Dead of winter or height of summer, there are some relatively quick, easy, and commonly inexpensive projects we can tackle right in our own backyards to improve our self-reliance and test our preps.
Train Prepper Pards
For many of us, our animals are beloved family members. Animals can also be incredible helpmates, even basic livestock like poultry and rabbits. Having those animals trained to respond and accept handling increases their usefulness as well as our ability to get them out of dangerous situations.
Both dogs and goats can be trained to wear packs and pull in harness.
That can decrease our loads not only in evacuations and hiking with them, but also increase their usefulness as we collect or distribute water, haul groceries to the kitchen, and maneuver about our daily lives.
They have to build up to their tasks, just like we do, both mentally and physically, so work in short periods and increase time and reps/weight regardless of task.
Animals also have to become accustomed to their gear. Many need some adjustment periods even for simple booties that protect them from roadside and forest or trail debris and surfaces.
Having well-behaved animals is always a plus. For preppers, especially, having animals that leash and load well, can be handled if they’re injured or sick, and that respond off-lead regardless of situation, and respond to voice, whistle pips, and silent hand signals is even more beneficial. Even the smallest backyard – or apartment interior – serves as a training ground for those abilities.
Since so many preppers recommend either headstrong or high-activity working dogs that need jobs to be contented companions, the concept “a tired puppy is a good puppy” also applies in the need for regularly working and training with our animals.
When it comes to preparedness, it really just does not get much easier or cheaper than some freebie buckets or curbside-pickup totes and trash cans, drilling 2-8 holes, and covering with old shirts or sheets, with $2-$5 in plumbing hardware optional.
Tagging onto gutters and roof lines is one of the most common – and efficient – methods of water catchment, but it’s far from the only way. We don’t have to stick with big kegs or drums for our catchment, either.
I actually prefer building tiers and pyramids of buckets because the smaller containers are easier to access for cleaning and lighter to move around.
Other options – especially for evacuating – include rolling trash cans we can fill with gear or livestock supplies, unpack, and use either for rainwater or fill larger amounts from water sources and be able to move (a bit) easier due to the wheels.
We can also create freestanding catchment out on our properties or as part of our bugout or camping plans, using tarps, damaged umbrellas, and kiddie pools to widen the catchment when able.
With an open mind for sizes and the ability to sheath them for looks, they’re applicable to vehicle bug-outs and even many condo/apartment flat dwellers.
Done correctly, this is one of the few items even easier and cheaper than water catchment, and just as capable of greatly forwarding our productivity and efficiency.
The premise is that we stack or fill things to create a reservoir beneath a planter, with a tube running through that planter to the reservoir and a wick up to our soil.
We’re able to fill the reservoir quickly, and because the water stays “underground” for plants to access through soil wicks, there’s little or no surface area for evaporation. It also keeps water available for sensitive plants like tomatoes and lettuce, and gives squash the deep watering they prefer.
We can use those same trash cans, totes, and buckets we sourced for free. We can also use filing cabinets and deep plastic or plastic-lined drawers.
The reservoir space can be created or held/supported by milk jugs, peanut butter jars, or chunks of logs. Instead of the usual PVC/ABS pipe for filling that reservoir, we can use empty plastic bottles. With short containers, it may take only a single bottle to reach the surface. Otherwise, we can cut a hole and nest 2-4 together.
For really tight spaces yet, we can get many of the same benefits with planters made from 2 liter bottles.
We’re more limited in what we can grow, but they’re also fast and simple enough for anyone, can be constructed with a nail and scissors, and are plenty big enough for lettuces, spinach, herbs, and – if we feed them with coffee grounds or re-brew tea bags to use for watering – even strawberries and small oriental cabbages.
Bottles are also handy in watering conventional gardens. They can have holes drilled or poked to deliver water to plants roots similar to olla irrigation. PVC gets used to much the same effect, and we can use yogurt cups and plant pots for essentially the same, although the volume is reduced.
As with SIP’s, it lessens “soaking” time and reduces surface water, so more of the water we’re pumping or hauling gets used by plants instead of running off or evaporating.
PVC/ABS can also be joined into a drip-irrigation grid that lets us water quickly and efficiently.
Our speed with watering can be increased further still with buckets or large jugs and some lines.
