All Posts by Olivia Bedford

Getting Started With Solar Ovens

How long can you go without craving a hot, homemade meal, if you have been eating only cold rations and snacks?  If you’ve ever been without power for more than just a couple of days, eating cold ravioli or tuna out of the can gets really old, really fast. Most survival minded people realize, better than most, that it doesn’t take much to disrupt the flow of electricity we depend on for cooking. A natural disaster or freak weather event can turn the most modern home into a survivalist camp within a few hours. Electricity can also be interrupted by man-made crises, such as civil unrest, terrorism, or an EMP, making that hot meal a rare treat.

You’ll learn all you need to know about surviving without electricity in a long-term power outage in an upcoming module, but for now, let’s take a look at how to use solar ovens.

A popular slogan among survivalists and preppers is, “Always have a back-up to your back-up.”  When it comes to cooking and having a way to heat and purify water, what is your back-up to your back-up?

One simple addition to your emergency preparedness is a solar oven. It’s a great way to get started cooking off the grid, and is something everyone, not just preppers, should have on hand.

As long as the sun is shining and the sky is relatively clear, a solar oven can serve up a delicious pot of rice and beans and brownies for dessert without requiring any fuel. In fact, its dependence on the sun as its only source of fuel, is the reason every home should have a solar cooker. Solar cooking is an unbeatable back-up for making sure there’s a hot meal on the table three times a day. It’s also a sure-fire way to have hot water on hand for sanitation purposes and to purify water.

There Is Something New Under The Sun

Solar cooking and using the sun to preserve food has been around for hundreds of years, but only in modern times has the use of solar cookers become widespread both in the survival community and among communities around the world with unreliable electrical power. Its advantages are obvious.

  • There is no need to store additional fuel.
  • Sunshine is free, unlike propane, butane, gas, and other fuels.
  • It’s possible to store several months’ worth of food, but storing all the fuel you might need isn’t as easy.
  • Once paid for, or built, if you’re the DIY type, there are no other expenses involved and maintenance is simple.
  • There are no dangerous fumes or safety issues to worry about.
  • A solar cooker can be used for every type of cooking, except frying.
  • Food never burns in a solar cooker.
  • During hot, summer months, the use of a solar cooker helps keep the kitchen, and the cook cool.
  • Over time and with frequent use, the use of a solar oven will save money on the electric bill.

A Solar Cooker For Every Home

A solar cooker is a must-have as a back-up method for cooking food. It is the single most self-reliant way to cook food and heat water, and has the additional advantage of being a DIY project if there’s a handyman (or woman) in the family.

Commercially produced solar cookers, such as the All-American Sun Oven, are perfect for the prepper who is too busy for even one more DIY project. The Solavore is another reliable brand. Depending on the brand you choose, these stoves have consistent quality construction, are designed to reach temperatures for the quickest possible cooking results, and have features for enhanced usability, such as interior thermometers, large reflecting panels (optional on the Solavore), and a weather resistant design.

However, some of these ovens carry a price tag of $300 or more and can be large and bulky. In a Get-Out-Of-Dodge scenario, there might not be room for my Sun Oven in the back of our Tahoe, and if I ever had to cook for more than my family of four, it might be too small. That’s one of the limitations of a store-bought solar cooker. You’re stuck with a standard size that may be too small, and your budget may not allow for a second cooker.

On the other hand, a DIY solar cooker can be customized to your specific needs. One friend used a large ice chest on wheels for her solar oven. She could wheel it to any location in the backyard and she chose a size that could accommodate as many as four baking dishes. Another ingenious DIY plan that can be found on the internet uses a 5 gallon bucket and a reflective sunshade. Total cost?  Not much more than ten bucks, if that. The advantage of many DIY solar cookers is that they can be dismantled for convenient transport, and all of them require materials that are already in most garages. Plans for homemade solar cookers can be found on dozens of websites and demonstration videos abound on YouTube.

The DIY solar cooker comes with a few disadvantages. If the design doesn’t maximize the amount of sunlight available, you may end up with nothing more than a hot silver box sitting out in your yard. I recommend testing and tweaking any DIY design until it consistently reaches 350 degrees or more. Reliable temperatures will help you plan mealtimes and insure that foods reach temperatures that will deter any bacterial growth. Another issue with the DIY cooker is its durability. If a slight breeze knocks over your cooker and pot of beans, you’ll know you need to fine-tune the design for added stability.

Getting Started With Solar Cooking

Regardless of which solar cooker you settle on, some foods are easiest for getting started.  Be sure to keep a log of foods you cook, time of day you begin cooking, and the length of cooking time required. This log will be a huge help to you as you branch out and begin cooking a wider variety of foods.

  • Hard boiled eggs. Place eggs on a dark colored towel or inside a dark pot inside your cooker.  After 20 minutes, check one egg for doneness. Solar cooked hard boiled eggs will be softer than those cooked in a pot of boiling water.
  • Rice is either cooked or it’s not. It’s probably the easiest food to experiment with when you’re new to solar cooking. Combine rice and water in a covered pot. Check for doneness after 25 minutes. A package of Rice-a-Roni works just as well for your experimentation.
  • Yes, brownies! Mix up a batch of your favorite store-bought or homemade recipe, pour it into a dark, greased pan and place it in your solar cooker. Use the baking times recommended by your recipe, test for doneness, and leave in for additional minutes if required. I’ve found that solar-baked brownies are usually finished in the same amount of time as oven-baked.
  • Heat water in your solar cooker to pasteurize it. Check the temperature of water after 30 minutes. At 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius), all germs, viruses, and parasites are killed. This information, along with your solar cooker, could be one more way to insure safe drinking water in an emergency and provide sterilized water for medical and first aid purposes.

Like any new skill, the only way to learn how to cook with a solar oven is to just do it. For most dishes, allow at least an extra 30 minutes to your cooking time.

