A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.
Friday, November 17, 2023
Friday, November 3, 2023
Small-Scale Grain Production and Processing
|Rook and Chris harvesting Ba Ye Ki sorghum.|
|Though sorghum has no gluten, when mixed with wheat flour, it still makes wonderful baked goods. Here it is with a Whole Grain No-knead Bread recipe we've made.|
Growing conditions needed: Sorghum grows to various heights (up to 12 feet!). The plant, in early stages, looks very similar to corn. We have experimented with two varieties, Ba Ye Ki and Kassaby. (Ba Ye Qi Grain Sorghum, Ba Yi Qi Grain Sorghum (Milo) and Kassaby Sorghum - description). Ba Ye Ki is a very short-season grain so we're almost guaranteed a ripe harvest but it is also much less sweet than Kassaby - whose canes have been compared in flavor to sugar cane. Ba Ye Ki is shorter in height (6'-7') vs. Kassaby which can grow to 12'. Because of Kassaby's greater height and its higher sugar content, it also requires a longer growing season. Both can grow in moderately rich soil but do require regular, moderate irrigation to really thrive (though I'm sure that people who have experience at dry-land farming could achieve success with less, or no watering, we have not developed that capacity on our farm).
|Ba Ye Ki sorghum: a shorter crop (5'-7') and shorter season grain. Not as sweet... (pic credit: https://annapolisseeds.com/products/ba-ye-qi-sorghum)|
|...as Kassaby sorghum: taller (9'-12'), longer season, sweeter. Stalks can be pressed for syrup (though we've never tried it). (Image credit: https://store.experimentalfarmnetwork.org/products/kassaby-sorghum)|
Trellising: We have grown both varieties with, and without trellising. Kassaby - the taller variety has a sturdier stalk and seems to do fine without trellising. Ba Ye Ki, which produces grain faster, puts less energy into stalk formation and, in our experience, is prone to lodging. This can be mitigated somewhat by growing it in multiple rows or blocks of grain, with approximately 6" between plants in all directions. The plants will tend to hold each other up.
|Another trellising idea is to plant your grains inside a wire cage (6" between each plant, in each direction). The cage will keep them from lodging. This works for fava beans too!|
Sorghum is largely self-pollinated (each plant can pollinate itself) but plants can also cross-pollinate through wind or insects transferring pollen between plants. Growing multiple plants in rows or blocks will aid in cross-pollination. Also, when laying out your garden plan, keep in mind the height of the variety you are growing so they don't block smaller plants of sunlight and water as they grow in height. (Though you can use their height to your advantage if you want to grow a shade-loving crop like lettuce, on the north or east side, to protect it from the most intense afternoon sun.)
|Sorghum grows much like corn though it is "self-fertile" and relies less on wind than corn for full pollination. Kassaby sorghum is the tall, whiteish fronds to the left of Darlene while Golden Bantam corn is growing to her right.|
|We've had good luck with direct-sowing our sorghum and shallowly tilling it under so it's just barely covered with soil. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds twice the depth of the seed at its widest point.|
The down-side to the scatter method is that some varieties need a long season to ripen (Kassaby variety needs 110 days, minimum) so, if you're having a cool, wet spring and can't direct sow till late in the spring, you may wish to germinate the seeds in small pots in a greenhouse or grow-tunnel and transplant them once the ground warms up/drys out. We use jumbo six-packs, or the shallow, plastic containers that our favorite tofu comes in (with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage). To germinate in pots: we fill the pots with soil, water them and then make a small indentation with our thumb so the seeds will settle in these depressions (six per tofu pack). We then place 2-3 seeds in each cell to maximize germination. Once the seedlings are about 3" high, we thin them to one per cell.
If you try to grow them in a clusters of 2-3 plants, none of them will mature well as they compete for nutrients, water and sunlight. We have had success at teasing the individual sprouts apart at this stage and replanting them in their own cells. It just depends on if your supply of seed is limited so you need to make every seedling count and how much time you have to do this.
When to harvest: It's important to let your sorghum ripen as much as possible before harvesting. The seeds will be sweeter, and easier to thresh (remove) from the plant, the riper they are. On the other hand, autumn rains, if they aren't followed by strong sunny periods can lead to mold forming in the seed-heads. We start checking our crops for ripeness in mid-September. The Ba Ye Ki will darken to a strong russet/red. The Kassaby will become notably whiter as it ripens.
We usually harvest the seed-heads over a span of several weeks. We use pruners to cut off ripe seed-heads with 8-10 inches of stalk still attached. This helps in the drying out process; the stalks draw moisture from the seed-heads as they dry. Having the long stalk also gives you something to hold onto for the threshing phase.
|Kassaby, long-season sorghum (tall and sweet) while it's still ripening. Kernels become a pearly white when they are ripe.|
If we're having mostly sunny days with only moderate humidity, we lay the seed-heads on cardboard trays in our greenhouse to dry. If skies are overcast and the humidity is high, we put them in cardboard trays or baskets and bring them in the house. We heat our house with wood and have shelves all around the upper walls of our living room where our wood stove is, for the purpose of drying foods in the fall. Many fall mornings we'll start a small fire in the wood stove just to dry the air in our house and bring the temperature up slightly. Even if we have to open the windows later in the day (because outside temps have climbed) it's worth the few sticks of firewood to keep the drying process progressing.
