I’ve started dehydrating my garden produce again. The first was the fresh green leaves of my Alchemilla plants- so pretty, and definitely edible. They’re in the image featured above the title of this post. I have this fantasy of a row of kilner jars filled with different types of leaves – alchemilla, chives, rosemary, lemon balm, lime, mint, sage, thyme, raspberry and hawthorn – and all but the lime and hawthorn grow in my garden. I’d have flowers in my shortbread and oatcakes and cakes: lavender, rose, rosemary, nasturtium, ox eye daisy, nigella and even garlic. All of those grow in my garden too. The point of this fantasy row of jars is partly to make my own pesto, according to the tastes of the moment, because I just love pesto. I haven’t grown basil, sadly, which is the major part of pesto after all, but I’m still getting my feet under the table with all of this, and with my garden too, so I’ll forgive myself on that score.
have that whole row of jars yet – but I do have dehydrated
alchemilla and rhubarb. In terms of learning lessons, the rhubarb
was very instructive. The “recipe” I read said to blanch it
first for a minute or two, which I did. Then I tried to cut it into
chunks and I was horrified – it had practically disintegrated, it
was impossible to cut. Fresh as a daisy, but as contrary as herding
next few stalks, I blanched for even less time – in fact, I turned
off the gas the moment I put the finger-length tranches into the hot
water. They were much easier to cut into chunks, after a minute or
Except. The stalks that were blanched for the right amount of time dried much better than the briefly blanched, it was weird. For added weirdness, the dehydrator was only about an inch or so from the wall, and I obviously didn’t turn the layers well enough. The produce on the side of the dehydrator next to the wall was actually burned, no doubt about it. It was flat as a pancake too, and crispy. I’ll do more rhubarb – and more alchemilla etc – but even something as simple as drying leaves and stalks isn’t simple at all.
I do like
the concept of dehydrating, though. I have a very basic dehydrator,
the round little Westfalia one, which uses less electricity than an
old fashioned light bulb. And once something is dried, it’s done.
No specialist storage, no further electrical input, that’s it. I
really like that, and I’ll be carrying on with it, though I know I
have an awful lot to learn.
one further victory I’d like to share: I had a new kitchen installed
recently, first time I’ve ever done such a thing, because the old one
was basically falling apart and not much of it worked. The sink was
one of the things I replaced: I didn’t mean to, but the taps that I
needed to be replaced were so rusted onto it, the workmen bent the
steel of the sink in separating them. So, a new sink was required:
and I got one that has a sink big enough to take a dehydrator tray,
flat. I can soak the trays and clean them so much more easily than
before – and frankly, that means I’m much more likely to do it
less weeding, and the weeds that do manage to grow are
easier to pluck out of loose chippings rather than proper soil.
less watering in times of drought, as the mulch will
slow, permanent soil improvement, as the mulch degrades
there’s a lot that isn’t said about mulch and mulching – I only
realised it when, ages ago, I was listing it as a job for the day on
my social grouping, and over the next few months had regular
questions come up about it. It was only then I realised how much
there was to know, and how much I (kind of) knew, but didn’t know I
of all, the basics. Get rid of as many weeds and their roots as you
can – in as wide an area around your site as possible, you’d be
surprised how far roots travel underground.
of course, right away, there’s our first exception: if you’re
practising no dig in raised beds, there’s a recommendation to just
lay layers of cardboard down on top of whatever grass etc is already
there, and then lay new topsoil on top of that. The grass will die
and add its nutrients to the soil, without you having to expend all
that energy digging it up.
exception is seedlings, or even small plants. There isn’t much point
mulching them – they’re so small, they might be damaged by the
pieces of whatever it is that you’re using, and there isn’t much
space between them in any case. Plus, in the case of seedlings,
you’ll soon be transplanting them. No, mulch isn’t needed, or even
helpful, in this kind of situation.
after you’ve got rid of the weeds and roots, feed the soil: the
contents of used teabags (the teabags themselves are nearly always
part-plastic, don’t use them), crushed shells from the beach (a
hammer, with eye protection, is necessary, I warn you), washed
seaweed, leaf mould, grass clippings with no seeds in, roasted
eggshells, shredded waste paper with no colour inks used – shredded
paper can’t currently be recycled by many councils, so you’re doing
good here), your own home made compost, bought in topsoil, all sorts
of things. If you have very small thin twigs or leaves from the
shrubs around you – leave them there, on your soil! They’ll
decompose down. For me, that means dead holly leaves, bare mahonia
twigs, the privet leaning over my fence from next door, the soft tips
of my buddleia plant, those sorts of things. Just use pieces that
are the same size as your chippings – much bigger, and you’ll be
creating a haven for slugs and snails.
I’d made an assumption in the past that the wood ash from my little incinerator would be a great addition to any soil – and I’ve already scattered the results of several small burns onto my garden, to no great harm. However, the RHS are wary, especially for fruit so a bit of research is a good thing. GrowVeg have detailed instructions about when it can be used, which is helpful.
was very surprised, I must say, I couldn’t imagine how it could be
anything but good, but proportions of nutrients “provided” by
wood ash versus “needed” by plants can’t be argued with. Wood
ash seems to be best used to correct acidic soil, or on the compost
heap, and not in massive quantities.
is the final addition, if your soil is at all dry – because mulch
is so efficient, if the soil’s dry, it won’t be a good growing
medium. Getting the set-up right is really important.
lay the mulch! A little space around stems, so nothing rots, and
you’re there. Enjoy the extra time your mulch will grant you!
