What Preppers Can Learn From the BBC Series Wartime Farm

Updated on February 27, 2019
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Carolyn is a homesteader and avid prepper. She loves to learn new ways to be more self-sufficient and share her ideas with others.

Manor Farm in Hampshire, England.
Manor Farm in Hampshire, England. | Source

When I first discovered what "prepping" was I quickly got my hands on whatever books, videos and other resources I could to learn as much as I could. What I discovered was that several BBC television series are popular on many preppers "must watch" list, one of them being Wartime Farm.

I loved history in school and my favourite field trip was to a historical site in my province call Lower Fort Gary where everyone dressed and worked and acted as they did back in the day. We learned how they lived, what they did, and how they made food like bread (that was the highlight of the trip). I was fascinated. After discovering the link to the historical BBC series Wartime Farm in my quest to become a prepper, I was instantly back in my childhood and enjoying history once again.

I quickly discovered that there are many lessons to be learned from this series, but most of them pertain to lessons on prepping which is all about resourcefulness, creativity, hands-on skills, knowledge, and self-sufficiency to name a few.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

— Sir Winston Churchill

Background: What is Prepping?

Before I go into more detail about what preppers can learn from the show Wartime Farm, I want to briefly touch on the subject of prepping for those who are new to what prepping is and who preppers are.

What is Prepping?

Prepping is preparing yourself and your family if you have one, for things like emergencies, disasters, loss of income, pandemics, war, societal breakdown and even a zombie apocalypse in some cases. It's about being prepared for whatever life may throw at you somewhere down the road by doing one or more of the following:

  • Learning new skills like hunting, cooking, sewing, carpentry, etc.
  • Storing a supply or food, water and various other supplies to sustain you for a week up to a year or even longer.
  • Having a plan in place for any kind of emergency
  • Learning to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on things like the government, the grid, etc.
  • Living a more sustainable lifestyle that lessons your impact on the environment.
  • Learning to be frugal
  • Being resourceful and making use of household items by re-using them or making them into something else.
  • Finding out about alternative sources of income, food, fuel, water, etc.

What is a Prepper?

A prepper is someone who does some or all of the things listed above in an effort to be prepared. Preppers are generally people who are really into planning for the future, paying attention to what is happening in the world right now and learning from history.

This is why the BBC series Wartime Farm has so many valuable lessons to be learned for preppers. Preppers try to learn from history so they can have a better understanding of what they can expect in the future. Why? Because history always repeats itself. Only a fool says, "Oh, that will never happen again." History has always shown otherwise.

Cast of BBC Series Wartime Farm

Archeologists Peter Ginn, Alex Langlands and historian Ruth Goodman from Wartime Farm
Archeologists Peter Ginn, Alex Langlands and historian Ruth Goodman from Wartime Farm | Source

Have you seen the BBC series Wartime Farm?

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Prepper Lessons from Episode 1

Here are 3 lessons that preppers can gleam from episode 1:

  1. Alternative ways to cook
  2. Importance of foraging
  3. Alternative sources of energy

1. Alternative Ways to Cook

Being a woman I found the part where Ruth was setting up her kitchen to be very interesting (the land surveying was interesting too, but did you see that lovely kitchenette she she got?). She had her heart set on an electric stove which had just come out around that time but was unable to have one. Only 1 in 10 farm houses were on the grid (main electricity) during this time and hers was not one of them. So she got a paraffin stove, otherwise known as a kerosene stove here in North America. These stoves are still being made in America and are sold brand new on Lehmans.com. They are commonly used among the Amish community.

Paraffin or kerosene stoves work like a gas range but require no electricity and burns clean with no smoke.

Having alternative ways to cook nowadays is really important. If you have an electric stove (as I do) would you able to cook if the grid went down? Many people have a BBQ on their balcony or deck that they could use as an alternative for cooking food. Having an alternative way you can cook food is essential for most preppers and the more the better.

