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.
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.
The first thing to be said is that all of this is incredibly basic to anyone who’s really knowledgeable, but it’s still new and unknown to a lot of people. I’m not an expert, not at all, but I do most, though not all of this stuff – I don’t use a Password Manager, for example, my own (probably quite arbitrary) gut reaction is that I’d just be giving another hostage to fortune. I think I could describe myself as a committed lay person! I hope it helps.
Software and Apps
Install the latest updates and software, of browsers, operating systems and display software – they nearly always contain security upgrades and fixes.
Firewall and anti-virus software
If there’s an out-and-out attack, you need these, badly. Make sure you have them. Check out their comparative benefits at a site you trust already; for me, thats one of the big ones, or a consumer finance website like moneysavingexpert, which has the added bonus of showing you how to get what you want as cheaply as possible.
The National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre (at the Action Fraud link below) offers free cybercrime protection named Quad9 and DMARC. I haven’t independently researched these yet, but that sounds a great offer.
Use a strong, secure password, notably for your email accounts. They can be used to gain access to all sorts of other accounts, including financial accounts.
Don’t use the same password for different accounts: that way, if one account does get hacked, the criminal won’t get access to your other accounts. GetSafeOnline recommends using three random words to create a strong password. Numbers and symbols can still be integrated into that, of course, for example SixBeaches18lorries** On another site, you might use SevenBooms47lychees((. Those are the same initials and processes, but almost completely different even so.
Don’t use anything that you would ever mention on social media: a child or partner’s name, a pet, a place of birth, favourite holiday, or a sports team. Keep it random but memorable for you, and you alone.
Where available, always use two-step authentication on your accounts. It adds an extra layer of insurance.
Safeguarding your data
Back up your computer regularly. It’s useful to store data in the cloud, but what would happen to your data if that firm was hacked? I store hobby data in the cloud, items that are important to me, but have no security implications at all. Backups should be safe too. An interesting point from CyberAware: make sure the external hard drive you use isn’t permanently connected to your device, either physically or over a local network connection.
I back up to an external hard drive regularly, kept in a fireproof “briefcase” type safe, which is stored somewhere safe (against burglars, against the house catching fire). If I have a particularly important set of documents and don’t have time to do a full backup, I’ll back up to a flash drive, stored in the same way. A set of flash drives is held in my bag ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Use a password to open and enter your computer or smartphone. Even if you do lose it, your data is then more safe. Can it also be encrypted? Check it out.
Use a surge protector – they’ve dropped in price tremendously in the last five years, and they’re well worth it. Many preppers think an EMP is inevitable – think how much more likely a too-near bolt of lightning is! It really is as simple as an extra plug at the mains.
Tape over the camera lens on the computer, the one that faces you. You don’t know if your computer might fall victim to a remote control hack, and then potentially anything you do in front of your computer screen is viewable to the hackers. Protection is as simple as a strong piece of tape that can easily be pulled back if you want to skype or facetime.
News to me, but I’m definitely using that in future.
Books have been written about malignant emails: just don’t open anything that you don’t already know or expect. If you’re not sure, hover over the Sender column – it should show the real email address of the sender, which can be quite an eye-opener.
Drive-by phone thefts
Whether you’re speaking with friends, or consulting Google Maps, it’s likely you’ll have your phone out at some stage when you’re on the street. I do myself. The only thing I can think of to do is to watch the local environment and to stand well away from the road, turned away from it, in fact. If you have suspicions, don’t get your phone out! Or go somewhere quieter, and safer.
The techniques used by criminals have become extremely sophisticated, mostly based on intercepting legitimate communications between the individual and their bank, or conveyance, or savings organisation, and diverting payments, with the agreement of the victim – which is what currently lets the banks say it’s our own fault, when it’s often a criminal either inside the bank or attacking the bank’s communications systems. Official websites aren’t yet covering the steps that individuals can take to guard against this – which says to me that it’s understood that it’s not individuals who are primarily responsible. But there are some things we can do, even so. I found these paragraphs at a private company’s website, at this link, and well done to Pettyson, a regional estate agent, for such clear, concise wording:
What you can do to protect yourself from APP fraud
Proactively protecting yourself from this kind of fraud can be difficult, as hackers can strike at any time. However, changing passwords frequently and using long and complicated alphanumeric strings – including upper and lower case letters along with special characters – is a good place to start, but these can be a pain to use. To help with this, password managers such as LastPass are highly recommended.
While frequently changing your email account’s password may scupper some scammers, others may still get through, so the best line of defence will always be your common sense. If anything at all seems fishy, be suspicious. In fact, be suspicious even if all seems well! You simply cannot be too careful.
