Prepper: 7 Things Our Ancestors Stockpiled To Survive Winter
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Life was hard for our ancestors — much harder than it is for us today. Most of them didn’t have running water and electricity to make their lives easier. These modern conveniences have changed our way of life, to the point where we often forget what people had to do throughout history in order to survive.
We look at survival today as something needed in a time of emergency, but to many of them, survival stared them in the face every day of their lives. That was especially true in the wintertime, when it wasn’t possible to glean what you needed from nature. Basically, if you weren’t ready for winter, you didn’t survive.
So our ancestors all became experts in stockpiling. They’d spend the warmer months preparing, so that when the cold winter months came around, they’d be ready. You could tell a lot about a family’s wealth and industry by that, as there were those who struggled through the winter and those who didn’t.
I remember my grandmother, who lived though the Great Depression. She was a hoarder if you ever saw one. While her home wasn’t one you’d expect to find on one of those reality shows where they dig through a house filled with junk, she didn’t let things go to waste. If there was any utility she could get out of something, it didn’t go to the trash; it was saved for that proverbial rainy day.
Not everyone saved all the things that my grandmother did, but I imagine a fair percentage of those who lived through the Depression did. Even those who didn’t knew the importance of stockpiling for winter. The idea of “saving up for a rainy day” wasn’t just a figure of speech — it was a way of life.
So, what did they stockpile? Let’s take a look.
Of course, the most important thing to stockpile for winter was food. Everyone would “put up” food — canning, smoking and drying it. The modern grocery store is actually rather new, with the first real supermarkets opening exactly a century ago. Before that, you could buy foodstuffs from the general store, a local butcher or a local greengrocer (produce only). But there weren’t grocery stores as we know them.
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The majority of the population at the time was involved in agriculture. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the vast majority of the population shifted to the cities. And while people who lived in the cities have always had to depend on store or market-bought food, before that time, they were in the minority.
Feeding yourself wasn’t enough in those days. You needed to be able to feed your livestock, as well. Even people living in the city had to take this into consideration, as many had horses and wagons.
Early garages weren’t attached to homes, because they were converted barns and stables. Before the automobile became common, that’s how people moved around. So, they’d have a stable behind the home and had to make sure the loft was filled with hay and grain to feed their horses. Granted, they always didn’t harvest that themselves, but they still had to buy it and stockpile it to take care of their horses.
If that hay and feed was the “fuel” for their transportation back then, and they stockpiled it to get through the winter, perhaps we should follow suit. While our modern cars won’t run well off of hay, few of us have enough fuel to keep them running for more than a day or two. In a blizzard or power outage, that could prove to be a costly mistake. (Click here to learn how to stockpile gasoline.)
Cutting wood for the fire in the wintertime is much more difficult than it is in the summertime. So our ancestors needed to take advantage of the warmer weather to cut their wood and stack it for winter. Granted, living in the city made that hard for some, but cities were smaller back then. They could still take a wagon out to the country to cut wood, if they didn’t want to pay someone for it.
It would take several cords of wood to make it through the average winter, and – prior to electricity — there wasn’t any other option. That is, unless you happened to live in an area where you could heat with coal. Coal produced much more heat per ton than firewood did, making it a great improvement; but you couldn’t cut or mine it yourself.
In addition to the firewood, our ancestors always made sure they had a good stock of tinder. It’s all but impossible to find anything that can be used as tinder in the wintertime. So, most families filled up their home’s tinderbox to overflowing during the warmer months. That way, they could always start a fire if it went out.
4. Extra blankets
Keeping a home warm was difficult, especially a larger home with lots of rooms. Few actually could afford a fireplace in every room, even if they wanted one. So they’d heat the main living area of the home and leave the doors open to the bedrooms. Whatever heat managed to make its way in there was all that they’d get.
Since they didn’t have much heat in the bedrooms, they counted on body heat to keep them warm at night. That was part of the reason why kids would sleep together — so that they could keep each other warm.
