Cranberry Pecan Bread -aka “CRACK”

Thought I would share the recipie which is essentially a variant to the No-Knead Bread Recipes.  Couldn’t be easier and it is unbelievably delicious.

  • 2 cups room temp water in a good sized mixing bowl
  • Add a short 1/2 tsp of dry yeast
  • let sit for 3-4 minutes for the yeast to dissolve and then stir until water is cloudy
  • add 4 cups flour mix (see below)
  • 1 heaping TSP of sea salt
  • heaping 1/2 cup of chopped/halved pecans
  • heaping 1/2 cup of dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
  • OPTIONAL – 2 Tablespoons honey
  • Stir until dough is sticky – should be much wetter than usual bread dough – add water as needed
  • Cover with damp towel and let sit for 12-18 hours
  • Roll onto well floured surface and press the CO2 out of the dough.
  • Form a ball and let the dough ‘rest’ for 15 minutes
  • press the dough out again and form into loaf and place into rising bowl – seam side down
  • let rise for 90 minutes
  • Preheat oven to 450 F and place covered container (pyrex, dutch oven, bread cloche) inside to heat up as well
  • After dough has risen for 2 hours- total-, and oven is at 450 , remove baking dish to stovetop and roll dough into the baking dish so that the seam side is up.
  • Cover baking dish and return to oven
  • Bake 30 minutes covered
  • Remove cover and reduce heat to 425 for 10-15 minutes
  • Remove bread when crust is hard and deep golden brown
  • Let bread cool for as long as you can (10 minutes preferred, but I never make it that long!)
  • Enjoy!

Flour Mix: I use a 25% whole wheat mix:: 3 cups white + 1 cup whole wheat +  3 tbsp wheat germ + 1/4 cup wheat bran.  I also add 1/2 cup ground flax.  Mix very well with a spoon, etc.  I keep a large container of this mix on the counter and use it for much of my baking – from pancakes to bread to pizza dough.  As my kids and wife are all vegetarian, the extra protein and fats from the flax is good assurance of their health (we spend heavily on health ASSURANCE not just health INSURANCE) and the white flour ensures the bread is light enough to form a good crumb.


Latitudinal Thinking for 4 Season Harvesting

-8 (-22 C) air temp, but crystal clear early morning sunshine streaming through the windows. Steel cut oats simmering on the stove and the kids, animals, and I snuggled up reading on the couch in this first hour after dawn.  Perfect morning to be reading about growing food every month of the year in Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook.  I live in Wisconsin.  As this morning so aptly depicts, it gets wicked ass cold.

But what is so vital to be able to get one’s head around is that temperature can be dealt with through slight modification of environment and very careful selection of species. ** Sunlight is the key **.  And that is where latitude – the “sun lines” come in.  I am at 43 degrees north.  That is way up there, right?  Follow the line around the map to Europe and be amazed.  Nice and Marseilles, France.  Florence, Italy.  Monaco.   Shit – I am further SOUTH than Milan, Turin, Bordeaux and Venice.  Of course they get a massive benefit from the Gulf Stream, but there is plenty of sun 9 months of the year to grow a huge variety of crops.  And from November – January (Coleman’s “Persephone” months) when the day length is under 10 hours, spinach, mache, claytonia will still grow if the temp is kept above 20 degrees or so and they are started early enough.  Crops like leeks, kale, carrots, etc can be harvested fresh from the soil from covered spaces (even mulch) in a condition and quality far superior to any root cellar.

As those who track the blog on Facebook know, In the coming weeks I will be building a 12×30 unheated Hoop House in the backyard.  And while it will be unheated, you all know me well enough by now to understand that this will be far more than a sheet of plastic over a garden bed.  Details to come.   I am never going to grow ‘maters in January, but the potatoes and onions in the cellar will go a helluva lot further on the table when augmented by FRESH carrots, leeks, after a crisp, nutrient dense salad of fresh picked greens.  In Wisconsin…  in January.  I have a dream – and its already proven, so its just a matter of building the system and learning the skills.  Permaculture is far from only being about fruit tree guilds and nitrogen fixing under-stories.  It is about finding sustainable ways to feed our society and build capacity for future generations.

