Category Archives: In the Self-Reliant Home

An old-school cache to store food and supplies

By Setanta O’Ceillaigh

After two very productive gardens and two winters of dehydrating food, I found I had a substantial amount of dried goods in sealed jars. While I was filling my cabin with more jars than I could keep track of, I pondered the possibility of future crop failures — not just of my own garden but regional failures which were common historically. Before the advent of canning in the early 1800s it was not practical to store fruit and vegetables for long periods of time, as mold and insects would eventually spoil even the best laid provisions. Grain was about the only food that could be stored for years reliably. Today we have the luxury of a global market able to move food anywhere in a short time, commercial refrigeration, and, of course, canning jars.

While I have no doubt that a regional crop failure would be addressed by shipping goods in from other parts of the country, I would be assuming I would have the money to buy those goods in such a bad year. If my gardens failed and I could not afford to buy anything, I would be depending on what I canned the previous year. If what I canned was to be lost in any way I would be in a bad situation. Since I had such a large supply of dehydrated food in sealed mason jars, I decided to establish a supply in a barrel cache near a small shack on my property.

The unearthed cache is as fresh, clean, and dry as the day I buried it 17 months earlier.
 

I selected a 55-gallon plastic drum with a removable locking top. I chose an out of the way spot and dug down four feet with a hole big enough to set the barrel down into with the top just below the ground level. Into this barrel I placed a mixed food supply consisting of dehydrated fruit and vegetables, grain, beans, sugar, powdered milk, baking powder, salt, and spices, all in individually sealed containers. I also included a mess kit and stock pot for cooking and boiling water and a bucket with an old coat, wool blanket, and a set of old clothes. I stuffed a hand saw, axe head, knife, wire, multi tool, water filter, candles, rat traps, tarp, and a rope in between the jars as well.

After filling the barrel with supplies, I tossed in a five pound bag of clay cat litter to absorb moisture and humidity. I used latex caulk to coat the rim of the barrel (in addition to the gasket already on the lid) and latched it closed with a metal ring. The sides were filled in around the barrel and wide flat stones were placed over the top. Sand and dirt was shoveled over the stones to fill in between them, then leaves and compost tossed over them. After covering the barrel it would not be easily noticed.

This stash was meant to be sealed and forgotten except in case of dire need, and would provide emergency food and supplies, a means to cut fuel for cooking, a change of clothes, and the ability to boil water (with the assumption that water could be stored in empty food containers after boiling). If I was ever so desperate to dig this cache up, I would have enough to rely on for a month or two.

Burying and hiding the cache was as simple as placing a few flat rocks over the lid and shoveling some dirt and leaves into the remaining spaces. Nature took care of the rest.
 

The real test of the cache came when I dug it up a little over a year later. In the time since sealing the barrel, I had built a cabin, barn, and other outbuildings on the property, but had left the barrel untouched. With winter approaching, I decided to open it to see how reliable the cache was, and to repurpose the barrel as a mini root cellar. If the barrel was full of water and spoiled supplies, I would discontinue this idea; if everything was good, I would duplicate the cache in other locations.

I was prepared for water and spoilage when I removed the stones and unsealed the lid, but to my pleasant surprise everything was dry and immaculate. Not a drop of water had gotten into the barrel, nor mouse or insect. I was looking at a barrel of supplies as fresh as the day I sealed the lid nearly a year and a half earlier. The cache experiment was a complete success.

Little ones on the homestead

By Melissa Souza
 

Everywhere I go around the homestead I have four little ones following close behind me, two of which always have their boots on the wrong feet. Folks are always asking how we get it all done with four homeschooled children. It is true that I never have a stretch of time when children are gone at school, but that only means that I have helpers all of the time. Homesteading with children is a state of mind. If you try to distract them so you can get your work done it will be a constant battle of rushing and leaving tasks unfinished.

We started this homesteading journey for our children. We wanted them to see the great value in living a simple life. It is important that our children know things, and by things I don’t mean electronics. I mean real things like how to process meat, plant a garden, save seeds, and care for the land that takes care of them. As a busy parent that needs to get many things done every day, it is tempting to tell the kids to go play, but we are learning the value in taking the extra time to include each of our children in the daily chores.

 

Each child has a set of jobs that are only their responsibility. We speak to them about how vital that role is, and why it is so important to take that responsibility seriously. My seven year old son is in charge of feeding the chickens, dog, cats, and rabbits. We explained that they eat before he does, because they depend on him. He never forgets to feed any of them, because he sees that they wait anxiously for him every morning. My four year old daughter gathers eggs after breakfast, and she has a special egg collecting apron that is just for her. This makes her feel important, because she is literally bringing breakfast in for our entire family.

My husband and I teach our children to harvest and clean ripe produce from the garden to provide food for our family and our small CSA.
Our daughter and her special egg-gathering apron, which she uses to gather eggs every day.
 

When it’s time to gather firewood, my husband always makes sure to bring our oldest boy along so he can learn how to safely chop wood, and how to stack it so that it dries properly. They have built a firewood shed, rabbit hutches, nesting boxes, a storage shed, and a child-friendly chicken coop together. It would be much quicker for my husband to do these projects on his own, but each new project is an opportunity to teach our children measurements, angles, types of wood, different tools, and hard work.

