The New Survivalist
Disaster Preparedness and Self-Reliance

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Chapter 5: Page 2
Food

 

Chapter 5 Food: Page 2

Long-Term Storage of Special Survival Foods

After you have established your short-term stash, which should get your family through emergencies lasting from a week to several weeks, you may decide that you would like to store larger quantities of food in preparation for longer emergencies. In this section I will discuss a long-term food storage technique.

The following foods if stored properly have an indefinite shelf-life:
Whole Wheat Berries
White Sugar
Salt
Pure Sorghum Molasses
Pure Honey

Certain other foods, if stored properly, can keep for 5 to 10 years or even longer. All stored foods should be dated so they can be rotated out when the time comes to replace them.
Other cereals, such as oats
Dried Beans
Dried Corn
Rice
Couscous
Whole Spices

Before I discuss the best way to store these foods, lets take a brief moment to review the major reasons why stored foods spoil. Food is spoiled primarily by the growth of microorganisms. In order to grow and reproduce, most microorganism require two things, water and oxygen. When foods are canned they are preserved by killing all the microorganism in the food and the storage container by sterilization, and by keeping the container completely impervious to the entry of additional microorganisms. When foods are preserved by dehydration nearly all of the water is removed. The microorganisms that are in the food are not killed but without water they can not grow and reproduce. When foods are frozen the live microorganisms remain in the food, but the extremely low temperature stops their metabolism so they do not grow and reproduce. (Your refrigerator does not stop the growth of microorganisms, but their metabolism is slowed enough to prevent the food from spoiling before it can be consumed.) Pure honey and molasses are special because they naturally contain ingredients that prevent the growth of microorganisms.

The best way that I have found to store whole dried foods, like whole wheat berries and dried beans, is to seal them in completely airtight mylar bags made specially for the purpose of long-term food storage. Other plastic bags will work but the mylar bags work the best. First you must start with foods that contain very little moisture, or you must remove the moisture by placing the food in a low temperature oven for complete drying. The oxygen is removed from the bag and the mylar bag is sealed completely airtight with a hot iron. Mylar bags are strong but they are not puncture proof. They must therefore be enclosed in a strong, preferably airtight, container such as a 5 or 6 gallon plastic bucket with an airtight lid, such as the ones that you can purchase at hardware stores.

There are two good ways for removing the oxygen from the airtight mylar bags. The easiest way is to throw in a couple of oxygen absorbing packets just before you seal the bag. These can usually be purchased from the same supplier who supplied your mylar bags. The other way to remove the oxygen is to use carbon dioxide to replace the oxygen in the bags.

The easiest way to employ carbon dioxide is to use dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide gas. Dry ice can be purchased from the same ice dealers that sell blocks of regular ice. You will find them in your Yellow Pages. Dry ice is extremely cold and must be handled carefully. If it touches your skin it can cause a "burn." It must therefore be handled with gloves. Fill your storage container to within about a half inch (1 cm) of the top. Put a piece of dry ice on top of the food and put the lid on but do not seal the lid yet. As the gas evaporates (or sublimates) it will cause pressure to build in the container which could rupture it. You have to wait for the dry ice to evaporate completely, turning completely into carbon dioxide gas, and then you seal the container. As it sublimates it will drive the air out of the container. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and so it will remain in the container if you do not disturb it too much. One to two ounces (50 g) of dry ice is all that is needed for each 5 to 6 gallon (20 l) bucket of food.

Oxygen-Absorbing Packs

My favorite way to remove the oxygen is by using oxygen absorbing packs. The food most commonly used for long-term storage is whole wheat berries (Winter wheat) so I will use it as an example. Below is how I do it from start to finish:

I purchase organically grown whole wheat berries (Winter wheat) from a natural foods grocery store that sells in bulk. Whole Foods Market is a national chain that sells bulk foods but there are others including local sources. Rather than buying from the bulk department of the store, I place my order with the store manager and receive my wheat berries in 50 lb bags. They give me a discount of about 10% when I order by the bag. I also purchase other grains and beans for long-term storage in this manner.

