Country Lore: Compiling an Emergency Planning Notebook

Learn to make a homestead emergency book, an easy fish pond, a compost box of used palettes and more tips from readers.

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by Adobe Stock/Feel Good Studio

You can plan for a trip to ensure everything goes smoothly, but what about when the unexpected suddenly pulls you off your property: mandatory evacuation orders, natural disaster, or hospitalization? You might find a farm-sitter on short notice, but how will you give them all the information they need during a stressful situation?

I recommend you compile an emergency planning notebook.

Consider how you could assist someone who steps into your muck boots, and assemble this information into a binder containing all the pertinent information needed to get the job done.

Begin with your name, phone number, email, and your farm’s address. GPS coordinates might be helpful too. This information should be kept at the beginning of the book, along with how you can be reached, where you’ll be, and for how long.

Then, add the following information to your notebook. Update the information as phone numbers and contacts change. Place each page into a clear plastic sheet protector to make the pages water-resistant.

Emergency contacts. List your neighbors by name, phone number, email, and address with directions; tell them about your book and where it can be found. Include veterinarian names and contact numbers; utility company phone numbers for reporting outages; and contact information for local law enforcement, the fire department, and emergency medical services.

Livestock health and safety. List all livestock and where they’re housed; a map of your property will be handy for this. Record specific information so if one of your goats is ill, the person holding the notebook will know which one. Add notes on who’s friendly, wary, and so on.

Also add notes on where you keep livestock equipment, medications, and first aid. You can even add directions and dosages for certain medications to be administered in your absence. Another important addition to your notebook is what should happen to the carcass when an animal dies.

Daily routine. Outline your daily and weekly chores. Describe how you go about doing the tasks yourself. For example, how do you call up the animals? What do you feed, and how much? Where is the feed stored? Do grazing areas need to be changed?

Tools and supplies. Note where you keep the keys to the tractor, house, and gate padlocks. If you have a stock trailer and an evacuation is called, state whether the farm-sitter can load and transport animals for you. If the farm-sitter will be using the tractor, where’s the fuel? If you have a generator in case of power outages, record whether there’s a main safety throw switch to tie the generator into the farm circuit, and how the generator is started. Also note if the power needs to be on, and, if so, for how many hours a day.

Where do you keep temporary fencing, and tools and supplies for simple fence repair?

Compiling an emergency notebook for your homestead is a great idea. Your own family members might not know what to do in certain situations while farm-sitting for you. And if you’re pulled off your farm with little to no warning, providing them an emergency notebook will mean you’ve left your property in good hands.

Mary Jane Phifer
Mansfield, Missouri

Tailor-Made Teas

Homemade herbal teas and hot-water infusions will take you far beyond the conventional store-bought tea bags. Whether you’re trying to fall into a deep slumber, get an energy kick, or tame an upset stomach, tea has your back! Here are some easy combinations for herbal teas that I enjoy, and that you, too, can whip up in your home.

Fall brew. Brew together apple slices, ginger, cinnamon sticks, and honey for added sweetness.

Flu fighter. For an immunity-boosting tea, I brew lemon, ginger, a garlic clove, a dash of cayenne pepper, and honey.

Sweet dreams. My favorite bedtime brew is made from linden flower, mint, cinnamon bark, and honey.

Herbal remedy. One of my favorite teas is made from mint, rosemary, and lemongrass. But if you have a garden, you can simply use whichever herbs you have on hand. Bring them to a boil in a large pot and let them steep for at least an hour. Herbal teas can be on the bitter side, but will be jampacked with healing properties.

Fruit peel. Use the peels from fruits to create a delicious citrus infusion. Clean the peels well, place them in boiling water, steep, and strain before serving.

Gut-healing vegetable broth. Collect vegetable scraps left over from cooking, toss them into a pot with enough water, and bring to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat. Set it aside for a few hours, and then strain. This produces a freshly brewed vegetable broth.

Tea is extremely versatile, so create your own blends according to your taste buds or mood. These blends will also help increase your daily water intake. Put your batches in the fridge, and enjoy a refreshing beverage anytime throughout the day.

Taylor Goggin
Miami, Florida

Free Fishpond

I found a used hot tub free of charge on Craigslist. I plugged the tub’s holes and buried it in the ground. That hot tub is now a great fishpond in my yard.

Craig Grodman
New Hampton, New York

Clay-Pot Masala

My first exposure to clay-pot cookery was when my mother bought me a tagine, a traditional earthenware pot from Morocco. With that pot, I was able to create some amazing chicken dishes.