Planting seeds may take longer with little kids, but the joy they gain from growing food for their family can’t be duplicated any other way.
 

The chicken coop was designed specifically so that our children could manage the hens without our assistance. The food and water delivery systems are designed so that they never have to enter the coop. Eggs are collected from outside, and the back is easy to open so that they can clean out the coop themselves. Our rabbit hutches are similarly designed, and the animals that feed our family have become the responsibility of the kids. This gives them ownership and respect for those animals when it comes to processing day.

They have not gotten into processing the animals for meat yet, but that will come with time. They do watch and ask questions, and we explain the anatomy and steps involved in butchering. We save hides, and they help me tan and stretch the leather. They have learned that we use every part of the animal, and that is how to respect their sacrifice.

Learning to preserve the harvest is another wonderful skill my kids learn on the homestead. We often turn extra cabbage into kimchi.
 

Our favorite time of the year is when we start planning our garden. They get to select special vegetables that they would like to grow that year, and experience success of planting the seeds they helped save from the season before. When we are preparing our garden compost, we talk with them about how our food breaks down and why compost is important to feed our gardens. The kids all get out there every spring with rakes and shovels to help prepare the gardens that will feed them year around.

All four kids help plant seeds, weed, and water through the spring. You could walk around the entire property with our four year old, and she could tell you what each seedling is. I love watching her explain to visitors that the frilly ones are carrots, and the big round leaves are cucumbers, and the tall vines are sweet peas. It takes us longer to get our garden in the ground with so many tiny fingers poking around, but it makes every extra hour worth it when we see how proud they are of the carrots that they grow.

We built our coop to make sure our kids could manage the care and feeding of the hens all by themselves. The feed and water is added from the outside, and the entire back of the coop opens to make it easy to rake out the spoiled bedding into a wheelbarrow.
 

Summer months bring daily garden collections, and they are so excited to bring in large baskets of greens, and even more eager to eat them. We run a small CSA, and when people come to collect their baskets, all four kids take such pride in everything that goes into them. Summertime also brings abundance that we preserve for the fall and winter months. Including the children in the canning process has been one of our best homeschool learning experiences. They learn to read recipes, measure exactly, and tell temperature. We have learned about bacteria, acids, and kitchen safety together, and that is a real world skill that will stay with them.

 

Homesteading with small children is very possible, and in many regards what keeps us going. We live this life for them, so why would we not teach them every aspect of how to live this life in the future? My grandma tells me that this season in life is long days, and short years. I remind myself of that when I am watching my two year old stirring most of the flour out of the bread bowl. At the end of the day our children have dirty feet, and smell like sunshine, and we can almost bet that they have learned something new.

Melissa lives with her husband and children on a suburban homestead in the Pacific northwest. In addition to a garden and eggs, they produce meat chickens and rabbits.

 

Laundry line tips from an old hat

By Amanda Woodlee

Nothing warms my pioneer blood like clothes hanging on a line to dry. For me it’s a chance to unwind while I take care of household business. It’s a wonderful basic country skill, but, after so many years of doing it, I have found ways to make it easier and avoid its pitfalls, such as dust and scratchy towels.

There are also monetary benefits to line-drying your clothes. The most obvious is how considerably it lowers your electric bill — twofold! First, by not using power for the dryer, and, second, by not heating up your house and forcing the AC to work harder.

A second benefit is whiter whites. Ever leave something in a window too long and find the color faded? Sun-bleaching is an ancient tradition that is still practical. Bonus: the sun has germ-killing powers!

Hanging laundry is pretty simple stuff, and I’m not here to complicate it. Whether you’re new to it or an old hat like me, if you’d like to get the most out of it, here are a few tips I’d like to share from doing this a few years.

Towel the line — It’s warm out, and that means pollen is everywhere. Unless you’re into yellow stripes, take a minute to run a damp cloth down every inch of hanging surface.

Double up — Hang a piece with two pins, then overlap it with the next piece and use the second pin to hold up one side of the next piece, so that they share it. This works best on thinner pieces, and keep in mind it will slow the drying process a smidgen. This, along with grouping like items, is also helpful when you have a lot of pieces to hang so you don’t run out of pins.

Flip out — Remember what I said about the sun? That’s good on whites — leave them be. But, if you want your colors to last, protect their exteriors by turning them inside-out. This is also great for pants because it helps pockets dry faster. Pro-tip: turn underwear inside out. Don’t make me explain why.

Whip it good — Give everything a good shake when you hang it. Helps get the dog fur and wrinkles out. If there’s not any wind, clothes dry in the shape they’re left in, so make it a good one.

Fluff ‘n stuff — When finished, I like to toss the load into the dryer on the air-dry setting for 5-10 minutes; helps get the dust off and softens. Save this task for late at night or early in the morning before the temperature climbs.

Bring it in — Don’t leave clothes on the line overnight, and don’t leave the basket outside all day; the sun dries and weakens the plastic. And if your clothespin bag doesn’t zip, best take it inside so critters don’t move in and surprise you next time you reach inside!

