Tactical Homesteading: Your space and its use

This article is part of a series discussing if Homesteading is right for you, and the advantages and disadvantages of more rural living.

In the last post there were several considerations about the location of your homestead. Commuting and telecommuting, distances you can tolerate, a more isolated lifestyle, infrastructure needs, and risks and resources. In this segment, let’s consider what we can do with our property and how we can put the land to work for us.

Available resources

The first thing to assess is the resources already available on the land. What foliage exists, and what types of flora might be beneficial to invest in. When I purchased my property, the original owner had planted many apple trees. The advantage is I have abundant apples, but years of neglect have destroyed many of these trees and bringing them back to health has been a chore.

Additionally, we’ve found very large sugar maples, and made maple syrup for the first time. There are abundant blackberries. We found a large patch where morel mushrooms grow in abundance.

We have countless deer, rabbits, and cranes visit our yard regularly.

The natural woodland one would expect is a bit missing on my property; the previous owner having cleared much of it away for an orchard. I heat with firewood, and there is limited standing timber to harvest.

I have wetland on my property, and a small lake only 50 yards off my property line. A cordial neighbor agreed to water access and fishing rights.

Our first full jar of maple syrup! Tag added for fun!

Accessing the resources

Once the resources are identified, it makes sense to ease your ability to get to them. Whether making a path through the overgrowth, turning a section of overtaken orchard back into ‘yard’, or even installing a dock, getting at needed resources is very important.

When I was clearing some overgrowth with my tractor, I noticed a gap between the trees. The grass was easily 5′ tall in this area. I put my front end loader near the ground. This not only beat down the grass and prevented my tractor’s radiator from becoming loaded with debris, but it acted as a handy probe in case of rocks or stumps. The rear of my tractor was equipped with a rotary cutter, able to mow down all manner of foliage and even saplings up to 3″ thick.

As I followed the new trail, I realized it must have once been the access road for the orchard. It circumnavigated the entire orchard area, and finally doubled back to the central area I had built my house.

This trail now provides important access to the wetland, the maple trees we tap for syrup, and out to the corners of my property.

Start grooming the land

Similarly to utilizing the resources already at hand, start grooming the land for expanding its capabilities to meet your needs. For me, that was putting in a gun range. It was also clearing back much of the overgrown grapevine and Asian Bittersweet that has invaded the property.

Depending on how much land you have and the amount of work you want to do, you may leave some land overgrown and natural. It’s fine.

Importantly, LEARN TO GARDEN AND BUILD A GARDEN. This is the one thing I wish I had gotten to earlier. It doesn’t take much to install one, and garden maintenance can be one a few hours a week. The self sufficiency gained is very important as you get real, tangible results after only your first season.

Look over your garden and revel in the self sufficiency it will one day provide. No HOA Member telling you the tomatoes are ‘unsightly’, or the sunflowers are bringing too many bees to the area…

A 16′ x 4′ raised bed garden

Assess your needs

Now that you have something started, grow into it. Trying to feed a family of 4 with just what you grow, and hoping to accomplish that right away, carries a high chance of failure. Weeding the garden is hard at first. What is food and what is unwanted. How hard is it to tell? Why does my back hurt? You definitely have the energy for a smaller garden, and can work your way up as you gain experience.

Within a couple season, you’ll have a great idea of what your family likes and dislikes, what you might be able to sell, and what grows best in your area. Use that knowledge and focus on it; just don’t focus to the exclusion of other things. You family has dietary needs, both nutrients and caloric intake.

After a couple years is the time to truly start to assess those needs and expand for them.

Building infrastructure

Whatever you add, you will likely need equipment to upkeep it and make it thrive. IBC totes allow you to store water for the long haul. This is great for gardening.

If you are making syrup, a network of tubing and a way to route it might need to be thought up. Trees might need pruning while you know what branches are healthy in the summer.

I built a small shed for my gun range. No more lugging targets, pylons, staple guns, and other equipment every time I go out there.

Find the experts who KNOW each topic. Trade them your knowledge or pay them.

This is a marathon!

Remember, you will not achieve self reliance and sustainability overnight. It will take a couple of years just to feel like you’ve gotten started. A few more to feel like you’re thriving. Along the way, you are getting better. More knowledgeable. Wiser. You’ve worked, and know what works. Things go from a “That’s impossible!” to “Gimme 5 minutes” pretty quickly.