The Kerogas Burner oil stove similar to what Ruth used on Manor Farm in the cottage.
The Kerogas Burner oil stove similar to what Ruth used on Manor Farm in the cottage. | Source

2. Importance of Foraging

Foraging for food became very important during the second World War in Britain as a means of having adequate nutrition and a variety of food to eat. Foods such as apples and rose hips are mentioned because of their vitamin C content.

Imported foods were becoming less of an option and fruit like bananas quickly disappeared from stores. People had to start relying more on locally grown wild foods to fill in the gap for their nutrition.

Ruth goes foraging for rose hips and cooks them down to make a syrup that could be preserved over the winter.

In order to be effective at foraging, you need to be knowledgeable about the different wild plants and trees that grow in your area. Which are safe to eat? Which are poisonous? Would you be able to identify what is growing in your neighborhood?

Plant identification is a great skill to have as a prepper whether you live in the city or in the country. Knowing what you can do with the foods you have foraged is equally as important. Preserve as a syrup? Hang to dry? Be sure you know what you should do and learn about the various methods too if you've never done that kind of thing before.

3. Alternative Sources of Energy

As mentioned earlier, only 1 in 10 farms in 1939 were on the grid. In order to power lights and other electrical devices the portable petrol powered generator was immensely popular. it was also so well built that they were nearly impossible to kill. They were extremely useful to farmers.

Gas or petrol powered portable generators were used to charge a set of batteries which would then run in the evening since these generators were rather noisy. The engine was thus used to keep those batteries charged.

While most of us have access to the grid for our power, it is extremely important to have an alternative source for when the power does go down because of storms or other emergencies. Gas powered generators are the most affordable though you are reliant on gas to power them. Should there be a shortage of gas, you will have problems. Portable solar powered generators or solar charged batteries are gaining popularity and a great alternative because they rely only on the sun for power.

Prepper Lessons from Episode 2&3

Here are the 4 lessons for preppers gleamed from episode 2 and 3:

  1. The importance of planning ahead
  2. Fermenting food; not just for people
  3. Food rationing
  4. Old crafts revived

1. The Importance of Planning Ahead

As was common during the second world war in many countries, the government exerted greater power over the people and dictated new policy that the citizens were to follow. In the beginning the Ministry of Agriculture called for the culling of most farm animals except dairy cattle and the pastures used for feeding cows were to be used to grow food crops for people instead.

The problem arose of how were dairy cattle to be fed if most of the land on the farm was to be grown for people. They would still need to keep up or even increase their quota of milk but how do you do that with less feed? Thus the importance of planning ahead comes into play.

Thinking outside of the box and being resourceful led to Peter and Alex making use of sugar beet tops from neighboring farms to use in place of hay. These tops were not of any significance normally, but during the war they were looked upon as a good source of nutrition and calories for animals.

Preppers can do this by paying attention to the seasons and stocking up when foods are in season and preserving this food. You can stock up on goods when they are at their lowest price so that you only have to shop your pantry instead of running to the store and paying full price for something. Planning ahead could also mean making sure you have all the proper clothing for winter before it comes or emergency supplies in your vehicle. There are so many useful applications for this lesson for preppers and anyone else because it's all about common sense.

2. Fermenting Food; Not Just for People

Going back to Peter and Alex collecting sugar beet tops to feed the dairy cows; they had to be able to properly store the tops to feed the cattle in the winter when the cows would normally be given hay.

The British government recommended farmers make silage which is essentially fermented feed. The fermentation process preserves the feed as well as it's nutrition so that it can be given to animals at a later time. Fermentation is therefore not just for people! It is an ancient tradition of preserving foods that would otherwise spoil and not be fit to eat.

Foods such as milk, vegetables, fruits, and grains have been fermented as history records have shown dating back to Biblical times and earlier! It is a really useful method of food preservation that often does not require electricity or refrigeration. Learning the art of fermentation is a really useful skill for preppers to have. The time to learn is now when we can afford to make mistakes in case something doesn't turn out. Some foods are easier than others to ferment and Alex and Peter never made silage before so it was a new experience for them and a big gamble. The government did provide information to farmers on how to make it, but there was no guarantee that it would turn out.