Don’t be such a snag — If you have delicate fabrics (satins, laces, hosiery), consider investing in soft-grip plastic clothespins with rubber feet to avoid snags. For everything else my 50 or so wooden pins do just fine.

Scoot yer boot — I hang my pin bag over one of the middle lines and move it down as I go so it’s always nearby.

Special techniques

I have techniques for hanging every article of clothing. Socks and underthings get one pin each. Shorts and briefs get two — I fold the waistband over the line. Pants are hung upside-down by the leg with a pin on each cuff. Tees, blouses, and polos get a pin at each shoulder.

Button-up shirts, however, have their own special way to hang, a technique handed down for generations in my family. Take the two seams on either side of the shirttail, and pin those. This way the shirt hangs upside-down, and the breeze can flow through the armholes.

As soon as the daily temperature is in the 50s, I start hanging laundry; this year that was February. And I don’t quit until October-November. If I get up early and the sun is warm, I can get three loads done. For my husband and me, I do one a day during the week to maintain.

If the wind is over 10-15 mph, I wait. Better to put it off than risk damaging the clothes. Save sturdy loads (blankets, towels, heavy sheets) for blustery days.

Drawbacks? Not many. The occasional rogue bird needs target practice. Spiders and other critters (mostly boxelder bugs) have met untimely ends in the dryer during post-hang fluffing. I sometimes find their shriveled carcasses on my socks and shake them off. The boxelder bugs have been eating my baby raspberry bush leaves — the meanies deserve what they get.

Working my way up — Part 1: Living in a storage shed

By Setanta O’Ceillaigh

 It was not my intention to live in such small housing, but necessity is the drive of all creation. I had lived most of my life as one of the rural poor, but then went to work where I was making so much compared to what I did before that it was like winning the lottery. I made some very poor financial choices and was forced to make significant changes to remove the worst elements from my life. I moved back to the countryside and got out of my mortgage and car loan by voluntarily surrendering them to the bank. I bought the best tract of land I could afford out of savings, got a dilapidated camper, and moved onto the lot almost the day the deed was in my hand. I was determined to make it work or die trying.

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A few tips for cutting firewood

Chuck Klein

There are only two economical, exciting, expeditious, and fun methods of cutting firewood: one is with a chainsaw, the other is … we’ll get to that later.

I’ve picked up a bunch of tips by reading Popular Mechanics since I began sawing and splitting my own firewood over 50 years ago. Along the way, I’ve created and developed a few of my own tricks, methods, and means which I am pleased to share with fellow self-reliant types.

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Practical prepping

By Melissa Souza

Sometimes when I drive into town I look around and think to myself, “One day this could all be different.” There have been countless zombie apocalypse, EMP blackout, and alien invasion television shows, but it’s doubtful that something like that would really happen. But what if it did? It’s difficult to imagine our familiar world with our convenient lives halted and radically altered. It seems like it could never happen, and the majority of folks live their lives telling themselves that it never will.
Then there are the “preppers,” the ones who prepare for everything and live like tomorrow will be the day that the lights go out. I have prepper friends, and sometimes I think these folks are a little crazy. And if I find them a little crazy, then society must find them out-of-this-world nuts!
So do we all start burying underground railroad cars, and stocking them with toilet paper and canned food? Do we devote our weekends to bug-out dry runs with our kids, and start wrapping up all electronics in layers of tin foil? Prepping is expensive and addicting, and can you really be prepared for everything?
I decided for my own family that I wanted to take a more practical approach to preparing. I don’t call it prepping, I prefer to look at it as living a sustainable, yet useful life.

Gardening

I don’t want to store food that I don’t eat and may never eat. My family has learned to grow our own food, to preserve what we grow, and to make it last us until the next year’s food is ready. If you grow your own food, think about storing a few years of good garden seed, and learn how to save seeds to plant the following year in the case that the local garden center disappears.

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Grow a garden now, so you’ll know how when you really need to.

Harvest
Harvest from our garden will be eaten fresh, canned, or dehydrated. Nothing goes to waste.

Storage food

Don’t get me wrong, you need to have storage food, because what if a massive earthquake, an EMP, or the little green guys take over in December? Garden seed is not going to sustain you in the dead of winter, nor will it help you for months to come. Make sure to preserve what you grow, and preserve as much as you can. If you do not grow a garden, you will need to purchase food.

Making jam
We can as much as we are able for long-term storage.

Hutch
We store canned goods for when we need them.

Don’t depend on freezing everything, because no power means no freezer. Have at least three months of dry food that you rotate and actually use throughout the year. Dry rice, bean soup, and quick oats are among the most cost-efficient long-term foods you can store. If you plan to store them long-term, I recommend using food-grade pails lined with mylar bags and heat-sealed with oxygen absorbers. Think about seasoning, sugar, salt, and even hard candy. A major disaster doesn’t have to taste bad.

Emergency Essentials
For the things you can’t grow yourself, consider investing in some stored survival food.