The video on the right shows the storage of wheat berries that I purchased from an animal feed and seed store at a substantial discount (21 cents per pound as compared to $1.19 a pound for the organically grown berries.) These berries were cheaper because they were bagged for "seed." (Wheat berries and other whole foods bagged for animal feed are ideal.) They are essentially the same berries except they have not been cleaned quite as well and of course are not organic.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the 5 or 6 gallon (20 l) plastic buckets that you can buy in hardware stores are a convenient size in which to store your bulk items. These buckets are made out of two different types of plastic, one is food-grade and the other is not. I seal my foods in mylar bags so they don't come in contact with the plastic bucket so it doesn't matter to me whether they are food grade or not. If you store any of your bulk foods in direct contact with the plastic bucket you will want to use food-grade buckets only. Those that have already been used to store foods, like the ones that restaurants use, are perfectly fine, and you may be able to acquire these for little or no money.

I order my mylar bags from Walton Feed, Inc. online at http://www.waltonfeed.com/. They come in many different sizes but I have found that the 20 in x 30 in size is perfect for 5 or 6 gallon buckets. I place the mylar bag in the plastic bucket and fill it with the wheat berries. Then I throw in one 2000 cc oxygen absorbing pack, or two or three of the smaller sized packs, squeeze the excess air out of the bag (or suck it out using a plastic hose) and then seal it with a hot iron. You have to work quickly to avoid overly exposing your oxygen absorbing packs to air, which will decrease their effectiveness. Next I trim off any excess from the top of the mylar bag (optional) and firmly seal the lid on the bucket using a rubber mallet. The wheat berries are now ready for long-term storage in my basement.

I use the same technique to store other items that I buy in bulk, including pinto beans, corn, oats, etc. Most other items will not have the 100 year or longer shelf-life that the wheat berries have. If you start with whole foods that have a very low moisture content, most foods will have at least a 10 year shelf-life when stored in this way. Obviously you should label each bucket with its contents and the date it was sealed. It would also be a good idea to put a "Use by" date on the bucket, in case you forget what the shelf-life is or in case it is opened by someone else.

Sealing mylar bags

Here's a hint for helping you seal the mylar bags with a hot iron: Take a 30 inch (or 80 cm) 2x4 board and wrap an old towel around it a few times to make an "ironing board." You can staple or nail the towel on the underside of the board to keep it in place. When you are ready to seal your mylar bag lay this ironing board across the top of the bucket and lay the mylar bag over it to make your job easier (as demonstrated in the photograph above and in the video.) Make sure your seal is complete, and then trim off any excess from the top of the mylar bag. You will have to experiment a little with your iron to determine the ideal temperature. Trim off a small strip from the top of one of your mylar bags and try sealing it with your iron to determine the best setting.

The list below gives the approximate shelf-life for some common bulk items when stored in this manner. These numbers are conservative. It is quite possible that the foods will keep longer. However, all foods lose some of their nutritional value when stored over an extended period of time. The longer they are stored the more nutrition is lost. You should therefore try to rotate these foods out, replacing them with new stock, according to the shelf lifes suggested below. If you open a container and find that the food is moldy, it will most likely be because it contained too much moisture when you sealed it, or else it was exposed to air due to a faulty seal. Throw it in your compost.

If you are wheat intolerant then obviously you will want to store other grains. But keep in mind that most other grains will not have the shelf-life of wheat and so you will need to rotate your stock.

