There is no such thing as being self-sustainable, unless maybe living in the deep jungle of Papua New Guinea, and even then, you have a tribe. There is no such thing as what she is trying to describe as some sort of goal. There is nothing admirable about it. Nothing.
Nicole quoted me.
But of course, she left out the other paragraph.
Trying to be less wasteful of non-renewable resources? That’s a worthy goal. But that’s not what Nicole and Joe are doing. They are burning gasoline to run an inefficient generator for no reason at all. Power lines run right by their property.
There it is.
However, I think this subject deserves its own space. A lot of people who have been sucked in by the Naugler saga are back-to-the-land types, or more often, wannabes. They’re interested in what they all refer to as being “self-sustainable.”
And when Nicole objects to what I have to to say about the subject, they inevitably come up with some version of “people who are too scared to try it and are too plugged into the grid to ever get it.” I am thus dismissed as a “psycho (note: Nicole, that’s how you spell the word) stalker” and somebody who is just jealous and/or inexperienced and/or frightened of new things.
I’m going to repeat myself.
Self-sustainability is very nearly impossible.
Here it is again. It’s very nearly impossible.
I wrote about this before. Go read it. Really. Go read it and I’ll wait.
Dave and I were living fulltime in our RV in 2008. We’d moved back to the Lower 48 in the wake of Nathan’s death, and we spent a couple of years wandering around trying to figure out what we wanted to do next.
In the spring of that year, I began to get some really bad vibes about the economy. For one thing, we’d bought a couple of houses in the previous year or so, and getting a loan for those houses was way too easy. At first, I thought it was just because we have such stellar credit and are so marvelous that Countrywide thought we were the best customers on the planet, but reality reached out and slapped me across the face and I knew that couldn’t be true. Why was it so easy to get a loan? Too easy. Way too easy.
In addition, we spent the winter of 2007/2008 in south Texas in a large RV park complete with a golf course. For long-term parking there (by the month), the park charges separately for electricity. I noticed how high the electric bills were, specifically how much they were charging us per kilowatt hour. We were dependent on those folks. Sure, we could leave, but ultimately, if we were going to plug in our rig, well, we had to park on land not owned by us and pay whatever the owner wanted for the utilities provided. Frankly, it gave me an uneasy feeling.
Coupled with a few other issues, we decided that we probably needed to buy a home base.
So we looked around. We considered going up north, but we’d already lived in the frozen tundra and didn’t relish doing it again. We considered going south, but both of us grew up in the south and hell, I hate most of those Bible-thumpers.
Neither of us are fond of the desert, and the far west is simply expensive.
We ended up in Kentucky, due in part to low taxes, reasonably priced land, abundant water, a temperate climate, and well, it’s pretty here.
We bought our little farmette. We were told we were buying 17 acres, and we waived a survey, so when a friend used a surveying app on his phone a while back and told us that we actually only have 13 acres, I didn’t believe it was accurate. It is, though. The county agrees and that’s what they tax us on.
This just shows you that how much land you own isn’t the issue. It’s what sort of land you own. We looked at several places before we bought this place, and the place with more than 30 acres didn’t have nearly as much usable land as we have here. What we have is plenty. We don’t want a smidgen more.
Anyway, along with the house came a large garage/workshop, with the original garage behind it which we use as a wood shed, and a small barn. About 7 of those acres constitute pasture, and it was already fenced, albeit with high-tensile electric wire. There was a large garden area, and we cleared some more in another spot.
We settled in.
We soon discovered that if you don’t maintain a pasture, you won’t have a pasture for very long. Something has to eat it down, or you have to bush hog it, or both.
So Dave bought the donkeys.
Sometimes he refers to them as “rescues,” but they really weren’t. They were not being mistreated at all. They were just cheap. The guy who owned them didn’t want them. We did.
They had the whole pasture to themselves for quite some time.
In the meantime, we planted a garden, and then I began canning. We’d done all this before, in another life, back when Nathan was a little kid. This wasn’t our first foray into country living, but we were more serious about it this time.
The summer of 2008 just got me more and more nervous about the economy.
And in the fall, I sat at my computer one morning, hands shaking, and in a matter of a few minutes, sold every share of stock we owned.
The whole thing crashed a couple of weeks later.
We watched, in horror.
It’s one thing to deal with something like this when you have a job and your job probably isn’t going anywhere and you never have owned any stock or if you do it’s in a managed account someplace. It’s quite another when your entire income (less Social Security, and only Dave had that then) is tied to interest rates and stock prices.