Water

The most important thing you will need is clean water. There will be some water stored in your hot water tank, but that will not last you long. On average, each member of your family will need one gallon of clean water to drink and cook with per day. Those 55-gallon water barrels are a great way to store large amounts of easily-accessible water. You can build a simple water barrel tower to store more in a smaller space. Another option for those who do not have a large amount of space for water storage is a high quality water filter. Keep in mind, you will need an additional water source for a filter to be an option.

Water_barrels
Having clean water stored is vital in an emergency.

Heat

The next thing to consider when making a preparation plan is heat. I have heard people say that they plan to just stock up on blankets and snuggle, but in the heart of winter when you actually have to survive, snuggling (although lovely) may not be your best line of defense. Think about investing in a good generator to run the heat in your home, but if an EMP takes down the grid and fries most things that are wired, that generator may be rendered useless. However, there is a greater chance of a storm or an earthquake than an EMP, so generators are still a practical and safe investment. Generators require fuel, but they can run your lights, your fridge, and your well.
The best form of alternate heat is a good wood-burning stove. You can heat your home, you can cook safely indoors, and you can use it now as well as in an emergency. A wood-burning stove is a wonderful investment because it provides peace of mind, requires no power to run, and you can save money every year by using wood heat. A wood stove also increases your home’s value by up to $2,000 if you were to sell it. We chose to have a new energy-efficient wood stove professionally installed, because it’s a practical preparedness item that we can use regularly. Pellet stoves are efficient and easy to use, but they require stored up pellets and electricity to run. In the long run, a wood stove is a better investment.

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A wood-burning stove is a great investment.

Practice living without electricity

Something that your kids will think is fun to do is some dry runs with manual items. When I have time, I use my hand mill for making sauces, even though I have a perfectly good food processor that would get the job done three times as quick. Some nights we get the Dutch oven out and make a dinner over the fire. Try hanging your clothes out on a line in the summer. I do these things so that I know how. I do not want to be figuring out how to cook over a fire or on a wood stove when my food is more valuable than gold.

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Involving your children in your preparedness plans will only make things easier if you need to use them.

Learn how to work the manual tools that you have and try to pick up some cast iron cookware, saws, and other non-electric items from garage sales or thrift stores. If you plan to bake bread, fish, or hunt for small game, now is the time to learn, not when you are running on empty and the world has gone mad. Buy a few different pails of those one-month food supplies, and take them camping with you. See what you like and don’t like, and which are the best value.

Medicine

You also need to think about medical needs and hygiene. Do you or a family member require special medication or oxygen to survive? If so, get your hands on extra. Save any medications that go unused, but be sure to watch the expiration dates on them. Have basic first-aid products on hand such as alcohol, Band-Aids, first-aid creams, burn gel, aspirin, a suture kit, eyewash, wraps, and even a basic IV kit.

Currency

The next thing to consider is currency. I say currency, not dollars, because the American dollar could become your new supply of toilet paper if things go bad. If you find that unlikely, just talk to Germans in the mid-1920s who were burning money because it was cheaper than buying wood. It is a good idea to keep some paper money out of the bank in the case of an earthquake, major storm, or financial collapse like what is occurring in Greece. Do not depend solely on the dollar, however. If you have paper money, and a major catastrophe happens, spend that before anything else, because it could quickly lose its value.
King Solomon said, “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” Think about that and try to implement it. You could diversify into property, food, medicine, guns and ammo, paper money, precious metals, and fuel, for example. Think about investing in some physical metals. Silver is a good investment, because it’s more affordable than gold, and is preferable to barter with. You would be better off to offer someone an ounce of silver for a gallon of gas, rather than a much more valuable ounce of gold. However, in a real emergency scenario, goods could become more valuable than money, so stockpile some ammo, toiletries, and even alcohol for trading.

Apples
Extra produce might be good to trade during an emergency where money no longer has value.

Dog-and-chickens
Slowly but surely, start preparing your family by living sustainably.

Final thoughts

Don’t feel like you need to do all of these things all at once. Start slowly and think about what helps you feel prepared for what may or may not happen. Since there is a good chance that life will continue on easy street, I prefer to prepare using food, items, and lifestyle choices that we will actually use on a day-to-day basis. Figure out what works for you, and don’t share your preparations all over town. You are preparing for your family, not for the others that will come looking. Don’t be one of those families waiting on your rooftop for the government to rescue you, because if it’s a widespread disaster they may not be coming.

Confessions of a desert rat

Life in the boonies on $30 a week

By Joel Simon

I’m what some people call a Cedar Rat. I live alone with a couple of dogs in the Southwest high desert on less than $30 a week. I built my home and make my living largely on what other people cast off.

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And this is my back yard.

I’ve been a hermit out here a long time now. My reasons don’t matter and would be far too long a story anyway. If I’d waited until I had the money and circumstances to do it right, I’d still be waiting. So finally I just did it.

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How we homeschool

By Melissa Souza

I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and taught in the public school system for three years. As soon as my husband and I had our first child, we knew that public school was not for us. We wanted to have control over what our children were taught, and when they were taught it. My husband and I felt it was our responsibility to raise hard-working, self-driven, self-disciplined, and imaginative human beings.