Hard Grains (wheat, corn, kamut millet, dry flax spelt, triticale) 15-20 years
Soft Grains (rolled oats, oat groats, rye, barley, quinoa) 8 years
Rice: White rice will store for 8 - 10 years. Brown rice will only keep for 1-2 years
Beans (soy, adzuki, blackeye, barbanzo, kidney, great northern, lentils, lima, mung, pinto, etc.) 8-10 years
Dehydrated vegetables (broccoli, carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, peppers, potatoes, etc.) 8 - 10 years
Dehydrated fruit 10-15 years
Dried dairy (powdered eggs, powdered milk, whey powder, cheese powder, cocoa powder, powdered butter or margarine) 5-10 years
Flours and ground products (All Purpose Flour, unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, white flour, cornmeal, cracked wheat, gluten, wheat flakes, mixes, etc.) 5 years
Pasta (Macaroni noodles, spaghetti, etc.) 10-15 years
Pure honey, salt, sugar, and sorghum molasses can be kept indefinitely as long as they are kept free from moisture. (Make sure that your honey does not contain additives. Sometimes water or sugar are added to honey. Pure honey will crystallize when stored for a long time. Impure honey will not.)
Garden seeds or sprouting seeds will remain viable for 2-3 years (The exception is alfalfa, which will keep for at least 8 years.)

How to use your wheat berries

You can roast your wheat berries, sprout them and even grow wheat grass. But the most popular way to use wheat berries is to grind them into flour, along with other grains or dried beans if you like, and use them to make bread, pancakes, or any number of other baked goods.

Wheat grinder

You will need to have a good hand-operated grinder for making flour from your wheat berries and other grains and dried beans. Cookbooks are available containing recipes for using the grains that you have stored. A couple of my favorites are mentioned in the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site and under "Recommended Reading" at the bottom of this page.

Whole Wheat Recipes

In her 1969 classic, Passport to Survival: Four Foods and More to Use and Store, survivalist writer Esther Dickey recommends whole wheat berries as one of the four foods which should make up "the basic components of an emergency survival diet." (The others are powdered milk, honey and salt.) Her book is a rich source of recipes for the many and varied ways in which you can use your whole wheat berries, from sprouting (an excellent way to add fresh greens to your diet) to making gluten (a source of protein) to baking whole wheat bread—the staple of life. Unfortunately her excellent book is out of print, but used copies are still available at Amazon.com.

A Word About Gluten and Wheat Intolerance

If you store wheat berries, learn now how to sprout them to make wheat grass! Sprouted wheat berries and wheat grass are much better for you, and are much more easily digested, than the other ways that you will consume your wheat berries, even better than grinding them to make bread. Wheat berries contain gluten, which is a difficult protein to digest. Many individuals develop an intolerance to gluten and must avoid it entirely. Often, the more wheat you eat, the more intolerant your body grows to it. So even if you don't have a lot of trouble eating products that contain gluten now, you can develop the problem in the future, especially if wheat ever becomes a major food source, like after a collapse when you break out your wheat storage. Caution should be used when considering wheat berries and wheat products, because many people have sub-clinical (below the surface) problems with wheat, including hidden wheat allergies. But with a storage life of practically forever (when stored properly), wheat berries are of course an excellent food to put up for long-term emergency storage. Sprouting your wheat berries will go a long way in adding additional nutrition and variety to your wheat berries, and will help prevent wheat or gluten intolerances that will surely occur if people are ever forced to rely on stored wheat as a primary source of food.

Nutritional Supplements

Do you take a multivitamin? There are so many nutritional supplements on the market today that trying to decide which ones you need can be confusing. While there are many supplements that may be helpful for individual needs, there is one that I consider essential for everyone. If you take nothing else you should take a good high-quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement on a daily basis. Most vitamins are fat-soluble and can be stored by your body. (The exceptions are Vitamin C and B-complex, which are water soluble.) Trace minerals, which are grossly lacking in the typical American diet, are also very important for maintaining your health, and like fat-soluble vitamins they too can be stored by the body. How much better could your body survive hard times if it is well stocked with these important nutrients when the emergency occurs, as opposed to beginning such a stressful situation with an already deficient supply? When we are under stress, our bodies use up our nutrient stores faster, and therefore we may need even more than usual. An adequate supply of these important nutrients will allow you to endure stress more easily, increasing your resistance to mental and physical disease.