Over the ensuing months, we watched nervously as interest rates went down. And down, and down.
When you’re living on income generated by bonds or CDs that yield 5% annually, and interest rates plummet to 2.5%, your income just got sliced in half. This will make you nervous.
We did what anyone else would do in our situation. We looked around at what the worst-case scenario might look like. What if we found ourselves old, perhaps infirm, and with little money? What would we do? How would we live?
We started looking at what most people think of as “doomsday prepping.”
Not guns and ammo. Food. Food production and preservation. Water. Power. Gasoline. All that stuff.
We spent some money on it. We bought stuff with the goal of seeing it last us for a long, long time.
You name it, I’ve looked into and probably tried it. Going without electricity, for example. For quite some time, everything we did, we thought in terms of “how could we do this without power?” Is there a way? If there was a way, we did it that way.
We’ve done a lot of gardening on a relatively large scale. For example, we’re eating right now the last of the corn I grew about three years ago and then froze. We already had one freezer and bought a second one. We considered what would happen if the power went out (or became so costly that we would be forced to scale back) and we bought canning jars. Like more than 1000 canning jars.
And canning food illustrates perfectly the point I wanted to make about the idea of self-sufficiency, so let’s use it.
That’s just one side of our shelving for canned stuff in the basement. There’s another one just like it out of view. I told you I can a lot of stuff.
But to do that you have to have equipment. You need at least one pressure canner. I have five. I know, that’s overkill.
I’ve had an old Presto canner, like this one, ever since I was first married. I’ve used it a bazillion times. Every replaceable part has been replaced more than once. It works just fine.
Then I have a newer Presto like this. It’s the same size as the old one. It’s just much lighter. It also works just fine.
Both of them work great, absolutely flawlessly, provided you have a sealing ring in place.
There is a black rubber sealing ring that fits in a slot on the underside of the lids of those two canners. They are two different models and don’t use the same ring. That sealing ring has to be replaced from time to time. After a lot of experience, I’ve learned to replace it annually at the beginning of every canning season whether I think it needs to be replaced or not. If it’s worn or stretched, or just old, it will leak. The canner will not be able to hold the pressure required to can stuff.
I don’t know how to make rubber. Even if I had some rubber, I don’t know how to make a sealing ring. I have to buy them. They don’t really keep all that well, although I do have a few down in the basement that I vacuum-sealed in the hope that will preserve the rubber.
So, I thought about that.
What if I couldn’t get any seals?
So I bought this. It’s an All-American canner. It’s heavy as lead.
It doesn’t require any sealing rings. It seals metal to metal, and you simply put a teeny bit of oil along the sealing area. No rings. Nothing to replace.
Did I mention it’s heavy?
It’s so heavy that I ended up buying one half that size because I can pick it up better.
And then Amazon had a big sale on the teensy baby All-American, and I succumbed to temptation.
So, I have three AAs and two Prestos, and I use the AAs regularly and almost never use the others.
But I don’t have to buy sealing rings.
I have a lot of jars. A whole lot of jars.
I’m all set, right? I mean, like I’m all set forever.
I doubt that I ever have to buy a canning jar again my lifetime, even factoring in the inevitable breakage.
But jars are worthless without lids.
Oh, yeah, canning lids.
One time use. Disposable. Oops.
I’ve experimented with reusing them. It’s doable, sort of, but iffy. I even marked lids that I’d used for water bath canning (kinder and gentler) and then reused those for pressure canning. What I found is that there are more seal failures if you try to reuse lids, and a seal failure means a whole quart or pint of food into the trash, food you worked very hard to grow and process. The rubber stuff is simply not thick enough to last and it’s too easy to bend the lid slightly when removing it and then you’re screwed.
Not only do you need those lids, you also have to have the metal rings to hold them on the jars. That’s not a super difficult thing, as I have about 1000 rings and I store them pretty carefully so they won’t rust and I use them over and over again, so I’m probably set on rings.
But lids were a problem.
And then I discovered Tattlers.
Instead of a one-piece disposable lid, the Tattler is a plastic lid complete with a rubber ring (more about that in a second) that fits under the edge. You use the same ring. There is a learning curve to using them and I had some failures in the beginning.
But once I figured out how they should feel and look when on the jar, and how to process with them, I’ve found that I have the same results with them that I did with the disposables.
