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Learning Food Storage From Hard Experience, by PitbullRN

We all have our stories on how and why we got in to prepping. Mine began about seven years ago after reading One Second After [1], a 2009 novel by American writer William R. Forstchen. (I highly recommend this book, if you haven’t had the chance to read it!)  It is about how life changes for a small western North Carolina town following the collapse of the grid due to an EMP. As a nurse who lives in Western North Carolina, this book interested me not only for the setting, but how people with chronic illnesses would suffer and die if cut off from their medication. I also lived through Hurricane Hugo as a newlywed without electricity for two weeks and remember the difficulties back then. I will never forget running a hose from a neighbor’s house to enable us to flush our toilets, since we had no power for our well pump!

I have been a Christian all my life, with a particular interest in the interpretation of the Book of Revelation and the end of times. Not to be morbid, but the older I became, the less sense the world made to me. I began to see the trajectory of our country and modern times was away from, not toward, our Father in Heaven. Fearing for my family, and truly wanting to be able to continue to care for the sick in hard times, I decided to become a prepper. This was not without repeated rolled eyes from my husband and children. My sister even commented to my mother that she thought it was a big mistake to put all the time, effort, and money into something that would never be needed. Fortunately for me, I had a cousin who has the same fears and beliefs. We combined efforts and shared our learning of new information, along with helpful web sites to school us along the way.

I learned how to “put up” or can foods. I bought the pressure cooker and the famous Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving [2]. I dedicated one day a week to canning. An immediate benefit was that I found I could can things like stew, chicken pot pie filling, and chili which would help me put dinner on the table quickly after working a twelve-hour shift at the hospital. Soon I had amassed an impressive stockpile of canned entrees, soups and sauces. I went to farmers markets at the end of the summer, when tomatoes are abundant, to buy bulk quantities of tomatoes to can my own pasta sauce and tomatoes. This is so I won’t have to buy canned tomatoes any longer (more on that debacle later).

I have always had a small garden, but rarely had success with anything other than squash, radishes, and some lettuces. My experience with plantings from seeds was a total failure. Again, I turned to the literature to learn about fertilizer, raised beds, and mulching. I tried the square foot method, the mulching with no weeding method, and container gardening. I am happy to report each year has improved just a little bit. I have learned from each year and method. What has evolved is a combination of the best lessons learned. While Iím not up to producing enough to put up, as my grandparents did, I am harvesting and consuming a lot in the summer months, and hope to start dehydrating my own surplus vegetables this year.

My thought processes led me to buy bulk canned veggies from the Big Box stores. Over two years I collected canned veggies to supply my family and a few extended members for over six months. While I purchased vegetables in cans, I began using part of my extra paycheck I got every 6 months (since I pay bills monthly from two paychecks) to purchase the more expensive freeze dried and dehydrated fruits and vegetables. I tried to focus on the more difficult items to provide at first: fruit, meat, and cooking staples.

My cousin and I purchased food-grade buckets with lids. Into these we would put multiple mylar bags holding two-pounds of flour, salt, sugar, baking soda or baking powder. We would place an oxygen absorber in the mylar bags before sealing with a hair straightener iron and label the bag. We used white buckets for flour, green buckets for salt, blue buckets for sugar, and yellow buckets for baking power and baking sodas. We did not have buckets for the red wheat berries but used 5-gallon thick mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, sealed with the hair iron.

We are fortunate to have an empty closed room in our basement under the garage. It has no windows and an earthen floor. It has one door from the general basement that is easily hidden with a metal bookshelf on wheels. With a constant cool temperature and humidity, I thought it would be the perfect hiding place for my emergency supplies. Very we assembled several wire racks to hold the canned storage items. We added to our supplies over the next two years into quite the nice emergency supply room. Due to an illness in my family and my return to school, I had a lapse of about eighteen months without checking the supplies. When I finally did check, I burst into tears.

Mold, Mildew, and Its Odors

My little storage cache had turned into a molded nightmare! My quarts of carefully canned chili and stew had rusted (I had left the rings on). The rust oxidized and caused many of the seals to rupture, spoiling the contents of the jars. My Big Box vegetable six-packs that were surrounded by cardboard were likewise rusted where the can met the cardboard packing. Anything, and I do mean anything that was cardboard was wet and molded, including some packaged boxes that held food in a plastic liner. Boxes of laundry detergent fell apart at a touch. Oatmeal and dog food were a mushy mess. My expensive cache of freeze dried and dehydrated food had labels covered in mold.

