Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dreaming of Spring (Wheat)

The garden is deceptively quiet this time of year – the slow growing cover crops, winter grains, and garlic seem almost dormant. However, thanks to our fertile soil, the weeds gladly fill the vacuum whenever and wherever an opportunity presents itself! We are also staying busy inside: Rachid is installing new drying racks and streamlining our grain processing setup; Ellen and Fernanda have been working hard to preserve the summer’s harvest of apples, pears, and garlic; Randy has been organizing our impressive repository of seeds; and we all have been threshing, winnowing and saving seeds and grains from this year’s harvest and catching up on some from past years. Our barn is looking better than ever.

While garden work may be slow right now, the next significant task is just around the corner: planting spring grains. The end of January will find us busy flatting spring grains (and spacing the flatting days apart so we won’t find ourselves with too many ready-to-transplant grains at one time).

This year we have some exciting varieties of spring wheat that we are growing for the first time at Golden Rule. After perusing the Kusa Seeds catalogue, we settled on the “Embassy Wheat Suite” collection of seven different spring wheats. Taken directly from the Kusa Seed catalogue, here are the names and descriptions of the seven we are going to grow this year:


Baart Early is a spring growth-habit wheat (Triticum vulgare) with large, semi-hard, white-color kernels and white glumes. It reached heights of up to 48” in the Kusa Seed organization grow-outs. Baart Early was imported into Australia from South Africa in 1880 and came to the United States in 1900. It became well established in Arizona, then spread to the Pacific Coast states. About 500,000 acres were grown in 1919, while the 1939 records show 890,000 acres grown on the dry and irrigated lands of the West. A widely-grown, pre-modern bread wheat.


Globe Wheat (Triticum sphaerococcum) is a spring growth-habit wheat with small, spherical (round) kernels. The shape of the kernels is quite distinctive and memorable. The stems are very stiff on 24-inch plants whose leaves are all stiffly erect. The seeds have fast germination and emergence. Globe wheat filled the bread basket of pre-industrial colonial India where grain from the plants furnished the flour for the delicious native chapatis and countless other wheaten foods, probably for many long centuries. This crop tillers vigorously even when crowded and has an excellent agronomic appearance by “modern” plant-architecture standards. All heads have short awns. Start with a few seeds and get to 80-pounds with the third-generation harvest. The harvest from the 80-pounds will produce enough grain to feed a whole village.


Huron is a spring growth-habit wheat grown commercially as a bread wheat in the United States about 100 years ago. Huron was selected in Canada about 1888. Height ranges from 44-62”. Huron was exposed in the field in Ojai, California to multiple nights of 16° F. temperatures at 50 days of age without harm.


This is a landrace wheat from ancient Afghanistan (Triticum turgidum). This race of wheat acquired the common names “Cone” and “Rivet” wheat in England, when they were “somewhat widely” grown in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. This is a spring growth habit wheat with its own way of going about the business of “growing up” (have you ever had teenagers living at your place?). Cone and Rivet wheats are best if planted in the autumn, in regions with temperate winters. When sown in the spring, they ripen very late and the kernels struggle to properly mature. According to Percival (an authority on ancient wheats), this is the tallest of all the wheats and in the Kusa Seed organization’s grow-outs, Mauri Black-Awned reached heights of seven-feet. The plants have very attractive, erect leaves and the appearance is one of a very successful and productive-looking crop. Stem strength is modest; the grower should support the plot to prevent lodging. This is an ancient wheat of remarkable beauty. “The productive power of most varieties of Triticum turgidum is greater than that of any other race of wheat when the soil is suitable and the climate allows for a long growing period for the crop” wrote Percival in his monograph The Wheat Plant (1920). This wheat has black awns and white glumes and nice hollow stems (drinking straws).


This is a landrace wheat of spring growth-habit (Triticum polonicum) from Portugal. Milagre has very distinctive, long glumes and long, narrow kernels. Milagre belongs to one of the tallest races of wheat. In the Kusa Seed organization grow-outs, Milagre reached heights of 7’ (84”). Milagre has very large grain heads and broad, droopy leaves. This wheat has nice hollow stems, used for drinking straws in the old days. This wheat pre-dates the industrial revolution and is highly scenic. Anticipate possible lodging by furnishing support. A most esteemed faculty member with a historic portfolio.


