should store too.

What Food to Store

*Honey- Honey has an indefinite shelf life, meaning that although it may harden a bit, it will never spoil. Honey is an invaluable survival resource because even though we may just use it as a sweetener, it is extremely beneficial to our health. Local honey can be used to fight seasonal allergies. It is filled with beneficial microbes and possesses antibacterial properties, which make it good for a variety of topical uses such as treating burns, cuts, abrasions, and bacterial infections such as pink eye. Overall, it is a superfood that is delicious and dense with beneficial properties. Generally speaking, I use food grade plastic buckets to store food, as I discussed in Food Storage Part I. Because of honey’s consistency, it also does well in glass jars. Aim to store about 10 pounds of honey per person in your family. One important note to remember is that honey should not be given to children under the age of 1 year.

*Salt-  Yes, salt is a popular seasoning. But more importantly to your survival food supply, it may also be used to dry and preserve a variety of meats and other animal products. Lest we forget, salt is also a mineral that is essential to human health. With a lack of salt in the diet, you may experience iodine deficiency, which leads to symptoms of muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Some salt may be naturally found in beets, carrots, seafood, and poultry. But with a lack of these elements in your diet, as well as a lack of processed foods, you may need to supplement your diet with salt for survival. Aim to store about 20 pounds of salt per person in your family.

*Wheat- Wheat is essential to the survival diet. If you store it properly (as described in my previous post- in plastic buckets with oxygen packs) it will have a practically indefinite shelf life. It is the grain with the longest shelf life. Wheat may also be easily sprouted in order to provide you with extremely nutritious fresh greens, even in the winter or with a lack of natural sunlight. Some survivalists advocate storing multi-vitamins. I instead advocate sprouting, and eating a small amount of sprouts each day in a survival situation. The sprouts have all the nutrients your body needs, as well as beneficial gastrointestinal healing properties, all in a form that is easy for your body to access and use. Comparatively, most multi vitamins are made from synthetic ingredients you will pretty much just pee out, especially in a situation where you are eating minimal amounts of fat. For wheat, aim to store approximately 400 pounds per person.

*Powdered Milk- Fat free powdered milk has a particularly long shelf life, lasting up to 15 years with little change in its nutritional value. Yes, it does taste a little different from pasteurized grocery store milk, but the taste definitely grows on you. Powdered milk is a valuable resource in that it is a source of many vitamins and nutrients. In fact, if you needed to, you could sustain life for quite some time just by drinking one glass of powdered milk per day. Additionally, powdered milk may be used for cooking and baking. You can find nonfat dry milk, or dry whole milk, either one of which I think is fine. Just make sure you look for dry milk that has been fortified with vitamins A and D, as these are beneficial nutrients. Also make sure that the milk does not contain any artificial colors or flavors. Aim to store 60-75 pounds of powdered milk per person in your family.

Once you have these 4 basics, you can rest easy knowing that you have the essentials. It is a good idea to add other dry good as you are able to, and as you can afford them. Two other basics that I would highly recommend adding are white rice (brown is more nutritious, but white stores better) and dry beans. There are many different varieties of dry beans from which to choose, and a major bonus is that they are quite cheap. For information on the multiple health benefits of beans, check out my blog Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit.

How to Correctly Store Your Food, Food Storage Part I

If you have planted your survival seed bank and begun harvesting your own food, then you are well on your way to self-sufficiency and long-term survival. But obviously, your garden is not going to produce at all times of the year. And when disaster strikes, the garden itself may be destroyed. So if you are not putting food in storage correctly, then you are missing a huge element of emergency planning and survival.

Before I begin to give you the basics, please allow me to say that today I will cover just that: the bare minimum basics. In order for you to learn the right way to store your food, you should definitely consider ordering the DVD set Food Storage Secrets. These 2 DVDs contain everything that you need to know in terms of survival food storage. The information contained in these DVDs will allow you to not only store food to keep your family alive in a crisis situation, but it will allow you to store food that tastes good. Really good. When you can vegetables, fruits, and meats using the methods described in these DVDs, they will taste even better than store-bought products. So these DVDs are a really valuable guide. Again, I would encourage you to order Food Storage Secrets today.

Now, on to the basics.

How to Store Food

*Plastic buckets- Generally speaking, I use food grade plastic buckets to store all my dry goods. There is some controversy over whether plastic can be used to store food long-term. Before purchasing a supply of buckets, contact the manufacturer to ensure that they are intended for food storage and not chemicals or solvents. Restaurants use plastic buckets for food storage all the time, so if you’d like you can even contact a local restaurant to see if you can get some used ones for cheap or free. When filling a plastic bucket with dry goods, such as wheat, rice, or beans, stop periodically and gently shake the bucket to get the contents to settle. Fill it all the way up to within 1/2 inch of the top of the bucket. This will reduce the amount of air that stays in the bucket, and reduce your chances of spoilage.

*Oxygen absorbers- Before you start storing food, you should definitely order some oxygen absorbers. You can get 500 of them for just about 15 bucks. I place 3 or 4 of these in each 5-gallon plastic bucket that I use for dry goods. These are extremely useful, since foods that are stored without oxygen last much longer. The trick in to place the oxygen absorbers in the bucket on top of the food, then quickly nail on the lid with a rubber mallet to create a tight, leak-free seal and a partial vacuum. This leaves the food in an atmosphere of 99% pure nitrogen. A tip to getting your oxygen absorbers to last a long time before using them is to store them appropriately. Remember that once you open the package, they will start to absorb oxygen around them right away. Keep your unused oxygen absorbers in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

*Glass jars- For fruits and vegetables, you really can’t beat old fashioned canning in glass jars. Glass jars are cheap to buy, and easy to use and sterilize. You can refer to my blog A Good Reason To Can Your Own Vegetables  for links to sites that will guide you through your first canning experience. Once you have done it a few times, you will have committed the process to memory. You may find instructions online for refrigerator pickles, such as in my Lacto-Fermentation blog. It is important to note that these methods are for quick consumption, not long-term storage. Fruits and vegetables that you will to store for long periods of time must be canned using a heat process, or dried and vacuum packed.