Thursday, July 3, 2014

More Detailed RECIPES

General Notes:

The timing of all ferments is temperature sensitive.  The warmer the location they are fermenting in the faster they will ferment.  The cooler the slower.  Most ferments will have a hard time fermenting below 65 degrees and even 70 is a bit low.  Just as 85 degrees you will find them fermenting fairly rapidly and 90 it might just be too warm and they may spoil before they can ferment.  

Be sure to use non-iodized salt.  We like Redmond's Real Salt.

Use non-chlorinated water.  Chlorinated water may work, but you may find it hard to have consistent results.

Softer vegetables are harder to ferment (cucumbers, zucchini, kale) but they can be fermented successfully.  Use of a grape leaf or oak leaf (tanins) will help maintain the crispness.  

With all vegetable ferments be sure to have liquid covering the top of the vegetables.  This is to prevent spoilage.  If, after fermenting is complete and you see that either too much liquid fizzed out or the vegetables reabsorbed the liquid, open up the ferment and add more non-chlorinated water and let sit at room temperature for another day or two and then move to cold storage.  

All that being said, give it a go and have fun!  Once  you make a few good batches you should feel give yourself a pat on the back and really get going. 
Ginger Carrots

4 1/2 C grated carrots
1 tsp freshly grated ginger 
2 tsp sea salt 
2 T whey (Optional, if used cut salt to 1 tsp) 

Mix all ingredients, and pound them with a meat hammer or wooden pounder, to get some of the juices out. Pack tightly into a quart jar, leaving an inch of head space. Add water if necessary to cover the carrots. Close jar tightly, and leave at room temperature for three to five days to ferment. Transfer to cold storage.

Pickled Beets

6 medium beets 
1 C water 
2 tsp sea salt 
2 T whey (Optional, if used cut salt to 1 tsp) 
2 tsp. cardamom pods (optional) 

Peel and dice beets (grated beets will ferment too quickly). Pack them in a quart jar. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over beets, adding water as needed to cover them well. Leave one inch of headspace in the jar. Close jar tightly, and allow to ferment at room temperature for about 5-9 days before moving to cold storage. The beets are tasty; the liquid (called beet kvass) isn’t so much, but is very healthful, even diluted quite a bit with water or juice. 

Pickled Peppers 

10-25 various peppers, hot or otherwise 
2 tsp sea salt 
1 C water 
2 T whey (Optional, if used cut salt to 1 tsp) 
spices as desired; cumin is especially good 

Cut peppers into pieces (whatever size you want when you take them out). Press firmly into a quart jar. Combine other ingredients and pour over the peppers, adding more water as needed to cover them. Leave an inch of headspace. Close jar tightly, and ferment for 5-9 days at room temperature before moving to cold storage. 


Firm cabbage 
1 T sea salt per head of cabbage 
2 T whey (Optional, if used cut salt to 2 tsp) 
Spices as desired. Some suggest juniper berries, which taste lousy but may help the cabbage remain more crisp 

Slice or grate cabbage (your preference). Add salt and let sit for 5-10 minutes. In a bowl or bucket, pound the cabbage until the you can see the cabbage juice. Add spices, and pack very tightly into jars (wide mouth jars are very helpful). Add water to the jar as needed to cover the cabbage, leaving an inch of headspace. Close jars tightly, and leave to ferment for 5-9 days before moving to cold storage. 

Water kefir (Probiotic "soda" for kids)

2 quarts water 
½ C sugar [white or Raw Evaporated Cane (blonde)] 
about 2 T water kefir buds 

Some sources insist white sugar is required for water kefir. Other sources use sucanat and other unrefined sugars without a second thought. The molasses in unrefined sugar will change the taste, and color the otherwise transparent kefir buds. We have found that the molasses is hard on the buds. Experiment with both, if you like. Also, please note that kefir buds don't respond well to the oils from skin, so don't touch them

To make water kefir, mix water and sugar in a jar until mostly dissolved. Add kefir buds, and cover with cheesecloth (it needs to breathe). Keep in a dark place for three days. Be sure to not contaminate kefir by having it in close proximity to other ferments (anything other than water kefir).

Strain out buds for a new batch by placing non-metal strain over a clean two quart jar and pouring water kefir through strain to catch the kefir buds. Make a new batch to ferment by adding strained buds to 2 qts sugar water (as detailed above).

You can now flavor the cultured batch (without the buds) by adding dried fruit, fresh fruit, juice, or juice concentrate.  Google it, there are tons of options.  Here is what we do:  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1-2 tablespoons frozen juice concentrate and stir.  Close lid tightly and let sit for 1 day.  Move flavored kefir to the fridge and enjoy.


