A more self sufficient life

self sufficient life Colter Co.

If it hasn’t come across to you yet, I am a big believer in the principles of self sufficiency. Now I sometimes feel very under qualified to speak on the subject. No, I do not live on a homestead. No, I do not provide my own drinking water from a well, or have solar panels to provide my energy needs, or chickens for fresh eggs. I would love to be doing all those things, but I am not able to at this point in time. But I can do somethings, and that’s what I’m doing. Each of us can do something that make sense. Maybe you aren’t going to be buying a draft horse to plow a field anytime soon, but you can grow herbs in the window sill of your apartment. I’ll be sharing my experiences and learnings as I go and I hope it inspires you to do something on the level that makes sense for your own life.

Since the age of 10 I have been fascinated with primitive skills like flint and steel, foraging, leather tanning and basic survival skills. To me, these feel like the foundation of human existence. Sure, we live in an advanced world that makes all of these skills feel straight out of the stone age (which they are). I would argue that they are still important to know. Some things don’t ever truly become obsolete. Human survival is one of those.

I will certainly be talking more about those skills later, but today I’m going to move up a rung on the ladder of human progression to agriculture. Being able to plant and harvest food without having to travel great distances foraging allowed humans to establish permanent residence and really develop. And on an emotional level, there is something very healthy about working in the soil to produce your wont food!

The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.
— Michael Pollan

Every year that I grow a garden I learn a lot. Mostly, it seems, through failures. But that’s how we figure things out, right? Hopefully sharing my failings will help others learn and avoid them.

Last year we built a few garden boxes and ended up grown quite a lot of food! Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, chives and a carrots. We ended up eating salads from our garden once a day for a couple months. It was fantastic! I think it was the first year that we feel like we actually saved money from it. So this year we doubled the space and are going all in! We ended up adding some raspberries as well for a nice, perennial feature. So what did I learn last year?

#1 THIN YOUR SEEDLINGS!

I hate thinning plants. It feels like I’m killing all my hard work just as it’s starting to grow. So I didn’t do it very well and my plants suffered. Especially the kale. It was stunted, and grew and strange angles to try to get sun. The leaves never ended up growing to full size. We still got a lot of food from them, but they would have produced much more. This year I have been way better at it, and have already seen huge benefits. I thinned our radish plants and the ones left immediately started to thicken up. Within a week and a half they were ready to eat. Thin your seedlings. Many seedlings (like beets, kale, lettuce, radishes, and more) can be thrown into a salad. So don’t think of it like thinning, but as the first harvest.

#2 Kale will grow for 2 years

Kale is super hearty and grew through the week of snow that we got this winter. They got a little wilted and I thought they were gonners for sure, but they came back after that. You can get 2 years of growth without having to replant. I’ll be leaving them where they are for my winter garden this year.

#3 Prune your tomatoes

You can get way more tomatoes if you learn to prune them. Each branch puts off a sucker stem in the “armpit” of the branch. Pinch those off. They will never produce fruit. Plucking them lets the plant focus its energy on tomatoes and growing taller. Be careful not to pitch the top branch of the plant! It will stop growing taller if you do.

tomato sucker plant Colter Co.


#4 Go with indeterminate tomatoes

There are two kinds of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants will grow to a specific size and produce through a determined season. Then then stop. Indeterminate will grow as tall and produce as many tomatoes as the weather conditions will permit. I had both last year and loved that the indeterminate plants gave us tomatoes way longer than the others. If you’re super smart about pruning and fertilizing you can grow 8’ tall plants that produce a ton of fruit! This year I made sure to only buy indeterminate plants.

#5 Copper foil for slugs

This is a classic, but it came in handy for us already this year. Our first round of kale starts got decimated by slugs… Very disappointing. So I put copper tape around all our garden boxes and they haven’t been an issue since. Worth the effort!

I think that’s enough for today’s entry :)

I will check back in from time to time as I learn more (from success or failure).

Please share your gardening learnings with us!

-John


instructional video

Mountain House food packaging styles

I’ve been planning out our summer camping and backpacking plans and doing some meal planning. I frequently do freeze dried meals for backpacking trips. Especially if it’s a long haul that I know I’m going to be super tired at the end of the day. It’s hard to beat the speed and ease of a freeze dried meal in those circumstances.

I’ve tried a few different brands but generally I go with Mountain House meals. I know what I’m going to get and enjoy what they offer. I noticed a while ago that there are a few different packaging styles that they offer. I decided to order one of each style to see what the difference is. Sometimes it’s hard to get a good idea just based on a website.

I put together a video of my thoughts on the comparison. Hopefully it helps you understand the difference and figure out which style will work best for the trip you’re going on.

Let me know what you think!

- John

instructional article

Do you know the 4 fundamentals of Survival?

Knowing how to keep yourself alive is a fundamental human skill! In our increasingly convenient modern world some of these fundamentals can seem less important. When we can easily turn on the faucet and get water whenever we want it’s not hard to forget that one day you might be in a situation that doesn’t provide you with such a luxury.