But the other thing they did was pile blankets high upon the beds. It wasn’t uncommon to have a chest at the foot of the bed, which was used to store these extra blankets in warmer weather. Then, in the wintertime, they’d be brought out and piled on the bed. A good quilt was laid on top to make it all look good.
That’s part of why goose down quilts were so popular. Not only are they warm, but they don’t weigh a ton. It’s much nicer to bury yourself under a couple of goose down quilts than to have the weight of six wool blankets on you all night long. So save those goose feathers; it’s time to make another quilt.
Most people kept a pretty good supply of medicines in the home — not the medicines that you can buy over the counter in the drug store, but home remedies. Doctors weren’t all that common. Some communities only had a visiting doctor come by a couple of times a year when he was making his circuit. So, they needed to be ready to take care of themselves. That’s why home remedies were so important. When that’s all you’ve got, you want to make sure you don’t run out.
Candle making was a summertime activity. You had to make them when the bees were active, collecting pollen and making honey. That meant you made them during the warmer months, when there were lots of flowers in the fields and on the trees. In the winter, bees stay in their hives, living off the honey they stored up in summer.
Harvesting honey, for those who had hives, also meant harvesting the beeswax. That meant it was time to make candles. While some were made by professional candle makers, it wasn’t uncommon for people to make their own, especially those in rural communities. Those candles would have to be enough to get them through the winter.
7. Reading material
Wintertime was a time to stay indoors as much as possible. The harvest was in and it was too early to think about plowing for spring. So, people would work inside the home, repairing harnesses, sewing clothes and reading. Few had time to read during warm weather, as the work on the farm kept them going from “can see” to “can’t see,” but in the wintertime, gathered around the warmth of the fire, reading was common.
People would literally save magazines and newspapers for months, waiting until wintertime to read them. While that would make the news a bit out of date, life didn’t move as fast back then. News was slow to get to rural communities anyway, especially out West. So, winter made a good time to catch up.
5 Things I Really Wish I Had Known Before Homesteading
Nine years ago, my husband and I embarked upon the steepest learning curves in our lives. Even though our previous lives had involved a great deal of outdoor activities and total immersion in the natural world, our new roles as homesteaders taught us so many new things so intensely that we often felt as if we were on a curve so steep we might fall over backwards.
If I could roll back the calendar and give myself a few pieces of advice, I would be sure to include the following five major tips.
1. Infrastructure is everything.
Fencing, gates, bridges, corrals, barns, woodsheds, run-ins, calf pens, kidding stalls, hay feeders, chicken coops, raised bed gardens, cold frames, high tunnels, arbors, traditional garden beds, greenhouses — the list of structures that need to be in place for purposes specific to homesteading are mind-bogglingly endless. The property we purchased had very little infrastructure in place and needed a lot of building, repairing and retrofitting in order to suit our needs. But we didn’t let that stop us — we forged ahead, sending for garden seeds without having enough garden space ready and acquiring animals before having adequate year-round housing in place.
We were far more optimistic and energetic than we had any business being, which ended up being both a blessing and a curse. On the downside, viewing situations through rose-colored glasses in those early homesteading days caused us to cast aside far too many real concerns with casual nonchalance. We were sure “we could always build that permanent fence later” and “there was plenty of time to repair the woodshed roof before winter.” We ended up backing ourselves up against the wall in many cases when “later” steamrolled right over us and winter didn’t wait for the completion of roof repair.
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It is far too easy to underestimate the time, energy, cost and potential roadblocks that often accompany infrastructure development. And when construction or repair takes place during the 11th hour — or even later — it can cause a lot of tension, and can even allow the roots of long-term discontent to take hold on the homestead.
On the other hand, optimism and energy are like superpowers. They carried us over rough patches, provided extra strength and courage when we needed it most, and helped us accomplish far more than we ever could have without them.
My advice to myself regarding infrastructure would be this: Stay ahead of it. If you get behind your infrastructure needs, you might never catch up.
