Wednesday, 21 October 2015

09:10 – We got more of my office books packed up yesterday. We should have the bookshelves cleared today, which is most of what needs to be done in my office. There’s still the closet, which shouldn’t take long, and my desks.

We’ve been watching the BBS Historical Farm series. We’ve finished Tudor Monastery Farm and Secrets of the Castle, and intend to watch the other four or five related series. We’re also watching the original Little House on the Prairie series with Little Joe. One season of that down, and nine more to go.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of Forstchen’s One Year After. It’s for sale on Amazon, but I simply refuse to pay $13 for a fiction ebook. Ordinarily, I’d simply have grabbed a copy from KickAss torrents, but for some reason there’s no torrent available. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t emailed me a cracked copy already. Readers frequently send me copies of various books and encourage me to take a look at them, but no one’s done that. I see that our library has that book as a downloadable ebook, so I’ll see if I can grab a copy there. Unless someone emails me a copy in the interim.


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

09:22 – Top of the fold front-page article in the paper this morning that says there are 9,000 people in this county who are addicted to opiates. Seems a bit high to me. County population as of 2010 was about 350,000, so that would mean roughly 2.5% of the population is addicted to heroin, oxycodone, or other opiates, or about one of every 40 people. I’d be very surprised if it was even 1% in our neighborhood, but I suppose it’s much higher in underclass areas that surround us.

We’re starting post-freeze/thaw germination tests on 30 species of seeds today, so we’ll set up an assembly line to get that done efficiently. We’ll allow them to germinate for five days, and then compare germination rates with the control specimens. Barbara is sitting at the table right now, making up little ziplock bags of seeds nestled in paper towels dampened in Miracle-Gro fertilizer. Five days from now, we’ll count the number of each seed type that’s germinated successfully and determine percentage germination rates.

Then we’ll start packaging those that pass the freeze/thaw germination test, and start further drying and then retesting on those that don’t. We’ll start shipping the kits as soon as we have everything tested successfully.

My profound hope is that no one will ever actually NEED these kits, that things will get back on the right course and there will be no disruptions in the food supply. I think that’s the most likely outcome, but I also think that the probability of a bad outcome is high enough to be terrifying to anyone who’s watching what’s going on. The last thing I want is for Barbara and me to have to grow our own food. Actually, that’s the next-to-last thing I want; the last thing I want is for us to go hungry.


12:38 – Someone asked some time ago in the comments about how much detail I’d go into for the planting guide to be included in the seed kits. Here’s an example for one of the species:

Bean (Lima)

The Henderson Bush Lima Bean is an annual, early-maturing, heat- and drought-tolerant baby bush bean that requires no poles for support. It is widely adapted, and can be grown successfully in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9. This plant produces copious 3” to 4” pods. The seeds are light green when fresh, and dry to a white to very pale tan color.

Lima beans are suitable companion crops for most other species, particularly including other beans (where cross-pollination is not an issue), beets, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, collards, corn, cucumber, potato, squash, sunflower, and tomato. Avoid planting Lima beans near chives, onion, garlic, fennel, leek, shallot, or other Allium family members.

Plant in well-drained soil in full sun at least two weeks after the last frost, when soil temperature is at least 70º. Plant 1” deep, eye-side down, 4” to 6” apart, with 3′ row separation. (The eight ounces of seeds included in the HS-1 seed kit are sufficient to plant a 160′ to 280′ row.) Use compost, manure, or other organic matter to enrich the soil, and work it deeply. If available, treat seeds with a Rhizobia inoculant suitable for P. lunatus. Germination may be slow.

After germination, thin to 8” apart, but do not transplant the plants you have pulled. Avoid watering, which may damage seedlings. Carefully weed only until the plants come into bloom, because flowers are very delicate and may be damaged or destroyed by weeding. Mature plants are 12” to 18” tall. First harvest should be 60 to 80 days after germination. For consumption, carefully pick pods when pods begin to fill out and are firm. Prompt and frequent picking increases yield and produces tender beans. Leaving pods on the plants yields beans that are too tough for consumption, and are suitable only for saving for next year’s crop. Lima beans may be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen, or they can be dried for later consumption.