These are most useful, to my mind, when you’re clearing a larger patch, and want to take care of areas you’ve already cleared, but not yet plant anything in those areas. And also, they’re good around annual and catch crops: you’re going to be harvesting plants and creating more planting, so digging up fresh, bought-in bark chippings (which are a fair cost over a whole garden) isn’t a good idea. If you have to walk on the soil, it will help spread your weight, which helps avoid compaction. So this means anything like thick cardboard, maybe carpet (100% natural offcuts free from a carpet shop, preferably, not nylon with threads that will disintegrate into your soil). My most recent temporary mulch is from when I had my kitchen done last month: the tradesmen had put down this kind of floor protection. I’d never buy it, not nowadays, but it was in my house and it was going to be thrown away. So I kept it, specifically for use as a temporary mulch.
A temporary mulch, even of a minimal thickness, will
still weaken any leftover weeds, but if it’s impermeable, you should
also note that it may well act as an attractant for weed roots
nearby: when you lift it, you might find a lot of weed roots growing
as near to the surface as possible. Keep an eye on it.
Please don’t forget what you’ve done, and end up letting
a temporary mulch like this become a permanent one, that can leave
you with a very nasty situation. You end up with a very thin layer
of freshly formed soil, underneath which is a nasty mix of plastics
and weed roots. Not good. But if you use temporary mulch in the way
you intended, it’s really helpful.
To me, environmentally, a permanent mulch should be made out of plant material: either bark chippings, the most common, coconut fibre, or possibly cocoa beans. Bark chippings are pretty standard, they’re the ones I use.
Cocoa bean mulch seems more problematic. It’s wonderful to think of a use being found for something previously discarded as “waste” but the hundreds (thousands?) of miles it has to travel make it instantly suspect to me, especially when there are local alternatives. And users are very split about the benefits, even the lovely smell, which seems to get a bit much for some people after a while. The comments on the gardening blog are interesting for that.
Coconut fibre mulch has to travel as far as the cocoa bean mulch, I’m fairly sure, though at least it’s transported in a dehydrated form, as coir bricks.
There are other mulches, of course – slate chips, for
instance. I have some, left over from a relative’s garden work, and
they’re sort of useful in that when they disappear down into the soil
when you dig, they create a bit of space and drainage: for clay soil,
that’s valuable in it’s own right. But they give no nutrients to the
soil, they’re just … stone … definitely decorative, and
potentially useful, but they need to be in a patio area or the like,
where they won’t be mixing with soil. Your Mileage May Vary!
No-cost Or Low Cost Ways to Maintain Your Local Environment
You can’t be a prepper and grow some of your own food if the air and the soil you live in so toxic that nothing will grow properly, or the air is so foul that both children and adults develop asthma and related conditions. Counteracting these trends is a prep! Not a traditional prep, it’s true, but helping provide cleaner air and a living environment is definitely preparing for a better future.
I’m a prepper, absolutely. But I’m also an environmentalist, and the two are potentially clashing less and less as the news of accelerating climate change starts to dominate the news. Prepping isn’t just about stashing tins of beans and packs of bandages; it isn’t even about learning skills such as compass reading or first aid. Prepping starts with knowing what risks you may be exposed to locally and working from there. For instance, these are some of the pre-existing environmental risks in the UK, known about for quite a few years:
Some flooding is predictable: the eastern coast of the UK, London,
the Somerset Levels, Cumbria, they all flood regularly.
The western coast of Scotland, the North Sea, and Cornwall, are all
very exposed to Atlantic or north easterly storms that can be
east England has less and less rainfall, droughts are declared more
and more regularly.
all over the country is a fire risk, and can create a flood risk for
the surrounding towns at other times.
are only what to expect. One of the most striking aspects of climate
change, that was noticed but not understood at first, is that the
unexpected happens all the time, all over the world. Here in the UK,
that means that records are broken, places get flooded that have
never been flooded before, heatwaves are hotter, new illnesses get a
footing here that we haven’t experienced in hundreds of years, the
list goes on. And being a prepper in this sort of world means
thinking, as clearly as possible, about what’s happening, about what
might happen, and what action you can take to keep you and yours
It’s not enough to say “Oh, the Chinese are polluting everything, individual action doesn’t mean anything”. The UK was the country that started industrialisation, remember: we were doing it first, and we were doing it for hundreds of years, ever since our Industrial Revolution, which nearly all of us learn about in school. So it would be good for us to also be among the first couple of dozen countries to get serious about lessening and then even repairing some of the damage.
nowhere better to start than your own community. The environmental
effects of climate change will vary from location to location: if
your actions can help your immediate area to withstand the effects of
global climate change, then why wouldn’t you take action? Especially
when it complements your efforts for your immediate family in terms
of preparedness. It isn’t even just about cleaner air and better
soil: it’s also about helping pollinating insects to survive.
what I think are a range of options that will help you as a prepper,
and help your town, or your county, survive and even prosper in the
coming years. The list contains no-cost or low-cost ways of at
worst, lessening your contribution to the problem, and at best,
increasing your contribution to the solutions. Go for it, please.
1. Reduce, Re use, Recycle – in a different way
Well yes, this is first and foremost, the most basic thing any of us can do. You don’t want rubbish around to increase the rat population; you want to use older materials for your preps, they’re cheaper and often higher quality; you want to use jam and pickle jars from the supermarket to store your dehydrated veg, or at the very least using whatever recycling facilities exist locally. You can use a lot of “waste” material that would otherwise go to landfill, in a multifuel stove. If you don’t have a multifuel, try to find out who does, and make an arrangement to pass it on to them. Mutual favours build community, and this is good prepping, not environmental martyrdom.
2. Lessen the use of artificial chemicals
meant to do all sorts of things, but the most damaging are the
killers, of course. They often kill the population they’re targetted
at first, but repeated use means the effects spread out to other
insects, and eventually some of the effects spread out to us, causing
cancer and other deadly or disabling diseases. Use water in pump
sprays, use mulch made from natural materials, use hoes, use natural
predators (like nematodes) of our pests (like aphids). Find out
about how to make your own cleaning materials: they may still be
pretty toxic, but less so; you’ll have an identifiable skill, and you
won’t be contributing to the profits of multinational companies who
really, really don’t care about your community.
