Tag Archives: survival skills

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.