Fencing, Dragon Fruit, and Grow Bags

This week I’m featuring three completely unrelated topics plus a bonus! The rain has finally eased up a bit although we still get an occasional shower but it’s nothing like the previous weeks, good thing so the fence installation could go on schedule.

The fence coordination required me to be around, I had to schedule it around work so it was a good thing everything went smooth. The installation company did a good job, I had confidence in them since they included a lifetime warranty. This part of the fence is just across the front of the property and goes forty feet back per side, the remainder will be a wildlife field fence.

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The installation included concrete at every post, that was a pleasant surprise. I went with the vinyl rail fence as it should last a long time, the lifetime warranty reflects their confidence in it. The gate across the driveway is aluminum, future plans include adding electric gate controllers (next year) and decorative columns (who knows when).

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It would have been nice to carry this around the whole property but that is cost prohibitive, also it really doesn’t offer any animal control so the front will have a secondary fence behind it to keep our dogs in. I’m not worried about deer getting across this as they tend to come in through the back where it is more wooded.

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Next topic – Dragon fruit (Pitahaya). Back in February I posted about the Dragon fruit holders that were built and installed in November 2017. It has been right around 7 months since they were planted and most of the plants are around 6-7 feet in length now and growing at about a foot per month. They are just at the point of going over the frame so it is starting to look nice and filled in.

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Once these branches grow over the support by about two feet it will be time to start pruning, this will encourage branching and new growth. As pieces are removed they can also be planted to get more plants started, I figure each support can handle six to eight plants. I’ve started using old cut up jean strips to support the branches, this helps prevent damage as it spreads the contact across a larger area.

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Now for the grow bag update, this is from the EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge. Once it was evident the EarthBoxes were way ahead of the grow bags and there was no catching up I decided to double the amount of water the grow bags were receiving. That turned out to not really matter as the sky also decided to open up for a couple of weeks so there has been plenty of water. Here is the EarthBox as it stands today:

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A lot of fruit has set in and I’ve harvested a few peppers from the plant on the right. Here’s the state of the grow bags:

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They are growing, but still far behind the EarthBox ones. In fact, they are still way behind where the EarthBox ones were a month ago. What about the tomato planted in 100% cow manure?

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It’s still the worst of the bunch. I really thought this one would do better.

Now for a bonus, I’ve been looking for good summer greens that grow well in the hot Florida weather. I’ve got a few that are working pretty good but this one has really stood out. It is growing in an EarthBox, in fact it is growing so well it has smothered the other plants that were in there. I have harvested it multiple times, it makes a great leaf vegetable for salads and is also good cooked like spinach.

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This is New Zealand Spinach. The plant you see has been cut down, harvested, and abused and it is still growing like crazy, it’s about 4-5 feet in diameter. This is one plant. If you are looking for a very productive hot summer leaf vegetable then give this one a try.

This coming week may be interesting, I’ve had a land clearing company get in touch with me and say they can bring several hundred cubic yards of tree chippings (for free!). This will be a huge leap forward in getting the soil built up, if it happens I’ll post some pictures next week.

One last quick note, if you are in the Brevard County, FL area I’ve started a local homesteading group, this will include at least a quarterly seed and plant exchange meetup. The details can be found at the link, I hope to see some people who follow the blog there!

Space Coast Gardening and Homesteading

Melbourne, FL
3 Members

This meetup is for people who want to become more self sufficient by reducing their dependency on commercial resources. The primary focus is on growing and raising our own foo…

Check out this Meetup Group →

EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge

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I like EarthBoxes, and I like grow bags. If you aren’t familiar with grow bags, they are basically cloth pots made from a durable fabric that is UV resistant. The advantage of a grow bag over a traditional pot is that the water drains out easily and the roots get lots of oxygen by breathing through the bag. I have found they work well with plants that don’t like too much water such as herbs. In my experience they work better for herbs than the EarthBoxes do, maybe I’ll do a comparison of that in the future.

For this challenge, I wanted to compare the growth of a pepper and tomato plant between the two. Before I get into the results, here’s how the grow bags were set up. I went through an EarthBox setup in the Aquaponics vs EarthBox post so I won’t repeat that.

Since the EarthBox is fixed in size, I wanted the grow bags to be similar in volume. EarthBoxes hold 2 cubic feet of potting mix which equates to about 15 gallons, since the EarthBox has two plants and each grow bag will only hold one I went with seven gallon grow bags (I’ve used this brand in the past and they have held up over the years). For the soil I used Miracle-Gro Raised Bed Soil since it is formulated for vegetables.