Lima beans are pollinated by bees. For seed saving, avoid cross-pollination with other varieties of Lima, fava, or runner beans by isolating the plants you save seed from by a quarter mile or more. Alternatively, you can plant flowers to attract bees away from the Lima bean plants intended for seed saving. At the end of the growing season allow the pods to dry thoroughly on the bush. Dried pods are light brown, and the pod will rattle when shaken. After drying in place, pick the pods and remove the seeds. Spread the seeds to dry further, and store them in a cool, dry place for planting the following year.

Monday, 19 October 2015

08:27 – I got several emails about yesterday’s post on the futility of attempting to maintain “OpSec”. Most of them were in the nature of “it may not help, but what’s the downside?”.

The downside is huge. To the extent that you do succeed in maintaining secrecy about your preparations, the result may well be that some or all of your neighbors and friends will be less prepared than if you’d said something.

The days when preppers were considered nutcases by most people are fast disappearing. The news headlines are seeing to that. A majority of people is now concerned about how things are going, and expects things to get worse, perhaps much worse. When I talk to people, they often bring up these concerns on their own, without any prompting from me. People are worried. When I mentioned to one that it would be a good idea to stock up on food, she agreed emphatically and added that she was going to talk to her husband about buying guns to protect themselves. The idea of prepping for bad times to come is rapidly becoming mainstream. The effects of that stupid Doomsday Preppers series are wearing off, and people are beginning to think that those prepper types might just be onto something important.

I very seldom bring up prepping when I’m talking with someone. I may bring up the latest outrage in the news, whether it’s allowing Ebola patients into the US or rioting in Baltimore or wherever. Then I just stand back and listen. People mostly express their concerns and their growing unease at what this country has become. So when I bring up storing food or whatever, I do so calmly and reasonably, and nearly everyone I talk to says they think doing that would be a very good idea. How many of them actually do stock up, I have no idea, but just planting the seed of the idea helps.

Mentioning in casual conversation that you’re concerned about the way things are going won’t get you branded as some kind of lunatic, since most people you talk to are likely to agree that things are going downhill. Gently introducing the idea of preparing for bad times to come is a great way to increase the readiness of your neighborhood, maybe only a little at first, but every extra can of food your neighbors buy is one you don’t have to buy. Even if they end up only a little more prepared than they had been, that’s a net win. They’ll probably think you’re a Mormon. So what? Most people consider Mormons to be good neighbors.


11:53 – I have now put samples of all of the seed species through a freeze-thaw cycle, so I can start germination tests on them. Any that fail that test will have to be dried further and then retested. I’m defining “fail” as any species whose sample shows a germination rate less than 70% of the initial (control) germination rate. I’m going to recommend that people store these seed packs refrigerated rather than frozen, but no doubt some people will choose to freeze them.

For most species, I can do a germination test simply by placing the seeds in a folded-over damp paper towel in a sealed plastic bag, but some species have horrendously low germination rates when tested that way. Rather than just water, they require some nutrients, so I’ll probably do these germination tests with a dilute solution of fertilizer to keep them happy.

I know it sounds stupid, but I always feel vaguely guilty when I do a germination test. Those poor little seeds get all excited when they sense dampness. They start growing their little root structures and stem/leaf structures and then a few days later they’re shocked when I open the bag, unfold the paper towel, and examine the infant plants. Then I count the number that are germinating and discard the paper towel in the trashcan. The poor babies never had a chance.

I just ordered another case of packing tape, another tape dispenser, and a pack of spare wipe-down blades. I was going to have to do that soon anyway, but I’d hoped to wait until we were relocated so that I wouldn’t have to haul yet another box to the new place. But Barbara is currently packing up books and other items, but we’re down to only three rolls and she’s going to need more packing tape. She was going to pick up a few rolls at Office Depot or wherever, but that stuff is grossly overpriced and isn’t very good quality.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

08:28 – We made a quick Sam’s Club run yesterday. We met Frances and Al there, since we’d dropped our membership a couple of months ago. We prefer Costco, but there are some things that Sam’s carries and Costco doesn’t.