As I have already mentioned, the longer foods are stored the more nutritional value they lose. And we all understand that one of the keys to sound nutrition is a highly varied diet. But during times of emergency we will no doubt be restricted in the variety of foods that we have available to us. In fact, we might be eating a lot of the same foods over and over. These factors, along with the fact that our bodies need more vitamins and minerals when under stress, mean that it will be even more important to take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement during times of emergency than during normal times. So I consider a good supplement to be an essential part of any emergency food stash.

Vitamins have a shelf-life of at least two years. Minerals are literally rocks that will keep forever. After the recommended two-year shelf-life has been exceeded, the vitamins will still be viable. It's just that they will have lost some of their potency. The older they are the more potency they will lose. You do not have to discard your vitamins after the expiration date. You can continue taking them. They may not be as potent as when you purchased them but they will be better than nothing.

Vitamin and mineral stash

I keep a one year supply of Super Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals in my emergency food stash. Everyone in my family takes this supplement so we do not have a problem keeping our stock fresh. We just have to remember that when we empty a bottle and purchase a new one it has to go to the back of the shelf, and every other bottle has to be moved forward. When we take a bottle off the shelf we are careful to grab the oldest one, which will be the one in the front. That way all of our vitamins always remain as fresh as possible. Super Supplemental contains some calcium, but since we try to take a higher amount of this important mineral, along with additional magnesium, a mineral that is heavily lost in food processing, we store a year's supply of Calcium-Magnesium as well. You may choose to store additional supplements (and essential medicines as well.) Just remember to store what you use and to use what you store—and above all, don't forget to rotate your stock!

Growing Your Own Food

After a local emergency, if we are lucky things could be back to normal within a few days. But other disasters could drag on for many weeks or even months. There is no way of predicting how long a national or global emergency could last. If you are ever involved in a prolonged emergency, your food stash, no matter how large, could eventually run out. If a prolonged disaster is on your list of concerns you should think about ways to replenish your stores by growing some of your own food. Even if you are not able to meet all of your family's needs, your stash will certainly last longer if you are able to supplement it.

Two skills that every survivalist should learn are vegetable gardening and fruit growing. Both involve trial and error so don't wait until an emergency occurs to start learning these important survival skills.

 

Growing your own ginger

Shown above left is a ginger plant growing in a 12 inch (30 cm) pot. (When the green leaves turn brown and die off the ginger root is ready for harvesting.) Even people who live in a high-rise apartment can grow a few vegetables, fruits or herbs in pots or containers. No matter how small, your property is capable of producing some homegrown foods. If you have a small back yard you can grow quite a bit, especially if you plan your garden carefully.

Go Organic!

We have seen that an important part of survivalism is self-sufficiency. The less you rely on the chemical industry the more prepared you will be when their expensive fertilizers and pesticides are unavailable. As a survivalist you should learn organic growing techniques. Not only will you be more self-sufficient, but your family will live healthier as well, and you will be contributing to a cleaner and safer planet. If you are new to gardening, or even if you are not, you will want to invest in one or more good "how to" gardening books. Be sure to choose books that emphasize organic methods. In the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site I have suggested some good gardening books. Learn how to fertilize your garden without chemicals, and how to control garden pests using natural methods.

Composting

Every organic gardener knows the benefits of composting. Composting allows you to recycle vegetable matter from your kitchen, as well as your yard and garden wastes, to convert it, with the help of beneficial bacteria and industrious earthworms, into an excellent material that you can work into your garden soil to aerate and fertilize it. Composting can be done anywhere, even in the city where space is limited. You can even keep a small earthworm compost bin just for kitchen scraps in your basement or garage. I do not add meat scraps or dairy products to my compost, preferring to keep the material of vegetable origin only, in order to eliminate odors and flies. The exception is egg shells which can be added to compost without creating any problems. The calcium in egg shells is also great for your soil. Even if you do not have a garden you should compost your vegetable trash and yard waste to produce less strain on our overflowing land fills and garbage dumps, and to be less reliant on city services, which may be interrupted during a prolonged emergency. (We will discuss waste disposal in a later chapter of this web site.)