Top Ten Tips For Solar Cooking

  1. Solar cooking isn’t an exact science. It requires a bit of trial and at least a few errors to determine the correct cooking time for any food.
  2. Always use dark pots and pans with any solar cooker. Basic, inexpensive Granite Work pots and pans work very well. If you must use a light colored or shiny baking dish, cover it with a dark colored hand towel.
  3. Thin metal baking dishes work best in a solar cooker. They will heat up more quickly and lessen the amount of cooking time needed. Again, Granite Ware is a good example of these.
  4. A thermometer is a must-have for a solar cooker.
  5. Allow your solar cooker to pre-heat for 15-20 minutes. Pre-heating will shorten the cooking time a bit.  Just be aware that the interior of your cooker will be hot, so be sure to use pot-holders.
  6. Always use a baking dish with a lid for all your solar cooking. The lid retains important heat and moisture. There’s no need for a lid if you’re baking. Pies, brownies, cookies, cakes, and bread won’t require a lid.
  7. If you’re cooking meat, make sure the interior of the oven reaches at least 180 degrees. Again, a thermometer is a must to insure food safety and predictable cooking times.
  8. Use the ‘slow-cooker’ method when you’ll be gone all day. Place the solar oven so that it faces directly south. Pop in your baking dish, close the lid, and by dinner time, you’ll have a hot, delicious meal waiting for you.
  9. Moisture will likely collect inside the cooker during the cooking process. Wipe the inside dry before storing it.
  10. Turn your solar cooker into a food dehydrator by propping open the oven door by a half inch or so. This allows moisture to escape while the interior of the cooker retains heat.

If you’re new to solar cooking, prepare to be amazed.  There’s nothing quite like placing a baking dish in a box out in the sun and coming back later to a fully cooked and delicious meal.  A prolonged power outage doesn’t mean the end to hot, nutritious meals when you have a solar cooker as a back-up.




What is a WAPI?

You might think that untreated water must be at a rolling boil, which occurs at 212°F (100°C), for at least one minute in order to be safe to drink. Without any kind of temperature gauge, this is good advice to follow for water purification.

What many people don’t know, however, is that water does not need to reach 212°F to kill off all the nasty stuff. It only needs to be pasteurized, which occurs at a significantly lower 149°F (56°C).

Simply put, the WaPI, or Water Pasteurization Indicator, is a basic, easy to use, and reusable thermometer that allows the user to know for sure when water has reached a high enough temperature to be safe to drink. Pasteurization kills all microorganisms that lead to disease from drinking contaminated water.

Temperatures Required to Kill Microorganisms/ Water Purification

131°F (55°C)
Protozoa Cysts – Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Entamoeba

140°F (60°C)
Bacteria – V. cholerae, E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella typhi

149°F (65°C)
Hepatitis A

A WaPI device is a small plastic tube containing soy wax that melts at 149°F. It will save precious fuel (wood, charcoal, gas) by eliminating the need to heat water all the way to boiling. Even better, it is possible to achieve pasteurization only using the heat of the sun and a solar oven, making this process ideal for camping and in emergencies.

How to Use Your WaPI

1. Pour water into a black pot, a jar, or bowl.

2. Set the WaPI into the container with the wax at the top of the cylinder. The WaPi should be in the deepest part of the center of the container. It should not touch the sides or bottom of the container. If you have to use extra fishing line in order to get the WaPI properly placed, do so.

3. Put the pot in the solar oven or on another heating/cooking device.

4. When the wax melts and slides to the bottom of the WaPI, the temperature has reached 149°F and the water is safe to drink. Plan on this taking about one hour per liter of water in full sun.

5. The water needs to cool before drinking and should stay covered to prevent recontamination. Keep your fingers and any other objects out of the water. If you think it’s been recontaminated, simply re-pasteurize the water.

6. Once the wax in the WaPI has solidified again, turn it upside down and use it for the next batch of water!

It is important to note that dangerous chemicals are NOT removed by pasteurization. Do not attempt to drink water you think may be contaminated with chemicals, even after pasteurizing.  

Pasteurization is NOT the same at sterilization. Heat resistant spores that survive pasteurization are harmless in drinking water, but can be deadly in other uses. This process should NOT be used to prepare water for medical needs or for certain food canning processes.

You can use your WaPI in water being heated over an open flame source if you choose. Newer WaPIs are made to withstand high heat.

WaPIs are often included with the purchase of a solar oven, or you can buy them individually. Consider purchasing one for each vehicle and one for each bug out bag. They also make a nice, inexpensive gift for a survival minded friend.


How to Use Calcium Hypochlorite to Purify Water

When I was writing my book, Survival Mom, I was a real stickler for accuracy. Chapter 2 is all about water storage and purification, so I went to water expert Alan Martindale who is the Water Quality Supervisor for the City of Mesa in Arizona with all my unanswered questions about water safety.

I asked Alan about the use of calcium hypochlorite, aka pool shock, for purifying water because I wanted an expert to weigh in on this popular survival and prepper topic. I’ve written directions for its use in purifying water here.

Here is what Alan had to say:

“Lisa, I would agree that calcium hypochlorite can be used to disinfect water.  As you mention, the key is to make sure it is intended to be used for purification of drinking water.  The standard for this is National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) approved.  Calcium hypochlorite can be purchased in several concentrations. Although 65% is most common, you will also see 78% available chlorine.

Need to be real careful with chlorine concentrations.  You shouldn’t really drink much over 2ppm (parts per million) or it can cause diarrhea.  The maximum contaminant level (MCL) set by the EPA for chlorine is 4ppm.

Figuring chlorine concentration is based on weight.  Cal-shock 65 is 65% available chlorine so 1 pound = 0.65 pounds chlorine.  0.65 pounds (10.5oz) chlorine will treat 60,000 gallons of water to an initial residual to 1.3ppm!  To treat one gallon to 1.3ppm you would use 0.65/60000=  0.00017oz calcium hypochlorite.  1 ounce will treat about 5700 gallons.  These numbers are hard to understand and apply at small quantities, like a few gallons.

I read on one website that one granule, the size of a period, would treat one gallon and 1/8th level teaspoon would treat 55 gallons to 5ppm.  Sounds about right but I can’t confirm!

A huge issue associated with chlorinating is the “chlorine demand” of the water being treated.  If one water source has more contamination than another, it will take more chlorine to make it safe. Could be two or three times more.  Many emergency sites recommend having some test equipment to verify chlorine residuals. A pool test kit or test strips will work just fine.

Now having said all this, I probably complicated your issue.  Bottom line, calcium hypochlorite will work great but, it will take more experience and care to get safe results than using unscented laundry bleach.”

Pool test kits are inexpensive and can be purchased just about anywhere pool chemicals are sold. I recommend that everyone who owns calcium hypochlorite and is planning to use that as a way to purify water have at least one pool test kit on hand. That will be the best way we amateurs can determine that the chlorine level of our purified water is safe to drink.

As Alan states, using store-bought bleach is easier (8 drops per 1 gallon of water for purification purposes), but bleach has a shelf life. It begins to lose its effectiveness after several months, thus the popularity of calcium hypochlorite in survival circles.