3. Helping birds and insects
are dozens of ways you can do this – helping steady and protect the
local environment, which means your crops won’t be eaten by plagues
of one species or another, the worms that aerate your soil will carry
on doing it, your chickens will be able to scratch around and
dust-bathe to their hearts’ content, giving you more eggs, happy
chickens and probably kids who are healthier and happier too:
bee hotels. Most bees are solitary, not belonging to a hive.
shallow watering spaces (more below, item 6 in the list).
holding off on autumn pruning until early spring, to provide cover over winter
setting up leaf composting, as well as normal composting, to re-use local resources in situ.
letting go of a monoculture lawn. I don’t believe many people who identify as preppers still have the fantasy of “the immaculate lawn”, but I’m listing it here in case there are. Mow it less often, as well.
using local varieties of plants when you can – they’re better adapted to local conditions, so they’ll need less input from you, and local varieties of insects will be better adapted to using them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, actually – some plants, and some pest predators, are imported from other parts of the world and prove a real boon. Do your research.
need fencing, of course you do. When you need to extend or replace
it, consider buying an amalgam that uses recycled plastic. The
reasoning is simple: all that recycled plastic has to be made into
new goods if it’s going to be economically worthwhile for big firms
to invest in the plant and machinery to do it, and it would be much
better for all of us if the products they made were useful – like
fencing – rather than useless – like more ornaments.
can also be adapted to help local wildlife like hedgehogs – rather
than being a flat, impermeable barrier, they can have small holes at
ground level to let the little ‘hogs through.
prep literature describes thorny plants as good for hedges at the
boundaries of a property, and I can’t deny that that’s true. But
they can fulfil other functions too: as well as thorny blackberries,
check out thorny quinces. I have a quince in my back garden, and
it’s loud, really loud, with bees. The flowers bloom early in the
year too, which helps the bees even more.
5. Flowering plants
in the hedges leads me on naturally to flowers in the garden, as well
as other plants that are loved by insects of all sorts. Other
flowers are popular with insects too: ivy is another great early
plant, and provides ground cover or privacy, depending on where it’s
trained. Marigolds and nasturtiums are good companion plants.
Poppies drive some insects crazy and later on give us their edible
6. Ponds and drinking stations
every animal and bird you see needs some form of open water – birds
need to bathe their feathers, frogs need to spawn and let their
tadpoles mature, and almost everything needs to drink (usually feral
cats don’t drink, as they get all the necessary moisture from their
prey, but they’re a very small exception to the general rule). Use
whatever shallow container you’ve got, like in my picture, and put a
few stones in, enough to help out anything that falls in. Don’t
forget that if you use tap water, you should let it stand for at
least 24 hours. Rainwater is fine whenever you use it.
the right mulch is great in the garden: it gradually improves the
quality of your soil, it enables you to get rid of weeds very easily
because they don’t take root in the soil, it reduces evaporation from
the soil so that your plants need less water from you, and it
provides a home for all sorts of little insects creeping about in
your garden, all of which live in harmony with your plants and you,
if you give them a chance.
8. Household chemicals
mostly use chemicals as part of our cleaning routines, I think. It’s
become obvious from recent research that we use chemicals too often,
in greater quantities than we need, and that the chemicals themselves
are much harsher than they need to be. I’m a novice at this part of
things, so I need to research and that will mean another post, but I
know it can be done. If anyone has pointers to authoritative
websites, let us know in the comments section.
about feeding sugar to bees. I was going to include that in the list
above under No 3, ways of helping insects. It’s a much more complex
issue than it might first appear (what isn’t …) so it gets it’s own
post in due course.
there we are: eight routes to helping your local environment, dozens
of possible actions, all of which will help matters locally,
physically and socially. I’m sure that most of them are being done
by the majority of UK preppers, including me, but I know I don’t do
all of them. So let’s build some resilience into our local
landscape, as well as into our lives and our property, because
they’re all interdependent, and a win-win is good for all of us.
While I was staying in London last month, I had the opportunity to go on a guided tour of a hydroponics company, Growing Underground. They literally do grow underground, in tunnels underneath Clapham Common, paralleling the Northern Line, originally designed as possible air raid shelters. They supply around 40 supermarkets at the moment, nearly all of them in London, so the food miles are minimal, and the products are tasty – zingy, chewable and you can just feel all the nutrients being absorbed into your system. The scale is amazing, and of course they’re expanding all the time: more varieties and mixes, different hydroponic solutions, different lights, different markets. It’s wonderful, and it employs maybe a couple of dozen people. This is the tour group I went round with:
It made me
enthusiastic about microgreens all over again, so I set up an
experiment once I got home. I wasn’t as scientific about it as I
could have been, but it convinced me that I could certainly grow a
couple of portions of green veg every day, only limited by the amount
already set up a little home-made microgreens kit, which I’d put by
so that I could start it up quickly if need be: just some supermarket
trays that had held fresh veg, some seeds and a couple of litres of
bought-in topsoil nearby. The results were even better than I’d
hoped, though I’ll run the experiment again in a more measured way,
so that the number of seeds is constant, for instance.
have a tendency to drown indoor plants, but I did really well with
once and covered them with a paper towel for 3 days, until they were
properly poking their heads above the soil.
I watered them subsequently, I used a small, purpose made watering
can with a rose on it, instead of an ordinary kitchen jug – for
people who over-water, this is a seriously brilliant idea.
didn’t use expensive seeds, I used green lentils from Sainsbury,
£1.15 for 500g, and soaked them for 24 hours. This was almost too
long, as I was just starting to see the tips of the shoots coming
out. I’d go for 20 hours next time.