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each bag held just about a cubic foot of soil which was perfect.

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Now, just for fun I filled an extra bag with nothing but straight cow manure to see how a tomato plant would do in it.

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By the way, if you are using cow manure for any gardening don’t go for the cheap stuff, there is a difference. I’ll post some pictures in a future post proving it but one simple test will show you, put equal amounts of Black Kow and a cheaper brand in a pot or cup and spray down with water. The cheap brands are mostly un-composted wood fibers. Who would have thought that genuine cow poop would be so expensive.

Here’s a shot of the EarthBox and grow bags set up. I put them in an area where they would get equal amounts of sun. The grow bags are directly on the ground for this test and the EarthBoxes are raised up so they don’t get shadowed by the grow bags.

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I’ve been asked how to cut nice circles into the plastic EarthBox covers, here’s my solution. I use a can with a bolt attached as a handle and heat it up with a propane torch. It’s simple and easy and you can make a couple of different sizes.

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Next, I set up drip watering for each. The EarthBox gets a two gallon per hour dripper, each grow bag gets a one gallon per hour since they are half the size. The drippers run every morning for thirty minutes. I’d say the EarthBox has an advantage here as the water does not evaporate or drain out like it will with the grow bags.

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The last step is to put the plants in. For tomato plants I’m using home started Roma Tomatoes, for the pepper I’m using Lunchbox Orange from Bonnie Plants. I try to select plants that are the same size.

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Now for some results. Here are the tomatoes and peppers after one week, each shown side by side (EarthBox on left and grow bags on right):

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Tomatoes Week 1
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Peppers Week 1

Not much difference so far, the seedlings are just getting settled. Now for week two:

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Tomatoes Week 2
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Peppers Week 2

Boom. The EarthBox plants have taken off while the grow bags haven’t done much of anything. Week 3:

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Tomatoes Week 3
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Peppers Week 3

The EarthBox has once again reigned king. Now I know you may have noticed the yellowing leaves on the grow bag plants, this is most likely due to lack of water. For the next three weeks I have changed the drippers on the grow bags to two gallons per hour each, effectively doubling the amount they are getting now. That may or may not help since the bags are so porous. In the future I’m going to re-run this competition with some changes to the grow bag setups, details will be provided when that is started. I’ll post these plants again in three more weeks to see what has changed. Here is another view of the containers after three weeks:

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Oh and lets not forget about that extra plant, the one growing in the cow manure. how has it done? See for yourself:

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I’d say not so well, in fact it barely looks alive. I’ve upped the water on this one as well so maybe that will help, time will tell.

If you have any feedback or ideas for future comparisons I’d love to hear it! I do have a lot of things already planned but am always open to new ideas. One more thing, if you do any shopping on Amazon please consider clicking one of my affiliate links first, there is no cost to you and it helps support the site 🙂 A list of links can be found on this page, I try to update it with new products as they are shown and used on this site.

Over the past week I’ve been working on a filter for the aquaponic system and it is now in place, I’ll show the build process for that next week. Until then keep on planting!

 

Deer Control and Banana Circle Updates

It’s been 3 months since I planted the banana circles and I thought there hadn’t been much growth. This is one reason I created this blog, it’s a way of documenting the property build out and I can look back to see how far it has come. The bananas have grown a lot more than I thought, there’s also been a lot done to the circle themselves (here’s the original post).

There are two banana circles, I’ll call them the southeast and southwest based on their locations. Here’s there approximate locations on the property, note that the orientation of this is north down:

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Lets start with the southwest circle of Dwarf Cavendish. Here’s the before picture right after it was planted, note the almost dead looking banana plant to the left:

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And here it is now, that almost dead plant is the one to the front right:

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One big difference in this circle is that an additional mound of dirt was just added outside the previous circle. This was done since I built up the ground in this area up to the same level as the original mound, I didn’t want to move or replant the bananas so I just added an outer ring of dirt. Over time I’ll migrate the new banana pups to this outer ring. The original banana plants have not been moved so you can see that they have grown a lot and there’s a lot of new pups among them. I’ve also thrown some vegetable crops in with the banana plants, mainly Bok Choy, various beans, Daikon Radish, and sweet potatoes. When I do a six month update I’ll try to have the same orientation as this picture so it is easier to see the growth difference. It’s all part of the learning process for the blog 🙂

Now for the southeast circle of Hua Moa. Here’s the before:

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And current:

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The orientation of these two pictures are pretty close and it is pretty easy to see there has been a lot of growth. By the time I do a six month update this circle will also have similar changes as the other one, I’ll be building the soil up around it and adding an outer ring. The vegetables added to this mound are okra, onions, Daikon Radish, and some Roma Tomatoes (with a few Everglades Tomatoes thrown in). I’ll also be adding a third banana circle in the future but I haven’t planned out exactly where yet, probably in the front yard to give them some separation from these.

