Growing for Resilience

Now that the children have left for university and city life, the simplicity of the resilience kitchen shows through. I’ve been exploring this concept in depth recently, researching for my next book.

I’m exploring food resilience in a rapidly urbanising area. If the global food transport network became subject to frequent disruption, you might have to live on stored food supplemented by what you could grow within walking distance. Local farmers and growers would become an important part of your landscape again, in between the arrivals of imported foods at the declining supermarkets.

The erratic income of an author is well suited to such experiments. My colleague, Linda Benfield, and I acquired an allotment this year, in addition to our gardens. With the extra land, we’re quite well off for fresh vegetables now. Next season, we plan to grow wheat and tobacco!

We’re not small holders. We depend on local farms – we still have a few – for milk, eggs and meat. Potatoes, grains, sugar and spices come from the food co-operative; other supplies from the cash and carry. We can’t provide everything for our households from two gardens and an allotment, but we’re learning what else we need. A lifestyle more in tune with the unfolding seasons, more importance given to locally based food suppliers, more gardeners!

We’re resilience gardeners, cultivating survival skills, and every little helps!

potatos-in-tyre1

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Happy Resilient New Year!

The Return of the Sun

It’s been said that the December Solstice is the start of winter, but it’s really the middle.  Winter is half over….by Imbolc, Candlemas, in February, the first green shoots of spring can be seen.  No matter how you feel about Xmas, the sun has still embarked on its summer pathways now, and the daylight will increase.

sunset-iceland

This was crucial in Northern lands, where communities had to live on stored food for months.  The days of feasting celebrated the coming end of winter, not its beginning!

London Trains

The news about the rail strike on the BBC condescendingly described it as ‘a dispute about opening train doors’.

It’s nothing of the sort. It’s about eliminating human workers inside the trains and ultimately on the platforms too. The driver, who one would hope is concentrating on driving the train, now has to ensure it’s safe to move off without any second opinion.

I suppose there would be a camera feed of the platform to his cab – unless it malfunctions. There’s unlikely to be sound. The cry of a mother to her runaway toddler, the eruption of an argument about to get violent, a lone woman traveller calling for help; all go unheard. The train moves off like a hopper on a factory conveyor belt.

It’s not just emergency response which will suffer through this shortsighted plan, underpinned by greed. The London train system isn’t just a transit tube for commuters. It’s a conduit for tourists as well.

On my return from Iceland, I landed at Luton Airport. From the ticket machines at the airport door to the unscheduled diversion which took me miles from my destination without warning, I found this system to be relentlessly user-hostile. As the commuters flicked through the small entry gates, I had to drag my heavy suitcase to the double doors. I’ve often observed that these are temperamental; luckily there were still staff around to manage them for me.

I have an Oyster card. I use it once a year or so. I have no idea how the amount of money on it relates to a train journey. I don’t want to show my credit card to a machine. I want to be able to pay in cash and ask some questions at a ticket window, but these seem to have vanished already. The new streamlined system only caters for travellers who already know it off by heart.

Communters are trapped in this system, but tourists have options. Machines can’t respond to unusual problems as humans can. The combination of ancient brickwork and automation will always look tawdry and sinister, never efficiently hi-tech. There needs to be the reassuring presence of knowledgeable and experienced people in recognisable uniforms.

Train and platform staff are crucial to the London tourist industry.

Readers of the Resilience Handbook may like to refer to one of the recommended reading books here. ‘Small World’ by Mark Buchanan, chapter 8 ‘Costs and Consequences’ (p131 in my copy), describes how transport congestion affects the expansion of airport hubs. If train services in London continue to develop down this dismal path, the third runway at Heathrow could well become redundant before it’s even completed.

I’ll be flying from regional airports in future, and I expect many other tourists will make the same decision. The network will shift focus.

Resilience in Iceland

My trip to Iceland was a journey through the island’s past. I was well acquainted with the Sagas, set in the period just after Settlement, from about 900 to 1050 AD, which described a prosperous landscape. I knew that deforestation quickly became a problem and Icelanders avoided the fate of their relatives in Greenland by a very small margin.*

One of my first stops was the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik. This museum has been built over an excavated longhouse from the Saga days. Its inhabitants enjoyed Iron Age luxury in their spacious ‘hvoll’ surrounded by natural abundance.

