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Longer Term Survival

Nature always gets the last word.  My focus has been on helping you survive for 30 days following a catastrophic event.  As I write this its more than 60 days since three hurricanes hit the Southern U.S. and Puerto Rico.  The entire region is still struggling to rebuild infrastructure, provide food and water, and accommodate tens of thousands of people whose homes were totally destroyed.  In late October 2017, Texas A&M University’s agricultural economists concluded that Hurricane Harvey alone caused $200 million in crop and livestock losses.  On 9 November 2017, two months after the hurricanes hit, the San Juan power grid failed, leaving over 400,000 U.S. citizens without electricity.  It isn’t expected to be fully restored for at least another month.  In some counties around Houston, 80% of the buildings remain severely damaged and 35% are totally destroyed.  The number of people left homeless is still unknown.

Problems like these don’t go away in 30 days…  Plan for the worst and hope for the best…

My goal was never to prepare you for a long-term “Zombie Apocalypse” type of event.  Still, there are some practical things that you could do (and NOT do) to help survive comfortably beyond that first 30 days.

Gardening.  For most people gardening isn’t a practical solution.  Despite what the survival books say gardening isn’t as simple as throwing out seeds and harvesting food the following week.  A garden large enough to feed a family needs to be at least 1/8 acre, and ¼ acre or more would be better to offer variety.  A garden requires a lot of time and skill to consistently produce enough food to feed a family.  Different crops “surge” at different times, giving you a surplus, then they die off.  For two weeks in the Spring you’ll have a flood of squash, then the vine borers arrive and kill the plants.  In July, you’ll be inundated with tomatoes until the vines desiccate and die in the summer sun.  Unless you devise a way to preserve the foods while they’re producing you’ll have to gorge on whatever is producing that week, then go hungry the next.  This is where the saying “feast or famine” came from.  Gardening is only practical if you’re doing it before the event and already have the tools, seeds, knowledge, and enough time remaining in the growing season.  Tomatoes for example, need long, sunny days and between 60-100 days to mature, so planting tomatoes after a September hurricane would be futile.   (A little-known fact is that an average tomato plant only produces about 8 pounds of fruit).  Unless you’re already a successful gardener before the event, then gardening will probably not help you.

Foraging.  The survival books are mostly wrong.  If you believe them then all you need to do is walk through the woods and fill your belly on stuff you pick off bushes and trees.  Yeah, right.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even professional foragers burn more calories hunting, gathering, and preparing food than it provides.  So, even the best foragers can’t collect enough calories to survive on.  Like gardening, foraging is also seasonal.  In the Spring and Summer, different plants come into season in a specific order.  Like the garden, you feast or famine.  In the Winter foraged foods are hard to find unless you know where tuber-producing plants grew in the summer.  Still, foraging can be useful to give your diet a little variety and some fresh “greens”.  Before foraging though, I’d recommend taking a class from your county extension or a local college.  Even then, I’d recommend keeping a good reference like “The Forager’s Harvest” series, by Samuel Thayer.  His books are practical guides with plants pictured during different seasons, as well clear descriptions to help with positive identification.  The forager’s rule of thumb:  If you aren’t positive what it is, don’t put it in your mouth.

Hunting.  By the time your food runs low enough that you decide to begin hunting that same idea will have occurred to about a zillion other people.  Hunting larger animals like deer may not even be feasible based on the laws of supply and demand as everyone with a gun, bow and spear heads for the woods.  As I see it, we have two choices:  Start hunting larger animals from day one to supplement our preserved foods (then stop hunting as desperate hunters start shooting up the woods), or; wait to see how long the event might last, then avoid larger animals and focus on smaller urban critters like squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, groundhogs, and birds.  Without refrigeration deer need to be cleaned and processed quickly to avoid spoiling and are best shared with friends.  Yes, it is possible to make deer jerky, as many of the survival books mention, but it isn’t easy and will use up a lot of time and fuel.  Small animals are more “meal sized” and are easy to clean and prepare in ways that I’ll leave to your imagination and creativity.

Snares and Traps. Another popular subject in survivalist books, catching animals in snares isn’t a reliable or efficient way to collect food.  In an urban environment where most of us live, you’re ten times more likely to accidentally snare (read: kill) your neighbor’s pet as you are something more palatable.  Snaring animals really is a cruel way to kill food, so I urge you to consider live trapping instead (Havahart trap, $20-50 depending on size @ Walmart).  Live trapping gives you the option of releasing animals that you didn’t mean to catch, like your neighbor’s cat.  If you do catch potential food, humanely dispatch it quickly with a .22.  Bird snares are a different story because most catch them by the foot, leaving them alive. Bird snares are easy to set up and take very little skill (Free: look up “Ojibwa bird snare”).

Fishing.  One of the easiest ways to collect food is fishing.  Sport fishermen will hate me for saying this, but fishing takes no skill and only requires some fishing line, a hook and some free bait.  There are various kinds of line for sportsmen, but since our survival depends on catching fish, sportsmanship doesn’t enter into our formula.  Grab 100 yards of 25-30 pound test line ($6 @ Walmart) and some assorted hooks ($3 for 36 hooks w/nylon leads @ Walmart).  No rod is necessary.  Cut your fishing line into 10-foot lengths and attach a hook.  Tie one end to a tree or root near the water, bait the hook with anything you can find under a rock, and throw the hook into the water.  (I’ve found that worms work great, but so do grubs, bugs, and slices of mouse or snake).  Move to the next tree and repeat until you have 10 or more lines in the water, then return to the first line to either remove the fish or re-bait the hook and throw it back in.  After you catch the first fish you can cut it up and use pieces for bait.  Catch only as many as you can eat because preserving fish is difficult.

Larger scale water purification. After 30 days of pumping water through your filter it would be nice to have a faster way to process potable water. There are countless places to buy expensive filters, but it’s easy to make one out of two 5-gallon plastic buckets, a cheap spigot, and a couple of Black Berkey filters ($50 each on eBay).  With two filters this setup purifies 3 ½  gallons per hour, and with four filters up to 7 gallons/hr – all with no pumping.