2. Homesteading is so much work!
It won’t matter, we thought. The volume of work will be eclipsed by the fact that it is so rewarding and so personal and meaningful, we thought. The truth is, doing work you love and truly believe in really does make all the difference. And in our case, it made us able to do it. But at the end of the day, work is still work. If a homesteader works an off-farm job and then comes home to another 40 hours of work, it takes its toll on even the strongest and most resilient people.
Holidays, vacations or even sick days are hard to come by. Dairy cows have to be milked on Christmas morning, and tobacco hornworms will not take a break from destroying your tomatoes while you recover from knee surgery.
Here is my note to self: Do not underestimate the work required for homesteading. It will require very long hours of grueling, back-breaking, tedious, unrelenting hard labor. It will be worth it, but make no mistake. It will be tough.
3. Community is crucial.
I read a lot of books about homesteading before I started, from memoirs to manuals. One concept I ran across more than once in my reading was the impact of isolation upon homesteaders. I believed it, but I did not really get it. Not until I lived it myself. Spending long hours with nobody to talk to except cows and tomato seedlings sounds idyllic, and sometimes it is. But being completely on one’s own when a porcupine is entangled in the electric mesh fence or standing alone in a sweltering kitchen watching milk pasteurize for what feels like hours on end can make even the stoutest of homesteaders want to throw in the towel — and the canners and dung forks and milk buckets — and head back to the city.
Age, accidents, sickness and disabilities are not friends of the homesteader. Neither is bad weather, predators and equipment breakdowns. My advice to my novice self is this: You will need real friends as a homesteader more than you ever needed them before. Relatives, neighbors, people from church, folks in the goat club — wherever they come from, make sure you and they are ready for the long haul.
4. Homesteading is not cheap.
Raising one’s own food rarely saves money. Sure, there are instances here and there where homesteaders save big. For example, I have paid a grand total of maybe $20 for garlic over a period of three or four years. I plant it every fall, purchase a few new varieties every once in a while, and use last year’s bulbs for seeds. And the eggs from my free-range chickens cost me almost nothing in summer.
But goat milk? Oh boy. When the occasional veterinarian visit and medications are factored in, and even a rare-but-crucial farm-sitting expense that allows us to show up at family weddings and funerals — and not to mention the time spent milking and sanitizing and feeding and shoveling if I paid myself even minimum wage! — that feta and chevre is worth its weight in gold.
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Meat is expensive, too. Feed and upkeep cost a lot, especially in a northern climate where an animal’s grazing and foraging opportunities are limited for much of the year. And then there is the cost of processing, which can more than double the actual cost of raising the animal.
Even vegetables can be costly. By the time one buys seedlings or heats a greenhouse to start their own, builds raised beds, buys ground cover, invests in tools, and amends the soil, they might have done better to just go buy sweet peppers at the market.
If I could offer myself advice, I would say to go ahead and endeavor to raise as much of my own food as I could. Knowing it is organic, locally sourced, and humanely raised is everything. Just know this: It will probably cost almost as much to raise your own as it would to buy it at a big box store.
5. There’s no room for softies!
Keeping livestock is not for the faint of heart. Eating meat is harder when that steak or pork chop once had a face — a face you petted and fed every day for months. Even if you do not raise meat animals, there are still difficult decisions. Disbudding. Castrating. Medical intervention. Lying awake at night worrying about whether the animals will be safe in the hurricane or adequately protected from predators. And even selling is hard — waving goodbye to a beautiful goat kid and covering your ears while his mother and twin wail in anguish is rough on those of us with marshmallow hearts.
My advice to myself nine years ago would be this: Know that along with the love and tenderness that comes with sharing your life with farm animals, there will be bits of agony.
Nothing about homesteading is easy, but for many of us, it is worth it. My advice to myself or anyone is simply this: Know that you are doing the right thing, but go in with your eyes wide open, both feet on the ground, and bracing yourself for the ride of your life.