The Queen of Water Filters: The Berkey

There is no replacement for clean, great-tasting water, is there?

When my family camped across Iceland last year, drinking the local water was no problem. Icelanders know good water, since the country’s water is some of the freshest and purest in the world. It was a delight to enjoy that water and not worry about pollutants.

Lately, clean water has been even more of a priority for us after Hurricane Harvey devastated our hometown. The streets were flooded with water that came from goodness-knows where. A park near us has forbidden entry to anyone after being completely underwater, as toxic levels of arsenic, mercury, and other toxins were reported in the now-soggy soil.

We’ve been using as drinking water the purified water from our refrigerator dispenser, but after hearing this, I realized we needed to begin using a filter with advanced capabilities. So, we immediately got our Royal Berkey Water Filter set up on our counter, complete with its fluoride and arsenic filters, and have been grateful every day that we know for sure our water is safe to drink.

What makes a great water filter?

An ideal water filter should be able to remove the following things from water with no problem:

  • Dirt and sand particles
  • Pathogenic bacteria
  • Toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury
  • Parasites
  • Harmful or unwanted chemicals

Our Berkey does all these things! Regardless of what kind of filtering system you choose to purchase, it should really be able to remove the above contaminants from the water that goes through it. For us, the Berkey was the best choice for our family’s needs, health, and safety concerns. After the many power outages experienced during Hurricane Harvey, we were also glad that our Berkey was not reliant on an electronic- or gas-powered source for filtration. It’s a gravity fed filter, which means that while dirty, polluted water may go into the top part of the system, pure and clean water will come out of the bottom.

If you or a loved one has been affected by the hurricanes that have been hitting our country, or if you are concerned about the fluoride levels in your water, take a close look at Berkey Water Filters. Water from the Berkey has no strange aftertastes (and is great for making coffee), and the filters remove almost all germs and dust particles. Our most recent addition to our filter, the Black Berkey Fluoride and Arsenic Filters, do not make a big impact in the taste of our water, but we love knowing that they are in our Berkey, plugging away at further purifying our drinking water.

Who needs a Berkey?

It doesn’t take floodwaters to taint our drinking water. There are instances of boil notices every week across the country and many natural disasters can affect a city’s water supply.

In addition, many of us have discovered that flouride isn’t exactly the healthiest addition to our drinking water, and since Berkey’s white filters remove not only flouride but arsenic as well, there’s even more protection. This could be even more important for people on well water, which often contains naturally occurring arsenic.

Even if you trust your city’s water supply, if it doesn’t smell or taste fresh and pure, a Berkey filter will take care of that, too.

Is it the best of the best?

We have a veritable hoard of water filters. After more than 8 years of blogging, we’ve tested more water filters than I care to admit in our search for an economical, reliable water filter that actually works and provides water for more than one person.

That is why I can confidently say, as a mom, a hurricane survivor, and a hardcore survivalist: the Berkey Water Filter has been our favorite water filter purchase. Our model is the Royal Berkey, which provides enough water for roughly 4-6 people a day. Since we only use it for drinking water, and it’s primarily my kids and I who drink it, this means we refill it every other day or two. It’s lightweight and easy to put together, as well! My daughter assembled ours all on her own. And did I mention….it makes great coffee.

A couple of Berkey accessories to consider

The Berkey water filters will sit flush on your tabletop or kitchen counter, and this makes it awkward for filling drinking glasses, saucepans, and the like. To make dispensing water easier, I purchased a stainless steel stand, which lifts the filter up by about 6″. We also bought the white filters for arsenic and flouride, although the Black Berkey Filters are plenty for making sure your water is safe to drink.

A Berkey Water Filter is definitely one of those investment preps but in a world of preparedness where so much can be accomplished for free and/or very low cost, this is one item worth saving up for.

A Prepper’s Guide to Water Storage 101

We all need water. In as little as three days without it, a person can perish. Water is a vital part of being prepared. How much do you really need? How should you store it? How often should you rotate water storage? What can you do at the last minute? Let’s explore what experts say on those topics.

How much water do you need?

The American Red Cross recommends that you store 1 gallon of water per person per day. However, The Survival Mom recommends 2 gallons per person per day. Why? Think over a typical day and what you use water for – drinking, preparing food, washing clothes, washing dishes, taking a shower, brushing teeth, watering plants, filling pets’ water dishes, flushing toilets, making coffee. You could even take a gallon of water around with you for a day and see if that is really enough.

In a survival situation, you will also need water to sanitize and clean if you can’t use a dishwasher or washing machine. There can be a difference between the amount of water you absolutely need to have and the amount of water you need to make life comfortable. Consider, too, that babies and pregnant and nursing mothers often need more water than others. If you live in a hot or dry climate, take that into considerations as well.

After you figure out how much water you want to have on hand per person per day, then you need to decide how many days of water supply you want to have on hand. The basic recommendation is for three days (72 hours), but there are disaster scenarios that will have you wanting to have water on hand for more than three days.

How should you store water?

One of the easiest options is buying bottled water. It will require doing a little bit of math to figure out how many bottles you need, but generally about 8 bottles of water equals one gallon. If there are four people in your family, you’ll need at least 32 bottles of water per day. Cases usually have 24 bottles for a few dollars. For a basic week’s worth of water, you’d need just under 10 cases. Double that if you want 2 gallons a day per person.

If you want to store water in containers, make sure they are food grade containers. They should be thoroughly cleaned before being filled. Two-liter soda bottles are another option after they’ve been cleaned. Milk and juice jugs are not recommended for use because the sugars and milk proteins cannot be completely washed off the containers and can lead to bacterial growth. Glass containers can be used, but are heavy and can break. You can sanitize containers by soaking them for at least 30 seconds in a mixture that is 1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart of water.

Water stored in containers may need to be treated by adding some bleach before storage.

How often should you rotate?

For water bottles, you can rotate them by the expiration or use-by date. For water you store yourself, rotate the water every six months.

Keep scent-free, dye-free bleach on hand for treating, sanitizing and purifying water. (Basically, you don’t want any additives in the bleach that could end up in your drinking water.) Bleach has a shelf life and starts to break down after six months. It needs replaced every 16 months. Rotate your bleach bottles frequently to ensure you have effective bleach on hand.

Other sources of water

If you haven’t stored up any water and the emergency is happening now, there are still some steps you can take. Start filling containers and bathtubs with water. If you don’t have a Water BOB to hold the water, clean the bathtub first, if at all possible. You can find more water in the hot water heater. Ice cubes can be melted and liquid can be found in canned goods. Do not consume any water or liquid that has a very unusual odor or color.

