“The power is out!” Few words have such impact or can spark a chain reaction of events that flares into a wildfire of worry. Blackouts these days seem to last longer and are more frequent, and rural areas are generally the last to have service restored.
Aging infrastructure, winter ice storms and violent summer deluges all can darken the homestead for days or even weeks. But with country ingenuity, resource management and sensible planning, the prepared can comfortably wait until the switch gets flipped back on.
Cell service gets sketchy during a power outage, but you’re never alone with an old-fashioned landline. Despite no internet connection, the faithful landline with that reassuring dial tone hum sure settles the nerves. Just don’t try to text! If you don’t have one, one of your neighbors probably does. That’s a party line no one will begrudge you sandbagging.
Speaking of communicating, here’s a couple Stone Age tools to fall back on when everything else is silent. Two-way multichannel communicators can keep you in touch for miles depending on terrain. The classic Citizen Band (CB) radios reach even farther and can be powered by a car battery.
Extended periods of silence work away at a person’s mind, making us moody or distressed. But a simple AM/FM radio playing can be reassuring. It means that somewhere the world is ticking along normally and soon yours will be, too. News updates and any music sure break the noiseless hold of silence in a candle-lit room.
Buy a battery-powered model, and get extras for the outbuildings, too.
Salvation in the Smoky Past
Keeping the table stocked with victuals is crucial when the power lines go dead. But our rural past is ready to help with today’s blackout problems. To prepare for an extended period of powerlessness, consider the underground pantry of yore, the reliable root cellar.
Be it traditional wood with earth covering or a mad scientist’s nightmare of a buried school bus, a well-constructed root cellar can guarantee a stretch without groceries won’t seem so scary. Modern root cellars are much more than just vegetable and fruit repositories, instead offering home canning, dry goods or bottled liquids a place to slumber comfortably underground.
Design a model much bigger than needed. A spacious root cellar could also be a haven for the folks down the lane with produce and nowhere to keep it in a long-term power outage.
Along with your underground grocery plans, consider a smoke house. A scant century ago, our grandparents put up a year’s worth of meat by salting and smoking. While a basic smoking device can be store-bought, it’s possible to design your own. This works well with root cellar storage, too.
Preserving meats by salting then smoking isn’t complex, but closely follow recommended health safety guideline. Getting some advice from experienced smokers helps as well.
During troubled times, a crackling wood fire satisfies spirit and stomach. Cold beans in a dark house can quickly wear anyone down. When under stress, we need hot chow!
Worse still, a cook forced to cope isn’t going to produce the fare they want, so no one is happy. Camp stoves or BBQs can help, but lack the familiarity cooks need. And outdoor campfires are fun but, after a week, can get difficult. Don’t even mention snow or rain.
The solution is the modern wood-fired range. Once considered quaint, the iron kitchen stove is roaring back into vogue.
Quality modern wood ranges are nothing like the wood eaters of old and can heat water in a separate tank while offering a warming oven and accurate heat gauges. Wood-fired iron ranges can also throw welcome warmth as supper happily bubbles.
Today’s iron ranges can be expensive, might require a designated area and certainly take some practice to get comfortable cooking on. But like any power-outage tool, they’ll be appreciated when needed!
What about Water?
Regardless of the duration of the power outage, man and beast are going to need regular watering. My homestead is graced with a clean spring 219 steps from the kitchen table, and I’ve bucketed it before.
But what if you’re not so lucky? How do you get sip of H2O? Again, we look to the past and the reliable hand pump.
Modern options are inexpensive, can fit beside your existing pipes and pull a strong 20 ounces per stroke. Do some prep work on your well depth and daily usage and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Shallow wells are easy fixes, but models capable of pulling up to 150 feet are manufactured.
Speaking of plumbing, what about the washroom issues? You’d be surprised at how many homesteads have an outhouse and some awesome privy designs are gracing rural landscapes. In a long-term blackout situation, the maligned outhouse is a blessing (at least until the wires come back to life).
Just remember before building to consider that distance in the dark is different.
Getting three squares is going to be rough on the cook once the electric range quits, so why not fall back on a glass from the past? I’m talking about the versatile home-canning jars that have been the salvation of kitchens for generations.
If you’re serious about preparing for a power outage, this food-storage option is a must. Large-scale home canning is very labor intensive, but when the lights go out, you’ll be smiling as you spoon out supper. Just about everything you can grow or pick can be canned.
Even meat under glass is excellent, providing easy-to-heat feeding of the crew.
Long storage-life foodstuffs such as cans or dry goods are a good option but will require an area that is cool and quiet and has enough space. Stack items off the floor a few inches and rotate regularly. Another option is the hiker or military meals now available. During any crisis, though, you will already be under pressure, and this might not be the time to have exotic fair.
Stick to a regular diet with plenty of hot liquids such as tea or soup, and your mood will be steadier.
Deep freezers are easy to fill with garden produce and convenient, but once the dreaded 72 hours of food safety passes, what then? Use freezer food storage with an eye on what might happen, and consider generator power to keep the ice cream cold.
Long-term power blackouts are unsettling and no time to be looking for lost batteries or a can opener. But with sensible preparations and a few tweaks to old ideas, loss of electrical power can be successfully weathered until you hear those sweet words: “The power’s back on!”.
Stock Up, Store & Rotate
Emergency supplies must be regularly rotated and replaced to insure they’re ready for service. I simply mark the calendar in spring and fall to do a check of all items. It’s a bit of work but the kind that pays. Any supplies close to best-before dates are replaced and used up.
Rotation is also needed for batteries and petroleum supplies. Generator gasoline should be stored in the appropriate, clean, sealed container with stabilizer added. After six months, swap out for fresh and use up the old fuel.
Diesel can keep for a year, and sealed camp-stove fuel longer still.
We’re all hooked on easy electrical power and soon get grumpy when it doesn’t work during a power outage. Gasoline generators are the go-to electricity provider. But before you purchase one, consider the following.
Carefully calculate your maximum electricity usage requirements along with lighting, then buy a model that exceeds this. Small camping generators are fine for light duties but shouldn’t be expected to run a busy farm.
Large industrial models crank out real electricity. For anyone serious about maintaining power, they’re the only choice.
More power will cost you, and don’t forget fuel consumption when calculating your purchase. One important caveat about fully powering your plantation is you’ll need a separate breaker box—factor this in as well. Easy to operate and steady, a quality generator can sure take the pressure off in a dim barn or dark house.
Another possible alternative power option worth considering is a stationary engine. These simple engines offer countless power options and, for anyone with mechanical ability, are easy to operate. Stationary engines produce steady, efficient power to run lights, charge devices, keep cold sources frozen or even pump water.
Original models are common. But modern power plants can be purchased for a reasonable price.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.