Lots of ideas seem eminently reasonable until you really think about them. I was reading an article yesterday on a prepper website that focused on so-called OpSec, AKA operational security. Borrowed from the military, the idea of OpSec is to prevent the enemy from learning your position, intentions, capabilities, and other tactical factors. Many preppers seem to believe that this is a useful concept for prepping. The idea is apparently that if no one knows what you’re doing, they won’t show up at your door after TSHTF demanding that you share your stuff.

Good luck with that. The truth is that everyone who might care already knows. You can’t keep it a secret. Your family knows. Your friends know. Your neighbors know. Your mailman and USPS guy know. Your bank and credit card companies know. And the government certainly knows. Secrecy and privacy are quaint ideas that are long gone.

But even assuming that you could somehow keep your preparations a secret from everyone, why would you even bother to try doing so? If/when things get really bad, do you really think no one is going to notice that you seem to be doing well? Do you think if your neighbors are hungry they’re going to ignore the obvious fact that you seem to be thriving? The safe bet is that they’ll show up at your door, armed if it comes to that, and demand that you give them what they want. And you’ll give it to them, voluntarily or involuntarily. I don’t know many people who would just sit on a massive stockpile of food while they watched their friends, neighbors, and their children starve. We’re just not built that way.

Put simply, an individual or small family cannot make it through very bad times on their own. Larger groups are much more likely to survive and thrive because they can bring additional skills and resources to bear. Yes, a larger group means more mouths to feed and most of them won’t have nearly as much stored food as you do. That means your stored food will be feeding not just you and your family, but possibly many others as well.

When our long-term food storage first reached 24 person months, Barbara said that enough was enough. I told her to think about that stockpile not as a year’s supply of food for two people, but as a two months’ supply for a dozen people or even as a month’s supply for 24 people. And that’s still the way I think of it.

If push comes to shove, we’re not going to turn away Barbara’s sister and brother-in-law. That cuts how long our food lasts in half. Adding people cuts down fast on how long x amount of food will last. But we wouldn’t turn away my brother and his wife, either, assuming they somehow made it to our door from the Raleigh area. Nor would we turn down our new next-door neighbors. If Paul and Mary show up at our door, we’re certainly not going to slam it in their faces. And so on.

It’s very easy to focus on the drawbacks of a larger group while ignoring the advantages. One of our neighbors, for example, might be a farmer. They might not have enough food stored to last the family for the winter (although they might; rural residents are much more likely to be prepared than are urban and suburban residents.) But if we can give them enough additional food for them to survive the winter, they may be able to bring in a crop next spring, in which we would share. They also have cattle, and a good ongoing source of animal protein would be very important.

In short, if you decide that you’re only out for yourself, best case you can’t expect any help from other people. None. Zero. And that’s best case. If you put yourself in a position where you can help others when they need it, you can expect others to help you when you need it. And that’s the key to getting through a long-term emergency.

The single most important thing you can do is store more food than you think you’ll need. Much more. Bulk staples are cheap now, so stock up on them while you still can. Once we relocate, we’ll be buying 50-pound bags of sugar, flour, beans, salt, and other bulk staples. We’ll also maintain a good supply of vegetable oil, because oils and fats are both critical and hard to come by in a widespread long-term emergency. We won’t be able to help everyone, but we will be able to help some people, and that goes a long way toward ensuring our own security.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

09:01 – The last of the open-pollinated seeds arrived yesterday. Today, we’ll start freeze-testing on all of them.

Like a lot of things that appear simple on first glance, seed viability is actually extremely complicated. Initial germination percentage varies dramatically from species to species and even from lot to lot, as does the curve of decreasing viability over time. Some species have initial germination percentages of 99%+, while others are down around 10% or even less. Fortunately, the latter are very unusual. Typical initial germination rates vary from 70%+ to nearly 100%, depending on the species and how it was initially dried and otherwise treated. All seeds show decreasing germination percentages over time, but the rate of decrease varies hugely and is not related to the initial germination percentage. For example, one lot may show an initial germination percentage of, say, 96%, with germination percentage down to 68% after one year stored at room temperature, 52% after two years, 40% after three years, and so on. Another may show a 73% germination percentage initially, but drop only to 68% after one year, 63% after two years, 60% after three years, and so on. The first seed has a very high initial germination percentage, but loses viability quickly over time. The second seed has a lower initial germination percentage, but loses viability much more slowly over time.

