The Responsible Survivialist

Like a NewFather
April 26, 2010, 2:43 am
Filed under: Gardening

I was a bit worried about my potatoes. I had planted them and for a few weeks now, nothing. You can imagine my happiness when I went out today and discovered this

first potato

Looking carefully around I discovered a few more, just poking their first leaves to the sky. Guess there was an upside to the big down pour over the weekend.

Go girls!!!


Storm Clouds
April 25, 2010, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Being Prepared, Community

Somehow as I was growing up, I acquired a love of books. Perhaps a good teacher or a nudge here and there from my parents, but I’ve always enjoyed reading.

One of my favorite genres is science fiction. Ever since I was very young and we were living in Florida as my Father worked in the early Space Program. Many a pleasant evening over my lifetime has been spent with my feet up and a cup of warm coffee at my arm, as I devour a new paperback from a favorite writer or some new author whose book cover caught my eye.

Along with reading it, I attend science fiction conventions when I can.

Back in the 80s when I first discovered this fun way to spend a weekend, it was perhaps 5-6 conventions a year, across the Midwest. Now its down to one or two, time and money both keep me local. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t attended a convention, the excitement you can get in a building with several thousand like minded people.

Or maybe not…

I was attending one yesterday in Collinsville, Illinois, about ten miles East of downtown Saint Louis when Mother Nature decided to drop by as well for a quick visit.

Not quite as bad as the recent Icelandic volcano but still eventful for those of us there at the time.

Thunderstorms had been predicted for the past few days so the black clouds in the sky weren’t unexpected though we had very little rain during the day. Around 6pm I was in a seat watching the Masquerade (think a costume contest but with a sci-fi theme) and enjoying myself rather well.

This convention was primarily about Video Games and Japanese Anime (cartoons for the uninformed), so most of the contestants were in their teens or early twenties and had all the energy and enthusiasm that comes with that state. The costumes weren’t as elaborate as I see at some of the other conventions, often times the props were crudely rendered on cardboard scrounged from boxes, still their lack of skill at making their costumes was compensated by the sheer fun they were having on stage.

Then these words came over the public address system of the convention center.

“They have issued a Tornado Alert for our area and we are asking everyone to move to the shelter immediately!”

Now here in Saint Louis, we get several Warnings each year as storm fronts move through the area but an Alert means that a tornado has actually been spotted in your immediate area. Dangerous enough when you are in a normal house or home but in a building with huge glass windows as the convention center was, doubly dangerous. Everyone was calm as we filed into the shelter area, in this case the back service corridors.

I should mention that half of the convention center was being rented by a Regional Dance Competition, so there we were, young teenagers dressed up like their favorite anime character, side by side with other teenagers wearing sequins and spandex.

People quietly talked with strangers who were getting information on their phones from friends or family members to the West of us and in the storm at the moment. Others used their phones to pull up Internet feeds of dopler radar images from the local television stations. Some stood patiently in line to use one of the two available restrooms

Most though just sat there on the floor quietly waiting. I doubt that more than one or two of the thousand plus people there had had to huddle in their basements in a similar situation, so we waited with some apprehension knowing that we all could soon be injured or worse.

About half an hour after the initial announcement, the All Clear was given. We came out not knowing what awaited us. Luckily we had no damage there but I heard later a tornado had touched down and destroyed several building.

As we took our seats again to watch the rest of the Masquerade, I couldn’t help thinking that while we here on this blog prepare for the days to come of world of scarce resources and crazy climate, its still the normal day to day dangers that we need to prepare for the most.

How I Build Raised Beds
April 19, 2010, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Gardening

I had a chance to start the third raised bed today. I had to, the seeds I planted last week came up with a vengeance and I don’t expect I can keep them inside as long as I had planned.

