Tag Archives: survival skills

May Diary 2018

The challenges of growing vegetables continue; a very brief Spring has been swiftly followed by long hot days with no rain.  The seedlings, root systems stunted by the unseasonable cold, struggle to gather water from the hard soil.

A greenhouse is becoming essential to cope with this erratic weather.  If you plan to assemble your own, read the instructions carefully and proceed slowly.  Photos of the demonstration model in the garden centre could prove useful.

Greenhouse and field may18

Watering the allotment, some miles from where I live, is a daily chore.  Mature plants are doing far better than fresh sowings, but I’m still concerned about the meagre amount of food coming up.  The Resilience Garden benefits from waste household water and a handy tap.

The role of water in cultivation is highlighted by this drought.  The kitchen gardens of old came as much from the availability of used water as from the convenience of having herbs to hand.

Early summer is a time of leisure for the resilience smallholder, of watching the plants grow and enjoying the flowers.  Many events, cancelled because of the snow, reinvented themselves.  Seedy Sunday became Seedling Sunday…

Seedling Sunday RBB May18

Somerset Day was celebrated…

Somerset Day May18

…and there was a Graffiti Day at the skateboard park.

Skateboard park may18

We went to try out the archery at Mendip Snowsports Centre, and discovered Frisbee Golf!  Although not all the baskets were this deep in woodland, my frisbee always headed for the nearest nettle patch!

Frisbee Golf at Mendip snowsports centre

The centre offers bushcraft and target shooting, as well as the artificial slopes for snow-related activities.  There’s a pleasant cafe and bar; a good place to have a day brushing up your resilience skills.

Networking is an important part of community resilience, a whole section of the Resilience Plan.  People need to exchange news after the winter season, when travel can be limited.  It’s important to be aware of dangers and opportunities in the local area and beyond.

The concept of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was identified before the internet was developed; we need not be dependent on technology for our world news.  Local events, with their travelling pedlars and performers, were once key information nodes, and often more fun!

The free soap nuts were a great success!
The free soap nuts were a great success at the Repair Cafe!

 

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Basic Emergency Planning

Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones.  If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.

Sometimes things may get more serious.  Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer.  Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?

Hebden Bridge floods

Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.

If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services.   There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-

Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least.  A large flask is also useful.  Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them.  Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!

If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag;  keep this ready packed and check it once every few months.  American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.

On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation!  You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.

There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore.  There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful.  If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.

And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!

 

More about Foraging

Wild garlic, or ramsoms, is growing in profusion now.  It can be used in many recipes, added to soups and stews, or washed and munched raw.wild garlic growing

Below is the young leaf of a Cuckoopint, or Arum Lily.  These often grow in the same patch as wild garlic – weed them out of your own forage area.  Pay attention to the leaf veins.  They are branched, as opposed to the garlic which has parallel veins like a grass blade.  The arrow shape becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature.

arum leaf growing

If you eat cuckoopint by accident, it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth which can last for several days.

bluebell roots and leaves

Bluebell comes out a little later, so it’s fairly easy to tell the leaves apart from wild garlic, which will be moving into the flowering stage by then.  It occupies the same woodland habitat as the garlic too.

All these leaves vanish completely in the summer, except for the cuckoopint which goes on to produce its vivid orange berry spikes.  These are also poisonous to humans.  No sign of any of these plants is visible in autumn and winter.  However, the edible bulbs of the wild garlic are still there underground.

When learning this plant series, it’s identifying these bulbs which you should concentrate on.  Without any other clues, it could be tricky; you need to avoid including cuckoopint or bluebell in your forage.

wild garlic close up bulb

arum lily bulb close up

bluebell roots

Establish specimens of each in pots and watch them grow.  Dig up some roots and study them.  Wash your hands after breaking up the cuckoopint; if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth wearing gloves.  Once you have thoroughly learned all three, you are equipped to forage for them in the woods, should you ever need wild food.

In order to protect these important plants, it is illegal to dig them up in the UK without the permission of the landowner.  Hence you should grow your own for study.

