Saturday, October 29, 2016

Plants That Build Healthy Soils

Good, fertile soil is a must for any garden, even a forest garden. But did you know that some plants can help build healthy soils? 

Dynamic Accumulators, Nitrogen Fixers, and Hyperaccumulators

Some plants are known as dynamic accumulators, because  they grow very deep roots that bring up minerals from deep down, making them available to more shallow-rooted plants. Some plants are also nitrogen fixers, called that because their roots partner with rhizobial bacteria (this a form of mutualism in biological terms), which causes a nitrogen boost in the soil.

Dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixers can be grown near other plants (companion planting), which is why they work so well in forest gardening,  or as a form of ground cover crop and "green manure." Your choice of specific plants to use will depend upon your particular location and climate, of course, but partial lists of both appear below.

Additionally, plants known as hyperaccumulators can be used to detoxify contaminated soils by removing certain heavy metals and other toxic elements, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and aluminum. This is a process known as phytoremediation. A phytomediation table matching the toxic elements with their hyperaccumulator can be found on wikipedia. 

Partial List of Dynamic Accumulators (along with their use in Forest Gardening)

Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia - Canopy
Dogwoods - Cornus sp. - Understory
Arrowroot - Maranta arundinacea - Herbaceous Layer
Borage - Borago officinalis - Herbaceous Layer
Comfrey - Symphytum uplandicum - Herbaceous Layer
Dandelions - Taraxacum sp. - Herbaceous Layer

Indian Grass - Sorghastrum nutans - Herbaceous Layer
Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis - Herbaceous Layer
Mint - Mentha sp. - Herbaceous Layer
Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica - Herbaceous Layer

Switchgrass - Panicum virgatumHerbaceous Layer
Yarrow - Achillea millefolium - Herbaceous Layer
Plantains - Musa musa - Herbaceous Layer
Alfalfa - Medicago sativa - Herbaceous Layer

Partial List of Nitrogen Fixers* (along with their use in Forest Gardening)


Alder tree and shrubs - Alnus sp. - Canopy or Understory
Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia - Canopy
Kentucky Coffee Tree - Gymnocladus Dioicus - Canopy

Russian Olive - Elaeagnus angustifolia - Understory
Bayberry - Myrica sp. - Understory
Acacias - Acacia sp. - Canopy or Understory

Most Beans - Fabaceae family - Herbaceous Layer
Peanuts - Arachis hypogaea - Herbaceous Layer
Vetches - Vicia sp. - Herbaceous Layer
Perennial Clover - Trifolium sp. - Herbaceous Layer
False Indigo - Baptisia australis - Herbaceous Layer
Scarlet Runner Bean - Phaseolus coccineus - Vine
Wisteria - Wisteria floribunda - Vine

* Among the best known and most readily available nitrogen fixers are those in the legume family - Fabaceae. This family includes most beans, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat and peanuts.

Resources

Plants For A Future - Informative website and database listing over 7000 edible, medicinal, and otherwise useful plants.


Introduction to Forest Gardening - a very useful introduction to the concept of forest gardening for those unfamiliar with it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Typical Prepper versus Gypsy Survivalist...

What the Gypsy Survival Strategy Might Actually Look Like

In my recent article, Gypsy Survival - A Different Prepper Strategy, I introduced an idea I've been thinking about for a number of years. It is a prepper strategy based on disconnecting from the system and extreme mobility, rather than stockpiling or homesteading. In  this article, I want to consider what the Gypsy Survival Strategy might actually look like by comparing it to typical prepper ideas on several points. 

Typical Prepper: Home is your physical address. Perhaps an apartment or house. Maybe a homestead or farm. Probably have a mortgage and property taxes. Costs money, time, and effort to maintain. Still, it is yours (at least until the government or bank decides otherwise). Requires furniture and other stuff, which costs money/time/effort to buy and maintain.

Gypsy Survivalist: Home is wherever you are with family and friends. Not a physical address, which would only be temporary anyway. Most likely sleep in a tent, camper, trailer, RV, or mobile home of some sort. All your stuff fits inside your vehicle and/or mobile home. Little, probably no, furniture or large other items.