Then there’s the effect of moisture. Seed must be dry to store well. If the percentage of loosely link moisture is above 25% or so, the seed will rot, grow fungus, etc., so commercial seed is normally dried to an average moisture content of below 20%. That’s sufficient if it’s to be stored short-term (year-to-year) at above freezing. Getting it somewhat drier extends viability, but you have to be careful not to dry it too much. If it gets below 8% or so average moisture, seeds tend to “harden”, which means they’re too dry to absorb the water they need to germinate. Drying seeds with warm air exacerbates the problem because seeds dry unevenly, partially or completely hardening some of them while leaving others too moist.

That’s why those big seed banks located up above the Arctic Circle have huge drying rooms that constantly circulate cool, very dry air around racks of screens that hold seeds. These facilities keep seeds on the drying racks for weeks or even months on end, drying them very slowly but evenly. After drying, the seeds are stored at well below freezing. Under those conditions, they maintain high viability and are essentially immortal. Unfortunately, doing that on a small scale is not practical.

There’s an interesting correlation between moisture percentage and storage temperature. Seeds that have a moisture content well above the ideal 8% store well at temperatures just above freezing, the temperature in a standard refrigerator. They maintain pretty high germination percentages for about four times as long as they would if they were stored at room temperature, or perhaps five to ten+ years. But if you put those same seeds in a freezer, you immediately reduce the germination percentage significantly while at the same time increasing their shelf life significantly. That seems self-contradictory, but it’s true.

The issue with freezing is that it causes microscopic water ice crystals to form, which may (or may not) kill the seed. Those seeds that are fatally damaged by ice crystal formation are deader than King Tut and will never germinate. But those seeds that are not killed by freezing become essentially immortal, and will be viable 10, 20, 50, or 100 years after being frozen, assuming they’re kept frozen the entire time. But always remember that each thaw/freeze transition will kill more of the seeds, so freezing/thawing/refreezing such seeds is a very bad idea.

That’s why we’re doing a freeze/thaw transition followed by a germination test for each of the species we’re including in the open-pollinated seed kits. Some kit buyers will choose to keep the seeds refrigerated, which is what we’ll do and recommend. Stored that way, the seeds will very gradually lose viability, but germination rates should remain reasonably high for at least 10 years out, and probably much longer. Buyers who choose to freeze their kits will do so with the knowledge that they may be killing some percentage of those stored seeds in exchange for keeping some percentage of them good essentially forever.


Friday, 16 October 2015

08:25 – Barbara is off to the gym this morning. Then she’ll presumably continue with the cleaning and packing up. We got a fair amount done on my office yesterday, but we have a lot more to do. We’ll start on my office bookshelves, which are something like 60 lineal feet, nearly all filled with books. Probably half or more of those books will go into the discard and Goodwill piles. I mean, it was kind of neat to get copies of my O’Reilly books in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, and so on, but I’ve never even looked at them other than for a moment after they arrived. Some of them are in languages that I not only can’t read, but can’t even identify.

I’ve done nothing to prep this week other than stuff related to our relocation and work on the open-pollinated seeds kit.

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


Thursday, 15 October 2015

08:34 – We’re still waiting to hear about the house we made an offer on. It’s a short sale, which complicates things, and the owners had also filed for bankruptcy back in 2013, which complicates things further. The bankruptcy court apparently cleared the bankruptcy in November 2014, but there are still two claims showing against the title. One of them is a pest control company, which is probably only for a few hundred dollars, but the other is by a mortgage company for $27,000. The owners claim that both of those claims were vacated during the bankruptcy, which makes sense, but they’re still showing on the official records. Our broker told me yesterday that it seems likely that the owners’ bankruptcy attorney didn’t do his job to get those liens cleared after the bankruptcy, so they’re currently waiting for him to correct matters. If they can get these issues cleared up, things may begin moving quickly and we may be able to close within the next 30 days or so.