Of course, growing under plastic is a transitional technology – plastic is made from oil.  But there are brutally hard truths about the coming decades – those 8-9 BILLIONs of people aren’t going to be fed on our current ag systems as oil gets more expensive– and we have a moral imperative in the first world to get our shit together and stop mining the soil of the developing world to feed our fat asses.  If you are worried about the embodied energy of the plastic consider the facts – it last for at least 5 years with care and used intensely can allow for 3x the harvests from the same amount of space.    Far more important – the additional yield is during the times of the year when most of us are importing almost all of our produce.  If the energy and moral sides don’t sway you – then the added resiliency of your own food supply might.  With careful planning it will be possible to walk out my backdoor 365 days a year (again – in Wisconsin) and pick meals worth of produce fresh from the soil for my family.

I will ever be one to embrace technology and tools to help us transition to a better future if those transitional tools meet my criteria; I will break eggs to make my permacultural transition omelet as I muddle through to find solutions to the problems of our age.

Be the Change.


If you would like to purchase the Winter Harvest Handbook and are not able to do so from a local bookseller, consider clicking through this link to buy a copy.  Proceeds will help us with our work being the change.  This is something I will be doing more of, though I promise to do so only for books that have profoundly influenced my planning or thinking.   Coleman’s book is insanely helpful on this topic – I have read it at least 4 times cover to cover and reference it several more times a year for my planning.
The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses


Yardening and Yarditarianism

I’m an eclectic guy, and my gardening techniques reflect that.  I have permaculture inspired guilds in the orchard, I have bio-intensive organic vegetable gardens that are managed using Coleman’s 4 Season techniques.  I also have native landscaping with prairie plantings in the rain gardens and several island beds.  But take it all together, and its a mix no matter how well it flows.  Last year I settled on a term from my youthI am a Yardener.


For better or worse, I am currently entrusted with just shy of .5 acres (.2 ha) and in the 4+ years that I have written this blog I have chronicled the process of taking it from a denuded wasteland to the budding Garden of Eatin that it is today.   This year I will have many plans, but one that I am committed to is to grow as much food as I can in the yard – with a goal of 2000#s (907 kg) in 12 months.  That is gonna take some doing as the fruit trees have years until they hit peak yields, and even with the expanded canning garden total garden space is still under 2000 sq ft (186 sq m) or so.  Expected yield with “good” harvests sketch out to 1200-1400#’s (540-635 kg) which is still awesome.

32'x35' is about 1100 sq ft. Aw, hell yeah!

A big component of this yield will be our newly built (last June) Pimped out Garden.  At 1100 sq ft it gives us the room to grow serious amounts of food for storage and seasonal eating.  I could surely get 2000#’s from this garden alone, but will plan on growing food we eat, rather than cooking the books with huge amounts of cucumbers, roma tomatoes, and potatoes.  This garden will also likely get a 12′ hoop house in it late summer, and will have cold frames on it within 8 weeks of this post for early greens.  The soil is still weak as over half of it was trucked in last June, but I mixed in plenty of compost and vermicompost along with some green manures and deep mulching before fall and laying the ground work for rich soil ecosystems.  Still working through the planting layouts for the year, and need to catalog the seeds remaining from last year and fill holes, but this is all very exciting.

About half the orchard - missing are another pear and paw-paw hidden off camera

Up hill from the Canning Garden is my permaculture orchard.  Complete with 9 trees (Pears, Apples, Peaches, and Paw-Paw) along with well over a dozen fruiting shrubs, a few hardy kiwis, a couple of hazelnuts and a growing understory it is a nutritional force to be reckoned with.  to bolster its productivity while it fills in I liberally add annuals like peppers, garlic, and sprawling squash vines (these are actively managed and pruned to avoid crowding).  This year will also see the planting of 7 more fruit trees (another apple, a cherry, apricots, and 3 plums) and we planted 4 nut trees (from seed) for a protein/fat producing overstory (in a decade or so!) of chestnuts and hickory/pecan hybrids.  The fences will also be drafted into duty as a vineyard with a dozen grape cultivars for table eating and perhaps even wine.  In 5 years of so, the orchard will likely out produce the canning garden, and in a decade it certainly will – heck the kiwis could be up to 200#’s themselves!