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Storing food the right way

By Jackie Clay-Atkinson

My husband, Will, and I firmly believe that every family should have two years’ worth of food stocked up at all times. Just like our grandparents before us, we believe that it brings peace of mind and satisfaction to have enough food and supplies on hand that we can coast through any future hard times with ease.
One question about food storage keeps popping up: “How long is my stored food good for?” Folks are concerned with the safety of their families and don’t want to serve them food that has gone bad.

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Basic long-term food storage

By James Kash

Long-term food storage has played a pivotal role in humanity’s survival. For thousands of years, foods have been preserved in some form for winter use. The Native Americans caught and dried fish each year to supply food to the tribe. On the eastern continents, people fermented grapes into wine, along with threshing and storing grains to be ground into flour during the winter. One hundred years ago, a house pantry was a common feature in the home and played a role in storing the family’s food supply. Potatoes, canned vegetables, canned meats, jams, jellies, and pickles were frequently used out of storage and were featured in many meals.
Today, the same attitude is not as prevalent. Since the invention of modern-day refrigeration and the availability of fresh foods year-round, many people feel that long-term food storage is no longer necessary. Most folks visit their neighborhood grocery daily to procure foods they need for the day’s meals or some may even go out to eat every day. In our modern society that demands fast-paced living, many people find themselves at odds with the homestead pantry.
However, having a good supply of grains, meats, fruits, and vegetables is not only just plain smart but very cost-effective.If you walked into my basement pantry right now, you would see jars of canned green beans, canned beef chunks, glass jars of brown sugar, glass jars of pinto beans, and a hefty supply of white buckets filled to the brim with bread flour or sugar. I believe that long-term food storage has a place in everyone’s home.

Reasons to keep a pantry

Long-term food storage plays a pivotal role in emergency preparedness. A homestead pantry is not for hoarders, it is for smart, organized people who want to keep their well-being intact in times of crisis.
Keeping a pantry allows you to keep a family budget in line by having low-cost foods and other essential items at ready access. Most of the foods that line our pantry walls were grown, hunted, or slaughtered right on the homestead, but we still buy some of our food. The pantry allows us to purchase commonly-used items in bulk and lay them back for future use. Recently, we found a good sale on potatoes at our local grocery store. The sale was too good to pass up. We purchased 100 pounds and then canned them up, resulting in more than 41 quarts and 12 pints of potatoes. We saved almost half the cost of buying them at regular price.
The pantry is also pivotal in planning the homestead garden and livestock projects for the year. You should plant foods to fill your pantry. If you are low on tomato products, then plant a lot more in the garden. If you are running low on chicken, raise more and keep the pantry at a comfortable level. In good years, lay back as much as you can. Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Stocking the homestead pantry

The homestead pantry should include what would normally be used (plus extra) and anything that might become necessary if the situation permitted it. Our food storage pantry includes a variety of foods that can put together many meals.

The pantry should be functional, above all. Stock foods that you eat, and eat the foods that you stock. I suggest before you begin planning your long-term food storage that you sit down and make a master list of everything needed to put your frequently-cooked meals together. This includes everything from salt to salmon. Use this master list to stock your pantry.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are essential to a well-stocked pantry. These foods can be stored a few different ways. They may be laid up as canned or dehydrated foods. You might ferment, pickle, or even simply store these foods. In our pantry we keep plenty of green beans, sweet corn, greens, summer squash, a few varieties of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomatoes, tomato juice, peppers, winter squash, onions, sweet potatoes, potatoes, peas, carrots, peaches, apples, blueberries, pears, blackberries, and applesauce.
A good storage pantry will store food in a few different ways. The primary way to store food should be what is tallied into your yearly amounts and should be stocked diligently. For our family, that is mainly by home canning. It should also be stored in a convenient way. For example, we have dozens of quarts of home-canned apples in our pantry, but we also have quite a few dehydrated ones and if we are lucky, we store quite a bit in the fall to use fresh.
You will need to store quite a bit of these foods. Simple math can be used to get a ballpark figure. For example, if your family uses two cans of sweet corn (almost) every week then you need to multiply 2 by 52 (number of weeks in a year) to get an estimate of how much to store, and that equals 104 pints of corn for a year. Something I like to do but don’t always get to is to build in a backup in this, by figuring up ten percent of the number to store. Ten percent of 104 equals 10.4. Obviously you cannot have .4 of a pint, so you may just add 10 extra pints of corn to the 104. This is to make sure you will have extra. Then of course if one year you have tons of one crop, lay back as much as you can and just don’t grow as much the following year. This year our green beans simply have exploded so we are canning them up like mad. Next year, I won’t put very many out so that we can grow more of another crop. Preserve as much as you can when you can. That way when it isn’t available you’ll have plenty.
Eat the oldest foods in your pantry first. Plan your meals around the pantry. This is generally how we determine amounts to store, since we have been preserving food for a while. If you are new to food preservation, you need to watch what you eat regularly so you can begin to plan your garden and determine how much to store in the long-term food pantry. I do not recommend freezing these foods because electricity can be unreliable; we either can (our primary method), dehydrate, or store our foods fresh. With our potatoes, I like to have around 400 to 450 pounds stored fresh in the pantry. I only list that amount on my tally sheet — I don’t list the five dozen pints and quarts of canned potatoes because it gives us wiggle room during a time of crisis (whatever and whenever that may be). Basic foods should be the only foods categorized for food storage. Any homemade convenience foods (commonly called meals-in-a-jar) should be counted separately and replaced as needed. Again, this is to keep the homestead pantry comfortably stocked so it will be able to provide our needs abundantly when duty calls.
Most of these foods are grown in our garden. However, a few years ago my carrots didn’t take off, so we bought some in bulk from Sam’s Club. That worked well for us, and we still utilize this practice when a good sale comes around or when a crop doesn’t make it. If you are near a farmer’s market, you can sometimes get good deals at them. Veggies can also be bought on sale from local grocers as well. If you don’t have any interest in canning or preserving, you can buy some of these fruits and vegetables already canned in stores. You can also buy dehydrated emergency foods from preparedness supply stores. However, it is not nearly as economical (or tasty) as growing and canning your own fruits and vegetables.

