Wednesday, January 18, 2017


This year, just as a test, I decided to grow dry beans inside. It wasn't a rousing success--only three plants came up and only three pods off of two of the plants. No big deal, I wasn't expecting much. The two kinds of beans I planted were Great Northern White and Pinto. The pods all looked the same, so I assumed I had only one kind of bean and I was anxious to see what I got.

However, I just pulled a mostly dry pod off one of the plants and opened it up.

What I have are the color and shape of the Great Northern White, but with the markings of the pinto. I know it's just a fluke--what I probably got are pinto--but it's interesting.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Using wild yeast for bread

Using wild yeast isn't as simple as capturing it. Maybe it doesn't like being imprisoned. Who knows?

Initial post on capturing wild yeast here.

Each variety of yeast has its own personality and its own needs. I made yeast from four different kinds of fruit--apple, orange, plum and raisin. The initial "feeding" was done with flour I'd milled myself, and I'd grown the wheat. On that one, apple and raisin did the best with apple ahead. Plum just sat there, sulking. Orange raised, but wasn't outstanding. When I did the second feeding I used white flour since I ran out of the other.

Raisin went crazy, doubling in size in less than six hours. Apple sulked at the change in diet and orange just tagged along, riding on the others' laurels. Plum was still sulking from the first offense. I immediately used the raisin to make a small batch of bread, and fed it again.

I had the original liquid left over, and since orange and apple showed no sign of fungus I dumped the leftover fruit and made another starter for those two "flavors" of yeast.

Here comes the tricky part. I hadn't measured the water precisely, but the original was about the same amount for each. When I added flour and water for the starter I measured it, putting in 1/4 c of flour and 1/4 c of water each time. So theoretically they all had the same amount of water to start, within a teaspoon or two. When I put the starter liquid in the starter jars, I measured it at 8 ml (almost two teaspoons) for each jar.

I used half a cup of starter with my "raisin yeast" bread loaf. I cut the recipe in half so I used 1 1/2 c of flour and 1/2 c of water since the starter was liquid as well. The dough was dense, dry, and resisted kneading. I added water a little at a time until it was the right consistency, and let it rise overnight.

I decided to get rid of the "plum" starter, since it wasn't doing anything, so I added 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of soaked up the water and was messy-sticky. I had to add flour.

Then the apple starter and the orange starter from the original bottles. The orange starter came out in a lump, the apple starter came out soggy, with lots of water in it. So I added 1 1/2 c of flour to the apple starter, and added both flour and water to the orange starter. The orange came out perfect, the apple needed slightly more flour.

The only real difference between them all was the yeast culture--precisely the same amount of culture, the same amounts of water and flour, but the outcomes were entirely different.

The raisin loaf is dense, with a soft crumb and a crunchy crust. Because of the wheat flour used in the original feeding it has a wheat flavor. The wild yeast didn't seem to make a significant difference to the taste. But the smell! Oh, my. I would bake every day just for that smell!

The plum loaf was definitely sourdough, but with a faint fruity taste that doesn't linger. The crumb is light but dense.

The orange loaf was dark and crunchy, with a flavor that's difficult to describe. It smelled really sour going into the oven, but coming out the taste wasn't even sourdough but completely different. The texture is almost like a cake rather than bread, but not dense--just a little stiffer than I'm used to bread being. Almost like focaccia.

The apple loaf is very light in color and has a very mild sourdough flavor, but again it's different from any sourdough I've had before. The smell is fruity but there's none of the fruit flavor. It isn't dense, but the crumb is strong and resists tearing. The crust is extremely chewy.

I could get addicted to having bread that has a different flavor every time I bake.

Monday, January 2, 2017


I've always thought that yeast is boring. I mean, you take it out of a bag--boring. It's a uniform color and it makes bread rise. It's also a finite commodity--in an emergency, once it's gone, it's gone. But there's yeast in the air all around us. I've investigated capturing wild yeast but it's a long drawn out process and takes lots of resources--if you're baking bread every few days great, but if you get a strong culture it grows so fast that anyone else can't use it all and it dies. Or you keep feeding it and use all your flour just keeping the thing alive.

Then I ran across a mention of using fruit yeast. The white bloom on grapes, plums, etc? Yeast. There's yeast on every fruit and every bark and every leaf, just waiting. If I can harvest yeast that easily, then why bother keeping a culture alive? Start a new one every month or so.

I didn't have any fresh fruit to test my hypothesis (aside from oranges) so I used raisins from last year's harvest, a dried plum from last year's harvest, a piece of dried apple from two years ago, and a piece of fresh orange peel.

After four days bubbles were starting to appear in the water, and three of the four smelled "yeasty." The plum just smelled fermented. The raisins and plum had fungus hyphae in the water.