3. Food Rationing

The central theme of food rationing was that nothing should go to waste.

The Ministry of Food in Britain set up the rationing system which was a system of distribution to ensure that everyone regardless of their status could have access to food during the war. Rationing was presented to the population as being about "fairness" to get people on board with it. Even the Royal Family participated in the rationing system we are told.

In episode 2 Ruth tells us that one of the first foods to be rationed was fats like butter and shortening. Meat quickly followed and then sugar. The amounts allowed per person as the war went on was reduced, and then reduced again and again until rations were half the amount they were at the start of the war only one and a half years into the rationing system. One of the few foods that were never rationed was bread.

The advantage to living on a farm or living where you had greater access to land outside the city was that you were able to forage for food and could look to nature to provide food to eat at no cost. Foraged foods were also good sources of vitamins like vitamin C from rose hips.

If you live in a city, how well do you think you and your family (if you have one) would manage if a rationing system were put into place today? Most preppers are often looking to homestead or at least live where they have access to a larger backyard or a small acreage so that they can be more self-sufficient and grow as much of their own food as possible.

Townies came off a lot worse during the war.

— Ruth Goodman, Wartime Farm episode 2

The Haybox

Paraffin was quickly added to the list of rationed items during the war and so cooking foods like stews for a long time on the stove using precious oil would have been a waste. The haybox was used instead as a type of slow-cooker that required no fuel or electricity to cook food.

Food was made in a pot of some kind and brought to a rolling boil on the stove and then placed inside a box or crate lined on the bottom and sides with hay. Hay would then be placed on top of the hot pot of food and a lid would be placed on top of this. The hay would act as insulation and since the pot was surrounded with much of this material, the heat could not escape and so the food would continue to cook.

Preppers today can use an old cooler and line it with newspapers, old blankets or towels. Even a regular cardboard box can work quite well. This method of cooking can be utilized when cooking using power from the grid or using something like a rocket stove or BBQ in an off-grid situation.

Home made hay box or thermal cooker

4. Old Crafts Revived

In 1940 everything was in short supply, including furniture and building materials. Imports of cotton and linen was severely restricted and things like bedding was in short supply.

As a result of all this, many crafts were being revived again such as clay tile making and sewing/quilting.


Clay Tile Making

Peter and Alex watch how clay tiles could be made with an old model tile maker and this was overseen by someone who had the crafting skill of making those tiles. Before the war, tiles were made in factories but those factories were working overtime for the war effort so people had to seek out people who had those old crafts and machines to create things like tiles and other building materials themselves.

They also got to help build a make-shift kiln, which was essential to dry the clay tiles properly. A proper understanding of how to build a kiln and work it would have been essential and a key part of the craft of clay tile making.


Sewing/Quilting

Ruth had to make bedding for refugee families coming in from the city and while she sewed pockets on a machine (it doesn't show her making the pockets from scratch) she finished them by hand sewing them together to make a kind of quilt that looked more like a duvet because each pillow was stuffed with feathers.

For someone to make this kind of bedding you had to know what kind of material was needed to hold feathers, for example. It was a material known as "ticking" and it was made from cotton and tightly woven. This prevented the sharp ends of feathers from poking you while sleeping.

Since fabrics would have been hard to come by in the store, Ruth recycled old fabric to make these quilts for the refugees.


Preppers sometimes can get carried away worrying about items to stock up on and forget that sometimes various skills, crafts and trades are just as important if not more so in any kind of situation. How many people do you know that can make tiles? Sew bedding? This is a good lesson in remembering the importance of learning new skills and old crafts as a prepper.