On another website I had a question on how I built the beds, so while I worked, I kept the camera ready and took a few photos. Here’s how I do it…

First, clear away the grass from the area you’re going to use. I prefer using a flat blade shovel. It lets me slice under the grass, taking off just the top inch or so of soil. Use the blade to cut the ground into blade size chunks then push the blade under the edge and gentle wiggle it back and forth while pushing with your foot.

bed building first step

(This was taken a bit later in the process, since you can see the first two blocks are already laid. I just forgot to get a good shot of this, so I took it when I remembered I needed it.)

Second, once you have the beginning area cleared of grass, dig down to the depth you want your blocks planted. I go down about 2 inches. Scrape away the soil until its nearly level. Then take your shovel and lightly break up about 1/4 of an inch of soil where you will be laying the side blocks.

bed building second step

Then, using one of the blocks, tamp the soil down. Try to keep the area level.

bed building third step

Third, place the first block. You can use a carpenter’s level if you want but I just eyeball it to see that its straight. Then add the second block. If there is a gap at the bottom where they join, the far end of the ground is high. Remove the block and use it to tamp down the ground more.

If there is a gap at the top, then the ground is low. Remove the block, add a small amount of loose dirt, tamp it down and replace the block.

bed building fourth step

Fourth, remove the grass from an area about 24″ long and as wide as your ends. Dig down and repeat the step for place a block on the back side of the bed, in my case the one against the fence.

bed building fifth step

Once you have the block in place, begin to break up the ground inside of the bed as deep as you can. in my case it’s the depth of the shovel blade, or about 6-8 inches. What you are doing is making the soil loose and easy for the plants’ roots to get through and establish themselves.

Leave an area in front where the next block will go.

bed building sixth step

Its up to you whether you want to add compose at this point. I didn’t partly to save money but then I’m also going to be adding a few inches of compost rich medium in the bed as well as planting each vegetable in a hole full of compost to help it get started and grow.

Fifth, continue to remove the grass, this time back about another 18 inches. Once you have, repeat the steps and place the next rear block in the ground, then the first front block.

I toss the loosened earth into the space between the blocks. Go ahead and pile it to the top, you’ll have a chance to level it out once you finish.

bed building seventh step

Finally, just keep doing those steps until you reach the length of bed you want.

bed building eighth step

I had to stop at that point for a lunch meeting with a friend. I will post a few more pictures once i get this bed completed.


By the way, here’s a picture of the seeds. I’ve never planted cucumbers before but WOW those seeds sprout quickly and grow like they are on steroids.

cucumber seedlings three days

These are almost 2 inches high after only 4 days, the first 2 with no light on them. For some reason the peppers, spinach and okra haven’t come up yet. The tomatoes are all sprouting, as are the lettuce and broccoli.

I might have over planted. Where my commercially bought seeds had a good portion not germinate, the ones from Seed Savers are great. Almost every one so far has sprouted. I’m going to have to build some apartment pots for some of my friends, say tomatoes, peppers and such and give them as late Spring gifts. I’d hate to just kill the seedlings that have come up and are extra.

I’m also going to have to watch the squirrels and rabbits I think. I left the seed starter kits out while I went to lunch and when I came back there was a squirrel in the yard. I found out the furry pest had eaten one corn seedling, and nibbled on the leaves of two sunflower seedlings. The sunflowers are ok enough to leave but the corn is toast. I’ll have to consider fencing around the beds now. Having the wild life eat a few leaves when I have full size plants is ok with me, giving something back to Nature, but having them eat my entire garden while its small beginning plants is not.

The next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, I work. If it doesn’t rain on Friday, which the weather forecast predicts, then I’ll post more pictures when I finish up.

A Productive Week In The Garden
April 11, 2010, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Gardening

We had a very good week in getting this year’s garden ready.

Just as background for the readership, I work a non-normal work schedule in that, one week I work Monday and Tuesday, then Friday and Saturday. Then the next week, I just work Wednesday and Thursday. It’s basically two days on, two days off, and no work on Sundays, though when we get busy if your work Saturday, then you usually work Sunday too. This seems short but we work 12 hour shifts, so we get 36 hour paychecks. Hard when I first started with them and was getting only $8 an hour, livable now that the company has bumped me a few dollars higher.

