Sunday, June 20, 2021

Billhooks and food security planning


I have two major weeds in my orchard/vineyard: Nettles and Virginia Creeper.

Nettles are a fast growing, perennial that spreads by the roots and by seeds. It grows tall and it stings.

Virginia Creeper is not related to the Delaware Creeper. It is a vine that produces fruit much loved by wildlife.

Both weeds grow quickly because they don't have to invest many resources in structural support. The nettles are "turgid" meaning they support themselves (at least partially) by internal water pressure. Virginia creeper, being a vine "borrows" support from trees, posts, nettles and other tall weeds.

Freed from the energy-sink of needing to support themselves they spread like wildfire.

Bucket included for scale

So far, no tool other than herbicides comes close to the two-handed billhook for controlling the nettles. The billhook stands head-and-shoulders above every other mechanical means.

It can be used many different ways; from broad melee swings cutting down broad swaths of nettles to holding the blade vertically to insert it between a grape vine and a clump of nettles, rotating 90 degrees so the hook is facing the nettles and pulling it out rapidly.

The long handle means I don't get brushed by the falling stems.

One thing I really like about this model is the extremely stout connection between the handle and the blade. I went on the internet to get pictures of billhooks because I am lazy and did not want to walk out to the barn for a photo-shoot but none of the images I found had this kind of handle-blade union.

Pantry and garden experiment

Mrs ERJ gave me permission to blog about our experiment.

As it happens, we had two different pictures of how this experiment would unfold.

Mrs ERJ's thought was that we run it as a surprise start, come-as-we-are experiment. Her thinking is that sooner is better and we will learn more if we don't give ourselves too many favors.

I heard it primarily as "eat what we grow with an assist from the pantry". Several years back I did a "survive on emergency rations" experiment and I only lasted two days before constipation kicked in. The low-fiber food in the buckets locked me right up.

Search for the Pink X

Popular culture being what it is, we no longer talk about "smoking guns" in industry but use terms like "Find the Red X" where the Red X is the parameter that dominates the performance of a process...generally for the worse.

You cannot fix the process until you find and control the Red X.

There will be times, especially when the process has been drunk-and-disorderly for an extended period of time, when other junky inputs snuck in. Many times those junky inputs are hairbrained ideas that predecessors thought would "fix" the process. We are talking wing-of-bat, eye-of-newt stuff here.

The likelihood of the process being in control with all of MacBeth's extras is remote. The wob and eon don't dominate the output but they are additional noise that can still produce unacceptable levels of unpredictability.

In industrial new-speak, those are called the Pink-X and sometimes the Pale Pink-X. Their contributions are virtually invisible until you nullify the Red-X but they are there, waiting to bite you in the nethermost.

The temptation is to look past the Red-X and look for the Pink-X because everybody knows about the Red X and it is boring. But there is little point in looking for the Pink-X if you are going to run headlong into the Red X.

The Red X

Me when I don't get enough calories


There is little value in chasing after the Pink-X in food security until after you have the Red-X nailed down.

I looked through our pantry and freezer and saw tons of food for making soup. What I didn't see much flour. There is a reason for that; flour has a shelf-life that measures in double-digit months and flower likes it drier than our pantry.

Rice is OK but I really want rolls or bread with my soup.

So our Design of Experiment has been modified. Instead of a come-as-you are experiment we are going to buy 20 pounds of bread flour.

Bonus chart (applies to adults and not growing children)

The official ERJ fat budget. It is based on height so it does not matter if you are a rake-handle-thin 18-year-old or a sixty-year-old with love-handles. Using weight as the basis for your calculations results in the thin (active) 18-year-old getting far fewer calories than the sedentary sixty-year-old and that is the opposite of what is needed.

Your first comment might be "That is a lot of vegetable oil."

And you would be right. A gallon of vegetable oil would last a typical man six weeks and a typical woman seven weeks.

The thing is that we are already eating more fats/oils than called for in the chart. In many cases much more.

The fats/oils are hidden in processed foods. McDonald's french fries (typically thought of as a carb) have 43% of their calories from fats. A fried chicken thigh (protein)  has 65% of its calories coming from fat. Frozen taquitos and pizza-rolls run between 45% and 50%.

The vast majority of what will come out of your garden or store in your pantry will low-to-very low in fats. In time you would be able to adapt but in the short-term you will be incapacitated by a sudden shift to a diet where only 10% of your calories come from fats and oils.

Second bonus

This brand of vegetable oil had a shelf-life that was twice as long as the runner-up

Plant breeders have been selecting for strains of sunflowers, canola and other oil-crops that have a high percentage of oleic acid (which takes an eternity to go rancid) and lower percentages of the components that do go rancid

My guess is that Crisco is using the latest canola releases and may have packaging that inhibits oxygen infiltration. These 48 oz bottles even slam-dunked the gallon jugs for shelf-life. Gallon jugs usually fare well because they have a lower surface-area-to-volume ratio and that slows the relative oxygen loading.

