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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 16 2011

7 Low-Tech Tools for Primal Living

By Mark Sisson
93 Comments

While you don’t need stuff to live a successful Primal lifestyle (well, besides bacon), we humans belong to a gadget-fetishizing brand of ape that has had great success over the years crafting and using various tools to make life easier. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted seven high-tech tools that were designed to improve Primal living; today, I’m focusing on the low-tech stuff. These tools aren’t quite as flashy, and they’re not quite as sexy, but they are just as useful. They are tools in the classic sense – physical objects that enable or enhance our ability to manipulate the environment to our advantage. So, while the high-tech tools offered helpful information and guidance about recipes, calorie counts, and toxin levels to improve our knowledge base, these low-tech tools offer direct, hands-on experience.

Enough blabbering. On to the tools!

(Make Your Own) Bulgarian Training Bag

A Bulgarian training bag is, basically, half an inner tube filled with sand with the ends twisted into handles to contain the sand. It’s highly versatile, able to be used kind of like a mace, a sandbag, and a kettlebell all rolled into one. The bag is very good for wrestlers and grapplers (and anyone else) interested in developing rotational strength; in fact, a Bulgarian wrestling coach invented the Bulgarian training bag to improve the training of U.S. wrestlers, inspired by the feats of strength involving goats and sheep slung across the shoulders of Bulgarian shepherd/strongmen from his childhood. They’re quite easy to make, which is what I suggest you do. I never said everything on the list could be purchased. Actually, Bulgarian training bags are available for purchase, but at rather high rates. I think it’s more satisfying – and more affordable – to simply make your own. Here’s a good guide to doing so.

Once you’ve got bag in hand, check this link for forty Bulgarian bag exercise ideas. Any training implement inspired by a crazy Bulgarian shepherd swinging a lamb around by its legs gets the Primal stamp of approval.

Training Log

If you’re serious about progressing as you exercise, you need a training log. While I’ll admit that I don’t keep one myself anymore, when I was really serious about training – either endurance or strength – I maintained a training log to track my progress, and I maintain that without the logs I would have had a more difficult time making real progress. See, training logs aren’t just about noting what you’ve done; they’re about tracking what you’ve done right, what you’ve done wrong, how you felt on a particularly good training day, how you felt on a bad training day, and they’re about using this data to enable steady progression. Even if you’re doing a wide range of fractal movements and exercises, keep a log. Randomization isn’t mindlessness.

Hemingway stood to write and used Moleskine notebooks. I trust his judgment.

Dip Belt

After I messed up my rotator cuff on the bench press, I discovered a deep love for the dip. More conducive to shoulder health (in my experience, at least) than the bench press, the dip offers excellent stimulus to both the shoulder girdle, tricep, and chest – and if it gets too easy, you can easily add more weight with the help of a dip belt. Using dip belts satisfied my desire to lift heavy things with my chest and triceps without subjecting my rotator cuff to pain and suffering. The dip is a truly functional movement (think getting up and over a barrier or fence, climbing up into a tree) and being able to add even more weight than just that of your bodily mass will help you function even more effectively.

You could use a rope, chains, or even a well-constructed dog leash looped around your waist and attached to heavy objects, but it’s far easier (and not much more expensive) to get a dedicated dip belt. Here’s one and here’s another that should both suit you well.

Freezer Paper

We’ve all been in this situation: you discover a fantastic deal on grass-fed steaks (half off!), buy two dozen pounds worth in styrofoam containers covered by plastic wrap, get home, gorge, and store the rest in the freezer. A week later, you pull a couple steaks out to thaw and find they’re caked in snow and freezer-burnt beyond recognition. You still eat ’em, because, well, it’s meat, but you rue your hastiness and lament the sad state of the remaining steaks. If only you had taken your time to carefully wrap each steak in freezer paper followed by a layer of foil, nestled each slab carefully in a freezer bag, and used a straw to suck the air out of said bag (a la Alton Brown), you’d be the proud owner of a cache of well-preserved steaks. Most people have foil and big ziploc freezer bags, but they don’t generally have freezer paper on hand. Go out and get some. Keep it on hand for those serendipitous moments at the meat counter.