A little elevation is all that’s needed for gravity-driven drip irrigation in small plots. For longer rows and beds we can create T-posts or use hooked hangers for bird feeders to quickly hang reservoirs higher so they reach further.
We can leave them in place to fill from hoses, pails, or mobile water tanks, or create quick attach/detach points that let us just swap buckets between our catchment or fill area and the garden.
Collect & Organize Firewood
Even without a wood stove or fireplace, a lot of backup and alternative methods for cooking and heating rely on good ol’ trees for fuel. For some, like rocket stoves, a grill, or a small fire pit, it doesn’t require much room to keep a supply handy.
Keeping that supply neat and organized with a couple of CMU blocks, a stock tank or kiddie pool, or some freebie curbside-pickup bookcases can keep it from being an eyesore or rambling pile in a small yard. The same are handy for keeping kindling and stove wood handy by a door or work area. The same can be used to keep today’s wood out of weather even for those of us who use firewood regularly.
We can use trash like soda and soup cans, scrap wood and split logs from downed limbs and trees, and salvaged freebie windows to capture solar heat for all sorts of projects – several types of dehydrators, solar ovens, window and greenhouse and tent heaters, or, combined with coils of hose and buckets/barrels, even hot water for cooking, bathing, or showers.
Especially if we’re just getting our feet wet in construction and DIY, or pressed for time, pallets can be a godsend.
Small, simple sheds can be constructed from as few as 5-8 whole pallets and 1-2 extras that we cut apart for joint pieces. Additional pieces let us expand in size, fill in the gaps in boards, and build sturdier-yet structures.
It’s harder to get a hold of pallets in some areas, but many preppers can source them for free via trader websites or by developing contacts at nearby distribution hubs.
Those same pallets can be used for temporary or near-permanent fencing – and remember, both fences and buildings for expanding our space can be painted if that eyesore thing is a problem.
Yeah, we’re protecting the predators. Mostly the bug-eating predators in this case, although I’m also a big personal fan of weasels, garter and king snakes, and small hawks and owls – big enough to get mice, shrews and rats, but not to menace adult poultry.
It’s easy enough to make and build space for the critters that eat mosquitoes and garden pests.
Bat houses, toad castles, dragonfly waterers, bug hotels, and birdhouses – especially those targeted at primary hunters like wrens and swallows – can be cobbled together from rough wood, scrap material, broken jars and pots, sticks and weeds, bottles and cans, old gourds and boots, and even homemade mud daub.
We can also leave small patches of yard with native weeds and shrubs or cultivate flowers, herbs, and shrubs that provide habitat and feed for our helpful predators.
People are sometimes surprised by just how much food can be had from the weeds in gardens and yards, the ornamental varieties we grow, and our nearby ditches and wild areas.
I’m a huge Samuel Thayer enthusiast (good for a read as well as information resource), but for beginners and ‘burbs, I’m also a fan of Ellen Zachos’ smaller “Backyard Foraging” guide.
It’s unlikely we’ll truly feed ourselves off foraged foods, but they can make great supplements to basic carb-protein diets, with a resilience to weather and climate our domestic crops just can’t claim. Cultivating them can also boost our ability to hide food production in plain sight.
Convert Hoards to Stockpiles & Work Space
I hesitate to even mention it, but …
One of the most effective things we might do is actually clear out our sheds, garages, and yards. If we can’t get to stuff – easily and readily and immediately – it’s not doing us any good, anyway.
Sorting through, organizing, discarding things that are mouse-eaten and rotting, and clearing out space to work can let us accomplish more going forward.
Setting aside 15-60 minutes specifically for cleaning out 1-2 times a week can help it from being overwhelming, both the loss aversion/shock of loss, and the seemingly impossible task some people’s piles have evolved into.
I know. Extreme. We won’t talk about that anymore.
Backyard Prepper Projects
There’s lots of other options for quick and easy projects that can have big impacts on our self-reliance and preparedness, without either breaking the bank or going anywhere, regardless of our property size.
Big or small, pick a project and get started on DIY today.
All the better if you can up-cycle to accomplish it – tapping into creativity and the ability to use whatever’s on hand is actually a really good life skill, period, but it’s especially handy if we expect supply lines to dry up at some point.
by R.Ann Parris