Everyday clothing and the martial artist

Originally published on 20JAN2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Martial artists tend to look at their clothing a bit differently than others. The practice in the dojo with a dedicated uniform (called a dogi), is a traditional rationale that ensures neatness, safety, and uniform training, such as lapel grab techniques. It also help ensure student safety in the case of jewelry or other accessories that may cause cuts, strangles, or other injury. Once off the mats, many martial artists look for qualities in their clothes that are similar to a dogi.

Allowing for a full range of motion is important, especially with kicking arts. Martial artists look for looser fitting clothing, pants with gusseted crotches, and durable but lightweight  fabric to withstand the rigors of a fight. When clothes become too restrictive, it can impede the ability to use a technique or throw a useful kick. One’s clothing should not be on the side of an assailant.

For footwear, light athletic style shoes are preferred, which will help protect the feet but still allow for the speed necessary to launch kicks or perform footwork. Of course, traction plays an important part of this. When dress shoes must be worn, it is beneficial to look for something that can serve as well as an athletic shoe. More and more men’s dress shoes are adopting athletic type soles and treads. Women, though, have a hard time finding shoes that offer function as well as fashion.

Many martial artists have a few items they choose to carry as well, and having extra pockets, or easily accessible compartments helps a lot.  Of course, having multiple pockets is a great way to ensure having multiple defense mechanisms, so if one finds themselves in some type of pin or hold, there is always something accessible. Carrying stuff in a bag, backpack, satchel, or purse is asking for trouble, as these items can be readily removed, or forgotten. It’s best to have one’s protection items on-body carried.

For men, cargo pants come in a variety of styles now, from very baggy and casual to an almost Docker-esque business casual style. Add in a regular polo shirt, and decent casual shoes, and the martial artist dressed as such can be ready for an altercation without fear he will be limited or restricted by clothing choices.

Women have it a bit harder, but dressier slacks and finding a decent flat style shoe is possible.

So, when clothes shopping, keep your requirements in mind. Ensure all the tools you train with are available to you, and consider what, if any, limitations the clothing considered will bring.

A Michigan family’s ‘threat matrix’

Originally published on 18FEB2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

In preparing contingencies for emergencies or other events, it is essential to start by assessing exactly what one is preparing for. These events, which are simply called “threats,” are really a way to categorize and determine the probability of their occurrence. In evaluating the threats the typical urban/suburban family faces in Michigan, we look to the local weather, infrastructure, and socioeconomic histories. The “matrix” part of the phrase comes when the contingencies and preparations for each of these threats is addressed and evaluated. Some of these contingencies will be addressed in later articles.

For local severe weather events, Michigan has a history of strong thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash floods, and snow storms. Luckily, these occurrences are generally well predicted and some advanced warning is usually available. So while severe, some preparations can be made ahead of time. Michigan does not see hurricanes, tidal waves, or widespread drought.

Infrastructure threats, such as power failures, are commonplace in Michigan. Detroit residents face poor medical and police response times from overworked public service providers.  Having many industrial areas, Michigan has faced forced evacuations in the past due to chemical leaks. Rural Michiganders have faced forest fire evacuations. All families face house or apartment building fires. Michigan does not typically face water shortages or sewage issues, nor are there any wild animal or insect plagues that can leave areas decimated without warning.

Socioeconomic threats consist of unexpected layoffs, being fired, or facing involuntary pay or hour reductions. These are threats, in that it affects a family’s financial capability to maintain itself and grow. Other threats in this category are violent crimes acted upon family members, home break-ins and robberies, or areas of civil unrest (think Detroit circa 1969).  These can be at home or wherever a person visits, such as the workplace, school, or en route to places.

Locally, Michiganders face national threats as well. The Cold War brought a long and sustained threat of thermonuclear warfare. Acts of terrorism normally assumed to happen only in the Middle East have happened in the USA and may continue to. A poor economy has contributed to a decline in the US Dollar’s value, which can cause alarming price increases and could lead to hyperinflation. Some scientists believe that Global Warming will have unforeseen effects on our climate. The Peak Oil theorizers believe that oil will become so scarce that it will cost more energy to obtain it than the oil itself.

The purpose of this article is not to tell the reader what to think, or what to prioritize, but rather to understand the threats that each Michigan family may face, and begin to determine what preparations each family can make to reduce the risk of harm from these threats. As stated above, this side of the “threat matrix” is just the threats. When contingencies are created, it will be realized that being prepared for one of these threats can actually carry over into being prepared for many.