Reynold’s is a good, basic brand, but if you’re really serious about your meat (and handle lots of it), go for the Loxol.

Lacrosse Balls

No, not for actually playing lacrosse (although there’s nothing wrong with the sport, it’s just not my intent here), but for a more painful, more intensive self myofascial-releasing alternative to the trusty foam roller. Kelly Starrett of CrossFit San Francisco and MobilityWOD fame refers to the lacrosse ball as, simply and succinctly, painball. And yes, it brings the pain, but only to the most deserving among us: those tight, knotted bundles of muscle fiber and fascia that people accumulate from bad posture, muscle imbalances, excessive sitting, and improper movement patterns. These knots harm us. They reduce performance. They promote bad form and joint degeneration. They need to be eradicated, and while using these little balls of fire on our bodies really can cause immense physical pain, this is a good thing because it means that we’re taking care of those nasty knots.

You might hate small, dense LDL particles, but don’t let your ire extend toward small, dense lacrosse balls, too. They’re cheap, far cheaper than an hour of massage, so buy three (one for rolling, two for taping together) and check out Kelly’s MobilityWOD for ideas on how to effectively use them.

Field Guide to Wild Edibles

While most Primal folks initially think of furry, feathery, or scaly critters when they hear the words “wild edibles,” our ancestors nibbled on and downright coveted thousands of varieties of wild vegetation throughout our history. Some species may have given way to civilization, deforestation, and monoculture farming, but wild vegetation that can go in your mouth still exists out there – you just have to know what to look for. That is, don’t stumble around blindly with a massive bowl gathering random leaves, twigs, and berries for a Big Ass Salad. For one, salad bowls are too bulky for hikes and, secondly, you might eat something poisonous, non-nutritive, or disgusting (nothing worse than a single errant ingredient ruining a delicious salad). Instead, listen to the experts on wild edibles.

Better yet, pick up a good field guide to wild edibles. Read it, internalize it, and carry it with you on outings to the wild.

Square Foot Gardening Setup

Maybe you don’t want to rely on the great outdoors for your edible vegetation, but nor can you count on the local grocery stores for a decent piece of fruit or vegetable. Maybe there’s no good farmers’ market within a hundred miles, or perhaps you simply want to be the master of your domain. If that’s true, and you’ve got limited time and/or space, think about investing in a square foot gardening setup. Mel, as in Mel Bartholemew, has come up with a tried and true standardized method for growing vegetables anywhere and everywhere. People swear by square foot gardening – city kids with a few square feet of space on the roof, homesteaders with open yards but square foot gardens, beginners who’d rather not devote the time necessary to develop a green thumb, advanced gardeners who just want to take it easy. You can use the initial enclosure set up and put your own potting soil together, or you can get the whole shebang from Mel (he’s developed an optimal recipe for soil and has a book devoted to the practice of square foot gardening). He has few detractors, as anyone will, but mostly endorsements (there are even a few fans in the MDA forums). Square foot gardening seems to be ideal for total beginners eager to put in the work necessary for growing their own edible vegetation, so if that’s you, consider it.

Check the book out and read some reviews to see if it’s right for you.

Tools aren’t required to live a good, fulfilling Primal life, but they can certainly help. The preceding was a list of some sensible tools to help optimize your lifestyle. Some are monetarily inexpensive but require commitment or a DIY attitude, while others are pricier, but I think they’re all worth a look.

What are your low-tech Primal tools? Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know in the comments!

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93 thoughts on “7 Low-Tech Tools for Primal Living”

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  1. Painballs indeed….
    Tennis ball works as well. Not as good, but Lacrosse balls are a bit difficult to get in Europe

      1. i bought a foam pool noodle and shoved a dowel in it to make a roller….3 bucks total. good for fixing posture/ working out knots….never heard of the locrosse balls….great suggestion. I like PT on the cheap

    1. First time my chiropractor and A.R.T practitioner work the lacrosse ball on my tight muscles I was in major pain. I picked up a couple at the local Sports Authority (US based chain). Looks like the word is out. I recommend them highly!

    2. I’ve used tennis balls. My daughter who is a physical therapist assistant told me about using them for getting knots out of my upper back.