Rain barrels and compost bins

The two compost bins that I keep behind my garage are shown in the photograph above. This type is normally too expensive in my opinion, but I was fortunate enough to acquire these two at estate sales for only a few dollars each. You can easily make your own compost bins by forming hardware cloth or chicken wire into a cylinder, leaving it open at both the top and the bottom. (Note the two rain barrels also in this photograph.)

Fruit Trees

Planting a tree? Why not make it a fruit tree? The dwarf varieties also make excellent ornamental trees.


I have a very small front yard, but it was large enough to plant two dwarf fruit trees—an apricot and an Asian pear. Dwarf trees reach a maximum height of only 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 m), but they produce about the same amount of fruit as full-sized trees that would require a much larger space. Semi-dwarfs are also available that grow to heights somewhere between a dwarf and a full-sized tree. It is also easier to harvest your fruit from a dwarf or semi-dwarf because you don't need a tall ladder.

Apricot Blooms with honey bee

It would be hard to find an ornamental tree that could exceed the beauty of a dwarf apricot tree. My apricot tree produces a bounty of fruit each year—far more than my family can consume, even though we preserve much of our fruit by canning and dehydration. Apricot trees are among my favorites not only because of their delicious fruit, but also because they produce beautiful and fragrant flowers in the early Spring. The photograph above shows a honey bee pollinating the blossoms of my apricot tree. A bee hive will provide plenty of delicious honey—a natural sweetener and healthful sugar alternative—and as an added bonus the industrious little workers will insure that all the blooms of your fruits and vegetables are pollinated, which will maximize production.

Asian pear tree

This beautiful dwarf Asian pear tree in my front yard (above) also produces a bounty of delicious and healthful fruit. Growing many different types of fruit not only provides variety, but the work of harvesting and preserving is spread out since each ripens at a different time.

Back yard orchard

Even though my property is in a suburb of a major city, and is only average in size, I also manage to grow a peach tree, two apple trees, two cherry trees, another pear tree and a paw paw tree in my back yard. This is in addition to a long row of 10 blackberry vines, another of 10 grape vines, and a nice-sized vegetable garden.

Author picking apples

It is amazing how much of your own food you can grow, even on a small property. If you live on a larger lot you can of course grow much more, maybe even corn, wheat and other grains. Nut trees are also excellent if you have the space and are willing to fight the squirrels for your nuts.

Blackberries

Blackberries (above) are easy to grow if you have a sunny location. Check the prices in the grocery stores (even when they are in season) and you will understand why this is also an excellent cash crop!


Vegetable Gardening

Fruit trees are incredibly easy. For most varieties all you have to do is plant them, prune them once a year, and then collect your bounty of fruit. Vegetable gardening involves a little more work because the ground has to be broken and the garden has to be tilled, planted, hoed, etc. But the small amount of effort is well worth it.

It is not the purpose of this web site to give details on how to grow fruits and vegetables. There are many good books available, including the ones in the Additional Resources section at the end of this web site and under "Recommended Reading" at the bottom of this page. I suggest that you acquire a few good books and start learning now. If you are new to gardening you may find that some of your efforts will not pan out at first. But through time, with experience and learning, you will build your skills and develop your repertoire of favorite plants. You will get better with each season and when the emergency occurs you will be ready.

Save Your Seeds

Store-bought seeds will remain viable for at least 2 to 3 years, although their germination rate will decrease through time. Store your extra store-bought seeds by keeping them cool and dry in airtight containers such as mason jars or plastic bags. Refrigerating or freezing your seeds is not recommended. You should also save your own seeds from your garden. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly in the sun before storing them.