This is a landrace wheat of spring growth-habit (Triticum polonicum) from ancient Italy. Mirabella has “elephantic” length glumes and tremendous height potential. In Kusa Seed grow-outs, height varied from 30-84” with some stiff stems exhibited at times. The height expression depends on the soil, climate, growing-term, and other factors (how it likes your place; the local hospitality factor). Once you meet Mirabella, you’ll want to squire her, no doubt. A real, honest-to-goodness beauty queen with a clean and decent soul. Be sure and have your camera on hand when you grow Mirabella, and plenty of film or memory. You likely have never seen anything so fetching before. This is real grain. Nice hollow stems.


This is a landrace wheat (Triticum polonicum) of spring growth-habit from ancient Iraq. What a faculty member to have on staff! Huge heads of grain; “elephant size.” Moderately stiff stems. A magnificent specimen of ancient wheat. If the neighbors see it, you’ll have to put up a fence with a strong padlock on the gate. Good for pasta, bread, other culinary items and curative for the “wimp factor” that car-driving and web-surfing inescapably thrust upon us. Height in the Kusa Seed organization grow-outs ranged from 30-84”. Imagine a giant towering over you; that’s Sin El Pheel at its best form. Nature has some surprise secrets to share with you and this faculty member comes with a briefcase full of them.

The Kusa Seed Society endeavors to increase public knowledge and understanding of the important relationship between humanity and edible seedcrops. They have a unique selection of not just spring wheats, but also winter wheats and barleys. If you are interested in growing grains at all, then you definitely will enjoy visiting their website.

May 2012 bring you closer to your friends and family, contentment in your work, and a fruitful harvest.

Happy Flatting, Planting, Dreaming...Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fall 2011 Update (Part2)

After a rather extended period of dormancy, The Golden Rule Garden Blog is once again in production. Our Garden Manager, Ellen, has written an update of this year's activities in the garden, which will be presented in two parts. The first is a brief overview of our work, philosophy and challenges in the garden. The second part details a few specific crop production statistics.

Within our garden we have a section called the 40 Bed Unit. This is our experimental area that represents all the food, compost crops, etc. grown to sustain one person. This is the area where Randy and most of the interns have grown their experimental beds. Within these beds we have grown 740 square feet of potatoes. All of our potatoes have exceeded or almost equaled the national average. Our average Yukon Gold yield was 83 lbs/ 100 sq. ft.; Yellow Finn was 92 lbs/100 sq. ft; Rio Grande russets was 95 lbs/100 sq. ft; and Colorado Rose was 112 lbs/100 sq. ft. Our seed potatoes came from Sanhedrin Nursery in Willits and they’re a wonderful organic seed potato from White Mountain Farms in southern Colorado.

The other crop that we have some data on at this time is our quinoa. We have 200 square feet (out of more than 500 sq. ft.) threshed and winnowed. The variety we have grown this year is Colorado 407D. This is the third year we have grown this variety in our garden. It is extremely beautiful and grows quickly and quite well in our shorter growing season. Quinoa, in general, likes cooler drier weather. Some of the quinoa that was planted at the end of April and the first part of May was smaller and more affected by fungus because of the wet weather. While it still grew, the yields were decreased somewhat from what we were used to producing. We have an average, at this point, of 8.3 lbs/100 sq. ft. with a biomass yield of 7-8 lbs/100 sq. ft. In past years, with this variety, we have achieved 10-11 lbs/100 sq. ft with a biomass yield of 8-9 lbs/100 sq. ft. We expect that the quinoa that is not yet threshed will exceed our existing average. Those that were planted at a later, warmer and drier time didn’t develop the fungus that seemed to affect the growth of the earlier quinoa.

We have had great success in past years growing this particular variety of quinoa as a catch crop. Catch crops are crops that you plant after over-wintering or early spring planted crops come out of the garden beds in late June or July, like cereal grains or garlic. Catch crops are quick growing plants that will produce food or biomass for compost before it is time to plant the cover crops for over winter. We were able to grow a crop of quinoa that produced well from early July to early October.

We are growing a beautiful variety of purple amaranth that we found last year from Canada. It is a combination of many colors and shapes that are quite vibrant and white-seeded. We have been able to grow seed from the amaranth as a catch crop this year, and the biomass from the amaranth is quite a bit larger and fuller than the amaranth that we transplanted in the cooler, wetter months. Amaranth is a heat-loving crop and is quite beautiful in your garden.

