Return of the Prepper #6 : Coronavirus – am I bothered, am I prepared?

Pandemic looming or storm in a teacup?

I am sure everyone has by now heard about the growing outbreak of a new coronavirus.

The new virus emerged apparently from an animal market in Wuhan in eastern China just before Christmas.

The number of people infected is now nearing a thousand. The large bulk of these are in China, but isolated cases are beginning to appear in other countries in south east Asia, and increasingly around the world.

The first outbreaks are now appearing in Europe with three cases in France, and there have been two cases now in the USA.

To date 26 people have died, all in China.

The World Health Organisation has so far declined to declare a Global Health Emergency, and the Chinese Government claims it has the situation under control.

The outbreak however has come at the worse possible time for China as today is the Lunar New Year holiday when many millions of people travel to be with their families.

The Chinese government has implemented strong measures to contain the spread of the disease including cancelling major public events, closing visitor attractions like the Forbidden City in Beijing and Shanghai’s Disney Resort and banning travel in and out of a growing number of cities across the country.

In the UK there have been a number of suspected cases but so far all have tested negative.

It is however widely accepted that it is only a matter of time before confirmed cases appear in Britain.

Until that point concern here in the UK is likely to be moderately subdued.

Social media, particularly Youtube and Twitter, is beginning to light up with reports, updates, projections and speculations – some measured and well researched, others easily drifting toward hyperbole and sensationalism.

This report from DW gives a measured update on the situation…

As a prepper my concern level is a little more heightened than most. Receiving an unexpected email this evening from the teacher saying that my daughter’s Chinese lessons on Sunday have been cancelled has done nothing to lessen my prepping alert thoughts.

The big question is how do you prepare for a disease outbreak situation like this?

The number one answer of course is to stay away from people, and particularly large crowds, as much as possible. That is a bit easier for us in rural Wales but two of our daughters are studying in big cities, and our younger one is still at school.

I don’t forsee the wearing of masks happening in the UK yet awhile, but I already have some N95 masks in stock just in case. However experts suggest most masks give very imperfect protection as they do not form a full facial seal.

Washing of hands very regularly is reported to be more effective. Carrying hand sanitiser is also useful.

Canadian Prepper on YouTube gives a good rundown on ways to prepare for a potential pandemic if it goes that far…

My best advice – keep informed, stay alert, be prepared.

If you want the official line keep an eye on the World Health Organisation…

And their Situation Reports…

In the meantime I am just hopping on to Amazon to order a few more face masks…

Goodnight and stay well.

[ image from ]

Return of the Prepper #2 : Tins v Freeze-dried for long term food storage

Like any good prepper building up a stockpile of long life food is part of the plan.

Traditionally the go-to route for any hardcore prepper is freeze-dried ready meals from the likes of Mountain House, the Wise Company or My Patriot Supply.

These can come in sachets, tins or buckets, with shelf-lives ranging from around 7 years to 25 years.

In the UK the choice of producers is much more limited than in the USA. Mountain House has stopped producing in Europe, so I believe anything still available here is old stock or imports.

Generally these freeze-dried meals are also considerably more expensive in the UK than in the USA where they are much more widely available.

Over the last few years I had been buying some of these products for long term storage. I had managed to collect about 6 weeks supply, and had been planning, when funds permitted, to buy much more – maybe eventually even a year’s worth.

But they are very expensive – commonly up to £5 / USD6.50 per meal – and because of the price, not rotated in with our general eating plans. Therefore they can represent a lot of locked-up capital that is not then available for more immediate prepping needs like investing in solar power.

So recently we have decided to swap our long term food prepping strategy to building up a good supply of tin foods, along with some dried goods like beans, rice and pasta.

Tin food is much cheaper than freeze-dried, and can therefore be much more readily rotated in with our general food consumption.

If you shop carefully at the discount supermarkets like Aldi you can find decent unbranded tin food with up to 2 years marked shelf life (and more in practice) at very cheap prices.