Prepper Lessons from Episode 4

Here are the 3 lessons we can learn from episode 4:

  1. Soap
  2. Rabbits
  3. Cheese

1.Soap

Saving Soap

Besides fats being rationed early on at the start of the war, soap later was rationed as well in 1942 in Britain. Since this is such a necessity for cleanliness both personally and around the home farmers had to be resourceful in finding ways to make the most out of what they had and more importantly, making it last.

Ruth showed one way in which people would make use of even the tiniest bits of soap lying around. Using a small piece of flannel cloth she placed a couple of small pieces of soap onto it and then closed the fabric up around the soap by twisting the material tightly. She then placed it in a bowl of hot water for a minute or so, enough to melt the soap slightly to help the little pieces to melt together into a larger piece of soap. This insured that no soap would go to waste. This tip is useful for anyone also wishing to save money on soap as well.

Finding Soap

Another way that farmers were able to wash with a soap-like substance was with a plant called soapwort. This plant contains saponins which gives it the soap-like quality and this is found more heavily in the root of the plant but also in the stem and leaves (even the flower).

Ruth took cuttings of the plant and cut them up, placed them in a bowl and added hot water. She used a wooden spoon to bruise the plant to release the juices into the water. She then strained out the plant and used to wash her hair.

Soapwort does not lather quite as much as regular soap and it is also much gentler of a cleanser. Ruth mentioned that it is used to clean ancient tapestries and textiles because it is so gentle.

Soapwort can be grown in North America as well and is easy to grow! A great addition to a prepper's garden should there ever be a shortage of soap or if soap were to get too expensive in the store. This is great knowledge to have and a valuable resource since soap is very important with regard to cleanliness and hygiene.

Rock Soapwort Plant

Source

2. Rabbits

The idea of raising rabbits for meat was introduced in this episode. Rabbit farming was encouraged by the British Government (the War AG'; better known as the War Agricultural Executive Committee in every county).

Rabbits raised for meat had its advantages. The main advantages was that they were a quick growing source of meat and could live off low-quality food stuff and still thrive.

According to the website MotherEarthNews.com, one pair of healthy does (females) can produce more than 600 lbs of meat in one year. As far as feed goes, "According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a rabbit needs 4 pounds of feed to make 1 pound of meat. In comparison, beef cattle need 7 pounds of feed or more to create 1 pound of meat, reports Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Science."

Since rabbits are small animals, technically you can raise them indoors. This is an interesting option for anyone prepping or homesteading regardless of where they live. Most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a meat rabbit and a pet rabbit. So even if you didn't have space in your yard or your climate was too cold for them to be outside all year round, raising rabbits might be an option.

One could also raise rabbits for fur or hair besides just meat as a resource as well.

3. Cheese

Even though dairy output was to be at an all time high during the war and every ounce of milk was needed for the war effort, farmers were able to use any milk that had soured or "turned."

As always, nothing was to go to waste and milk that has soured could easily be turned into fresh cottage cheese Ruth demonstrates this with some milk that had gone sour on the farm.

First, she strained the soured milk with some cheese cloth or muslin inside of a colander separating the curds from the whey. Then she hung the cloth with the curds in it from a hook on a ceiling rafter and let the whey continue to drain for another hour.

After it had finished draining the curds were nice and thick and creamy. She then added some salt and fresh herbs and within an hour it was ready to eat.

The cottage cheese that Ruth made used raw milk which works best for cheese but if you do not have access to raw milk there is another way to make cottage cheese in the link below.

Prepper Lessons from Episodes 5&6

Here are the 4 lessons we can learn from episodes 5&6:

  1. Making the most of every square foot of land
  2. Beans, the wonderful fruit
  3. Herbs for medicine and profit
  4. Cloth flour sacks

1. Making the most of every square foot of land

Britain's War Ag says, "Every square scrap of land is to be put to good use."

In episode 5 we see Alex and Peter looking over every square foot of their farm to find scrap land that could be used to grow something to help the war effort whether it was food crops for people or animals. Every bit helped.

