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swt potatoesX3, kale, cowpeas--BLOG

sweet potatoes, kale, and cowpeas

Once again, I decided to observe Homegrown Fridays, eating only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent.  Anything you see in bold followed by * is listed on the Recipes page of this blog (click on the recipe tab at the top).  This year was more of a challenge because of other commitments.  I started two weeks early so I could get in seven Fridays and even at that, two of the Fridays were actually Thursdays.  I finished early so that I could be off on another adventure.  If you’re reading this the first week in April, 2012, I’m at Tillers International in Michigan finding out more of what they do there while my husband is taking a class in timber framing.

The delicious dinner you see in the photo was one of my meals.  It consisted of kale harvested fresh from the garden, Arkansas Razorback cowpeas, and three varieties of sweet potatoes–Ginseng, Beauregard, and purple.  When I have no “homegrown only” restrictions, I would probably put butter on the cowpeas and sweet potatoes and vinegar on the kale.  I enjoyed the natural flavors of that food without butter and vinegar. 

polenta with tomato sauce--BLOG

polenta with tomato sauce

I had dried a variety of things in my solar food dryers last summer and had looked forward to using them for Homegrown Fridays this year.  I made a soup using as many of them as I could*.  Dinner one Friday was polenta topped with tomato sauce*.  Cooked Mississippi Silver cowpeas accompanied that meal.  Polenta is just another name for cornmeal mush that has been cooked a little longer and let set to thicken.  I cooked it in a crockpot the day before, then put it in the refrigerator.  At dinnertime I put tomato sauce over it and heated it in the oven.  When I cooked the cornmeal and water for polenta, I added dried onions.  I froze some, which made an easy lunch to heat up on another busy Homegrown Friday.

I was fortunate to have peanuts this year and made peanut butter for the first time in my GrainMaker  mill.  I had better luck grinding raw peanuts than grinding roasted peanuts to make peanut butter.  I made it twice and, although I’m sure I’d get better at it with practice, it’s a whole lot easier, and less cleanup, to just eat the peanuts as they are.  The folks in Biosphere 2 grew peanuts with the intent to press them for oil, but decided to just eat them as a snack.  Peanuts were one of their main sources of fat.  Their two year experiment with eight people living in a completely sealed environment and producing all their food is documented in the book Eating In: From the Field to the Kitchen in Biosphere 2 by Sally Silverstone.  I made peanut butter to have with carrots from the garden.  That day I also made sorghum crackers.  Recalling a recipe for greens in peanut sauce from the cookbook Simply in Season, I made a version of that with my dried collards.  I put peanut butter with the dried collards and water while it cooked.  We ate it as a vegetable for dinner, but I liked it better as a sandwich filling for a meal another day.  It would have made a good dip.  

bean burgers and sorghum breadsticks--BLOG

bean burgers and sorghum breadsticks

I made “bean burgers” for the first time.  It’s something that’s long been on my “to-do” list.  I used cooked cowpeas, reconstituted dried onion and dried sweet pepper, and minced garlic.  The cowpeas were boiled until really soft.  I mashed everything together and made it into patties that I topped with tomato sauce and baked.  Breadsticks made with sorghum flour were served with that.  

One day lunch was home-canned green beans cooked with dried cabbage and onions.  Sorghum patties (made like corn patties*) rounded out that meal.  A couple lunches were sweet potatoes, peanuts, and raisins.  Peanuts, raisins, and popcorn were great to have among my choices of homegrown food.  Last summer I dried grapes for raisins by cutting the grapes in half and drying them in the solar dryers.  The seedless grapes were best for that.  Popcorn was popped in a pan with no oil for a snack some days.  Just be ready to shake the pan a lot to prevent burning.  When limiting your diet like this, it is good to plan for something quick to eat if you are really hungry and you still have to plan dinner.  Peanuts, raisins, and popcorn filled that need nicely and could be taken along if I had to be gone somewhere. 

cornmeal mush with hazelnuts and honey--BLOG

Bloody Butcher cornmeal mush with hazelnuts and honey

Breakfast was the easiest meal and always the same.  I had cornmeal mush made with my Bloody Butcher Corn.  I sweetened it with honey from my bees and added hazelnuts, which were great.  You can read about my hazelnut harvest in my last post.  My black walnut trees seem to bear alternate years and didn’t drop nuts in 2011. The staples in this homegrown diet are cornmeal, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and greens.  I had sorghum and wheat for additional flour and the dried vegetables were much appreciated, especially tomatoes and onions.  I had some naturally fermented sour pickles and garlic that I chopped up and added to cowpeas for lunch one day.  Herbs, dried and fresh, add diversity to the flavors.  I was happy to harvest fresh celery leaves in the garden.  The parsley I used was dried.  Eating this way makes you really appreciate each additional flavor and texture.  You might be interested in reading about  my 2011 Homegrown Friday experiences.