Threshing the sorghum: We've tried several methods over the years to remove the grain from the stalks but this year Chris came up with our best method yet! He attached a metal pet-grooming-brush/comb to a 2' x 4' board (see pic). This is placed in a deep plastic tote to catch the seed as it falls. The seed-head is combed through the tines of the comb which causes the seeds to release and fall into the tote below.
|This year, Chris built two new tools for processing the sorghum. Sifter, on the left, and a pet-comb attached to a 2'x4', for teasing the grain off of the stalk (right).|
|Close-up of the tool we use to thresh the grain from the stalk. It's a pet-comb we found at a 2nd-hand store, bolted to a 2'x4' board.|
|Close-up of pulling the grain-heads across the comb. This is why we always cut the grain-heads leaving several inches of stalk for use as a handle.|
|After the grain is teased from the stalk, it is vigorously rubbed through a screen with 1/4" holes. This breaks up the clumps of grains into individual pieces and removes much of the chaff which remains on the screen.|
Winnowing: There will still be some fiber that makes it through the screen so, on a day with a mildly steady wind (or standing in front of a box-fan) pour the grain back and forth from one container to an other. You will have to experiment to find the right height from which to drop the grain and, if using a fan, how far from the front of the fan to pour the grain. It's helpful if your containers are lightweight (so it's easy to pour them when full of grain) and with a wide surface area so that, as the grain falls straight down, it's not bouncing off the rim of the receiving container. The grain will fall straight into the container below and the chaff will be blown away by the wind.
|Here's a top view of sorghum heads drying in a basket.|
|Chris hooked up our Diamant grain mill to an electric motor so we're able to efficiently grind enough grain for our own use as well as to share with our volunteers.|
|Course ground sorghum for use in hot cereal. |
Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn'
Crumb-Free, Whole-Grain Cornbread (just substitute sorghum flour in a 1:1 ratio with the corn flour in the recipe).
|Growing grains as a community makes the task of processing it much less daunting. Here, Jessie and Llyn are husking the corn in preparation for shucking and further drying.|
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Hi folks - We've just made an amazing discovery. We love quince! When prepared as the recipe outlines below, quince tastes like a pear/lemon fruit with a hint of peach and rose-oil! Ambrosia!
|This has been one of our most beautiful autumn seasons on memory! Pictured is the back of our 1875 Farmhouse, the yellow, shag-bark hickory tree (on the right) and a rainbow in-between. (October 2019)|
|Quince after harvest. Photo credit: LINK|
That is, until I (Llyn) looked up their nutritional content and Chris and I were pretty impressed - particularly as a good source of zinc and copper. Minerals are often the most difficult nutrients to get enough of in our modern diets. Most farm soils are increasingly depleted and, unless you're getting your food from an organic farmer who replenishes those minerals in natural ways that the plants can absorb, (like wood ash - LINK) it may be difficult to get enough minerals from your diet without taking any vitamin supplements (which we don't). Quince are also low-calorie, high in anti-oxidants and great for digestion (their natural pectin is soothing to the gut!). Who knew? LINK
While I was browsing for more general info about the quince, I found a recipe that suggested boiling them for 8-10 min before baking them and then my cooking creativity kicked in and I came up with the recipe below. I've made it twice so I'm still fine-tuning it (so check back for updates!) But the best thing is, this recipe calls for no refined cane sugar (just maple-syrup, and not much of that) and is easy to prepare.
|Pears (on left). Whole, boiled quince (in bowl). Quartered quince (below) - this picture was taken before I figured out how to cut fruit away from core (see below).|
4-6 medium-sized quince (about 5 cups)
4-5 medium yellow pears (about 3 cups) (or sweet apples)
1/3 cup maple syrup (about 1 TBSP maple syrup per cup of quince)
1 TBSP lemon juice (don't over-do the lemon, as quince is plenty tart already!)
1 tsp cinnamon
Choose uniformly yellow, fully ripe fruit without bruises or other damage. It helps if they are a uniform size (for boiling phase).
Bring a pan of water to boil - deep enough to mostly cover the quince.
Using your bare hands, run the quince under water and rub as much of the fuzz off as you can (don't worry if you miss some).
Place in boiling water for 8-10 minutes, depending on size. I think I over-did it the second time I made this. I was trying to soften the fruit all the way through but the core remained quite hard, even with longer boiling and the second time the outer fruit got rather mushy.
Lift the quince out of the boiling water and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking dish with coconut oil or butter.
Combine ingredients for sauce in a measuring cup with a lip for pouring.
Once cool, using a cutting board, cut off any brown spots or other blemishes on the fruit.