    3. I use a medicine ball on the larger muscle groups, as you would with a conventional foam roller.

      It hurts about as much as you’d expect, but it’s made my massage therapist’s job much easier – they can focus on the acute things that I can’t self-repair, rather than wasting time on simply loosening up the big muscle groups.

    4. Lacrosse is played in the north of England – around Manchester area primarily. I used to play and belonged to Timperley Lacrosse club – maybe you can source them in the UK from a Manchester based retailer. Try this one as they advertise lacrosse balls under their lacrosse accessories.

      http://www.peaksports.co.uk/

  2. Should have combined with the previous but was too quick hitting enter.
    Whilst moleskin is stylish and classy (and admittedly low tech) I prefer PlainText app on the iPhone for my workout log. Using Dropbox it synch’s with my Laptop and Desktop computers, which makes ot much easier to review stuff. And you have it always with you – worst case you can access it from any browser (not affiliated to any of the products mentioned by the way – just happy user)

  3. re: Foraging – Also check out any of Euell Gibbons books (“Stalking the Wild Asparagus” for example), for huge inspiration on the subject.

  4. Not sure what you mean about dip belts not being expensive. MUCH easier and cheaper to make them – Ross Enamait’s site has a good video tutorial on there. Took me all of five minutes.

  5. A suggestion is a scuba diving weight vest, which I found cheap second hand instead of the dip belt, you can add weights to it too.

  6. I want the Forager’s Harvest book! I enjoy watching The Wild Within with Steven Rinella. He prepared a nice feast from hunting and gathering food in San Francisco a couple of episodes ago.

    A roadkill racoon was included as well as wild edible leaves from the park for the salad. It would be awesome to have the knowledge to know whats edible and wants not as far as wild greens go!

  7. Cool tools, thanks! 🙂 The boyfriend started using a lax ball last weekend and is finding it really helpful- he has somehow managed to get golfer’s elbow AND tennis elbow in the same elbow.

      1. Golfers and tennis elbow affect different parts of your elbow. I’m not very good at the terminology, but also suffered both in one elbow too!

        1. Yep, that was my understanding; I dunno which condition affects which part… All I know is his elbow’s all jacked up, and it can drag on for months and months 🙁

        2. Try Kaprex, manfct’d by Metagenics. I have used it, and it works on my inflamed hip like magic. (Wrecked bicycle). It is an herbal anti-inflammatory.

  8. This article definitely satisfied the “low tech” part of me that craves cheap, clever, unique, and effective solutions for primal living!

    The Lacrosse ball idea I have never heard about before…absolutely brilliant! I am going to give this a try.

  9. I definitely want to try out the Bulgarian training bag. I love DIY equipment. The tube should be pretty cheap. Actually it’s the only thing I don’t already have that required to make them.

    I already a foam roller to get rid of knots in my muscles, but the lacrosse ball would be good for those deep ones.

    1. I realize that this is an old post, but what kind of tube do you use? Is that a bicycle tire inner tube?

  10. I love my field hockey ball and foam roller. Nice to work out knots or tight spots in between massages.

    The gardening set up is a cool idea as well. I live in a condo now though so I use the aerogarden to grow some herbs and tomatoes.

  11. What about snare wire for catching squirrels and making squirrel kabob?

  12. If you already own a weight lifting belt you can buy a dip attachment for it.

  13. Maybe I’m a little lazy or dim but, does anyone have a more comprehensive guide to using the lacrosse (pain) balls? I checked the MobilityWOD website but it is difficult to get at more than one or two ideas in a 5-7 min video. Anyone else have a good reference for using these things?

    1. Curious — This is a great book, which will give you a lot of information:

      “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition ” by Clair Davies

      1. Thanks to both of you. I’ll be checking out both of your ideas.

  14. Heh, just shows you how easy it is to get wrapped up in something. Last summer I filled part of an innertube with sand and have been using it to mimic carrying a “dead load” such as a deer’s carcass; I hadn’t really thought of it as a tool for other exercises since I have a weight pile in the back yard. Cool. I can also use the tube for exercising while in the field (I work in a mobile laboratory in the oil fields of New Mexico and Texas.)