Potential outside sources of water include rain water, ponds, streams, lakes and springs. Outside sources of water need to be purified before drinking. Depending on your resources, timing, and the contamination of the water, boiling and/or iodine will treat many pathogens.

If the emergency involves contaminated water, you may need to shut off the main water valve to your home (Do you know where it is?). Be sure not to drink any possible contaminated water unless it has been purified, assuming that is possible. In the case of a chemical spill, it may simply be too dangerous to drink the water until the situation has been contained. And children are more susceptible to contaminated water than adults.

Last-minute tips

You don’t spend all your time at home so be sure to store water at work and in your vehicles as well. I always have a case of water in our minivan, and, with little children, it has come in handy for every day life, not just traffic jams and emergencies.

If you end up facing a long-term power outage, you may not have water flowing in your home. The generators that run city water could run out of fuel and well pumps that run on electricity won’t work. Every drop of water will be precious. Consider storing containers to hold water that can be re-used for sanitation, washing dishes and washing clothes. Look into having a rain barrel or storing water in 55-gallon drums so you have a long-term water solution. Water purifiers intended for multiple people to use repeatedly, rather than something like tablets or bleach that will run out far more quickly, are also a good investment.

For more information and details on water storage, visit:


FEMA and Red Cross


A Water Crisis in West Virginia

Bob Keller who runs a survival supply store in Charleston was right in the middle of a major water crisis that affected hundreds of thousands of people . I asked him to write about how his family’s experiences and what they have learned.

The day before any event is ordinary.  On Wednesday, I worked through my day as usual and Thursday was much of the same.  I came home and decided to take a quick nap.  My wife called and told me to turn on the television:  The Governor of West Virginia was declaring a state of emergency and a ‘Do Not Use’ order was issued for water in Charleston, the capitol city, and parts of nine counties.

A local chemical distributor, whose business is located slightly upstream of the water intake for the local water company, had leaked a substance called 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, used to clean coal prior to transport, into the Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha River, in the middle of Charleston.  Officially, the amount of the leak was 7500 gallons.  To put this in perspective, my wife’s Honda Accord holds about 15 gallons of gasoline.  This would be equivalent to 500 Honda Accords.

As we soon learned, not much is known about the consumption of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol.  Like so many industrial chemicals, it had never been tested for human toxicity.  The only test conducted by the manufacturer, Eastman Chemical, was the amount of it necessary to kill a rat.  This lack of data, coupled with the conflicting information released to the public about the situation, added to the chaos.

Charleston is located in what has been called “The Chemical Valley”.  Beginning in the 50’s, most of the major chemical companies had manufacturing facilities in the area.  As business changed, many of those facilities outlived their usefulness and have since closed.  Still, there is a significant amount of chemical manufacturing here.  I say this so that you know that this is part of our local culture.

I was born here in the late 60’s, long before the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act.  I have seen the results of an ‘unscheduled release’ settled over the cars and houses like an early snow and have seen literally hundreds of dead fish floating in the river because of an upstream chemical spill.  Never, not one time, do I remember the water company issuing a ‘Do Not Use’ order.

Losing water service, on the surface, seems like a fairly mundane inconvenience.  A water main breaks, a ‘boil water’ advisory is issued, and a day or so later life returns to normal.  It was apparent rather quickly that this was different, very different.  Almost immediately, the school systems closed indefinitely and the health department closed all of the restaurants in the affected areas.  We began to hear about locations where we could get safe water (FEMA, by the way, has only provided about one gallon per person to be used over the entire emergency).

My family, as preppers , was largely ready.  We had stored water and had empty water jugs available.  We also had a rainwater catchment system ready to be installed in such an event.  When any event happens, one thing you learn quickly is where you were not fully prepared.  It uncovers the holes in your prepping plan.  The two areas where we were not fully ready were laundry and bathing.  We will be working to fill those gaps.  Luckily, we have several friends in the adjacent county who are served by another water company.  We trekked over for an afternoon last weekend and did some laundry, took showers, visited, and shared dinner.  It was good.

Currently, we still do not have a safe supply of water.  Today is Day 8.  The national media has gone home, the local officials have disappeared from the media, and the water company constantly tells us that the water is safe.  However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning telling pregnant women not to drink this water and local pediatricians are warning against young children drinking this water.  Over a thousand people have visited hospital emergency rooms after being told the water was fine.  Is it safe?  I don’t know.  It still smells terribly and has a greasy feel to it.  Is my family using it?  No.  There are things much more important than tap water.

Part 2: An update and input from a water purification expert

Glenn Meder, of Survival Still, is a nationally known expert when it comes to water safety, and he wrote an article about the contaminant found in the West Virginia water and how families can cope if a similar event happens in their city.

Keep in mind. Charleston, West Virginia, is a small city of fewer than 60,000 people and the tainted water affected another few hundred thousands living in outlying areas. But what if this happens someday in Los Angeles? Or Dallas? Or any other huge city? It would also impact surrounding communities that rely on that city’s water!

That would be a world class crisis, to be sure, and of course, local and federal authorities would be overwhelmed. As always, you and I are the first line of defense for our families.

And now for Glenn’s article…


I have received a number of questions from people regarding the recent chemical spill in West Virginia. I would like to go over some of the facts about the spill and talk about what you can do to protect your family from this situation and future chemical spills (yes, it will happen again).

Before I get into the article I would like to make a quick statement to our customers. While we have not tested the Survival Still against MCHM, we have examined the characteristics of the chemical and WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT THE SURVIVAL STILL WILL REMOVE THE CHEMICAL. Please keep reading to see additional advice.

On January 9, 2014, 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM leaked into the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia. State and federal agencies issued a state of emergency and ordered 300,000 West Virginia residents not to drink or use tap water for any purpose other than flushing toilets.

MCHM is a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process. Unfortunately, there is simply not a lot of information available about this chemical. The fact is that no one knows what the health effects of this chemical are! Richard Denison, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Health Fund says this, “How, you might well ask, is this possible?  How can a chemical in active production and use – and now being released into the environment and exposing people – be on the market without any publicly released hazard data or evidence of its safety?”

He goes on to explain that, “The sad truth is this chemical is one of tens of thousands of chemicals on the market today with little or no safety data.  MCHM is one of the 62,000 chemicals that were already in use when TSCA, our nation’s main chemical safety law, was passed in 1976.  All of these chemicals were grandfathered by TSCA:  That means they were simply presumed to be safe, and EPA was given no mandate to determine whether they are actually safe.  Even to require testing of these chemicals under TSCA, EPA must first provide evidence that the chemical may pose a risk – a toxic Catch-22.”