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Canned vegetables make up the bulk of our pantry. In the photo above, literally hundreds of jars of tasty vegetables wait to be used in home-cooked meals.

Pickles, relishes, jams, and jellies

Everyone likes treats and sweets. Your pantry should be well-stocked with many flavors of homemade jams, jellies, and pickles. These give every meal a flair. Stock your shelves with your favorites in any amount you like.
I have a special place in our pantry lined with jars of blackberry jelly, orange marmalade, blueberry jam, strawberry jam, and many others. We also have plenty of sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, and pickle relish to eat with our meals to give them a little kick. I also keep a few jars of pickled peppers to eat on homemade pizza. All of these items are not considered hardcore food storage. They serve mainly as a means of livening up meals with sugar, spice, and vinegar.

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A variety of salsas, relishes, and pickles will help add a little flair to each meal.

Meats

For quite some time now, meat has generally been frozen as the primary storage method for most households. I do not like to freeze meat (or anything else). A freezer can have a mechanical failure, the power can go out, or the food itself can become freezer-burned. I am sure some folks are gagging now at the thought of canned meat. It is not gross at all. Even a picky eater wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in most circumstances. I do not can all of our meats; I still like to leave the steaks, some beef roasts, and a couple packages of ground beef in the freezer to use fresh.
Regardless, for long-term food storage, canned meat is very convenient. It takes the work right out of cooking many meals, and I personally find meat an easy food to can. It allows meals to come together very quickly without the hassle of defrosting and cooking a package of meat. With canned meat, you just need to drain a pint of meat and add that to some tomato sauce, heat it up, and you’ll have a skillet of delicious homemade spaghetti sauce in 15 minutes. Canned meat generally works best in mixed dishes like soups, stews, sauces, casseroles, chicken salad, tacos, and sloppy joes. It is also more cost-effective to home can it, instead of buying it already canned. Canned chicken, right now, is priced around $2 for about a pint of a generic brand.
Starting amounts will need to be figured in the same way as fruits and vegetables. If you eat chicken once a week on average, then you will need to store around 52 jars plus an extra 10%.
We raise poultry and rabbits for meat. We had been buying half of a grass-fed beef for the past couple of years, but it got too expensive. However, next spring we’ll be raising a steer and a few pigs on Dad’s farm to add to our meat supply. Our family also enjoys hunting, which is another great way to lay food on the table. If you can’t raise your own meat, there are several options for folks to utilize, from buying meat from your local farmers to purchasing on sale at the grocery store.

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Meat is a great source of protein, and is the base of many meals. My pantry wouldn’t be complete without several jars of chicken, beef, and venison lining the shelves.

Grains, flour, pasta, and legumes

If you are like me, you eat an abundance of grain products every day. You may have oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a hot roll to go with your chili. You may have popcorn for a snack later on. All of these meals involve some type of grain or legume. A good long-term food storage pantry will feature an abundant amount of grains, flours, and beans.
These foods are usually very inexpensive to buy and are very nutritious. A good long-term food storage pantry will have white flour, whole wheat flour, wheat berries, popcorn, cornmeal, rolled oats, rice, pasta, and a variety of dry beans. The amount you store will vary from house to house. I like to keep about 300 pounds of white flour, 20 pounds of whole wheat flour, 100 pounds of wheat berries, 50 pounds of popcorn, 20 pounds of cornmeal, 50 pounds of rolled oats, 50 pounds of rice, 25 pounds of spaghetti noodles, 5 pounds of macaroni noodles, 5 pounds of lasagna noodles, 5 pounds of egg noodles, 50 pounds of pinto beans, 10 pounds of white beans, 10 pounds of kidney beans, and 10 pounds of black beans.
The bulk of these foods will keep indefinitely. The oily germ in whole wheat flour and cornmeal will turn the food rancid after about a year of storage. That is why it is important to store an abundance of wheat berries and popcorn in your pantry — both store well and can be ground into flour or meal when needed. A grain mill is also essential to own to process your long-term food storage.