    1. Wow, glad you’re keeping yourself occupied out there. I grew up there! Not much else to do but drag around heavy objects and dodge tumbleweeds. 🙂

  15. I am eagerly awaitng summer so I can pick nad munch on wild blackberries and black raspberries when I go for my walks in the local park. Frelling power company mowed down a good swath of them last summer and I had to forage a little further. I also found a june berry tree (service berry).

  16. I just started my seedlings the other day and am now coveting the square foot gardening box.

  17. Square foot gardening is great. The old-style approach of rows of plants is like an invitation for weeds. The square foot approach makes every aspect of gardening so much easier.

  18. sigh… gardening on my porch is extremely difficult. I live at 9,000 ft & it can snow any month of the year. Last year I planted seeds early & transplanted to larger vessels & diligently carried in all the pots every night to prevent freezing. The one night I was gone & left the chore to the SO, he didn’t do it & they all froze. I got one teensy tomato for all my trouble.
    But I really like the Bulgarian sand bag! I can do 2fer “shopping” when I get my old tire for sledge hammering 🙂

    1. Did you try to cover them for a greenhouse effect? The square foot gardening guy mentioned, Mel, has methods for small space and snowy gardening.

    2. I haven’t tried it, but I have a friend that grows lettuce most of the year with Cold Frames in upstate NY in the snow belt. Might want to do some research.

  19. Square Foot Gardening rules! Keep them close to the house and it’s a very easy way to garden. Little mulching, no tilling, and a surprising amount of veggies from two boxes. TIP: Make them double-deep for better results.

  20. I like to lug around 50 lb bags of salt for my water softener. I always buy two so I can mess around with the extra one. Only $5-8.00 and endless hours of fun!

  21. Love, Love, Love my SFG!

    My outdoor sprouts are coming up (radish, onion, and carrot) and my indoor sprouts are ready for transplant (tomato, bell pepper, eggplant, lettuce, chard, kale, and parsley). Other edibles have to make do without the SFG, mainly due to size (fig tree) or sun/space constraints (okra and blueberry) in our yard.

    I love low-budget stuff and will look into the others! Thanks, MDA!!

  22. The square-foot gardening idea is solid gold. I wasn’t sure that you could effectively do it a box, but obviously you can. Good news for the balcony!

  23. Smash balls ( for a game played on the beaches in southern California) are about the size of a golf ball but with a forgiving composition. They are slightly soft and small enough to hit trigger points that other balls (tennis and even Lacrosse balls) are too large to work on effectively. I have recommended them to my patients for self myofascial release for many years. Sports Authority and Big 5 (sporting goods stores in Calif) carry them, usually in a pack of three.

    Pick up the paddles too and see what a work out you can get running back and forth in beach sand.

  24. I love that you included Square-Foot Gardening! I became a lover of the square-foot garden last year. As a newbie gardener, I did NOT want to till up the clay in my back yard and work it just to plant some veggies. Found Mel’s booked and I was hooked. I had one box of general veggies last year and also started a box of asparagus. This year I’m adding a box of strawberries, blueberries and another general veggie box. My friend loved the idea and built a smaller version on the balcony of her tiny city apartment and had great success with peppers, broccoli and spinach. Highly recommended!

  25. I do Square Foot Gardening. The book is very helpful for getting the most efficient use of your garden. There are interesting ways to grow food vertically. I grow my cucumbers using netting so they climb. I do find that my plants are bigger than what they say. There is an art to planting the right plants next to each other. don’t put something tall at the edge and you can’t reach stuff in the middle.

    I read a book called Weed ’em and Reap. It isn’t a field guide. It is just a guy telling stories of eating wild plants, his experiences and people he met, what he learned, etc.. There might be a few recipes. It was a fun read. Another book like that is A Book of Bees. It’s not a how-to manual but you learn from other people’s stories.

  26. i built my first garden box 6×10 for less than $25 with wood from home depot. used 2×6’s. currently have three boxes 6×10 each, compost everything in big rubbermaid bins that were int he garage and have spent so little money on the garden it’s ridiculous. currently growing strawberries, snap peas, cauliflower, red cabbage, jajapenos, anaheim chilis, red leaf lettuce, mixed greens, fava beans, bell peppers, kale, chard, arugula, and cilantro.