When you do, you will observe  that the tiny first-year roots of all three look much the same – an oval white bulb about the size of a match head.  Only gather the larger wild garlic bulbs which have developed the brownish root skin.

Action task 9 in the Food section of the Resilience Assessment  requires you to go on a walk to identify edible wild plants.  Look for wild garlic in local woods or under trees in parks.  Are there more plants which grow in that area, such as daffodils, which you need to be confident of identifying?

The simple questions in the Resilience Handbook encourage you to establish a layer of underpinning knowledge upon which you can build your resilient lifestyle!

April Diary 2018

The weather in the Summerlands went straight from cold and icy to cold and wet.  I planted some onions, but the peas went in the neighbour’s greenhouse to get started, and the potatoes are still chitting in the shed.  I found out that you should wait until the soil is roughly the same temperature as the potatoes before planting them.  I’m experimenting with new varieties this year, so there should be notes.

The wasabi plants thought they might die, so they flowered again; they haven’t done this since the last snow, seven years ago!  There are four pots, all cloned from the same rootstock, and they all flowered at once, even the one kept some miles away at the allotment.

wasabi flowers UK

Starting with a scrawny two-year plant from the market, over the years their leaves have become smaller, glossier and tougher.  Wasabi are awkward customers in that they like damp but cope badly with slugs; they make up for this by thriving in the cold weather.

I planted out the burdock salvaged from the resilience field.  Three plants had shared a pot over the winter, and their calorie-rich roots grew so fast that there was hardly any soil left.  I’m hoping to start a breeding colony in the woodland strip.

I’ve written about burdock in ‘Recipes for Resilience’ as it’s a good emergency food source.   The root fattens up in the first year, and is used up in the second summer to produce the large flowering stems.  This is a good time of year to harvest these roots, but only the spring leaves can be seen.

spring burdock

Compared with….

The spring leaves of poisonous foxglove

Growing both these plants in your Resilience Garden enables you to study them in detail, so you won’t dig up the wrong one – note the foxglove is kept in a pot.  Feel the leaf textures and observe the shades of green.

Practise  identifying them on a forest walk – but don’t dig up wild plants as that’s illegal in the UK unless you have the landowner’s permission and it’s not an endangered species.  Take pictures, and return later in the year to see if you were right.  It takes a couple of years’ study to really learn a plant.

The dismal, threatening weather meant the planned Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving was filmed for YouTube.  None of us were confident about travelling to Lyme Regis, given the weather forecast!  Although we didn’t get much snow here in the South, the rain was relentless and there was a lot of water on the roads.

Saturday itself was almost a nice day.  I worked on some of the infrastructure projects in the garden, feeling that these should have been finished weeks ago.  The plum tree is blossoming with the utmost caution; the bumblebees are about, but I haven’t seen any honey bees yet.

plum flowers 2018

Winter slinks out of the door, turning to snarl “I’ll be back!”, as Spring tiptoes tentatively in.

 

 

 

 

Some Notes on Apples

It’s starting to look like a late Spring here in a thawed, but still shocked, Somerset.  Plants are cautiously emerging, but the buds on the trees remain resolutely closed.  As their roots are still dormant,  you’ve a little time left to plant out saplings.  This should be done before late March.

Apples are such a staple food that it’s good to have a tree in your garden.  Our estate was built on an old orchard, and a few of the original trees are left.  My neighbour has one, left to grow to its full size over several decades.

You don’t necessarily want one that large.   Techniques for growing smaller trees have been developed over the centuries since the sweet Chinese apple came over the Silk Road to Europe.  Our native crabapple was bitter, but adapted to the climate.  The sciences of grafting, pruning and cross breeding were known to ancient cultures.

Today, a vigorous rootstock is grown, then the top part of this tree replaced with a branch from a ‘fruitstock’.  The resultant apple tree takes on the shape of the root variety, yet provides fruit  from the graft type.   You can buy dwarf trees, bearing your favourite apple but staying quite small.