Typical Prepper: Bugging-in at your current location, or bugging-out to a prearranged location, such as a retreat that would then likely become your permanent location if you could not return to the original location. 

Gypsy Survivalist: No permanent location or home. Constantly moving away from danger or towards opportunity as conditions warrant. 

Typical Prepper: Probably have "roots" where you live. Friends & family that permanently live nearby. A particular church you attend. A job/career/employer for which you feel some loyalty or responsibility. Organizations that you are a part of... Things that may make you reluctant/slow to leave a location if things suddendly go bad. 

Gypsy Survivalist: No roots in the local community, thus nothing holding you back. Your roots are with the community of like-minded family & friends you travel with... (Interestingly, Roma and other "gypsies" never marry, date, or even have strong friendships with non-Roma; all that is done within the larger Roma/Gypsy community.)

Typical Prepper: Unless they are making money homesteading, farming, or from their own small business, most preppers have regular jobs/careers working for someone else. Could be anything from blue collar workers to professionals. The need for such employment is a limiting factor for many preppers (including me).

Gypsy Survivalist: Typically self-employed or take temporary/part-time work for which they feel no loyalty towards employer. Easy to just leave whenever. Traditionally, gypsies tend to be entertainers of some sort (singers, musicians, actors, storytellers, fortune tellers, etc.). Think vaudeville. This seems to hold true today, although to a somewhat lesser extent. Other common gypsy employment is as animal trainers, artisans, craftsmen, tinkers, handymen, and similar professions. Gypsies can be professionals, and some are, but their lifestyle often makes for a difficult career path in terms of advancement, though their is always some need for temporary nurses, accountants, etc.

Typical Prepper: Stockpiling food, water,  and supplies in quantity. Lots of redundancy. This requires space to store, money to buy, time to organize/maintain. Decreases mobility.

Gypsy Survivalist: Goods and other stuff kept on-hand would have to be minimal. A few days to a couple of weeks worth of food & supplies at most. Emphasis would have to be on collecting & providing as needed, rather than storing. Example: Instead of storing lots of water in jugs or tanks, the Gypsy Survivalist would depend on their ability to collect/treat water using tools like the Lifestraw Family Water Filter or Lifestraw Go Bottles. Food is obtained by buying or trading with locals, by hunting, fishing, & collecting wild edibles, and possibly by having small gardens when camped at a suitable location for a period of time. I've also heard tale of some gypsies traveling with a few goats or chickens.

Typical Prepper: Lots of tools and other gear. Lots of redundancy. Requires money to buy, room to store, time/effort to maintain. Probably lots of big tools, especially if homesteading is part of the plan. Again, cost & need for room to store are factors.

Gypsy Survivalist: Minimal tools and gear with little redundancy. Would have to emphasize quality, usefulness, and practicality, over quantity. Would require a certain amount of ingenuity and creative thinking. Get the most "bang for your buck," so to speak. No need to have yard or garden tools (other than maybe a shovel). No need for power tools (maybe a gas-powered chain saw?). Would have at least a good set of basic tools and skill to use them, and a few tools of the trade for tinkers/metalworkers, handymen types.

Typical Prepper: Large library of books on prepping, homesteading, gardening, country skills, survival medicine, and a variety of other potentially useful topics. I've seen preppers/survivalists brag about their libraries of thousands of books. My own is in the hundreds. Again, cost and room to store are issues. Besides, in reality most of those books will go unread.

Gypsy Survivalist: No room for a large library. Maybe one or two 3-foot shelves worth of books. Will force you to be choosy about what books you keep on-hand. Only the most important, useful, and often-used will make the cut. Again, quality over quantity. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forest Gardening - Not Just Layers

In my previous forest gardening posts, I discussed in some detail the many different layers of a forest garden, and gave lots of examples of plants that could be included in each layer. Click here to find all my forest gardening posts.  But there are other considerations, as you will read:

Not Just Layers

What makes a forest garden is not just architecture of the layers. There are other aspects that make up a forest garden. For example, vegetation patterns and density should be considered. In designing your forest garden, you will probably want to strive for a "lumpy" texture. In other words, create a lot of variation in how the plants are arranged and especially in the density of the plantings. Scientific research has shown that areas with great variation in plant density are more attractive to bird and insect species, thus increasing your forest gardens biodiversity (a very good thing). It also helps to promote a better balance between harmful and beneficial insects.