One very interesting note, however, were the canned tomatoes. When I tried to pick up a six-pack package, the entire six-pack crumbled under the slightest pressure. And the package was light, as in nothing was inside the crumbled cans! Unlike the canned beans, corn, and carrots, which may have had rust on the outside, but still held the contents, every single can of tomatoes had leaked their contents and the cans rusted from both moisture and tomato acid.

The Clean-Up

The good news is that I was able to salvage a lot. Over the next months, I was able to remove each item and hand wash it in a strong chlorine bleach solution. (Of course, I wore an N95 mask and heavy duty Platex gloves whenever in the storage room or using the chlorine bleach.) I would note the contents of the #10 can, along with the number of servings prior to cleaning, as the paper label would usually disintegrate with the cleaning. I would then use a permanent marker to label the can before placing it on new shelving in the general area of our (floored) basement. If there was any rust along the top or bottom seam of the can, I would toss it, due to concerns about a break in the can seal. Many of the canned items that never touched paper or cardboard were cleaned and shelved according to first-in-first-out dating on the can. Any paper or cardboard from the storage room was burned in our woodstove we have in the basement.

My flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda that had been stored in mylar bags inside five-gallon food grade buckets with sealed lids was thankfully not damaged. My Tupperware bins holding sealed mylar bags of food mixes was intact and without harm. Likewise, our mylar bags of red wheat and dried beans were still sealed without any mold on the outside. Interestingly, several large blocks of toilet paper was without any signs of mold or moisture and have been stacked in the general basement area. I found that plastic containers holding oil, vinegar, bleach, lard, and peanut butter had mold on the outside that was easily cleaned with bleach. The seals of the plastic containers were thankfully intact. Bags of candy such as skittles and M&Ms in plastic bags inside Tupperware bins did very well. The wrappers of the Starburst were molded and tossed. I will store those in mylar bags in the future as they are a family favorite.

Lessons Learned:
Preventing a Recurrance

We are now planning to pour a concrete floor in the closed room and paint waterproofing paint on the inside of the cinderblock. Only then will we test the interior for the growth of mold and suitability for future storage. I now have an electric de-humidifier running in the basement and connected to a drain with automatic on-off parameters programmed to considerably lower the humidity.

The naysayers in my family are now asking my advice on how to begin prepping. I advise them that, while it may be a little late to the game, every bit makes a difference! My first two hives of bees failed: one of them to mites, and the other swarmed and left after three years. I learned how to medicate bees to ward off mites. I had six hens die different ways over three years. But I’m back at it again, new bees and hens. The way I look at things, we don’t have the luxury of giving up or giving in. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow in knowledge, experience, and self-reliance.

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Comments Disabled To "Learning Food Storage From Hard Experience, by PitbullRN"

#1 Comment By Henry On May 5, 2020 @ 10:17 am

Thank you for writing, By telling of you failures that others may learn is a rare quality. God Bless you.

#2 Comment By Tom deplorable On May 5, 2020 @ 10:33 am

Moisture is the cause of most of the problems the writer had. Put a dehumidifier in the room or pipe dehumidified air into the room and the corrosion stops. Keep the metal legs of the metal shelves on plastic pads so they don’t touch moist earthen floor too

#3 Comment By Danny Kendrick On May 5, 2020 @ 11:57 am

All, I am a 68 yr. old carpenter/builder, and what I have learned over the years are certain principles. (I quit focusing on the “how to” of every chore/project I do although that, commonly called experience, is very important, but I focused on principles). Regarding the article above which is very valuable, God made everything in such a way that it has to breathe. Whether it is an attic, a crawl space, a basement or whatever, everything has to breathe (in other words, have air circulation). Also, there are three things I know of that you can use for free. Time, weather and gravity. Don’t fight these 3 things, USE them. That takes PATIENCE (haste makes waste). Also, the principle of the vehicle. Paint, whether oil base (alkyd) or water base (commonly called latex) or other is solids mixed with oil or water (which these liquids are the vehicle). This vehicle carries the solids where they need to be (the thing your painting) and then the vehicle must get out of the way (evaporate). Many things/processes must have a vehicle that carries something to where it needs to be then the vehicle must get out of the way. Maybe these things don’t make sense to some but they have helped me. From Arkansas, the land of humidity.

