At long last I feel able to start a page attempting to address what all the other pages have merely been hinting at, ie how to survive when what is laughingly called our civilisation goes bottom up. No, I have not gone totally mad, nor am I an extremist, just being realistic.
Actually we’ve been thinking about this for a very long time (since the first pesticides scare in the late 1980s). Planning. Acquiring the necessary skills and capital. Searching for the right place. We got it right at El Pocito, now we have to start again in Shetland.
If you are hoping to be survivor when the collapse occurs it pays to start now. There’s a lot to learn, but hopefully you’ll find that a lot easier than we did. What follows is a checklist, covering all the stuff that doesn’t fit on the other pages. It’s by no means exhaustive or authoritative, but I will be trying to contact others who are further on down this path to add their experiences, so keep checking-in for updates.
What is actually going to happen, when society collapses? And when? To be honest I have no idea. There are so many possibilities, with more being added all the time. 21 years ago it was a lot easier. Nature was going to take her bat home, and using a combination of melting icecaps and unusually strong tides, flood most of the world’s major cities overnight. Destroying in one stroke the core of what makes us behave in such an unsustainable way, capitalism. This scenario is my favourite, but the nuclear accident at Fukushima, where still 400 tons a day of highly radioactive material is being dumped at sea, and will probably continue for the next 40 years, is the one which will cause the most long-term damage. Radioactivity isn’t quick or selective. It mixes with water, making that radioactive, spreading its deadly load throughout all the oceans of the world. Remaining lethal for a minimum of 500 years. Plenty of time to contaminate the entire food chain (don’t eat any more seafood or seaweed), all the beaches (up to 1 km inland), and everywhere else via rainfall.
Or we could just wipe ourselves out. The current exponential rise in population (from a sustainable one million to 7 billion, doubling every few years), plus the insatiable appetite we now have for spending money, will render whole continents unable to afford even the basics possibly in the next 5-10 years.
Though my money is on methane. Underneath the Arctic is a vast reserve of the deadly gas, which once realised into the air will heat the atmosphere instantly, causing all life on the planet to cease. Current forecast for this happening is this December
Take your pick. What is certain is life from now on is never going to be as good or the same again.
Preparing for this has been painful. No-one wants to think that very soon everything we enjoy and depend on is suddenly not going to exist anymore, not even chocolate or coffee (I’ve checked, neither can grow in Europe). Look around your home right now, there’s nothing there you’ll be able to buy again. This is how de-skilled we have become. To survive will therefore depend on two things: being able to do everything for ourselves, and staying healthy in a very hostile environment. It sounds an impossible task, but hopefully by appropriate preparation, you will. Let’s get started:
First off, location is everything. Ronald Wright’s A SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE describes this a lot better than me, but very simply, when the shit hits the fan life as we know it is going to turn very nasty indeed, particularly for anyone crazy enough to be living in or near any kind of urban area. Suddenly deprived of food/ water/ electricity/ fuel/ and any means of communication, means the chances of surviving by staying put are almost zero. Out in the countryside (as remote as possible) the odds get a lot better. Already out there the people are to some extent self-sufficient. They have well-developed systems for helping each other, all the natural resources exist in abundance, and they know how to live off-the-grid. The only problem will be looting from outsiders and the natural tendency for a local bully wanting to become a self-styled leaders (read William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES).
Read also Emily St John Mandel‘s STATION ELEVEN. It may also be fiction but you won’t find a better description of a post-apocalypse world.
Whether you survive therefore, depends (apart from being in the right place at the right time) on preparedness. Not only at being fully-equipped, but having put in the requisite amount of time and effort at learning the necessary skills, and coming to terms with will be an entirely new way of life. In addition to the other pages on this site here are some further thoughts I’ve had, based on our experience.
Starting, in no particular order, with:
Eventually (as with all these topics) you’re going to have to accept that what you like now and how you get it/ storage/ and the method of cooking, is all going to have to change. Stockpiling (more on this in a moment) may postpone this for as long as a year, but it will run out sooner or later (even chocolate and coffee). Far easier, and cheaper, as well as a lot healthier, would be to start switching diet now. To one that was fresh and raw. Or you could, if only I knew what that meant. For despite everyone and his dog seemingly into raw food and frutarianism right now, I’ve not found a single book/ group/ forum/ or anything else which actually tells you how to eat healthily without buying. The only suggestion I can offer is to do what we’ve been working on, planting as many fruit and nut trees as possible (surplus harvest can always be dried/ stored), and then when that’s done as many edible shrubs/ perennials/ and self-seeding annuals under that canopy (see my downloadable list of edible plants on the garden page). With one word of caution, it’s going to take a lot of preparation, hard work, and time to reach maturity. The minimum amount of land you’ll need (to feed two people all-year-round) could be as much as 10 hectares (depending on location). It also needs to be fenced securely from predators. Landscaped to make the best use of rainfall. Ponds dug. Plus all the plants should ideally be raised from (local) seed, which requires nursing them until their roots reach down to the water-table, several years possibly.