1 gallon freshly brewed tea, at room temperature 
1 C sugar 
kombucha mother/SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts)
½ C kombucha from a previous batch, or white vinegar 

The same notes on sugar that apply to water kefir apply to kombucha as well. Black tea is traditional, but green tea and herbal teas will also work, even if they raise the ire of kombucha purists. Jasmine Green Tea and various flavored Riobus are wonderful!  The caffeine and other harmful substances in black tea are largely consumed and transformed by the fermentation process. 
Bring 1 quart of water to boil or light simmer. Pour into ½ gallon mason jar, add tea and let steep for 15-20 min. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining cool water to fill to 2 inches below the top of the jar. If needed, let tea cool to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the SCOBY and ¼ cup of previous batch or vinegar. Cover with cheese cloth/butter muslin and let sit for 5-7 days (if you can still taste the tea really well it probably needs to sit longer).
After the first ferment of 5-7 days remove the mother and enough kombucha for the next batch. If you want you can now ferment the kombucha a second time with some additional sugar and juice to flavor, you may find that, depending on your starting tea, you will not need or want a second ferment (jasmine green and various riobus teas taste wonderful alone). For a half gallon of kombucha add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar, SLOWLY as it will fizz up. You can flavor it with almost anything of your choice. We don't have access to nice organic juices so we use regular juice concentrate (1-2 Tbls) from our local grocery store. You can use juice, pieces of fruit (dried or fresh), use your imagination, look on the computer. After you add the flavor close the lid tightly and let sit for a day. We have found it to be at its peak of perfection about 2-3 days out.

You may find strings of premature mother in the result. You can drink these, or pull them out. With the proper environment these may even make a new mother for you. Note that your mother will grow as you brew successive batches. You'll see the mother will have several layers, one for each batch. Many people choose to remove older layers on occasion, to keep the size of their mother down somewhat (put it in the compost or give it to the chickens, or a neighbor so they can start brewing). You can touch the kombucha mother, with clean hands, without danger of hurting it. If you want to change teas you may have to do it slowly, by using mostly the same tea with a tsp of new adding more each batch

Sourdough Starter

1/2 C freshly ground flour
1/4-1/2 C non-chlorinated water
quart jar (a few of them)
cheese cloth

One potential advantage of using less water is that it will be easier to see the bubbles in the starter to see how active it is.

Stir together flour and water in quart size jar and cover with cheese cloth.  Set in warm place and leave alone for several hours.  The next morning add more flour and water (same quantities) and cover again and let sit.  In the evening change the budding starter over to a clean jar and add more flour and water (same quantities) and cover with cheese cloth.  Continue to do this for several days.  The starter will go through a VERY foamy stage (this is good!) and might look a bit scary.  Keep feeding it and changing it over to a clean jar once a day for the first 4 or 5 days.  After a week you can make pancakes or waffles with the starter (recipe below).  After two weeks you can start making bread (though four weeks it will be much better).

Sourdough Pancakes or Waffles 

4-6 C Starter (fairly thick)
flour (as needed)
2 eggs
1/3 C Oil (we use Coconut Oil)
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1/4 C Sugar (optional)

Feed starter in the evening sufficiently to make four cups of doughy starter.  Leave covered in a warm place overnight. In the morning, set aside a bit of starter for future use.

Now add flour if needed to get the starter to a thick but still easily stirrable consistency.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.  This process is a bit different since you have a batter you are already starting with, but with enough stirring it should combine well.  
Cook normally as you would pancakes or waffels. 

Sourdough Bread 

1 C sourdough starter (cake batter consistency)
1 T salt
3 C freshly ground flour  
1-2 C Water 

Set aside some starter for the next use.  Now, in a large mixing bowl add starter and salt.  Stir to combine.  Add four cups flour and water to make a fairly thick batter.  You should still be able to stir it without worry of breaking a plastic or wooden spoon.  It should be thick but spoonable.  

Pour into a greased bread pan.  Cover with a light lint free cloth and let sit in a warm area for 2-6 hours.  The warmer it is the less time it needs to sit.  Do not exceed 115 degrees during rising.  It should rise about 1-2 inches (maybe more if it a good active starter).  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Carefully transfer bread pan to heated oven and cook uncovered for 30 min.  After 30 min check internal temperature with meat thermometer.  Bread is done when it reads 175-180.  If crust is getting too hard/dark cover with tin foil.

Please experiment with this recipe.  There are so many different ways to make a good loaf of sourdough bread. As long as you set some starter aside for a new batch you can't go wrong. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Notes on fermented foods

We're giving a class today on fermented foods. Since my printer refuses to function this morning, I'll post the notes here instead. Enjoy!


When microorganisms like bacteria, molds, and yeasts colonize and process various foods, it’s called fermentation. There are many different kinds of fermentation, just as there are many different kinds of foods and many different microorganisms. Some of these organisms are harmful, and will make food dangerous or unpalatable, but if it’s properly controlled, fermentation can create food that is nutritious, tasty, and long-lasting.

Many foods originated as ferments. Condiments, like ketchup, mustard, and chutney were once fermented, and eaten with particular foods because they would aid digestion. Few primitive cultures ever drank fresh milk, having no refrigeration to keep it fresh, but fermented yogurt and cheese have been common for centuries.