See the object in the picture circled in red? That’s the latest attempt at deer control. It is a remote motion sensor I picked up from Amazon (link). It’s designed as a driveway sensor, it included two remote sensors and a monitor for $25. It actually works very good and has good range, the house is around 150 feet from the sensor and there are walls in the way, the monitor still picks up the signal. The sensors have good motion sensing range, to mount I simply screwed them to some 2×2 posts that are stuck in the ground.

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The plan was that anytime the alarm goes off I would ping the deer with a pellet gun. It doesn’t hurt them, probably feels like a mosquito bite does to us. This worked, I would get waken up at night, go out and hit them with a few pellets and eventually they would go away. By the way, these green flashlights work great for sighting animals at night, they can’t see the green light but humans can quite well. Anyways, my hope was that they would get tired of it and eventually stop coming around. That part of the plan didn’t work, apparently they don’t learn their lesson and I got tired of being waken up at 3 AM so now the alarm stays off.

I’ve got one more plan to try for deer control, that is a large solar powered motion light mounted to a portable pole. I’ve tried some smaller motion lights but I think they just light up the buffet, maybe the big one will be more effective and moving it around may help confuse the deer. Other then that, I think fencing may be the only answer and is already planned so that may have to be the solution. Some people have suggested things like a rag soaked with urine, I really don’t want to have to deal with that. The other option of having deer fillets on the grill would work but I wouldn’t be too popular with the neighbors. I hear that Florida deer just taste like pine needles anyways.

Next week I’ll post the three week results of the EarthBoxes vs Grow Bags. Hope you have a good week and keep on planting!

Aquaponics vs EarthBox – 6 week (final) results

We are now six weeks into the Aquaponics vs EarthBox challenge and there’s no big surprises since the three week results. The EarthBox plants have grown huge, I’ve even harvested them a few times. The aquaponics plants have grown, not a whole lot in size but they have a lot more leaves but not nearly as much as the EarthBox plants. I had originally planned a three month checkpoint for this competition but have decided this will be the final update for this round. I’m going to do a few improvements to the aquaponics system then replant and see if I can get better results.

Here’s the EarthBox plants as of now. The first is the Chinese Cabbage, I’ve harvested these twice and they are still growing like crazy. For size reference the EarthBox is 29 inches wide. These two plants are dwarfing the box.

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Next, the Kale. This has been harvested once to make some Kale Chips and a few older leaves have been removed.

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Last, the Swiss Chard. I take a leaf here and there to mix in salads and cut off old growth when it starts to go brown. I’ve got Swiss Chard growing in several places around the property.

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Keep in mind these are all after six weeks of planting. The aquaponic system is working and growing but the EarthBox plants have just exploded. For the aquaponic results I’m just going to show each bed which has the same plants as the EarthBoxes (one of each per bed) plus a few other things. Media bed one:

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The Swiss Chard in the back left is not the one from the competition, that was planted earlier. For scale, these beds are 37 inches wide, eight inches wider than an EarthBox. Media bed two:

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The plant in the back center is celery that was a leftover core just stuck in the bed, it’s growing good and I’ll occasionally cut a stalk off for salads. Finally, the raft bed:

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Overall I prefer the media beds over the raft bed, the raft does have the advantage of being easier to clean.

Over the next month or so I’ll be adding a filter to the aquaponic system, covering the sides with something other than black plastic, increasing the fish load, automatic water level maintainer, and building a screen cover over the fish tank (I caught a raccoon fishing there one evening). I’m hoping to see better results and I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement. Surprisingly, I didn’t get too much hate mail from other aquaponic users but I did get a few that said the systems can’t really be compared.

Here’s my take on the results. For anyone starting out and just trying to get some vegetables to grow, go with the EarthBoxes (or GrowBox). They are fairly foolproof to set up and can get you some quick success. The cost to start up a single box is under $50 all in, including some seedlings. Annually, it runs around $1 to refresh the box (not including seedlings) and they should last 15-20 years. It really doesn’t pay to make your own, but I’ll still post a “how to” for that in the future.