#4 Comment By JDC On May 5, 2020 @ 12:24 pm

Make sure you put plastic sheeting under the new concrete!

#5 Comment By James Wesley Rawles On May 5, 2020 @ 12:32 pm

Yes, a vapor barrier is essential!

#6 Comment By Ken Friedman On May 5, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

Thank you, PitbullRN. I have learned valuable lessons from your experience and I’m sure others will say the same.

#7 Comment By sewNurse On May 5, 2020 @ 1:08 pm

Thanks for the article. I too have learned from experience with leaving the rings on my canning jars, and also not washing the jars with soap and water after canning. I was afraid of loosing the seal. I learned from experience that it is of upmost importance to continue to check your stored food products.
This seems like the perfect time to tell what I experienced this week in my food storage. I noticed a black or very dark brown liquid pooling around several different containers of stored food on one of my shelves. It looked sort of like used motor oil, but not as viscous. Taking them to the kitchen to be washed, I could not figure out what was leaking. Back to the shelving, I started inspecting other shelves. Finally, I noticed a can of Dole pineapple chucks whose label was discolored on the upper third of the can. Picking the can up, I noticed immediately the weight did not seem right. There was a very small dent on the bottom of the can rim. Then I noticed that the lid slightly bulged. It was only after more closely inspection that I realized there was a hole in upper third side of the can. The discolored label had hid that. Taking the can outside, I was curious to open up the flip top lid to see what was inside. The fruit inside was covered in a mass of green blue mold that was not fuzzy at all. Of course by this time I was wearing gloves. According to CDC guidelines these containers need to be double bagged before discarding in the garbage. The wooden shelves were washed down with bleach. Even after disinfection, I still do not feel good about my wooden shelves where this stuff ran. Putting some sort of shelf liner that can be better wiped down will be a project for the near future. Bottom line for me is, I have always been taught to not use dented cans. The small dent on the rim looked to not be anything alarming, but you really don’t know what the label may be hiding. The can was not out of date, and looked fine to me when I stored it on my shelf. I will be more vigilant in the future.

#8 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 3:12 pm

For wooden shelves a simple thing you can do to keep it sanitary is to coat them with either clear poly or an industrial coating (think bed liner)

If you like the look and finish of your wood shelf just give it a light sand to scuff (after cleaning and sanitizing any spillage from food stuffs) wipe with your choice of solvent (acetone, laqour thinner, naphtha etc.) Check to make sure your wipe of choice won’t affect finish. Then apply 3 to 4 coats of your clear poly coat use high gloss for all but the last coat if you wish then apply you semi gloss or dull.

That is if grain and stain looks are important.

Poly is a very durable coating and very resistant to many harsh cleaning chemicals it will also keep the wood sealed making any future cleaning safer. Poly comes in low VOC can be applied in an occupied room with no health effects.

Also you can use bed liners from AutoZone etc. I would highly recommend the less rubbery ones if cleaning is a priority but if you live in a rumbly area the ones that are rubbery are good.

If you have More budget or want to make a stone look there are several epoxy systems.

Hope the info helps

Btw I’m a cabinet and counter top maker by trade 15 years experience with high end fabrication this is what we use on billionaire homes too. If you have any questions I will help as I can.

#9 Comment By indyjonesouthere On May 5, 2020 @ 4:25 pm

Neither pineapple chunks or sauerkraut store very long in cans. I believe they are both acidic items and will eventually eat through the can. We only buy such items in glass jars anymore. We have lost both pineapple and sauerkraut through can failure. I imagine that acidic tomato products would eventually do the same thing but they are much simpler to home can. Your disasters remind me of my own. Thanks for sharing.

#10 Comment By Vegas On May 5, 2020 @ 5:36 pm

Dented cans aren’t allowed in commercial foods per Heath Departments, for this very reason.

The double-bag thing is for botulism toxins, they are quite potent.

#11 Comment By Ma G On May 5, 2020 @ 1:36 pm

PitBullRN, I’m sorry that your learning experience was so painful, and costly too. On the other hand, thank you for sharing this information. It will be extremely helpful for other folks who are beginning their prepping journeys. How blessed you were to be able to save as much of your supplies as you did.

#12 Comment By TJMO On May 5, 2020 @ 1:59 pm

How do you get your rings off without compromising the seal? I have just had to quit buying cans with rings, but would love to start again for convenience.