One of the most helpful types of fermentation is lacto-fermentation, which results from colonies of lactobacilli bacteria. These bacteria convert sugars and starches into lactic acid, which acts as a powerful preservative. Lactobacilli live all over the place, but are particularly common in raw milk, and are easily found in commercial yogurt. Many lacto-fermented foods store well without canning or freezing for several months; they also promote healthy digestion can help control infestations of Candida. Wild yeasts are also useful fermenters. They live in the air and all over normal household surfaces, and make foods like sourdough bread.

Fermented foods:
  • can often store better than the foods they’re made from
  • help fight disease
  • enhance and improve flavor
  • improve nutrient content of the food it’s made from, and improve absorption of nutrients from foods that accompany them
  • increase digestibility of their ingredients

The basic technique

To make fermented foods, you need something to ferment, and microorganisms to ferment it. Quality shows when fermenting, so start with the best quality ingredients available. For some kinds of ferments, you’ll also want a starter culture. You might strain yogurt to get whey for lacto-fermentation, or use things like sourdough starters, kombucha mothers, or kefir grains shared with friends. Cleanliness counts, so keep your containers and utensils clean. Chlorine-free water is also very helpful; water treatment systems chlorinate water specifically so that fermenting organisms can’t live in it. Many ferments require salt, to ward off unwanted bacteria while the fermentation gets going.

What foods can be fermented successfully?

Many vegetables ferment well. Foods with a higher sugar content are more likely to produce alcohol, so it’s harder to ferment fruits. Good candidates include cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips, green tomatoes, squash, onions, peppers, garlic, and cucumbers.

Tips for successful fermentation

  • Many home ferments require anaerobic conditions. In other words, keep oxygen out. Keep brined foods underneath the brine; close fermenting jars tightly.
  • Keep things clean.
  • When fermenting in jars, leave an inch of empty space at the top.
  • Metal reacts with ferments. Don’t ferment in metal containers, and avoid metal utensils.
  • Whey from yogurt or raw milk is often helpful to jump-start lacto-fermentation, especially with more sugary foods. It can replace some of the salt in lacto-fermented recipes.
  • Fermentation starts off very active, and then calms down. During the active phase, jars may hiss and release liquid. Put jars on a cookie sheet for the first week or so, to catch this liquid.
  • Fermentation goes faster in warmer temperatures.
  • Trust your eyes and nose when fermenting. Some food will spoil, and when it does, you’ll know it.
  • Many ferments require salt. The salty taste will diminish as the food ages.
  • When fermenting several foods simultaneously, separate them, to prevent the cultures from cross-contaminating.

Store foods with the lids closed, in cool, dark places. Basements often work well for this. High sugar content foods should be eaten fairly quickly; sauerkraut and peppers will last for years on a basement shelf.

Bad smells, stringy brine, and colored mold spots are bad signs, and indicate a ferment that should not be eaten. White mold (called “Kahm yeast”) isn’t harmful if it’s removed regularly.


What is sourdough?

Bread ferments with yeast, not lactobacilli. Different yeasts do different things. Commercial bread yeast acts very quickly, and as a result makes lots of alcohol, which cooks out during baking. Also because of its speed, commercial yeast cannot break down much of the less digestible parts of the flour. Wild yeasts, however, such as those used in sourdough bread, take longer to do their work. During this longer fermentation, new flavors develop, and the flour is broken down to be more easily digestible.

Bread makers who use sourdough generally keep a starter on hand to work with. This starter is simply a paste of flour and water, which has been allowed to ferment. With each batch of bread, the baker reserves some of the starter to use next time. These starters can last for centuries.

Caring for a starter

Keep your starter in a jar with a lid. You’ll need to feed your starter every day or so. Do this by mixing flour and water (ideally unchlorinated) in approximately equal proportions, and stirring it into your starter. A frequently used starter can be fed enough to double in volume, more or less, at each feeding, but starter used less often would grow unmanageably at this rate. Watch your starter to know if it is well fed. A healthy starter will smell OK, and produce lots of bubbles within a few hours of being fed.

Starters like to be moved to a new, clean container every few days, and don’t appreciate changes in the type of flour they get. Where possible, introduce new flours slowly. Starters must also be kept warm to remain active, so refrigerate it when you go on vacation, and keep it warm when you want it to work quickly.

A starter that has been neglected on the shelf can smell fairly bad, and sometimes become slimy. These can often be resurrected by scraping off the top layer and carefully removing some of the still-viable starter underneath. Mix this into some new flour and water, and discard the rest. Starters left in the refrigerator often develop a layer of black liquid, which is perfectly safe. You should simply stir it back into the starter when you’re ready to use it again. A small layer of white mold on the starter can be scraped off or just stirred in, but black or colored molds are a bad sign.

Making a new starter

Old starters with a long pedigree are neat, but starters made fresh with yeasts local to their area often perform better. To make a new starter,mix a few tablespoons of flour and water into a dough or thick paste. Leave this paste in a bowl or jar, covered loosely to keep insects out, for a day or two. It should begin to develop bubbles. Feed it normally for a few days, keeping it loosely covered. Within a week it should develop bubbles. If it does, you’ve succeeded. Transfer it to a jar with a lid, and use it as you would any starter. If it doesn’t, throw it out and start over.


