Friday, 18 September 2015

09:49 – Barbara is taking a vacation day today and heading out to run errands. We’ll spend the weekend doing science kit stuff. We’re low stock on just about everything.

Speaking of low stock, apparently there’s some kind of significance about this month for many Mormons. Some book or other written by a Mormon woman but not endorsed by the LDS Church is predicting a catastrophe this month, and I’m sure the severe flooding in Utah is reinforcing those fears. The result is that long-term food storage vendors are seeing a gigantic flood of orders. Augason, Thrive, and others are unable to keep products in stock, both on-line and in stores. Even is back-ordered on many of their shelf-stable food items because of the panic buying.

We’ve been covered up working on science kit stuff, but I did manage to get a few items that might be useful in the future. Here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I read Lights Out by David Crawford, which is a different kind of PA novel. It focuses on a typical exurban neighborhood dealing with the effects of a continent-wide long-term power outage. The protagonist isn’t Rambo, which is a refreshing change. It’s a decent book, not great but a lot better than most of its genre. And it does give one something to think about.
  • I started design on a new kit. This one isn’t a science kit per se. It’s an heirloom seed kit, and I’ll sell it on-line via the prepping book. I’m not happy with any of the current heirloom seed kits out there, many of which appear to have an almost random selection of seeds, chosen without consideration for factors like reliability, ease of growing, nutritional value, climate adaptability, suitability for both northern and southern latitude day lengths, and so on.

The other problem with these seed kits is that they simply don’t include enough seeds. Ideally, of course, every prepper would already be keeping a garden, but the reality is that many preppers store heirloom seeds “just in case”. One kit I looked at included only one ounce (28.4 g) of bean seeds, which is 70 or so seeds. Yeah, under ideal conditions and assuming everything goes perfectly, those 70 bean seeds could produce a lot of beans. But what if conditions aren’t ideal or things don’t go perfectly? What if they’ve been in storage for so long that the germination rate is only 40%? What if animals or insects wipe out most of your crop? That’s why my kit will include 300 g of bean seeds, or roughly 750 seeds.

Then there’s the choice of plants. Nearly all of the seed kits include lettuce. Lettuce! It takes up precious space, requires a lot of work, and provides almost no nutrition. What’s the point to trying to grow it at all? Conversely, very few of the kits include turnip seeds. Turnips produce a massive amount of food and have high nutritional value. Anyone considering planting lettuce would do well to plant turnips instead. Or beets.

All of the kits include onions, which is fine. Onions are important for flavoring bulk staples. The problem is, many of the kits include long-day onion seeds. Long-day onions are fine if your latitude is about 45 degrees or higher. But at lower latitudes, the days never get long enough for those onions to flourish.

Almost none of the seed kits I looked at include even a basic selection of herbs, which are essential if you’re trying to cook appetizing meals from bulk staples. An herb garden doesn’t require much space, and I consider it mandatory to have the seeds necessary to keep a reasonably comprehensive herb garden, so those will be included in our kit. Another essential that these kits all leave out is tobacco seeds. Tobacco can be grown successfully up to about 55 degrees latitude if one has the proper seeds, and tobacco is an extremely desirable crop, if only for trade.

The other thing that worries me about many of these kits is how the seeds were processed and stored. Doing it right involves a lot of work, and my guess is that very few of these companies have bothered to do that work. If the seeds are dried properly (to ~7% or 8% moisture content but not much lower, which would “harden” the seeds and reduce germination rates) and frozen, they should remain viable for a long time. That’s how the international seed banks do it, and that’s why their vaults are located in arctic climes. I also noticed that most of these seed kits advertise that they’re packed with an oxygen absorber, which tells me that these companies don’t know what they’re doing. Using an oxygen absorber buys you nothing and may actually shorten the shelf life of the seeds.

I’ve done some germination testing of the Lima bean and carrot seeds that we include in biology kits. After five years stored just in PE bottles with no special dehydration or other treatment, I got germination rates of 50% to 60% (versus 85% to 90%+ on fresh seed). Germination rates of seeds also depend heavily on species, but I feel comfortable saying the seed kits we produce will yield reasonable germination rates after at least three to five years stored at room temperature and considerably longer if kept frozen. If nothing else, we can include a lot of seeds for species that tend to lose viability quickly over time. It doesn’t matter if the germination rate is only 10% if you have ten times as many seeds as you intend to plant.

So, what precisely did you do to prepare this week? Tell me about it in the comments.