I find this idea to be quite relevant for preppers. People mistakenly think they need a huge plot of land or a huge back yard to have a garden or grow their own food, but the reality is that they don't. There are countless books on square foot gardening and vertical gardening to give you some ideas of smart ways to use any "scrap" piece of land you have to your advantage. In the episode the patch of land they fixed up had brush and rusty metal farm equipment on it. What do you have outside in your yard that could be converted to growing your own food?

2. Beans, the wonderful fruit

We learn that beans were essential during WW2 in Britain for many reasons. 1) It was one of the few foods that were not rationed during the war. 2) They were inexpensive 3) Beans were used as sources of protein and fiber to stretch out meals.

In the Emergency Feeding Center Ruth uses beans in her dinner menu to make a pork, bean and breadcrumb roll as the main protein of the meal being served.

In prepping it is useful to have dried of canned beans as part of your food storage for meals and also for the purpose of stretching out a meal to feed more people for less. You can take something simple as a can of soup that might feed 2 people but add a can of beans to it and suddenly you can now feed 4 people a hearty meal for just a dollar or two more.

Nothing like a stodgy pudding for cheering a person up.

— Ruth Goodman, Wartime Farm episode 5

3. Herbs for medicine and profit

As with most things during the war, many things were hard to come by, including medication. In a grid down situation or even inflation this could happen in our day as well. Herbs had many valuable uses both medicinally and economically. many pharmaceutical companies paid for top quality fresh or dried herbs.

One example given in episode 6 was foxglove. It could be used to lower blood pressure.

Ruth demonstrated the necessity of drying the herbs properly:

  • They need to be kept out of the sun
  • They need to be in a space with good air circulation so that the moisture given off by the plants could escape to avoid spoilage and mold growth.
  • She had a heater in her herb drying shack so temperature is a factor as well. You don't want it too hot or else you're baking the herbs, but you want it warm enough to help with drying and also too much heat destroys the valuable medicinal properties of the herbs.

A key component of any preppers plan would be medicine or medical preparedness that may include herbs or herbal products. Having knowledge of herbs that grow wild such as dandelions around your neighborhood is very useful as well as the medicinal properties of various herbs and plants should the situation ever arise where you might be in need to medicine but cannot access it for various reasons.

4. Cloth flour sacks

During WW2 milled flour would come in large cloth sacks. Flour companies got smart and realized that if they made the fabric more attractive then more people would buy that brand of flour over others. The companies also understood that people were re-using the cloth from these flour sacks to make clothing for themselves.

I personally have read countless stories of how families during WW2, especially ones that had little money had no choice but to make use of whatever they could find to make clothes or any other necessities to get by. Most of the stories I read were flour sack cloth being used for children's clothes though it was used for anything fabric could be used for.

This idea goes back to the skill of resourcefulness. A old used t-shirt suddenly can be seen as useful for many purposes, re-purposing the fabric to make other clothing, as a bag, as a straining cloth, etc. Sometimes it's a wise idea as your prep to look at something you might view as junk and ask yourself, what else can I use this for?

Prepper Lessons from Episodes 7&8

Here are the 3 lessons we can learn from these episodes:

  1. Waterproofing fabric
  2. Basket weaving
  3. Making a different kind of bread

1. Waterproofing fabric

In episode 7 it has been raining non-stop and being on a farm there is always work to be done outdoors. Alex has decided to make his own waterproof jacket to keep him dry. It's made from 3 ingredients: beeswax, paraffin wax and linseed oil.

He gently heated the ingredients since linseed oil is flammable and then using a paint brush, painted his overcoat with the mixture and let it dry.

The paraffin can have a strong smell but it should dissipate after the material has cured for 24 hours.

This information can be useful in many prepping situations seeing as you can take various cloths and magically make them waterproof when needed provided you have the right items to make the mixture. For greater detail on how to do this, check the article: How to waterproof fabric.