Two other catch crops that have produced well this year are pearl millet and Dale sorghum. These crops were planted after cereal grains were harvested and are now producing. The pearl millet has tall stalks and is now producing seed and the Dale sorghum is getting tall enough to press for sorghum syrup.

Fall 2011 Update (Part 1)

After a rather extended period of dormancy, The Golden Rule Garden Blog is once again in production. Our Garden Manager, Ellen, has written an update of this year's activities in the garden, which will be presented in two parts. The first is a brief overview of our work, philosophy and challenges in the garden. The second part details a few specific crop production statistics.

This time of year at Golden Rule Garden is very beautiful and busy. As a matter of fact, we are almost as busy as the spring and summer planting time. It is an ending to one growing season and a preparation for the new year. For the gardener, it might represent a chance to maybe take a little time off or start the new garden plan for the next growing season. At Golden Rule Garden this year, we have been facing the same challenges as most agriculturalists everywhere. We have had to adapt to the changing climate and plant many of our vegetable and summer grain crops later, after an extra 4 weeks of cool wet June weather and then adapt to a cooler summer. With those challenges, we have still managed to produce abundant food for our community here at Golden Rule as well as for the local senior center, food banks and soup kitchens thanks to the help of Golden Rule Garden’s new field coordinator, Randy Fish, and our interns Binod, Fernanda, Rachid and Lucas.

We have tried to adapt the varieties we grow to the possible permanent climate changes in our area. With some of the experimentation we have been doing, we are able to offer the varietal seeds we have grown to our local seed company, Bountiful Gardens. Growing tomatoes, for instance, can be challenging with the type of weather we have been dealing with in the last few years, so we have found tomatoes used to cooler nights. We are still experimenting with them and hope to have data on their successes or failures in the future.

It is often fun to grow seeds and preserve them in your own garden. It is truly sustainable to grow out seeds that work well in your garden and are available to you and others. This is a very important aspect to our garden and should be something that we all think about. The world is losing the amazing diversity of heirloom vegetable and grain seeds. At our garden, we are trying very hard to preserve the quality of open-pollinated heirloom seeds for both the vegetables and grains that we grow.

As the growing season ends and we’re preparing for the winter, we are busy composting, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, seed saving, cover-cropping and weeding. Many of these activities continue into the winter...when we start pruning our 84 fruit trees and rebuilding flats. A farmer’s life is full of diversity. However, we are still excited about planning for the growing season next year and what the weather will be. Whatever it is, we will adapt.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Belated Departure

For those devoted readers who have almost given up hope, we have some explaining to do!
Margo and I finished our time as field-coordinators at the Golden Rule Garden in mid-December of 2009 to travel back to the midwest, have Christmas with the family (for the first time in years) and figure out where we would start our own farm. As successful graduates of Ecology Action's three-year apprenticeship program, and having spent another year working closely with EA interns and apprentices there, we have been looking gratefully toward the time when we could found our own place. It's an opportunity to support EA's work in a different climate, pass on the knowledge we have gained, and, most importantly, do our own thing and make lots of mistakes.
We have settled on a site, partnering with my Mom on her land. For more information on the process, check out our new blog (as of March 2010), Circle of the Sun at But don't look too soon, cause we don't have content up yet!
All this is to say, you can look forward to many wonderfully informative, insightful, and humuserous posts by Garden Manager Ellen, who will be officiating the Golden Rule Garden blog now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This is How we Roll