#13 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 3:19 pm

When your home Canning pressure you only tighten the ring (using traditional ball lids) finger tight. Then you process the jar. Then once jar has cooled and is sucked down (like the next day) you remove the bands \ rings. As is stated in the directions.

For water bath canning it is the same

After you remove rings bands you then check for the seal.

#14 Comment By Anonymous On May 6, 2020 @ 10:32 pm

TJMO. Rings mentioned were on canning jars. Not pull rings on canned food.

#15 Comment By Sis On May 5, 2020 @ 2:19 pm

Over the years I have learned that pineapple will eat through the can, eventually. So will tomato products that are in cans. They’re acidic. You could re can them in glass jars. I don’t bother with the bought stuff but do try and check them regularly. You could place the pineapple cans in a baggie so if they started to leak it would contain the mess. There is an idea going around out there where you dip the lid of your canning jar in melted paraffin to deter rust. I must say from experience it will deter rust But it is a pain to clean the wax off of the jar! So I don’t do that anymore. I appreciate you’re sharing your experiences. It is a learning process and it’s so nice to be able to learn from others and not make the same mistakes.

#16 Comment By RKRGRL68 On May 5, 2020 @ 2:31 pm

Good Morning,

This is a great article, you have a gift of writing in a way that is interesting, detailed and most of all inspiring!

It’s so hard when you work at something & it goes wrong. I love how you just dusted yourself off & attacked the problem with a solution going forward. A lot of people get frustrated with a project if it doesn’t go right and give up. Not you! Especially with most of your family not being on board. I’m so glad that you are able to do this with your cousin.
My husband is sorta into preparing but I think he’s mostly just glad that I take care of it all.

Thank you for sharing, I’m going to check on the deeper recesses of my basement right now to make sure I don’t have a secret disaster brewing up.

Have a Rockin great day!!

#17 Comment By pitbullrn On May 5, 2020 @ 7:50 pm

You are so kind! My parents were raised in the Depression where things were repaired and used until it fell apart!


#18 Comment By benjammin On May 5, 2020 @ 2:36 pm

I’ve been canning and dehydrating food and putting up store bought for quite a while. I’ve been fortunate that nothing I’ve put up has gone bad, yet. I can’t say the same for what’s happened in the refrigerator with some misbegotten leftovers turning into science experiments due to forgetfulness/neglect.

Because of my chronic need to relocate for work, I’ve had to start over a number of times with my stockpiles. This has led to a more vigorous turnover than would normally happen with regular consumption, which provides me with a better learning curve, and also adapting to different conditions than if I were just in one place all the time. Now that I am back home, I’ve been able to stockpile again, having learned a bunch more from my recent experiences elsewhere. It’s a constant learning event. With each relocation, I’ve left behind a good pile of supplies for a few lucky benefactors. Not exactly what I’d call tithe, it is nonetheless a good way to pass on the blessings I’ve received to others who will benefit from them. Not every offering goes into the collection plate, although I try to at least meet the requirements when I can. It’s amazing how effectively God uses us, if we get out of His way.

#19 Comment By St. Funogas On May 5, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

Hi PitBullRN, I hope I’m not the only old geezer that was crying in my oatmeal this morning as I read your story. First as I shared your agony and later seeing you stand up with your red cape flapping in the breeze and that big red S on your chest for all the world to see, cleaning up the mess, fixing what didn’t work the first time, and just keeping at it!! So many would have given up. Thanks for sharing your story, you really made my day!

You really bring home the point that this isn’t simple and self-reliance is a skill set that must be learned and takes time. But it’s worth the effort and the satisfaction alone is enough for people like me, and in the event of a SHTF situation, it will be life-saving.

For people who say they don’t have any money for prepping, you brought up an interesting point. For those who get paid weekly, you get used to budgeting your money on a 4 paychecks a month, meaning that every 13th week (quarterly) is a “bonus check” that can be used for prepping, especially the larger purchases that need to be made. For those who get paid monthly, you get that bonus check twice a year.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences and good luck with your other projects this year! 🙂

#20 Comment By Once a Marine… On May 5, 2020 @ 10:35 pm

Great description, St. F of PitBullRN. An excellent word picture.

A technique that has helped me keep my dried foods secure is to put the small containers (jars/plastic containers) of dried food into an old ice chest, w/o the ice. I find them for pennies at yard sales. Most are waterproof and also keep out pests.