ALWAYS set aside some starter before using the rest in a recipe.

Pancakes and waffles are more forgiving to a misbehaving starter than bread is. If your starter smells funny or isn’t as active as you’d like, make a few batches of pancakes or waffles from it before trying to make bread again. This is a good way to develop a newborn starter into something useful.

Whole grain flours go rancid after grinding. It helps to grind your flour fresh each time you use it, but you can also keep fresh flour in the freezer for later use.

Some grain grinders heat the flour quite a bit, so the starter won’t take to it well. This is the sign of a lousy grinder.


Ginger Carrots

4 C grated carrots
1 T freshly grated ginger
1 T sea salt
4 T whey (or another Tbl. salt)

Mix all ingredients, and pound them with a meat hammer or wooden pounder, to get some of the juices out. Pack tightly into a quart jar, leaving an inch of head space. Add water if necessary to cover the carrots. Close jar tightly, and leave at room temperature for three days to ferment. Transfer to cold storage.

Pickled Beets

12 medium beets
1 C water
1 T sea salt
4 T whey (or another Tbl. salt)
2 tsp. cardamom pods (optional)

Peel and dice beets (grated beets will ferment too quickly). Place them in a quart jar and press lightly with wooden spoon or pounder. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over beets, adding water as needed to cover them well. Leave one inch of headspace in the jar. Close jar tightly, and allow to ferment at room temperature for about 3 days before moving to cold storage. The beets are tasty; the liquid (called beet kvass) isn’t so much, but is very healthful, even diluted quite a bit.

Pickled Peppers

10-25 various peppers, hot or otherwise
3 T sea salt
1 C water
spices as desired; cumin is especially good

Cut peppers into pieces. Press firmly into a quart jar. Combine other ingredients and pour over the peppers, adding more water as needed to cover them. Leave an inch of headspace. Close jar tightly, and ferment for a week or so at room temperature before moving to cold storage. Keeps for years.

You can substitute whey for some of the salt, if you wish. The result will be more sour, and probably less crunchy.


Firm cabbage
1 T sea salt per head of cabbage
Spices as desired. Some suggest juniper berries, which taste lousy but may help the cabbage remain more crisp

Slice or grate cabbage, and add salt. In a bowl or bucket, pound the daylights out of the stuff until the juices come out. Add spices, and pack very tightly into jars. Add water to the jar as needed to cover the cabbage, leaving an inch of headspace. Close jars tightly, and leave to ferment for a few days before moving to cold storage. You can substitute some whey for the salt, if you wish.

Water kefir

2 quarts water
½ C sugar
about 2 T water kefir buds

Some sources insist white sugar is required for water kefir, while refusing to countenance refined sugar in other recipes. Other sources use sucanat and other unrefined sugars without a second thought. The molasses in unrefined sugar will change the taste, and color the otherwise transparent kefir buds. Experiment with both, if you like. Also, please note that kefir buds don't respond well to the oils from skin, so don't touch them. To make water kefir, mix water and sugar in a jar. Add kefir buds, and cover with cheesecloth. Keep in a dark place for three days. Then strain out the buds for a new batch. We add a bit of juice to the kefir for flavor. If after filtering out the buds you add a little more sugar and allow to ferment another day with a tightly closed lid, this will become more carbonated.


1 gallon freshly brewed tea, at room temperature
1 C sugar
kombucha mother
½ C kombucha from a previous batch, or white vinegar

The same notes on sugar that apply to water kefir apply to kombucha as well. Black tea is traditional, but green tea and herbal teas will also work, even if they raise the ire of kombucha purists. The caffeine and other harmful substances in black tea are largely consumed and transformed by the fermentation process. To make kombucha, mix tea, sugar, and kombucha or vinegar in a jar or bowl. Add mother, and cover with cheesecloth. Allow to ferment 7-10 days. Then remove the mother and enough kombucha for the next batch. Many people dilute the result somewhat with juice. As with water kefir, you can ferment this a second time with a tight lid to make it fizzy. You may find strings of premature mother in the result. You can drink these, or pull them out. With the proper environment these may even make a new mother for you. Note that your mother will grow as you brew successive batches. You'll see the mother will have several layers, one for each batch. Many people choose to remove older layers on occasion, to keep the size of their mother down somewhat. You can touch kombucha mother with clean hands, without danger of hurting it.

Sourdough pancakes or waffles

Feed starter in the evening sufficiently to make three or four cups of doughy starter, and leave covered in a warm place overnight. In the morning, set aside a bit of starter for future use, and to the rest add a pinch of salt, two beaten eggs, a teaspoon of baking soda, and water or milk as necessary to make the consistency of batter. Cook normally.