Barbara got a junk mail solicitation yesterday from AAA. She walked into my office, handed me the application, and said she thought we should join. I agreed, so I called them and signed up. The basic membership was $49/year, but included only three free miles of towing. After that, it was $4/mile. The upgraded membership at $84/year included free towing up to 100 miles. Given what we’re likely to be doing over the next year, Barbara said and I agreed that the upgraded membership made sense for us, so I signed up for it. The only question they asked was whether we owned an RV, a motorcycle, or a dualie pickup truck. Presumably they charge more per year if someone owns any of those. We don’t.

I spent some time yesterday working on the instruction guide for the open-pollinated seed kit and will continue work on it today. All but two of the first batch of these kits are already spoken for, but we’ll continue to accept orders for now at the $100 price. If you want to order a kit or kits, see yesterday’s post.


14:34 – We have commenced work on the Augean Stables, AKA my office. The only real differences are that the Augean Stables had been cleaned more recently than my office, and that I have only three or four cattle in my office. Unless some are still staying hidden.

I remember 15 years or so ago, Barbara was complaining about how cluttered and dirty my office was. (That was back before she just gave up on it.) I downloaded and showed her photos of Anand’s office and Pournelle’s office, both of which looked pretty much identical to mine. Of course, Jerry cleaned up his office a bit shortly after that. Roberta had finally made good on her threat to do it herself. She was hauling boxes out of the Great Room and dropping them over the railing to plummet down into the trash cart she’d rolled into the foyer, one floor down. He finally got serious about cleaning up himself when he caught her about to drop a sealed full case of new hard drives over the edge and into the trash cart.

Once we get this place mostly cleaned out, I’ll have just what I need for immediate tasks–shipping kits, stuff I’m currently writing, and so on. When we finally get moved out of here, I’ll take my desk with me. It’s a 3-0 solid-core door, mounted in a corner to 2X6’s bolted into the studs, with the free corner sitting on a 2-drawer file cabinet. That, and removing my bookshelves, which are 1X10 pine boards supported by screw-in wall brackets, means we’ll have a lot of patching, spackling, and painting to do. In fact, we’ll probably paint most of the walls that are currently painted, and probably the ceilings as well. Flat white for the ceilings, gloss ivory for the woodwork and doors, and I’d guess eggshell for the walls throughout. Something nice and neutral that a new buyer can live with.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

09:29 – Yesterday, we packaged up samples of each of the seed types we have on hand for freeze-testing. We’re still awaiting delivery on six of the seed types. When those arrive, we’ll package up test specimens of each type and then freeze all of the specimens. We’ll then allow them to return to room temperature and run germination tests on each. I expect that most of the specimens will survive the freeze/thaw cycle and germinate normally. Any that don’t will require additional drying and retesting before we can package them.

I’ve gotten several emails about the decision to include Stevia seeds, all of them critical. Most are concerned about the taste/aftertaste of the stuff and its usability as a sweetener, but a couple mentioned something that concerned me as well. Being native to tropical/subtropical regions, Stevia is extremely cold-sensitive and is quite difficult to grow in temperate latitudes. Germination rates are also very low, so you’d need to grow quite a few plants if you wanted to save seed while maintaining genetic diversity. The kit already includes two species that are good sources of sugar, beets and parsnips, so I’ve decided to drop the Stevia from the kit. (We’ll do small test plantings ourselves to get some experience with it, and I may revisit that decision in later years.)

In its place, I’m going to add amaranth. You’ll see amaranth variously listed by seed vendors as an herb, a vegetable, or a grain. It’s actually all three, but my main interest in it is as a grain (actually, a pseudo-cereal). Before the arrival of Europeans, amaranth seed was a major staple for Meso-American natives. Its seeds were used as a grain, as we now use wheat, which was unknown at that time and place. We’ll include a half ounce of amaranth seeds. That’s 20,000+ seeds, sufficient to produce literally tons of yield.

