While it may be summer in the southern hemisphere, in the northern latitudes, winter is adding a frosty filter to everything in sight. Temperatures are dropping, snow is falling and the landscape is getting icy.
For homesteaders and those living off the grid, it’s also a very lean season. Fields lay fallow during the cold months, livestock often stops producing, and if you’re trying to be entirely self-sustaining, you’ll need to rely on the food you’ve stored up during the year.
If you’re not sure where to start, here is our list of must-have survival foods and storage systems to keep your homestead and everyone in it fed through the cold winter months.
Building Your Food Supplies
Before you start thinking about storage, you need to start gathering supplies. Building your food stores isn’t something you’ll tackle overnight. You’ve got two sources to consider when you’re building an emergency food supply — what you can buy at the store, and what you can grow or produce on your own.
Start by taking a closer look at the amount of food you use every week. This should include everything and everyone in your household. Ballpark figures are okay, but having at least a basic idea of how much food you might have on a daily or weekly basis gives you a foundation to figure out how much you’ll need to store.
Break it down into smaller parts — such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats — to make your inventory a little easier to manage. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal here is to be self-sufficient and to have enough food so you don’t have to worry about making a trip to the grocery store. It becomes even more important when that trip to the grocery store is no longer possible because of disasters or winter weather.
Only Stock Up on Stuff You’ll Eat
There are a lot of different options out there when it comes to bulk stores and non-perishable foodstuffs. You can get all sorts of different meats, grains, vegetables and everything in between, all designed to last for months or even years if stored properly.
The million-dollar question here isn’t whether or not you can stock up on all of these. It’s whether you enjoy them or not.
If there is a specific type of meat or vegetable you can’t stand, don’t fill your supplies with it. There’s no reason to stock up on canned asparagus or canned preserved chicken if you can’t stand the taste of it and it’s just going to sit in your pantry or storage closet until it expires.
[Editor’s note: This is important. It’s rarely a good idea to add foods simply because they last a long time or because they add more protein or fat and you think you simply must have that to survive. Stick with what you know and you’ll be better off most of the time.]
Give yourself plenty of variety, but stick to things you know you and your family will enjoy so stuff doesn’t go to waste.
Choose Quick Meals
Some of the things you might stock up on for long-term food storage don’t cook quickly. For example, dried beans last for a while as long as you keep them away from pests and moisture. But they take hours to soak before they’re ready to cook. If you forget to set them up the night before you need them, you could find yourself out of luck when dinnertime comes.
You’ll likely make your way through your quick meals on a regular basis, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of the quick meal components you’ll keep stocked are things that don’t have the sort of shelf life that you’ll be looking for in your food stockpile.
What are we talking about? Any meal that comes straight out of a can or box would be a good candidate, including canned soups, chilis, and boxed meals like mac and cheese come to mind.
[Editor’s note: I wrote a book about the most useful survival foods to stockpile, if you’d like to know my take on the subject.]
Choose Your Storage Location
Step one is to choose your storage location. This will vary depending on several factors, from the amount of space in your home to the kind of climate you live in. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
If you’re lucky enough to have a house with a pantry, or you can remodel your existing home to add one, they’re the perfect place to store your winter food supplies because they’re likely climate-controlled and protected from temperature extremes. And since they’re inside your home, it’s easier to keep things like pests and moisture out of your supplies.
The downside of pantries is that they’re often smaller in size. Larger quantities of food might not fit, and you’ll have to look for alternative or additional options.
Almost every house has closet space. If you’ve got a couple that are just stuffed full of junk, why not clean them out and turn them into storage for your winter supplies?
Closets have the same benefits — and downsides — as your pantry. The biggest difference is that not every house has a pantry, so closet space is often an ideal replacement.
If you live in a place where basements are common, they can be a fantastic option for supply storage. Even if the power goes out, these underground spaces are insulated by the soil outside and stay cool in the summer and temperate in the winter.
The only major downside is that unsealed basements are often prone to moisture leakage and flooding. That alone can put your supplies at risk. If you have a sealed basement and a way to deal with any moisture incursion, basements can be a to store your winter supplies.
This is where climate starts to play a large role in supply storage. Garages might be attached to your house, but they’re usually not climate-controlled. If your home is located somewhere that gets a lot of heat and humidity, it could compromise the integrity of your supplies.
If your garage is insulated and climate-controlled, it can be an option for storage, but you’ll have a lot of work ahead of you if it isn’t.