Dealing with Thieves

Even during normal times I find that there are sometimes people who will help themselves to the bounty of my labor, particularly to my fruit. Imagine how much more of a problem thievery will become when there is a shortage of food during a prolonged emergency. You might want to give some thought now to camouflaging or hiding at least part of your garden. I have seen people hide their gardens by growing edible plants in flower beds close to their house. There are so few people these days who know how to live off the land that most people don't even recognize a common edible plant when they see one (although everyone knows what a fruit is for.) Some foods, like parsnips, potatoes and carrots, grow underground and are even less obvious to the uninitiated.

Livestock

To help meet your protein needs you might also want to keep some type of livestock. There are many animals to consider, depending on space and local zoning laws. Goats will provide milk as well as meat. Chickens will provide eggs and meat. For city dwellers the most practical animals to keep are pigeons and rabbits. Pigeons are too messy for me so I greatly prefer rabbits.

Rabbit meat is delicious and healthy. Rabbits are extremely prolific and will eat just about any plant materials. Don't throw your corn husks into the compost! They are a favorite food for rabbits! Rabbits do not take up much space. They are quiet and easy to hide from your neighbors. We have a small one-car garage where we keep six rabbit hutches along with my garden tiller, lawn mower, a stash of twelve 20 lb propane tanks and a few bails of hay—And we still have room for our car as well!

Florida White rabbit

Florida Whites are the best breed to keep for survival food when there are space limitations to consider. It is a compact breed that has been developed especially for meat production. They are a medium-sized breed, but they produce the greatest amount of meat per pound of feed consumed. And the meat is excellent! They also require much smaller hutches than the larger breeds and so they take up less space. They are perfect for city survivors.


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Rabbitry in garage

I built these six hutches (above), each measuring 2x2x3 feet, for my Florida Whites using the instructions found in my favorite rabbit book, Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits by Bob Bennett. To get the most from my limited space the hutches are hung from the joists in the ceiling of my garage. Worm bins underneath the rabbit hutches help keep odors and flies to a minimum. Worms love rabbit manure and are happy to speed up the decomposition process producing rich soil for the garden.

Rabbit manure is the best fertilizer available for your garden and is highly prized by growers everywhere. It can go directly from beneath your rabbit hutches to your garden without any danger of burning your plants. Even if I didn't eat meat I think I would keep rabbits just for this "black gold" for my garden.

Florida Whites munching on plaintain leaf

These Florida Whites are "sharing" a plantain leaf. The best food for your rabbits is the pellets that you purchase at hardware and feed stores. These should form the bulk of their diets, but you can supplement with hay, "weeds" (that have not been sprayed with herbicides), and vegetable waste from your kitchen. Rabbits enjoy the parts of the vegetables that you would normally throw in the compost, including corn husks, carrot tops, cores, skins, etc. They absolutely love blackberry leaves, grape leaves, plantains and dandelions. Comfrey is an excellent food and a medicine as well and is easy to grow in your garden. Blackberry leaves are also good medicine for your rabbits, particularly good for diarrhea (which is probably due to overfeeding your rabbits—the most common mistake that rabbit owners make.) It is a good idea to keep a few bails of hay (not straw) on hand for supplemental food, nesting material, and for emergency food for your emergency food.

Action Step 10: Food Check Lists - Growing Your Own

Turn to the page in you Action Planner where you have begun your "Get" and "Do" lists for Food. Add to your lists the items that you want to acquire and the things that you want to accomplish to help you prepare for growing some of your own food. You might include items such as gardening equipment, and books pertaining to organic gardening and growing livestock. As you progress through the remainder of this web site you will think of other things to add to your lists. When you acquire an item or accomplish a task check it off your list.

Continue to Chapter 5: Page 3 Edibles from the Wild

Recommended Reading:

Recommended Products:

Visit The Nature's Sunshine Products Site for:

Super Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals
Nature's Spring Reverse-Osmosis
Continue to Chapter 5: Page 3 Edibles from the Wild

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Natural Health School .com
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