I took 1/4 c of flour and 1/4 c of filtered water and put them in jars with about 2 teaspoons (8 ml) of liquid from each bottle.

Less than 24 hours later the dough was already rising. The strongest (most bubbly) was apple, followed by raisin, orange and plum in that order.

Plum had bubbles but hadn't started mounding yet. I fed them another 1/4 c of flour and 1/4 c of water, put them in larger bottles and put them away again. The orange had a sour orange smell, the apple just a faint hint of apple, the plum just smelled like fermented plums, and the raisin like raisins. All had a yeasty smell. At this point I had cut out a week, possibly two, from the process of collecting wild yeast.

The original bottles had lost their "yeast" smell, with the exception of the apple which had a very strong yeast smell. I assume the bacteria and fungus had taken over the other three bottles.

The orange, apple and raisin had visible rising within a few hours. Raisin more than doubled in about six hours and overflowed its bottle so I used half to start a batch of bread.

Based on the test, this process is both simpler and more predictable than trying to capture a wild strain of yeast by setting your culture out on the windowsill or under a tree. Any fruit should work--if dried fruit several years old provided an immediate result, fresh fruit would probably be better. It also isn't necessary to have a full jar of mashed fruit--less than a tablespoon of each kind resulted in usable yeast growth within a few days.

Post on baking with this yeast

Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter Catchment update

Last spring I created a catchment system (or rather, finished and upgraded the existing system) to catch rainwater off the house. I made some changes during the summer and into the fall as I realized certain aspects of the system wouldn't work as designed.

But I knew I needed to go through at least one winter to finalize everything.

We live in an area that gets extremely hot and dry during the summer, but we also have extreme cold during the winter. Not what some would call extreme (it rarely gets down below 0 degrees) but cold enough to have three or four months of solid freeze in a normal year. I don't want my tanks to freeze and possibly crack, so I needed something to stop the water flowing into the tanks during the winter.

I set up the systems so the water runs first into a primary drainspout, otherwise known as a first flush diverter because it catches the debris, bird poop, etc, that comes off the roof in the first "flush" of any storm. During the winter my first flush system is open, so nothing (or very little) gets past it and into the tanks. The tanks are also open so any water that does get into them will hopefully drain right back out again.

A few weeks ago the whole system in front came crashing down, mainly because I hadn't used the right screws to put up the pipe under the drainspout. So I got that fixed, all screwed in, and this week I ran into another problem--the water backed up into the pipes and froze, backed up more until the rain gutter itself was full of ice.

I got all the ice out and figured out the problem--somehow the horizontal arm of the drainspout/first flush diverter had gotten angled so it had a slight upward tilt. This was enough to have water pooling in the elbow, which of course froze during the night and formed a plug for more water coming down.

It's been a learning process.

1) People living in cold climates will need a way to shut the system off during the winter
2) Even a slight upward angle is going to cause problems, winter or summer
3) If you live in a cold climate, try to make sure the drainage pipes are in the sun
4) Don't finalize the system until you're sure it all works together
5) Monitor the system at least weekly during the first year

Monday, November 28, 2016

Leaf Mania

This year I decided to make some major changes to my yard. I eventually want to convert the whole yard into usable garden space, but a first step is making sure the existing garden space is fully used. To that end I decided to collect leaves this year and cover all the existing garden space. Right now it's mainly sand, even after 30 years of intensive composting and tilling.

So for the last month I've been on a leaf hunt. I figured 60 bags would do the whole

I've collected over 100 bags of leaves (only two of which had nasty seeds, which I had to sort) and spread them over the forest garden, the main garden, the western gardens, and actually decided to do the narrow section (apx 10 x 20) between the grapevines and the western garden. The leaves will be mulch for next year (I'm hoping to reduce water usage in the gardens by at least half, reduce water use by another third in the yard as a whole) and soil the year after.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, I'll do about six inches deep (instead of 18) next year and expand the gardens a little more. The front yard will be another forest garden once I'm finished and the only "lawn" will be the section under the ash. Which should technically be the main garden, since that's where all the leaves fall, but it's also the only piece of the lawn that stays green all summer.

I'm excited for the changes. As I convert to plants that actually thrive in this area our water needs will shrink to what the land itself can support. My greenhouse will be next, then small livestock will be added as I can support them from the existing land. The only remaining "need" will be electricity, which I'm working on. Once electricity is taken care of we can be completely self-sufficient in suburbia. :)

Well, except for inside water, but that's another story.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Catchment system update

Last night it rained. I went outside and the front catchment system wasn't filling. The drain had come off (which since I haven't cemented the system together yet was rather expected) but no water was draining out.

Of course the first thought was that the system was plugged. I pulled it apart, but all pieces appeared clear. The water was running down the outside of the pipes rather than the inside.

