Pail Power

Un­con­ven­tional uses for the 5-gal­lon bucket

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Ja­son Her­bert

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.

Ob­tain­ing Buck­ets

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.

Stor­age Uses

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 five­g­al­ 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 five­g­al­

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.

Bul­let Cache

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.

(be­low) 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. (op­po­site, top) Al­though buck­ets can be loaded up with lots...

(be­low) 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,...

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