Without this data, all we can do is look at the chemical structure and chemical characteristics and draw some conclusions.

FIRST OF ALL, MCHM is an organic chemical. This means that the chemical is a carbon-based molecule. Unfortunately, organic chemicals can be very potent. The reason for this is quite simple; all life forms are also based on a carbon-based molecule, and carbon molecules can bind with other carbon molecules. So while many inorganic compounds (such as metals and minerals) can be dangerous in parts per million (ppm), carbon-based molecules can be dangerous in parts per billion (ppm) or even smaller. Dioxin, for example, is dangerous in parts per quintillion!

SECOND, without sufficient toxicity data, I believe it is safe to assume a maximum safety level of 5 parts per billion for organic compounds. Again, this is speculation. It could be much more dangerous than this, or it might be less potent.

THIRD, it seems that there have been some corrections in the data after it has been released. For example, see how this quote from the Environmental Defense Fund has been modified, “How can a chemical in active production and use – and now being released into the environment and exposing people – be on the market without any [ADDED 1/12/14: publicly available] hazard data or evidence of its safety?

This change makes it apparent that there is safety data on this chemical, but that it is not publically available. Why would it not be publicly available? This makes me think that it may be quite scary.

The obvious question is, “How can we protect ourselves from this chemical?

My answer to this question will be different than the government’s answer. From my experience, the government ALWAYS wants to downplay the danger. Keeping people calm is their top concern, followed closely by protecting the local economy. I approach it from a different perspective. I always ask myself, what advice would give to a loved one or a close friend?

So here is the advice I would give to a close friend…

  1. Do NOT consume or come in contact with this water for quite a while, even if the government tells you that it is safe. I would do his for at least a month after the government tells you that it’s OK to use.
  2. I would advise against washing in it, cooking with it, brushing your teeth or even washing your clothes or your dishes. Remember that fountain drinks, coffee, soups and other food would be made with this water, so also avoid these.
  3. Only drink water and other drinks that are produced on a different source of water (from out of State). If you don’t absolutely know the source of the water, don’t consume it.
  4. You can drink bottled water or other water that you have stored away. If you do not have bottled water, choose a safe water supply that does not come from the Elk River, such as a rainwater cistern or a well.
  5. Remember that food is also made with water, so don’t cook with water and don’t eat out. For example, pizza dough, bread, soup, pasta, and even vegetables are cooked with water and could absorb these chemicals.
  6. Certainly, do NOT make baby formula or wash your baby or children in this water. Children are always more susceptible to chemicals than adults.
  7. Do not give the water to your pets.
  8. Please note that you should NOT boil the water or chemically sterilize the water with chlorine. Boiling and chlorination are only effective against biological contamination, and would actually concentrate these chemicals in the water.
  9. While we have not tested the Survival Still against MCHM, the boiling point of the chemical is considerably higher than water (396°F), while the vapor pressure of the chemical is low, which means that it won’t easily be released as a vapor. In other words, the chemical would stay behind in the boiling pot and would not travel with the steam and condense back into the distilled water. Based on this information, we are confident that distillation will remove the chemical. You could use the Survival Still for this purpose, or you could purchase an automated water distiller. (For the past 30 years, my family has only consumed water produced by a high-quality water distiller).
  10. If you are not able to do any of these things, you may decide that it’s a good time to take a short trip or visit relatives (as long as they don’t get their water from the Elk River).

How long do I think you should take extra precautions? Again it’s hard to say. I would give it a month or two so that people have time to really investigate it and so you can separate truth from propaganda.

A Mash-Up of Radio Communications Info

Are communications a part of your SHTF plan? Not every prepper considers how heavily our society relies on digital technology to obtain news and to keep in touch with loved ones. Losing touch with the goings-on of the world is a situation that any preparedness-minded individual never wants to be in. Having good communication equipment, such as a HAM radio, and knowing how to use it can put the fears of being in the dark about recent news and the whereabouts of family members to rest and keep you in the loop.

Learn how to communicate after chaos has hit and the Internet (possibly the entire power grid) is down and you want to know what’s going on. The main modes of communication we are choosing to focus on are freeband and HAM radios. These two options are electronic, but they can run on minimal energy input, whether in the form of solar power or battery power.

Here are some key terms used in this article:
CW: Constant Wave Mode. This is the radio mode that is used to send Morse code.
RTTY: RTTY (radioteletype) is a way of sending text files via the radio to others. To do this, create a text document using any word processor, then save the file in .txt format.
SSTV: SSTV (Slow Scan TV) is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like sending and receiving a fax. You would send a .jpg or .bmp file.

Using a freeband radio for transmissions

Now we’re going to talk about how to transform a Freeband radio (which can be a 10 meter converted rig or an HF Ham radio) into a simple modem through which you can send text messages or images. These are some of the things you’re going to need to get started experimenting with radio facsimiles and packet radio transmissions:

  • A Ham Radio, or any radio transceiver (listening and talking), with CW (Constant Wave) mode. If you just want to receive (listen, not talk) any Short Wave receiver that can tune to the frequencies you ll need is good enough.
  • A cable to connect the radio to the computer (via the audio output) to the radio’s CW input for sending RTTY messages. For receiving RTTY messages, the cable goes from the mic/audio input to the radio’s CW output. Most often this is 1/8th inch stereo plug, like those found on headphones and earbuds.
  • HamFax software, available here for free. There are many other programs that can do RTTY or Slow Scan TV but we have found the HamFax software to be easy to use and works with Windows, Linux and Apple.
  • The program GMFSK, available here. With this software you will be able to make .txt documents into packets that you can send to anyone listening.
  • Either a photo or text file to send or receive.
  • A network of others equally equipped at various long distances with whom to experiment.

After you’ve installed HamFax, you can run the application, choose a photo that you want to send, and in the tool-bar, you will click transmit, transmit to file. Hamfax will have a set of questions for you to answer to set up the transmission to best fit the hardware.

Now, let’s get into packet radio. Packet radio uses the CW mode and is faster, more practical, and more intelligible than other modes. Like the old HAMs say, when nothing else can get out, CW will get through. This process uses a faster audio transmission and translates text. The packet is a text file of your choosing.