Sourdough bread

A cup or three of sourdough starter
Several cups fresh flour
1 T salt, per loaf of bread

This recipe is fairly inexact, consistent with our baking practices. Set aside some starter for the next use. Dissolve the salt in a cup or so of water, in a large mixing bowl, and add the remaining starter. Stir well. Add flour or water as needed until there’s as much dough as you want, and it’s a good consistency; we find enough semi-sticky dough to fill our stoneware bread pan works well for us. This dough is too sticky for kneading, so here we just dump it in the pan, cover it loosely, and let it sit for a few hours. Timing here is also a matter of taste. Left longer, the sour flavor will increase, and the bubbles will be bigger.

For a time we would make stiffer dough than we do now. Back then we found that leaving it to sit for 10 minutes did wonders for its consistency. With the stiffer dough we would let it rise in the covered mixing bowl for a while, before putting it in the pans and allowing it to rise, covered, a second time. Most people advise against using metal with sourdough, and presumably this extends to metal loaf pans, but we never had a problem with ours that we attributed to the pan.

Once in a pan and allowed to rise, the dough is ready for baking, at 350F. Our pan takes an hour or so, but we end up taking the bread’s temperature with a meat thermometer. It should get to 165F.



Sunday, February 10, 2013


It's been a while since we posted anything here. It sounded fun to list some of the projects we're working on (some more actively than others):

  • Determine how to grow a proper garden this year
    • Karlyn spent many, many hours planning last year's garden. We (mostly she) planted at least 1000 seeds. We ended up with 30 lbs of beets, a few beans, and 10 sunflowers. This was disheartening, to say the least. Causes included gophers, drought, gophers, marauding guinea fowl, and gophers. This year we have 10 or 20 cats, of various sizes and ferocities, which we hope will deal with some of those problems, plus we've got a better understanding of the principle of mulch.
  • Make the basement habitable
    • I've been feeling that we need to make more of our home suitable for occupation, even in the winter. Our habit is to curtain off more than half the house during the cold months, heat only the portion we live in, and ignore the bits we don't particularly need. I'm unconvinced we'll never need more space, but it makes more sense for various reasons to finish up the basement than to insulate and heat the old portion of the house. In the end we'll probably do both, time and money permitting, but it's the basement we're on first. Which means a drywall party, coming up soon
  • Get the truck working
    • I've wanted to know how to take care of my car for quite some time. I didn't necessarily want the car to force me into it, though. We have a one-ton pickup we got a while back, which has had problems backfiring and stalling out. Knowledgeable friends diagnosed it as feeding too much fuel into the mixture, but we didn't do anything about it for a while, in part because the brakes were also shot and I hadn't bothered to fix them. Shortly after finally replacing the brakes, a local shop scanned the truck's computer and determined that the exhaust leak we also knew about was probably the cause of the fuel mixture problems. So now I have an "exhaust donut" to replace. While poking around finding the leak, we noticed green fluid on the floor; the radiator had a small crack. So I'm also learning to replace the radiator.
    • We just took possession of a small trailer, so now the truck needs to work so we can pull it around.
  • Restock the wood pile
    • We had some very cold spells this winter -- weeks with lows in the negative teens. That will do a number on even a nicely plump wood pile like ours used to be. The chainsaw is functioning well, for the time; provided the truck can be made to work, and the trailer work with it, and the snow melts enough to get around, we'll need to go wood cutting
  • Obtain livestock
    • Toward fall last year we had to figure out what we were going to do with our field this year. We could plant it again, we could lease it to someone else to plant (probably for 10 years, because they'd want to plant alfalfa, and that's how long one planting lasts), or do something else. Eventually we decided we wanted to graze animals on it, so we're planning to get some beef cattle and a dairy animal or two. Wish us luck...
  • Chicken fodder
    • We've heard of remarkable results feeding various livestock sprouted grains. One dairy man we met feeds his cows poor quality grass hay for the most part. On that hay alone they would probably produce almost no milk at all. But he also feeds them week-old sprouts of whatever grain he has on hand, grown in an automated feeder system. He's able to run a successful dairy while only buying grain and lousy hay. We'd like to try the same sort of thing for our chickens, who haven't laid an egg in ages.
  • Burn ditches
    • Irrigation ditches have water in them (if you're lucky), and water helps plants grow. So plants tend to grow in irrigation ditches. The standard technique is to take a bunch of diesel fuel (or whatever you have on hand that's sufficiently flammable) and a big torch, and walk down the ditches burning out all the plants once a year. We've got a huge section of ditch from where the last guy on the system takes his water to the top of our fields, and from there to the end of our ditches, so this is something we'll have to do lots of. It gets smoky and smelly, but it's the best way I know of to clear that stuff out in decent time.
  • Greenhouse
    • A few people around here have "underground" greenhouses, which just a typical greenhouse, but sunk a few feet into the dirt. They benefit from ground heat, and can soak up more of the sun's heat and store it in the earth around them. When the ground thaws and our neightbor is out here with his track hoe installing a new irrigation head gate, we plan to have him dig a greenhouse as well
  • Radio
    • I've been getting into ham radio lately, but neither my license nor available equipment permit me to use the bands that will let me talk around the world. We maintain an abiding interest in preparing for emergencies, and communications are an awfully important thing to have in an emergency, so radios are on our list of things to do.
  • Electrical system
    • This one is still in the planning stages, but we'd like to supplement, or replace, our connection to the local power system with locally-generated power. Within reasonable limits, this is quite feasible, as proven by the guy on the other side of town. I'm hoping eventually to have some of our circuits on our own solar system, and others completely separate, on the local utility.
There's probably more that ought to be on that list, but it's a start. Anyone want to come hang dry wall in a while?