These aren’t cheap, and will be something of a fixture; it can be several years before you get any fruit at all.  It’s worth going to a short course with an expert to learn the basics of orchard management and how to apply these to your garden.  Knowledge of this kind is a community asset, as described in the Handbook, so I went on a refresher course.

Anthony Ward, our tutor, is the keeper of the Chalice Well orchard in Glastonbury.  We were planting some trees in a new field at Brook End Farm, situated where the Levels rise into hillier ground to the east.

You can see the knobbly bit on the trunk from the graft.  If you have a pot-bound tree like this, dig your hole square so the roots can spread out easier.

The stake is driven in after the tree is planted.  Modern ties allow more movement, as the action of the wind strengthens the roots.  The grass is kept away from the trunk with a mulch; a precaution ignored with less valuable trees.  For the first few weeks, make sure the sapling neither dries out nor sits in a puddle.  Then forget about it till it needs pruning, which is a whole other story.

This is the apple tree in the Resilience Garden.  It grew from an apple core hidden in a plant pot by my daughter.  Although it produces good red eating apples, it clearly wants to be a very large tree.  It’s an example of very bad pruning;  I tried to make a ‘goblet’ shape without taking into account the shading from the fence behind.  After that, I appreciated the courses more.

The mulch to the right of the tree is the filling from a defunct futon mattress, which I’m covering with a thick layer of leaf mould.  I have access to a large pile of this; otherwise I’d use soil exported from the raised beds.  The green shoots are wild garlic; they’ll be ready to harvest soon.

Wild Garlic Pesto

2 rounded tablespoons of crushed nuts (50 grams; 2 ounces)

2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and shaken dry (100 grams; 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese – vegans can substitute yeast flakes

4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil (100 – 150 ml; 4 – 6 fluid ounces)

a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste

Blend everything together and serve with pasta!

I couldn’t resist adding that recipe, from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘…..wild garlic does make a lovely pesto and it has quite a short season.  I grow a lot of it under bushes and in the wild areas, as very reliable spring greens.  The nettles are coming up too – vitamins arriving at just the right time!

I’ve been asked to talk about resilience at the Earth Hour event in Chard, Somerset on the 24th March; I’ll be signing Resilience Handbooks too.   The daytime events are free, so drop in if you’re in the area!

 

May Diary 2016

Well, April was something of a disaster!  I had to cut my South West trip short as there were problems with my car – it turned out the alternator was slowly dying and communicating its distress to the steering and clutch through the wonders of modern car electronics.  At least I got my boots ordered first!

Peugot on Dartmoor
Peugot on Dartmoor

I did manage to explore the fabulous Scilly Isles, ancient haunt of pirates, for the day.  I dined on fish at the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on my return – yes, I know it’s not the real one from the book but it had to be done!  Penzance Youth Hostel was excellent, one of those with a lively sociable lounge and valuable parking space.

If you go to Cornwall in the summer, don’t take a car!  My landscape reading skills tell me that the narrow rocky peninsula is not kind to vehicles.  You can get a whole day’s travel on the buses for the price of an hour’s parking.  If there’s enough of you to fill a car, check parking on Google Streetview, look for reviews.  It’s more of an adventure to go on public transport!

Adventure was the theme at Falmouth Marine Museum.  Sailing out into the unfriendly Atlantic in a wooden ship, with no engines to steer you away from the jagged rocks lining this coast – no wonder so many pubs are furnished with the spoils of shipwreck!  There was a Viking exhibition featured too, a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of these fearsome reavers.

The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanantion of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta
The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanation of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta

I had to limp home and forego my visit to Tintagel and the nearby town of Boscastle.  The flooding there in 2004 inspired the ‘Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience’ which was an important influence on the Resilience Handbook.  Bringing resilience into play, I renavigated my course to the Bristol Survival School weekend camp to go by bus.

My goal was to learn to use a fire drill, as featured on ‘The Island’.  I achieved that, but also learned that anyone who’s good enough to get a fire going with this method in under ten minutes – and there were a few! – wears a flint and steel around their neck.  Fire drilling doesn’t seem to be the preferred method, and it is very difficult.