While this week was one where I just worked Monday and Tuesday, we didn’t work Sunday, so I had a three day weekend with temperatures just nudging 80, and sunny, and then two days later, still mild and sunny, where I could get started putting in the raised beds in the side of the house for the garden.

Raised Beds:

I decided on using raised beds early, primarily because we use outside lawn care and without some sort of border, any young plants might easily be mistake for weeds and wacked down with the weed eater. Happens at my sisters all the time. She has ornamental plants along her driveway that the neighbor’s lawn guy mows over every time he comes by.

At first I planned on using wood to build them but as I did some research I found that most people don’t recommend using pressure treated wood in vegetable gardens due to the possibility of chemical leeching out and into the plants. Untreated wood can warp due to moisture and Missouri gets alot of that in the form of rain during the Spring, which means I would be replacing a portion of my beds next year.

Luckily on a trip to Home Depot last month to replace the wall of my sister’s shower, I ran across a landscaping stone called a “medium weight block“. It’s concrete and the same dimensions as a regular cinder block, but only half as thick at 4”. Priced a little less than a dollar a piece, the math works out to less than $20 for a 2×10′ bed. Very reasonable price wise. Wood would have run twice that.

Here is the first bed in the ground.

first raised bed in the ground

Along with being inert and no problems with chemicals, these blocks offer a couple of additional advantages.

First they are heavy and don’t require staking or mortaring together. You can place them in the ground a couple of inches deep, as I did and then just fill the bed. They have enough mass not to move outward.

Secondly, as Bierbrauer over on the Zombie Squad Forum suggested, you can use the holes in the blocks for planting too.

This is helpful in several ways.

Many of the vegetables I’m planting need bees or other wild pollinators. Planting flowers in the border attracts them to the garden. and it looks good too.

Also, having a plantable border allows you to use companion plants for natural pest control. This is a technique used for centuries where certain plants attract the insects which can damage your vegetables. Planting them in close proximity means the companion plant suffers, not your crop.

A nice thing is, they are much more attractive than bare ground gardening. A plus considering I’m a renter. Perhaps like a few our the readership. True I have a very good relationship with my landlord. He is a long time friend of the family. Still a landlord will be mindful of anything you do that might affect the rentablity of his property.

BTW that’s my potato bin in the background.

Potato Bin:

One of the things I’m trying this year is the vertical potato planting method that Sinfonian used on his garden HERE.

Most people plant potatoes in their garden and then wait for the roots at season’s end. Vertical bin growing, like Sinfonian used takes a different approach. When each plant grows to 4-6 inches, you bury all but the top inch in dirt. This kills the leaves and causes the shaft to instead form roots, which then produce tubers.

Keep at it until the season ends and the plant dies. Then lay down a tarp, unscrew the boards on the front and carefully pull your potatoes from the dirt. Store and eat later.

potato bin

As you can see in the construction of the bin. The boards are screwed to the vertical posts. Each time the plants grow taller than the next board, you bury them. With luck you will get to the top of the vertical posts before the season ends.

I’ve gone with a rather modest 2×4′ bin since it is the first year I’m trying this. If its successful I may add one or two more bins with different species. Potatoes are subject to a blight which can carry over to the next year’s crop, if you are re-seeding from the previous harvest.

Here’s the second bed in:

second raised bed

It’s three feet longer than the first, and is where I plan to plant my leafy stuff. Lettuce, broccoli and spinach with okra and cucumbers growing up a trestle on the wall. All totaled I plan for five beds. One more along the fence line, toward us in camera, then two on the cross fence at the gate.

The planters you see in the bed is because we are forecasted for a thunder storm tomorrow and my Moringa seedlings are still sensitive to alot of wind. I put them there for some protection. I’ll move them back out when the storm passes. They grew a bit lanky and tall at the start because I didn’t providing enough light when they germinated.