Carry on in grace

#21 Comment By Wise Girl On May 6, 2020 @ 3:07 pm

Once a Marine – what a great idea! Have you ever used the (white) styrofoam chests? My husband get his insulin in these and I am always at a loss for what to do with them…

#22 Comment By Once a Marine… On May 7, 2020 @ 1:01 am

Wise Girl, I have never used styrofoam chests. For me the major factors are waterproof and rodent-proof. This ,may be worth an experiment.

Carry on in grace

#23 Comment By PM70 On May 5, 2020 @ 3:31 pm

Great article! Thank you for sharing your experience

#24 Comment By CAL On May 5, 2020 @ 3:39 pm

Thank you for writing the article PitbullRN. I have also learned from experience. I left rings on jars, didn’t account for humidity and left cans out so they began to rust. My biggest mistake has been going too long without checking on the goods. Most recently I was checking on can sealed products and found several cans that had bulged. There was flour in the cans so the only thing I can figure out is that there must have been moisture in the product when it was canned.

The moral to your story and from my experience is that we need to check on our preserved goods on a frequent schedule.

#25 Comment By The Red Baron On May 5, 2020 @ 3:43 pm

Good article. Learn through your experiences. Don’t know if you are referring to a sump pump, but this important in the east in certain areas, especially those with high water tables. French drains in the interior with slightly sloping basement floor is optimal. French drains on the exterior of the basement walls should also work well. This all assumes a concrete basement floor will be/has been installed.

We have been using plastic bins for storage of various items for decades. If it has breathing holes (under the handles) seal those off or find one without the holes. There is a Ziploc Weathershield Box that is worth the extra money, as they have built in seals and 6 latching locks (as opposed to 2, which is typical).

#26 Comment By Vegas On May 5, 2020 @ 5:39 pm

Also check where the run-off from your roof is going.

#27 Comment By Anonymous On May 5, 2020 @ 10:19 pm

Excellent point! We are moving toward rain barrels from the downspouts to prevent some of that!

Thank you!

#28 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 4:32 pm

I have an off topic question.

Does any one know of an official stance on using store bought tomatoes sauce as an ingredient in home Canning.

I really like “el pato” sauce and noticed in the ball canning book it states that tomatoes sauce may be used when hot packing meat instead of broth or water. So I was thinking that it would be delicious addition.

Also it’s difficult and much more expensive to grow tomatoes in my apartment or buy in store so I was wondering if it was officially called safe to use canned tomatoes sauce (the plain ones) in canning at home.

And I’m talking about pressure canning with meat in sauce not water bathing.

#29 Comment By Phelps On May 5, 2020 @ 7:02 pm

Forget the official stance.

The food you like
The way that works for you
Stored the where you can store it.

Don’t buy into purity tests. Can so that you can have the food you like when you want it — that includes when a particular food is expensive, in times like now when getting food is inconvenient or dangerous, and more importantly, to survive when there is no other way of eating.

Don’t put yourself into misery striving for perfection. Do what works for you. Something that is unsafe doesn’t work (like trying to hot water bath can meats), but otherwise, if its affordable, available and in your comfort zone, do it.

#30 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 8:01 pm

Thanks. I’m not worried about perfection.

But since the ingredients in questioned are canned and shelf stable I would rather leave them in the can than to do something that could be risky or is officially verboten.

It was a thought that popped in my head . Figured I’d ask here while I’m waiting for the extensions and ball, etc. To get back to me.

#31 Comment By SaraSue On May 5, 2020 @ 9:32 pm

my two cents: I would definitely use an already canned marinara, for example, in a recipe, that I would then can up. I personally would not re-can a canned meat, but that’s just me. Will be interesting to hear the official answer.

#32 Comment By Phelps On May 5, 2020 @ 9:38 pm

If that’s your concern, then I think it goes back to the same thing — are you more likely to go ahead and can the meats if you can use the tomatoes as a base? Are you more likely to use the canned meat if it’s canned in tomatoes? If the answers are yes, I say go for it. There’s no reason not to use some canned tomatoes to can other things AND keep (commercially) canned tomatoes.

#33 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 11:33 pm

Thank you Sara Sue and Phelps.

And to Phelps I have been just canning the meat in water or broth then making the food with the canned ingredients. It’s works well but takes up more floor space. So either way if I’m hungry I eat it and I absolutely only ever store foods I like to eat.