I continued my work on identifying burdock in its first year stage, which is when the large tasty roots form.  I’ve nearly nailed down the differences with the poisonous foxglove.  Please don’t go digging up wild plants though, except with the informed permission of the landowner.  Use your Resilience Garden space – even if it’s only patio pots – to cultivate your own forage plants.  You only need to get to know them, maybe try a few…

making fire drill

Above, the instructor is carving out a fire drill set from raw wood.  Below, an ember has been lit from the powdered wood created by the drilling process, and has been transferred to a piece of bark.  At this stage you use ’ember extenders’ to nurse it into a larger coal.  This is placed in a hank of dried grass and blown into flame, narrowly missing your eyebrows.

firedrill ember 20160423_200120

The Methane Saga

The Methane Saga

or

The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry

I was listening to a recording of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic poem, while crocheting. These tales were created to be spoken or sung, and I was struck by the way they harmonised with repetitive creative tasks.  One is busy but relaxed; it can be dull without listening to something entertaining.  Hence the popularity of knitting circles.

Imagine an extended family in a snow bound yurt dwelling.  After months together, interesting subjects for conversation may be limited.  How to amuse oneself while making socks or whittling knife handles?

“Tell us a story, Grandparent” comes the call.  Arthritic hands are no longer nimble enough to join in the tasks, but a fireside place is welcome.  And so it begins….

Tales created to be spoken communicate in different ways to those designed for the written word.  If you weren’t paying attention, you can’t turn the page back.  Listening to the Kalevala, I found that momentary focus on my work meant I lost a few lines, but not the gist of the plot.  Even if I had missed some crucial words, important concepts are repeated several times, key events padded out with description.

The ‘Hiawatha’ rhythm in which English translations of these poems are recited seems to bear little relation to the singing of the original.  There’s a sample of this on Wikipedia.  My musings on the ancient origins of epic poems may be mere fiction.

However, author Lewis Dartnell has speculated at length in ‘The Knowledge – How to Rebuild our World from Scratch’ on how we can preserve important scientific discoveries in the event of global catastrophe.  This style of telling seems well adapted to embed this information.  It falls into memory as if it were designed to, and the redundancy guards against attrition.

In the post-apocalyptic landscape, you can bet people will have to knit socks, possibly in a yurtish sort of dwelling. So I wrote the ‘ The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry ‘. It’s very long, a good sock’s worth to a fast knitter, so it’s on its own page. I’ll be checking the technical details with the biochar people, but as the epic points out ‘ And with care prevent explosion’!

The Resilience Handbook will be out soon!!

You can place advance orders here

Resilience and The Island

The Island is a TV series designed and presented by survival expert Bear Grylls. Fourteen men and fourteen women are marooned on separate Pacific islands with the minimum of training and equipment. They have to work out how to survive there for six weeks.

Watching the teams of ordinary Westerners struggle in the wilderness is a good resilience exercise. Could you have avoided their mistakes?

How much would previous learning count? Practical experience with a fire drill? Quite a lot. Trees can’t grow fast enough to let everyone become expert at forest shelter building, though.

And when would you need this skill? If you find yourself in a survival situation, it probably won’t be on a remote Pacific island. It’ll be more like a weirdly twisted version of your current comfort zone. The electricity won’t come out of the walls any more, and the taps are dry.

Attitude is everything when it comes to resilience. The people in the series weren’t fast enough to realise that they were in danger. Relentless attention to fire, water and shelter is no longer part of our lifestyle in Britain. People forget how much work it is, and that you can’t relax until it’s done.

Following a Resilience Plan increases your awarenesss of the facilities you take for granted, and highlights things you ought to work on.

Although I’m able to use a flint and steel efficiently, I’ve never tried lighting a fire with a bow drill. It could be important and it’s certainly interesting, so I’m going to target it in my plan under ‘Emergency Planning’. Then I’ll be reminded of this resolution until I actually carry it through. No matter how good you are at survival skills, there’s always something new to learn!

There’s a lot of focus on what the Island participants did wrong, but there’s one thing they all got spectacularly right. They were brave enough to have a go. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words – a TV series is a shortcut to hours of explanation.