Lessons from the under-prepared

Originally published on 16FEB2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

The power goes out in Livonia. It’s 7 p.m. in February, and it’s already dark. The television our example family was huddled around has dimmed. After a few moments, their eyes adjust to the new light level, and a flashlight is found at the bottom of the junk drawer. With a quick twist of the bevel the little two AA battery lights up to provide a meager amount of light. As the room is scanned, the little light goes out leaving the family in the dark once more. The batteries in that thing were three years old, never replaced since the thing was bought at the Do-It-Yourself store on sale. After much fumbling, raiding a kid’s toy for some batteries while wishing fresh batteries were in hand, and using the dim light of a cell phone screen for illumination, the little light is operational once more.

“Daddy, it’s getting cold in here. I’m scared.”

The furnace ignition runs on electricity, as do the blowers. With the 22° F temperature outside, with lows dropping into the teens, the house’s insulation will not hold in the warmth for long. After this half-hour ordeal, it’s time to consider the power won’t be back on tonight. It’s time to get to a hotel.

“Honey, I’ll get the kids packed, you make reservations”, the wife says.

The husband agrees, and goes to the computer to look up the nearest hotel and the number. Of course, the computer is not working, and the cable modem is down. Where’s the phone book? Do we even have a phone book? Never mind that, just getting to the hotel should be enough, they have rooms.

After everyone is packed for the night’s stay at the hotel, the house has dropped 10 more degrees. Loading everyone into the car, the garage doors are opened… wait… there is no power. They aren’t opening. Getting out, pulling the emergency handle and lifting manually, the car is finally clear to be taken out. Lowering the garage door, the manual pull cord doesn’t seem to snap back in place.  Back inside the garage to shut it. The handle is finally pushed back in place so it locks into the automatic opener’s track.

Walking through the house to the front door, the husband exits and goes to lock the door. The keys are in the car. After getting the keys, locking the door, getting in the car, and going, it’s been over an hour, and probably longer, before the family is on the road.

Add in rounding up multiple kids, worrying about pets, and other concerns, this time could easily extend into two or three hours, only to arrive at a hotel that is full, or doesn’t allow the family cat.

This example has played out countless times in the southeastern Michigan as well as any metropolitan area. There are so many “oops” moments in the example above, yet they are continuously repeated time and time again.

In the example above, simply routinely changing batteries in the emergency flashlight could have saved 20 minutes or more. Having multiple flashlights stashed in various rooms will cut down on the “zombie walk” through the house while searching.

Having wood for the fireplace (if the home is equipped) or a decent fixture for gas fueled fireplaces can take the edge of a winter night without power. Knowing how it works is essential. Without a supplemental heat source, having a set time to wait for the power to come back on before deciding “bug out” to a hotel is a good idea. Worst case, some money is spent on a room and the kids can enjoy the pool.

Having an actual phone book can be an indispensible resource. Additionally, use some post-it notes to mark off certain anticipated things, such as hotels, the pet’s veterinarian or kennel, the local urgent care, etc. Cell phone towers usually have back-up power, so make the necessary calls quickly before too much cellular traffic makes it difficult to get through.

Having pre-prepared bags with a couple changes of clothes, toiletries, small reserve supplies of medication required, a few comfort items, and a small book of other important information can eliminate the packing-up phase. Having a supply of cash in the bags can help buy needed items when the credit card readers aren’t working.

Knowing what devices in the house run on electricity and how to operate them without electricity can save time and headache. During a situation is not the ideal time to learn this, knowing and practicing ahead of time is. How hard are the garage doors to disengage and reengage from the automatic system? Does the house alarm have a battery back-up? How does the water get shut off and pipes drained so they don’t freeze? Which one is that handle? Is the sump pump going to work? Will there be flooding?

What hotels are in the area? Were they affected as well or do they have power? Do they take pets? Will they in an emergency such as this? What’s the best way to get there?

The fact is, there are actually very few “emergencies” in our lives, but lack of preparation or emergency equipment elevates these situations into far more uncomfortable or dangerous scenarios. Having even basic preparations for simple scenarios can save a lot of discomfort, injury potential, and worry.