To test your receiving capabilities, most Slow Scan TV pictures can be found on the 20 meter band, beginning around 14 Mhz. Just scan up the bands until you hear the sound of fax machines on the air waves and you’re there. With either software booted and the radio’s audio output (also known as external speaker jack) connected to your computer’s microphone input, you can begin receiving faxes/photos or text files. All this can be done with 12 volts of DC solar power!

This simple option is the first thing we need to consider when we look at rebuilding electronic communications after the SHTF. Imagine a valuable tool like the Internet, available to anyone who can pick up and translate a radio transmission. Imagine if that independent link to the rest of the world could be a fountain for knowledge.

This may only be simple communications technology just the basics. The important fact is that the information to be published through that bandwidth will be free and uncensored. This will remind us and motivate us to keep working together to improve this technology as we keep it free.

Radio Receivers

We own a used Grundig Yacht Boy 400 World Receiver and recommend it highly. These were made in the 1990s, but are still state-of-the-art . The CCI radio company sells a clone of this model today. Good used Grundigs can be found on Ebay in the $50 to $100 range. The YB400 has some great features:

  • AM/FM and Shortwave bands
  • SSB receiver
  • Tuning Scan
  • 40 Channel Memory
  • Light
  • Alarm
  • Sleep Timer
  • Two Time Zones

We consider it the best AM portable receiver made. At night we can listen Coast to Coast A.M. on stations from Los Angeles, San Antonio, Omaha, Denver, and even Detroit and Chicago at times, all sounding clear from here in New Mexico.

Our Yacht Boy 400 receives from 55 Kilohertz through 30 Megahertz, covering the entire HF (high frequency) band. In a time of crisis, shortwave may be the only radio signal out there. It may come in real handy when we can’t depend on the Internet to know what is going on.

WWV is the international time standard hack that can be found on the following shortwave frequencies:

2500 khz
5000 khz
10000 khz
15000 khz
20000 khz

From Wikipedia:

WWV continuously transmits official U.S. Government frequency and time signals on 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz.

This radio station also allows you to check space weather as well as satellite environment (interference). We can use these frequencies to gauge the effect of solar activities on our radio communications. WWV has a very strong signal. For most, it will be received as a strong S 8 to 10 signal strength, but in the event of adverse solar activities, even these stations can become covered up with static and noise. So if you are trying to receive a certain station and are having difficulties, check WWV to see if their signal is coming though clearly, or if it is covered up with static.

Communications Radios

Family Radio Service (FRS) and Business Radio Service (BRS) are the frequencies for the common walkie-talkies you see. They often say that they have an 8 mile range. However, most of these radios have a hard time transmitting further than 2 miles. Not everyone lives in a laboratory environment. The 8 mile range estimates take into account line of sight factors only. If you can see the other party that you are trying to communicate with, you can talk to them. We don’t live in a flat world without a horizon and without trees, buildings, mountains, etc. Because of this, these radios are overrated and can only be used for close-up communications (typically less than 3 miles at best). They certainly can be useful if your community uses them in a small area (40 acres or less).

The Business Radio Service does include base radios, which have more power than family radios. You can add an external antenna on a mast high above the ground to stretch their range up to 10 miles.


pocket scanner, such as the I-Com IC-R5, is a handy radio to own. The I-Com IC-R5 is available in US models and overseas models. The FCC gave the I-COM company a license to sell this receiver in the U.S. only if certain frequencies were blocked out. With this in mind, the best place to buy one is on Ebay. There are sellers on Ebay from other countries such as Japan who sell unblocked IC-R5’s and IC-R7’s. These ebay listings will be explicit. It will say it is a Japanese model and does not have any blocked frequencies. The IC-R5 can scan from 30 kilocycles to 1400 megahertz (1.4 Gigahertz). Within these frequencies are a few things you may find interesting to listen to. Here are some of the stations you can listen to that are on hard to find frequencies:

FBI Tactical 167.400 fm
FEMA 138.400 fm
FEMA 138.5750 fm
FEMA 139.9500 fm
FEMA 155.340 fm
Army Civil Disturbances 34.9000 ssb
FEMA 130.0500 fm
FEMA 139.1000 fm
FEMA 138.2250 fm
FEMA 139.4500 fm
FEMA 140.0250 fm
Fed. Disater Network 170.2000 fm
Border Patrol 163.6750 fm
Border Patrol 163.7250 fm
Border Patrol 163.7750 fm
BP 164.1150 fm
BP 165.8500 fm
BP 165.9250 fm
Natl. Emerg. Weather Svc (news) 173.1875 fm
News 167.9750 fm
News 169.8750 fm
News 167.9250 fm
Fed. Disaster Net 170.2000 fm
FEMA 5.210 ssb
FEMA 10.493750 ssb
FEMA 4.7250 ssb
FEMA 139.350 fm
FEMA 143.0250 fm
FEMA 143.2500 fm
FEMA 167.9750 fm
BLM 169.6500 fm
Forest Svc. 170.5250 fm
Omaha SAC 11.17500 ssb
NORAD 13.2000 ssb
NORAD 15.0150 ssb
Omaha SAC 4.7250 ssb
NORAD 6.7400 ssb
Air Force Bomber EAM 4.743750 ssb
EAMS 6.71250 ssb
EAMS 6.7400 ssb
EAMS 8.993750 ssb
EAMS 11.1750 ssb
EAMS 13.2000 ssb
EAMS 15.0150 ssb
NORAD 228.6000 fm
NORAD 228.9000 fm
FEMA 5.2100 ssb
FEMA 16.9500 ssb
Fed. Emerg. Task Force 165.23750 fm
Task Force 169.4500 fm
FBI Tactical 167.21250 fm

Want to find frequencies near you? Check out this website.

Emergency Action Messages (EAM) are the encoded radio traffic between NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and SAC (Strategic Air Command) with the nuclear bomber fleet, like in the movie, “Fail Safe.”

With Fusion Centers operating, the radio traffic is mostly digitized and scrambled. You may notice that when they are working together, the scanner’s frequencies will all seem to light up at the same time. In this event, you will notice your local sheriff/state police/ local cops/ FEMA/DHS/Border Patrol/FBI, etc., all going encrypted and all talking at once.

Creating a radio Round Robin

With the right equipment, a group of people can create a a radio Round Robin. This is when a group of people has a specific place on the radio to meet on a regular basis. For example, let’s say there are 6 people in your round robin and you all decide to meet on Saturday mornings on CB channel 40, 27.405 Mhtz, LSB, lower side band (or CW for RTTY), and exchange news with each other. In an emergency, perhaps if phone lines and/or the internet is down, this will be a way to communicate with your loved ones. It will also be a way to transmit and receive information about emergency conditions in each person’s part of town or the country.