This morning I went out to check. Got out the ladder and climbed up to look in the rain gutter, and sure enough the drainspout fitting had been pushed up so the water was draining around it rather than through it. So if there's just a little water, it's not going to get into the pipes. If there's a lot of water it'll rise high enough in the rain gutter to go over the lip.

Pushed it down and it should drain correctly now.

The catchment system is still a work in progress. I want to make some changes, build in a way to flush the system for example, but that will have to wait. I have other projects at the moment. Right now I'm going out during and after each storm to identify any weaknesses. Some of the pieces will need to be cemented in before the cold hits, but most will remain just as it is until next spring.

Part of the testing is making sure that the system will drain appropriately when everything freezes. This means I have to go through at least one freeze-thaw cycle to understand how the system works and how it needs to be changed to accommodate unforeseen variables.

December update

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Antibiotic resistance

A few weeks ago I got two books, one on antibiotic resistance and one on antiviral resistance.

When you think of anti-viral and antibiotic resistance, think of a tanning bed. Five minutes on a tanning bed isn't going to do much when you first start, but fifty and you're fried. But use that tanning bed five minutes per day for a year and the fifty won't be such a big deal. You've developed resistance. Now think of our use of antibiotics. I have a good friend who pops antibiotics when she needs to go out in public. Not because she needs them, but because she might contact someone who has something. She uses them for colds as well, although they're completely ineffective against viruses.

We do precisely that with livestock, poultry, and even bees. All are fed small daily doses of antibiotics to protect them against the decidedly unnatural conditions they live in. So those bacteria that do survive are resistant to the antibiotics, resulting in the use of an even stronger antibiotic the next time in order to have the same result. All of those antibiotics are excreted in one way or another--into our water, the air, the products those animals produce. All of those antibiotics encounter other plants and animals, and the diseases native to those naturally become resistant as well, over time.

Meanwhile in hospitals and doctors offices the numbers of resistant bacterial infections are growing exponentially. Diseases that would have been simple to treat a generation ago are now killing. It's a problem which people worldwide are trying to deal with in their own ways. In some areas any use of an antibiotic takes a hospital administrator's permission and the dose has to be administered by medical personnel. In other areas the people have turned to remedies that our ancestors used for thousands of years.

Whatever the solution, antibacterial resistance is a growing and well recognized problem. Anti-viral resistance is trickier.

The only real remedy we have against viruses is to keep the body strong and give it what it needs in order to fight the invader. Viruses are tricky things, with a massive arsenal of weapons. If bacteria are the armed robbers of the micro-biotic world, viruses are the terrorists. Bacteria are relatively straightforward. They get in there, they create a mess, the police stop them and it's over. Viruses turn the body's defenses against itself, and even use those defenses to get what they need. Once they get inside a cell (which they do by tricking the cell into thinking they belong there, "Oh, we're all one big happy family, you can trust me.") they turn the cell's own DNA into a viral replicating factory, creating millions of new viruses. Then when the body gets its act together and attacks the cell, they swarm out looking for new cells to infect. Macrobiological terrorists use the same kind of tactics, but that's not a rant for this blog.

Eventually the body does figure out what's going on and starts to fight the invaders. The trick is to keep it healthy long enough to get to that point. Pharmaceutical anti-viral agents focus on a few main points: Not letting the virus replicate, not letting the virus get into a cell, and triggering the body's defenses sooner. Because the pharmaceuticals are a single active constituent, with a single intended action, the virus finds them easier to counter. Antiviral resistance is also a growing problem as the viruses learn from our clumsy attempts to destroy them.

On the other hand, we have around us plants and fungi that have survived viral and bacterial attack for billions of years. They've developed their defenses against these invaders to a fine edge, and with a little ingenuity we can use those defenses for ourselves. Which leads to the idea of identifying the chemicals that create these reactions, isolating them, and making a profit from their use. The problem we run into is that plant defenses aren't just made up of one chemical--they may have one chemical constituent which solves the main problem but creates massive swelling, one which reduces or eliminates that swelling, one which helps the body recognize the intruders, and so on. It's not one chemical, which can be isolated and sold. It's a chemical symphony, and if you take out the violins or the drums it may not do its job right. So in the pharmaceutical industry we end up with a list of side effects often worse than the original disease because we're removing the axle to fix a flat tire.

The antiviral and antibacterial herbs target the invaders in a very different way than manufactured pharmaceuticals. They take what we might refer to as a holistic approach; building up the body, activating the body's defenses, killing the invader or making it incapable of replicating itself, healing the damage created by the invader and making the body more resistant to the same invader in the future. It's no surprise then that many of the antibacterial herbs are also antiviral on some level, and vice versa.

Herbal Antibiotics (Buhner)
Herbal Antivirals (Buhner)