The supermarket trays are so easy to re-use, so accessible, and free, but they have their problems. The first harvest, because I couldn’t see the bottoms of the stems, I left them too long, they were turning brown, and I lost maybe 10% of the crop to this effect. Not important today, of course, but if I was in real need of these nutrients, that’s too much to lose. I suggest that any tray used might be better to be only about an inch high, and then you can see much more easily when you should harvesting. If they were flatter than the supermarket trays, that would help too.
was great, because I ended up treating them as cut and come again
plants – the same little tray got me a total of four harvests, just
roughly chopped up and sprinkled over pasta or something. It
certainly felt like a proper portion-of-fruit-and-veg, not just a
an inch or so of a bog standard potting mix from any big store –
B&Q, Wickes, Wilko, Poundland, whatever’s easily available to
you. At Growing Underground, they use a hydroponic liquid
circulating through a kind of web of filaments made locally from
recycled carpet, and after being used for a while, they’re
transported a few miles to a biomass power plant and used for fuel.
My equivalent of supermarket topsoil is now sitting in my compost
bin, of course.
you look online, you can see that people grow in propagators, to
avoid draughts and keep a better, more even heat for the plants. I
didn’t use any for this experiment, and these days, with the extremes
of temperature we’ve been having, I think you’d need to be very
proactive about taking the protection on and off, so that the little
microgreens don’t die from overheating.
LED lights are also popular. I didn’t use any, but having a set overhead would extend your ability to grow more food more quickly. Nor would you have to turn your tray so often to catch the light coming through the window. They can get really expensive, really fast, but I’ll certainly be buying a bulb, one that fits an ordinary lamp.
All in all, I’m very happy with the experiment, though I’m less happy with the amount of time it’s taking me to learn the latest WordPress upgrades. At least I can get images again: here’s a nice one of a portion-sized helping of microgreens.
Some time in the last three weeks, this web address was taken over by scammers. Since my last post on here at the end of January, I’d been focussing on digging the remaining brambles out of the garden, and on planning a kitchen renovation (first ever! Exciting but time consuming). Plus the cat sitting which is the subject of the post itself. And the blog fell by the wayside a little bit. In mid March, I started updating, but then there was a problem with a kitchen supplier, and it went by the wayside again. So when I was ready to finally update, it was too late, it had been taken over, and I’ve been working on it for the last four days, on and off. I should have paid more attention to what I wrote here. And I can tell that the links still don’t work properly. More work needed on that.
That leads me to the final update: thank you to the membership on here, for actively supporting me behind the scenes, it’s meant a great deal to me.
On with the blog post.
finished up a fortnight’s catsitting gig in London right now, for a
set of relatives gone travelling. It’s been interesting from a
preparedness viewpoint, particularly being in London with the Brexit
countdown reaching it’s final days (maybe).
and Water Preps
Everything was very quiet when I arrived (and was the entire time) so the normal preps took precedence. If there was a water main problem, I’m sure bowsers would be set up pretty soon by the local council, but I don’t know the area, I have no proof I’m staying here, and I don’t have my normal range of containers to hold any water I would be able to collect.
was first, therefore. I filled a 5 litre pan with water, first
thing: after all, a broken water main isn’t exactly unknown in
London, and as well as me, I have two shy rescue cats to consider.
is tricky: I can’t bring or buy the stocks I usually have at
home, life doesn’t work that way. But within a day, I had enough
dried foods – sachets of microwave rice, tins of potatoes, baked
beans and butter beans, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, and a few kilos of
frozen veg – to last a fortnight. All the kind of things I eat
anyway, though I’ve been slower in getting my usual sauces and
condiments – pesto, tomato puree, soy sauce and honey.
is 90% sorted, of course, I’m staying in the flat where the cats were
re-homed. There are vulnerabilities, however:
A new routine for where you keep the house keys is
tricky to set up. You can’t keep them in the door! If there’s a
house fire, you need them right away, you can’t take the time to
search for them without risking your life. In the end, I decided to
keep them, my own house keys, and my train ticket home, in the
partially-zipped inner pocket of the fleece that I kept right by my
Because the immediate area was so quiet, I don’t think I was in trouble here if there was any sudden rioting, whether about Brexit or about something else. There’s a shopping centre and library two roads over, at a typically busy London junction, with a high street crossing it – I’m sure that’s a much more likely location. I might well get overspill here, and I’d stay alert, but I’m as sure as I can be, that there wouldn’t be any trouble (though see below).
Severe weather plus
power cut? I haven’t brought a camping stove with me, not even my
little hexi stove, which folds down to a ridiculously tiny size.
That’s something to think about. But as to what I’d do for today,
if this happened: I’d get me and the cats into one room, and one
room only. I’d get their food, their fresh litter, the litter
trays, the bin for the used stuff, and lots of plastic bags. I’d
get water in here, in as many containers as I could find. I’d get
all the store cupboard food in here, and I’d scout out the local
supermarket to see if I felt okay about going in to buy more. I’d
bring in all the duvets and blankets I could find, of course, and my
own pack, so I had access to it. It wouldn’t be as liveable as my
own place, but I think it would
be liveable. There are a lot of candles scattered around the flat,
and I have a couple of slimline torches, the sort that run off one
AA battery. And my trusty wind up radio.
Security. Obviously, I’m not going to parade somebody
else’s security all over the web, even though it’s anonymous. But
the quality and number of the locks on the doors and windows are
good. There’s a metal fence at the boundary of the property that
reaches head height. And the flat I’m staying in is on the first
floor, not the ground floor. It’s pretty good, as far as these
really thinking of things like a cyber attack on a bank, or the
railways or shops. I have food to last me (and the cats), I have
plenty of cash I brought with me – again, not as much as I have at
home, but that’s a calculated risk – my return ticket home is
already paid for and printed, it should be fine. What I haven’t
done is bring a lot of change with me: it’s so heavy, it just wasn’t
a high enough priority. If there’s problems, I’ll use the notes and
But what if there was the sort of trouble that meant I
had to leave? I have options: I could take the cats to a local
shelter set up by the council, maybe, and tough it out there till my
relatives got home from their trip and I could buzz off home? If it
was near to the time of their return, I could take my chances and
buzz off home anyway, they’ve said to me already that in emergencies
I could leave the cats alone, if well set up, for 36 hours or so.