  27. I have been obsessed with wild edible foods since I was a little girl. I would spend all our camping trips with my nose in a field guide while crouching over a promising looking plant. No, I was not a normal child 🙂 Anyway, a word of warning: STUDY the field guides before eating ANYTHING (really, make it an obsession for a few months first– at least –and still, never eat anything that bears any resemblance to a poisonous plant!). There are quite a few edibles and poisons that look extremely similar. I’m almost 33 and have been at this for most my life, and I am still ALWAYS cautious. You may think you’re about to gobble up some wild celery or carrot, and wind up pulling a Socrates by downing a bunch of poison hemlock (grows just about EVERYWHERE, very common weed). Be careful. You can’t be a dilettante about this.

  28. Two more ideas that I make regular use of are PVC rollers and Sub-Irrigated Planters.

    I wore out foam rollers pretty fast, so I bought a two foot lengths of 6″ diameter PVC pipe. It took a time or two of rolling to get used to, just like the first time you use a foam roller, but this one will last forever.

    Sub-Irrigated Planters are perfect for people who don’t have enough space for a square foot garden or live where an in ground garden isn’t practical. I’ve seen them on apartment balconies before. If you can find free buckets from a bakery or restaurant they will be almost free to make. http://greenroofgrowers.blogspot.com/2008/07/how-make-two-bucket-sub-irrigated.html

    1. +1 on PVC pipe as a roller. The foam ones are nice but once you get used to rolling, stepping up to the unforgiving PVC works much better.

  29. Good timing! I was just thinking I need to start planning my garden now. I wasn’t happy with my garden set-up last year and that square-foot gardening looks like it would be a big improvement.

  30. my trainer uses an army duffle bag, with a black garbage back inside, filled with sand-
    bag is 20 bucks, garbage back is 1 buck, and sand is cheap also,

    we also train with kegs, 30 bucks, you can start empty, add a pound of water a week, and they go from 30 lbs empty to 140 full

  31. I’ll be making use of a boning knife, skinning knife and a wheelbarrow today. Killing two steers. Recycled plastic bags will suffice for freezing all the meat and offal we aren’t sellling.

    We have been eating some very nice mushrooms that have been popping up in the paddocks.

  32. A caution to anyone building their own square foot gardening box, do not use pressure treated wood. It is poisonous! It is injected with heavy metals. Also called CCA wood for the metals used, Copper, Chromate, & Arsenic. Yes, arsenic! You don’t want this anywhere near your food. Heck, you don’t want it anywhere near you or anyone you love.

    1. Thank you!!! When I discussed my caution about edible wild plants and poisons (being obsessed with edible wild plants has lead to an obsession with poisons– one can’t help that if one wants to eat wild foods and live, right? :-), I hadn’t even thought of that, but THANK GOODNESS you thought of it and posted. Someone could have been hurt (or worse) without your warning!

  33. I have to disagree with the comment about the price of the bulgarian bag being expensive. I am a qualified instructor for the bag and while it is more expensive than the likes of a kettlebell, the bag is an absolutely amazing tool. The workmanship and quality of leather is well worth the price tag. That and the versatility and durability of the bag more than justify the price. There are also three smaller handles that come with the suples/ foeldeak bags that provide flexibility for even more exercises that you miss out on if you make your own.

  34. Canadian primals should check out the following books from Lone Pine Publishing:
    Canadian Wild Fish Cookbook
    Canadian Wild Game Cookbook
    Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada
    They also have the Wild Game Cookbook that’s an older title and also available in the US (for those of you wondering how to cook squirrel).

  35. I bought the Square Foot Gardening books earlier this year as part of my efforts to eat better and get healthier, which also led me to the Primal Blueprint and this site a few weeks ago. I think the two go together perfectly. Its much cheaper to build the boxes yourself if you have the tools and talent, and you can prob. save a lot of money growing your own organic vegetables although there is a learning curve. Not to mention, whats more primal than picking your own food?

  36. Am putting in my square foot garden this week in the backyard, but I have been growing various herbs and some strawberries in the front yard. I live in an HOA so they get picky about front yards etc, but herbs both provide greenery and some flowering too. I have mint, sage (great for flavoring water too) and couple different basils. So nice just go outside the door pick a few leaves off and mix in my various recipes. I am adding Rosemary and lemongrass too.

