Stockpiling for sustainability

stockpile

If you aren’t stockpiling yet, you definitely should. It saves time on shopping, enables one to take advantage of the best deals, and has the potential to tide one over a tough period. In several instances we have eaten our way through our stockpile, relying heavily on it when times were rough.

Read more on stockpiling in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and barley, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.”

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Have you brushed up on your survival skills?

Once in a while it strikes me how singularly fortunate we are compared to past generations: so many of the things we take for granted would have been unthinkable luxury, or even science fiction, a mere 20 or 30 years ago. Truly we live in a time of plenty… yet on the other hand, the future feels so precarious that every time I watch the news (and believe me, this doesn’t happen often), I feel like checking that my pantry is full and that we have a good supply of drinking water in case anything happens. I wish we were more self-sufficient when it comes to food and energy.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“It all seems to be asking the following question: if the world is turned upside down and we can no longer rely on the fancy tools of modern man, do we stand a chance?

Well, do we? Honest introspection leads me, and many others, to conclude that we are less resourceful, resilient and capable than our forefathers. We do less things with our hands. We walk less on our feet. We don’t exercise our minds as much, because the convenience of the Internet is just too alluring. Many times, when struggling to remember a piece of information, I open up Wikipedia at once rather than strain my memory.”

Preparing for emergencies: water shortages

In my previous post, I discussed what we do during power shortages. Now let’s move on to a situation when the tap isn’t running.

Drinking water – always keep a supply of fresh water on hand for drinking and cooking. A little while ago, a new family moved into the neighborhood and one day when the tap stopped flowing we went to check on them. It turned out that the mother was alone in the house with a nursing baby and had no water to drink. The oppressive heat outside made her reluctant to venture out and ask any of the neighbors for water, so she just sat hoping that the problem would be fixed soon (it wasn’t, until the next day). I dispatched the older children to her house with a couple of water bottles, which were gratefully received – but you don’t want to depend on the kindness of others in such situations.

Flushing the toilet – we have three bathrooms in the house, so the water in the toilet tanks is generally enough for flushing for a day or two, but remember that you don’t have to flush every time (even if it goes sorely against your habits). When there’s no running water, I tell my kids – pardon the details – to only flush when they poop.

Dishes and laundry – the key word here is prevention. Running water issues can be unexpected (a pipe suddenly busting due to excessive heat, for example), so I try not to procrastinate when it comes to dishes and laundry. I do my best to wash dishes right after a meal, and clothes as soon as I have a full load. There are few things more annoying than leaving a sinkful of dishes overnight saying, “I’ll do this tomorrow”, and then tomorrow brings no running water.

Disposable dishes – plastic plates and paper cups are not very classy, economical or environmentally friendly, but when you have no running water for a day or two they can be a sanity saver. Besides, my kitchen cupboards are small and I simply don’t have enough plates for the whole family to keep using for two days straight without the possibility to wash them. I always keep a stash of disposable kitchenware to be taken out as needed.

The garden – this can be a serious issue. 48 hours without water, combined with a heat wave, can easily kill plants, especially those which don’t have deep roots. In such cases, I cover young plants. I also cover some of my garden beds with a mulch of straw to prevent moisture loss.

Finally, I save the water from my baby’s bath and use that for watering the plants. It isn’t much, but it can help tide some plants over until water flows in the pipes again.

I do realize, however, that we need a larger water container for our plants, especially now that our garden is expanding. We are currently planning to set up a greywater tank that will hold all the water from our showers, to use in the garden.tomato

A thriving garden can be killed off very quickly by a combination of heat and lack of water.

Water cisterns – several families in our neighborhood have water cisterns that provide, on average, all their water needs for up to two days. When other people have no running water, they carry on as usual – cooking, bathing, doing laundry – and hardly notice anything is amiss, except perhaps a little reduced water pressure. We are considering making an investment and installing such a cistern, which will eliminate nearly all water-related issues from our lives. The cistern will need to be set up above our house, so that the water runs down by force of gravity.

Electricity and running water are two things that, in the developed world at least, are considered so basic we usually take them for granted. When they are suddenly taken away, people are prone to panic. However, short-term power and water issues are easy enough to deal with, and need not disrupt your daily life – if you are prepared.

Preparing for emergencies: power shortages

Earthquake. Tsunami. Nuclear attack. These are the things that often come to mind when you think “emergency”. Fortunately, in most cases an emergency is something a lot more trivial – think a temporary power outage due to strong winds, or a blizzard that leaves you trapped at home for a couple of days. Or you just wake up one day to discover that your tap isn’t running, and receive a message that the water line won’t be fixed until tomorrow afternoon.

To put it simply, you know the world hasn’t ended and things will soon be back to normal, but for now you need to deal with this unexpected inconvenience that has come your way.

In the area we live in, the electricity and water lines are patchy and we often experience power shortages (especially during the winter) and water shortages (mostly during the summer).  This essentially means that every now and then, we will spend up to 24 hours without electricity and up to 2 or 3 days without running water. We have learned to expect these events and know how to prepare for them so they don’t turn into real emergencies. Here is how.

For power shortages:

Lights – we have emergency lights in the kitchen/dining room area, as well as plenty of candles and oil lamps on hand. When I think the power might go out, I light a fat beeswax candle in the bathroom as I head into the shower, even if the electricity is still on. You don’t want to find yourself groping your way out of the shower when it’s pitch-black – or try to maneuver when you’re bathing a baby and suddenly the lights go out.

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Above: candles on a rainy day

Heating – we have a gas heater which we connect in the living room. I close the bedroom and bathroom doors to keep the heat in one area, and we all camp out where it’s warm. Many people in our neighborhood prefer to use woodstoves instead, but we find that with gas, we can provide heat more quickly and efficiently.

Warning: heating with gas can be dangerous if you don’t provide some air circulation. I open the window a crack now and then when we use the gas heater.

Cooking – I always use a propane gas stove for cooking. It does have electric ignition, but can be also lit with a match. If needed, I can even bake flat bread in a pan on the stove. I just have to make sure, now and then, that we always have plenty of gas.

Food storage – the food in your freezer and refrigerator can usually survive a 24-hour power outage with relative impunity, depending on the temperature outside, your refrigerator’s insulation and how often you open it. Recently, when it was actually quite warm, the power was out for 27 hours, during which we have refrained from opening the freezer altogether. When the power was back, I peeked into the freezer and was very glad to find all the food still frozen solid. It helps to keep your freezer packed (stuff it with plastic water-filled bottles if you have some extra space) and make sure it’s well-insulated.

Backup generator – during our first winter here, we toyed with the idea of getting a backup generator, but eventually gave up on it as too expensive. Practically, surviving a day without power is quite possible and not very disruptive to your usual routine as long as you have light, heating and the ability to prepare food.

Going off-grid – this, of course, would be the ultimate solution to our problem. We are currently considering the option of investing in a solar energy system, which will free us from the power fluctuations and save us money in the long run. The initial cost is a little prohibitive, but the idea of generating our own energy is very appealing.

Stay tuned for part two: preparing for water shortages!