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How to prepare for emergencies and winter, because with winter approaching many people, including members of my private Facebook group for the Pioneering Today Academy, have asked recently what they should be doing to get prepared. This discussion also came up during my recent week long yearly family (extended family included) vacation.
Our conversation was on how you get prepared, what things should you on hand for winter or storms to avoid facing empty shelves at the grocery store. Last year we had many snow storms and it wasn’t unusual for people to go into panic mode and completely clearing out the grocery store shelves within hours.
I’ll share my tips and list of things that you can do to make sure you are prepared for the winter season. Honestly though, these tips aren’t just for winter. Winter is typically when most people or areas of the country experience more power outages because of snow and usually greater wind and rain storms. Of course, if you live where there are hurricanes then you you experience that not just in winter time but more during the fall months.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #196 How to Prepare for Winter and Emergencies, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
One thing I want to address first is that when people talk about being prepared, a lot of times, not always, but a lot of times there’s some fear around it. In my public Homestead and Old-Fashioned Pioneer Living Facebook group (to join be sure to answer the questions) people were talking about not necessarily being prepared for winter but how to prepare for a recession or depression that may or may not come to the United States, which is a whole other discussion. But what it boils down to is having certain things in place and in store on your homestead so that when something comes up you are prepared.
The greatest distinction I see between what I consider a homesteader or someone who is more of a prepper survivalist, although there is definitely some crossover, is that homesteading is just a natural way of living, becoming self-sufficient, and working towards that goal over time. You’re not really preparing or being fearful, or getting ready for some big catastrophe – that’s not your focus.
Now, that’s not to say that all people who consider themselves a prepper or a survivalist have that mindset, but I tend to see it a bit more with people who identify as a prepper. At least, that has been my experience that it comes from more of a fear based mindset. You guys, life is too short to live in fear. We don’t know what’s coming; none of us can see the future. We can all make our own predictions and assessments, but we really don’t know what’s coming. I, for one, don’t want to live my life where I am always thinking that some great thing is going to happen that’s going to be horribly wrong or that’s going to be a really bad thing for a lot of people. I don’t want to live my life with that kind of fear hanging over as a shadow.
I would rather implement things in my regular everyday life that’s going to serve us no matter what happens. And if something bad happens, then we are prepared. Hopefully that bad thing doesn’t happen and we still get to reap the benefits of living this lifestyle regardless. Below are a list of the things we be sure to have on hand or do to prepare not only for winter, but to be prepared in general for any type of power outage or emergency.
Our Emergency and Winter Resources:
This is generator we upgraded to this past summer to power our entire house and well –> 9,500 Running Watts Dual Fuel Electric Start Portable Generator
Led battery lanterns –> Super Bright Lumen Portable Outdoor Emergency Lamp Lights
Headlamps –> LED Headlamp Flashlight
Old-fashioned Oil Lamp –> Lamplight Chamber Oil Lamp
Oil for Lantern –> Lamplight Ultra-Pure Lamp Oil
We have a generator so that when the power goes out, we can run our freezers. Even though I do a ton of canning, fermenting, dehydrating, and use root cellar techniques (even though we don’t have a root cellar, basement, or even a garage) we still use freezers and a refrigerator. I have two freezers: a chest freezer that’s in our pump house and an upright that’s in the laundry room of our home. The chest freezer is where we keep all our beef and pork that we raise. You don’t have to raise your own; you can purchase a whole or half hog and a whole, half, or even a quarter cow. Whatever you get you’ll need a big area to keep it in.
In addition to the beef and pork we also keep our fish that we harvest ourselves. We take our little 17 foot 20 plus hear old ski boat out to the bay and catch enough crab to take us through a whole year. You can technically can crab, salmon, beef & pork but we prefer to freeze them, although I do can some of it. We can quite a bit of the salmon though after smoking it.
We find that the chest freezer can hold more than an upright freezer. My husband cut up some different plywood pieces to make dividers so that we can keep everything really well organized and practice good rotation. In the upright freezer we keep all our whole chickens that we’ve raised and butchered. I also put any frozen berries in the upright freezer. I can a good majority of our fruit but I do keep some in the freezer, especially during the summer months. I then can those up during the fall and winter months.
