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What Preppers Can Learn From the BBC Series "Wartime Farm"

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

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 possible. 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 historic site in my province called 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 (the trip's highlight). 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 again.

I quickly discovered that there are many lessons to be learned from this series. Still, 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.

The Prepper's Motto

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

— Sir Winston Churchill

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 prepping for those who are new to prepping and who preppers are.

Prepping is preparing yourself and your family for 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 of 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 lessens your impact on the environment.
  • Learning to be frugal
  • Being resourceful and using household items by reusing them or making them into something else.
  • Finding 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 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.

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

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

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Prepper Lessons From Episode 1

Here are three lessons that preppers can glean from episode one:

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Read More From Dengarden

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

Being a woman, I found the part where Ruth was setting up her kitchen fascinating (the land surveying was interesting too, but did you see that lovely kitchenette she got?). She had her heart set on an electric stove which had just come out around that time but could not have one.

Only one in ten farmhouses were on the grid during this time, and hers was not one of them. So she got a paraffin stove, 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 burn clean with no smoke.

Having alternative ways to cook nowadays is important.

Would you be 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. An alternative way to cook food is essential for most preppers; 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.

The Importance of Foraging

Foraging for food became very important during the Second World War in Britain to have adequate nutrition and a variety of food to eat. Foods such as apples and rose hips were 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 rely more on locally grown wild foods to fill in the gap in their nutrition.

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

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 neighbourhood?

Plant identification is a great skill to have as a prepper, whether you live in the city or the country. Knowing what you can do with your foraged foods is equally essential.

Preserve as a syrup? Hang to dry? Be sure you know what you should do and learn about the various methods if you've never done that kind of thing before.

Alternative Sources of Energy

As mentioned earlier, only one in ten farms in 1939 were on the grid. The portable petrol-powered generator was immensely popular to power lights and other electrical devices. It was so well built that they were nearly impossible to break down and beneficial to farmers.

Gas or petrol-powered portable generators were used to charge a set of batteries that would 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 essential to have a backup source when the power does go down because of storms or other emergencies.

Gas-powered generators are the most affordable though you rely 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 are a great alternative because they rely on the sun for power.

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Prepper Lessons From Episode 2 and 3

Here are the four lessons for preppers gleaned from episodes two and three:

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

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 policies that the citizens were to follow.

In the beginning, the Ministry of Agriculture called for culling most farm animals except dairy cattle, and the pastures used for feeding cows were to be used to grow food crops for people instead.

They had the problem of feeding the dairy cattle when most of the land on the farm was used for feeding people. They would still need to keep up or even increase their milk quota, but how do you do that with less feed?

They were thinking outside the box, and being resourceful led Peter and Alex to use sugar beet tops from neighbouring farms in place of hay. These tops were not of any significance typically, but during the war, they were looked upon as a good source of animal nutrition and calories.

Preppers can do this by paying attention to the seasons, 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.

This lesson has many valuable applications for preppers because it's all about common sense.

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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 were usually given hay.

The British government recommended farmers make silage which is essentially fermented feed. The fermentation process preserves the feed and its nutrition to be given to animals later.

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 beneficial method of food preservation that often does not require electricity or refrigeration.

Learning the art of fermentation is a valuable skill for preppers. The time to learn is 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 had never made silage before, so it was a new experience for them and a big gamble. The government provided farmers with information on how to make it, but there was no guarantee that it would turn out.

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 distribution system to ensure that everyone, regardless of their status, could have access to food during the war.

Rationing was presented to the population as a system of "fairness" to get people on board. Even the Royal Family participated in the rationing system, we are told.

In episode two, 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 were 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 never rationed was bread.

The advantage to living on a farm or where you had greater access to land outside the city was that you could forage for food and look to nature to provide food to eat at no cost. Foraged foods were also good vitamin C sources, such as 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 to be more self-sufficient and grow as much 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 such 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, brought to a rolling boil, and placed inside a box or crate lined on the bottom and sides with hay.

Hay would be placed on top of the hot pot, and a lid would be placed on top. The hay would act as insulation, and since this material surrounded the pot, the heat could not escape, 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 cooking method can be utilized when cooking with power from the grid or using something like a rocket stove or BBQ in an off-grid situation.

Homemade Haybox

Old Crafts Revived

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

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

Clay Tile Making

Peter and Alex watched 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 building a kiln and working it would have been a critical part of the clay tile-making craft.

Sewing/Quilting

Ruth had to make bedding for refugee families coming in from the city. 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 create a 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 material was needed to hold feathers, for example. It was a material known as "ticking," and it was made from cotton and tightly woven, and 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 material to make these quilts for the refugees.

Preppers sometimes can get carried away worrying about items to stock up on and forget that occasionally various skills, crafts, and trades are just as essential, if not more so, in any 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.

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Prepper Lessons From Episode 4

Here are the three lessons we can learn from episode four:

  1. Saving Soap
  2. Raising Rabbits
  3. Making Cheese

Saving Soap

Besides fats being rationed early at the start of the war, soap was later rationed 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, make it last.

Ruth showed one way in which people would make use of even the tiniest bits of soap lying around. Using a small flannel cloth, she placed a couple of small pieces of soap onto it and then closed the fabric around the soap by twisting the material tightly. She then put it in a bowl of hot water for a minute or so to melt the soap slightly to help the little pieces melt together into a more significant portion of soap. This ensured that no soap would go to waste.

This tip is helpful for anyone wishing to save money on soap.

