January 9, 2016

To Everything There is a Season...The Rhythms of Prepping, Part 1

Part One of a Three Part Series

For us prepping is a way of life. It has it's rhythms, seasons and time demands, all of which dictate how we live the rest of our lives. Really, I don't like the word Prepper as a description of what we do... we are not particularly preparing for an apocalypse, for societal meltdown or a global plague, what we are preparing for, is for life to happen. That could easily be a SHTF situation or it could be a personal health or financial hiccup. In what ever circumstance we find ourselves, we want as much of life as possible to be under our control; to be self-sufficient in as many areas of life as possible.

In the past, what we now call "Prepping", would have been the rule instead of the exception.  People of my grandparents generation and all the generations before, knew that if they didn't take care of themselves, no one else was going to. They survived and thrived by doing for themselves, working with their hands, learning skills, growing food, creating solutions, and being satisfied with what they had or making do when no other resources were available. It has only been in the last few generations that we have become disconnected from the basic rhythms of life. Now as a society we teeter on the edge of collapse. Not because of all the threats, like terrorism, that lurk waiting for their moment to arrive or because of political machinations, or government ineptitude, but because as a society we don't have the knowledge or skills to survive if the very fragile and vulnerable infrastructure we live in should stop functioning.

Years ago, when we were first married, my husband and I started to see societal disconnect from the values, practices, and knowledge of past generations. Opting instead for the convenient, the quick and the easy. Fearing that the experience and knowledge of the past would pass out of existence, and thus not be available for us to draw on, we started methodically to learn all that we could about as many self sufficiency subjects as possible. That has been going on for our 38 years together. We have amassed by study, practice and experience, many skills that we rely on daily. In our opinion, learning never stops, so we just keep adding to our collective pool of skills as we go along. I delight in learning new things, it is food for my soul, but I try to make sure in the present state of things, that what I put my time and brain power into also has a practical application.

 For Preppers, knowledge is life. So our preparations include the acquisition of as much knowledge as possible, whether it is in our heads, or in a book that we have in our possession. Much knowledge comes from experience, but a vast quantity of information is presently available in books, Amazon.com has a huge selection of books, both new and used, on just about any subject imaginable. The used books are often very affordable, and a cheap book in used condition still holds the same info as a new one at 10x the price. Then of course there is the internet. Practically anything you could ever want to know is on the web, either in written form or on video, and is free for the taking. I often spend quiet moments in the evenings watching how-to videos or searching and printing information that I may need in the future, this lets me collect pieces of knowledge for digesting later.

I believe an important skill for a Prepper to have is to understand nature's signs and cycles, and to be able to correctly identify what needs to be done when. This means you don't miss an opportunity when it's moment has come. To give a few examples, by knowing your area's planting zone and first frost date you will know when to plant and when to make sure you have your harvest in. By knowing your forage seasons you will know what wild foods are available in what season and when to pick your medicinal plants. Knowing what time of year is the best time to cut trees for next years wood supply will save you drying time for the newly cut wood... by knowing when the nut crops are ready for harvest and being able to identify and locate the trees, you will be able to collect the nuts before the squirrels get them all. When do edible mushrooms appear in the woodlands or when can you tap sap for syrup? What is the best time of day to fish? What time of day do you harvest herbs for cooking or medicine? How can you tell when a frost is coming or when there will be rain without a weather forecast? What does the sky look like right before a tornado? What signals do animals gives us about inclement weather? Being well informed about natural rhythms and indications, will leave us less vulnerable should we suddenly not have our regular sources of information available.

Working within the framework of natural rhythms, we have developed a calendar of activities that we follow year after year. Our garden calendar runs like this... I plant early spring seedlings under lights in late November, mull over seed catalogs and tend early winter gardens in December. We order seeds for the year and plant out early spring crops in late December/ early January. Do ground work, establish new beds, weed and compost unplanted beds and start late spring seeds from mid January through February.
Seedlings started in mid-November are almost ready to be set out before Christmas 
Weeding and composting on a nice day In January

We are harvesting early cold weather crops and filling harvested beds with late spring seedlings in March, as well as planting out hardy perennials flowers and herbs. April is a blur of harvesting, planting, fermenting and dehydrating. Even though April 15 is our last frost date, I never plant out warm weather crops before the first of May when the ground is consistently 70 degrees. Also, the area where we live is notorious for a surprise frost the last week of April, so I am patient and wait until May to put out my pepper and tomatoes. I am never sorry that I waited. May is the best month of the year in my opinion, the planting is done for awhile, the azaleas and roses are at their prime, birds are singing, the sun is warm but not hot... so May is my month to take it all in, have a garden party or just lay in the grass and watch the activity around me.
New Dawn rose in all her May glory
The New Dawn roses's sweet pale pink blossoms 
Part of the Azalea Garden
We have over 200 azalea bushes... there is no way to get them all in one photo!