I don’t usually grow a bunch of shell peas so occasionally I’ll buy some frozen peas that I also put in the upright freezer. Anything else I purchase from the store that needs frozen also goes in there. That’s where I also put bread when I bake up a whole bunch. I do the same thing with my biscuit dough so when I need it in a hurry, I’ve got it.
But this means that when the power goes out for more than 24 hours, I need a way to keep them running. And unfortunately for me, that happens quite often when there are wind, snow or big rain storms because we’re last resort for restoration since we’re so far out from town. Last Christmas we were without power for 5 days but the longest we’ve been without was just shy of two weeks when there was a big mud slide making it too unstable for them to be able to work on the power lines. We also couldn’t use the main highway either.
So we’ve learned that you definitely need to have a generator if you don’t want to lose everything that is in the deep freezers. If you’re without power for up to 24 hours, as long as you don’t open them, they will usually hold the food for that long without it thawing and being ruined. We personally will power up the generator if the power has been out longer than 12 hours and rotate plugging them in just to make sure that they stay completely frozen. When it’s wintertime and it’s really cold out, we don’t worry about the chest freezer that is in the unheated pump house.
But the upright freezer in the house we will rotate with the fridge. I’m very excited to say that we finally got a generator that is going to be big enough to power our pump, which means we’ll also have running water when we don’t have power. I’m so excited about it! I’ll still have a backup supply of water because a generator still requires fuel and if we run out of fuel we no longer have our pump working.
You definitely want to have fuel to run your generator. Obviously you can get by without a generator, but if you’re in an area that experiences power outages on a frequent basis, having a generator is really, really nice especially so that you don’t lose any food that is in your freezers and refrigerator. We don’t usually use the generator for lights. Sometimes we’ll use it to get coffee really fast. We have a wood stove and as long as it’s cold enough, I can keep it going in the house and use that to cook and boil water and stuff. But in the summertime we still lose power and obviously I’m not going to build a fire in the middle of summer. And I can’t always build a fire outside depending upon if we’re on a burn ban or not.
We have different ways that we can heat water: we have sun oven provided the sun is out, we can use charcoal, things like that. But having a generator comes in very handy as a backup so obviously having fuel on hand is crucial.
I’ve briefly touched on this previously but having a way to cook is something to think about too. A camp stove, whether it’s a bigger one on tall legs or a tabletop one, requires some form of propane. The bigger camp stove requires the larger propane tank while the tabletop one takes the small cylindrical ones. Figure out which would work best for your storage space and particular needs.
Need more help with cooking without electricity –> 11 Ways to Cook Off-Grid Without Power
Making sure that you have water is a really big deal. Some people on city hookup will still have running water without power. If it doesn’t, then you have some options to ensure you have backup water. If you’re a canner, you can can water and have it sitting on the shelf in jars. Obviously you can buy bottled water. Another option is to collect rain water. If you do this, be sure to have water sanitation set up so that you know that the water is good and safe for drinking. I keep extra gallons of water on the floor of the pantry.
With winter fast approaching we definitely need to think about how to stay warm. For us, since we heat primarily with our wood stove, that means we’re looking at our wood, looking for any trees that have fallen down on our property and dried out and are seasoned. You definitely don’t want to burn green firewood.
We always make sure that we have fully dried and seasoned wood, chopped and stacked in the woodshed. So some type of heat source that can keep you warm if you don’t have electricity is really key. For more tips on how to stay warm without power read 10 Ways to Keep Warm Without Electricity.
Of course, you need to have food on hand, especially if it’s a prolonged period of time. This is probably the area that I have the least amount of work to do to prep because it’s always something that I’m doing. One of the main things that we practice here on our homestead has been growing and raising, and then preserving food enough to take us through a full year. As I’ve mentioned, we raise all of our meats, so we’re very self-sufficient in that regards. I estimate that we grow 55 to 60% of our own fruits and vegetables on our homestead. We eat fresh this time of year (currently late summer) but I’m definitely preserving and putting up for the off months.