Study the mistakes of others, realise what you ought to know, set about learning it, find a way to practise it.

Resilience is about doing as well as knowing.

How to use a Spider to braid cord

for the people I met on my travels this summer

Find some thick card which does not crease easily, yet isn’t too thick to cut. A scrap of mounting board is ideal. Draw a circle about 9 cm across and cut it out. Divide the circumference into 8 sections of roughly equal size. Cut a thin notch, no more than 1 cm long, along each dividing line. Around the centre of your circle, cut out a hole about 1 cm across.

This is a spider.

Cut seven equal lengths of wool, ribbon or thread and knot them together at one end. Push the knotted end through the hole in the spider and lay the threads on top.

preparing the spider for braiding cord

Slot each thread into one of the notches around the edge. The notch should grip the thread quite tightly. There will be an empty notch. Hold the spider so that this is at the top.

Count three threads to the left. Take the third thread and lift it over the first two, slotting it  into the empty notch.

taking the third thread from the left across the other two and into the empty notch

Turn the spider clockwise so that the new empty notch is now at the top. Repeat the process, lifting the third thread to the left over the other two. Your cord will start to form in the centre.

spider 3 v2

Keep the braiding firm but not overtight.

As you work, the loose ends waiting to be braided get tangled. Separate them every so often. This limits the length of your starter thread to about two arms’ length, but once you get the hang of braiding, you can splice new lengths in. Do these one at a time to avoid unsightly lumps, and to maintain the cord strength.

Once you have had some practise and know what you need this tool to do, you could cut a longer lasting version from thin plywood. Try making cord from wild grasses, braid heavy duty cables from thin rope using a much larger spider.

The use of braided wicks was a key development in candle technology. Can you replicate this process? Could you invent a simple machine to braid cord? Why might you need to?

Radiation Measuring Devices

One click on a Geiger counter signifies a single nuclear disintegration, but not the type of radiation released by it. This could be alpha, beta or gamma. The clicks per second can be easily translated into becquerel, and will give the rate at which the living tissue is receiving radioactive particles. The intensity of the radiation source is being measured here.

The biological effect of this, expressed in sieverts, depends on several other factors. A conversion between these units is not easy. Modern devices provide a ‘best guess’ of the sievert equivalent. Some may not detect alpha or beta radiation. Incorporating a mica window allows these particles to be measured, though calibration to sieverts becomes more challenging then.

Microsieverts (µSv) are the most common unit. American equipment may be calibrated in millirems (mrems). One millirem equals ten microsieverts.  Millisieverts (mSv) may also be used; one millisievert (1000 µSv) is a dangerous dose.  [100 mrem; the recommended maximum yearly exposure for the general public]  As radiation is accumulative, you should leave the area as quickly as possible.

Some Geiger counters will give data on dose per hour. The average safety limit for workers in the nuclear industry is 20 mSv/year. Firefighters at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant received an average 12 Sv over their period of exposure, from which all were ill and 30 died quickly.

Radiation on food or in water is harder to measure. Dust from a nuclear incident lands on these and contaminates them. Careful calibration against background radiation and long measuring periods, up to 12 hours, are required. Although the intensity of these sources may be low, the biological effect is compounded by ingesting them. Covering food, bringing farm animals indoors and filtering water can help.

A Geiger counter will not tell you what kind of radioactive sustance is present on food. Safety limits range from only 10 becquerels per kilogram when dealing with plutonium, to 10,000 Bq/Kg for tritium or carbon-14.

The best use of a Geiger counter in a serious emergency is to find a safe place, with a tolerable level of radioactivity. You should remain under cover until the majority of the fallout has dispersed. Four days is a recommended minimum, so a reading of 10 mSv would be the upper limit.

Remember you are keeping dust out, so you are better off in a building. Make sure there is enough water. The longer you can stay there the better, as fallout will now be covering the ground. The danger comes from inhaling or ingesting these fine particles.

Good luck with survival. You might wish you’d been less hostile to wind power.