 June begins a whole new flourish of activity, weeding, watering, succession planting, harvesting and putting up late spring garden goodies. June is also strawberry picking time, so I spend a lot of time hanging upside down in our strawberry beds, itching... (I am allergic to the strawberry leaves).
Sweet Charlie June Bearing Strawberries from our strawberry patch

Mm-m-m Breakfast !

We also usually try to make a trip to the Fancy Gap area of Virginia in June, to pick cherries at Levering's for the freezer. July is the month to water, water, water, since we won't have much rain from June until late August. The blackberries will come on first and then blueberries. Because I will find myself picking buckets of berries from late afternoon until dark, I will need to plan for something easy to fix for dinners in July, something say, that includes blackberries and blueberries? One summer a few years ago, we picked 55 lbs. from 2 blueberry bushes... we have 15 blueberry bushes and 2, 40 foot rows of blackberries so that is a lot of picking!
Two 40 foot rows of heirloom variety Blackberries keep us in berries in July

These gigantic berries are a very old variety, sweet and juicy. We saved a few brambles from our favorite picking spot when an old homeplace where they were growing was turned into a subdivision. We started out with 3 sprigs and now we have 80 feet of trellised blackberries

Blueberries on one of 15 bushes coming ripe. Soon there will be more berries than we can pick!

But July is also the month of beans an squash, so there is blanching, freezing and dehydrating going on. August has bumper crops of tomatoes and okra. We dehydrate almost all of our produce rather than can them, so the dehydrator is running 24-7. I take cutting from the tomato plants to root for a succession crop of tomatoes that will bear until frost. I will be starting seedlings for an early fall garden in early August.
54 tomato plants will provide us with fresh produce for our summer table and lots of tomatoes for making salsa and dehydrating

Weighing and dehydrating Roma tomatoes for winter use. We weigh all the produce that comes out of the garden and keep records of food production.
September is when the weather cools off enough that the peppers really start producing. They have been in the ground since May, getting bushy and tall, but the blossoms all fall off in the intense heat of July and early August, so when the weather cools off some and the fruit sets I begin to have peppers to eat fresh and put up. We dehydrate bell peppers and smoke jalapenos and habaneros, some will be dried and the rest made into Habanero Mango salsa and Chipotle en Adobo, canned and put up in the pantry to warm up our winter table.
A mix of ripe Jalapenos for chipotle, and habanerso for salsa
Smoking jalapenos is pungent work... Whew! 

September, October and November, we harvest, put up and replant for a late fall garden. Our first frost date is 15 November, so by then I will have harvested most of the warm weather crops, leaving the peppers until the last minute to get the most out of the harvest. I garden barefoot, so when I feel a certain chill coming up from the ground and see a clear, crisp evening sky, that is a sure sign of frost, so my husband and I run out with a basket and a flash light to harvest the last of the peppers. During November, we will also erect our winter garden hoops to shelter some of the cool weather crops, like lettuces and other salad greens from a hard freeze. We will have kale, chard, lettuces, beets,and other root crops, cabbages and broccoli as well as oriental veggies and greens growing all winter.

Hoops are up just waiting for plastic
Below freezing temperatures and several inches of snow outside
A toasty 50 degrees inside!

 December will start the cycle over again.  We rely heavily on our gardens and grow 365 days a year , thus securing food for our table now and for the future, should hard times arrive. So there is seed starting, seedling care, soil maintenance, transplanting, feeding, watering, weeding, harvesting and putting the food to use, fresh or preserved going on all year. There are always tasks to be done and schedules to keep in order to manage a year round food production system, so a certain portion of every day is spent on gardening tasks. But the garden seasons aren't the only cycles we work with... there is much more to life and to prepping than that!

I will continue to discuss other rhythms and calendars of prepping in Part Two and Part Three of this series. If you have any questions or would like to comment, please do! I love having a good chat and constructive feedback is always welcome! See you in Part Two!

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