I found that cooking with clay creates a juicy and tender meat that’s hard to recreate with other cooking techniques. Clay cooking is easy, and every time I’ve cooked with clay, the meal turns out to be amazing. It also reminds me of how women have cooked since ancient times using this sacred art of earthenware cooking.

I own two types of clay cooking pots: One is a tagine, and the other is a French clay pot. While cooking with these pots, I feel as if I’m honoring my African and French roots. Below is my go-to recipe for chicken baked in a clay pot.

• 2 to 4 chicken leg quarters
• 5 small potatoes, cut into quarters
• 1⁄2 onion, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons masala spice blend
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 3 ounces water (about 1⁄3 cup)

Add the chicken, potatoes, onion, and garlic to a clay cooking pot or tagine. Add the seasonings and water. Roast in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes.

April Jones
Columbia, South Carolina

Things to Know About Moving to the Country

Does the COVID-19 pandemic have you thinking about a move to the country? Along with the space and fresh air you’ll find in rural areas, I suggest you give some thought to these points before heading out:

It’s quiet, and that’s good. But some people freak out without the steady thrum of the city.

The countryside is full of destructive critters that will eat your vegetables, climb your fruit trees, chew holes in your irrigation pipes, and excavate extensive condo complexes under your land. While poison is effective and easy, it can cause a secondary kill when a hawk, owl, or pet catches a treated pest. Poison can also contaminate surface water.

You’ll be responsible for utilities you may take for granted now, such as water, septic, gas, electricity, and internet.

The country doesn’t have many corner markets. The closest grocery store may be miles away. Plan ahead and carry a cooler in your car to keep things safe.

You’ll be swapping freeways for two lanes, so watch out for private roads.

Seek out longtime country folks who will know a lot about the problems you’ll encounter.

Your need for tools and equipment will expand to fill whatever garage or barn you have on your property.

The country has restaurants, some as good as what you’ll find in the city, but there just aren’t as many.

You’ll fall asleep to the call of coyotes and the screech of owls. On a moonless night, the sky will explode with constellations, satellites, and shooting stars.

Linda Reed
San Miguel, California

Worms Aplenty

My family and I go on fishing trips throughout the summer. Occasionally, we run out of daylight before the worms are gone, so we decided to try worm farming with the remaining critters. Our area’s temperatures often rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit during summer, so we needed a cool location to grow our worms. We found that old coolers suited our needs perfectly.

We filled the used coolers with moist, partially mulched leaves that we sifted from the woods. Next, we mixed in a handful of cornmeal for food, along with coffee grounds saved from our morning pot of coffee.

We decided the best place for our treasure box filled with wriggling creatures, was under the house where it’s cool and dark — exactly what the worms needed to thrive.

Now, we always have a good supply of fishing worms.

Danielle Justus
Yellville, Arkansas

Zero-Waste Kitchen

“Closed-loop cooking” is gaining more traction in culinary spheres, and it’s essentially another way to say “zero-waste cooking.” Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew how to use every part of an animal, and now the desire to eliminate waste has resurfaced in the American kitchen.

Using more and buying less have obvious economic advantages, but there are less tangible benefits as well. Thriftiness deepens our connection with our food and with the world around us. I practice closed-loop cooking by being aware: stopping before I throw out stale bread or carrot tops, for example, and then thinking of all the ways I can use them for new purposes. Here are a few practices I’ve found useful:

Create a stock bag. Save all your carrot stubs, mushroom stems, onion peels, and other vegetable trimmings in a large container in the freezer. If you’re a meat eater, throw in poultry carcasses, fish heads, and beef bones. Avoid starchy, sulfurous, or bland vegetables — consider the flavors of the ingredients you’re saving for stock.

When the container is full, dump the contents into a large pot and add enough cold water to cover, plus salt and herbs to season. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat, and then simmer for at least an hour. The longer it cooks, the stronger the flavor will be. Let cool, strain, and then store in the freezer for when you’re ready to make soup.

Use peels and rinds for flavor. Throw lemon, lime, and orange peels into anything from pasta to cocktails, or infuse various drinks and syrups for a zing of flavor. You can also use hard cheese rinds, such as Parmesan or pecorino, to flavor tomato sauces, soup broths, olive oil, and risotto.

Replant. You can replant heads and roots of leafy greens, such as celery and lettuce; roots of bulb vegetables, such as onions and fennel; carrot tops; and scraps of ginger roots. You can even plant apple and citrus seeds and avocado pits, although the second harvest may be a long way off for these.

Clean the part you want to replant, place it in a pot or jar with water or potting soil, or find a spot in your garden. Soon, you’ll have a whole new food plant.