Following the prosperity of the early days came the Little Ice Age which began in the 1300s and lasted nearly six centuries. The trees cut for firewood, building and smelting iron didn’t grow back. The topsoil was lost and barley cultivation ceased. The fjords filled with ice; the fishing boats rotted on the strand with no wood for repairs.

There wasn’t even enough firewood to boil seawater for salt, essential for preserving food through the long winters. Luckily cows were able to survive, presumably living on seaweed and lichens like the people, and there was plenty of whey left over from butter making. The Icelanders expanded traditional techniques of preserving meat in lactic acid.

There was no clay for making pots, no iron to repair pans. People used the volcanic springs to steam food wrapped in cloth, dug pits in hot sand. Icelandic cuisine became desperately inventive.

The climate change was compounded by hostile political conditions and by the Black Death in 1402. The population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. Then there was the Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783, which poisoned large areas of grassland.

As Europe began to prosper again, there was a market for the fine woollen goods from Iceland – the sheep had survived too, and just as well as there were no fibre crops for cloth or ropes. Finally permitted to prosper from their own trade, the Icelanders invested in boats. Their fishing fleet was revived; technology trickled in from the Industrial Revolution.

Then electricity was invented! Icelanders swiftly caught on to the potential of renewable and volcanic energies. Huge greenhouses now provide all the vegetables they need for domestic consumption, and extensive reforestation is progressing. Recycling is taken seriously. So is trashing the countryside with off road vehicles.

You’ll find a great respect for the land among Icelanders. It nearly killed them. If you visit this paragon of resilience, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. Hire locals to show you around, especially in winter!

 

*There’s a poignant description of the fate of one group of Greenland Vikings in ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond.  This is one of the recommended books in the Resilience Handbook…reading is a good activity in the winter!

There’s still time to order a signed copy of the Resilience Handbook before Xmas – email me after you’ve placed your order if you want it signed to another name!

Iceland Adventure

In the Resilience Handbook, I recommend going on regular adventures.  Travel by a method you don’t normally use, go to somewhere different.  It doesn’t have to be exotic – a week in a campsite is just as good for your resilience.  As a solo traveller, I prefer to use hostels.  They’re cheap, you can self-cater, and you meet interesting people in the communal areas.

The confidence I gained by hostelling around Britain enables me to explore further afield on a limited budget.  I did some research and packed appropriate clothes; there was very little I didn’t actually use.   Even an 18 kilo suitcase was a serious handicap on public transport though; it may be worth while paying the extra to fly from a closer airport next time.

Why Iceland?  With its renewable energy and reforestation programme, it’s an ideal destination for the resilience explorer!  I’ve got extensive notes to go over, and a return trip is already on the cards.  I never did get a recipe for putrefied shark – but I know the history behind it now.

Here’s some pictures

iceland old harbour
The Old Harbour is quite industrial around the bus stop – then you walk round the corner and see the bay open out towards the sharp snowy hills
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the 'Game of Thrones' tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
My kind of tour bus! Off into the wilds for the ‘Game of Thrones’ tour. Winter driving in Iceland is challenging; use tours, not car rental.
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus - there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
The landscape north of Reykjavik from the tour bus – there was a strong wind that day, whipping the powdery snow up into a white out later on!
iceland murals 2016
Many ordinary house walls in Reykjavik are adorned with amazing murals – the streets are full of random sculptures as well.

I stayed at Reykjavik City Hostel which is a little out of town but well serviced by the 14 bus from across the road, which takes you all the way to the Old Harbour (Grandi stop the return journey is headed Listabraut).  It’s right next to one of the best heated pools in town, Laugardalslaug and there’s a lovely park behind it.

The Game of Thrones tour is run by Grayline.  All the tours, and the airport bus, collect you from right outside the hostel.  This was a relief as, outside the main town, the suburban roads are quite exposed for the walker.  It takes less than an hour to walk to the other side of the town centre from the hostel though.

Another good day’s winter wander – keep in mind you have only 6 hours of daylight before the cold dark sets in! – is Oskjuhlid wooded park.  The number 5 bus takes you to the artificial beach with hot tub at Nautholl, then you can wander past the site of the new Asatru heathen temple and head upwards through the dwarf birch and evergreens to the Perlan at the hill top.  It’s a challenge – the paths are often icy and you can’t see the landmark building for the trees – but the view over town is wonderful and the cafe quite reasonably priced.  An 18 bus goes from the main road to the Hlemmur – bus station – where you can catch the number 14 again.