2. Basket weaving

In episode 7 Ruth takes it upon herself to attempt to weave a basket from willow branches to create a large square basket to hold Peter and Alex's messenger pigeons.

Ruth found basket weaving relaxing and she rather enjoyed herself. Despite never having woven a basket before her pigeon carrier turned out pretty good. She also described how doing something with your hands such as basket weaving is so satisfying because you get to see something being made right before your eyes.

Basket weaving is taking things from nature and learning how to manipulate them and mold them to create something incredibly useful and often times durable as well. Baskets can be woven from any number of materials so depending where you live you might have access to particular raw materials that could be used.

4. Making a different kind of bread

In episodes 7&8 there are different kinds of "breads" made based on ingredients that were available during WW2. The first was a version of black bread that people in Germany tried to make based on severely limited rations and food available. The second is a bread pudding Ruth makes using very little fat (butter) and different ingredients than what were normally used in baking.

For the black bread, Alex learns that the Germans used silage (fermented hay), chopped grass, wood shavings (or sawdust) and chopped fermented rye (dangerous and toxic if moldy) and a little honey. The fermented grains and silage produce gases which enable the "bread" to rise while baking since there was no yeast to be found to make proper bread in Germany at the time. It looked disgusting and it was hard to swallow due to the wood shavings but despite everything it wasn't quite as bad as Alex imagined it would taste. If you were desperate and starving, it was better than nothing no doubt.

The pudding that Ruth makes in episode 8 is actually called "baked potato pudding" made from a recipe she finds in an old magazine called Home and Country. It calls for a very small amount of butter (1/3 of the amount normally used, flour, orange juice, golden syrup instead of water and of course, potatoes.

Seeing as it is wartime in the show and living on a farm in Britain, there was no access to fresh oranges so Ruth comes up with a way to make mock orange juice from what she could find growing in her garden. She makes it with swede (otherwise known as rutabaga) by slicing it up in thin slices, placing the slices in a bowl, then sprinkling a few teaspoons of sugar over top of it and letting it sit overnight allowing the juice of the swede to come out. Turns out it did have a slight orangy taste and she added this "juice" to the recipe.

Nostalgic Recipes from WW2

Victory Cookbook
Victory Cookbook

This is such a valuable resource for preppers due to the creative uses of household and pantry items to make inexpensive, filling and yet tasty food. Learn how to stretch a meal, find ingenious uses for everyday foods and get your creative juices flowing. Lovely black and white pictures and iconic advertisements are found throughout the book. I personally own this and I'm grateful to have this resource in my kitchen. I highly recommend it for any prepper's kitchen.

 

Summary of Prepping Lessons Learned in Wartime Farm

Here is a recap of all the lessons preppers can learn from watching BBC's Wartime Farm (17 in all):

  1. Alternative ways to cook
  2. Importance of foraging
  3. Alternative sources of energy
  4. The importance of planning ahead
  5. Fermenting food
  6. Food rationing
  7. Old crafts revived
  8. Soap
  9. Rabbits
  10. Cheese
  11. Making the most of every square foot of land
  12. Beans
  13. Herbs for medicine and profit
  14. Cloth flour sacks
  15. Waterproofing fabric
  16. Basket weaving
  17. Making a different kind of bread

3 Main Prepping Themes from Wartime Farm

After watching all eight episodes of Wartime Farm it becomes very obvious that the same themes keep showing up in almost every episode and they are essential to any prepper. They are the following:

  1. Resourcefulness
  2. Having useful hands-on skills
  3. Thinking outside of the box

If you can't remember much from this article than please remember these three themes and you will do very well in your journey to being prepared for whatever life might throw at you. You will be able to analyze your surroundings and take stock of what you have on hand. You will know how to stretch food, make meals out of anything you have and be able to solve almost any problem life throws at you. Sadly, most younger people today, or even people my age (in their forties) have never had the chance to exercise these skills or taken much of an interest in these things either.

I hope you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share with others what you have learned. Thank you!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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