Garden Diary - February 2020

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Hope for the Best: Prepping for Covid-19
with Updates on 29 February and several in March

Friday, 28 February 2020
with Updates

I enjoy reading science fiction, even the "what if" of post-apocalyptic stories such as "Alas, Babylon" written by Pat Frank and published in 1959. But this is not a story.

It began in December 2019. People in Wuhan, China were falling ill with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Apparently transmissible before people are showing any symptoms, but primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Air travel means that by now, Covid-19 has spread from China into 57 countries: Asia, Australia, into Europe, North America, South America, Africa. The CDC notes that "For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low."

Paul had ordered face masks in January - they have yet to arrive. I am not extremely concerned about becoming infected. Living in a semi-rural area, away from large cities should reduce the risk. It is more a matter, I think, of societal disruptions. Superstorm Sandy in November 2012 was disruptive for about two weeks. This could be significantly worse. I decided it would be prudent to do some prepping. We have a whole house generator, thanks to Superstorm Sandy, and a large in-ground propane tank. That means we should be O.K. for electricity, which has the ancillary meaning that - as we have a well - we should also be O.K. for water. Propane also means that there will be a working kitchen stove. Even so, I decided that most if not all of the food preps should be shelf-stable. And small point in choosing anything that we would not normally eat. If I prove to be over-thinking things we'll still consume what I buy.

My list included staples such as pasta and rice, and canned vegetables. We prefer frozen corn when fresh is out of season but in keeping with my shelf stable mantra I decided to get some canned corn. I can make corn fritters, corn chowder, mix with black beans to go with chili. Canned crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes - useful for chicken cacciatore, pasta dishes, soups, and more. Canned tuna. Some more canned soup - we usually have a few cans on hand for quick lunches. A 10-pound bag of all purpose flour and a 5-pound bag of bread flour.

While I don't bake all our bread we do enjoy it when I bake a loaf of the easy, no-knead bread.
Very simple: for a 1½ pound loaf you need 3 cups of bread flour, a generous 1½ cups water,
salt, ¼ teaspoon instant rise yeast. Wait 18 hours, flip, shape, bake in cast iron pot in hot oven.

More oatmeal - I like it, and there's always oatmeal craisin pecan cookies. A 10-pound bag of sugar, which is how I usually buy it. A 7-pound bag of light brown sugar. I usually I buy the 2-pound size, and dark brown. Which does not come in larger sizes. An extra bag of chocolate chips for cookies - I've baked so many batches that I have the recipe memorized. Six one-pound boxes of unsalted butter. It freezes well and is useful for more than cookies.

We eat a lot of fruit. This will be an issue. Most canned fruit is packed in syrup and I find it overly sweet. I did buy three cans of pineapple packed in pineapple juice. There are blueberries, strawberries, peaches and sour cherries that I put up last summer, in the freezer. And homemade sweet preserves - one dessert option will be a jelly roll.

I'll buy some apples, make applesauce, and easily bottle it using a water bath canner.
I used three pounds each Granny Smith and Gala apples. Cut in quarters and core. Simmer with
four cups of apple cider until soft. Puree, add 1 cup brown sugar, juice of 2 Meyer lemons. Bottle.
Yield: four 12-ounce and two pint jars of applesauce, plus two pint jars of cider cooking liquid.

Depending on how lengthy a self-quarantine proves to be, if it comes to that, it might become a matter of boredom: I don't want that for lunch / dinner again. I seriously doubt that malnutrition, starvation, scurvy, rickets, or other deficiency diseases will become a matter of concern.