  37. The lacrosse balls work exceptionally well for some aspects of myofascial trigger point release. I use the excellent paperback “Trigger Point Therapy Workbook” by Clair Davies for a guide to locating and releasing trigger points to relieve musculoskeletal pain, though I also have the 1300 pg Two Volume book on the subject by Janet Travell MD, former White House Physician. Trigger point release doesn’t work for all chronic musculoskeletal pain, but provides relief perhaps 75-80% of the time. When it works, the results are often dramatic.

  38. Hey! The “Grok Army Knife” pictured shows EIGHT tools (if you count the tooth pick). 😉

  39. My low tech workout miracle is my dogs. Nobody should laugh. I will get out with them 100 times more often than I would if it were just me doing it for myself. I see by the literature that I am hardly alone in this. People with dogs get in their walking far more often and reliably than people without. Especially when you have chronic pain conditions like I do, you need external motivators. I have two of them eager to go any time of the day or night in any weather.

  40. My favourite low-tech tool is a scythe for mowing grass and weeds.
    I can now mow the lawn as smooth and as fast as with the motor mower, can feed the mown grass to the horses and I get a good workout too.

  41. I loved the variety in this practical post – In paricular the use of old inner tubes. Home-made workout kit is the way forward if you are not at a gym!

    Also I have to agree re the dips. Since tearing my major pectoral tendon, the textbook bench press had to go. Despite that, performing dips correctly and not going below 90 degrees in the bend has kept my chest toned and shoulders healthy.

  42. I use my dip belt for weighted chin-ups/pull-ups. It’s great to add the olympic plates to and go heavy.

  43. I love my square foot garden. They are easy to make from cedar planks and deck screws. Next year I want a worm compost set up too.

  44. Awesome ideas! I’m trying to incorporate some of theses low tech ideas into my workout plans.I have MD and with the Grok and Doug Kaufmann’s eating plan I have lost 60 lbs with just light walking….up to 5 miles every other day. Most of these use much more weight than I can handle but I’m using my brain to try to adjust. My goal is to be an Ex-Jerry’s kid.

  45. So… what’s a dip? And how is a dip belt used? Sounds interesting – can anyone point me to a site with an example?

  46. for the last two years I have been doing the square foot gardening method. It is amazing what you can get out of that set up.

  47. Okay…why parchment paper instead of those machines that suck the air out of the bags?

  48. This website educated me on the importance of body weight exercises. After a while pull ups became too easy so now for fun, I put on a backpack full of added weight while doing pull ups. For weight I use a sandbag, which is a bag of lead pellets common on movie sets. It works.

  49. Big knives for cutting up the beast. Boning and skinning, you don’t want them folding up while you’re using them. Killed two steers this morning.

    Composting the stomachs this afternoon.

  50. I just found blueprint and this was my first email that I read. My life has always been filled with gardening, foraging, I always have a leatherman on me, I have a notebook for my cross fit WODs like the one here AND YES I already have freezer paper because we hunt and fish. Apparently I have FOUND MY PEOPLE! Hello tribe!

    1. Welcome! Great people here at MDA – you’re going to love it!

  51. Instead of using a dip belt, you could also just hook some dumb-bell into your legs/feet.
    I’ve been doing this for years and it works pretty well for me.

  52. My wife and I built the Bulgarian training bags today. It wasn’t expensive at all and we added some nylon webbing loops to the handles to allow it to be more easily used as a kettlebell.

  53. Square Foot Gardening helped me finally not feel overwhelmed by growing my own vegetables. While we don’t stick to a strict square foot method, it definitely took the intimidation factor out of becoming a home organic gardener. And home produce is absolutely the best.

  54. Looking forward to sharing this with both my mother, type 2 diabetes & my hubby who really wants to be healthier.
    Thanks for all your sharing….

  55. Could someone help me out? I’m trying to figure out where I can find innertubes for those training bags and I’m drawing a blank. Where could I go? I really want to make a few of these.

  56. So glad you recommended Samuel Thayer’s guide to edible wild plants. He has a second book too, that puts more on your plate. Over here, it’s our bible of wild plant foods. It’s early spring, and already we’re adding tons of wild greens and roots to our meals — free, organic, and super nutritious. Yum!