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  • Vegetable Shortage in Great Britain: Time to Get Gardening

    Vegetable shortage

    In a throwback to World War II, many British supermarkets have been rationing lettuce.

    Zucchini and satsuma (Mandarin orange) supplies have also been limited. And now, market experts are predicting a global olive oil shortage.

    It’s all due to poor growing conditions in southern Europe.

    In southern Spain, which supplies half of Europe’s vegetables and a quarter of Britain’s, freezing temperatures and flooding decimated crops. At the same time, unseasonably hot temperatures in Greece and Italy damaged olive groves.

    Your food comes from everywhere. One interest group estimated the average meal in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farms to your plate. A disruption anywhere along the route – poor weather or shipping problems, for example – can cause anything from a price hike to rationing.

    Canned or dried food storage can ensure a long-term supply of many fruits and vegetables. But let’s face it, you can’t can lettuce. And other produce just tastes better fresh.

    So consider growing a garden. This time of year is the best time to plan one. In some places, you can actually start sprouting early season seeds at the end of February.

    Happy man amidst vegetable shortage

    Start by identifying a space. It can even be your porch, if you want to use a garden box or straw bales. Think about using flower beds. I grow garlic chives between my rose bushes. They have a mild garlic flavor that I use in salads and cooking. And the plants may prevent some pests in the roses.

    Consider factors like light, soil, and water. I have a fairly large space for a vegetable garden. But it’s far away from my household water sources. Every year, I have to stretch hoses across my yard to my garden and fight the corresponding loss of water pressure.

    Next, figure out what you want to grow and how much to plant. Think about what your family will eat. Consider what grows best in your area.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture produces hardiness zone maps that tell the average minimum temperature in your area. The American Horticultural Society produces heat zone maps that tell the average of number of days the temperature in your area reaches 86 degrees. You need both of those, plus the frost-free dates for your area, to know what to grow and when to plant.

    If you glance at a seed catalog, you’ll realize there are numerous varieties of each plant. They can be divided into two types of seeds: heirloom and hybrid. Heirloom seeds are nice because if you save the seeds from your plants year after year, they’ll produce the same types of plants. If you collect the seeds from hybrid plants, their genetic traits will be scrambled so they won’t work as well the next year. However, hybrid seeds can be bred for different traits like flavor, disease resistance, and quick growth. So in some areas they’re the better option.

    We sell canned heirloom garden seeds and heirloom herb seeds. Normally, most seeds are good for only a year. These seeds will last longer because they’re packed to keep moisture out. They’re recommended for climates with shorter growing seasons but are adaptable to other temperature hardiness zones. Do your research, however, because there’s a huge difference in soil type and garden pests between, say, a USDA hardiness zone 6 in Utah versus a zone 6 in Virginia.

    To get the best varieties of plants for your area, check your state university’s agriculture extension service. It will give you a few varieties that grow best in your state. (Here’s Utah State University Extension’s vegetable page.) Then, go to a nursery that grows its plants locally. Employees there can help pick the best type for your town or city or yard’s climate.

    This is only a beginning. You can find reams of information online about sprouting seeds, companion planting, and composting and soil preparation, among other topics. To get the best garden, you’ll need to do a lot of research. That’s why now is a good time to start.

    In most places, you don’t have be a great gardener to get some results. I’m a terrible gardener, living in an area where the soil is clay and rock, but last year one of my cherry tomato plants grew to 7 feet tall and produced a pint’s worth every other day for months. (I couldn’t get zucchini to grow, however, unlike about everybody else.)

    Try growing something. Then add something else. Over time, you can develop a great garden that can help tide you over in case a food supply problem elsewhere causes a shortage in your area.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner vegetable shortage

  • Dam Problems: A National Concern

    Dams. They’re everywhere! According to National Geographic, there are about 90,000 dams in the United States. And, just like people, they age. And when they age, they start falling apart.

    Recent news has been inundated with California’s Oroville Dam and the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people that took place over the weekend due to a failing spillway. If the Oroville Dam’s spillway were to fail, the results would be catastrophic. And, just this past weekend, we’ve seen that such a failure is very plausible.

    So what about the thousands of other dams across the nation?

    Herein lies the problem. Many of the dams dotting the countryside were constructed as low-hazard dams, put in place to protect agricultural land; land that was, at that time, undeveloped. Now, however, cities have since expanded and the formerly undeveloped land is now the home to thousands (if not millions). In fact, Oroville (for which the dam is named) has practically doubled in size since the dam was constructed.


    Oroville Dam spillway - by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources Heavy water flow at the Oroville Dam spillway - Photo by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources


    How Old is Old?

    Dams don’t seem to age as well as people (so consider yourself lucky you were born a human and not a dam), but despite that flaw, they can still live for quite some time, albeit a little fragile. Only 4.5% of all U.S. dams were built since the year 2000 (4,000 dams). The oldest, however, were built before 1900 (2.8%). Most, however, were built between 1950 and 1980. And those are the ones considered old.

    The average age is 52, according to USA Today. Getting up there in age, but not quite ready for retirement. Perhaps we could squeeze just a few more years of work out of them… Still, because of how dams age,

    The problem with keeping these dams in operation is that nearly 15,500 dams are high-hazard. That means if these dams were to break, at least one person would be killed, but many more would be likely (the term “high-hazard” actually has no relation to the dam’s actual condition). Add that to the fact that “nearly 1 in 5 lack an emergency action plan,” and countless people are living in very dangerous conditions – most likely without even knowing it!

    USA Today reported that only three states – Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee – have emergency plans in place for all high-hazard dams. It would appear that everywhere else is, well…hosed.