Mushroom Cultivation & Foraging

I love to hunt wild mushrooms in the summer and fall in Northwest Indiana. I usually go out in June through October for Pheasantback (Dryads Saddle), Oyster, Sheepshead (Maitake), Puffballs, Chicken of the Woods, and Boletes. I like having fresh ingredients that I can prepare to eat as soon as I get home. I can also sautee them and freeze them for later use.  It also gives me some exercise, sunlight, and a chance to inhale all the wonderful smells of fall leaves deep in the woods. I’ve also seen a great deal of wildlife while I’m out there. It just restores my soul.

NOTE: This article is about my own foraging and cultivating of mushrooms, but expert Dr. Mart “Merriweather” Vorderbruggen of Foraging Texas recommends being very careful foraging for mushrooms until you can take a class on identifying wild mushrooms and are an experienced forager. Even experienced foragers can sometimes mistake a poisonous mushroom for an edible one.

Health benefits of mushrooms

One of the benefits of eating mushrooms is that they have many benefits. Overall, they have antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. They are also a good source of iron, readily absorbed by the body. This is great for anemic people or vegetarians to keep up their iron levels, which plays an important role in forming red blood cells. Mushrooms containing Linoleic Acid can have an anticarcinogenic effect and and have anti-tumor properties.

Mushrooms are gluten free,  low calorie, low carbohydrate, high fiber, no cholesterol, and have compounds which may help regulate insulin production. Mushrooms are a source for calcium, which is wonderful if you are lactose intolerant, as well as vitamin D, an essential vitamin which helps the body absorb and metabolize calcium and phosphorous. (Another source for vitamin D is sunshine. Read more about mushrooms here.)

Potassium is also found in Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms. This can relax the blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure, but beware it can increase potassium in people with poor kidney function, or on dialysis. Copper and selenuim are found in mushrooms. They are trace elements that we need for essential body functions. Do read up on individual mushrooms for specific benefits, because they vary between species.

Cultivating your own mushrooms


If you don’t have a wooded area near you, have a hard time walking, or don’t want to get burrs and bugs on you, consider cultivating your own mushrooms by making “mushroom logs”. I really love Shiitake mushrooms, but they don’t grow wild here, so I decided to create a hospitable environment for them and grow my own.

I needed to find some fresh cut oak logs, about 4-6 inches in diameter.  My husband and I found somebody cutting down a tree after a storm, and we asked for 4 of the medium sized logs which had been cut from it. They were happy to give them to us, because they were going to pay somebody to remove it anyway.

These logs had to sit for about a month to cure them before I could use them.  One site I researched said that freshly cut logs give off some type of protective enzyme after being cut to prevent other fungi or spores from attacking them. Another site stated the moisture content needed to be reduced by 50% internally, but still moist enough to help the mycelium from the mushroom spore to grow into the wood.

In the meantime, I ordered my mushroom “plugs” with the spore on them. I ordered a bag with 100 plugs and placed them in my refrigerator until I was ready to use them. I invited a few friends over and we did this project together. The supplies we used were:

4 oak logs, about 3 feet long

Package of mushroom plugs

5/16 drill bit and drill


Small paintbrush

Hot plate and an old pot or a tiny crockpot

Hammer or mallet

Pallet, 2’x4′, or cement block to place logs on

I warmed up my beeswax in a small crockpot. I kept it plugged in until I was ready to use it. In each log, I drilled a hole that was just slightly deeper than the plug. Next, I gently tapped it in with a wooden mallet, then each hole was sealed with melted beeswax that was applied with a small paintbrush. This would protect my spores until they became “established”. (The weblike structure or mycelium would now grow into the wood). Eventually the beeswax will break down & the mushroom would emerge from this hole.

I drilled another hole every 6 inches until I got to the end of the log. Then, I rotated it and started drilling holes again. I had 3 rows when I was finished, and repeated this with the other 3 logs. I actually ended up with mIMG_4876ore holes than I needed, but not a big deal. Since I did this in February in my garage, I didn’t put them outside yet, due to danger of frost.

Around late April, I selected a shady spot under my deck and placed 4 cement blocks down as a base for my logs. I placed them parallel to each other, then stacked the other two across them, kind of “Lincoln Log” style, then checked to make sure none of the holes were covered during the stacking. It’s important to keep them moist, so I watered them a few times per week and in the hotter weather, placed a tarp over them.

Then, in September, voila! They began sprouting all over the wood. I was very happy to begin my mushroom harvest. Now, I can’t wait until next year! I’m sure I’ll have a few new additions to my mushroom family.

Want to learn more about foraging?


When it Comes to Wheat, Don’t Feed Your Famly Poison

A good Action Step for building up your food storage is to find a good source of wheat and stock up.  A reader in the past made the comment that buying wheat from feed stores was a bad idea because of pesticides.  I (Lisa) wanted to check that out for myself, so first, I made a few calls to local feed stores.  Surprisingly, only two carried “feed wheat”, and neither could say for sure that it was pesticide-free.  One store went so far as to check with their supplier to see if I could get “organic” wheat, but it wasn’t available.

My next step was to talk with an actual wheat farmer in Idaho.  I’ve purchased a couple hundred pounds of wheat directly from him and wanted to hear what he had to say about the use of pesticides and the storage of feed wheat.  Turns out, he was quite talkative!

Not surprisingly, he said that farmers will only use pesticides when it’s absolutely necessary.  It’s an additional cost that cuts into their profit margin.   He told me about an incident a few years ago when grasshoppers invaded his farm, consuming 20 square feet of wheat every day for weeks.  His only choice was to use a pesticide, which he limited to only the perimeter of his fields, hoping to kill any new grasshoppers intent on eating the ripening wheat.  Ultimately, the insects consumed 40% of his crop.

He mentioned that some neighboring farmers chose to spray their entire fields with pesticides.

I asked about the use of fungicides, and again, this is an expense farmers want to avoid but often can’t.  Apparently, there was a problem with wheat leaf frost last year that required many farmers to spray fungicide over their fields.  However, typically a fungicide is sprayed early in the season, before the head of the wheat has had a chance to ripen.  Once the wheat is ripe, any traces of the chemical is undetectable.

According to this farmer, the cost of cleaning wheat properly is very expensive.  The equipment he owns cost more than $75,000.  Not only is the equipment expensive, but the cleaning process takes a lot of time.  Again, farmers have to be mindful of the costs involved with producing their wheat, so unless the wheat has to be thoroughly cleaned, it won’t be.  Feed wheat, that is, wheat sold as animal feed, isn’t cleaned nearly as well as wheat intended for human consumption.