Quick pickles. Pack sliced scraps of cucumbers, onions, beets, and other vegetables into a wide-mouth jar. Simmer equal parts vinegar and water, mix in salt and sugar to taste, and fill the jars. Allow to cool before refrigerating.

There are also plenty of quick refrigerator versions of jam, which is a great way to use summer fruits and berries. Keep in mind that refrigerator jams have short shelf lives, so you’ll need to eat them up quickly.

Multipurpose ingredients. Find ways to repurpose leftovers, such as stale bread for bread pudding, leftover coffee for marinade, and roasted squash seeds for a healthy snack. Corn cobs can be dried and cut to use as wood chips for grilling; banana peels can be used to treat bug bites; and citrus peels are a great addition to homemade household cleaners and potpourri.

Compost. Layer produce scraps and eggshells with dry material, such as twigs, leaves, and newspaper, in a large container outdoors, and stir every week or so until fully decomposed.

Amanda Nicklaus
Minneapolis, Minnesota

New to Composting

Like many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I decided to start a garden. We wanted to grow everything organically, and therefore decided to construct a composting bin. Most DIY instructions call for stationary wooden slats attached to four corner posts to make up three sides of the bin, with a fourth side of removable wooden slats to allow for turning the composting material.

wooden compost box made of pallets sitting on grass

Rather than building the bin from scratch, I decided to use wooden pallets that can be obtained free from local lumberyards or manufacturing sites. I removed the bottom boards from the pallets and attached wire mesh to the inside of the top slats.

Then, I attached the side pallets to the back pallet using galvanized nails. With a square, I ensured the sides were perpendicular to the back, and I nailed a bottom board to the side pallets to lock the various pallets together and prevent the sides from spreading apart. The four corners were set up on bricks to raise the wood off the ground.

Using scrap wood, I made and attached to the front of each side L-shaped wood grooves that the removable wood slats can slide into. On the bottom of each removable slat, I attached nails that provided space between each slat for air circulation, and also easy removal when we needed to turn the compost.

You could create a two-bin arrangement by simply adding two additional pallets to one side.

Ronald A. Olansen
Via email

Bottle This Idea

Anyone who has started plants from seed or transplanted a row of a specific cultivar knows the frustration of markers disappearing, or the writing fading away.

plastic bottle covering seed marker in a freshly planted garden

I have a way to preserve plant markers, while also reducing landfill use. Simply remove the bottom from a plastic water bottle with a knife or scissors, making the cut about 1 inch from the base. Then, push the bottle into the soil, thereby protecting your marker from the elements and making your markers easier to spot. You can also use the bottom piece as a container for seeds while you sow them.

Now you can use those popsicle sticks as markers!

Mike Haney
Whitesville, Kentucky

Clean as Snow

Check out our photo for a way to clean your throw rugs with nothing but snow and elbow grease.

Jason Maloney and Cindy Dillenschneider
Washburn, Wisconsin

woman holding red rug on snow with dog standing on it playing with blue ball

Skillet Skills

Try cooking with a miniature cast-iron skillet. While regular cast-iron skillets typically measure 10, 12, 17, or 20 inches, a mini-skillet is just 3 to 6 inches. They’re a great way to save money and avoid food waste by preparing less food.

a cast iron pan with a cake baked in it on a gray countertop

I’ve found that smaller cast-iron skillets work well for camping trips or as affordable party favors. The heat distributes evenly, and, depending on the brand, the skillet may even be dishwasher-safe. Brownies, pies, cookies, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and more await, and these tiny pieces of kitchenware serve nicely for table presentation and conversation starters. Various stores and websites sell preseasoned miniature cast-iron skillets in packages of four, six, or more.

Nanaz Khosrowshahi
Avon, Connecticut

No-Spill Chicken Feeder

We had a regular chicken feeder that would spill when our birds pecked, and then they’d scratch the feeder, causing more food to spill. My mom found instructions online for a DIY chicken feeder made of 3-inch PVC pipe.

four chickens eating feed out of pvc pipes in a pen with hay bedding

To make it, we cut the pipe 2 feet long, placed one end into a 90-degree elbow, and then connected a 45-degree elbow to the other end of the 90-degree elbow. We added a cap to the top of the pipe to seal it off, and fastened the feeder to the chicken wire on the coop wall with large zip ties. When night falls, we put a clean-out plug on the end of the 45-degree elbow.

We fill the PVC feeder with food, and gravity pulls it to the bottom where the chickens eat. It’s awesome — no more mess (well, a little food still spills).

Pierce Burgardt
Wichita, Kansas

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