Finding Soap

Another way that farmers could wash with a soap-like substance was with a plant called soapwort. This plant contains saponins which give it the soap-like quality, which is found more heavily in the root of the plant and 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 it to wash her hair.

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

Soapwort can also be grown in North America 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 excellent knowledge and a valuable resource since soap is essential for cleanliness and hygiene.

  • Natural Soapwort Shampoo and Body Wash
    This Natural Soapwort Shampoo and Body Wash is a wonderful way use saponaria officinalis, a bushing plant that fills out with purplish flowers all summer!

Raising 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 their advantages. The main advantage was that they were a quick-growing source of meat and could live off low-quality foodstuff and still thrive.

According to the MotherEarthNews1, one pair of healthy does (females) can produce more than 600 pounds 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 couldn't 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 raise rabbits for fur or hair instead of their meat as a resource.

Making Cheese

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

As always, nothing was to go to waste and milk that had soured could easily be turned into fresh cottage cheese.

Ruth made cottage cheese from soured milk:

  1. First, she strained the soured milk with some cheesecloth or muslin inside a colander separating the curds from the whey.
  2. Then she hung the cloth with the curds from a hook on a ceiling rafter and let the whey drain for another hour.
  3. After it had drained, the curds were nice, thick, and creamy. She then added some salt and fresh herbs, and it was ready to eat within an hour.

Ruth made the cottage cheese using 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.

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Prepper Lessons From Episodes 5 and 6

Here are the four lessons we can learn from episodes five and six:

  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

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 five, 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.

People mistakenly think they need a massive plot of land or a huge backyard to have a garden or grow their 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 intelligent ways to use any "scrap" piece of land you have to your advantage.

The patch of land they fixed in the episode had brush and rusty metal farm equipment.

What do you have outside your yard that could grow your food?

Beans, the Wonderful Fruit

We learn that beans were essential during World War II 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. They were used as sources of protein and fibre to stretch out meals.

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

In prepping, it is helpful to have dried and canned beans as part of your food storage for meals and stretch out a meal to feed more people for less.

You can take something simple as a can of soup that might feed two people but add a can of beans to it, and suddenly, you can now feed four 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

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Herbs for Medicine and Profit

As with most things during the war, many things, including medication, were hard to come by. In a grid-down situation or even inflation, this could also happen in our day. 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 six was foxglove, it could be used to lower blood pressure.

Ruth demonstrated the necessity of drying the herbs properly:

  • Keep them out of the sun.
  • They need to be in a space with good air circulation so that the plants' moisture can escape avoiding spoilage and mould growth.
  • She had a heater in her herb-drying shack, so the temperature was also a factor. You don't want it too hot, or else you're baking the herbs, but you want it warm enough to help with drying; also, too much heat destroys the valuable medicinal properties of the herbs.

A key component of any prepper's plan would be medicine or medical preparedness, including herbs or herbal products.

Knowledge of herbs that grow wild such as dandelions around your neighbourhood, is beneficial, as well as the medicinal properties of various herbs and plants should the situation arise when you need medicine but cannot access it for various reasons.

Cloth Flour Sacks

During World War II, milled flour would come in large cloth sacks. Flour companies got smart and realized that if they made the fabric more attractive, 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 themselves.

I have read countless wartime stories of how families, especially those with little money, had no choice but to make use of whatever they could find to make clothes or any other necessities to get by.

In most of the stories I read, flour sackcloth was 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. An old used t-shirt is seen as beneficial for many purposes, repurposing 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?

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Prepper Lessons From Episodes 7 and 8

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

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

Waterproofing Fabric

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

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

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

This information can be helpful in many prepping situations, 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.

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Basket Weaving

In episode seven, 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. Her pigeon carrier turned out pretty good despite never having woven a basket before.

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 mould them to create something beneficial and, often, durable.

Baskets can be woven from any number of materials, so depending on where you live, you might have access to particular raw materials that could be used.

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Making a Different Kind of Bread

In episodes seven and eight, different kinds of "bread" were made based on ingredients available during World War II.

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 was a bread pudding Ruth makes using very little fat (butter) and different ingredients than what was normally used in baking.

For the black bread, Alex learns that the Germans used silage (fermented hay), chopped grass, wood shavings (or sawdust), chopped fermented rye (dangerous and toxic if mouldy), and a little honey. The fermented grains and silage produced gases which enabled 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 was hard to swallow due to the wood shavings, but despite everything, it wasn't quite as bad as Alex imagined it would taste. It is better than nothing if you are desperate and starving.

The pudding Ruth makes in episode eight is called "baked potato pudding," made from a recipe she finds in an old magazine called Home and Country. It calls for a minimal amount of butter (one-third of the amount typically used), flour, orange juice, golden syrup instead of water, and potatoes.

Seeing as it is wartime in the show and living on a farm in Britain, there is 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 (or rutabaga) by slicing it up into thin slices, placing the pieces in a bowl, then sprinkling a few teaspoons of sugar over the top of it and letting it sit overnight, allowing the juice of the swede to come out. It turns out it did have a slight orange taste, and she added this "juice" to the recipe.

Nostalgic Recipes from WW2

Summary of Prepping Lessons

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. Making Soap
  9. Raising Rabbits
  10. Making 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

Three Main Prepping Themes

After watching all eight episodes of Wartime Farm, it becomes obvious that the same themes keep showing up in almost every episode and 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, 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 them.

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

Sources

  1. Mother Earth News (rabbits)

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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