Country Living Series

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Scrubbing buckets

Saturday evening I did something I've been meaning to do for quite awhile, but kept putting off. I scrubbed our storage buckets.

Prior to Y2K, we purchased 24 five-gallon food storage buckets and have pretty much kept them full ever since. Some of them we rarely open (we still have five gallons of black beans and five gallons of split peas we rarely touch, for example) but others are opened frequently, most notably rice, popcorn, cornmeal, lentils, navy beans, sugar, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.

Trouble is, we really don't have a convenient place to store these buckets in the house. As you can imagine, two dozen five-gallon buckets take up quite a bit of room. So, somewhat by default, we put them in one of the stalls in the barn.

It really was a stupid place to put them. They regularly got pooped on, knocked over, kicked, and otherwise banged around by cows and the horse. The insides stay clean and dry, of course, but the outsides were filthy.

Plus it was just plain hard to get to them. If I suddenly found myself low on rice for dinner on a winter evening, it required me to put on my rubber boots, coat, scarf, and take a flashlight through the mucky corral into the barn. I'd shoo aside the livestock, try to find (by flashlight) the bucket I needed. The labels faded more often than not, so I frequently had to open several buckets before finding the rice. Then I had to try and keep the dirty top from contaminating the clean insides. I'd fill my rice jar, re-screw the buckets (they have a ratchet-screw arrangement), go back into the house, divest myself of my winter gear, and then start dinner. A lotta hassle.

So, since preparedness has been on my mind lately, I knew it was time to get those buckets out of the barn, clean them, inventory the contents, and find someplace more convenient to store them.

So far I'd gotten to fourteen of them. These are already cleaned and inventoried, though I still don't have a convenient place to put them (right now they're scattered hither and yon around the house, but at least they're properly labeled). But it was drawn-out and boring work, so I kept putting off the remaining ten.

No more. Saturday night I hauled them around and prepared to clean.

Each bucket holds about forty pounds of standard beans or rice, or about 25 pounds of oatmeal (which is lighter). I used the dolly (hand truck) to take two buckets at a time out of the barn.


I put the buckets on a pallet as I scrubbed, otherwise dirt would splash up from the ground and get the bucket dirty again.

As I was scrubbing one particular bucket, I noticed the screw-ratchet top didn't look like it was on properly, so I opened it up. Sure enough, the contents (oatmeal) had gotten wet and contaminated. (Yuck!) I dumped the rotten oatmeal on our burn pile and invited the chickens to pick through what they wanted, then cleaned the bucket.

But this illustrated a couple of things. One, it's important to inventory dried stored foods every so often for damage or spoilage. Two, while oatmeal is fairly cheap (we buy it in 50 lb. bags) and easily replaceable, this may not be the case in the future. Should the time come when food is more costly and/or scarce, losing 25 lbs of oatmeal would be devastating. So check your food stocks, folks, and rotate. If you intend the food to be sealed for long-term storage, you may prefer to use mylar bags and oxygen absorbers so critters don't breed in your wheat or oatmeal.

The cleaned buckets, stacked to dry. Later on I'll bring them in the house, inventory the contents, attach some better labels, and find a place to store them.


  1. Seems like you don't need a place in the house for 24 buckets, you need a place for one of each which would be 4-6.

  2. how about storing a bucket or two in each closet, under the stairs, in the pantry etc.. and make use of them as well...full, they are great for extra seats in the mudroom, playroom, and they also make great step stools for cleaning and reaching those things that are just out of reach. plus, the contents are being stored not only in airtight containers but they will also be in climate controlled areas as well. my house was blessed with walkin closets and from the beginning we converted one of the larger walkin closets specifically for storage of such things as homecanned produce and storage of drygoods. we also tried the outdoor storage bldg. for storage and whewee-mold and mildew out the ying yang! move your buckets of food outta the barn and store extra firewood in the barn instead!

  3. I had and interesting experience a few years ago with a canister of pinto beans I'd lost track of and kept stored, albeit unopened, past the point of no return. I didn't know there was such a thing until I tried to cook them. No matter how many hours I cooked them, they wouldn't get tender. I even tried the pressure cooker. They were about five years old when I discovered I'd overlooked them in what I'd thought was an empty container...not. So now I'm careful not to buy too many and am more attentive to thorough rotation.

    Maybe you can solve your storage space problems by using some of your buckets for furniture like end tables and plant stands! I'd say bookcases, but in your case it would be easier to get to them if you put them back in the barn. LOL


  4. Okay, I don't feel so bad now that our buckets are in our storage room which gets warmer than the cellar I want to build to keep them in. At least they are not getting pooped on by horses and cows! LOL! : )

  5. i almost forgot...i also "can" pinto, kidney, lima, navy,beans and peas of all kinds. i also can sweet potatoes (an unheard of thing to do in sweet potato country)....just about anything can be canned or dehydrated....i also forage berries, other nuts and fruits and yep...they are gonna get cooked up into something good and canned... when things freeze up or drown here, all i need is a spoon and an upturned bucket!

  6. How about a double layer of safety, using both the bags and the buckets? Maybe putting 1-2 lbs. in a bag and putting several bags into one bucket. Then when a bag is grabbed for use, the other bags remain clean and dry regardless of the status of the bucket lid.

    This would require more expense and effort, but might help to preserve the food longer.

    What is the likelihood of condensation within the bags with a bags-in-bucket system?

  7. I've actually never used Mylar bags so I don't know about the level of condensation. However I would imagine if you bag up something that's been thoroughly dried and perhaps frozen for a few days (to kill weevils or other beasties) then bag it in Mylar, it would preserve just fine.

  8. I use mylar and oxygen absorbers in a bucket, because I'm paranoid.

    The o2 free environment kills creepy crawly critters, and the mylar bags prevent rodents from "sniffing out" the contents. Rats can chew through those buckets, given the opportunity.

    And since I don't have the freezer space to use that method to kill the critters, o2 absorbers it is.


  9. Patrice

    I store my dry goods with a sprig of bayleaves in each container - it prevents weevils, etc from invading the goods. replace the sprig every 4 - 5 months or so.

    And I agree - try storing your goods in smaller packets in the bucket - should prevent total wastage should damage occur.

  10. I was trying to come up with a better way to label my buckets and got an idea. I handed my daughter a handful of different colored sharpie markers and told her to color each bucket any way she wanted as long as the name was on there in big letters like 'Pinto Beans' or 'Rice'. I was amazed how the buckets looked and the project gave me a chance to explain more about how food storage works and why we should be prepared.
    Thanks for the great site.