I drank water or herb tea.  Currently my herb tea blend consists of spearmint, bee balm, lemon balm, and basil.  On these Homegrown Fridays my husband and I often opened a bottle of mead made from our honey and grapes or elderberries.  We feel very fortunate to have such bounty from our garden.  At the same time, we are mindful of those in the world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  We hope that our work here will help towards the understanding of what it would take to feed others.  The learning is in the doing.  I hope some of you will try a Homegrown Friday or two at any time of the year.  It is definitely an experience.  

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shock of wheat

Growing grain in your garden is great for both your soil and for you.  Your soil gets the benefit of the roots left from the cover crop, the straw goes to the compost pile which ultimately gets returned to the soil, and you have seeds to grind for flour or to save for another planting.  I grow both wheat and rye, but since I wrote about cutting rye early to lay down for mulch on 5/17/11, I’ll direct my comments today to wheat.  The process I’ll write about is the same for both.  Gene Logsdon is the first person I knew of talking about growing wheat back in the ‘70’s when he wrote about growing a “pancake patch”.  His book, Small–Scale Grain Raising, was published in 1979 by Rodale Press.  It promptly went out of print, which is why I was thrilled when the second edition was published in 2009 by Chelsea Green.   Gene Logsdon’s writings had a huge effect on my evolution as a gardener in the 1970’s-80’s.  I encourage all of you to read as many of his books as you can, both the new and the old, and visit his blog at http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/

I plant winter wheat in the fall, trying to have it in by mid-October.  I  broadcast it into a prepared seedbed and gently chop it in with a cultivator or rake.  It could also be sown in furrows.  Whenever I’ve tried transplanting it, the results were not as good, so I don’t transplant small grains.  The time to harvest here in zone 7 is about the second week of June for wheat and the next week for rye.  I cut it with the same Japanese-style sickle that I told you about in the post about the rye.  Keeping all the grain heads going the same way, I put it in bundles, tying each with a wheat straw.  My video, Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden, shows me doing that.  The grain needs some more drying time before it is threshed.  You could store it in a building, but make sure to protect it from birds and mice.  I’ve gotten better at putting the bundles into shocks, so I do that and leave the shocks in the garden for about a week, then thresh.  It’s okay if it gets rained on, and of course, the dew will fall each night.  This weathering is all for the good and the changes in the grain make it better for your body to digest.  I believe one of the reasons so many people have problems digesting wheat is because of how it is handled in our industrial food system.  All the more reason to grow your own.

threshing-bat method

Until now, my favorite way to thresh wheat and rye has been with a plastic baseball bat.  I lay an old sheet on the ground and put a piece of plywood on top, with the other end leaning against the picnic table.  From a standing position, I hold the wheat, heads down, against the plywood and hit the seedheads with the bat.  The grain falls down to the sheet.  I gather the sheet and can pull off a lot of the larger chaff with my hand.  Everything else gets poured into a container for winnowing.  That way is shown in my cover crop video.

threshing-foot method

My newest method allows me to sit down on the job and use my feet.   I use an old bread tray and insert a piece of 1/2 “ hardware cloth, but you could make a frame of 2×4’s with a 1/2’” hardware cloth bottom.  I lean the tray against the picnic table bench as shown, sit in the chair in front of it, and use my feet to shuffle against the grain heads. The wheat seeds land all in one spot behind the threshing tray.   You can see the bundles of wheat on one side of the chair and the threshed straw on the other.  I wear clean shoes that I save for that job only.  As before, I also used a sheet under everything so that I could gather it up and pour the grain and chaff into a container for winnowing.  That frame with the hardware cloth will come in handy to hold vegetables for rinsing right in the garden.  You can just spray them off and let them drain.

The easiest way to winnow (separate the grain from the chaff) is to pour it from one container to another in front of a fan, making sure the bottom container is a deep one so the grain doesn’t bounce out.  Do that a couple times.  Don’t worry if every bit of chaff doesn’t come out, because it will all come out in the wash.

floating off the chaff

I’ve never read of anyone washing their grain, but I do. I’m not a clean freak when it comes to food, it’s just a practical management technique for me.  I put the grain in a large bowl and add water.  Any remaining chaff, underweight seed, insects, etc. will float to the top.  You might even find a bird dropping that you threshed out of the straw. It happens.  Pour off what has gathered on top and fill again, giving the grain a stir to release more stuff.  Once you are rid of what floats off, you may notice some grit in the bottom of your bowl. That is from dirt you’ve harvested with the grain.  Pour it all through a strainer or colander that will keep the grain in and let that grit out.  Having different sizes of sieves and colanders is good for using with many seed saving activities.  Watch for them at yard sales and thrift stores and build your collection so you can accommodate the different sizes of seeds you will be saving in the future.

Now for the drying.  I first pour the grain out onto towels to air dry, then I put it in large cake pans or wooden bowls and let it set out until I’m sure it’s good and dry, stirring it around when I think about it.  When I’m sure it’s dry, I put it in glass jars.  There are faster drying methods, but that’s how I do it.  I put the jars of grain in the freezer for three days to ensure there will be no insect problems.  Then I store the jars in the pantry.