I did find that Tattlers work better with pressure canning, and are a little bit more hit-and-miss when it comes to water-bath canning (because the high pressure in a pressure canner helps drive out air in the jar resulting in a better vacuum), but overall, I use them. In fact, I’ve use about a dozen in the last few days making turkey soup.
And I’ve used my Tattlers over and over and over and over. I’m sure I’ve used some of them a dozen times or more. They come off the jars, get scrubbed and they often don’t make it back to the basement before they’re on another jar being processed.
Here’s some brandied peaches I made. See the white Tattler lids? The rings are still in place because the jars just came out of the canner. Once they sit overnight, I remove the rings.
You can just barely see the edge of the red rubber ring in this photo.
So what about those rings? Don’t they wear out?
Well, yeah, they do. But not really as fast as you might think. I’ve had Tattler lids now for several years (my guess is at least five years) and I’ve probably destroyed three rubber rings. I bought a stash of extras. I also have about a zillion Tattler lids. I have boxes of Tattler lids that I’ve never opened. Several years ago, there was a big promotional sale and I jumped on it and went sort of berserk.
I’m set for life.
I also have so much money invested in canning jars, and canners, and lids that it’s not even funny. I haven’t even mentioned my water-bath canner, and my two steam canners, and my steam juicer, and well. . .
I remember once, way back, when we were on the little farm in South Carolina and Nathan was a kid, I had a garden. And I grew stuff and I canned stuff and I worked myself half to death. I was working as an RN fulltime then as well. It was hard.
I canned a whole bunch of jars of green beans.
And then I went to the grocery store and they had a sale on canned green beans. Three cans for a dollar.
Three cans for a dollar.
Disposable lids (regular mouth) cost about $.25 each, depending on how you buy them. In those days, I think they were around $.10 each. Factor in my labor and the power to run the canner, and the cost of the sealing ring for the lid of the canner.
I cried. It was just so overwhelming to see it all so cheap.
And believe me, canned green beans are just canned green beans. Home canned ones aren’t “better.” You’re just hungrier after all that work and they taste good.
I did the whole “prep for canning” thing because I was pretty much scared to death about the economy. But as we did more and more to tighten up, and scale back, and invest in DIY stuff, the more we began to realize how hopeless it was.
You can’t be self-sufficient in everything. You just can’t. It’s impossible.
Not only do you not have all the stuff you need, and not only can you not afford all the stuff you need, and you’ll go bankrupt trying to collect all the stuff you need, but you don’t even know all the stuff you need. Spend a day considering everything you touch and everything you do and what you’d need to do if you had to replace, repair, or do-it-yourself when it comes to everything you use. Or consider what life would be like without that item.
The best you can do, when it comes to this type of “prepping,” is to try to store some stuff so you can get through a hard patch of relatively short duration, like a few months at most. First on that list should be “what happens if I cannot pay the rent?” and not “I need to raise chickens and make pickles.”
So please, Nicole, stop with the whole self-sufficiency stuff. You aren’t. Nobody is, really. People are not grizzly bears. They are loners for the most part and totally self-sufficient. I am a human being and I am not. I know, because I have actually tried to do this and experimented with doing it and learned to do stuff for myself and the more I tried and experimented and learned, the more I realized how impossible it is and what an enormous waste it all is.
I accept this. Instead of worrying about what we will do if a disaster hits and how we can somehow make it all on our own, we think it’s far more important to be good neighbors and connect with lots of other people, so that, as my neighbor once said, “the only thing that matters is what is happening here on the ridge [meaning our neighborhood].”
I still can food, pretty regularly. But I tend to be pretty picky about what I bother with. Turkey soup was a good idea. It’s easy, fast, delicious, I can’t buy it, and the turkey carcass was sitting there staring at me.
If I grow fresh green beans, because I like them, and there are enough to can, well, yeah, I’ll can them. But I’m not going to grow them just to can them.
I make grapefruit marmalade because Dave likes it and have you ever seen any ever anywhere? I make brandied peaches because they’re cheap if I get the peaches from the Mennonite produce place and Dave likes those too.
While I’m waiting for the big disaster to happen, though, I’m going to buy stuff from the store, grow a garden if I want to and not if I don’t, can stuff if I want to, but not because I have to, use electricity that’s cheap and quiet, and enjoy my life.
I’m probably going to sell the oil press I bought so I could raise sunflowers and press the oil out and make salad dressing. Seriously.