Give the company asking for payment a ring to see if the request is legit. Dig out old paper records or search Google for the company in question to find their contact details – do not under any circumstances use the contact details listed in the email, as these are likely to be those of the hacker, not the genuine company.
If you are requested to make a significant payment (even if it is one you are expecting) via email, making a small payment first and then checking that the recipient is who it is supposed to be before transferring the rest can help protect your money. While it may be more inconvenient to make two payments instead of one, it’s a small price to pay if you want to keep your finances safe and avoid joining the tens of thousands of people who have already been adversely affected by APP fraud.
Finally, if you own a business that could potentially be targeted with APP fraud, make it a matter of course to call the beneficiary of payments over a set amount. Also, agree a ‘safe word’ with your accounts department and insist they call you before making any payment over a certain figure, it could save you thousands. Similarly, alarm bells should ring if you are ever asked to make a payment to alternative bank account to a regular beneficiary or supplier. Be on your guard…it’s a real threat.
Those are the main points I want to cover right now, but I’m absolutely sure there’s dozens and dozens of other points to be made – if anyone wants to share what they know or what they’ve found, please feel free. It will help us all. In the meantime, some useful websites:
I was run off my feet in July and August – up and down the length of the country, twice, for eight days at a time, to help with the DIY at my late mother’s house, before selling it. It was good to spend that amount of time with my closest relatives (who were doing the same thing) but it did mean that once I got back home, I wanted to chill out, and any remaining focus I had, had to be on my own garden, to stop it going completely wild. It still isn’t under control, but I can see how it might be. More than a week’s catsitting in London recently added to the sense of rush, as did the reality that there’s a lot of other weeks coming up soon when my time isn’t my own – all good things in their own right, but they all mean I can’t work on my own preps even the little amount that I have managed to do.
So, what to do?
Well, stopping the garden turning back to wilderness is still priority when I’m at home. And when I’m away, skills practice. With kit that I own, but don’t currently have the expertise to use. My bad for letting myself get into that situation, but all this time away from my own house has meant practising is suddenly a desirable activity.
Argh! I remember how to do a reef knot from Brownies: “left over right and under, right over left and under”. Then I started reading NetKnots and AnimatedKnots and oh dear me, how unreliable a reef knot can be! But the new-to-me knots were horrifyingly difficult. Right now, I’ve only learned the sheet bend, which was recommended to me as an important one – to me, at least, it looks kind of like a reef knot, but so far its construction is very different. But at least I’ve done it, with more to follow.
I carry this gorgeous little radio everywhere, when I stay away from my own property overnight. And I’ve never got to grips with its operation, embarrassingly. It takes AAA batteries, but I decided to see if it would actually charge up using the solar cells. And it did, though it took its own sweet time about it. The torch is easy to switch to, and it works, and at the other end of the functions range is a siren, which on an ordinary day is horrendously loud. So that’s good. The rest, not so much. I know that analogue radio is going out, rapidly, but according to Ofcom there are very local services that are still available. So, it can still be useful, but I’m going to add a digital radio very soon. My phone has a radio app, of course, but having a separate radio facility is important, I think.
I went to a self defence class, about a million years ago, held at a community hall in the next town over from me. The timing made it impossible for me to go along regularly at that stage, and I dropped out, but not before I’d bought some training nunchucks, made of foam. They’re available on Amazon nowadays. They’re quite cute, in an odd sort of way, and there are lots of free youtube videos about using them. So when the cats were off doing other things (even when they’re only made of foam, they’re hard, and you have to swing pretty fast) I gave it a go. They’re really difficult to use! But I can see that they could be very useful to gain flexibility and coordination. It reminded me of the childhood game of patting your head and rubbing your stomach, or learning to use my computer mouse with my other hand when I had an operation on my shoulder: very tricky at first, but quite a sense of accomplishment when you stop wobbling all over the place. I felt a bit strange doing it at all, but I needed something physical to do while I was staying in the flat, and this is what I chose.
Clearing my own garden carries on in the background as I said, of course, and from all these activities, there’s a couple of things that stand out:
little bits, small contributions to your preparedness, make a difference, sometimes in unexpected ways. Not only do they add up, there are loops of positive feedback that are great to experience.
skills and practice matter just as much as kit. If I didn’t have the kit, I couldn’t do any of the knotwork, radio listening or flexibility work; but if I didn’t do the practice, then all those objects are just objects, just extra weight and mass to carry.
There’s a cliché that’s very apt: keep on learning. And right now I’m off to tend to my dehydrator, which is also humming away in the background. Till next time.
So, part two – keeping your body cool, keeping your pets cool, and keeping your food cool.
