09:51 – It was 72.9F (23C) when I took Colin out at 0715, bright and breezy. More work on science kits today.
I signed up for the Britbox free trial yesterday, and Barbara and I spent some time checking out what they had. We were disappointed, to say the least. Given that Britbox is a joint venture between BBC and ITV, I expected that they’d have their whole combined back catalogs available, with tens of thousands of episodes. That would have been worth paying $7/month for.
Alas, their selection is not even close to that. Probably not 1% of their combined catalogs. When we checked it earlier, I made the mistake of checking just some high-profile series. They had all seasons/episodes of stuff like Upstairs, Downstairs, Inspector Morse, Black Adder, Cadfael, etc.
What they don’t have is much of anything else. No Coupling, no Avengers (old or new), no Danger UXB, no Cazelets, no Good Neighbors, no Poldark, no Foyle’s War, no Jewel in the Crown, pretty much no nothing. I checked probably 50 series that we’d already watched or wanted to watch, and literally 90% to 95% of those were missing.
And even those that they supposedly had were mostly just one season of series that ran for multiple seasons, sometimes 20 or more. Stuff like Emmerdale Farm, which has been running since 1972, had only one season of half a dozen or so episodes. Stuff like Eastenders, which has been running every weekday since 1985, had only the 20 or so most recent episodes. Britbox doesn’t know the meaning of the word archive.
To make it even more useless to us, most of what they had available we already have on DVD. So we won’t be continuing our membership past the 7-day free trial. In fact, I may just cancel today. We’re very disappointed.
Email back from the woman I mentioned yesterday. I’ll call her Kathy. She and her husband Mike are both in their early 40’s. They have a daughter, 17, and a son, 15. They live maybe three hours WNW of us, in a small mountain town. They already have water taken care of, as well as heat. They already keep a few week’s worth of shelf-stable food, along with a lot of frozen stuff. In other words, they’re a pretty typical rural family. As Kathy said, they’ve watched things continuing to get worse and worse, so they decided it was time to get serious about prepping.
They live on some acreage and she gardens, but she says it’s struck her more than once how much work is involved to grow how little food. On average, it might take her a full day’s work to produce as much food as she could buy for $10 at the supermarket. So they consider gardening as a nice supplement to their food supply, but she really doesn’t want to be in a position where they have to grow all their food. Instead, they’ll buy a lot now, when it’s still cheap. Kathy is a nurse-practitioner in a local medical practice, and Mike teaches high school math and science, which is how I suspect they came across my site.
She asked what was involved in repackaging bulk dry foods themselves, how much it would cost, and how much work was involved. The cheapest method is to use recycled PET bottles, if you have a good source for them. The 2-liter soft drink bottles are pretty easy to come by, and they hold anything from about 2 pounds to about 5 pounds of bulk food, depending on type. Fluffy stuff (like oats) is near the low end, while dense stuff (like white granulated sugar) is near the top end. You can clean the PET bottles simply by dunking them in a sink of sudsy water, agitating the water inside the bottle, and then draining it. You don’t need to rinse the suds out of the inside. In fact, the bottles will dry much faster if you don’t.
The 2-liter bottles are fine for most bulk foods. We’ve packaged sugar, pinto beans, and even Walmart macaroni in them, using the top half of a 2-liter bottle as a funnel. Fluffy stuff like flour is more a problem, because it takes forever to get the bottle filled, banged down to settle it, and then filled again until you finally get it really full. We do have 100 or 150 pounds of white flour in 2-liter bottles, but wider mouth PET bottles (like those 1.75-liter wide-mouth bottles Tropicana orange juice comes in) are much, much easier to fill with flour. They’re also better for oats, which you can get into (and out of) a 2-liter narrow-mouth with some effort.
If you don’t have a source of PET bottles, one alternative that’s even better is foil-laminate Mylar bags. LDS sells these in 7-mil (very thick) one-gallon size for $0.50 each. The last time I bought them, they also offered a pack of 250 of them for $96, but I no longer find that option on their site. The one gallon bags hold roughly twice as much food as a 2-liter bottle, anything from maybe 3.5 pounds to 8+ pounds, depending again on the type of food. They’re heavy enough that “sharp” items like macaroni won’t punch through them. You can probably assume that if you’re repackaging 1,500 pounds of dry bulk food you’ll need roughly 300 of these bags, again depending on the specific mix of foods you’re packaging.