And they have local friends who might still be able to step in in an
I have contacts in London too: a friend who lives only
walking distance away from the flat. She’s in the emergency
services, however, as well as local government, and I’m sure she’d be
out in the thick of whatever it was, helping out.
I also have two other nephews who now live in London: but they both have wives and babies, very young babies, and I’m really not planning to dump myself on them, unless it was something as minimal as “please fill up my water bottle with fresh water before I do the next bit of the trip home”. And I certainly wouldn’t want to impose two problematic cats on them.
My preferred option, in reality, would be to stay in the flat as long as possible, in the hope that things would get sorted out, or that at least my relatives would get home and take care of their own cats. In that scenario, I’d be getting a train back to my own town. In the very worst case scenario, I’d be walking back; I might have to walk the whole way, or there might be buses laid on to get people out, or a relative who lives near my own home might be able to come and fetch me from wherever I’d temporarily landed up. Scouting out the necessary route back, until it joins up with a “bug home” route I’ve already established, is important. And in any of those situations, a good mobile phone and a fully charged power bank would be godsends. I happen to have just bought a power bank, from Anker!
Really, all of this is just a simple thought experiment.
There’s an ethical issue underlying some of the above, however.
What if I abandon these cats, that have been entrusted to my care?
What if they die because of that? What if the situation is resolved
just after I abandon them and they still suffer because I didn’t
tough it out for them? What would that do to my family relationships
in the future, for example? It’s not useful to go through those
issues and their permutations here, because that’s totally about the
personalities of the people involved, but they’re certainly the kinds
of things that need mulling over, to be fully prepared.
Were there any prepping fails? As a matter of fact, yes, two of which happened when I got home:
I was so focussed on prepping, I forgot to do the normal things. Like, pack a comb. And I have long hair, so that was a mistake …
When I got back home, I did well in getting unpacked and everything put away. By about 6pm, I was ready to put the heat on and sit down. Except I couldn’t, because the battery that runs the wireless thermostat had run down. I had to find a new one so that the heating would even start up. That was an eye opener, and something I’ve been meaning to fix for a long time, having a regimen of battery charging. More on that another time.
my cash stash was still in my fleece when I washed it! Luckily, the security pocket is so small, the notes didn’t get tumbled about, and just came out a bit damp. A couple of days draped over a radiator sorted that.
In the meantime, life goes on. As well as ordinary days
out, I’ve had some interesting trips of a prepping nature – a city
farm based in disused tube tunnels, an exhibition about how to grow
more food within the city, checking out a crafting superstore and
even emergency water sources. The latter was totally an excuse to
walk along the banks of a well-kept river, and very pleasant it was
too. The weather showed me it could throw a fit sometimes too, as
dustbin lids were being blown down the street. As I say, life goes
There’s only one topic for anyone who identifies as being into preparedness in the UK right now: Brexit, unfortunately. I’m completely sick of the political shenanigans from politicians of every hue, and I think it’s pretty much insane to trust a word that any of them says.
The only thing we absolutely know is that today is 31st January, and we’re supposed to leave the EU on 29th March, and that’s really not very long. Currently, the Conservatives seem to be waivering about asking for an extension: who knows if they’ll get it together to ask, who knows what the EU will say, refusing/ accepting/ making a counter-offer. 29th March really isn’t very far away: eight weeks tomorrow, in fact. Jeez, that’s really not long, and as some people have been pointing out, it’s right in the “hungry gap” – the percentage of our food that we import will be at it’s highest. The first of the harvests is yet to come through, and the weather might be very bad, it might even be a cold spell like the one we currently have. Though it could be a balmy early spring, who knows?
And that’s the point. We don’t know – about the weather, about whether the politicians can get their acts together, about whether the businesses and government departments who say they’re stockpiling are doing it, about whether those stockpiles will be enough.
Preppers traditionally take stock of low probability-high impact events. But Brexit, we absolutely know that it’s coming, just like winter in Westeros. We don’t know what the impact will be, not really: I suspect it won’t be quite as bad as has been touted, but that might be my own normalcy bias. I also suspect – well, I know to be an absolute truth – that I can’t completely trust any organisation out there, to put my interests first. Government departments, private companies, even charities: the latter, especially, mean well, but they only have so many resources, so many volunteers or workers.
So I have to look out for my own needs, and just like a parent on an aircraft that’s having an emergency, I put my own needs first and then look out for what I can do for others. I certainly don’t want to get caught up in panic buying, or rioting either come to that.
And it’s the staples we need to look after, of course, perfectly ordinary, really: food, water, and shelter, which includes not only a safe place to live, but also fuel to heat it. I’m assuming that you’ve long ago made the decision to “keep a good pantry”, to have what we’re now calling a stockpile, apparently. As a prepper, surely you keep a good amount on hand? Even preppers are limited by their storage availability, of course.
So rather than saying, “this is what you should be storing”, I’m saying, these are the issues that you probably want to consider before you finish up on your Brexit preps:
– if you’re only just started prepping, and you just have a couple of weeks’ food and water on hand, consider getting more, because the potential lorry gridlock we’re hearing about might well last quite a bit longer than that.
– if you normally store for six months or so, do you want to increase that? Ask yourself why, what do you consider might happen?
– if space is an issue, dried food might be a big part of your way forward, it’s much denser. It needs more preparation, thats true, so it probably shouldn’t be the only sort of food you store.
– are you growing anything edible in your garden? If not, I strongly recommend you do. People are short of time, yes, but there’s always something that can be done.