Slice the remaining fruit away from the core in as big pieces as possible (see picture). Your knife won't want to go through the core at all. It's super-hard! Just keep shaving off pieces all the way around the core till you've gotten as much as is easy.
|Cut fruit away from the hard core.|
Wash and core the pears. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
Mix the fruit together by layering it into the baking pan.
Drizzle the sauce over top of the fruit. Gently stir the fruit and sauce together to spread sauce evenly.
|Quince, pears and sauce - before baking.|
Bake for forty-minutes covered (or until juices are boiling).
Take out, gently fold the fruit and sauce together so the fruit at the top gets re-sauced.
Leave cover off and bake for 10 more minutes to lightly caramelize the top.
|After baking. Yum!|
We'll keep experimenting...seems like raisins or date-pieces would be good raw or cooked in with the fruit. Also, some crushed walnuts or granola might be good too.
A Quince Essential Fruit - here's a fun post that gives more details about this unique fruit including growing tips.
Let us know of your discoveries/variations in the comments below.
Addendum: We've discovered that, at least with our quince, we can skip the boiling stage of the recipe. The core of quince is so hard that even boiling doesn't soften it but by shaving pieces off and then cutting these pieces into bite-sized pieces, we've found we can skip the boiling phase of the recipe outlined above. Don't know if all varieties of quince are soft enough to do this...
Sunday, October 8, 2023
|Rob, Chris and Sam - harvesting potatoes|
Saving Tomato Seeds - LINK
|Provence squash - ready for baking|
Friday, October 6, 2023
...a shifting focus on what foods we grow...News from the Gardens Jan. 2023).
While we celebrate the abundance of produce being provided to our food-insecure neighbors through other channels, it has caused us at the Sharing Gardens to make some shifts in which crops we wish to emphasize and how best to use our garden space and the volunteer help provided by our share-givers.
In addition to the staple annual crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage etc) that were shared amongst the share-givers (volunteers), in 2021 and 2022, we began dedicating a higher percentage of our garden space to corn, sorghum, beans and winter storage squash.
|Sandra harvests sweet, yellow Bantam corn which we dry and use for cereal and baking.|
|Rook and Chris with sorghum harvest.|
|Giant Greek white runner beans (on left tipi) in front of our largest greenhouse, the Sunship. (Scarlet Runner beans and this white variety easily cross).|
|We always grow a long wall of runner beans inside the Sunship too. Here they are at the end of the season, turning brown (best to harvest them as dry as possible for better ripeness and storage. (Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans)|
|Jewells and Jenny harvesting runner beans.|
The grain and bean crops are all hand-processed with the help of our share-givers. Shelling the beans, husking and shucking the corn and removing the sorghum seeds from their stalks are all coveted tasks in the autumn as share-givers sit around in the shade of our garden-shed-awning or, on cooler days, circle the cozy wood-stove in our Sunship greenhouse. These hand-tasks can be very relaxing and satisfying and even fun to do as a group and yet would be daunting and time-consuming for a solo farmer or farm-family.
|Chris and Donn, shelling runner beans|
|We grow kidney beans as a bush-variety. Once ripe, these are cut off at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground (less mess and the worms like the dead roots) and laid on a tarp to dry.|
|Chris and Jim threshing kidney beans on a tarp. After the beans are good and dry, we thresh them with wooden broom sticks or other tool-handles. This shatters most of the pods and the beans fall out onto the tarp. Some beans must still be shelled by hand and then they're winnowed in the wind.|
We grind the dried grains in our Diamant grain mill which Chris hooked up to a re-purposed electric motor. We then mix the grains together to make a delicious and nutritious hot cereal, or use them in a baking mix for corn cake (LINK - Crumb-Free, Whole-Grain Cornbread Recipe ). The Hooker's blue corn we grow has been found to have 30% more protein than regular corn (LINK - Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn' ) and is sweet and hearty!
|Blue Hooker's corn, dried, husked and shucked. Ready for grinding.|
|Our motorized grain mill.|
|Bantam, blue corn, sorghum and polenta in our pantry. All grown at the Sharing Gardens!|
|35 pounds of scarlet runner beans in 2022!|
We continue to expand the amount of land we dedicate to winter squash too. Our winter squash harvest was excellent this year. We grew Delicatas and Sweet Meats (both delicious, moist varieties). We had enough to share with our share-givers to get them through the winter, with plenty of surplus for the S. Benton Food Pantry and the Stone Soup Kitchen.
|Just a fraction of this year's Delicata and Sweetmeat squash harvest. Yum!|
So, the gardens are morphing from their original emphasis on providing food for food charities to a model which provides a significant amount of food to those who are helping to actually grow it. While at first we were concerned by this shift, we now see it as a natural progression and are happy that the food charities are so well stocked during the summer months of peak garden production and that the share-givers are SO appreciative of receiving the Garden's highest quality produce. This new trend frees the Sharing Gardens to continue to demonstrate a model that builds community using local resources for fertility while encouraging mutual generosity. (For info on other community-supporting projects we've already implemented, or intend to cultivate in the future, see: A Wintery Summary).
|We'll always have room for the brassicas: Donn and Chris prep beds for cabbage , collards and broccoli.|