In this polluted world we have to be careful of what medicine we take as we are bombarded with chemicals every day, from every direction. I’ve been using herbal remedies ever since I can remember and I learned their secrets from my mother and grandmother. I try to pass on my knowledge and share my herbal remedies with every occasion I get since I truly believe we should pay more attention to what we put into our bodies. Most, if not all the herbs listed in this article can be procured by anyone so there shouldn’t be any need to go to the pharmacy.
Herbal remedies for the winter season:
Cough and BronchitisCoughing is a reaction caused by irritant particles in the bronchial tubes. Depending on the cough you have and where is centered, you can use various herbal remedies to clear or ease the cough. Productive, chest coughs are usually followed by white, yellow or green phlegm, while unproductive cough are dry and irritant. Bronchitis occurs when the lining of the lungs’ airways becomes inflamed and the patient may experience a raised temperature. As a general remedy, thyme works really well. You should take 3 cups of infusion a day.
To concentrate more on a specific sickness here is what you should do:
For dry coughs in the throat and chest you should use herbs such as Balm of Gilead, thyme and licorice. Make an infusion using equal parts of balm of Gilead buds, thyme and licorice powder. Recommended dosage is 1/3 cup six times a day. You can also make a tincture by mixing equal parts of each tincture and take 1 tsp up to 5 times a day with water. You should reduce the dosage as the cough eases. Important notice: If you are pregnant you should avoid taking licorice.
For chest coughs and bronchitis you should use herbs such as elecampane, eucalyptus and licorice. Make a decoction of elecampane and take 1 2/3 cups a day. Add 5g licorice powder to improve the flavor. If you suffer from acute bronchitis and coughs you can add 5g of eucalyptus leaf to the decoction. You can also use Echinacea and garlic to ease chest coughs, one of the herbal remedies I’ve been using for years requires to take ½ tsp of Echinacea tincture with water 3 times a day and in addition to eat 2 garlic cloves daily. As an external remedy, you can make a massage oil by mixing 5 drops of eucalyptus and thyme essential oil with 2 tsp of olive or canola oil. Massage the over the chest and back twice a day.
Related article: Top 10 Medicinal Herbs for your garden
For sore and tired eyes, chamomile and Chrysanthemum can be used. Make a compress by infusing chamomile teabag or make a poultice with 15g of either herb to 1 cup of water. Allow it to cool, squeeze out the excess and place the compress or poultice over the eye.
For conjunctivitis you can use eyebright and cornflower. Make an infusion with either herb and strain. Allow it to cool and use it when still a little warm. Bathe eyes well using the infusion, but no more than twice a day. This is one of the herbal remedies my mother used constantly and she never needed professional help.
As a general remedy for colds, flu and fevers use the following herbs: garlic, ginger and lemon. Crush a garlic clove or two (depending on the size), grate a similar sized piece of fresh ginger and squeeze the juice from 1 lemon. Mix together with 1 tsp of honey and add ¾ cup of warm water. Drink up to 1 2/3 cups a day until the symptoms are no longer present. I guarantee this works every time.
For colds use lemon and cinnamon. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon in a cup of warm water, add ½ tsp of cinnamon powder and 1 tsp of honey. Drink up to two cups a day. You can also use ginger to make an infusion. Infuse 3 slices of fresh ginger with ¾ cup of water for 5 minutes and take up to 3 cups a day. Elderberry and lemon is another one of the great herbal remedies I’ve learned from my grandmother. Take 1 tsp of elderberry tincture or extract in warm water with freshly squeezed juice from half a lemon up to 3 times a day.
For high fever use yarrow, boneset and cayenne. Make an infusion using 1 tsp of each yarrow and boneset, with a pinch of cayenne to ¾ cup of water. Brew for 5 minutes and drink hot. You can take up to 2 1/3 cups a day. Important notice: If you are pregnant you should avoid taking yarrow.
For flu with muscle aches and pain you can use thyme, lemon balm and elderflower. Make an infusion using 5g of each herb to 3 cups of water. Brew for 10 minutes and drink up to 3 cups a day. Echinacea works just as well and you need to take ½ tsp of tincture with water twice a day.