Substituting amaranth for Stevia won’t affect the price of the kits, which remains at $181. My earlier offer remains open to regular readers. For the time being, we’ll ship one or more of these kits anywhere in the 50 states for $100. If you want to order a kit or kits, go to paypal.com, choose the option to send money, and transfer $100 for each kit you want to orders (at) thehomescientist (dot) com. Make sure to include your mailing address, either street address or PO box. Orders will ship sometime next month.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

08:38 – After a lot of research, I’ve come up with the final lineup for our open-pollinated seeds kit. Everyone who offers such kits lists the total seed weight and total number of seeds, both of which are useless metrics. I can tell you that our lineup includes more than 5.5 pounds of seeds totaling 78,000+ seeds, but that really means nothing. The number of seeds per ounce in our kits ranges from about 55/ounce to about 450,000/ounce. Some of the other “emergency seed kits” I’ve seen appear to be optimized only for maximum weight and number of seeds for the lowest production cost possible.

As you might expect, we went at it very differently. We selected seeds based on maximum nutritional value (no lettuce!), reliability (particularly for novice gardeners), adaptability to a wide range of temperatures, rainfall, and other environmental conditions, resistance to common diseases and pests, minimal likelihood of cross-pollination (to make it easier to maintain pure breeding stock), adaptability to small-scale gardening and harvesting, and so on. This kit is what we’ll be depending on ourselves as a last-ditch food source, so you can be sure we took great pains to get it right.

We ended up choosing three grains (barley, corn, and oats), four legumes (dry beans, green beans, Lima beans, and peas), ten vegetables (beet, broccoli, carrot, onion, parsnip, sweet pepper, summer and winter squash, tomato, and turnip), and one oil seed (sunflower). To make a diet of grains, legumes, and vegetables more palatable, we’ll also include eight culinary herbs (basil, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, stevia, and thyme). There’s also one medicinal herb, St. John’s Wort, which is a natural anti-inflammatory and antidepressant. There’s enough of each type of seed for a year-round garden large enough to provide for a family, with sufficient excess to allow for beginner mistakes, unexpectedly low yields because of weather or pests, planting a second-year crop of biennials (which don’t yield seed until the second year), and saving sufficient seed to make the garden sustainable indefinitely.

Finally, we’ll include a phosphate-buffered saline stabilized suspension of mixed Rhizobia species that are suitable for greatly increasing yields of various legumes, including those that come in the kit. This is really a Hail Mary effort, because we have no idea of (and no way to test) the viability of this suspension over the long term. Ideally, you should treat your legume seeds with a fresh commercial mixed Rhizobia inoculum, such as GUARD-N, but we can foresee situations in which the commercial product may be unavailable. If that happens, you can cross your fingers, hope for the best, and reculture this suspension by transferring a small amount of it to a culture broth made up of a tablespoon or two of table sugar in a liter of a dilute beef or chicken bouillon solution. If it works (which it should, but no guarantees), you’ll end up a few days later with a liter of solution that contains trillions of R. spp. nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which you can use to treat your legume seeds when you plant them.

We’ll package each seed type in one of many different containers, many of which will be familiar to anyone who’s used one of our science kits. Depending on the type, size, and number of a particular seed, we may package it in 1.5 mL micro-centrifuge tubes, 5 mL RIA vials, 15 mL centrifuge tubes, 50 mL centrifuge tubes, or even regular ziplock bags or coin envelopes. The outer packaging will be heat-sealed 7-mil (very heavy) foil-laminate Mylar bags, which can be resealed with a clothes iron set on high. There won’t be an oxygen absorber, but there will be a food-safe (“do not eat”) desiccant pack in the outer bag, which can be re-dried in an oven if you need to open and reseal the outer bag. And we will encourage people to use these seeds rather than just sticking them on the shelf. Gardening is difficult and uncertain at the best of times; when your ability to eat is the issue, it’s critical that you have some prior experience.

We’ll store the seed kits here refrigerated, which extends useful shelf-life by a factor of about four. We won’t freeze them because we want to minimize the number of freeze/thaw transitions, although we will recommend that buyers freeze them for long-term storage and keep them frozen. After, of course, planting test crops in their own environments to verify the suitability of the different seeds.