    Fortunately, there are ways to prepare. If we look at the Oroville Dam evacuation, there are some important lessons to be learned that will help you be safe should you be faced with a similar predicament.


    1. Get an Emergency Kit

    Emergency kits are life savers in a very literal sense. They have the gear and supplier you need to survive an emergency, and should contain enough to last you for at least three days. Kits should contain gear for warmth, communication, light, and other essentials. Food and water is also important.


    1. A Full Tank

    If you have a car, truck, or other similar mode of transportation (which most people do these days), keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. During the Oroville Dam evacuation, many people were stranded on the road because of gridlock, their vehicles out of fuel because they couldn’t get to a gas station to fill up. Also, many gas stations shut down due to lack of fuel, causing more problems for motorists.


    1. A Place to Stay

    Many evacuees were without a home, forced to dwell in shelters, churches, and anywhere else they could find a roof. The no vacancy lights on the surrounding hotels, inns, and other temporary housing units lit up almost instantaneously following the evacuation order.

    In a different scenario, perhaps you won’t even be able to find shelter? Maybe everything will already be full? What then? That’s where a shelter comes in. A tent, a tarp…anything you can use to protect yourself from the elements can be quite handy when you have no place to go. Prepare now for the worst, and the worst will be better than expected.



    All in all, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. There is always something. Nobody is immune. That’s why preparing for the future is vital. Take some time today – while the metaphorical sun shines – to get your emergency prep together. Make sure you have everything you need for yourself and your family. If you’re missing things, don’t delay; make time to acquire those items.

    Because when the next disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.


    Written by Steven M.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner Dam

  • Avoiding a Royal Flush: Recent Water Shortages in Areas Just Like Yours

    During the Super Bowl, water conservation efforts in Macomb County, Mich., kept crappers from coming a cropper. (OR helped a broken sewer pipe avoid a royal dump. OR prevented a royal flush that could have further damaged a broken sewer pipe and sinkhole.)

    Sinkhole - via AP water shortage Good news: flushing toilets didn't make the sinkhole worse - via AP

    On February 2, the county public works chief warned that halftime flushing during the Super Bowl could overwhelm a broken 11-foot-wide sewer pipe and send sewage into neighborhood basements. The broken line had already created a 250-foot by 100-foot sinkhole that ate three homes. But she said on February 6 that actions like people flushing less (when they did, would that be a royal flush?) and restaurants serving food on paper plates prevented the disaster.

    At any time, you might have to reduce water use or use bottled water. The same week Macomb County public works officials worried about sewer overflow, water managers in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Chapel Hill, N.C., told residents to boil or avoid tap water.

    In Pittsburgh on January 31, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued a boil water advisory for 100,000 customers, including schools, restaurants and hospitals. Tests of the city’s water supply showed there wasn’t enough chlorine in the water at a treatment plant. The advisory ended February 2.

    In Chapel Hill, a broken water main February 2 immediately followed by a water treatment plant shutdown February 3 caused the boil water notice and, later, a water shortage.  Students at the University of North Carolina and businesses around the school were most affected. A basketball game between UNC and Notre Dame had to be postponed and moved. The school canceled classes the afternoon of February 3. Although the boil water notice ended February 5, Orange County, N.C. officials asked people to keep conserving water because the broken pipe caused a water shortage.

    Ready.gov says a person needs an average of a gallon of water per day. Here are three ways to make sure you’ve got clean water handy when you need it.

    First, assume you won’t be able to buy water. The water emergency in Chapel Hill lasted two days. Residents could still use tap water for many things. Trucks could easily resupply stores. Yet stores reported runs on water and empty shelves.

    Ready.gov recommendsMan_Standing_Updated water shortage you store a gallon of water per person per day for three days.  Commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable water for storage, according to ready.gov. It’s easy to store and lasts longer than home-bottled water. Just don’t open it and be aware of the expiration dates on the bottles. Food-grade water storage containers are also available here. When filling them, if your water comes from a well or if your utility doesn’t treat water with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach to each gallon of water. Check the water after a half hour. If it doesn’t have a slight bleach smell, re-treat it and wait 15 minutes. Ready.gov recommends you replace home-bottled water every six months.

    Second, think about all the ways you use water – like washing dishes – and plan substitutes.

    In Macomb County, Mich., some restaurants used paper plates on Super Bowl Sunday to reduce their water use.

    Do you have enough disposable dishes on hand that you could minimize dish washing for a few days? Even reusable water bottles should be washed daily.

    Third, be prepared for long-term water shortages. Consider buying a water filter for your home or water taps.

    After three years of lead-laced water in Flint, Mich., the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality finally found that lead concentrations in Flint tap water were below the federal limit. The DEQ didn’t recommend Flint residents start using unfiltered tap water, though. As pipes get replaced and flushed throughout the city, lead concentration could spike in individual homes.

    If you’re considering a home water filter, first think about why you want one, suggests the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main function of the activated carbon filters found in fridges and pitchers is to change the water’s taste. They may not fully protect against contaminants. If a test to your water system shows organic contaminants, you may want a full-house or point-of-entry filter system so you can use the water for bathing and cleaning as well as cooking and drinking.

    Second, all water filters should be NSF-certified. NSF-certified filters can remove lead. Check the labels on filters, because no water filter removes everything. Consider things like cost of the filter system, how much filtered water you need and how a system might fit into your home.

    Third, maintain your filters. Change them on schedule.

    “Filters that are not well maintained can do more harm than good,” the CDC wrote.


    Disaster_Blog_Banner water shortage

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