Thursday, May 10, 2012


The only way much of the western United States can be agriculturally productive is through irrigation, which essentially means taking one of the streams coming from the mountains and directing it through a series of ditches onto various peoples' fields. The system today isn't too much different from that of years ago: the irrigation water follows a particular schedule, and when it's your turn for the water, no matter the weather or time of day, you trot off to a ditch somewhere and redirect the water your way. There are stories of people killing each other over irrigation disputes, and they're very plausible; without the irrigation water, your fields will die, and with them whatever hope you had of harvesting from them.

Modernity has brought a few new methods to irrigation, though. One nice system involves redirecting your irrigation water into a pond, from which it eventually runs into a pressurizer -- a really big pump, typically electric around here. This pumps the water through underground pipes into large sprinkler systems. Sometimes these sprinklers are on wheel lines,

and sometimes they are on large, self-propelled pivot systems.
. These pivoting systems lead to the circular fields seen in aerial photos.

Those are nice, but they cost many thousands of dollars to set up. Another option to block up the irrigation ditch just downstream of an outlet. Water backs up behind the dam and flows out onto the field. This type of irrigation is called "flood irrigation", meaning that the water simply floods the field, and to make it work you need the help of physics, because the first rule of irrigation is water won't go uphill unless you push it. So ideally your field slopes consistently one direction, and you start irrigating at the top. Periodically you move the dam lower in the ditch, to help water flow across more of the field.

These dams are tricky business. With the advent of concrete came the concrete-lined ditch, advantageous because it's a standard size, with standard sized metal dams and regularly spaced openings, also with their own little valves built-in. They don't wash out (in theory) and you can walk on them pretty well without getting stuck in the mud. They also cost $24 per foot to install, which is an awful lot of money.

So we use the ghetto method, pictured at the top of this post (though our ditches are larger than the one pictured). One pole -- local wisdom says a 2x4 won't cut it, but two might -- sits on the ditch bank. Fence pickets, 2x4s, or other miscellaneous lumber rest firmly in the mud, and lean downstream against this pole. In front of it all, another pole runs through a loop sewn in what is essentially a plastic tarp. With some skill and luck, and a good shovel, you can position the tarp to block the water without washing out. I've been doing this every couple hours all day long, and frankly, I'm pooped. Other farms with far larger holdings than ours will sometimes go days without sleep, because their irrigation schedule demands they rush from one ditch to another moving dams for days at a time. We get the water for less than a day, once every two weeks, and that's enough work for me. Lugging soaked, slimy lumber through the mud down to the next ditch outlet can really take it out of you.

But this water turn (our second), we managed to water quite a bit of the field that we missed last time, which might mean we don't lose half our crop to my incompetence. And we're probably going to have our field leveled before next season, so then the water should flow decently. I It's kinda exciting...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Precincts and Plantings

We've been dreaming about gardens lately. Ours, in particular, and that's a problem because we'll have to till the entire thing. Shortly after moving in, we managed to dig up an area big enough for the rhubarb transplants from Grandma's place, as well as a few bean and corn seeds, but this year's garden plan calls for lots more space. So we've been moving various pieces of aging farm detritus aside to make room for the giant seed pack we bought and the thirty or so trees headed our way.

With gardens on the brain, the phone call we got the other day from the neighbor that's helping us plant the fields was certainly a propos. We'd intended to plant wheat and oats, but it turns out they get planted and harvested at different times, meaning it's twice the work. That sounded unpleasant, so we decided just to do wheat this year. A few hours of tractor driving (the boys enjoyed helping) and one struggle with insufficient diesel coolant later, we have a planted wheat field. It rained a couple hours after we finished, which is about the best timing we could hope for. Now we just have to hope we'll have water enough to last the year...

Meanwhile, in response to encouragement to participate in local politics, we attended last week's Republican precinct caucus meeting. We've not been affiliated with any political party, and although the Constitution party seemed, in practice, more in line with our views than any other option, we chose to attend the Republican caucus because it seemed unlikely any significant political effort will happen in Utah in the near future without the implicit approval of local Republicans. Plus it promised to be a lively event.

Kanosh tends to get worked up over politics, apparently, and I admit I sort of wanted to listen to a good argument. So I was surprised when the meeting generally subdued, or even soporific. The purpose, we eventually discovered, was to elect leadership for the local party, and delegates to the county and state conventions. The party leadership has few responsibilities beyond organizing the next caucus meeting in two years; delegates are responsible for winnowing the field of party candidates for various offices down to the two or three that will appear on the ballot when the party's primary election takes place. So the only real presentation of political viewpoints came when our newly elected precinct party chairman took issue with an endorsement of Senator Orrin Hatch, and I, our newly elected vice-chairman, backed him up for reasons I've expressed elsewhere, as well as a few other reasons.