Like anything else, there are occasions that feel like emergencies, or when you simply want something to happen fast. So, for immediate relief:
stash wetwipes in the freezer, use as needed.
hold your wrists under cold running water. Maybe use a bowl, since it’s also important to conserve water if you can.
soak a flannel with cold water, use it as a cold compress for your face and your head.
have a cool bath or shower. Even just splashing will help.
if you’re very short for time and severely overheated, stick your head under the cold tap!
Keep bottles of water in the fridge, or even the freezer, make some of the ones in the fridge the shop-bought fizzy ones for a treat.
Fill “hot” water bottles with water, and put them in the fridge, ready for you to take to bed.
Use loosely-plaited paracord, or even hair scrunchies, around the wrists, well-soaked to keep you cool as the water evaporates.
Have a tepid shower or strip wash before going to bed. Don’t towel yourself down. Evaporating water is key.
Know your own body, your own symptomatology – what does heat do to you in particular? Balance problems and migraines can be worse in heat, even though aches and pains can feel temporarily better.
Carry a parasol or umbrella to use as a sunshade.
Clothing and bedding
Wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured clothing, made of natural fibres, indoors and out. Cotton is best. Cover up your skin as much as possible.
Use a cotton top sheet and a light weight cotton blanket to pull on and off. Dampen the sheet with ice water, or use it before it’s dried after washing.
Don’t bother wearing underwear, if you can get away with it! If you can’t, wear cotton – it’s more absorbent. In any case, wear as little as possible on your own property.
Wear a wide brimmed hat when out and about. This protects you from sunburn, but also provides valuable shade from the heat, of course.
Footwear is crucial to comfort! Wear comfortable open flat sandals to prevent swelling feet if you have to walk anywhere.
Eating and drinking
Fill empty bottles with water and keep them in the fridge to use on their own or with a few frozen berries, a wedge of citrus or any of your favourite fruits. Make sure you have plenty of ice cubes.
Food for hot weather: salads and curries! I don’t do the curry thing myself in hot weather, but plenty of people do, and it originates in hot countries, so … more power to your elbow.
If you’re going to cook, do it in the most efficient way possible, so that you heat the house up as little as possible: cooking early in the day, using the microwave or slow cooker, using a steamer on top of a pan you’re using to cook something else, that kind of thing.
Bits of food that can be easily assembled seem to be really popular in the heat: sausages, cold meats, quiche, flan, tinned fish, cheese, hard boiled eggs, with salad or kidney beans, coleslaw and lengths of celery. Carbohydrates that can be eaten cold: potatoes, pasta, and bread and wraps of course!
Some soups are best used cold: gazpacho and ajo blanco, for example.
If you have desserts in your house: choc ices, tinned fruit, ice cream, soy sauce or evaporated milk, some yogurt, chopped bananas. Putting bananas in the freezer and turning them into smoothies is usually a hit.
Don’t forget your pets. Be aware of overheating for all species, especially furry ones.
Don’t leave dogs in cars.
Walk the dogs first thing in the morning then after the sun goes down in the evening Make sure they have access to shade if they’re outdoors.
For other pets, especially rabbits, put a bowl of ice cubes in their cages.
You might use old fashioned stoneware hot water bottles that can be picked up at car boot sales and fill them with crushed ice and cold water. They can be put in with the small pets or food animals – rabbits and guinea pigs, they lie up against them and sleep. Dogs too!
Consider cutting your dogs’ hair shorter than usual, especially the long-haired types.
Cooling coats for dogs.
I’m very doubtful about this, but the fact is that breeds of dogs meant for Scandinavia and the Arctic live in this country, and they may need help to do so, as well as new breeds of dog that are bigger, heavier and hairier than older breeds. So they may well need help too.
Looking at what’s on offer, it would be easy to simply drape a big wet cloth or chammy leather over your dog, that still makes use of evaporation! Or you could put freezer bricks in the dog bed, or even (and I’m letting my imagination run away with me here) make a little set of saddlebags for your dog so they can carry the freezer bricks around with them. Either of those tactics would certainly do well enough for a very sudden hot spell.
Even though my last post was about snow and storms (and the current weather promises more of the same) hot weather will be upon us soon enough. Time to review the precautions.
Remember it won’t last a long time, as these things go, even with the climate change now upon us. A few days. Maybe ten days … then it will lessen. Keep going, enjoy what you can! Below, I list lots of ways you can help you and your family to do exactly that.
Protection from the sun, by the way, is another post, this is about heat, which we can suffer from even indoors, or in the shade.
There are two schools of thought on having the windows open on the sunny side. Open or shut? I suggest both curtains and windows should be shut on the sunny side, until the sun moves. And keep every window open that isn’t exposed to the sun, or only partly exposed, to cool the house and set up a good through draft.