– there may be interruptions to the power supply, partly because 6% of our electricity comes directly from the EU via big seabed interconnectors. But as mygridgb says (and it’s a very transparent site, check out the About page), even the energy we generate in this country relies on imports: “nearly every form of electricity generator in the UK relies on some form of import; the majority of our fossil fuels is imported; nuclear fuel is imported; much of our solar panels are manufactured abroad etc”.
Given this situation, short term and long term, how will you cope for heating and cooking? There are many potential sources, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages: butane, petrol, gas, solid fuel, gel, kelley kettles and rocket stoves can all contribute, but whichever you pick, you absolutely have to practice beforehand and know what you’re doing.
I suspect that for a lot of people, the statements above will be self evident. I hope it’s all a fuss about nothing, and a compromise of some sort will be found, but I really can’t imagine what it might be.
Anyway, to end, I thought I’d just make a few notes about the extra things I’m doing, that aren’t covered in “stock up on food, water and fuel”:
– rationalising the supplies I already have. My first aid stocks, my dried peas and beans and lentils, I’ve kept a fair inventory, but they’ve definitely become disorganised, so I’ve organised things to fit well in their spaces, and more accessibly too. I’d let a few gaps in the stocks develop, and those are now filled.
– organising information. I have a nice slim bookcase, 3 shelves high, stacked with books on first aid, food preservation, gardening, home maintenance, security, all sorts of things. I also have literally hundreds of prepping books stored on my kindle account: how to sharpen hand tools, types of wood and the best way to use them for fires for heating, leatherwork, hunting rabbits, map reading, sharpening garden shears, all sorts of specialised little books. Far too many to have as physical copies, so I’ve not only got my little kindle, I’ve got the kindle app on my laptop, with plenty of space for even the most niche books, like lockpicking, and opening lift doors. I love books like that.
– setting up the garden. My garden has some good edible perennials in, including herbs, but its not what you’d call full, and over the last couple of years, a fair number of perennial weeds, like bramble and couch grass, have made their way in, while I’ve been up north on family business. Now I’m back full time, I’m working on clearing the weeds away for good, as well as setting up some house plants that are beneficial – chili, aloe vera, things like that – and that all stands me in good stead too.
– working on the garden has given me opportunities to chat more to the neighbours, about their thoughts, the sort of pantry they keep, and the neighbourhood in general. Anything that solidifies local bonds is good.
And that’s the idea, to be in good stead. It’s not only about having enough food and water: it’s also about having them before a panic sets in earlier than the event itself, for instance.
Christmas and the New Year are times of celebration and fun in our society, mostly at any rate, and whether or not you’re religious, there’s a lot of fun to be had. In relation to prepping, it’s a good time to think about community, and what that means. Does that mean the people in your street? Is it local people who share some of your aims? Is it a set of people all over the UK, all over the world, even? Of course, community is all of these things.
And we all need communities, whether they’re in person or online. Humans are social animals, we gather together to share, in good times and in bad. “It takes a village to raise a child”, is one way of saying this. “The Blitz spirit” is another, possibly. And local voluntary organisations are another way still of finding a community with which to share.
An example that I’ve found recently, in my own town, is a Christmas Tree Festival: dozens of decorated christmas trees all casually laid out in a central building. They happen to be in a church, but they could be anywhere. Little groups of people came together to make them – primary school classes, pensioners’ groups, local firms, local voluntary groups, faith organisations, sports groups, all sorts. And the total effect was stunning, accompanied by live organ music, in a very dramatic arena.
So, what does that represent? Community, that’s what. The groups that decorated the trees. The group that coordinated the festival. The skills that were learned or practised to make the decorations. The way it was advertised all over the county. All the people who went to see it (and often they met with people they knew in other contexts – again, building community).
One person, one family, they can’t do everything, the first biggish emergency will prove that to you. One family that’s always alone can’t even thrive, not really – that social need will always come to the fore, sooner or later, whether it’s for the fun of a midwinter festival, or surviving another Beast From The East. The need for more skills and strength than one family can possibly possess will also come to the fore, at some point. And building community before you actually, desperately need it is one of the best preparations for the future you could ever make.
The enjoyable part of all this is contained in that Christmas Tree Festival, and it really was purely for fun, of course. You can see from the main photo how wonderful it looks, 80 or so Christmas trees of all sorts of different colours, all crammed in to a single building. It was splendiferous. But the skills and co-operation are real, and they could very easily be adapted directly in time of need, when prepping might be a matter of life and death. Notice that the local Air Ambulance is represented.
All those skills, and all those contacts and organisations could be used during floods, power cuts, storms, snow, and terrorist attacks too. And of course they’re used constantly in everyday life too, for smaller day to day events, whether they’re positive or negative (having a picnic together, or sharing lifts in a car when there’s a transport problem).
Give and take is essential in the long term, and most people prefer it that way. There are always some exceptions, whether they’re people who don’t like to accept help or people who expect to be helped no matter what the inconvenience to others. That doesn’t really build community, of course, it just makes other people wary of helping someone like that. At the very least, it’s good to learn who those people are before you absolutely have to know. In very bad times, hard decisions would have to be made about people like that. We’re not there now, and maybe we won’t ever be, but it’s got to be good to understand the situation.
So, you can sow the seeds for that this winter, with little things. It’s not the right time of year now to send Christmas cards, of course, but maybe you send New Year cards, or thank you notes. Maybe you stop to chat with a neighbour when you’ve only ever said hello before. Maybe you shovel someone’s path clear.
Maybe you volunteer for work that’s needed locally. Litter picking, park maintenance, even library worker. Anything that fits in with the way you think about prepping. Less litter is good for your kids and the local wildlife, discouraging other potential litter droppers. A park is good for your kids and for you: they can run around, you can loll about and you might find or help plant some edible perennials in there. Libraries literally are founts of knowledge – some of that knowledge could be related to prepping in some way.
And tonight is New Year’s Eve, when many of us will peak the evening by singing Auld Lang Syne – remembering old acquaintances, old friends. Singing about how important it is to respect your links to your friends, your community. And making toasts to the future.