Plant diversity is also important. One of the chief differences between a traditional orchard and a forest garden is that orchards primarily feature a single species laid out in neat rows. A forest garden has a much greater diversity, and is not nearly as orderly. In designing your forest garden, you will want to pack as much diversity into your site as possible given the area you have to work with.

In addition to the physical structure of your forest garden, you will want to pay attention to its social structure. Your forest garden will be made up of the trees and other plants you intentionally include. But it will also be made up of trees and plants already present or that show up later as volunteers. Insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, birds, reptiles and small mammals will also take up residence. If you are lucky enough to have acres of forest garden, you might also get large mammals. All this biodiversity will interact with each other. This interaction - the food chain, pollination, decomposition, predator/prey relationships, symbiotic relationships, parasitism and so forth - is the social structure. Some thought should be given to that social structure.

For example, if you want to have a healthy population of pollinators (and you should want that), then you will need to plant a variety of flowering plants to attract them. By variety, I am talking about various sizes, shapes and colors of the blooms, as well as a variety of bloom times through the year. If all your plants bloom during only one part of the year, this will be a very inconsistent food source for the pollinators and will discourage a healthy population from forming.

You might also want to allow for some dead wood, such as dead branches and fallen tree trunks, to be a part of your forest garden. This dead wood will be used as food, nesting sites and protective cover for a variety of insects, birds and other animals, as well as fungi.

Much of the sun's energy captured by the forest garden will eventually turn to rot. This will improve the soil, but we can also capture some of this energy for our own use by growing edible and medicinal mushrooms, many of which actually prefer damp and shady conditions.

Soil structure is another aspect of your forest garden you should give a thought towards. There is a great deal more going on under your forest garden than just those tubers you planted. The roots of all trees, shrubs and plants are down there. Some are deep, some shallow; some will spread out greatly and some won't. Many fruit trees, such as apples and pears, have fairly shallow root systems. Many nut trees, such as pecans and hickories, have very deep taproots.

Within the soil, many small mammals, insects, worms, fungi and microbes live, eat and die. They too will have an effect on soil structure. Some of these organisms will decompose plant matter turning it into nutrient rich soil. Others, such as burrowing animals like moles and voles, will aerate the soil, and will carry the nutrient rich topsoil deeper into the ground.

Another aspect of the forest garden that should be taken into account is succession. The trees and other plants you include in your forest garden will grow up over time, and eventually die (I've already mentioned that it is a good idea to leave some dead wood in the forest garden). New trees and plants will take their place. You might need to prepare yourself for the dynamic and constantly changing nature of your forest garden. People like to control nature, but you cannot control your forest garden. At best, you can only hope to guide it.

It is common today for many people to look on well-manicured lawns and very neat & orderly gardens as highly desirable. But a forest is anything but well-manicured, neat and orderly. Your forest garden shouldn't be either.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Minimum Pre-Crisis Preparations for a Nuclear Event

The following is Chapter 16 of the 1987 edition of Cresson H. Kearny's Nuclear War Survival Skills. These points are expanded upon throughout the book. The entire book is available for free download at http://www.oism.org/nwss/


Chapter 16: Minimum Pre-Crisis Preparations


Your chances of surviving a nuclear attack will be improved if you make the following low-cost preparations before a serious crisis arises. Once many Americans become convinced that a nuclear attack is a near certainty, they will rush to stores and buy all available survival supplies. If you wait to prepare until a crisis does arise, you are likely to be among the majority who will have to make-do with inadequate supplies of water containers, food, and materials. Furthermore, even if you have the necessary materials and instructions to make the most needed survival items, you and your family are not likely to have time to make all of them during a few days of tense crisis.

The following recommendations are intended primarily for the majority who live in areas likely to be subjected to blast, fire, or extremely heavy fallout. These people should plan to evacuate to a safer area. (Many citizens living outside high-risk areas, especially homeowners with yards, can and should make better pre-crisis preparations. These would include building high-protection-factor permanent shelters covered with earth.)