If this sounds far too much of an undertaking/ investment (for something that may never happen), and perhaps a conventional allotment would a lot simpler, albeit on a larger scale, think again. It just doesn’t work, not all-year-round, the level of fertility would drop dramatically after the first year, without massive inputs of compost. You could add animals to provide that, but they will also need food. Even using humanure makes little difference. Conventional vegetables also require planting fresh each year, watering, and even with a fence will be at the mercy of predators. No, far better to stick with the long haul. It’s hard work for sure, but ultimately you are creating something that will not only provide the solution to all your food/ fuel/ medicine/ and building materials needs, but is natural, self-sustaining (so less work each year), and on a scale big enough to keep everyone happy.
Milling. As well as growing the more well-known types of food plants, we are also interested in less known ones which can be used to replace staples like flour. Sweet chestnuts and acorns for example. Both are very easy to grow, crop profusely, and store well. If you’ve tried this already (or know of any other plants with similar values), have any idea where we can get a hand-operated mill (or 12 volt) please get in touch so we can add the information.
Cooking. This shouldn’t be necessary with a raw food diet, but as you have the wood stove running at least six months a year, why not take advantage. Sadly solar ovens (for the summer) don’t seem to work in this part of the world. But if you stockpiled enough propane/ butane and were frugal, that could last you a very long time (a 13.5 kg bottle at least an entire summer).
Bulk buying (stockpiling). This may not have much point for the future but doing it right now is a very smart move. Switching to purchasing a whole year’s worth of food in one order will allow you to buy at wholesale prices (a lot cheaper), and they also deliver. You will need the space to store all this stuff, and make sure it is always cool/ dry/ and free of bugs. Check sell-by-dates too, before ordering. Do not be put off, baking enough bread for two people can easily get through a 25 kg bag of flour in three months.
Honey has a very long shelf-life indeed, years. A far healthier sweetener to sugar, contains essential nutrients, and is good for first aid too. Though getting your own bee hives (four for two people) would be a far better long-term investment.
Flor de sal is a special kind of sea salt (though check first for Caesium 137 contamination). Essential for good health and preserving meat/ killing off bacteria. A 25 kg bag will last two people several years.
What do you do when there are no longer any hospitals/ doctors/ opticians/ or dentists? This is something we’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve been lucky, not needed a GP for 45 years, and only minor dental work. We had thought we could teach ourselves, using books on the various alternative medicines, but there’s a reason why medical education takes so long, you need to understand the basics, especially how to diagnose.
The best we can hope for is to work at staying healthy and doing the basics. For example, whenever feeling ill or unwell, stop eating (apart from fruit) for a while, drink plenty of water, and rest. This gives the body a chance to cure itself. Then, if this doesn’t work, move to the next stage, fasting with urine therapy (see the health page).
Homeopathy has a similar potential for some ailments, but really needs a practitioner, plus an endless supply of all the many different remedies, so is restricted to minor ailments (though the remedies do stay potent for many years) – bites/ stings/ pain-killing/ even to prevent appendicitis.
Growing herbs of course is a well-known cure-all (we are trying to plant as many as possible here), though this requires the same skill of being able to diagnose correctly. You also need a lot, far more than will be harvested from an average garden. Though for use as a first aid though it’s perfect, comfrey/ marigold/ and st johns wort being unequalled for most bites/ cuts/ stings. Grow them where they can be in leaf all-year-round.
Eyes. If you wear prescription lenses, get at least two spare pairs. In case of injury to the eyes, or infection, apply honey neat and regularly. Stings like hell but really does work.
Radiation. Stock Siberian ginseng, this will help the immune system fight any damage.
Teeth. Toothpaste is a waste of money. Doesn’t do anything positive and probably causes many problems. Brush with flor de sal instead (half a teaspoon diluted in a shot glass of water), gargling with the water afterwards, then swallowing. Toothbrush. I was hoping to find an alternative, but no luck so far. They don’t last long so stock up.
Traumeel. This is a german homeopathic cream that is really good for all first-aid emergencies, until you start making your own. Long shelf-life too.
Everyone should own and learn how to use a rifle (.242 is the recommended bore), along with a scope & silencer, plus enough ammunition to last several years. Start stockpiling the latter now. Not only to hunt for food but keep predators at bay. Anyone who can offer specific information on models etc. please get in touch.
Utilities. Chances are there never will be a mains supply of electric/ gas/ or water again. The alternatives therefore are:
Electricity. You can generate your own using natural sources of energy (solar/ wind/ water). A good small system properly looked after could last 10-25 years. Lithium batteries do not require any maintenance, lead acid will need a supply of distilled water to keep them topped up.
Gas. Butane & propane, used sparingly, can last a long time, though the rubber piping needs to be regularly replaced every five years, and the valves don’t seem to last any longer either. Stockpile both.