I make a toast now, to you all: to your health and happiness. See you on the other side.
It’s been the only big new topic in the UK for months, unfortunately – though at least it’s got a lot of new people talking about being prepared. If you’re one of them, welcome! Don’t get scared, get ready.
The crunch date is 29th March 2019 just four months away.
I had a look at the official information online from the UK and the EC, it’s all about No Deal, or persuading us to Go For The Deal – and if I’d read even a one paragraph summary of it in the body of a blog post, I’d be running away screaming. So I’ve put it at the bottom, in blue italics, to ignore it more easily; I wanted people to be able to see it if they felt the need, though.
And that sums it up, really: their wordiness, mistakes, miscommunications, mindless optimism is unworthy of all of us. I absolutely do not trust these people to supply my food, my medicines, my fuel and my equipment around the turning point at the end of March next year. I won’t get into the politics of it, as that’s even more of a nightmare in my opinion, I just want to focus on the strategies for ordinary citizens to cope with this mess.
What to do? What do we do? A lot of the answer is bog-standard preparedness. Food, water, fuel. Plus cash, and documents, which are also bog-standard in their own way.
Stock up! We import 40% of our food, and think about what happens when there’s a strike that lasts longer than a few days: fresh food gets a bit short, and/or goes up in price. I can see wobbles in the supply chain easily lasting a couple of weeks, and food that comes from outside the EU will also be affected – think of the queues of container lorries in Kent that we see when French port workers go on strike – everything is affected, from everywhere. All food can be expected to be in short supply sometimes, and to be more expensive in general. We don’t have time to grow anything except microgreens, sprouting shoots and maybe winter veg like kale … so stock up! What should you stock up on? Use the old prepper proverb: eat what you store, store what you eat.
Well, we definitely have our own water, don’t we! Except our water supply companies also need water purification chemicals, and electricity to run the pumps and other parts of the system. The chemicals, and the energy, may need to be imported – I don’t know about the chemicals, I’m afraid, though I’m pretty sure we don’t produce our own. But I know we import some energy and this is the UK government’s optimistic little piece of “this is what we need to do”.
If you never have before, now is the time to stock up on at least a few days emergency supply of water, plus some purification tablets and a filter, if possible. A week would be better. Any problems may simply be about boiling the water that arrives in your pipes, but spending a few pounds on some water bottles, and maybe some wet wipes, will certainly give you peace of mind and flexibility.
As I mentioned above, we import fuel. This is the Ofgem description of one of the ways we do it and I notice that the link to Northern Ireland is included in that. Hmmm. In any case, notice that those links are all about the EC. What if we had a snowy April? And the new regulatory systems weren’t able to cope? Do you have easy access to alternate heating? Lighting? How will you heat your food, and your water?
Anything that comes to us from abroad, anything at all. Even if it comes from outside the EU, like China, it may come via a third party inside the EU, and it may simply be caught up in the generalised queuing and delays that are almost bound to develop. A sewing machine. Kids’ toys. Shoes. Car parts. All and any of it could be caught up in a snarled-up system.
We’re starting to get used to banking systems crashing occasionally, and the people who get affected always need cash, because it’s the only thing that isn’t gummed up by a computer crash. Imagine if that kind of crash was nationwide, affecting everyone? How long would it take to get things going again? I strongly recommend everyone to have available as much cash as you can, as safely as you can. Remember there are thieves, too, who find cash nice and easy.
And another element of this: if you know you need to pay a bill in the first half of April, try to pay it before the end of March – if the banking systems get constipated, you might get accidentally overdrawn, you might get a penalty fine, you might have a red mark on your file, who knows.
Make sure you have at least a couple of sets of documents of anything you need: insurance, pensions, travel tickets (even if you’re not travelling abroad). Any of the systems that use this information might get clunky, overwhelmed by the new inputs, so you need to be able to prove that what you’re saying is true. A paper copy, and at least one electronic copy, is preferable. Two is better, of course!
Northern Ireland is in a special situation with all this, because of it’s land border with an EC state, the Republic of Ireland. The physical reality on the ground has always been that it’s a pretty porous border, and over the years shopping over the border has become very common. I’d bet a lot of money that that will continue, but how much administrative interference there’ll be is anybody’s guess.
The absolute worst I’m expecting to happen is the sort of disruption we experience when there’s a big strike, and that’s liveable with, of course. Though if you’re the one who has to boil your water, or miss out on a holiday, or spend the night in a queue of cars, or be unable to buy your monthly season train ticket, then it will feel really bad, I expect. If your preps enable you not to fall foul of these sorts of Brexit-caused problems, then that would be a good thing. Go for it.
OFFICIAL “INFORMATION”: FEEL FREE TO IGNORE
This is the list of the UK government’s guidance papers in case of a no-deal Brexit. Nearly all of them are about how businesses can prepare: but of course, businesses provide to the public – food, travel, equipment – so a lot of it is directly relevant to all of us. The plan, however, seems to have been to make it as awkward or as boring as possible to get the information. To get to a page that gives any kind of information at all is a three-step process, and the first 8 short paragraphs are identical in each paper. Not exactly consumer friendly.
And that’s an important point: in spite of one of the Aviation papers saying that air passengers should know this information, none of it is really geared to individuals, it’s all about businesses.
This shameful website is a government propaganda machine all on it’s own. Obviously, it’s primarily meant to be read on mobiles – on a laptop, I warn you, it looks like it’s meant for five year olds, but I suppose that’s how most new websites are. I had a little look at the Brexit Blog, which is so far a few responses to newspaper articles. That’s fair enough, but the one I managed to look at is just at the level of “they said this, and it’s not true”. And as for the “40 reasons to back the Brexit deal”. Omigod, I’ve never read such a simplistic official summary of such a complex historic situation.