Sheds present many of the same problems as garages in that they’re not climate-controlled. They’re also nearly impossible to seal against pests. If you have some supplies that won’t be susceptible to either of those problems, you may be able to store them in a shed or other exterior building. Otherwise, all your food supplies could end up moldy or food for rats and roaches.
If you have an attic that’s more than just an uninsulated crawl space, you may be able to use it to store your winter supplies. Don’t rely on your attic if it’s not climate-controlled. Otherwise, these spaces tend to get way too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Humidity and pests are also a problem in these spaces.
[Editor’s note: Although not ideal, if you properly store you long term food storage foods (e.g., bulk rice, beans, etc.) then they can survive these extremes but won’t last for decades. Traditionally canned foods and boxed foods really shouldn’t be stored in such extremes conditions. And, honestly, nothing should be stored in attics because they’re likely to be the worst climates of all.]
Larger Long-Term Storage Options
If cultivating a variety of crops is part of your survival plan, you’re going to need somewhere to store all that food when it comes time for harvest. Even small gardens can yield hundreds of pounds of food if handled properly, which is far more than the average family might enjoy before it begins to spoil.
If you’re planting an entire field of wheat or corn, you’ll need some significantly larger storage options to keep your food fresh.
Large temperature- and climate-controlled containers are both options for storing large amounts of dry goods like wheat, dried corn or similar crops. In addition to giving you the tools to make the most of your harvest rather than leaving it to rot in the fields, having a surplus gives you tools to barter, by trading for things you might not have or be able to produce on your own.
Other Supplies to Remember
Having all the food in the world won’t help if you neglect your other supplies while setting up your survival stores. What else should you be sure to keep on hand when you’re building up your supplies?
Canning Jars and Other Supplies
You can’t store everything in silos or big dry-storage containers, and you shouldn’t try. That’s where canning comes in. Make sure you stock up on canning jars and other necessary supplies. Most canning supplies are reusable which makes them an ideal solution to food storage.
If 2020 is any example, supplies that are plentiful at any other time tend to disappear when something changes or an emergency arises. Canning supplies were at a premium for the majority of the year, if you could find them at all, so make sure you’re prepared.
Knife Sets and Sharpeners
There’s nothing more important in the kitchen than a set of good, sharp knives — especially if you’re spending a lot of time in there cooking or canning your harvest. Invest in a set of high-quality knives and learn how to sharpen and take care of them.
You can hand-chop everything to cook or can, but it gets exhausting after a while — not to mention the calluses you’ll end up forming on your knife hand. Plus, if you’ve got a substantial harvest, you could find yourself standing in the kitchen with the same knife in your hand for hours or days. Invest in a reliable food processor to make your job a little bit easier.
Not all of us live in dry, arid environments that are ideal for dehydrating food. Still, dehydrating is one of the best ways to preserve meat and similar foodstuffs.
If you live in a humid environment, invest in a good dehydrator, especially if you hunt or raise livestock for food. As an added bonus, items like beef jerky are the perfect high-protein snack if you’re working on the farm or on-the-move a lot. And making it yourself is less expensive than buying it at the store.
[Editor’s note: I used to enjoy using my Excalibur Dehydrator to make all sorts of vegetables and whatnot last longer. Buy frozen vegetables from the grocery store and it’s easy as pie. I really need to get that out again and get to work.]
Crockpot or Instant Pot
Sometimes, you just don’t want to spend the entire evening cooking, especially if you’ve been busy on the farm or homestead all day. In these cases, investing in a Crockpot or Instant Pot ends up paying for itself. Just throw in your ingredients and, at the end of the day, you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.
We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t cut things on your counter. Invest in some good cutting boards.
For long-term use and safety, wooden boards are better than plastic ones. They’re easier to sterilize and clean, as long as they’re kept dry, and will last longer than their plastic counterparts. Hardwood cutting boards also draw bacteria into their grains, killing it as the board dries. They can be hard on your knife, but they’re better for food safety in the long run.
Be Ready for This Winter and Every Other
Winter is often the most difficult time for survivalists and homesteaders simply because of the cold temperatures. With a bit of preparation and a little bit of luck, you can be ready for this winter and every other. Start small and build up your stockpile a little at a time. Don’t try to buy an entire stockpile at once. You’ll end up wasting a lot of food and money and may find yourself frustrated.
Start small and work your way up over months or years, and you’ll have a supply that will support you for this winter and every other to come.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. She is passionate about sustainability, gardening and homesteading.