I just had the thought “hey wonder if I could do this”. But when it comes down to experimenting with things that could get me sick I’m very conservative as I’m the only wage earner and need the cash (especially now).

So I checked the ingredients list and don’t see any reason or violations… So I asked.

#34 Comment By Cabot On May 6, 2020 @ 2:04 am

Chip, I follow a group on FB called Rebel canners. I often see posts where folks are using commercially canned ingredients in their canning recipes or even recanning stuff from large cans into smaller jars more suitable for smaller families. The recipe you suggest would be more than suitable for pressure canning. The only possible issue might be ‘flat sour’ that occasionally happens when pressure canning recipes with tomatoes. I understand it is less likely if you make sure to remove jars at the end of the process and don’t let them sit in the canner overnight. Good luck!

#35 Comment By Wise Girl On May 6, 2020 @ 3:19 pm

I started following Rebel Canners after someone mentioned it here; maybe you, Cabot! I have gained some very valuable info from the Rebels. One thing I learned from them was canning milk. With a new grandchild, canning milk gave me some peace of mind since Mama is not breastfeeding. I also plan to re-can some large cans of cheese sauce into smaller jars as noted by Cabot. Another group I like is Small Batch B*tch3s. Very helpful to do small batches of whatever if that is all that you need to do! Wonderful for leftovers!

#36 Comment By Anonymous On May 6, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

Thank you! I will check out these folks!

#37 Comment By Elbufo On May 5, 2020 @ 4:36 pm

Up here in the Pacific North Wet, we have been battling rust since rust was invented…The solution, at least on the outside of canned goods is to zip lock bag everything, with a pillow pack of desiccant just for good measure. since doing this there has been zero eternally rusted cans or jar lids. If you have something that rots out from the inside the bag will contain the mess and prevent taking out the can next to it…Both the bags and desiccant are reusable.

On larger cans, #10 etc, two veggie bags + desiccant in first bag. We have been twisting and taping the bags, but one could use a thicker bag and seal them.

It’s been a couple of years, and it appears that we have won the battle???

#38 Comment By Panhandle Rancher On May 5, 2020 @ 5:41 pm

Rust is oxidation.

Never store metallics with pool shock or concentrated bleach solutions or powders. It will rust overnight.

#39 Comment By GritsInMontana On May 5, 2020 @ 7:20 pm

Oh, I am so proud of you! What an inspiration for all of us!

Prepping in the South was much more challenging for me than it is here in Montana. I was always battling heat and humidity as the two main enemies of shelf life for my preps.
It was not easy, and I can certainly sympathize.

Keep on keepin’ on!

#40 Comment By Animal House On May 5, 2020 @ 8:31 pm

I think most of us long time preppers can empathize with your situation because we learned the same hard way. When I first moved from the city to the country I transferred all the contents of the city basement to the country basement (full cement floor, cinder block walls painted with the moisture deterrent), drains and power). Jars neatly labeled and packed in cardboard boxes, #10 cans on the ss shelving, and buckets on wooden pallets. A dehumidifier with auto drain hose. Then we got into refurbishing the house.

After working on the house for a year, went to retrieve some supplies from the country basement and found what had stored perfectly in the dry city basement was attacked by mice in the country basement. We were infested! The mice ate the boxes, the labels off the #10 cans and nested in chewed up cardboard. It was ugly! The only things which were safe were the buckets.

It took months to kill the mice, clean out the basement, bleach the shelving, cans and wash the jars; and figure out what to do. I decided to pack all the jars in clear storage containers with a cotton spice bag filled with silica gel balls to absorb any moisture. The containers were labeled, placed on the ss shelving. When I ran out of the nice storage containers I started using empty cat litter buckets, which worked just fine. I turned up the dehumidifier to high and got four cats to prowl the house and basement.

This method has stood the test of time. I replace the silica gel bags every so often, the cats have earned their keep and I am older and wiser!

#41 Comment By SaraSue On May 5, 2020 @ 10:29 pm

And here I was feeling jealous of everyone in the warmer and wetter climates because your gardens are thriving and we still have a hard frost this week. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I’m sorry for the nightmare you encountered. Ugh. I think I would’ve cried and not wanted to do the cleanup.