The 21st Century Instruction Manual

The global situation seems a little tense just now, and there’s been a lot of interest in the Resilience Handbook. Don’t be shy. It’s not another point-of-view book telling you how wrong you are. It’s not scary like ‘Protect and Survive’ civil defence textbooks. It’s the tale of how you can be part of a positive change, how you’re already contributing, how you could have fun and save money by doing more.

The Resilience Handbook is an instruction manual. It’s a book designed for the digital age. Densely packed with information, it’s a series of notes for you to expand on through internet searching, and through your own experience of trying out the suggested actions.

It’s also a briefing document, condensing basic knowledge about each topic so you can participate in an informed discussion with others. That’s why I included a ‘resilience exam’ in the project. There’s no assessment for sustainability, no means of weighing contributions to a debate. Resilience has much clearer goals and heads in the same direction. There are certain things you need to be aware of, to have actually done, to know how to use. These can be identified and listed.

Read more about the test in the ‘Learning Resilience’ tab. Download and print the free resources. What’s your score? Where are the gaps in your knowledge? Create a resilience plan, start doing things you don’t normally do. Take your time, enjoy it!

What do you achieve by this? The actions and research I suggest are carefully thought through. They’re based on decades of experience. Once you’ve worked through the plan, I expect you to be more confident in an emergency. More aware of your environment, what you eat, who you are.

A wheel can’t move unless it’s balanced.

the resilience wheel

Potato Scones

Autumn is the prime time for eating potatoes. They’re a good crop for the novice gardener as they’re such a user-friendly vegetable. I got a good yield this year from the tyre stacks; the harvest has kept me supplied since August!  Pick out the blemished or nibbled spuds and eat them first, keeping the good ones in a cool dark place for later.

I always cook more than I need for one meal and use the leftovers next day. Twice baked potatoes, shepherd’s pie or fried potato cakes are my usual recipes of choice, but I thought I’d give potato scones a whirl this time.

You need a griddle to cook them on. This is a thick, flat metal sheet, about the size of a frying pan. It’s a useful piece of kit; people often used griddles to make pan breads over an open fire when we were living off-grid at long events.  You can use them on a gas cooker, but I haven’t tried with an electric ring.  Experiment; I expect it’ll work.

I haven’t got a griddle, so I used the heavy Le Creuset frying pan which is so perfect for pancakes; that worked just fine!   Although their kit is fiendishly expensive, I’ve used this pan constantly for twenty years and it’s probably good for the same again.

This recipe is for eight ounces of mashed potatoes. Weigh your leftovers and adjust the amounts accordingly. Don’t mash butter in if you plan to make these; serve them for the initial meal with the butter dotted on top, or the quantities will be wrong.

8 ounces mashed potato

1 ounce butter

2 ounces self-raising flour

dash of salt

Mix the flour and salt into the mash. Rub in the butter to make a stiff dough. It might seem a bit dry at first, but will soon soften as the butter warms up, so don’t add liquid. Knead this lightly, roll it out to about a centimetre thick on a well-floured board. Cut into triangles and cook for five minutes each side on a hot greased griddle or suitable equivalent.

potato scones recipe

I’d eat these with beans and bacon, but the kids from the Gardening Group preferred to spread them with golden syrup – this was surprisingly tasty, if rather sticky!

potato scones and syrup

This recipe made eight scones at a total cost of thirty pence, using organic locally sourced butter and flour.  Read the Food section of ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’ to get started on low cost living!

I eat from stores, supplemented with my own produce – it’s not even a big garden, nor does it take much effort.  I only venture into supermarkets to stock up on heavy stuff and bargains; I feel almost deprived of retail experience!  However, I’m off to explore Iceland next week thanks to the money I’ve saved, so I can live with it!

Hallowe’en special – Trick or Treat cakes!

Most of these special seasonal fairy cakes have a nice chunk of banana in the centre – but some have vegetables!

You’ll need a baking tray that holds a dozen cupcakes, paper cases and a few precooked vegetables. I used some chunks of baked squash and some broccoli florets lightly cooked until the stems were just going soft. For the rest:-

4 ounces butter

4 ounces sugar

7 ounces self raising flour

1 ounce cocoa powder

2 eggs

a few drops of vanilla essence

a couple of tablespoons of milk

a banana cut into six pieces

some chunks of cooked vegetable about the same size as the banana – I used squash and broccoli, but small Brussel sprouts would be good too!