Actually, cleaning feed wheat can be counter-productive because there are things like chaff that are actually good for animals.  Some cleaning is necessary, of course, because dirt, insects, and insect parts must be removed before the wheat is shipped and sold.  Cleaning the wheat at any level, however, doesn’t remove herbicides or pesticides.

The question still remained, is it smart to buy feed wheat for food storage?  This farmer stated, “People who do that are nuts!”  Here’s his explanation.

Not only is feed wheat not cleaned nearly as well as wheat for human consumption, it is also likely to be a combination of wheats from many different farms.  It’s possible that a grain silo might contain a hundred or more different varieties of wheat.  When it comes to actually using the wheat for food, there’s no way to guarantee what the make-up will be or how much protein or gluten the “blended wheat” contains.  This is his pet peeve.  He said that at least half of the companies who sell wheat in buckets and bags sell “blended wheat” and to look for that phrase on their labels.

So?  What is a prepper to do when it comes to buying feed wheat?  One suggestion from this farmer is to talk with the feed store owners and find out as much as possible about where their wheat comes from, how it’s treated and how it’s cleaned.  There will probably be no guarantee that it’s pesticide-free unless it’s from a certified organic farm.  Azure Standard is one such source, and you’ll find others online with a simple Google search for “organic wheat”.  You won’t be paying $15 for 50 pounds, however.

As with anything else we do, be guided by common sense and reliable information.

Exploring Heirloom Wheat Varieties

Wheat is a big thing in the prepper community, and rightly so. It stores well, is versatile, and the stuff you can make with it tastes good. As such, endless discussions have taken place about the merits of one variety over another. White or red? Hard or soft? Winter or Spring?

Each kind has its own characteristics that make it well-suited for one purpose or another. This is why in addition to white flour and whole wheat flour, one can also purchase cake flour, bread flour, and pastry flour at the super market. But I am not going to talk about the differences between the modern varieties of wheat.

Instead, let’s explore some of the older “heirloom” varieties of wheat for a moment. There exists a growing interest in – and availability of – heirloom wheat. I’ve had a couple of people ask me what’s so special about it, and whether they could stock up on spelt and emmer in lieu of hard white winter wheat. I’ve mostly found that modern wheat has been selectively bred and improved for some very good reasons, and that often you won’t get as good results with your baking with other varieties of wheat unless you are really familiar with what each kind of wheat is supposed to be for. Example: Hard wheat, being higher in gluten, is better for bread, whereas it is difficult to get a good rise out of lower-gluten soft wheat. That said, heirloom wheats have many good qualities that make them something to consider.

What exactly is heirloom wheat?

I’m using the term “heirloom” pretty loosely. I mostly mean any variety of wheat that’s not Triticum aestivum, the species of wheat most commonly grown in the United States. I say “mostly,” because White Sonora is an unimproved cultivar of T. aestivum, but is classified as an “heirloom” variety by Baker Creek seeds.

Wheat has a long and storied history, inextricably tied to the history of civilization. People have been growing wheat on purpose since around 5,000 BC, although the stuff that has been found in the pyramids is not the stuff that they use to make the bread you buy at the grocery store. Modern wheat, like all of our food crops and domestic livestock, has been selectively bred by humans to exhibit certain desired characteristics. In wheat this means more protein, greater drought tolerence, etc. In contrast, “heirloom” wheat varieties have come down through the ages largely unchanged. As an example, Emmer wheat cultivated today is virtually identical to examples of the grain that have been recovered from archaeological digs in the Middle East.


(T. turgidum) Also known as “Pharoah’s Wheat,” because it is known to have been cultivated in Ancient Egypt. Emmer is higher in fiber than modern wheat, and is known for its resistance to disease and its ability to grow well in nutrient-poor soil. It is used for making bread and beer, but it is reported to make very poor pasta. Some people report that food made from emmer wheat can be consumed by people with gluten sensitivities, although this is disputed. Seeds to grow your very own patch of emmer wheat in your garden can be found at Baker Creek Seeds.


(T. monococcum) Einkorn is not suitable for bread, as it lacks the needed characteristics for a good rise. As such, it’s mostly eaten as bulgur, or as whole-grain porridge. It is considered to be exceedingly nutritious, being higher in protein than modern red wheat. It is also a good source of potassium and phosphorous. Einkorn has slowly, but surely, become more readily available. Just take a look at all these Einkorn products on Amazon, alone!


(T. spelta) Spelt is not as high in gluten as other wheat varieties, but just enough to make it suitable for baking. It’s often cooked as farro and added to soups or salads. (The term “farro” refers more to the way a grain is cooked rather than the particular variety, although Emmer and Einkorn are often classified as types of farro.) Organic farmers tend to like growing spelt because it requires less fertilizer.

White Sonora

(T. aestivum) I will admit that I don’t have personal experience with this particular type of wheat, so I can’t personally vouch for it, although it’s something I definitely want to try. I include White Sonora on my list of heirloom wheat varieties because I’ve heard so many other people swoon over its heirloom-ness.

It has an interesting history: It was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers in the 1600s, making it the first kind of wheat to be grown in the western hemisphere. White Sonora makes a stretchy dough that is excellent for making flour tortillas. This is another variety available from Baker Creek, should you feel inclined to grow some in your backyard.

If these grains are so great, why do we even have modern varieties?

That is a good question. As I said before, speaking in general terms, humans improved wheat for a reason. Modern wheat is best suited for the kinds of foods we find most desirable. Whole wheat bread made from hard white wheat is much lighter and has a more tender crumb compared to bread made from red wheat, which is quite dense.

Wheat grown in the 19th century would grow to be about four feet tall, but thanks to what is termed “The Green Revolution,” modern wheat only grows about 18 inches high. This is an advantage because the energy the plant would have used to make the stalk instead goes into the seed head, causing an increase in yield. Another trait found in modern wheat but not in older varieties is a non-shattering rachis, meaning the grains stick to the seed head until threshed instead of falling out to be lost in the field prior to harvest. More on this subject can be found in An Edible History of Humanity, which makes a fascinating read.

If you haven’t already considered exploration of heirloom wheat varieties, I hope you will think about it. Why not try this tasty and educational recipe for Ancient Eyptian-style bread, which calls for emmer wheat? I tried it out with my kids, and though I didn’t have any emmer immediately at hand, it turned out just as well by using spelt.

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