It’s dry and cold where I live so I don’t have any mold, rust, or pest problems. My skin is hating our weather and I’m wearing nitrile gloves right now after slathering my hands with hydrocortisone ointment because they are cracked, rashy, and bleeding. All the hand washing and sanitizing is taking a toll. So, I should pause now, and thank the Lord that my preps are fine. I thought about using the basement, but it’s really only a half basement – the house is built into a hill, so half the basement is exposed dirt, half concrete. Sounds like what I’m hearing is that trying to use that space for food storage might be iffy since it’s not a completely sealed area.

#42 Comment By Chip chippy On May 5, 2020 @ 11:38 pm

Sara Sue in the dry cracked hands….

Rubbing Neosporin plus pain will help and getting “utter cream” (it’s a brand for real at Walmart and feed stores) will help alot.

My hands often get very dry because of wood and using acetone and laqour thinner etc bare handed.

The skin gets very dry and cracks and gets sharp even. The cream will fix this almost instant and the Neosporin plus pain really helps and actually does moisturizer too.

#43 Comment By SaraSue On May 6, 2020 @ 12:45 am

Thank you!!!!

#44 Comment By Chip chippy On May 6, 2020 @ 1:07 am

You’re very welcome

#45 Comment By E.T. On May 5, 2020 @ 11:12 pm

I’ve got a similar room in my home. It is off the main part of the basement, under a porch with concrete ceiling, walls, and floor,no windows and one door to the basement. I keep a thermometer with humidistat in there. I’ve found that when I shut the door off from the rest of the basement (especially in the winter) the temperature in the root cellar goes down but the humidity goes up at the same time. I’m no scientist, but I think it’s like a cold can of beer, the humidity is drawn into the cooler room from the rest of the basement (around cracks in door etc.) When I open the door up, the room warms a bit and the humidity goes way down to balance with the rest of the basement. For example, the basement may be 62 with a 40% humidity. When I shut the door to the root cellar, the temp in the root cellar may go down to 48 but the humidity will go up to 75%. A few hours after opening the door it equalizes with the rest of the basement. Temp and humidity overall will be higher in summer but same effect. I leave the door open 90% of the time to avoid the high humidity buildup, run a de-humidifier in the whole basement during summer months.

#46 Comment By VT On May 6, 2020 @ 6:12 am

ET,the humidity reading is probably being expressed as a “relative” or adjusted for temperature(warm air holds much more water).
Sealing rings are best left on the canning jars,just remove the rings when jars seal,dry them and the jar and reinstall then loosen 1/4 turn. They will not rust to lid and protect seal and allow jars to be stacked.
Cans can be easily prepped for storage in high humidity/salt water environments by removing the paper label,marking with permanent marker then painted or dipped in clear varnish.
Cardboard is a favorite hiding place/food of vermin ,do not bring it into your home or storage. Unbox and store your items in proper containers (manufacturers use it because it is cheap and easy).
Mold/fungus may not be eliminated by bleach, use products for killing mold/fungus.
PitbullRN sorry to learn of your hard lesson but the wisdom gained will not be easily forgotten

#47 Comment By PrepHOU On May 5, 2020 @ 11:42 pm

Thanks PitbullRN! What an encouragement to keep going, no matter what. Having lived in Cali and MO and now the South, I still prefer the South. Yep, lots of humidity…..but that is a great thing for gardens. You have the gift of encouragementl. Thank you

#48 Comment By sewNurse On May 5, 2020 @ 11:52 pm

SaraSue, Our normal frost date is April 15th. I just heard that we could be in the 30’s by the weekend. So, yes my tomatoes are blooming and 3 feet high in their wicking tubs, but I’ll have to rig a cover for them. GSM much? Your hands are the bane of the OR nurse. Try to lotion them every time you wash them or apply sanitizer. We use to carry the small tubes in our pockets. Curel, Gold Bond and Working Hands are good brands. Try to never use those sanitizing wipes without gloves. It does get better when the weather warms.

Chip Chippy, Thanks for the suggestions for my shelves. It is so helpful to have expert advice. Not sure which way I will go, but it would never have occurred to me to use bed liners. On your canning question, I don’t see how that would be any different than people making a vegetable soup or chile and using cans of tomatoes for ingredients to can later. Good luck. I will be canning tonight myself, as I just bought beef and 40 lbs. of chicken breast on sale for $1.49. Not as great a deal as the 40lbs. I got for S45 a couple of weeks ago, but still as good buy.

#49 Comment By Chip chippy On May 6, 2020 @ 12:45 am

You’re welcome and thanks that’s what I thought about with the canning.