People are unanimous about the importance of creating a through draft, by opening windows on opposite sides of the house. Make sure none of the doors in between are closed, or can swing shut, by wedging them. For some people, especially in ground floor flats or bungalows, open windows can create noise problems, or even security problems. Locking double glazed windows open can help a fraction, but not much, unfortunately. If you’ve needed to keep the windows almost entirely shut for noise or security reasons, and wake up early because of that, then maybe use that time to open up whatever windows you can – problems are less likely early in the day, and you might be able to get some better quality sleep then.
I’ve seen home-made burglar alarms recommended in this situation – a string of empty drinks cans across the window, or groups of spoons, things like that, but the point is that by the time something like that gets set off, the burglar will already be inside, and I’m not a fan of allowing that to happen. I’d rather take more precautions against letting a burglar break in in the first place. Each to their own.
Curtains should be light-coloured, to help reflect the light and heat.
Consider running your washing machine in the evening and hang up your wet laundry near an open window – it will help with cooling by evaporation. Wetting down cheap curtains or a lightweight fabric hung on a door or a curtain rail, will do the same thing.
Run a wet mop over the tiled floors in the house, cools the rooms nicely while it evaporates! Cooling by evaporation is incredibly important in all this.
It’s been said that opening a loft hatch at night helps the hot air rise into the roof void and helps keep the bedrooms a bit cooler. I actually disagree with this, certainly in my circumstances, but it might work for some people.
If you normally sleep upstairs, but have a spare bedroom downstairs, use that, as heat rises.
If you can hang something outside your window so the sun does not shine directly on the glass it really helps. Shade blinds, like shops used to have, might become a thing!
Trees, shrubs or even a pond, near the house will help regulate your micro-climate, but be aware of other issues like providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, or letting a tree get too big which might then fall on the house in a storm. Although none of that may be under your control, of course.
I’m hearing about “solar vinyl” for windows, which is different from privacy films, and looks the same, except that it’s reflective. I have personal experience of the privacy films, which I highly recommend, but not the solar vinyl.
Hot water thermostat
Turn it down! You don’t need to heat your hot water as much as usual when all you’re going to do is have a cool shower, so don’t bother with it. I’ve heard that a tepid hot water tank, without much throughput, creates a risk of Legionnaire’s Disease, and maybe if you live alone and don’t shower much, that might be true. In the UK in 2017, there have been 346 cases reported to date (185 confirmed).
I query how many of these are simply about a tepid hot water tank. But for most people, I think that turning down the thermostat is the best bet. If it really worries you, then get a big plastic jug to fill with cold water from the hot tap, and use it to water the garden or even flush the toilet. Do Your Own Research, though.
They can seem very loud at night, but they can help you sleep much more soundly, and that can become more important – it does for me on the hottest nights.
Put a bowl of ice in front of any fan you use, it will help a bit.
Switch the fan on with dry hands…..
As climate change accelerates, would you buy a ceiling fan?
The one above looks amazing – part of me thinks it could be turned into a mini-windmill, but that’s just a bit of fun – it looks like it would be a big help in really hot weather.
Most of us need to be out and about sometimes – if that’s about errands to banks and shops etc, try to get it done as early as possible.
Gardening and watering plants is similar to the above but not identical: do it early, or do it late.
Ease back on anything that’s not crucial – lots of cleaning can be delayed, for instance! Just do as little as possible and take as much time as possible to enjoy the good weather.
Move as slowly as possible. And stick up a few postcards of the Arctic or Alaska or something, photos of ice and icebergs – that helps psychologically, believe it or not.
If your work/life schedule allows, then go continental – enjoy a light siesta…sleep through an hour of the worst heat!
Stay outside (in the shade) as long as possible, it’s usually cooler: sit under a big tree, relax on your patio with your feet in a bucket of water …. be inventive!
If you need to get out for the day, bear in mind that older buildings usually have thick stone walls and high ceilings, they’re much cooler. Or any public building with air conditioning……
When you’re out and about, make sure you take some cooling tricks with you:
a freezer bag of wet flannels, or just wetwipes, that have been in the freezer. If you have a cooler with you, put them in there.
use frozen small bottles of water or cartons of juice to keep the cooler and contents chilled, rather than freezer packs. They will thaw, in time, and at least you still have something cold to drink. Pack non frozen drinks too, of course!
make up a cooling mist to spray on your face, pulse points, feet. That just means decanting a few drops of peppermint essential oil and some water into a small spray bottle that you can carry around. Though make sure you close your eyes, and take your glasses off, if you’re going to do this!
Be aware of other people, and ready to help, especially children and elderly, they find it most difficult of all to adapt to excessive heat.
Offer your postman or other delivery callers a glass of chilled water.
There’s plenty of ways to enjoy all sorts of weather, heat included. Hope you have fun – and if I’ve missed something off, please check in on the comments. The next post is about keeping your body cool, which has a whole different range of things to do.