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You can keep some dry food in large glass jars on the pantry shelf. Pictured above is a just a small portion of our dry bean stores kept in jars for quick use.

I store these items in food-grade buckets on the pantry floor. You can get these buckets free from department stores and they make excellent storage containers. I also store some of these items in half-gallon jars on the pantry shelf for easy access. If the item was bought in bulk packaging, I empty it into a clean bucket and seal the lid. However, if it was bought in common retail packaging I usually store in the bag (after checking for holes) in a sealed bucket. The storage’s primary goal is to keep the food in and the vermin, bugs, and moisture out. Good storage is essential for a great pantry.

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Most bought-in-bulk items have to be removed from their original packaging for storage. I keep our bulk items in large, food-grade, white plastic buckets that have a rubber seal to keep moisture and vermin out.

Dairy and eggs

Most self-reliant families should keep a flock of chickens for eggs and a dairy animal or two. However, in long-term emergency situations, milk, butter, cheese, and eggs may not be available as plentifully as needed. For example, if you lose your main source of income, you may no longer be able to pay the feed bills which will cut off your abundant supply of milk and eggs. A good long-term food storage pantry will be able to battle against that.
As far as I know, there is no proven safe method of dehydrating dairy and eggs at home. However, it has been said that you may be able to can some of these foods such as milk, butter, and cheese. I have not experimented much with this so I cannot tell you either way. If you are interested in learning how to can these foods, you can find instructions in Jackie Clay-Atkinson’s book, Growing and Canning Your Own Food. However, for long-term storage, dehydrated forms of these foods are more favorable due to the fact they take up less space.
Dry milk is the most essential because milk provides many vitamins and nutrients which would be helpful to stay healthy during hard times. Not to mention, without a reliable source of dairy products many meals wouldn’t be possible. I’ve seen numerous survival sites list outrageous amounts of dry milk to keep on hand, and nothing is wrong with large quantity. We go through about a gallon each week with my family cooking heavily from scratch. It takes around four cups of dry milk to make a gallon of milk. This means that for a year’s supply we should have around 55 pounds of dry milk in storage. One of the cheapest ways to acquire dry milk is to get it in large boxes from stores like Walmart and then repackage it for long-term storage in glass jars. It should keep for several years this way, especially if you use an oxygen absorber. You can also buy it in #10 cans from emergency preparedness retailers. I like to keep several cans of canned milk on our pantry shelves for when I put together a quick casserole. They are usually found on sale during the holidays.
It is nearly impossible to find dehydrated eggs, butter, or cheese in the neighborhood grocery stores. These will have to be bought from emergency preparedness retailers. I would advise you to store about two #10 cans of butter and eggs per person in your household. Cheese powder should be stocked based on how much you use. It’s not as important to most recipes, and is more of a treat. You may also want to stock powdered sour cream and buttermilk in appropriate quantities for your family.

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No food storage program is complete without dehydrated eggs, milk, and butter. Several cans will serve you well on your pantry shelves.

Sugar and other sweeteners

Sugar will need to be packaged in much the same fashion as other dry goods. I like to store 100 pounds of white sugar, 15 pounds of brown sugar, 10 pounds of powdered sugar, 2 gallons of honey, 1 gallon of molasses, and 2 gallons of pancake syrup. You’ll find these necessary for cooking. The sugar should be packaged into food-grade buckets, and if possible you can leave it in the original packaging. I keep about 4 buckets of white sugar in our pantry to use frequently. I keep the other bag in a garbage can to protect it from vermin and moisture. I leave my other sugars in their original packaging and pack into clean food-grade buckets for long-term storage. Sugars will harden over time, but they will still be usable.
I keep our honey and molasses in glass jars on the pantry shelf, and I keep a smaller jar upstairs for daily use then add more to it as needed. We buy pancake syrup in bulk from Sam’s Club, and I keep it in the original jugs on the pantry shelf. Molasses and honey will crystalize over time. However, this can be fixed by placing the jar in very hot water to return the crystallized sugar back to liquid.

Cooking essentials

Without cooking essentials, the other storage food is pointless. Good bread is hard to make without yeast unless you use sourdough. Of course, even a simple biscuit can’t be made without baking powder. These pantry staples cannot be grown at home, and a good pantry isn’t complete without them.
I store around 10 pounds of iodized salt, 10 pounds of canning salt, 2 pounds of yeast, 6 pounds of baking powder, 1 pound of baking soda, and 1 pound of cornstarch.
The most important thing when storing these essentials is to keep moisture away. I store our salt in large, recycled jars that hold about five pounds each. I keep a pint jar of yeast in the fridge for daily use, and I keep the other pound in the freezer in order to keep it usable. I get baking powder in 3-pound packages and keep them in the original containers. Most of these will keep for quite a long time; however, baking powder and yeast will lose their leavening power after a while.