BTW, it’s great to be able to buy on sale and save until later.

#50 Comment By SaraSue On May 6, 2020 @ 12:47 am

Thank you!

#51 Comment By Rick Cohen On May 6, 2020 @ 12:21 am

Great information, thanks for sharing your failures. There is so much to learn from them. Most only want to share their opinions, which are usually worthless.

#52 Comment By Sojourner On May 6, 2020 @ 2:08 am

In Founders, JWR’s character Cliff had removed labels from canned goods, marked them with the contents, and painted them with varnish. He said it was a lesson he learned from someone who spent time in a yacht. It is supposed to prevent rust, but I don’t know for how long. I would imagine you would use marine varnish.

I know this would take some time, but how long would the varnish protect the cans and at what point and under what conditions would you choose to use this technique?

#53 Comment By VT On May 6, 2020 @ 6:21 am

Yes,that is where it is from,salt water environment can eat through a can in a few weeks. The varnish will last indefinitely,the biggest concern is chipping the varnish. Use this technique for long term storage in high humidity or salt water environment(boat,beachouse,Fla,La, Tx)

#54 Comment By Anonymous On May 6, 2020 @ 7:18 pm

It’s a good idea, even if you just cover the marker area

#55 Comment By Wheatley Fisher On May 6, 2020 @ 2:37 am

Great article. I’m proud of you and your successes. PTL you discovered things before this crisis.

Bad economic times are just beginning so keep encouraging others to get some level of resiliency.

I suggest you think about sealing the top of your new cement floor. Concrete is a water sponge and a straw. I rolled out cheap vinyl flooring over some of my area, then some old carpet on top of that to add comfort.

Don’t lay carpet onto concrete which touches soil..big mildew and air contamination issues I learned.

One other storage lesson learned….Secondary Containment. I try to put my stuff containing liquids into tubs. Especially my cheap one gallon jugs of distilled water. Some did split while sitting on shelves and once rodents chewed a hole, before I learned.

You likely already know to make sure food and water are raised a certain height above concrete to avoid a certain chemical reaction in the items, such as on pallets.
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FROST. Our average last date is April 15th. We just had frost on May 3d. Solar Minima is still in effect. Think cool for now. Then hotter than normal summer days with cooler than normal summer nights.

God Bless

#56 Comment By Oldmaidnc On May 6, 2020 @ 10:04 am

Great job cousin. You are an inspiration

#57 Comment By Anonymous On May 7, 2020 @ 4:16 pm

We’re a good team, cousin!

#58 Comment By anon On May 7, 2020 @ 11:39 am

more than any concrete or waterproofing paint, you need VENTILATION in that room. in fact the paint and the concrete might make it worse by creating a space where it’s even harder for humidity to disperse!

it might be difficult to get decent ventilation in the space you describe but that will be infinitely better than attempts at waterproofing. Even just air humidity between day and night , not to mention seasonal changes, will leave you with condensation and if the room is so sealed off then youll have problems even with small amounts of moisture. better to have a couple small windows open to the elements year round (in the carolinas i dont imagine you get long enough cold enough cold spells to worry about anything freezing) and the ability for the air to circulate.

also, sad story about the beehives. I’d started a couple of hives a couple years ago as well, they were doing wonderfully, only to go one day to check on them and find the hives vandalized, smashed and overturned. while some possible suspects continue to circulate in the back of my mind i never found out for sure who did it or why. i do hope that at least the colonies managed to swarm and escape to live wild, they were doing quite well up to that point.

#59 Comment By OldSouth On May 8, 2020 @ 1:14 am

PitBullRN-excellent article! I, too, am a healthcare prof. from WNC. Drop me a line if you’d like:


Take Care!

#60 Comment By Beth Y On May 9, 2020 @ 1:18 am

You should never leave rings on or stack jars as this can give false seal and botulism has no smell or taste. Very dangerous way to store your precious work.

#61 Comment By Z_woman On May 10, 2020 @ 11:01 pm

Dear PitBullRN:

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, and I learned a lot from it. This is my first year gardening and I figure I am doing at least 50% of it wrong, but I am learning a tremendous amount, both from my successes and my failures. Watching my trials and triumphs my extended family has also become interested in gardening and are experimenting themselves, so that’s a real upside and fun for all of us. Next year I hope to do only 49% of it wrong, Here’s to your new storage room, may it be free of mold, mildew and mice.