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Food storage, food storage, food storage. It can begin to sound like a broken record. But it is one of the single best things you can do to protect your family no matter what comes down the proverbial pipe. But if you live in a hot and humid climate, such as the Gulf Coast regions and southeastern United States, you have special challenges to deal with.
The Good News
In some respects, the challenges you will face are nothing compared to the benefits. Unlike the northern United States, you will be able to grow fresh food most of the year without much trouble. Once you find that perfect schedule of what to plant and when, you could get a steady stream of goodies with several harvest times. If you really want to be creative, you can even implement winter gardening to ensure that you have harvest times throughout the whole year.
To maximize this benefit, keep your food as fresh as possible for as long as possible. You can do this, even in the heat, by creating a “cooler” made from two basic terra cotta pots, one larger than the other. Put the smaller pot in the larger one, fill the gap with sand, and saturate the sand with water. Then cover it with a cloth. To add additional insulation from the heat, bury the pot up to its rim. The evaporation of moisture from the wet sand will cool the air around the food and help keep it fresh.
Only use this type of cooler for fresh fruits and veggies though, as grain, beans, and long-term food storage is damaged by moisture, as we will discuss next.
The Bad News
Now for the downside of your chosen domicile. There are four enemies of food storage: light, heat, oxygen, and moisture. The southeastern parts of the United States have lots of all four. So your job, as a food storage aficionado, is to reduce these things as much as possible, wherever possible.
The easiest one to deal with is light. Since you will also have to contend with heat and moisture, do yourself a favor and eliminate the light issue all together. Make sure your food stores are not out in the open, but instead neatly packed away in your root cellar, basement, or pantry cupboards. If none of these options are available, at a minimum, avoid putting your food near a lamp or window, and throw a blanket over it.
You can eliminate two threats in one by dehydrating your food, and then vacuum sealing it. The dehydration obviously takes care of most of the moisture, and the vacuum sucks all the air out of it. Invest in a good food grade system to process your food this way. Saving a little to buy a cheap vacuum sealer will hurt you in the long run if the quality is poor, since your food will be more likely to spoil and you would have lost your investment in the food.
This works best for fruits and vegetables. You can vacuum seal beans, rice, and just about any other food too, though there may be better solutions for those types of foods. The downside of this method is that food does lose some of its nutritional value from dehydration, so you will not want to use this method exclusively.
Traditional canning in mason jars is probably one of the best known food preservation techniques, and one that has been used successfully for a very long time. Pressure canners allow you to can a wider variety of food than traditional water bath canning, since it seals the food at a higher temperature. Of course, this has the same problem as dehydration, since some of the vitamins are destroyed through the process.
There is another option for canning goods that does not have this problem, though it takes a little more forethought and planning. This method works especially well for grains and beans which you don’t want to cook ahead of time, and can preserve food for up to 30 years. You may want to use glass jars that you have saved from foods you eat every day. You can also visit your local restaurant to see if they have leftover food-grade plastic buckets, or purchase large food-grade barrels. Once you have your containers, you will also need O2 absorbers, and ideally, Mylar bags.
Put the food in the jar, bucket, or barrel, add O2 absorbers, and seal airtight. This is one reason Mylar bags are helpful as you can use them to line the container, and then seal completely shut with a clam shell heat sealer. In a pinch, an iron (without steam) or flat iron like you use on your hair will work too for sealing the Mylar.
Mylar bags, O2 absorbers , and a good food grade bucket or glass jar, you will eliminate the light, moisture, and oxygen all in one. Then you only have to contend with heat.
The most obvious way to get rid of heat is to freeze your food stores. You will not need to remove the air, though it may still be helpful to vacuum seal food in order to prevent freezer burn. Light and moisture are non-issues as well.
Despite all its benefits, freezing foods has several major drawbacks. First and foremost, freezers are not the cheapest form of square feet. Freezers are expensive to buy, and could break and need to be replaced. You also run the risk of the freezer accidentally being unplugged or turned off and the food spoiling. Finally, freezers require electricity, so a back-up power source would be needed, and you would not want to rely solely on anything electric for your food stores, even if you do have an off-grid power source. There are just too many things that could go wrong.
Of all the elements that damage food, heat tends to be the least of the evils. So as long as you are able to minimize oxygen, moisture, and light affecting your food storage, even in higher heat, you should be able to successfully store food for 3-5 years at least.
That being said, there are lots of things that you can do to keep your food cool even in a hot climate.
• Find the coolest room in your house – a shaded northeast corner is probably the first place you should look if you do not have a basement or root cellar.
• Ensure good air circulation and put in fans to cool the air of the space.
• Keep any lights off in the area unless they are absolutely needed.
• Use air conditioning in your home
• Install a geothermal system to optimize both your heating and your cooling
No matter where you live, it is important to store food, and to store it in a way that you won’t lose your investment through mold, rot, botulism, or oxidation. Even if you start small with one glass jar and a few oxygen absorbers, or by purchasing a few extra canned goods, start somewhere so you will be that much closer to being ready no matter what the future holds!
©2011 Off the Grid News