Dry Farming on the Central Coast of California

The following text was written by Jim Leap (with editorial support from Martha Brown) for inclusion in the University of California Santa Cruz Center For Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) curriculum manual with support from Beginning Farmer/Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) funding through USDA.

“Dry Farming” is a term commonly used by growers and consumers here on the Central Continue reading

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Wood fired oven build (2/2)

(continued from part 1)

At this point the core of the oven is complete, and we’re moving out to the external layers. Continue reading

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Wood Fired Oven Build (1/2)

(Part 1 of 2)

The following is a condensed account of our 32″ x 36″ Alan Scott barrel vault wood-fired oven build.  We are sharing this for others interested in pursuing a similar project, but – just a warning – there is not enough information here to get you through a whole build of your own.  If you do want to build your own, see below for suggestions on helpful resources.

It took about a year of intermittent weekend work to build the whole oven – a timeframe that does not include the initial cement pad, which we poured in December of 2011: Continue reading

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Corn tortillas

One of the great things you can do with field corn is make tortillas. Here’s how we do it.

Continue reading

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Small grain harvest and cleaning, part 2

As I said in the previous post, we quickly realized that adding some key pieces of processing equipment would be necessary if we were to continue to grow grains. So in the years since that first oat crop we have done some experimentation. Continue reading

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Small grain harvest and cleaning, part 1

I love working with grains.  They are not at all showy in the field; having evolved away from having the fancy flower parts that in other plants help attract pollinators, they instead rely on wind for pollination, or are self-pollinating.  And they seldom make the exciting part of a meal; rather, they usually serve as a backdrop to and support of whatever protein or vegetable is the chef’s showcase.  Yet there they are, ever present in our agricultural rotations and diets, workhorses without which the rest of the system would be far more difficult.  Continue reading

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Sugar production, part 2: sorghum syrup

Around the same time we started playing around with sugar beets we also discovered sorghum syrup.  Sorghum species are cultivated worldwide for multiple uses – human and animal feed, alcohol, biofuels, brooms – and some varieties have been bred to have high sugar content in their sap.  These are processed similarly to sugar cane, and are used to produce sorghum syrup – also called sorghum molasses* or just “sorghum” in some regions.   Continue reading

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Sugar production, part 1: sugar beets

A couple of years ago we decided that it would be interesting to see if we could produce our own sweeteners.  If nothing else, it would surely help us decrease our sugar consumption if we were to rely just on what we could produce ourselves, which, sugar being unnecessary in the diet and believed by some to be toxic, couldn’t be a bad thing. Before starting, we had to define our goals.  Continue reading

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Resources for grain production and baking

Some information on wheat and ancient grain production and use:

Production of alternative (organic, specialty market) wheat and related grains in California

Evaluating Spring Wheat Variety Performance in Organic Environments.  Report to California Wheat Commission by Mendocino Grain Project researchers.  Includes general impressions of 48 wheat varieties (and other grains) plus a replicated study of eight of them. Continue reading

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Bread: home grown, home made

I’m a life-long bread baker, having grown up in Berkeley in the 1970s with a homemaker (grow it/can it/dye it/weave it/build it) type of mom.  One year she grew some wheat in the back yard, threshed it, ground it, and made bread.  I thought that was pretty cool; she thought it was far too much work and never did it again.

Fast forward to 2010, when Jim and I moved to our little homestead.  Suddenly we had enough space to conceivably grow all the wheat we needed.  I estimated that 1/4 acre would cover our bread, pasta, pastry, cake, and cookie needs.  But what kind(s) to grow?  Continue reading

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