Herbal remedies for sore throats and tonsillitis usually involve the use of garlic, ginger and lemon, but there are a few good additions you should know about.
For sore throats use tamarind and lemon. Gargle with a decoction of tamarind fruit and 1 tbsp of lemon juice diluted in warm water. You can also use rosemary, sage, myrrh and Echinacea with good results. Dilute 1 tsp of equal parts of all tinctures in 5 tsp of warm water and gargle. You can also swallow the mixture, unless you are pregnant.
For tonsillitis Echinacea does a great job. You can make a decoction with 5g of root to 3 cups of water and drink 2 cups a day.
It wouldn’t be winter without nasal congestion and sinus problems and most often, the blocked sinuses can cause a painful pressure. Luckily, there are many herbal remedies that can help with congestions, sinus problems and earache.
For nasal congestion chamomile works every time. You can make a steam inhalation by infusing 15g of herb, or put 10 drops of essential oil in 3 cups of water. Inhale for 10 minutes.
For sinus congestion you can use nettle and elderflower herbs. Make an infusion using 1 tsp of each herb to 1 ¼ cups of water and take daily while symptoms last.
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For earache lavender and garlic are the recommended herbs. You can place 2 drops of lavender essential oil on a cotton ball and plug into the ear. You can also crush a large clove of garlic and soak it in 1 tbsp of olive oil for at least 24 hours. Strain the oil and warm it at body temperature. Place 2 drops on a cotton ball and plug into the ear.
The herbal remedies listed here are accessible for everyone and they should be used as suggested. As precaution is recommended when using a new treatment, you should seek for professional advice if you experience the following: High fever for 102°F or more, sever pain in the respiratory tract or cough lasting for more than 2 weeks.
15 Life Saving Tips for a Winter Bugout
In 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what was called The Winter War. This war caused about 70,000 Finnish causalities with most of them being innocent civilians. As a result of this invasion many Finnish civilians were forced into a winter bug out in order to avoid death or being captured.
At the beginning of this invasion Finnish military went through towns and villages letting them know that they had 15 minutes to leave and burn down their own houses so that the Soviet army couldn’t use them for cover. They had to leave all of their belongings.
The Finnish people didn’t have time to sit down and put together a bug out bag list or even given the wealth of knowledge that we have in the preparedness community. They frantically gathered what they could but sometimes disregarding the necessities for survival and instead opting for precious valuables. The Winter War forced thousands of civilians to bug out in the coldest winter that had hit Finland in a century.
They left on a journey to survive and rebuild their way of life. There was no hope of returning. This is the true definition of a bug out and not merely an evacuation what many preppers call a bug out today. Bugging out is being forced to leave with no option of returning. You can watch a documentary of interviews from people who were involved with that bug out below.
Little did they know that their fight for survival was just beginning. No longer did they have to worry about Soviet warplanes dropping bombs on them. They now how to face their true adversary Mr. Frost. Winter weather will be your biggest threat to survival if you are ever forced to bug out in the winter or if you live in colder temperatures.
When SHTF it never happens during a convenient time. It happens at the worst possible time with the worst possible circumstances. So as preppers we need to be prepared to bug out in extreme weather conditions including in the winter.
Having to bug out in the winter especially during a storm will be risking your life. There are life threatening dangers associated with the winter including: hypothermia, sicknesses, frostbite and even heart attacks. The only warm thing for miles will be your body. The winter will also deplete natural resources. So you won’t be able to rely much on scavenging for edible plants to eat.
Ultimately bugging out should never be plan A. We should be strategically prepping to put ourselves in a position where we are bug out or crisis proof. Bugging out should be the absolute last option. This is why it is important to first determine if and when you should bug out.
So I’ve put together a list of tips for surviving a winter bugout. This of course isn’t a comprehensive list of tips because there will always be gear, skills and supplies you can always stock up on. I believe that these few should be helpful if such an event should ever arise.