I have long been wanting to get to this subject - the processing of grain directly before eating. There is one grain so soft that you don't have to boil or grind it to make it edible, and that is the oat. And our past garden manager at Ecology Action has the perfect oat tool: a roller.
Industrially speaking, there are vast machines that do this task, putting millions of round cardboard tubes full of stale rolled oats in thousands of grocery stores, but this is different. It fits on your countertop and can be put away in a drawer or cabinet when you are done. It doesn't take a mechanic to service it, and doesn't require anything but your own arms to power it. And it allows you to have fresh rolled oats every day.
For a house-warming gift when we moved to the Golden Rule, Carol got us one, and we have been loving it. It works like this: You pour some oats in the hopper, turn the crank, and the oats get squished by two rollers, landing in the hopper below. When you finish, you brush the rollers off and put it away. Simple and effective.
Of course, it doesn't have to stop there. Margo, being the adventurous spirit she is, postulated that, by soaking other grains we might make them soft enough to roll. So we tried it with barley, triticale, rye, and probably wheat. As you see from the photos, we made it quite a process of soaking and laying out to dry a little, then rolling. All that we eventually found was necessary was putting them in a jar with water at the rate of ¾ cups grain to 1 tablespoon water. Letting them sit over night will soften them sufficiently to roll, then you go for it!
Where does one get this magic tool? The same place we get many other great magic tools: the Lehman's Catalog. It's where you can find the next topic of conversation, too.
Not long after arriving at Ecology Action my attention was drawn to the funny contraption in the corner of the cooking area. White enamel, a pedestal, a wheel and a crank. A hand-powered grain mill, specifically the Country Living Grain Mill, which makes all dreams come true. Soon after uncovering it we were grinding all of our grains fresh for bread, biscuits, tortillas, cookies, cakes, polenta, all that stuff. It takes elbow grease, it's true, but after a few months of using that every time you need flour, it gets much easier. For three loaves of bread I would grind 16 cups of flour once a week or so. We'd put it through twice for a finer grind, and that would mean 40 minutes of work, which I could do continuously by the time we left.
Upon moving down here we started using the available mill, which is called the "Magic Mill". For pictures and a great explanation you can check out this blog on food storage. The long and short is that it takes half the time and infinitely less physical work, but the stones don't get as close so you don't have as fine a flour (unless you sift it). Plus you don't have the satisfaction of doing it yourself. And no, I'm not being sarcastic.
I came up with a few methods of making the hand-mill easier, which ended up being a lot more work to figure out and much less helpful than just buckling down and doing it - one involved taking a hacksaw to a child's bicycle. I bet it would have been better if I knew how to weld...
One might ask, why bother when you can buy flour at the store? The short answer is that we like bothering. The longer answer, from which I will not spare you, involves simple seed anatomy. All seeds, grain included, come with a fibery husk, which surrounds and protects a big starchy endosperm and a small germ. The germ is the embryo of the plant, and the starch is the energy to help that plant develop. Which part is most devoid of vitamins and minerals, do you suppose? Now hold that thought.
The germ contains, among other things, oils, and oils that are stored correctly keep from going rancid. One of the incorrect ways of storing oils is mixing them up in flour and putting them on a shelf for weeks, months, or years. On the other hand, that is a great way to get rancid oil that makes your flour taste bad.
In the early half of the 1900's industry came up with the roller mill, which enabled them to pulverize the endosperm while sifting out the husk (bran) and the germ. Also known as the fiber and the minerals. The end result is a beautiful but nutritionally bereft white powder, which is then further bleached and then enriched. All the oils (in the germ) have been removed, and can be sold separately, like the bran, to consumers. Nice for the seller, and convenient for the buyer. But not good for the buyer, since the bread now lacks all that fiber (as well as its indigenous vitamins and minerals). Sound like colon trouble?
So we cut to the chase, growing some grain and buying the rest bulk in 25 or 50 pound bags from the local health food store. That gives us the nutrition in an easily stored form, and saves us a lot of money. It has been an educational and satisfying transition.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Couple of Friends (Part 1)

They've been staying with us for a few years now, and we couldn't be happier. I'm talking about Mr. Sourdough and Ms. Kombucha, our two fantastic fermenting friends. Seriously, once you commit to them, it is hard to leave them behind when you go on trips of more than a week. You care about them, and don't believe anyone will treat them as good as you can.
But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Many people blog about their kombuchas, and you can get the history on Wikipedia, so I will give you personal experience, failure, success, mediocrity and glory. Don't worry, it's pretty short.
My brother gave us our Kombucha completely unsolicited as a Christmas present, ignoring the classic wisdom that you ought not surprise people with live gifts. Added to the possibility that the receiver might not like it is the potential accidental death of the gift, and the commensurate guilt of that outcome. So we tried brewing it once and, two weeks later, had our first taste. That first taste convinced us it was worth continuing, and the experiences have (mostly) only gotten better. In the interest of trying to figure out why some batches taste bad, some great, some fizzy, I started keeping track of them on a chart. We've had many friends visit who have told us ours was the best Kombucha they've ever had, so that's encouraging. In the summer, when it's hot and dry, I started brewing two batches at once. This Fall, when I was thinking about going back to one, I had a disaster that helped me out. There is a reason they tell you to cover fermenting things: the paper towel I had been using had gotten some small holes, and a fly got in an laid eggs on my Kombucha, which then hatched into maggots. So now I'm down to one again...
So here's the simple version of the recipe my brother gave me:
Brew 3 liters of tea and dissolve one cup of sugar in it. When it has cooled, add 1 tablespoon of white, pasteurized vinegar and your Kombucha thing. Cover the container with cloth or a paper towel and leave it for about 10 days. Taste it every once in a while, and when it has stopped tasting sweet, put the liquid in 10-to-12 oz bottles and cap them. (At this point you can move the Kombucha thing to the next brew of tea). Put the bottles somewhere they won't get kicked or knocked over, and leave them there for about 10 days. Then refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure!
A few miscellaneous notes:
Make sure all utensils and hands are clean. Rinse the Kombucha off between brews, and store it (if you need to) in water. Lately I have been using 2/3 cups sugar and 1/3 cup honey, which seems to make it a little fizzier. Keep the whole process warmish. It will go much slower under 70° F. Most people say caffeinated tea is best, but I have not universally used it. The Kombucha will start forming layers, which can then be separated and given, unsolicited, to others. But then you already know that if you have one. Sometimes a little baby Kombucha will form in the bottles. This is fine, and can be consumed.
I've heard many claims about how extremely healthy Kombucha is for you, but the bottom line for me is that I wouldn't consume it if it didn't taste good.