Turn the oven on to gas mark 5 (190 C; 375 F) to preheat it, make sure there’s shelves just above and below the middle.

Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs and vanilla. Fold in the flour and cocoa, adding a bit of milk if the mixture is too stiff to work easily.

Dollop a small spoonful of mix into each cake case, spreading it to cover the bottom. Lightly press a chunk of banana into half of the cases, and a piece of vegetable into the other six. Carefully cover these fillings with the rest of the mix until they can’t be seen.

Cook on the higher shelf for 20 minutes, then move to the lower middle shelf for another 5 – 10 minutes till the cake tops are firm. There’s extra moisture in the fillings, so they take a little longer than usual. Take the cakes out of the tray and leave them to cool on a wire rack.

You might want to use colour coded paper cases to avoid ambushing yourself with a broccoli cake!

Trick or Treat – take your pick!

 trick-or-treat-3

Iodine and Radiation

Iodine is important in the thyroid gland, which produces hormones affecting the entire body. A lack of iodine can stunt mental and physical growth in children; it causes a variety of symptoms in adults. Goitres – where the neck is swollen from an enlarged thyroid gland – used to be common in certain areas. The provision of iodised table salt has helped eliminate this uncomfortable problem.

The thyroid is a temperamental part of your body. It can be overactive; this makes you ill as well, and can be brought on by an excess of iodine. The USA recommends a daily intake of 0.15 milligrams (150 micrograms) for adults.  Most people in developed countries take in more than this RDA, around 0.25 to 0.4 milligrams.  In Japan, where the diet is full of iodine-rich seafoods, people can be eating up to three milligrams a day. One milligram a day is generally considered excessive though.

The effects of too much iodine are most pronounced when suddenly increasing your dose. This effect was observed in the salt supplement programme, and is a danger if taking iodine as protection against radioactive fallout. You should have a pack of the right type of iodine tablets in your emergency stores as speed is crucial to protect your thyroid, and they are quite hard to come by in Britain. ‘Thyrosafe‘ is recommended by some prepper sites.

The tablets need to be taken on exposure, and while the risk of breathing contaminated air lasts. They also protect your thyroid gland – and only this – against radioactive iodine from fallout dust in your food and drink. Iodine-131 and many other isotopes of iodine released by a nuclear accident decay over the course of days if not hours – hence the need for speed. By taking in clean iodine, you are preventing your body from taking up the poisonous sort. As your body excretes the unused portion, you have to repeat the dose every 24 hours until out of danger.

The risk from radiation will reduce over time; the pills may make your neck feel swollen and uncomfortable. There are other unpleasant side effects, even severe allergic reactions. The Thyrosafe ones contain 65 milligrams of iodine each, which is way over the RDA. You have to balance the dangers; the situation differs for children and the elderly. Have a packet of dried seaweed in your stores to keep up good iodine levels in an ordinary diet.

Don’t drink the sort of iodine you dab on wounds. This is poisonous tincture of iodine and not meant to be swallowed, though it can be used to purify water for drinking, as can bleach. Do some serious research before you try out any of these emergency life savers. Uninformed use can be harmful.

The Resilience Handbook is a book designed for the digital age. The information in it is tightly packed and depends on you getting involved with the suggested actions to unlock it. I’ve supplied a framework from which you can explore the wealth of knowledge available in the internet to fill in the details according to your own way of life, the options you have.

When I looked at iodine and radiation, researching for my next book, I learned that not all forms of iodine can be taken in by the body at all. There were a large number of ‘iodine supplements’ on the market. Many of the websites offering these for sale were full of cookies and pop-ups. I don’t trust these sites for information.

I looked down the search list and picked some more reputable sites to get the scientific version. The FDA have published ‘Potassium Iodide as a Thyroid Blocking Agent in Radiation Emergencies‘ which explored its use post-Chernobyl. From that information, I was able to refine my search, filtering down through survivalist sites to a market place and finally to a UK supplier. You’ll expect to pay about £35 for a ten day supply; half of that seems to be shipping from the USA.

For more information about emergency planning and food stores, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

October Diary 2016

It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.

Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!

There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.

Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.

edible flower baskets in Glastonbury
edible flower baskets in Glastonbury

In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.

Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!

Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.

Tumble driers now, you could have a point.  It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’

Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..

solar power regulator

The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use.  In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’  This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!

For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’