Grains are an important part of GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-farming.  John Jeavons of Ecology Action has posted some GROW BIOINTENSIVE videos on his website at www.johnjeavons.info/video.html.  In Session 6, part B, you can see my friend Dan harvesting and threshing rye.  The Ecology Action Booklet 33:  Grow Your Own Grains:  Raising, Harvesting and Uses by Carol Cox is full of good information.  You can find that in the Bountiful Gardens catalog.  The best yield I’ve gotten for wheat in my garden is 4.4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.  and for rye it’s 6.3 lb. per 100 sq. ft.  It’s usually less than that, but I know I can do better and I’m always looking at different varieties.  No matter what you’re growing, it’s important to find the varieties that do well for your particular climate and soil.

Growing your own grain adds a new dimension to your garden.  Even if you don’t want to grow it to eat, you could let some of your rye grow out to seed to save for your next cover crop.  Growing even a small amount of wheat is especially fun with children.  One year when my grandson was helping me thresh, we decided to read up on The Little Red Hen and were surprised to find several different versions of the same story at the library. We read them all. Make your garden an adventure and have some fun.  Maybe you can use some of your wheat for pizza dough.  I have some tomatoes and peppers in the garden.   Now if I could just grow some cheese.

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In April, 1999 I became the proud owner of a Country Living Grain Mill.  It was a big purchase for our family, but I had been using a Corona mill occasionally for about ten years and had decided it was time to get serious about having fresh ground flour.  The Corona was good for cornmeal, but not so good for whole wheat flour for bread.  The effort it took was not something anyone in our family wanted to endure on a regular basis.  I scoured the internet looking for information about all the choices out there.  I wanted to save money, but I didn’t want to buy anything that would end up being too troublesome to use.  I finally decided to go with the Country Living Mill and have never regretted that decision.  It’s the white one in the picture.  In September, 2010 I had an opportunity to try a GrainMaker mill when the folks who make it were at the Mother Earth News Fair in Somerset, PA.  I really liked it and thought it seemed easier to use than the Country Living Mill.  I was in a position to buy it and, since part of my mission is to help others along this path, I thought it would be great to compare the two and share my experiences.  Long story short, the GrainMaker mill is now my favorite.  

The GrainMaker was ready to use out-of-the-box except for attaching the handle.  It even came with five pounds of wheat berries!  I was right, it was easier to turn than the Country Living Mill, but then I realized that I didn’t have the extension handle on the Country Living.  Once I put that on, the handles were about the same length and the effort to use them was about the same.   What really made the difference is the amount of flour generated with the same effort.  The GrainMaker produced TWICE as much flour as the Country Living Mill with the same number of revolutions!  In 300 revolutions I have gotten about 1 c.3T. flour with the Country Living Mill and 2c.6T. with the GrainMaker.  The amount of flour in the jars is what I got from one 300 revolution trial for each mill.  What is in the breadpans catching the flour is from another 300 revolutions.  You can see from the pattern of the flour in the pans that the Country Living Mill drops flour mostly from the sides of the grinding plates, but the GrainMaker Mill also drops a significant amount in the middle.  The pattern on the grinding plates of the GrainMaker is rather different, which might account for that.  Another big plus with the  GrainMaker is that the corn/bean auger sits on a spindle on the mill and is super easy to exchange with the grain auger.  There is more involved with changing out the augers with the Country Living Mill and I have to remember where I put the extra auger and other small pieces needed.  If I could change one thing about the GrainMaker, it would be to have a longer handle, such as the one on the Country Living Mill. 

The GrainMaker is now attached to my kitchen counter and the Country Living Mill will eventually go to one of our grown children, when they are ready for it.  For another testimonial from someone who has used both mills, check out Dan and Margo’s Circle of the Sun blog for January 27 and April 6.  I have mounted each of my mills to a piece of 3/4 ” plywood with lag screws.  I use C-clamps to hold the plywood to the counter.  We removed the lower cabinet door and I made curtains for that opening with slits that allow the clamps to go under the counter.  Knowing that many people might not have counter space for a mill, I wondered how it would do on a small cart.  I have one in the kitchen that holds the many jars that seem to be always around.  I attached the Grainmaker to it to see how it would work, anticipating I would need to move the jars and maybe add some weight, but it worked so smoothly, the jars stayed put, including all the ones in the bottom of that cart.  Since it had wheels, it did move a bit when I was grinding, but once I rolled it over onto the rug, the problem was solved.  If your kitchen currently has no space for a mill, you might want to consider buying or making a cart that can be pushed out of the way when not in use.  You could store your grains, dehydrator, or whatever you want on the rest of the cart.  Locking wheels would be good, or roll it to a rug to use.

There has been a price increase and some design changes since I bought my GrainMaker, but knowing what I know about both mills, I would still choose the GrainMaker over the Country Living Mill.  Twice the flour for the same work is a HUGE difference and I’m not getting any younger.  Not everyone can buy the mill of their dreams  right now.  Remember, I started out with the Corona so many years ago and I still have use for it now and then.  Start somewhere and work from there.  If a mill doesn’t grind fine flour, it can surely make cornmeal or crack wheat berries and rice for hot cereal.  In her book The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe prefers using her Corona mill to grind corn to make polenta.  Do any of you have thoughts on grain mills that you would like to share?

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