Karlyn was elected a county delegate. The county convention apparently chooses candidates only for county commissioner. We may decide to attend the state convention as well, just for kicks, or to give ourselves opportunity to continue whining about Senator Hatch. Neither of us really has much idea specifically what our new offices entail, nor what specific duties are expected of us, but I guess we'll live and learn. I hope the wheat grows decently, in the meantime.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bubbles and Fizz

A few years ago, as we started becoming "food nerds", we got introduced to fermented foods. Turns out there's more to "fermented" than wine and beer. As I recall, it started with a milk culture we began feeding our son. Called "piima", it is pretty much "milk snot" -- a stringy, gelatinous substance you get by mixing a starter with milk and leaving it on the counter overnight. Turns out it, or something very like it, is also pretty popular around here. We mixed it with various other substances to make a magic potion for the kid, and he loved it.

Our next step was lacto-fermentation, where the idea is that you preserve various foods by convincing some sort of bacterium to make lactic acid, which in turn preserves the food. That's where we get sauerkraut, but also chutney, mustard, ketchup, fish sauce, kvass, and about a billion other things. Modern variants of these foods typically aren't lacto-fermented (it's not one of Heinz's 57 flavors), but they all descend from fermented ancestors.

Homemade sauerkraut was, for us, a gateway drug. Far superior in both taste and nutritional value to the vinegar-soaked mash available in stores, when done well homemade sauerkraut aids digestion, increases the vitamin content of its ingredients, and will quickly teach you to refuse anything but the best. The recipe is simple: chop high-quality, firm cabbage in to small pieces, mix with about two tablespoons of salt per head, pound the bejeebers out of it with something hard, like a wooden spoon, so that it releases its juices, and pack it into quart jars. Add water if necessary to keep the cabbage below the level of the liquid, screw the lids down tight and leave them on the counter to bubble and hiss for a week as the fermentation gets going. When the hissing dies down, pack it away in the basement for a month or six -- it's harder to leave the second batch down very long, because you remember how good the first batch tasted -- and then dig in. No need to boil the bottles and seal everything, no need to keep it frozen or particularly cold; some folks I've heard of made some in a big bucket and left it in a relatively clean part of the garage for a year, after which they found it was still excellent. Purists wanting a larger batch without a crass plastic bucket can use a sauerkraut crock, a large ceramic pot where the cabbage is kept under the liquid with a plate weighed down with a brick, or some such. Somewhere I have a recipe I'm determined to try one day; it calls for a barrel and 55 heads of cabbage.

Similar techniques have worked very well for us to preserve string beans and jalapeno peppers, and quite a few other vegetables are certainly good candidates but we haven't tried them yet. When testing out a new idea, it's helpful to employ a decent sense of smell and healthy skepticism; if the sauerkraut juices are stringy and ropy, or the cabbage is particularly dark in color, or there's fuzz growing on it, I'd recommend tossing that particular batch. We tried salsa once but determined it had become alcoholic, most likely a function of how much juicier and softer tomatoes are compared to the other veggies we've tried. Use some caution until you've vetted a new recipe.

If you happen to have whey on hand, you can cut back on the salt. Whey of course comes from cheese making, but you can also get some by dumping yogurt (make sure it has live cultures, because you need those cultures in the whey) into cheesecloth and letting it drip for a while. The stuff that drips out is the whey, the stuff still in the cloth makes excellent cream cheese. For a quart of sauerkraut, replace a tablespoon of the salt with a tablespoon or two of whey. This will jump-start the fermentation. Grated carrots with a little fresh ginger is extremely tasty fermented this way. but won't last as long as sauerkraut, and should be refrigerated once opened.

In some future post, if I get around to it,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The baby just turned one, and for the last six months or more has had problems sleeping. Problems like, "If you hold me and rock me and carry me around, I might finally fall asleep after an hour, but if you happen to wake me up laying me in the crib, you've gotta do it all again." Or, "I might choose to sleep through most of the night, but it will involve waking up every hour or so for food." For various intervals during this time, this behavior has been attributable to teething, or brief illness, but in general it has passed beyond the point of "just a phase". Which makes it all the more irritating to get advice like this: "Oh, yeah, my kid did that too. I'd forgotten about that. Gee, that was rough, but I guess we just waited it out. Did I tell you about his last letter from college?"

We've resolved to try, once again, the "just let her cry it out" method. We've done this before, but her ability to keep crying surprised us in each instance (and lest we be described as simple pansies that couldn't withstand the heart-rending wails of a distressed and helpless baby, let me remind you, gentle reader, that the dear child's parents both come from the older end of large families, and have already taught three other children to sleep decently, so there's no small experience behind this effort). Well last night, it seems to have worked. We didn't get to bed early, but baby slept longer at one stretch than she has in ages, and after she did wake up and get fed, she cried herself to sleep again.