The 72 hour kit

Originally published on 17FEB2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Emergency preparedness is not something that can be bought. Knowledge, training, and know-how are far more important to make a bad situation more bearable than merely having “stuff”. Adequate knowledge on what to do in a given situation can save a lot of time, which can save lives. Conversely, knowing how to fix a car and not having a wrench to do so is equally ill-minded. So, having the right tools in place can make a difference. The “72 hour bag” is one such item. At first, the concept of a 72 hour bag sounds like the stuff of survivalists and tin foil hat wearers. The people that load up an expedition sized backpack with enough junk to rebuild society have given an unfortunate stigma to the preparedness concept. The 72 hour bag detailed here will be far more tailored to family preparedness. Taking the basic requirements of food, clothing, and shelter as well as extended requirements such as hygiene/medication, protection, and documentation, some basic lists for the contents of the 72 hour kit can be determined.

Each person in the family should have a 72 hour kit.

First, look at food requirements. There should be enough food in the kit to provide 9 decent meals for its owner. This is a total of 9000 calories for an adult (factoring in extra calories in case of exertion). Of course, this is emergency food, so ideally something that supplies required nutrition and has a long shelf life is available.  One such suggestion is a high energy food bar, such as Millennium Bars, Power Bars, etc, that are designed to provide high calorie content and energy. These have the added benefit of being a peel-and-eat item rather than something that needs to be prepared. Similarly, drink mixes like single serving Gatorade can add calories as well as provide electrolytes if the situation calls for a lot of exertion. If there are any dietary restrictions, the food selections must be chosen to address these restrictions. If children are also being provided for, having a few treats can go a long way to making a bad situation more bearable.

For clothing, include some items that are versatile. Sturdy work gloves can be included, as well as a wool cap. Include a pair of pants and shorts, as well as a couple extra pairs of undergarments and socks. A fleece jacket should be added, as well as a couple short sleeve shirts. This allows for layering. Ensure seasonal gear like a scarf or mittens is included.  In a kid’s bag, ensure the clothing included is updated often enough so the clothes actually fit. Include swim suits in case the “bug out” is to a hotel with a pool.

Shelter options can depend greatly on how a person may bug out of any given situation and what their destination is. If prepping for a power failure and a hotel bug out is anticipated, then there are virtually no shelter requirements. If bugging out to a friend’s house, having a “car camping” type sleeping bag for everyone may be wise, or at least a decent blanket or two. If the bug out involves going to a cottage, cabin, or deer camp somewhere, it may be necessary to have a decent sleeping bag and tent.

Some hygiene and medication considerations should be considered. For women, feminine hygiene products should be included for 3-5 days. For regular toiletries, the usual soap, shaving cream, razor, toothpaste, etc should be included, as well as a wash cloth and towel. The complimentary hotel-size containers are ideal for this application. If medications are regularly taken, include a supply of them, possibly even longer than the 3 day requirement. Those little 1-week dispensers are a good idea for pills and vitamins. For things like insulin, consider a special battery powered cooler with a solar recharging kit. If an emergency is anticipated, move a portion of the medication supply to the small cooler.

Consider at least one protection item for the family. If the state allows it, consider obtaining a concealed pistol permit. Have at least a couple loaded magazines and a firearm available (in a safe), and transition it to a holster (not in the kit itself!) when a bug out occurs. Failing that, a knife, small baton, or other tool that can serve a defensive role should be considered. Emergencies bring out the finest qualities as well as the most despicable in mankind, and protecting one’s family is a priority.

For documentation, have a small binder with hardcopies of important documents as well as printed scans of others, such as insurance policies, birth certificates, house titles, social security and other identification, etc. These can be printed on waterproof paper or put in a protective sleeve (such as a zip-lock bag).  Also consider using a USB thumb drive with more documents as necessary. It is advisable to create a self-extracting encryption file from these with a password you will remember.

Borrowing from camping, also consider some of the “Essentials”. Map, compass, sunscreen, flashlight, first aid kit, matches, rope, and knife.  Have a spare set of car and house keys for all the vehicles and locks.

The last thing to consider is the bag itself. Depending on the full intent of the bag, it can vary from a reasonably large school-style bag to a mid-size backpacking bag. It should definitely be something that is easily carried, so a shoulder strap is a good minimum, if not a backpack style with a moderate waist belt. The quality of the bag should allow it to be durable to storage and usage elements. Decent commercial-grade bags are sufficient. Dollar store, free promotional items, or thin material and inadequate construction should be avoided. Some go so far as to get military specification gear, but this isn’t necessary. Of course, some military surplus gear, or easily obtained items in this genre should be considered. A good “overnight” backpacking bag is a very good size to go with.