That still leaves stuff that we can’t grow ourselves that we have to purchase from the store or order online, depending on what it is. So I basically have a back-up grocery store in my home. In our house we had a coat/cleaning closet that we turned into a backup pantry. That’s where we store the overflow of all my canned goods, things that we’re canning ourselves, and things that we buy from the store in bulk.
We live a manufactured home so I don’t have a lot of extra space. I’m not in an old farmhouse that has a pantry or root cellar built into it. So we got creative and created some different storage and pantry areas in the house you can see that in our Homestead Pantry Tour 2019.
Items that I buy in bulk are salt, wheat berries, sweeteners, baking necessities, and spices that I’m unable to grow in my growing zone. Salt is purchased in 10 pound buckets. I buy wheat berries because I grind my own flour. You might not have wheat berries but you might want to have extra flour on hand, whether it’s regular flour or gluten-free. Sweeteners like honey, sugar, maple syrup are all things that I’m not producing on my homestead and must be purchased.
Items that I use in baking such as baking power, baking soda and some yeast. I do sourdough so I don’t have to have yeast but I do have some for quick breads and different things like that where I’m not using my sourdough. Any type of spices that I can’t grow here like cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon. I have backups for all of them.
Definitely have to have cocoa powder and chocolate chips. They are a must along with my primary oils: coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil. With raising our cattle and pigs we have tallow and lard on hand too. Another must is butter.
How I keep my backup pantry stocked is that as I run out in my main storage, like my canisters of flour and sugar in the cupboard, large mason jar of cocoa powder, etc., I refill that from my backup stock. When the backup stock starts to get empty, I put it on the list to replace. Typically when I get to about half or quarter left in my backup pantry then I repurchase so that I don’t ever run out, even in my back stock. This helps keep stock perpetually rotated.
With living really far out I’ve learned by necessity to keep a backup of pretty much everything so that I could cook as I wanted. There were too many times when I was a newlywed that I would realize I didn’t have an ingredient or enough of an item that I needed to make a meal. And with living so far out, the nearest big grocery store is about an hour drive. There’s a small one 12 miles away but it’s very limited. So I learned to keep extra of everything. And then when we started looking to be more self-sufficient, we upped the amounts that we were keeping on hand.
Other items that we can’t (or don’t) grow ourselves and buy in bulk are rice, cornmeal, and popcorn. We grow our own beans but if that’s something that you don’t have the space to do, you may want to consider having dry beans on hand as well.
That all might feel a bit overwhelming and you may be feeling like you don’t have enough money to get stocked up. I totally get that. My advice, and this is how we started, is when you’re purchasing an item to buy just one extra. That way you’re not doing everything at once. So, if you’re going to buy coconut oil could you buy two of them instead of one.
Another way is to look at and prioritize the things you use the most in your everyday cooking and then start to build a backup of those. Start with one item specifically and once that’s stocked up, move onto the next. So maybe start with a staple like flour.
I talk about staples like flour because we can use flour to make so many different things with it. You can make bread, use it as a thickener, pie crust, cookies, biscuits, and tortillas. Once you have a good supply of flour, then maybe you’ll focus on sweeteners, like sugar. And then salt, and so on.
Of course, I highly recommend growing and preserving as much of your own food as possible to avoid having to buy from the store. It just becomes a natural cycle and your doing it throughout the year. Even if you’re not growing right now you can still do quite a bit of canning, depending on where you live. There’s still produce available at farmer’s markets and u-pick farms.
When I can vegetables and meat I usually use the raw pack method of pressure canning. Items that are waterbath canned such as jam, jelly, syrup, pickled vegetables, and salsa take a quite a bit of prep work and are more time consuming. But still worth it.