Non-food items. At Costco I bought toilet paper, facial tissues, and paper napkins. I had thought to buy a gallon of bleach at Wal-Mart on Thursday, 27 February. All out, two large empty shelf sections. Inquiring, I was told that there was no idea when Chlorox would be stocked, and the Wal-Mart brand was not expected before March 7. Bought a small container of bleach tablets, dissolve one in a gallon of water for use. Doubled back to Costco. Passing a couple whose very full cart included a three pack of 3.78 quart jugs of bleach I asked "What aisle?" and headed straight there. To find only four remaining boxes, one with an opened top. As I wrestled one box into my cart the young man returned - he'd decided to get another three-pack. A man came by and also took one. As I wheeled away yet another man came over and was looking at the last remaining three-pack with its open top. Paul has an unopened box of nitrile gloves, 30 in the package. They'll be good when I might need to wipe / wash anything down with a bleach solution, and should be re-useable for that use a time or two. But I'll check.

NOTE: To make a solution for disinfecting door knobs, countertops, and other hard surfaces add ½ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. That's the same as 8 Tablespoons to one gallon, or 2 Tablespoons to one quart, or one Tablespoon to a pint of water. It is better to make modest amounts more often. The solution only keeps its usefullness for a few days, degrading with warmth, light, and exposure to air. Store in a glass container well capped, in the dark, and at cool room temperature. Do Not add other ingredients such as ammonia, vinegar, window cleaner, or alcohol to bleach. Dangerous fumes will be released. This is not a hand sanitizer.

Today I went to Shop-Rite for some "normal" shopping. Decided to get some powdered milk, as long as I was there. They are all out and have no idea when it will be available. They did have a very few jugs of bleach.

Also today I ordered more canned cat food for Domino and Mr Poe. Should be delivered tomorrow, and will provide 36 days of food in addition to what we have on hand.

Storage. There are several large plastic tubs, with lids, in the basement. Items are somewhat arranged in them - canned goods in one, baking supplies in another, etc.

There's nothing we would not use in the ordinary way of things, just more of them. We will see if I have been prudent or absurd. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

UPDATE: Saturday, 29 February - Shop-Rite was very crowded, even more than usual on a Saturday. More people than typical using the free disinfectant wipes on shopping cart handles. Between Shop-Rite and Wal-Mart I found: a small container of powdered milk, got my usual powdered buttermilk, three 10-packs of vinyl gloves (one at home, one in Paul's car's glove box, one in my purse.) Bought some potato flakes - not a usual purchase, would not try to pass them off as mashed potatoes, but I think could be alright in something like kartoffelklosse, potato dumplings.


UPDATE: Sunday, 1 March - Thinking about hand washing, touted as better protection against Covid-19 than wearing a face mask. If concerned about your hand washing skills you are not scrubbing for surgery so no need to remove jewelry. If in public rest room without automatic paper towel dispenser get paper towels before washing. If bathroom door opens inward get an extra towel to open door afterward washing. Also, echinacea helps boost the immune system. Cannot take it like a vitamin, constantly, or it loses efficacy. Take when needed, three times a day added to liquid such as water or juice for a week or 10 days. I am of the opinion that the tincture is better than capsules.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 3 March - Paul had his physical therapy session this morning. I decided to drive. Then, while he was leaping and bounding or whatever he does, I would go to the nearby Wal-mart Superstore, looking for more soup and some echinacea.

Wal-Mart - empty shelves where immune response vitamins etc should be. Including echinacea.
Progresso soups - mostly empty. No varieties of chicken. Or beef, or, actually, much of anything.

Went to the nearby CVS. Their only echinacea was not tincture They only had the capsule form, from the above ground portion of Echinacea, I was going to buy it as a fall back. That's until I read the label. You are supposed to take 7 capsules per day, individually, preferably with meals. Anyone here eating 7 meals / day? Didn't think so.

Went to Costco. They don't carry echinacea at all. I had wiped the cart handle down with the wipes available as you enter the store, same as I did at Wal-Mart. Some people apparently believe in stronger measures. I saw an older couple in Costco, shopping. They were both wearing disposable gloves. I mentioned it and the man replied that they always did.

UPDATE: Thursday, 5 March - I feel that my preparations are complete. Did I panic? I do not believe so.