Perhaps if this works for her, she could teach her father how to fall asleep.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I'd like to take a brief side-road from the usual rural idyll to talk about the internet. I like to say something witty, educational, and entertaining here. I'd like to include links to others' witty, educational, and entertaining ideas. I'd like to do all these things, but it's too dangerous. Someone might claim I was using their idea without sufficient permission from them, it was their idea first, and was copyrighted. And if recently proposed and startlingly successful legislation becomes law, I could lose all access to this blog as a result. Thanks to our own dear technologically illiterate Senator Hatch and similarly misguided legislators, something called the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, is making its way through the U.S. Senate. It instructs U.S. law enforcement to disable websites which host, link to, promote, or otherwise misuse copyrighted information, based only on complaints from the supposed copyright holder. Apparently that bit in the Constitution (amendment 14) about not depriving citizens of property without due process of law doesn't apply here.

This legislation comes from the always innovative hallowed halls of Hollywood, where apparently the internet is considered, as Cory Doctorow cleverly put it, merely "glorified cable TV". Misguided Dept. of Justice button pushers could, on the strength of a complaint alone, disable my access to websites I use to get my job done. Or prevent access to digital information used for research, industry, or anything else. All to stop me from getting a bootlegged copy of whatever new movie I'm supposed to get excited for. The legislation would even prohibit the use of something called DNSSec, which is really the only tool ever created which could prevent many of the high profile business hacks that keep making news. If you've ever gotten the call that your credit card information was stolen by hackers, you might want to pay attention here.

To justify this heavy-handed power grab, promoters say similar controls already exist and work well in such bastions of democracy and human rights as Syria and China. I know that makes me more comfortable. Although the U.S. House version of the bill is essentially dead, at least for now, the Senate version is still going strong, and recently discovered information shows the U.S. has been trying to pressure Spain, and presumably other governments, to adopt similar measures.

I'll stop now before some Iron Felix wanna-be at Thought Police Central Command sees this and gets excited. Please contact your elected officials.

Update: KSL reports Senator Hatch, in a fit of clear and rational thought, has taken his name off of the list of PIPA's co-sponsors and decided to oppose the bill. Apparently Utah's other senator, Mike Lee, also opposes the bill; other reports I'd seen a few days ago suggested the contrary. This is welcome news.

Update the Second:We won. After several major websites (Wikipedia, among others) protested SOPA and PIPA by blacking themselves out all day January 18th, support for the legislation plummeted, as shown here:

Shortly thereafter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he'd "postpone" a vote on PIPA, and later Rep. Lamar Smith, author of SOPA, pulled his bill in order to find a solution more people agree on. Because of the presidential election, and federal inability to focus on any single topic for more than a week straight, it will likely be some time before PIPA sees daylight again. Meantime, the entertainment industry claims there are some problems (like copyright violation) whose solutions "have no business being decided politically." Unfortunately for the MPAA, this is still (nominally) a democracy, where government derives power from the people, and the people have the right to decide, through the political process, whatever they want to decide. Whether the MPAA likes it or not. Former senator Chris Dodd, now president of the MPAA, made it clear that his organization won't continue to buy politicians if those politicians won't remain faithful lapdogs: "Candidly, those who count on 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chimney tweaks

It's interesting how, in winter, in a big house, one's thoughts turn to heat, and more particularly where it's all going. We've burned through an awful lot of wood this winter -- wood we've had to cut, split, stack, carry, and so on. We were fortunate that along with the house, we bought a large pile of potential firewood out in the field, so this year we haven't had to go out in the hills and cut our own trees. I'm holding hope that the pile will last us to the end of winter, but that's looking less and less likely. Firewood is supposed to be left out to season for a while before use, but this has been left long enough that it's half rotted, and spongy old wood burns extremely fast.

We've also, on occasion, burned some of the coal we have in little piles here and there in the yard. The thought of burning coal may cause some to cast scornful glances our way, but as I see it, heating with coal directly is more efficient than having the power plant burn coal, lose some energy turning the heat to electricity, lose more energy transmitting the electricity to me, and let me lose still more turning it back into heat. Provided we don't burn too much of it, such that it would damage the stove, burning coal works fairly well.

The problem, though, is the chimney. It leads from the fireplace straight out the wall, and takes most of the heat with it. The lousy diagram at the top of the post shows the current setup. It doesn't take too much staring at the heat coming out of the chimney to decide there might be something better. So I want to change the chimney some.

This second lousy diagram describes what I have in mind. The room with the fireplace has a high, sloping ceiling; the chimney will lead up to the ceiling, follow its slant up for several feet, and finally pop out the roof. Hopefully that will let it radiate more heat into the room, and less into the trees outside. Anyone have some chimney pipe they don't need anymore?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tips for beginners

  1. The chainsaw works better when you clean the air filter occasionally. YouTube will tell you how to do it.

  2. A shotgun is a nice thing to have.

  3. It helps to determine in advance which you like better: the dog, or the chickens it occasionally preys on.

  4. Heating with wood is nice. Having a stock of wood makes this easier.

  5. Sleep is important.

  6. Winter makes things colder.

  7. A big list of projects doesn't get smaller by dreaming up more projects.