A Couple of Friends (Part 2)

Our relationship with sourdough has been going on a bit longer. While at our first agricultural experience, an internship with the eminent Steve Moore, his wife Carol passed on the wisdom of fermentation in many ways. By far the most regularly used by us is sourdough starter, which leavens our bread nowadays. Some of you may be aware that sourdough is a popular style of bread, especially just south of here in San Francisco. What you may not know is that often commercial sourdough bread uses a starter for flavor plus yeast for leavening. That's because you have to wait 6 hours or more for your bread to rise with the starter, compared with less than two hours for the yeast.
For those who are all about fermentation, adding yeast to do the job faster cuts out the most important step. Since starter is a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria it does not only consume sugars to create bubbles, it also breaks down proteins. The most obvious results are a sour taste (from the acids released) and a denser loaf (because some of the gluten is broken down). Less overt is the combined effect of the disintegration of proteins, which is that the resulting bread is easier to digest. I make no claims, but I have been told by folks who have wheat allergies that the sourdough I have made didn't cause them reactions. At any rate, I make the same statement on sourdough that I make for Kombucha: it may be very healthy, but I like it because it tastes good (and because I made it myself).
The latter of which under-girds many of the skills I have cultivated. I am a little uncomfortable relying on products and processes that I don't know how to repair or replicate, from food to tools to structures. Since I don't know how to culture and maintain pure yeasts, and don't know how to make baking soda, the bread style I have adopted is sourdough. If I could only figure out how to make glazed donuts with it...
The process is very simple, and very natural. You create your own starter by fermenting a mixture of rye flour and water, which harnesses local yeast and bacteria populations. Then you keep using this same starter over and over again by feeding it before every breadmaking. I have had my current one for about three years, and have talked to folks who've had theirs for fifteen.
Here's the recipe for the starter: in a bowl, mix two cups of rye flour with two cups of water. Keep it covered with something breathable. The next day move it to a clean bowl and add one cup of rye flour and one cup of water, mixing well. Continue in this way for five more days, and you end with a big batch of healthy starter. Advice: don't use metal bowls. You will have a big batch of dead starter. I learned the hard way, though I understand it is common knowledge that fermentation and metal don't mix.
Use as much of that initial batch as you want, but make sure you have at least a cup of starter left after any baking adventure. That will go in the fridge for next time.
The bread recipe is just as simple. Start by taking the starter out of the fridge and feeding it. Two loaves of bread require a combined 3 cups of starter, and I want at least one cup left over. So if I have 2 cups in the fridge from last time, I'll feed it an additional 2 cups of rye flour and 2 cups of water (and stir it well) for a total of a little more than 4 cups.
Each loaf of bread calls for 1½ cups of starter, 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon salt and about 6 cups of flour. Mix the first three well, then add flour till the whole mass gets too tough to stir. Turn it onto a surface and knead for about 10 minutes. It should feel like any other bread. Put it in a bowl, coat lightly with oil and cover, putting it somewhere it can rise for six or more hours. When convenient, punch it down, form loaves, and let them sit 1 more hour. Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes, then turn down to 400°F for 30 minutes. I butter my bread pans first, then brush butter on the tops of the loaves when they come out. Yum!
An upcoming post will discuss the flour we use, and whence it cometh.