Fats and oils

Long-term food storage would not be complete without a good supply of fats and oils.
I store a variety of shortening, lard, peanut butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, broths, and stocks. Shortening, lard, and cooking oil are necessary to make most baked goods. Shortening is said to be good indefinitely, but lard and cooking oil can go rancid (within a year or two) if not rotated regularly. Peanut butter will also last quite a while in storage and is rich in protein, which makes it a very handy “survival food” It is used in a variety of sweets and is good on a slice of homemade bread for a quick lunch.
Most of these staples you can grow or make yourself such as lard, chicken broth, beef broth, and vegetable stock. Broths and stocks help form the bases of many soups and stews, and also can add a nice flavoring to recipes. Things like shortening, and vegetable oil will have to be purchased at retailers. Store as much as you will use in a year. I like to store about six 1-gallon bottles of canola oil, and 2 gallons of olive oil. I use them fairly often. I like to store about eight #10 cans of shortening, and a few jars of lard.

Convenience foods

Generally speaking, this is the least mentioned and sometimes discouraged member of the long-term food storage pantry. However, the real question is why would you not have plenty of convenient meals at your fingertips when disaster strikes? I’m not talking about TV dinners and frozen pizza. In addition to home-canned meals-in-a-jar, I try to stock a variety of cheap convenience foods to make meals quicker during hard times.
I have several jars of home-canned vegetable soup, chili, soup beans, baked beans, tomato soup, and sloppy joes. We use these to make a quick meal after a long day’s work or even as quick lunch. I do not tally it into my long-term storage plan because it doesn’t need to be relied on as heavily. I also stock some cheaply-acquired, store-bought convenience meals in our pantry. I have several boxes of macaroni and cheese plus several packages of ramen noodles for quick side dishes or lunches. It would be good to have a few cans of cream of mushroom soup and cream of chicken soup for quick casseroles. I find it handy to keep a good supply of cheap cake mixes on hand because it is so quick to whip up a good fresh baked cake. I try to get these items either on sale or from bulk shopping clubs.

Water

This is the most important thing to store and have access to. Humans cannot go past three days without water; then we would become severely dehydrated and die. FEMA recommends storing a gallon a day per person. Currently, for our long-term water needs, we collect rain water in a 1000-gallon tank which will provide enough water for our five-person family for 200 days according to FEMA recommendations.
In order to have water in a long-term situation, you need to have a renewable source such as a well or rainwater. Even more important is to have a way to purify it; don’t use it if it hasn’t been purified — you can never be sure what bacteria are lurking in it. For purification, you can use bleach, boil it for ten minutes (at a rolling boil), or purchase a water filtration system. However, if your water supply has any agricultural runoff, neither boiling nor bleach will take care of it. This water would have to be filtered.

Cooking skills

You can store vast amounts of foods, but if you cannot cook with them and prepare them then a well-stocked pantry is of no use to you. It is important to learn skills to prepare meals entirely from your pantry. I’m not just referring to making a light supper, but to a broader array of kitchen skills.
It is imperative to know how to bake. Baking breads, biscuits, cookies, and cakes will be essential if you cannot run to your neighborhood grocery and purchase these products. Baking is a great skill for men or women. Storing large amounts of flour and wheat will mean little to you if you cannot put together a loaf of bread. You’ll also need a way to grind your corn and wheat. So a grain mill is a must have item for long-term food storage.
You’ll need to be able to consciously cook in a frugal manner. Most of us probably do that now anyway. In short, don’t waste food. For instance, if you have a big meal on Sunday with a large roast, plenty of corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes it would be wise to throw this in a pot after you’ve finished and prepare a stew for your lunch and supper. That way none of those foods are thrown out, and you aren’t stuck eating the same food the same way. Many Americans throw away food that is still edible. By “reusing” food you will save tons of edible, tasty food that will turn into a nutritious meal.
Be creative. This is just as essential as any other skill. Learn how to make something out of nothing. Turn your vegetables and grains into works of art that provide a flair and taste that is normally not seen. In a survival situation, the beans and rice every day won’t do anything to improve your attitude.
If you don’t know how to preserve food, now is the time to learn. Preserve foods in ways that are convenient, and that do not require freezing. If a survival situation lasts longer than a year it will be imperative that you can replenish your stockpile. Learn how to preserve foods in an efficient manner. As most of my recommendations are canned items, I suggest you learn how to can different types of food. You will also need to be able to grow these foods. If you don’t garden, learn how to. The stocking guidelines I suggested are primarily based on foods that can be grown or slaughtered on a homestead. That is essential.
You will also need the tools to make the most of your food storage: adequate cookware, a grain mill, canning equipment, several dozen canning lids, a water bath canner (for high-acid foods), and a pressure canner (for low-acid foods). I also suggest you have a back-to-the-basics cookbook to help you along the way. I suggest Jackie Clay’s Pantry Cookbook. It is probably the best one I have ever seen that keeps your family’s comfort and your food storage in mind at the same time.
Cost-effective and smart, that is the best way to describe a stocked, long-term homestead pantry.

James Kash is an 18-year-old homesteader from eastern Kentucky. James raises a good portion of his family’s food supply, including an abundant amount of vegetables, fruit, poultry, eggs, and honey. James is an avid canner and preserves almost all of his summer and fall bounty.