Moringa Update:

I lost three of the seedlings this week when one of the two lights dropped down and laid on them for a few hours. Didn’t see it until I got home. I’m going to reseed those.

moringa seedlings at two weeks

The four late sprouting seedlings, now with two lights on them, are more bushy and lower to the ground. Those are the four to the left. The first three to sprout, those on the right, I put into a single pot together and will harvest them early to try Moringa horseradish sauce. Of the original 11, now nine, I’ve given four away to a friend and to Joyce, my neighbor. Her seedlings are in the two round pots you see in the earlier photo.

First Seeds Started:

I got the first batch of seeds started in the starter sets this week. I wanted to get the corn and the sunflowers started especially, since they need to be 4-6″ before I start the beans. Remember, the “Three Sisters” method uses a three step seeding, where first the corn goes in, then two weeks later the beans, then two more, the squash.

first batch of seeds in starters

The corn is in the peat pots in the middle, 18 total which will give me 4-5 per mound. That was all the pots I had available. I may interspace the seedlings with fresh seeds once I plant them. that would give me two teers of corn at different heights and maturing dates.

I also started the Steva in the other six peat pots to the right. Since they will be going into hanging baskets I put 6-7 seeds in each pot, spaced around. The seeds are incredibly tiny. That will make it interesting in the Fall when I go to harvest seeds. Seed Savers does put the instruction for how to harvest, on the back of each seed packet.

In addition, I started the three tomato varieties, the peppers, and the greens going into the wall bed, which is the lettuce, the spinach, the broccoli, the orka and the cucumbers. I seeded ten cells for each because I expect for a few not to sprout. 2-3 out of 10 is about what I’ve gotten in the past from commercial packets I bought at Home Depot. Hopefully these will have a better rate.

By the way, check out the size of the sunflower seeds!

big sunflowers

More next week…

Bad Water to Good Water
April 6, 2010, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Survival Skills, Water

You don’t have to be an unemployed fisherman in a village around the Aral Sea to face a situation where the water available is not drinkable. Every year communities across the US are faced with having to issue “boil notices” to their residents when their drinking water is contaminated, due to flooding, water main break or any of the other things that can foul the water supply. These instances will only increase as governments lack the funds to keep up need infrastructure. Expect to see it in your own area some day.

Do you know what to do in that case? A Responsible Survivialist knows to have a supply of water stored for emergencies, but suppose you’re visiting old Uncle Bob and Aunt Bernice for the weekend. Other than a trip to the local supermarket and a shopping cart full of bottled water, I mean, where most of the rest of the town will be headed as well.

Can you turn bad water into something you and your family can drink? If you don’t, let’s review the basics of water purification…


Clean the Containers:
First, what you want to do in an emergency, where you need to turn bad water into something you can drink is to get something to hold your purified water in.

If it is something as mundane as a water main break where the water coming from the tap is questionable, then you’ll have large pots or pitchers in your cabinets you can use. These will be clean and may only require a wipe to remove dust.

Used soda bottles are ok if rinsed well. Don’t though pour out the soda just to store water in it. Drink it first. An average adult loses 2-3 quarts of water a day from sweat or urination and much of the replacement comes from sources you might not think of as water. Food accounts for almost half of our water intake, the rest being from what we drink.

Don’t use milk jugs or containers that have had fruit juice in them. Trace amounts of both remain in the containers and will cause bacterial growth which will re-contaminate the water making it unfit to drink.

Use dish soap and water, rinse the containers inside and out, then dip them in a solution of one teaspoon of unscented household beach per quart or liter of water. Be sure to keep the container submerged for at least 15 second to kill any germs present. You can then rinse again with a weaker solution to remove traces of the stronger solution to cut down on any lingering taste or you can just let it air dry and get a bit more protection.

But how much water is in say the kitchen sink where most of us will be rinsing the containers? Here is a quick way to figure it up.

My sink is 20×15 by 6″ deep. To find the volume, multiply those three numbers together to come up with the total cubic inches that the sink would contain (20x15x6 = 1800 cubic inches), then multiply this by 0.0173. In my case, my sink holds about 31 quarts or 7.8 gallons. I would then add 8 teaspoons of bleach to a full sink.