SHELTER

Keep on hand the tools and materials your family or group will need to build or improve a high- protection-factor expedient shelter: One or more shovels, a pick (if in a hard-soil area), a bow-saw with an extra blade, a hammer, and 4-mil polyethylene film for rainproofing your planned shelter. Also store the necessary nails, wire, etc. needed for the kind of shelter you plan to build.


Keep instructions for shelter-building and other survival essentials in a safe and convenient place.

VENTILATION-COOLING

Make a homemade shelter-ventilating pump, a KAP, of the size required for the shelter you plan to build or use.


WATER

Keep on hand water containers (including at least four 30-gallon untreated polyethylene trash bags and two sacks or pillowcases for each person), a pliable garden hose or other tube for siphoning, and a plastic bottle of sodium hypochlorite bleach (such as Clorox) for disinfecting water and utensils.


FALLOUT METER

Make one or two KFMs and learn how to use this simple instrument.


FOOD

Store at least a 2-week supply of compact, nonperishable food. The balanced ration of basic dry foods described in Chapter 9, Food, satisfies requirements for adults and larger children at minimum cost. If your family includes babies or small children, be sure to store more milk powder, vegetable oil, and sugar.


Continuing to breast-feed babies born during an impending crisis would greatly simplify their care should the crisis develop and worsen

For preparing and cooking basic foods:




° Make a 3-Pipe Grain Mill like the one described in Chapter 9, Food, or buy a small hand-cranked grain mill, which grinds more efficiently than other expedient devices. Book Page: 133
° Make a Bucket-Stove as described in Chapter 9. During evacuation, the stove can be used as a container. Store some kitchen-type wooden matches in a waterproof container.
° Keep essential containers and utensils on hand for storing and transporting food and for cooking and serving in a shelter.
SANITATION

Insect screen or mosquito netting, and fly bait. See Chapter 12.




A hose-vented 5-gallon can, with heavy plastic bags for liners, for use as a toilet. Include some smaller plastic bags and toilet paper with these supplies. Tampons.
MEDICINES




° Any special medications needed by family members.
° Potassium iodide, a 2-oz bottle, and a medicine- dropper, for prophylactic protection of the thyroid gland against radioactive iodines. (Described in the last section of Chapter 13, Survival Without Doctors.)
° A first-aid kit and a tube of antibiotic ointment.
LIGHT
° Long-burning candles (with small wicks) sufficient for at least 14 nights.
° An expedient lamp, with extra cotton-string, wicks, and cooking oil as described in Chapter 11.
° A flashlight and extra batteries.
RADIO 
A transistor radio with extra batteries and a metal box in which to protect it.

OTHER ESSENTIALS

Review the EVACUATION CHECKLIST (developed primarily for persons who make no preparations before a crisis) and add items that are special requirements of your family.

 
Book Page: 134

Friday, October 7, 2016

Gypsy Survival - A Different Prepper Strategy



Many survival strategies involve hunkering down in place, homesteading, rural retreats and survival communities, or "bugging out" to those locations, where, through a combination of self-reliance and stockpiles of food & supplies, any future hard times can be survived. But I've long been intrigued by another possibility, which I call Gypsy Survival.

Gypsy Survival is a strategy that is loosely based on current and historical groups of highly nomadic peoples often referred to as "gypsies." This includes the Romani people, the Sinti, Irish Travellers, Scottish Tinkers, and Indigenous Norwegian Travellers, as well as other groups. In addition to these real-life examples, the concept of gypsies has been heavily fictionalized over the years. The Gypsy Survival Strategy I present here is a conglomeration of lessons and ideas from all these groups, as well as some of my own thoughts. My use of the term "gypsy" throughout this article refers to this conglomeration of ideas, not any one particular group, and is intended in a completely non-pejorative way.


Three Distinctive Features

I see three distinctive features of the gypsy lifestyle that could be adapted into a very successful survival strategy.