15 Life Saving Tips for Bugging Out in the Winter
- Sleep off of the ground
However, if it has been snowing then the leaves will be cold and wet. That would defeat the purpose of sleeping on them. Then you should build your own raised bed using branches that can be found around your location. Below is a great video by Survival Lilly on how to build a raised bed.
If you have the money or the room in your pack then I would recommend packing a tent print that can be placed under your tent or shelter along with a sleeping pad. If you can’t afford a tent print then you can use contractor trash bags. They won’t work as well as the prints but it would be better than nothing.
- Boil a bottle of water to place in your sleeping bag
- Have multiple fire making tools
You should also have a fire making kit in your bug out bag. There are some homemade sources of tinder such as dryer lint that you can use along with cotton balls. You can also find multiple fire making kits online.
More importantly you need to be practicing your survival skills now. You can only survive 3 hours in rough weather conditions. So knowing how to build a fire is vital to your survival.
- Have heat reflectors in your shelter
- Eat or drink before going to sleep
You can also drink warm drinks like hot water, coffee or teas. A warm bowl of soup or some spicy foods will do the trick as well. DO NOT DRINK COLD LIQUIDS! Despite how much better food tastes with cold drinks this will cool down your body temperature again putting you at risk for hypothermia.
Stay away from alcohol. Despite the common prepper myth alcohol will not keep you warm in cold weather. You may feel warm but it actually decreases your core body temperature.
Be sure that you are using wooden utensils to eat with. Metal utensils can cause the temperature of whatever you are eating to quickly drop. You can place these wooden utensils in a case so that they don’t break in your bag. Otherwise you can carve up your own utensils using the wood that can be found around you.
- Layer your clothing
When it is cold it is common to have 2 base layers. You could choose to put on 2 synthetic layers to ensure that the moisture is wicking away.
The middle layer is for insulation. This is to retain your body heat. Fleece or microfleece is a great option. Wool is another great option but tends to be a little heavier and thicker. I bought a Columbia River fleece jacket that I wore in 20 to 30 degree weather but still felt comfortable and warm.
The final layer will be the outer layer or what is called the shell. This should be waterproof, windproof and breathable. This includes Gore-tex or polyurethane-coated fabrics.
The important thing to remember about layering is that you want to be able to quickly put on and take off these layers when needed. For example, you don’t want to first put on a long sleeve base layer covered by a short sleeve base layer. The short sleeve should be put on first.
- Take off any wet clothing
- Maintain your body temperature
Try not to push yourself when bugging out. This may seem impossible but if you have the opportunity to slow down then take advantage of it.
- Cover your extremities
Mittens may not be the best option to wear when bugging out because you are not able to grip anything while wearing them. When bugging out you will need to grip your weapon and tools. So again wear some insulated gloves or even wear multiple pairs.
On top of having waterproof and insulated boots you will want to be wearing the appropriate socks. You should also be layering your feet just like your others parts of the body. So you should start with a synthetic base layer covered by wool socks.
When sleeping at night be sure to place your boots inside of your sleeping bag. Your body temperature inside of the bag will keep the boots warm preventing condensation from building up on them. So when you wake up in the morning you are not placing soggy boots on which in return keeps your feet warm.
Be sure to place hand warmers in the socks and inside of your shirt when you are sleeping. I like to place the hand warmers inside of my arms pits. When I sleep I typically place my hands inside of my armpits. So that will keep your hands and body warm.
- Keep ventilation open in your shelter
- Find a spooning buddy
- Bottoms Up
- Have a water repelling bug out bag
So be sure your bug out bag repels water. The Condor 3 Day Assault Pack is a great pack that repels water. You can test this by simply pouring water on your pack and see if the insides get wet. You can also place the inside items in Ziploc bags to further waterproof them.
- Setup your base at lower elevations
- Pack extra tent or shelter stakes
These are my survival tips for a winter bug out. Please leave a comment below of your suggestions. Your feedback better helps the community prepare the smart way now so that we can thrive later.