Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buckets and Barrels for Storage... How Do I Use Them?

For food items that you use often and go through quickly in the kitchen, consider packing them in bulk, in buckets.  You can go to restaurants or bakeries and ask for used buckets, which you can sometimes get FREE, but you may only get 1 or 2 at a time.  OR go to the donut shop like Shipley's... you can usually get a bunch all at once for about $1-$2 each, and they often have a variety of sizes.  Shipley's uses square 4 gallon buckets, which store more efficiently one next to another.  How much can buckets hold?  Shipley's buckets will hold about 30lbs of wheat, and a round 5 to 6 gallon bucket will hold about 37-45lbs, respectively.  Here is a print out with estimates for other food items. 

Clean them with soap and water.  If they have a persistent smell, clean them with vinegar or bleach and let them sit in the sun for a day or two to draw the residues out.  Your food isn't actually going to touch the bucket surface.  That's because, UNLESS you have a brand new unused food-grade bucket, you will need to purchase a mylar liner to keep oils and flavors from previous food from transferring to whatever you put in it.  This helps it store longer too, as some bucket lid seals may not be 100% airtight.  The mylar bag will ensure a moisture barrier--long term items need to be at or below a 10% moisture level... so very DRY--and an air barrier--although miniscule, there is still a transfer of air through the plastic wall of a bucket.  (However, if you are using a new sealed unlined bucket, you have at least 5 years before that would be a concern, ESPECIALLY with a hard-shelled kernel like wheat).  Still, instead of buying new buckets, the least expensive thing to do is buy used buckets and large mylar bags.  You can order these bucket-size mylar bags online at places like USA Emergency Supply or Emergency Essentials.  Also purchase oxygen absorbers (which are cheapest at the cannery... a pack of 100 for $10+ tax).  You will use at least 2 per bucket (more for less dense-packing foods, like dehydrated apple slices).  Then you will seal it with a flat iron (or iron against a flat, heat-safe surface like a board, see a video on that here).  When you've got it all together it will go like this:
  1. Clean and thoroughly dry bucket and turn on your iron
  2. Place mylar bucket liner into bucket, opened up.  
  3. Quickly pull out two O2 absorbers and throw one into the empty bag, then reseal your absorbers bag.
  4. Immediately pour your wheat or other food item in (as full as you can while still allowing room for the excess mylar material to fold down and the lid to fit on top)
  5. Push the second O2 aborber into the food at the top
  6. Pull the bag tight and flat and clamp your flat iron down along the top for about 3 seconds to begin sealing, starting at one edge of the bag and continuing, keep material taught.  Rather than dragging it across, clamp down for 3 seconds, then lift, move down, and overlap onto the part you just sealed just a bit and clamp again.
  7. Once you have just a bit left open on the other edge, push all the air out that you can and then finish sealing
  8. Make sure you have no folds in the material where you are sealing, it needs to be flat and at least 1/2" wide so you have a wide seal with no bumps or wrinkles
  9. Don't put the bucket lid on until the next day--that way you will be able to see if it vacuumed properly
  10. You can carefully cut notches at the sides of your bag under the seal you made (but not into the seal on the side!) so they can be ripped open in the event you have no tools.  When you are ready to use the food, cut off the seal just below or rip the bag open from the notch.  When your bucket is empty, you can refill and reuse the mylar lining! 
**I recommend packing several buckets or additional smaller mylar bags at the same time so that when you open those O2 absorbers you can get a handful out at once and process 6-12 containers at once, in quick succession.  That way you are not constantly opening your O2 bag and exposing the absorbers**

Stack buckets ONLY 3 to 4 high, or your bottom bucket can buckle.  For round buckets, you can purchase "Gamma lids," which are about $8 each and make opening and closing your bucket EASY and QUICK!

In a humid climate, storing grains in barrels is not wise, but they are fantastic for water or non-food items.  For food or water, the barrel again needs to be food grade, and you should not set it on concrete where chemicals may leach into the plastic (slip a board under it or put it on cinder blocks).  55 gallon to 275 gallon containers are available on for about $18 to $100, used.  You will see a choice of bung top or open-top, which means you will have holes with caps (bungs) or the entire top will screw off.  The open-top (usually about $25) are much easier to clean, and are a must if you are filling them with anything other than water.

Once you acquire your barrel, you can clean it with pool shocking chemicals by partially filling it and rolling it around every couple hours to get all sides. If you cannot get your barrel 100% spotless, don't worry--if you are unsure you can use this water just for washing, or plan to filter it for drinking (which I will be discussing in an upcoming post!). However, after filling your clean barrel with 55 gallons of water, add 1/2 cup of unscented bleach and your water should be disinfected and no further microorganisms should growing while it is sealed. If properly disinfected, the water should be good for 3-5 years

There are accessories you will want to have on hand, like new clean bung caps (for bung tops), a spigot, a syphon, and perhaps a hand pump.  These items will make it convenient to get the water out.  Remember to place your barrels where you definitely want them and in the most accessible position before you fill them.  They will weigh about 400 lbs full.

Don't store them in direct sunlight, as this hastens the breaking down of the plastic into the water.  Do not store near chemical that may vapor. Keep them up off the concrete and out of the rain.

You can also store charcoal, clothing, etc. in these barrels.  Make sure you have a watertight seal.  Do NOT store anything that needs to "breathe," like cans of liquid fuels.  Propane, kerosene, gasoline, butane, white gas... all of these very flammable fuels need to be stored OUTSIDE of your house in a safely protected but well-ventilated container, like a vented locking shelf unit or garden shed, as any escaping vapors need to be able to safely disburse.

Stored water is one of the most basic things you should have.  Do not trust that you will always have notice before a contamination in the water system occurs.  You should store 1 gallon of water per person, per day, for AT LEAST 3 days BARE MINIMUM, but we are counseled to try to obtain a 2 week supply.  For a family of 4, you need at least one 55 gallon drum. 

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