For those of you who are nervous about pressure canning or who want to make sure that you’re staying safe, I have a complete video series on pressure canning. I highly recommend you watch it, especially if you’ve ever been nervous to operate a pressure canner or about botulism (which is legit!). We do need to be concerned about safety, but we don’t need to be scared. Once you know how to operate a pressure canner properly and the science of avoiding botulism, then you can do so with utmost confidence. You can become a pro, and I want to be the person that helps you do that. Simply click here to access all of my free pressure canning resources.
With canning you have all this homemade from scratch food ready to go within just minutes.
If you’re on any type of medication you can’t just stop taking it. You really don’t want to; it’ll do things to your body. Of course, our goal is to improve our health as much as possible to not take medications but that can be a hard thing to do. For example, I’m on Armour Thyroid, a natural form of thyroid hormone, because my thyroid doesn’t function properly. Even though it’s natural, it’s still a prescription medication. Depending on your insurance company, most will let you fill your prescription about five to seven days before it’s due. They do keep track so don’t take this tip as a way to abuse this and have a huge stockpile. Because I make sure to get mine refilled about seven days before it’s due, I have a buffer of at least a couple weeks worth of my medication so that if something does happen, then I’m covered for a couple weeks.
Of course you want to rotate, right? Don’t just stick it in the back of the cupboard and have it there for years on end. Make sure that you’re rotating it out. That’s just as important as it is with food storage.
Now, if you have pets and/or livestock you need to make sure that you have them covered as well. Having plenty of food on had for your animals, especially as we move into the winter months, is essential. I’ll talk more about this in a future episode but as a general statement, your livestock needs more food because they’re burning more calories in order to keep warm. Food and water is something that you need to make sure you have on hand as well.
This is especially important if you can’t get to the store or if it’s not on the store shelves for whatever reason. During the summer months, late spring and early fall I don’t have to feed hay to my cattle because they’re on pasture, however we do need to make sure to have enough hay for them in the winter. For my chickens I’m able to supplement their feed with produce from my garden, but during the winter months I don’t have anything growing in the garden so I’m not able to supplement them. So I need to make sure to have enough feed that I purchase in bulk from a local grainery. Local is relative to where you live; my local grainery is about an hour and 10 minutes away which is another reason for me to buy in bulk. A good tip is to call ahead to make sure they have what you need in stock before you get on the road.
If you’ve ever been without power for an extended period of time, let me tell ya, candles ain’t gonna cut it. At least not at our house. They don’t provide a lot of light. Even though my kids are getting older (daughter is 10 and son is 14) I’m still not really comfortable with having them have candles in their room or walking with candles. It’s a potential fire issue.
One of the things that we use are headlamps. They fit on your head with elastic with the light on your forehead. A hands free flashlight. Those things work fabulously. Because they work so great, each member of the family has one. The kids have one in their rooms, my husband and I have a couple; we use them in the wintertime when we’re out feeding and dealing with livestock, bringing in extra firewood, etc. They are just so handy to have because they provide excellent light right above your eyes and are hands free.
We also have battery powered lanterns. Which brings up another point: both the battery powered lanterns and headlamps require batteries. So make sure you have backup batteries.
We do use some candles, like in the living room where there aren’t people walking through. But really, in order to have enough light to actually see, to read so that you’re not straining your eyes, or to play games, or to do anything once the sun goes down, we use old-fashioned oil lamps. I have oil lamps as part of my decor that I keep oil in that lamp so that it’s ready to go at any time. I also make sure to have enough wick. I also keep a backup jug of lamp oil in the pantry. Same with our food stock backup, once it reaches quart to half empty I restock it. And by keeping the oil lamps that are out as part of my decor full, it acts as a buffer in case I forgot to purchase more lamp oil. I try my hardest to not run though though because even when we get warning about an upcoming storm, I’m not always able to get out to restock…if there’s even any left on the shelf.
I hope you found these tips helpful. I can’t wait to be back with more. I’m producing extra content right now to make sure you have everything you need for success in this busy season. If you want to keep up with all the resources and information I share, be sure to subscribe to the Pioneering Today podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find me on YouTube, and of course here for regular written content! Talk to you soon.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.