Empty shelf syndrome continues - this is the area for disinfectant cleaners at Wal-Mart today.

My concern is not so much on becoming ill as needing / wanting for whatever reason to sequester at home for a matter of weeks to - at the worst - for a couple of months. It just seemed sensible to acquire consumables in the way of food and non-food items. (And there was an ample supply of yarn already on hand.) Primary choices were shelf stable canned or dried items. Ordinarily we're spoiled for choice. For fresh produce I went back to the days before food with more frequent flyer miles than I have. I'm talking potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage.

Note: Tuesday, 10 March -
As anticipated, the price of cabbage has sharply dropped in honor
of St. Patrick's Day. I can but wish that they would do the same for
the always costly leeks on St. David's Day, 1 March.

Back to Thursday, 5 March: A friend doing her grocery shopping today made her regular visit to Kimberton Whole Foods in Pennsylvania today. At our Wednesday morning knitting group I had mentioned that I was looking for tincture of echinacea, so far unsuccessfully. My "personal shopper" walked down a different aisle, asked the nice (and very helpful) lady in that department if they had it, and proceeded to the checkout. My friend was glad I had described what I wanted as the store was very well supplied with three tinctures, each different, as well as capsules. She chose the one made with fresh echinacea root & flower. Turns out it is produced locally by Herbalist & Alchemist Inc in Washington New Jersey.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 10 March - This morning I went to the nearby Costco while Paul was at physical therapy. Primary reason was to fuel up my car, which was down about a half a tank. That's when I usually fill it. As long as I was there I went inside to see what was going on.


Some items are limited to two only per member per day. Various surface cleaner/sanitizers, paper towels, toilet paper. One woman told me that the store was sold out of the less expensive toilet paper. She'd had to buy the premium kind. I asked about disinfecting wipes. The man stocking shelves told me they'd gotten one pallet, which promptly sold out. He could not say when more would be available - they keep ordering but that doesn't mean they receive the item.

There are work arounds. I saw numerous shoppers observing the limit of two items.
But doing so with the selection of two each of different brands or packages of water.

I understand sanitizers and paper goods. Apparently there is also
a rush on 20 pound bags of rice. No idea how people will store it.

Some shoppers wore disposable gloves. At checkout I noticed that some
(but not all) cashiers and cart loaders were wearing sturdy purple gloves.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Monday, 16 March - I thought I was done with this, but this morning I went to Delaware Valley Farm and Feed to get eggs, and then on to the IGA in Frenchtown. What I learned at the one and saw at the other resulted in this update.

I went to the Deleware Valley Farm and Feed store for eggs, which is where I always get them. As long as I was there I got wild bird seed too. Jack has had to limit some people on livestock feed - if they would have gotten 5 and want 6 or 7 that's O.K. he said. But if they try to buy 10 or 15 bags of feed he's saying no.

Then I went onward to the small IGA in town. I have NEVER seen it like this.

No bananas, cleared out of everything, including the organic ones.
Asked about when bananas would be back in stock. Maybe today
but the store is being shorted on what they order. Can live without.

No wraps. No tortillas. And as anticipated, there's no packaged bread.

The "good" packaged bread by the deli county is in stock. Got one loaf.

Milk was nicely available but no eggs. Glad I stopped at the farm and feed store.

The IGA has really excellent meat, always ample supplies. Today there's not much beef left.

Very low on chop meat and what they had were smaller packages of the 85/15.
No larger family packs. No limit on what could be purchased. Ample ground pork
though, so I bought some of the pork and my usual twice as much ground beef.
Hamburgers tonight, freeze meatloaf to cook later. Freeze pork for Asian recipes.

Out of chicken, both whole and parts, except for 4 packages of drumsticks.

No bagged onions. No loose onions, and mostly out of potatoes, both loose and bagged.

Broccoli, all gone. There's asparagus though.

The freezer cases are empty of vegetables.