In upcoming articles, this kit will be a basis for many emergency preparations. Doing some research on the 72 hour bag and what should go in it is a great way to start to understand the concept of preparedness and is a relatively easy way to at least ensure some tools are available in a bad situation.


Achieving family preparedness through camping and backpacking, part 2

Originally published on 12SEP2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Last week, we introduced the idea of using Michigan backpacking and camping as a fun recreation that has an ancillary effect of helping Michigan families prepare for emergency situations. Today, some traditional backpacking gear will be examined, and how it relates to a preparedness and survival situation. While gear isn’t necessarily as important as skills or experience, starting with gear may help those new to these outdoor recreations accumulate gear that can have multiple uses besides merely backpacking. First, shelter is a very important survival requirement. Insulating one’s self from the elements is necessary in many weather conditions. To do this, tents and sleeping bags are used.

For a tent, backpacking requirements force most people to consider an ultra-light three-season option. These tents are generally designed to withstand high winds, and the use of technologically advanced materials and engineering concepts make them both lightweight and rugged. If part of your emergency preparations may require you to hike out of an area on foot or in a makeshift “vehicle” (such as a flood), then a small, easily carried tent will be more manageable than a car-camping intent tent. Some more hardcore “survivalists” are concerned about EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) weapons used against the United States which may disrupt many forms of electronics. These individuals speculate such an attack would destroy the electricity generation infrastructure of an affected region, and may even destroy handheld or battery operated devices (such as a car’s engine controller or a cell phone). For individuals with this level of concern and preparedness, an ultra-light backpacking tent is ideal if their plans involve hiking, biking, or skiing to a “bug out location”.

For others, a car-camping intent tent is ideal. It is larger and more spacious, and will allow greater storage of family and stuff. For plans to stay with relatives where room may be at a premium, or plans to “bug out” to an evacuation area by motor vehicle, this option may be ideal. (As a note, if emergency preparedness plans for any family include “bugging out”, it is best to have routes, permissions, and area knowledge of the destination). For widespread evacuations, having a family sized tent may bring a greater sense of comfort and “home” at a relocation center.


Sleeping bags are a second item to help insulate people from the elements. Where the tent shields people from rain, sun and wind, a sleeping bag shields its occupant from the cold. There are many factors involved in choosing a sleeping bag, and since it is such an individual choice, there is no real one-size-fits-all solution. In general, sleeping bags are rated to a certain temperature. This is a general rating only, and some peoples’ comfort ranges are different. To achieve that rating, insulation is used. Insulation can be natural (goose down) or synthetic. In general, goose down is more compact and lighter for the insulation it provides, but is very susceptible to being wet. Once wet, it will not provide insulation. A synthetic insulation is slightly heavier, and typically does not compact as well as down, but these tend to maintain their insulative qualities.

For purchasing a a sleeping bag that can double-duty as a piece of preparedness gear, my recommendation is to get something in the 15 degree F range with synthetic insulation. Especially in Michigan, where rainfall and dampness is common, a synthetic bag will be a more versatile tool.

To store sleeping bags, do not leave them compressed in their storage bag, for easy retrieval in a go-bag or 72-hour bag. The continued compression can cause them to lose loft, and thus lose insulation rating. Store the bag in a breathable cotton bag that is big enough to store loosely. These are best kept in a very large tote or seal-able tub until they are needed.


Achieving family preparedness through camping and backpacking

Originally published on 07SEP2011 for Examiner.com

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in Examiner.com. As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Michigan has a rich and vibrant outdoor heritage. From sand dunes, beaches and watersports to downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating, our options for recreation are plentiful. One such activity can be enjoyed year round, and bring a host of ancillary skills useful to a Michigan family and every day life. That activity is camping, hiking, and backpacking.

This article is not about backpacking, though, it is about family preparedness. Preparedness is about having the tools, training, and experience to succeed in a difficult situation. Similarly, backpacking is about gear, skills, and knowledge to apply them all for a successful recreational outing. What is exciting is that by becoming a proficient backpacker, a person gains many of the necessary skills for “survival”, which is a part of emergency preparedness.

In upcoming articles we’ll look at some of the staple backpacking gear and discuss how this gear can serve double duty as family emergency preparedness items. Then, we’ll look at some of the various skill sets, such as exercise and fitness, orientation, fires tarting, etc, and discuss how these pertain to family emergency preparedness. Lastly, we’ll look at how fitness, an active lifestyle, and decision making can lead to the proper mindset necessary in an emergency situation.