We intend to price this kit at $181, but my earlier offer remains open to regular readers. For the time being, we’ll ship one or more of these kits anywhere in the 50 states for $100. If any of you regular readers/commenters want to order one or more of these kits, you can do so for $100 per kit. To do so, go to paypal.com, choose the option to send money, and transfer $100 for each kit you want to orders (at) thehomescientist (dot) com. Make sure to include your mailing address, either street address or PO box. Orders will ship sometime next month.


Monday, 12 October 2015

08:43 – One of the things that annoys me about a lot of prepper sites is their attempts to monetize their sites by recommending specific items that they just happen to have a link to that’s set up to pay them a commission on every sale. At the very least, that calls their objectivity into question. Sometimes the products themselves are fine, but often they’re either outrageously priced or of dubious utility, or both.

For example, one top prepper site is pushing the Survival Still. I won’t link to it because it’s priced at literally fifteen times what it should be. Amazon has it for $284.95, which is pretty outrageous for what amounts to two modified stainless steel pot lids. (You supply the actual pots, one to hold the contaminated water, and a second one to hold cold water to condense the steam. You also supply the heat source and the fuel.)

What they don’t talk much about is that distilling water is extremely costly in terms of fuel, particularly with a device that is as thermally inefficient as this one. Much of the heat input will be wasted by radiation from the uninsulated source pot or by uncondensed steam escaping the device. And it requires a constant supply of cold water (ideally, ice) to work at all. Finally, the amount of output is likely to be pretty small. The manufacturer claims “approximately 1/2 gallon an hour”, but half that much is a more realistic estimate, assuming you have sufficient fuel to keep a pot of water boiling 24 hours a day every day indefinitely.

The company highlights comments by FEMA and the Red Cross that distillation is the most effective way to purify badly contaminated water, which is true, assuming that the water is contaminated chemically rather than just biologically. What they don’t mention is that it’s also the most inefficient and costly way to purify water that is contaminated only biologically, which is to say the vast majority of the water that most people would be using in an emergency.

In short, this is an effective water purification device, but one that is grossly overpriced, extremely expensive to use in terms of fuel, and overkill for purifying any but chemically-contaminated water.

Speaking of recommended items, Barbara and I fired up our Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-75A yesterday to do some dehydration tests on seeds. Nesco dehydrators, which are Chinese-made, are the biggest sellers among dehydrators on Amazon, with US-made Excalibur dehydrators in a distant second place. Not surprising, considering that comparable Excalibur units sell for two or three times the price of Nesco units. I went with the less expensive Nesco unit because the reviews are similar and a dehydrator is, after all, a pretty simple machine–a heating element, a thermostat, a fan, and some trays.

We started by crushing one soldier bean seed with pliers, as a field-expedient dryness test. It fragmented nicely, telling us that it was already pretty dry and probably suitable as is for freezing. We then counted out three samples of soldier bean seeds. We weighed the first sample and stuck it in the dehydrator, set on low. We put the second sample in a 15 mL centrifuge tube, capped it, and stuck it in the freezer. After a couple of days to make sure it’s thoroughly frozen, we’ll do a germination test on those seeds. We started a germination test on the third sample, placing the seeds on a wet paper towel, rolling up the paper towel and sticking it in a sealed ziplock bag, and putting it on top of the refrigerator to sit for two or three days. Germination for that species is listed as 7 to 10 days, but that’s assuming the seeds are planted in actual soil. It takes them that long to poke up out of the soil. But all we need to verify is what percentage of the seeds germinate, which is obvious much sooner if we start them on a damp paper towel.

The next steps are to do a germination test on the dried seeds and to allow the sealed tube of frozen seeds to return to room temperature and then do a germination test on them. I expect both sets to germinate properly. We dried the first set of seeds for eight hour at about 86F (30C), which is cool enough not to damage the embryos. The mass loss was only 1.1%, which indicates that the seeds were already pretty dry when we started. The key numbers will be the percentages of germination for the three different samples. Once we have those, we’ll know how to proceed, at least for that particular species. We’ll then need to repeat the testing for each of the other species we intend to include in the seed kits, especially the critical ones, the other beans and the grains (corn, oats, and barley).

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