Of course that’s a lot of water, that has to have been pure to start, right?

Short answer, No.

If the water coming out of the facet is bad, you can fill up the sink with the water and then use the bleach to purify it first, then use that water to clean the containers. Normally you would use just 2 drops of bleach per quart or liter (a teaspoon holds 64 drops), so the larger amount will purify it. It won’t be very nice to drink though with all that bleach.

One thing you can do, is use a large cooler for your dip tank and use the water later if needed.

Filter the Water First:
No matter which method you chose to use to remove viruses and bacteria from bad water, it will not remove sediment. If the water is murky you must filter those out first.

One simple method is to cut the bottom off a two liter soda bottle, and then put fabric or cloth in the large end to act as a filter. I have read of using a clean sock or two to do the same. Most tighter weave fabrics will work, the secret is to be sure you don’t have any folds which allow the water to by pass the fabric.

You can also use the filter cup in your coffee maker and several filters. The tight paper will catch most particles. Its slow but effective and most people have a supply of coffee filters on hand.

While you can use one of the filter pitchers that many people have but I prefer to use them on the back end of the purification process, since their filters usually run several dollars a piece. Charcoal filter can remove a large portion of bleach from water and make it much more drinkable. Buy one and several filters and put it with your prep supplies.

Add to that a box of those flavor packets for bottled water you find at stores today. They can help to mask further the bleach smell and taste.

Boiling Water:
One of the easiest of methods, if you have a heat source, is to simply heat the water until it begins to boil, then wait one minute and remove from the heat. Boiling will remove some of the oxygen in the water though and make it taste flat. Once the water has cooled, pour it back and forth between two containers will put oxygen back into it and improve the taste.

(more being added)

How to drain your water heater:

How to wiki:

ZS thread bleach vs chlorine

Water, Water, Everywhere and Nowhere
April 5, 2010, 5:36 pm
Filed under: Climate Change, Future Scenarios

At this moment, rain is coming down hard in my neighborhood, with the occasional sharp crack of lightning to scare the cat. The down spouts of my gutters gushing with water, most washing down the driveway and into the street. One of my “to-do list” items is a rain water barrel for the corner near the garden. Don’t think I’ll get to it until the Fall though.

So, it’s with a bit of sad humor at the rainfall that I sit here reading background articles on the Aral Sea. Perhaps you’ve seen the news reports about U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit there Sunday, touring the area.

If not, then here’s the basic facts.

The Aral Sea is located in Central Asia, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which for most of us who don’t keep up with all the “Stans” means it lies north of the Iranian and Afghanistan border. It was once the fourth largest fresh water body but has since shrunk to 10% of its original size. This is because the Soviets have diverted the water flowing from the two rivers that feed the sea to agriculture. With no water coming in, evaporation did its work. Begun in the 20s but stepped up in the 40s, it did succeed in growing alot of crops but then destroyed the fishing industry of the people who lived on the sea.

the aral sea now and then

While the shrinking of the sea was foreseen by Soviet planners, one of the unplanned on consequences has been that when the water evaporates it leaves behind deposits of salt and toxins from the pollution that plagued the sea. Now winds blow those chemicals into the atmosphere where people breath them.

Many of our water supplies are drying up due to our own actions. Here in the US, the Ogallala Aquifer in the southern high plains (Texas and New Mexico) is being mined at a rate that far exceeds replenishment. 36 states in the U.S. in some form of water stress, from serious to severe.

I’ve said we face a world of the future that will be both hot due to climate change and scarce due to the depletion of needed resources. While I can do without oil if need be, none of us can go for long without water.

The Aral Sea is one of the first casualties of the coming days. I don’t think it will be the last.

abandoned ship in the aral sea

ADDED: I thought this article was a grim reminder of the fact that economic reality doesn’t always mean physical reality.

Water bills go up in down economy as usage drops

You’d think that if you used less of something, your costs would also go down. Not in our world it seems…