Finally, whether you use PET bottles or foil-laminate bags, you’ll need oxygen absorbers. Again, LDS on-line is the best source. They sell a pack of 100 oxygen absorbers rated to absorb 300 cc each of oxygen for $12. You’ll need one or more of these for each container you’re packing, except for sugar, which doesn’t need an absorber. Oxygen absorbers start working as soon as they’re exposed to air, so keep some empty canning jars handy. If, for example, you’ve filled 25 2-liter bottles, leave them with the caps off, lined up on the counter. Open the pack of oxygen absorbers, count out 25 of them, and immediately put the remaining 75 in canning jars and screw on the caps. Then quickly add one to each 2L bottle and replace the caps. If you check back an hour later, you’ll find the bottles have all dented in because the pressure inside them is now lower than atmospheric pressure. Same deal if you’re using the foil-laminate bags. They’ll suck in upon themselves, turning themselves into dense crinkly little bricks of food.
I’ve hesitated to use the foil-laminate bags because we have an ongoing supply of PET bottles (I drink a lot of Coke, and Barbara drinks a lot of orange juice), but also because the LDS Church specifically says that you need an impulse sealer to make a safe seal on the 7-mil bags. And not just any impulse sealer. They recommend ones that they sell, for $410. The $35 ones on Amazon just aren’t good enough. LDS specifically recommends against using a clothes iron. But if you visit Youtube, you’ll find hundreds of videos from people who use a clothes iron set on hot/cotton to seal these bags (for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjPimPIlrXU), and none of them have reported any problems with getting good seals. Many of these people have been doing this for ten years or more without any issues, so I’m reasonably comfortable with the idea of sealing them with a clothes iron.
So, some specifics. Let’s assume you decide to store 300 pounds of grains per person, and that 100 pounds of that will be flour. You’ll use this to bake bread, make pancakes, thicken sauces, and so on. That’s 400 pounds total. If you buy it from the LDS HSC at $3/can, that’s $300 total. If you buy flour in 25- or 50-pound bags at Sam’s or Costco, you’ll pay less than $0.25/pound. Call it $100 total for 400 pounds. A one-gallon bag holds about 6.5 pounds, so you’ll need 62 gallon bags at $0.50 each, $31.00 worth, and 62 oxygen absorbers at $0.12 each, or $7.44 worth. The grand total, not counting your time or electricity, is $138.44 for the home-packed stuff versus $300 for the LDS #10 cans.
You decide to store 75 pounds of rice per person, or 300 pounds total. If you buy white rice from the LDS Store, you’ll pay about $0.74/pound in #10 cans, or about $222 total. If you buy it bagged at Costco or Sam’s, you’ll pay maybe $0.40/pound. Call it $120 total. You can fit just over 7 pounds in a one-gallon bag, so you’ll need 41 bags ($20.50 total) and 41 oxygen absorbers ($4.92 total). The grand total for home packaging that 300 pounds of rice is $145.42 versus $222 for the LDS #10 cans.
The numbers are similar for other grains/carbohydrates–pasta, oats, and sugar. And LDS doesn’t offer every grain you might want to store. For example, for four people we store about 100 pounds of cornmeal, 10 pounds of cornstarch, 78 pounds of brown rice (we buy this prepackaged from Augason/Walmart in 26-pound buckets), and so on. Also, rather than buying LDS regular or quick oats, we buy 10-pound containers of Quaker Oats at Costco and repackage them, about 20 pounds per person.
Dry milk is an interesting exception. LDS sells it in 1.75-pound retort pouches at $5.40 each, or just under $3.00/pound. That’s cheaper than you can find it in bulk. The problem is LDS non-fat dry milk is absolutely terrible for drinking, the worst stuff on the market. Still, we store three 21-pound cases of it, because it’s cheap and it’s just fine for use in cooking or baking. You can find an interesting comparison of dry milks at http://foodstorageandsurvival.com/the-great-powdered-milk-taste-test-and-review/. It’s more than seven years old, but Angela Paskett is always worth reading. She walks the walk.
For drinking, use on cereal, making up sauces, and so on, we store several different products. First, Augason Farms Morning Moos, which is a milk substitute rather than 100% milk. It’s quite usable. Second, Nestle Nido, which is dry WHOLE milk, with all of the fat. Barbara taste-tested it. She said it wasn’t exactly like fresh milk, but it wasn’t bad, either. Its supposed best-by date is typically a year out, but in fact it remains good stored at room temperature for at least a couple of years (which I determined by experiment) and much longer if you have freezer space for the cans. Third, evaporated (not sweetened condensed) milk. Once again, its best-by date is typically a year out, but it remains good far longer at room temperature. I just used a can the other night that had a best-by date in the summer of 2014, and it was indistinguishable from a fresh can. Keep track of how much milk you use over a month or so for direct consumption and cooking/baking and then buy enough of these products to make up twice that much. (You’ll be cooking/baking a lot more if TSEDHTF.)