The Irish government actually has a pretty good list of papers. This is the main linkand this, for example, is the link to the paper about international recognition of professional qualifications, which is something that really is of importance to a lot of people, including members of my own family.
We’re right in the middle of the time of year when bonfires are most used – by me too – so they seemed a good topic, especially as I remember very clearly how tentative I was when I first started burning some of my garden waste. Wood ash is great spread over the garden, of course, that’s why we burn it – to look after your soil is common sense as a prepper. And in doing that, you’re using something of value that would otherwise be wasted. Win-win.
Before you start
Are there any local bye-laws about when you can get one going, or allotment regulations if that’s where you’re siting it?
Will you inconvenience any neighbours? Ash all over a set of washing will not make you popular.
Is your bonfire material dry enough? Has it been raining heavily in the last few days? Stacking your branches upright, as opposed to letting them lay on the ground, will help, but if they’re soaking wet, it still won’t be an easy bonfire to get going.
Is your bonfire material old enough? Using prunings that are only a couple of days old just isn’t good enough to get a good fire going, they need some ageing, just like wood for a stove. Wood that’s comparatively dry means the fire will be less smoky, and will burn more efficiently
Don’t leave your bonfire material stacked in place, under any circumstances. Wildlife, especially hedgehogs, will creep in and use it as shelter. You do need to stack your material, of course – just burn it in a different spot, that’s all.
Not everything is suitable for burning, even if it’s natural wood: cherry laurel leaves have an appreciable percentage of cyanide. The thicker branches should be fine, but the leaves, in any big concentration, are not.
MDF, and painted and/or treated wood, of course, are not suitable for burning, not least because they’ll add toxins to your soil when you spread the ash.
For me, the tipping point came when I realised I didn’t want to build a bonfire directly on the ground, because of the potential for damage to my few-and-far-between worms – and any other healthy insects and bacteria scattered around, come to that. Several friends have assured me that worms go deep, in the cold and if they sense a bonfire’s heat, but for me, it made sense to have an incinerator, to do away with the problem altogether. It also does away with the problem of where to site it: in my tiny little 35 foot garden, with wood stacked here, there and everywnere waiting for me to get my bonfire act together, it just got too difficult.
So I used an incinerator. I have a bed in the bottom of scrunched up paper – plain brown parcel paper, paper bags, newspaper, things like that. No colour pages, nothing shiny – the additives are toxic in soil.
On the bed of paper,. I lay, or more accurately dump, twigs – as many handfuls as seem right at the time, one of my biggest discoveries is that this really isn’t a science, it’s an art form. On top of that, a personal choice: I have woollen rugs, and I have long hair, and the leavings from both of those things go on top of the twiglets. You’d be surprised how that builds up, and they act as the initial tinder, for the flames to first catch.
On top of that – there are small twiglets – not the snack! But instead, very thin twigs, quite small, just scattered over the bottom layers.
And filling up about half of the remainder, I lodge slightly bigger twigs, almost small branches, but I put those in vertically – these are starting to be the real fuel of the real bonfire, not just the starter elements.
Standing by, for when the flames are going well, are much bigger branches. I don’t bother sawing them ready, I just have them put by and when I want to use them, and hold them and stand on them to break them into the kind of size I want for the incinerator.
Of course, big branches like this could be used inside a multi-fuel stove indoors, and even in an emergency, it might feel good to gather around a bonfire. We do it every 5th November, after all.
Not using an incinerator?
And most people don’t, after all. It’s especially important to watch over the burn, and see that when it spreads, you rake it back in to a pile, maybe with a rake or a garden fork.
You’ll almost certainly burn more than I’m able to burn in my incinerator, so the cool-down period will be correspondingly longer. If you can handle the ashes with your bare hands, then it’s fine to move them.
Now we get to it! You need this, especially I confess, at first I used shop-bought firelighters. I’d bought them about a thousand years ago, and decided I might as well use them as keep them. Once they were gone, I experimented with dunking a few twigs in vaseline, and then with squirting hand gel onto a few. The vaseline seems to work, I have a lot and I don’t use it for anything else, so that’s what I use now, if I need it at all.
The light itself, I just use matches – no lighters, no flints, no batteries or bow drills. I have all of those things, but I have matches too, and they’re my go-to choice. It can take a while to catch, but when it does, it’s a steady job to keep it fed.
While a bonfire is alight
You keep an eye on it, first and foremost. Partly for safety – local animals, both tame and domestic, should be kept safe from it. If half burnt branches fall or pop out of it, you need to rake them back in. If sparks fly and ignite something they shouldn’t, you need to put out unwanted flames. You certainly don’t want your crops going up in smoke.
With such a small incinerator as I have, the bonfire needs constant feeding – I don’t have a huge monster of a firepit that means I put tree stumps on there to gradually burn down. Once I’ve worked on getting it going, I want to do as much as I can in one go. And it always amazes me how much I can burn before it gets full, and how small is the amount of ash.
If you’ve taken a break, and the fire has almost died down, it’s very simple – you put some of the smaller twigs on, even more twists of newspaper. There are no rules – a bonfire is just a way to get this material into a state that can be used in the garden.
Let it die, basically – let it take its time to use every scrap of material that can be burned, and then let it cool down in it’s own time. It doesn’t matter if it’s rained on, just let it happen. Even for my little incinerator, this usually takes a whole day. I don’t distribute the ash into the garden after each bonfire. I “stack” it in a corner, along with crushed, roasted eggshells and the contents of used teabags. This lets it age slightly, which I think is a good thing, and also lets me dose a good-sized portion of the garden in one go.
And one more thing
A countrywoman for whom I have massive respect told me a great way to use a bonfire that’s lit on the ground: burning off handles of old tools, handles that are full of woodworm and can’t be saved. It needs a little delicacy, to learn to put the handle into the edge of the fire, and not the tool itself, so the metal tempering isn’t harmed.