Common products like baked beans, soups, broad beans, sweetcorn, assorted beans, tomatoes as well as tinned fruit, rice pudding and custard are commonly only 20p – 50p, and there often 4 for 3 type offers to bring the price down further.

Pasta and rice are also quite inexpensive and will commonly have a shelf life of up to a year.

This tin based prepping strategy might not appear so long term and mobile, but we are very much thinking in terms of bugging-in not bugging-out. And at our age (approaching 60) thinking 25 years ahead does feel rather extreme and almost inappropriate.

So our current food prepping plan of action is…

  • Collect up to 12 months supply of common tinned foods (baked beans, vegetables, fruit, creamed rice etc)
  • Buy only products that we like and commonly eat
  • Look out for offers and bulk buy opportunities, and buy as cheap as possible
  • Manage the stocks carefully and ensure good rotation so the oldest are always used first
  • Buy 6 – 12 months of dried goods (beans, lentils, rice, pasta) as shelf-life permits
  • Hold up to 3 months of more short life products like flour, UHT milks, sugar, tea, etc, and rotate well
  • Supplement all this with as much fresh and preserved home-grown produce as possible.

I would also like to learn more canning techniques to increase the amount of our own surplus garden produce we can put by. Canning is nowhere near as common in the UK as it is in the USA.

Depending on the exact nature of any emergency I think we can ensure we would have up to a year’s supply of food that is sufficient in calories and in nutrients, and varied and enjoyable enough to eat.

To date I have been following an ad-hoc path of buying as and when offers and funds have allowed. But now I am adapting a more strategic and more methodical route – even bringing a spreadsheet into play.

We are upping our own food production and buying in 3, 6 and eventually 12 months supply of tinned and dried goods.

Finances will have some influence of course, but the plan is to reach full capacity by the end of the year.

What’s your food prepping strategy?

[ images from @pennsif – note, the first image is from before we became vegetarian ]

Could you live for free on plastic bottles…?

When I was young in the 60s me and my friends would regularly scout around our neighbourhood collecting drinks bottles that had a deposit on them. Lemonade, Corona fizzy drinks and beer bottles were the most common ones if I recall.

I can’t remember what the deposit was on each bottle, maybe a halfpenny or a penny, but if we were lucky we would earn enough for a good stash of sweets to take back to our camp in the cow field.

Today we visited the Swansea Marina Tesco while our daughter was at a Chinese event nearby.

We generally shop at Aldi these days but we wanted to go to that particular Tesco superstore as we had spotted that it was one of five taking part in a trial plastic bottle ‘reverse vending’ recycling scheme.

The scheme, launched in September 2018, gives customers a 10p Tesco voucher for every plastic bottle they return.

As well as Swansea the other stores in the trial are in Borehamwood, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham…

The scheme accepts bottles up to 750ml in size from Tesco or major brands such as Coca-Cola.

We took 11 bottles, and nine were accepted by the machine giving us a voucher for 90p to spend on anything in Tesco.

The scheme is supposedly limited to 10 bottles per customer per day, but the family in front of us put in 61 bottles and got £6.10. I think they ‘beat the system’ just be doing it in seven batches with a separate voucher for each.

When we first saw the machine in December there were a couple of women filling it up with bottles collected from their work colleagues. They got £23 towards drinks for their office Christmas party.

A Tesco press release of April 2019 mentioned that the highest amount of bottles returned in one day was 1,052 in Edinburgh’s Hermiston Gait Superstore…

Plastic bottles are all over the place alas, and as the Christmas party women showed it would not be hard to collect considerable numbers.

That gave me the idea for any enterprising soul living near one of these Tesco participating in this trial.

If you could collect just 50 bottles a day you could get £5 in vouchers to spend.

I am pretty sure a single person could eat and drink moderately well on £5 (US$6.50) a day at Tesco.

It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to get even more than 50 and dine in style.

I wonder how quickly Tesco would catch on to this. Maybe a couple of friends working together and shopping at different times of the day and night could fly under the radar.

