Forging metal means a lot of time standing over the fire, holding the metal – with tongs, obviously – in just the right place to get the proper amount of heat, and withdrawing it at just the right moment. Too much heat and it sparks and disintegrates, too little and no amount of hammering can budge it. Movie blacksmiths look like bodybuilders slamming white-hot metal with sledgehammers; the reality involves a lot more frantic and often delicate tapping, as the smith has only a few seconds to make the right changes before it cools again.
Most of us grew up with pickled cucumbers, and possibly with beets or onions – but in other eras or parts of the world, humans pickled a much greater variety of foods, including mushrooms, meats, and fruits. Some cookbooks from the 1800s carried recipes for pickling apples, and old radio programs from the Depression promoted it as a cheap and delicious way to get vitamins all year.
If you were a teenager in the 1990s, you remember the flying cars and giant holograms of Back to the Future II, set in the impossibly distant 2015. If you were a kid in the 1960s, you probably remember the talking robots and interstellar travel of Lost in Space, set in the faraway 1990s. John Michael Greer's new novel 'Star's Reach' depicts a different, back-to-basics future world.
Cultures around the world wove boats: Tibetans floated in Ku-Drus of woven wood and yak skin, Eskimos lashed sealskin around their long umiaks, Arabs traversed the Tigris and Euphrates in quffahs, and the Celts of the British Isles — Irish, Scots and Welsh — had an amazing variety of coracles for fresh waters and curraghs for the sea.
Unlike many wild foods that take a long search, dandelions are found in almost every wood and meadow. And while many wild plants require special training to identify and discriminate from similar-looking poisonous plants, dandelions can be readily identified by every schoolchild.
Houses take a lifetime to pay off these days, and even a prosaic shed, barn or coop requires a heavy investment of money, time, skilled labour and imported materials. For thousands of years, though, people around the world used an ancient technique to build homes and other structures quickly, using nothing but local material and simple, easily learned skills.
Many traditional crafts require substantial training, infrastructure, and investment of money and time. Basketry, however, requires only a few days of training to learn basic techniques, and can use materials that be harvested naturally from almost every biome on Earth. It can be practiced around a modern working schedule, and can beautiful, durable and sustainable tools and furnishings, including animal traps, armor, beehives, boats, cages, chairs, chicken coops, coffins, fences, hand tools, hats, huts, sheds, stables, wagons, walls, and weirs.
Espalier allows a gardener to grow a dwarf fruit tree along a wall or fence, binding it for support, and sculpting the branches to follow certain lines, as Japanese artists do with bonsai trees.
It is possible to grow fresh crops through the dark months even without a greenhouse, and even where we live, a thousand miles from the Arctic Circle, where the winter sun brings only brief and meager light.
People have found many techniques for preserving vitamins in winter, which still work today. One of the most basic involves fooling plants, as it were, into thinking they are not dead yet.
A growing number of homeowners are realizing how useful chickens can be in the backyard: They offer pest control, fertilizer, comedy relief, and their business end doles out concentrated protein like a Pez dispenser. Unfortunately, novice chicken-owners can encounter problems when they expect more than chickens can deliver, either in food, companionship or general co-operation.