I though I was being a little paranoid when I started this exercise on 28 February.
Here it is, just 18 days later. Now I wonder, was I paranoid enough? I do hope so.
It is time to hunker down. Cancelled Saturday's class. Arboretum closed anyhow.
Wednesday morning knitting group staying home. Besides, cafe now takeout only.
I can crochet at home, go outside and garden. We are living in interesting times.

ONE MORE UPDATE: Wednesday, 18 March - Every time I think I'm done with this entry something else crops up. Today I discovered that I did not have "reserve" packages of plastic wrap, plastic bags, tin foil in the cupboard as I thought I did. Rather than try for a crack of dawn visit tomorrow morning I went to Wal-Mart Super Store in Flemington this afternoon. I prepared myself with a disposable plastic glove for my right hand and an inexpensive washcloth saturated with a bleach disinfection solution in a plastic bag in my left front blue jean pocket. Thinking things through, I put my credit card in my shirt pocket so I don't need to fumble with my purse, get the wallet out, remove credit card, etc. The idea was to pick up items in the store with my right hand and as needed use my left hand to remove that bag and wipe whatever seemed to need it with the bleachy washcloth.

I was there mid-afternoon. Except for obvious couples and pairs everybody spacing out, and store not crowded. Some people with face masks and gloves on both hands. The store is trying its best to keep shelves stocked. Pallets filled with stacks of shrink wrapped boxes and restocking efforts under way. Staff is looking frazzled. So when I would pass someone doing the stocking I'd pause and say thank you, and how much I appreciated their efforts to deal with things at this scary, hectic time. Each one seemed a little startled, and then they'd say "thank you." To me!

Not bad, not fabulous. The plastic wrap, plastic sandwich bags and freezer bags in 1- and 2-gallon size, also tin foil I wanted were somewhat spotty on the shelves but I had no problem getting them. Produce - there were ample supplies of bananas and clementines so I happily got some of both. Did get poblano peppers and tomatillos. I wanted some ginger root. But there was absolutely none! No idea if some word is out on the Internet that ginger root is effective against covid-19 or some other lunacy. I do have some baby ginger I pickled last spring, guess that's what I'll be using for cooking. Big gaps in the meat cases. Breakfast meats - empty. Sausages - mostly gone except for hot dogs. Gaps in the cheese case but I did get mozzarella. No Smart Balance, had to get one of the few remaining Olivio for the reserve not-butter I wanted.

As an aside: Seeing as we're down to one full and one partial tub of kitty litter, about a 3 week supply, I decided to call Chewy's this morning and order some. Firstly, I was on hold for about 30 minutes or more. When I did finally speak to a representative she told me that they are completely out of the Tidy Cats Instant Action that I usually get - no 35-pound tubs that I wanted, also no 40 pound boxes or 20 pound jugs. They did have the Continuous Action. I ordered three 35-pound tubs. A follow up email said that rather than the usual 1- to 2-day delivery my order will be shipped in 5 to 8 days. Good thing I ordered today and not next week.

I surely hope this is it.

A NEW LOOK AT A LOCAL POST OFFICE: Thursday, 19 March - I went to the post office in Baptisttown, New Jersey, to mail some packets of seeds to the county arboretum. They'll be sent, along with printed copies of the handouts, to students who had registered for Saturday's covid-19 cancelled class. This is such a tiny post office that it closes for an hour so the postmistress may eat her lunch. And this is what I saw when I walked in.


Someone had come in yesterday, and exhaled so forcefully that it blew the postmistress' hair around. After scolding the woman (who seemed confused and unaware of what might be the matter) the postmistress took a trash bag, opened it up, and taped it around the service window opening. To better see customers, and they her, she made a file folder size opening at the right height. Made a cut-out, and taped a clear plastic "window" insert. Very clever! Safety first, for both staff and customers. Better if the postal service (a non-government organization) had provided guidelines. But the site from which the postmistress is supposed to order gloves, wipes and other disposable sanitizing supplies is always out. Hoping for useful risk management information seems unlikely.

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