Aquaponics systems have the advantage of a secondary output, the fish. You can eat the fish or raise decorative fish to sell at a profit. The downsides are a much higher entry cost, higher maintenance (you have to add trace minerals, keep it clean, and feed the fish), and a single problem can wipe out everything at once.

I hope some people find this useful, again I want to state I have not received any promotional materials or discounts from any manufacturer (or store). All of this is my own opinion, my goal is to just help others get the biggest bang for their gardening buck and I’ll continue to test and compare methods to show what has worked best for me.

If you like this post please like and follow our Facebook page to get the latest updates. The next comparison will be EarthBox vs Grow Bags for tomatoes and peppers, the planting has already been completed so I’ll post a three week update soon. Happy planting!

Upcoming Projects

Last week I posted my views on homesteading, prepping, and self sufficiency which are all goals for Three Acre Paradise. While those are all part of the big plan, there’s also some other things that are very important when working towards these. Low maintenance, aesthetics, and convenience are all key items. I like to build things so they don’t require a lot of work to maintain, otherwise I’d be spending my time with weekly chores rather than enjoying the property and working on new projects. They must fit in and be pleasing to look at to help create a relaxing and low stress environment. That’s what Paradise is all about.

Here is an overhead view of the property as it is today. The house, pond, and workshop are in the middle, the main road at the bottom and driveway leads up to the house and shop. The red border indicates the property line. The width of the property is about 230 feet, the depth is 550 feet.

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The top priority right now is to get the property fenced. I’ve had a lot of trouble with deer eating just about everything from the smallest plants to the larger fruit trees. They have chewed down vegetation, scraped bark off trees, and trampled through sensitive gardens. Secondary, the fence will keep our small animals in and others out. We have three small dogs and a flock of chickens that all seem attracted to the woody areas where predators like to hide. We’ve also had the neighbors dogs over feasting on the chickens, fencing should cure these problems. The first step is to fence the front and put up a gate, that has been contracted out and should be done in the next few weeks. The yellow lines show the approximate area for the this:

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Here’s what it looks like along the road. I’ve made sure the area is clear and level so the fence company shouldn’t run into any problems.

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The fence along the front will be a three board split rail made of vinyl, similar to this:

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The gate will be aluminum and eventually automated. Since the split rail does not keep smaller animals in or out I’ll have to put another layer of fencing behind it. This will be the same or similar to what is used on the remainder of the property. The only part that will remain un-fenced is a section along the back where there is a utility easement.

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The easement will allow animals (such as the deer) to easily pass between properties such as they do today and hopefully will keep them from thinking they have to jump over the fence. There’s already a good collection of wildflowers growing in that area, I’ll probably add seed for some other beneficial plants. I can’t put any trees back there in case the city has to dig to access the buried water main. Here’s what that area looks like today:

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The dirt mound is a raised and cleared path for the future fence, the utility easement is to the right. Since the neighbors yard behind me is fully fenced this access path is pretty important. The fencing that will be used will be a field fence such as this:

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Once the fencing is complete the focus will be on a new garden area. Here is where it will be on the property:

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The garden will be approximately 40-50 feet per side. There will be a pergola running down the middle with supports to help with plants that like to be trellised. The garden area will also be fenced so there will be two layers of protection from larger animals. An electric wire will help discourage the smaller ones from climbing in. Here is what that area looks like today, it has already been cleared and prepped:

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Next project will be a potting house on the pathway to the garden (PH on this drawing):

property_plan_09 - Potting House

This will be a work area for planting seeds and storing gardening supplies. I’m also thinking of adding a sitting area on the side facing the pond just as an area to relax. This area has also been prepped:

property_plan_10 - Potting House

Once the garden has been moved the old garden location will become a carport. I’ll have a concrete slab put down and a metal carport cover put in. This will have two parking places for whatever extra vehicles we have at the time (CP on drawing):

property_plan_11 - Carport

We could also use the carport area for parties and gatherings, it’s nice to have some additional shaded area due to the sun and unpredictable rains. This is what the garden looks like today, it has a shade cover and everything is planted in containers:

property_plan_12 - Carport

Yup that’s a lot so far, but the biggest stuff is done at this point. Timeline for these is by the end of 2020 but hopefully sooner. After these I’d like to build a fire pit and picnic area with paths leading to them (FP and PA):

property_plan_13 - Fire Pit

One more overhead to go, this one is pretty all inclusive. What I’ve added here is the current chicken coop on the left about mid way down, current aquaponic system behind the shop (AP), and a bunch of poorly drawn squiggly lines. Those lines are the approximate edge of the grass to natural areas. Basically, there will be grass parallel to the driveway, around the house, and partially around the pond. Everything outside that region will be gardens, food forest, walking paths, and other small coops or structures. The grass along the driveway will provide parking for when we have a lot of guests over.

