Unconventional uses for the 5-gallon bucket
Well before plastic was invented, our innovative ancestors used handmade barrels as a go-to solution for multiple challenges. People stored goods in barrels, transported things in them, and even used them as tables or footrests.
Uses for barrels still abound. My personal favorite is to find a charred, American white oak barrel and use it to turn grain alcohol into whiskey. Wooden barrels certainly still have their place, but my new go-to in many situations is a food-grade 5-gallon bucket with a gasket-sealed lid. These can survive almost anything except fire. With locking lids, foodgrade 5-gallon buckets become airtight and waterproof. They’re also easily carried and stacked. Ask any farm kid, and they’ll tell you it’s easier to carry two buckets than one.
Storage and Labeling
I built a shelf in one of my rooms that can hold 24 buckets: two deep by two high by six wide. They aren’t filled with gear, food and water just yet, but that’s my goal. They’re easy to store and stack on top of one another, and they can also be labeled with a permanent marker.
I purchase lightly used buckets from a local craft-made ice cream shop. The shop’s ingredients are shipped in these buckets, and once the staff empties them to make ice cream, the parlor sells each bucket and lid set for $2. I know restaurants and other food vendors often have old buckets on-hand, too. In fact, most will probably just throw them away. I’m not above dumpster diving, and have gotten some of my best buckets this way.
The priority with my clean buckets is food storage. I like to be prepared for emergencies and consider myself a “prepper.” I use 5-gallon buckets for almost all of my family’s emergencyfood storage. I like to store dry rice, beans and other non-perishable food items that don’t come in cans or jars in the buckets. Basically, any food I want to store that’s in a bag, box, packet or vacuum-sealed pouch gets placed into a bucket. Something to note is that although the buckets are technically 5-gallon vessels, they actually hold slightly more than that.
I also keep plenty of water on-hand. Experts recommend adding 30-40 drops of unscented bleach to 5 gallons of water for proper storage and purification. It’s also recommended that 1 gallon of water is kept on-hand per person per day for emergency situations.
I also use 5-gallon buckets to store emergency gear. I have one gear bucket full of cooking utensils such as a small stove, Sterno fuel
cans and fire-starting gear. I also have another bucket with knives, paracord and flashlights, etc. Another bucket is filled with various hand tools. I even keep open pollination seeds in one bucket, should I ever need to grow a survival garden. Read up on seed saving, because some seeds shouldn’t be stored in an airtight container for an extended period. Because of diminishing germination rates as time goes on, and the lack of fresh air, I swap out my seeds each season just to be safe.
We also have a few “bug-out” buckets set up. A topic that could fill several pages, each bug-out bucket is set up as a smaller, standalone emergency kit ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. The bug-out bucket is like a prepper’s bug-out bag, full of items that would be helpful when leaving home during an emergency.
A 5-gallon bucket’s uses are endless and not limited merely to emergency preparedness. Several ideas that come to mind are storing tools, nails, screws, kindling, seasonal clothing, trapping gear, camping gear, brewing equipment, etc.
Out-of-the-box Emergency Applications
Along with storage, the buckets themselves can be very useful. In an emergency, a bucket and lid could be used as an emergency toilet, keeping your campsite sanitary. It can also be used to transport harvested water and foraged food. A 5-gallon bucket can also be used as a rodent or small-game trap. There are many websites devoted to interesting uses for 5-gallon buckets including happyprepppers. com and fivegallonideas.com. Both of these sites have compiled the top ideas proposed by their contributors and include detailed instructions, sometimes with step-by-step images, to complete each project.
Buckets for Brewing
I’m currently brewing beer and wine in foodgrade 5-gallon buckets. Setting up a brewing bucket is simple. I went to the local brewingsupply store and bought a few airlocks with rubber bungs. Then, I used a hole saw and cut holes through a few lids. Next, I simply placed the rubber bung in the hole and twisted it tight. (Note: Be sure to sanitize the bucket and gear before brewing.)
In the Garden
Buckets are also useful for gardening. With a few holes drilled through the bottom for drainage, a bucket makes a viable garden container. I like to grow tomatoes in a bucket so they’re not subjected to ground-level fungi and insects. I also have good success growing potatoes in buckets, but not the way you might think. I plant the potato in the bottom of the bucket in 6-8 inches of soil. As the plant grows, I occasionally add more dirt, continuing to bury the plant. Potatoes like to grow in loose soil, so as the plant reaches for the sunlight, I keep adding
loose dirt for the plant to set potatoes in. At harvest time, I simply spill the bucket to reveal the potatoes. You can find more information about this technique at fivegallonideas.com.
Bring the Heat
Buckets can also be filled with sand or water and used as thermal mass heat sources. I had a greenhouse at my old home. In it, I kept sand-filled buckets. The buckets were exposed to the southern winter sunlight, and although it never got hot, I know the solar heat they collected during the day helped the greenhouse stay warmer during the winter.
Speaking of sand-filled buckets, most will stop a bullet. Used as a target, a bucket full of sand and spent bullets can be easily dumped so the lead can be harvested to cast more. With luck, that’s the only time I’ll ever need a bucket to stop a bullet for me. Buckets can also be used to mix things like concrete or a primitive, cob-style construction medium.
Save Them, Use Them
Often taken for granted, 5-gallon buckets have many uses, and I’ve only scratched the surface here. What’s most important is that people understand the value of these vessels, and don’t just throw them away. I hope that you’ll never need a bucket for an emergency, but if you do and are prepared, you’ll be glad to have it.
Surprisingly, the author can fit all of these things into three bug-out buckets. Aside from a small bag with weapons and ammunition that he’ll grab in an emergency, the buckets contain basically everything else that’s important. (opposite, top)
Five-gallon buckets stack and store easily so that you have them when you need them.
Here, the author has an array of emergency supplies stored in one of his 5-gallon buckets. Dried beans, matches, wheatgrass seed and a fire starter block are all covering up a handcrank radio and other essentials.
Five-gallon buckets are useful out in the woods for hauling water, stowing your catch of the day, and in a pinch, as a latrine to maintain sanitary conditions around the campsite.
Although buckets can be loaded up with lots of odds and ends, they’re still convenient for most people to carry. Any farm kid will tell you that it’s easier to carry two buckets than just one.
Tomatoes and potatoes can be grown successfully in buckets. They’re perfect for those with limited growing space.