In a moment your focus can shift from “ugh, my phone battery is at 7%” to “what do I need to stay alive through the night.” It’s best to have a store of age old human knowledge for just such an occasion.

The fundamentals of human survival can be simplified into 4 priorities:

Shelter
Water
Fire
Food

In that specific order. If you spend your time working on finding food before you have a shelter established you might just end up freezing to death with a full belly. Make sure you approach them in the right order!

When I started Colter Co. it was for the purpose of providing outdoor information in a format that was in itself multifunctional (enter the bandana…) I don’t really like packing books on camping trips, especially when weight and space is an issue. I’m super happy to add a TRUE wilderness survival bandana to our collection!

Yes, there are other survival bandanas on the market, so what makes this one better? It focuses not just on helpful outdoor skills, but on the PRIORITIES for your efforts. One of the biggest challenges of being in a survival situation is not panicking! Many other survival bandanas are a shotgun blast of facts and tactics that don’t help an already frantic mind know WHEN to take on your next task.

It’s also printed with high visibility reflective ink on a bright hunter orange bandana. Being visible is key to being found. When you build a shelter out of natural materials it can become very easy to blend in. The worst case scenario would be having a rescue team walk right past you while you sleep in your shelter. This bandana makes an awesome shelter marker and with the reflective ink it will light up super bright when hit by the beam of a flashlight.

As always, our bandanas are printed on American made cotton for superior durability and softness.

This is a great way to add a higher lever of preparedness to your survival kit! It also makes a great gift of knowledge and preparedness to a young adventurer.

If you can’t decide on which of our designs you love the most you can always make it a part of a 3 pack or a 6 pack :)

instructional article

Smoked Beef Jerky Recipe

smoked_jerky_colter_co

I got a smoker last year. It's something that I've been interested in for a while. Not just because it make amazingly mouthwateringly delicious food. It's the tradition of food preservation that I found compelling. Smoking foods to preserve them has been used for a very long time and I wanted to add it to my list of traditional skills.

I got in my head that I wanted to try making smoked beef jerky. Regularly beef jerky isn't my go to snack. I generally find it to be too sweet, or too soy saucey, or something. But I do like the idea of preserving meat that way, and I figured if I had more control over the recipe it might turn out more to my liking. 

I read a ton of recipes. There are no shortage of jerky recipes out there. 99% of them start with a ton of soy sauce. This has never made any sense to me. I know Lewis and Clark subsisted on a lot of dried meats, and I KNOW they weren't lugging around barrels of soy sauce. It just doesn't seem very traditional to me. So I made my own recipe with apple cider vinegar instead of soy sauce. 

Before I get to the recipe, let's talk about the smoker. I'm using a Weber charcoal smoker. I call it the R2-D2 model. Not sure what it's really called. I modded my by added 4 screws near the top which allows you to put the meat rack up higher. It worked great for hanging jerky.

I've used electric smokers and prefer the charcoal. I made a ring of unburned charcoal in the shape of a "C" in the bottom of the smoker and added about 12 live coals to one end. It ends up acting like a charcoal fuse and burned plenty long for this. I put apple wood chunks along the top of the coals and they smoldered and produced nice smoke as the "fuse" burned. It stayed right about 180 degrees the whole time. I ended up smoking the jerky for 3.5 hours and it ended up more smokey than it needed to be. Next time I'll give it a good smoke for an hour and then let it dry out at 180 degrees for another two hours. 

Prepping the beef! There are plenty of different cuts that will work. Look for something lean. You're going to want to cut off as much of the fat as you can. Don't worry too much about marbling in the meat. It will render out on the smoker. Partially freezing the beef before hand helps make the slicing process easier. Slice it 1/4 thick. You can slice with the grain for a more firm jerky or across the grain for a jerky that pulls apart more easily.

The Recipe:

- 2 lbs. of lean beef
- 1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 5 cloves of garlic (diced as small as you can)
- 1 tsp Molasses
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper

Mix all these together, and marinate the sliced beef for at least a few hours (I did overnight.) After it's good and marinated pull the strips of beef out and dry them off with a paper towel. Run a tooth pick through one end of each strip. This allows you to hang them vertically in the smoker and saves a lot of space. I add a bit more fresh ground pepper at this stage and then on to the smoker they go! Make sure the temperature stays around 180 degrees. Keep and eye on it to make sure the temperature is right and it's still producing good smoke. 

smoked_jerky_colter_co
smoked_jerky_colter_co

When they're done take them off, remove the tooth picks and dab off the rendered fat with a paper towel. Enjoy it fresh of vacuum seal and store in the freeze for long term storage. I bet it won't last long enough to need to store it though :) 

As I said, this was the first time I tried this, but will NOT be the last! My 8 year old son (who helped me) refers to it as "Beef Bacon." That a pretty accurate description! It was a huge hit with the family. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!