Anyone in Swansea, Borehamwood, Edinburgh, Manchester or Birmingham up for a challenge?

Live for free and save the planet at the same time…

[ images from @pennsif ]

Return of the Prepper #1 : Keeping chickens for free?

Currently we are down to one chicken and one guard goose.

Our flock of hens was up to about 14 the summer before last but due to age, foxes and buzzards the number has since dwindled. But we were not too fussed as we were spending a lot on feed and producing more eggs than we needed at peak times.

I’m looking to get a few more this spring, but not too many. Many another four or five hens and a new cockerel.

And more importantly I’m looking to have a zero input chicken operation.

Relying on externally sourced corn or pellets is expensive and not self sustaining.

From a prepping point of view I want to move to a system that will continue regardless of what is going on in rest of the world.

Having a cockerel (or two) means we would be able to keep rearing our own birds regardless. Although we would need to introduce fresh bloodlines from new cockerels every year or two to prevent inbreeding.

That is where community resilience would come into play. Hens, cockerels and eggs are great for local bartering and swapping. We have done quite a bit of that already.

Feed-wise we are not looking to raise birds for meat as we are vegetarian now so a high input diet is not needed.

We only give the birds a small amount of mixed corn each day now but I think with better planning that could be eliminated altogether to make our egg production zero cost and totally self-sufficient.

Because of foxes in the area we can’t let the chickens free-range even with the guard goose in action, but they do have a good sized fenced compound to roam in.

That compound will be doubling up as a second orchard this year with the planting of at least dozen mixed fruit trees. In a few years windfalls from the trees will add to the diet of the chickens.

I have just been re-watching Justin Rhodes “20 Creative Ways to cut Chicken Feed Costs by 100%” video.

Some of his suggestions are a little hard core for the here and now – using animal carcasses and roadkill for example. And others such as slaughter by-products and excess cows milk don’t fit in with our operation.

But others are quite usable. We don’t produce anywhere the quantity of food scraps and kitchen waste as Justin’s much larger family appears to, but what we do produce already does go to our flock. Surplus eggs also go back to them when we have too many to give away.

Soldier flies, worm composting, forage crops like buckwheat, blackberries and winter squash are ideas I am going to try.

I’m interesting to hear other ideas. Do you keep chickens? Do you buy in food, or are you self sufficient?

That’s it for now. Time to sleep.

I wonder – do chickens dream of electric eggs…

[ images from @pennsif ]

Return of the Prepper

As I mentioned yesterday, one of my resolutions for the year is to get back to the ways of the Prepper.

Before I came to Steem, prepping was very much my thing with a good dash of homesteading thrown on top.

I’m not a Doomsday Prepper guns and camo type. I’m more Good Life wind and two veg.

My prepping journey began in the 70s with John Seymour’s ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ and trips to the Centre for Alternative Technology.

My early adult life took various twists and turns until, at the symbolic age of 40, we moved to our homestead in the hills. 17 acres and a lake on a Welsh mountainside.

The dream finally came true. I was where I wanted to be.

Alas life/work/business got in the way a little, and not all the grand plans fell in to place. But the self-sufficient, or perhaps better termed self-reliant, life has always remained firmly in our sights.

Now 20 years on, with the world getting hotter both politically and climatically, it seems an appropriate point to take stock and refocus our efforts.

We will be consolidating what we have already started, and we will be starting what we haven’t.

Food production will be ramping up, water provision will be expanded, energy generation will be initiated.

We will be starting in the middle and working out.

It does feel a little selfish to be focusing on the us, but I hope we can expand out from here.

Making more connections locally, producing surplus food to give to those in need, sharing resources and skills with others around with a similar mindset.

A big part of prepping is community. That is very much part of the plan.

We are not lapsed preppers by any means, but the last couple of year I have rather taken my eye off the ball at times.

But this year I am feeling rejuvenated and eager to get back on it.

Stay tuned for what comes next…

[ image from ]

Planning for 2020 – Is it too late to make New Year’s Resolutions?