1) Gypsies lead a highly nomadic, very mobile lifestyle. Gypsies don't set down roots in any specific location. Home is not a place, but rather is being with family.  Where the "being with" actually takes place is irrelevant. Community, too, isn't a particular place, such as a neighborhood or town, but rather is the larger group of fellow gypsies.

Survival Advantage: Because there is nothing to hold them to a particular place, such as property owned or personal ties to local people, gypsies have the ability to quickly pack up and flee from danger. Or to quickly move to where there is more opportunity. This ability is more than just bugging out. Gypsies, because they have no roots and few possessions, can immediately leave one location and set up home in a new location, without any reluctance to leave or "stuff" holding them back.

2) Gypsies are NOT part of the worldly system, and have no desire to "fit in" or conform to the standards of modern society.  Rather than being swayed by the world around them, and the opinions of others, gypsies hold firm to their own language, culture, beliefs, and traditions. They have no need to "Get Out of Babylon," because they are already mostly out of the worldly system.

Survival Advantage: By being less dependent on the worldly system, gypsies have a considerable amount of flexibility in responding to threats and danger. They are not dependent on government or the established social order. Nor are they dependent on their employers or careers. They also make less compromises in maintaining their way of life, including religious beliefs, traditions, and other aspects of their culture that are very important to them.

3) Gypsies are loyal to the family/clan/tribe, NOT to a place (country, state, community), a government, or even to a company, career, or job. Privacy is of high importance. What happens within the gypsy community stays within their community. Disputes are handled internally, without bringing in any outside authorities. The preservation of their way of life, culture, beliefs, and traditions is of utmost importance.

Survival Advantage: Loyalty within families, and even within the larger gypsy community, means that they are there for each other. Gypsies help and protect their own. They are also better able to maintain their way of life and culture without compromising with the outside world. 

Possible Disadvantages

There are, of course, disadvantages to the gypsy lifestyle. Lack of property means that they typically cannot produce their own food. Instead, they must depend on what they can hunt, gather, and buy or trade for with outsiders. 

The gypsy refusal to assimilate into the outside world, and to conform with outside societal norms, means that they are typically the object of suspicion and distrust. This often leads to official discrimination, persecution, and even attempts at genocide against them. 


Other Hallmarks of the Gypsy Survival Strategy

Gypsies have developed the ability to vanish into the background. Did you know that there are over a million gypsies estimated to be living in the United States? Chances are that there are some living near you, and you don't even know it. This ability to go unnoticed, and to quickly vanish in the face of trouble, serves them quite well.

Gypsies prefer to avoid trouble rather than face it head on. As the saying goes, the surest way to survive a fight is to not get in a fight in the first place. They flee first, and only fight when it is unavoidable. Yes, gypsies will defend themselves when necessary, but they prefer to avoid danger if at all possible.

Gypsies typically don't own real estate. The days of living in their horse-drawn wagons (called vardos by some) are long gone, of course. Today most gypsies live in campers, trailers, or mobile homes. Occasionally, some my rent or lease apartments or houses, but even this is uncommon. This means that leaving an area is relatively a simple, and quick, driving away, with little packing up required. 

Gypsies live simple lifestyles, with relatively few possessions. This saves them time, space, and money. It also enables them to pack up and flee quickly when necessary. Unlike possessions, knowledge and skills cannot be lost, stolen, or broken

Gypsies work for themselves. Sometimes this means being self-employed (examples: artisans, craftsmen, animal trainers, entertainers, etc.)  Sometimes this means hiring themselves out to do part-time or temporary work. Gypsies can and do work in almost every career field imaginable. The point is that they don't tie themselves down to a particular company or career field.

Privacy is of utmost importance. What happens within the gypsy community stays within the gypsy community. Disputes are handled internally. They hold their language, rules, customs, and traditions closely, rarely sharing them with outsiders. Outsiders are rarely, if ever, brought into the gypsy community, and marriages with outsiders are highly discouraged. When dealing with outsiders, gypsies are notoriously vague in giving names and other bits of personal information, and never give specifics about the larger gypsy community. 


Check out the follow-up to this article, "Typical Prepper versus Gypsy Survivalist...  What the Gypsy Survival Strategy Might Actually Look Like."