Water. Without water you will die within ten days. You therefore need a totally reliable source, plus sufficient storage. A spring is the best option, though it needs to be proved potable. Otherwise drill a borehole to at least twice the depth of the water-table. Pumping can be done with solar panels and a submersible pump. Electric pumps though have parts with a finite life (as little as 2000 hours), so you’ll need plenty of spares, and solar panels can easily be destroyed by wind/ fire/ lightning/ or theft. Another option is a high-lift hand pump, as used in third world countries. Virtually indestructible, and so heavy no-one is going to walk away with it, but limited by the small amount it can draw at a time – one person could just about manage to pump 25 litres before collapsing. Also needs some parts renewing, but much cheaper and easier. Click here for a download of a manufacturer in the UK. Or, you could just do it the old-fashioned way, using a pulley/ rope/ and a bucket (or stainless steel bailer for small bore wells).
Keeping warm. This is essential, as is designing your home so it is well insulated, along with buying the most efficient wood stove. However cutting enough wood to last a winter is very labour intensive. At El Pocito we got through a minimum of 12 m3 a year. Cut during the winter and allow at least six months for the wood to dry out, otherwise the oils will tar up the chimney and eventually catch fire. All wood Hardwoods (like oak) burn the slowest, but the heat they give out is relatively cool, making it difficult to raise the room temperature quickly. It is also the hardest to cut, almost impossible with a handsaw beyond 10 cm in diameter. But the ends of branches, those with leaves, make perfect firelighters if left to dry in a pile for two years or until they snap easily. Softwoods (like olive, arbutus unedo, and pine) are our favourite fuel. Easier to cut, burns hot (but quickly so you’ll need far more). Shrubs, like cistus, when they’ve dried and become brittle, make excellent firelighters or to raise the room temperature quickly. Store all cut wood somewhere dry but with plenty of ventilation. Sweep the chimney each year.
Tools. You’ll need sufficient hand tools to work with wood/ metal/ building/ and glass. Also the means and know-how to sharpen and repair them. Plus replacement wooden shafts, linseed oil (buy at least 50 litres if you have exterior woodwork to keep in good repair), drill bits. A portable work-bench. A ladder with sufficient height to reach above the roof of the house.
Materials for repairs. Cement (stored in air-tight container) and sand/ roof tiles/ glass/ glue/ woodworm treatment/ paint/ metal (you can recycle aluminium cans/ timber/ nuts, bolts, screws and washers/ rivets/ box of thick latex gloves.
Replacements – Crockery/ plastic buckets/ sheets/ matches.
Soap. The bar type used for washing clothes. Lasts well and is incredibly good at getting really stained clothes and hands clean again.
Paper. Stock up with A4 and notebooks, as well as pens + ink.
Books. Both for reference and pleasure.
Music. CDs and musical instruments.
Short wave radio with SSB capability to pick up ham broadcasts. Either wind-up, or a solar charging system to top up the batteries. To find out more on SW and the range of radios/ transmitters, download this article for newcomers, from the brilliantly down-to-earth site on the subject, swling.com.
Lighting. We spent 13 years reliant on just candles (supplemented by two wind-up torches). They were cheap enough when bought in bulk, took up little storage space, and if used sparingly (one at a time) lasted a long time. We also made sconces for them, fitted with mirrors, which directed and intensified the light. The torches though were not such a good experience. Despite buying what we thought were the best at the time (Trevor Bayliss – FREEPLAY) they never gave out sufficient light and eventually fell to bits. Replaced by a GOAL ZERO LIGHTHOUSE 250, which is rechargable (by winding & USB), and for the last ten years have been very good.
Clothes & shoes. If the emergency/ apocalypse means lots of people die, replacing these will not be an issue, looting will provide what you need. But no harm in stocking up socks/ underwear/ & work boots. A manual sewing machine (or powered by alternative energy) is essential, plus bolts of fabric. As well as a good supply of wool & cotton to knit with.
Sewage/ grey water. This is covered on the how a simple house works page. But always remember, NEVER dispose of anything on your land that isn’t safe enough to drink, or eventually it will come back to contaminate you.
Washing-up liquid. I haven’t found a natural replacement for this yet, so make sure what you stock up on is totally bio-degradable. We have found that most brands can be diluted by up to 1:10, which means a litre can last more than a year. Make up 500 ml of the solution at a time, in a 1 litre bottle, and when using always shake first until it becomes foam.
Apart from making sure you have enough seed/ trays/ seives/ large buckets/ and tools, including the stuff to sharpen them with, the biggest consumable oddly enough is gardening gloves. I’ve tried them all and nothing lasts longer than a week (rock moving/ handling gorse). I now wear two pairs at once to try and extend it. Buy a box wholesale, you can never have enough.
Pulley & rope. Invaluable for hauling heavy stuff around.
Bicycle. A good quality mountain bike is essential. Buy enough tools and replacement bits to keep it going. A trailer is also a really good idea. Click here to see our favourite.
In an emergency, if you have no access to drinking water, avoid dehydration simply by drinking ALL your own urine. This is not hazardous, in fact it will help if you have been injured or infected.