Maybe I’ve missed the boat by a couple of weeks for making New Year’s resolutions, so I’ll just call it planning for the year ahead.

2020 is going to be an important year for me personally and for my family. It will be a year of significant change – some for the better, some not so.

I will be turning 60, our youngest daughter will be joining her two sisters away at university, and our work and financial situation will be undergoing significant shifts.

So it feels quite critical that we have some plans and some points of reference for the remaining 50 weeks of 2020.

I started thinking about this in the polytunnel this afternoon and as soon as I pressed the play button multiple random thoughts and phrases came rushing into my head.

There hasn’t been sufficient time and space to sort, prioritise and synthesize them yet into a meaningful plan of action so before anything leaks from my memory I am just going to throw everything on this page.

In no particular order, these are all the things I want to change and want to do in 2020…

  1. Get more sleep
  2. Spend more time outside than inside
  3. Spend less time in front of a computer screen
  4. Work on getting healthier again
  5. Eat better
  6. Grow more food
  7. Meet more real people in real life
  8. Get involved in building resilience in the local community
  9. Learn to make videos
  10. Get rid of a lot of stuff
  11. Return to the ways of the Prepper
  12. Help people

I am not sure of the how’s and when’s on some of these. They will evolve in the coming days and weeks.

Some – sleep/eat/health – are largely up to me. Decide it – do it – stick to it.

I did manage 8 hours of sleep time last night (for the first time for ages). Tonight I’ll endeavour to repeat that feat and move to an earlier sleep/wake pattern.

Weather and work permitting #2 is an easier one for me. I love being outside – particularly doing #6.

The others are works in progress – more to follow on each of them.

I feel slightly uneasy about including #12 – it does sound, look and feel pretentious.

Everyone wants to help people. Don’t they?

So that’s my dozen Points to Self for the year.

Comments and input welcome.

If anyone is at all interested, and just for self monitoring, I will report back on progress at some intervals through the year.

Thank you and good night.

[ image from ]

FutureDiary : 11 January 2030 – Where did all the groceries go?

Another stormy night last night, and it was still raining heavily when we got up this morning.

I was hoping the roads weren’t getting flooded again as I needed to go to town to collect Valentina’s prescription.

Valentina had made me some porridge for breakfast with the last of our own grown oats. It tastes so much better knowing it had come from our land. Hopefully we can grow a bigger patch this year.

I was just scraping my bowl when there was a knock at the front door. It was the Tesco delivery driver. His van had come off the lane.

This happens every few months. The lane down to our yard is steep, narrow and when it rains a lot, very slippy.

It’s not a problem when you are used to it and take it steady, but this guy hadn’t delivered here before.

I put on my coat and boots to go and see what happened.

He had certainly made a good job. Usually when they come off the lane their vans are just a couple of feet into the ditch and we can pull them back on with a tractor.

But this guy had gone the whole nine yards. Quite literally. He was over the ditch, through the hedge, into the field, and was precariously balanced at a 45 degree angle propped up against a hefty gate post.

The impact against a fence post had ripped open the side door and the trays inside has jettisoned out spilling their contents into the long gross. Toilet rolls, cornflakes, curry paste, bananas and even a bottle of Johnnie Walker.

We were we his first delivery of the day so he was fully loaded.

He couldn’t get a signal on the lane so he asked if he could use the phone in the house.

I left him to call his boss in the office. I couldn’t help but hear a raised voice from the other end of the line.

He came into the living room looking pretty sheepish.

His boss would be here in about half an hour.

Valentina made him a cup of tea to calm him down. He was pretty cut up about it. He had only started on the job last week. It was only a six month contract but he really needed the work. His wife was expecting a baby in 6 weeks and she had been on a zero hour contract at the care home so didn’t qualify for any maternity pay.

I felt really bad for him but I couldn’t get his van back on the road.

When he’d finished his tea I offered to help him collect all the groceries in the field before his manager arrived.

Luckily it had stopped raining by then.

When we got there we were in for a bit of a surprise. Just about all the stuff had gone. Someone had taken it.