So if the SHTF, skip the flat-screen TVs and high-end cologne and load your shopping cart with bread flour, tubs of lard and jugs of vegetable oil.


  1. IF you vaccum pack four with a proerly sized oxygen absorber, it lasts nearly forever.
    Pack it in paper bags first so you don't contaminate the heat seal surface with flour.
    I have flour that is still good (I opened some last year) after 10 years.
    Similarly, I have found that sealed bottles of oil are good years past their "Best By" date

  2. I bought a scuffle hoe from Rogue Hoe year before last. Best weeding tool in my experience and I have tried just about all of them.

  3. I've been storing my oil and peanut butter in steel 50 cal ammo cans. I can fit six 18 oz jars of peanut butter or three 48 oz bottles of oil to a can. The oil bottles don't leave much air space so I just seal those, with the peanut butter I include a Hot Hands hand warmer to absorb oxygen. The hand warmer goes in an old tomato paste can so it doesn't contact the peanut butter jars. Harbor Freight has good prices on the 50 cal cans, especially if you use a discount.

  4. I've got one and couldn't live without it tho' I never knew what it was called. Have one with a heavy head for thicker brush but a little tough on hands and wrists at my age.

    1. I measured the thickness of the blade and it is 0.100" or 2.5mm or 12 gauge sheet stock.

    2. I've heard that same tool referred to as a Kaiser or Ditchblade. Whatever the name is, it is an effective tool when the growth is more branch than grass. The stiffer the trunk, the easier it cuts.

      We who live in the dense thorny understory really do appreciate it. Machetes are good until the thorns are right up against the knuckles.


  5. I have bought flour from the LDS store in #10 cans. I don't bake bread, but it makes great biscuits and pizza crusts and should last a long time.

  6. Yep, flour is the shortfall in 'storage' preps. Rice and beans, but I'm like you, I LIKE my biscuits.

  7. Canned Ghee has an exceptional shelf life for a fat. I store my flour as whole wheat berries, 5 gal. buckets with O2 absorbents,and make flour as needed with a hand/electric mill. After opening a bucket I vacuum seal the berries in large mason jars, maintaining a still healthy shelf life. Plus, you won't believe how milling enough flour to make bread tones those arms!

  8. I’m with Ralph, wheat in 5 gallon buckets lasts a few years grind it as needed. We cycle through it as we use it so we typically have 2 or 3 buckets on hand.

  9. You can harvest the nettles with gloves early and cook them for spring greens, won’t get rid of them but might give you some greens before you can grow them. My stowage is below freezing for at least five months a year and I have never had a problem with flour stored in the bag in plastic chests, rotating stock. I usually have six three liter Costco jugs of olive oil in storage bringing them in the house one at a time and never had a problem. No I can’t say how long things are there we just rotate and replace when we make a city run which is 200 plus miles away. We have always taken in account that Alaska is at the end of the supply line and the only ones further out are bush villages only accessible by barge once a year or by plane!

  10. I have a treadle setup from an antique sewing machine to run a grain mill. Much easier than cranking. It also serves to power a corn sheller I have. Bonus- the corn sheller also de-shells walnuts.

  11. You on the road system, Howard? Kenai, or Interior? I'm in the Interior, about 100 miles from the big city.

  12. Saturated fats are better for you than veggie oils, and keep better. All fats keep better if you keep them frozen.

  13. Manufacturers really just randomly assign "Best by" dates. My mom just showed up at my place and started throwing stuff out because the date had expired on stuff that really doesn't go bad, like dry pasta. Oils tend to oxidize. If you keep them in a cool dark place, they'll last far longer than their "best by" date.

    1. I would like to fine-tune the "randomly assign" comment.

      Manufactures have no incentive to test their products beyond what retailers demand. For example, medicines are rarely tested past three years because it is very expensive to test them and there is no demand from the manufacture's customers (the major drugstore chains and wholesalers) to push it past three years. Their thinking is that the meds will move through the distribution network for six months, sit on the shelf for a year and be labeled for patient usage for a year after being dispensed.

      Same deal for foods. There is negative economic pressures to certify "Best By" for a greater duration than demanded by Walmart.

      On the other hand, prudent storage can vastly extend the in-home shelf-life. Most products are diminished by heat, humidity, insects and light. Keep it cool. Keep it dry. Keep the mice and bugs out/controlled. Keep it in the dark.

      Do those things and the boots-on-the-ground Best By is much, much longer than the one printed on the label.

      All that said, given a choice between two products that can be substituted for each other, choosing the one with the Best By date that is farthest in the future gives you more to work with.

  14. My wife and I split a can of Campbell's peas soup last week with a 2013 best by date. Tasted like it always does, can was not bulging or leaking, product smelled normal when opened. We had no ill effects. YMMV.