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There are a few other things to be built but I haven’t pinpointed the locations yet, this includes a quail area, tractor shed, mulch bins, and aquaponic expansion.

Some of the other projects that are planned are expansion of the solar power system, battery backup, antenna tower, shop storage, aquaponic improvements, seedling start experiments, growing microgreens, and more growth comparisons (EarthBox, aquaponic, grow bags, raised beds, in ground, others).

For more fun, I’ve got some ideas for a “live off the land challenge” where I consume only what the property produces for a day, three days, and eventually a week. Planning for these are still in the works but I’ll post a timeline soon.

Stay tuned for next post in a couple of days, a six week check into the Aquaponic vs Earthbox challenge!

Three Acre Paradise Goals

Three Acre Paradise is not a gardening blog. To date it may seem that way but the real goal is to document the creation of a self sufficient lifestyle which enables me to be prepared for the good times and bad. When things go bad, I don’t like life interrupted any more than necessary. For example, if there is a hurricane that takes out local services for several weeks (Puerto Rico for a more extreme example) I don’t want to be sweating at night and eating cold soup from a can. I’d rather be enjoying air conditioning, hot showers, and fresh cooked food. I’ve been without power for weeks a few times in the past and while not horrible I’d rather not deal with it at all.

There are a couple of other things that go hand in hand with self sufficiency, these are prepping (being prepared) and homesteading.

 

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I define self sufficiency as not having to rely on others for basic needs. In today’s world that is difficult to achieve 100% but we can get close, especially for a short term. Most people can go a day or two without leaving the house, how about extending that to a couple of weeks? Now, what if you can also do without public utilities such as power and water? My goal is to be able to get by a few months in this situation, not that I expect any outages to last that long. These are accomplished through the homestead and prepping.

A homestead by definition is a principal residence including the land and structures. Years ago homesteads provided a lot more than they do now, a lot of homes today are just a place to sleep. To me, a homestead should give back, not just consume. If you make most of your meals at home then the home is providing an output, more than a place to sleep and waste time. If the home has a garden, even better. If you run a business from home that’s another plus, solar power would be another example. A home can be so much more than just a building and yard that has to be maintained, I want Three Acre Paradise to provide most of what I need for daily living. We have solar power, well water, and a septic system so there isn’t complete reliance on utilities (in Florida you can’t legally go off grid for power). There are gardens, fruit trees, a pond stocked with fish, and a chicken coop with a lot more to come.

Prepping is a fun subject. In the prepping world they often talk of bugging in or bugging out (leaving) depending on the situation. Personally I’d rather stay put if possible on my homestead but there may be times when bugging out is the correct choice due to things like fire or industrial accident (I live near a water plant).Almost everyone is a prepper at some level, I’d rate the average working person around four on a scale from 1 to 10.

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Anything you put on the internet will offend someone but I needed an examples for this one. The stoner in this example is living in someone else’s house (parents, friends) and is just getting high all day. They live for the moment and the most prepping they do is to grab a bag of chips to munch on for the next hour. On the other end of the scale are the zombie preppers who refer to Walking Dead as a documentary and have primarily focused on guns, ammunition, and MRE’s. My example of the average working person at the level of four has a job, bought a home, has a 401k and health insurance, and a few days worth of food in the kitchen. They probably also have some basic first aid supplies on hand.

I’d rate myself around a seven on the scale. I prep as much as possible for the inevitable such as hurricanes, power outages, and job loss. I’m ready to evacuate for a fire but also have fire extinguishers on hand and a plan to protect the house in case of nearby forest fire, which  happened last week and damaged two neighbors homes (picture is of actual fire).

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Being prepared brings a feeling of security. Last year was the first time I completely stocked up at the beginning of hurricane season, when we got news that we were in the path of a storm I had a checklist of things to do but didn’t have to go fight the crowds at the stores for fuel or supplies. Instead, it took just a little time to get the house ready and I had more time to help family and friends get ready.

Being self sufficient and prepared brings real peace of mind. I’m not completely there yet but have a defined path to get there. I’ll go through some of the things I’ve done and future plans in a post later this week. There’s also a lot of fun smaller projects coming up and I’ll list a few of those. Until then, keep on prepping!