In a town that would be quite normal these days. But he’d come off our lane a quarter of a mile from the road so there was no passing traffic, and our nearest neighbours are half a mile away and they definitely wouldn’t steal it.

This freaked him out a bit.

His boss arrived just at that point.

I thought I’d best leave them to it and headed back to the house.

Valentina was as surprised as both of us when I told her about all the stuff from the van disappearing.

It put us slightly on edge actually. Someone by chance must have come up the lane. I guess the Johnnie Walker was too much of a temptation.

Just at that point I got from the Abergavenny Police. I’d been chasing them about the video.

Unfortunately they had not been able to pick up the number plate of the motorbike or anything to help identify the two attackers.

They said they would keep the case open for the time being but as Valentina wasn’t badly injured I am not sure they were that bothered to investigate fully.

Valentina said we should let it drop. But that isn’t my style. As soon as Valentina wasn’t about I sent an email to Amy asking if she knew anyone that might be able to take another look at the video. I asked her not to tell her mum. And I sent it encrypted. We’d done this before for some other ‘business’.

It was just about lunchtime now so we had left over bean stew and apple pie Valentina had made from some of last year’s apples.

We had a good harvest last year – I think it was almost 200kg in the end.

All the excitement had worn me out and I am still not in peak condition. I was feeling a bit drowsy by then.

I think it is my microbiome getting out of kilter at the moment. I am big believer in fermented foods to keep the gut bacteria in good shape to keep the body in good health.

Our last batch of kefir had gone bad so we have ordered some new kefir grains to start afresh. And we’ve just finished all the sauerkraut we made in the autumn.

That reminded me about the Tesco van. There was supposed to be some sauerkraut in our order.

It had started raining again but I had to go and see if they had cleared the van off the lane.

Just as I got there I saw a pickup truck driving away – but without the van.

The Tesco manager came over to me apologising profusely. They had tried to pull the van up with the pickup truck but it was just too heavy to clear the battery pack over the edge of lane without damaging it.

They had therefore had to call out a crane.

The Home Delivery Manager, as I discovered his full title was, said the Store Manager would be in touch to sort out appropriate compensation for the damage and the inconvenience.

I suggested rather tongue in cheek free groceries for a year. I don’t think he was in the mood for humour though. It would have been rather useful as just about all our local shops have closed now.

The crane wasn’t going to arrive for an hour or so as it was coming up from Cross Hands.

They didn’t want to come in for tea, preferring to stand guard on what was left of their delivery orders.

The sauerkraut had unfortunately smashed.

So I left them to it.

A nice cup of tea was all I needed when I got back in.

Valentina said she had enough of her tablets for another two or three days so the prescription could wait.

I got the PolliDrones box out to look at. The English in the instructions is a bit wobbly but they look pretty impressive. They have high def macro and standard cameras which should be pretty stunning to watch – a bee’s eye view. If you let them out they actually have a range of over 25 miles which is amazing. And they are satellite linked so we could send them off to Aberaeron to see what the parking is like before we set off for a visit.

I’ve just got to activate them through the website and then I can start to play.

Danny called a couple of hours later. He’d seen the crane going up our lane on his way home.

I told him the story. He laughed – “bloody amateur drivers” or words to that effect.

When I mentioned all the food being stolen his mood changed.

He’d heard rumours about some travellers in the area stealing from sheds and barns. He reckoned it could be them.

Luckily Valentina didn’t hear any of this.

I think I am going to apply for that shotgun licence.

That’s all for now. Sleep tight and keep your doors locked.

If you have missed the previous diary entries, you can catch up…

FutureDiary : 10 January 2030 – Storms, floods & electric dreams

FutureDiary : 09 January 2030 – Trees, Australians & Lentils

FutureDiary : 08 January 2030 – Guns, Trump and PolliDrones

FutureDiary : 07 January 2030 – Valentina robbed at knifepoint

FutureDiary : 06 January 2030 – A panic in Cardiff

[graphic by @pennsif]