Pretty sure I made this word up tonight (the Google can’t find it), but I prefer it to the slightly less obscure “yardavore”.  This is geeky, but -vore typically denotes an eating behavior that is by nature, where “-tarian” usually denotes an eating behavior of choice (herbivore v. vegetarian).  I also like this contrast with Localvore, which has been our “nature” historically, and yarditarian which is more a factor of choice and privilege.  Regardless, if one is gonna slap it on the table and try to grow 2000#s of food in one year from one’s yard, it goes without saying that we will be eating a significant amount of our food from our yard.  From March’s first French Sorrel and cold frame spinach leaves to the final stored potatoes and onions of the following March this will be an outstanding journey as we work to eat our bounty, working through the logistics of harvesting, preparing, storing, and sharing the produce from even this 10% of our yard.  I am not pretending to try to eat *exclusively* from my yard; self sufficiency is not, and never will be, my goal.  But adding 2000#’s of food to my family’s diet will add a significant amount of resiliency to our food supply while also teaching my children and myself incredibly valuable lessons about what is possible on so small a plot of land.

Should be a great year!


Energy Descent and the New Reality

Like most of us, I am quite sensitive to the price of fuel and watch its movements with keen interest, and it has not been disappointing of late.  We set a new record for the price of pump gasoline in December last week at $2.93, and have proceeded to break it 4 times since then and we currently sit at $2.98 for the average price across the US.  That is noteworthy, especially considering that this is up 14% from last December, and higher than it was the December before we hit $4+ in the Summer of 2008  and all hell broke loose in our economy soon after.

Oil IS our economy.  It is what makes global trade at this scale possible and why it makes “sense” to ship raw materials from Africa to SE Asia for processing and then to the US for final sale, grain from the Ukraine to be fed to cattle in Brazil to end up in $.89 cheeseburgers in the US, and the 1500 mile side salad.  That fact – that Oil is Everything –  means that watching the price of crude, or just the pump, is rather important for predicting when the next recession, or rather the deepening of the current one, will hit.  Since we hit Peak Oil in 2006 the New Reality is that energy economics are now ruthlessly driven by supply and demand.  Now that we are Post Peak, there is no significant means of mitigating price by upping supply to meet demand; when demand increases, price MUST follow suit soon after as supply is fixed and slowly diminishing.

Supply v. Demand: a graphical depiction...

What became painfully clear to us all, is that there is a price ceiling that our economy is able to support.  In 2008 it was somewhere near $110/bbl or $4/gln of gasoline.  Beyond that point oil/gas pushed the expense side of doing business too far (and had the psychological impact of drastically reducing consumer spending) and we smacked into a New Reality that energy was perhaps more expensive than we could afford; that we couldn’t afford to do *everything* we wanted as a global community.

And then we learned another reality about our current economy.  GROWTH is IMPERATIVE.  Chris Martenson in his Crash Course will explain this far better than I can, but in long and short the rate of our economic growth MUST EXCEED the interest that is due on everything we, as a global society, “own”.    As soon as the economy fails to grow faster than the interest that is due on the all the zillions of loans –from credit cards to government bonds– there is literally NOT ENOUGH MONEY to pay the banks and massive foreclosures begin to happen.   This is also why we continually here that 1-2% growth “isn’t enough”.  Check your car/mortgage/credit card bill for your interest rate if you wonder why not.

So everyone alive has know nothing but the fact that Oil IS the Economy, and that the Economy MUST grow.  But there is no more cheap oil, and the Economy CAN’T grow – at least not until it bottoms and the Peak is a lofty mountain indeed.   The Old Reality is over.  Welcome to the New One.  The next century or so will be dominated by series after series of recessions, which will relax the demand pressure on the price of energy enough to allow a brief “recovery”.  But as soon as the economy recovers enough it will inevitably hit the energy price ceiling (which is now lower than the last one due to all the bankruptcies that occurred in the last recession which lowered the overall size of the economy by destroying “wealth”) and we will enter a new recession.  This is the economic reality of Energy Descent: series after series of recessions interspersed with brief “recoveries”.

This is why I watch the price of fuel with so much more interest than I did 3 years ago.  Our current “recovery”, which is really just a slowing of the bleeding rather than healing, is inherently short lived and the price of Crude at its current mid $80’s and climbing does not bode well for the length of this reprieve.

We cannot control this.  We cannot “solve” this problem –mostly because its not a problem, its reality. That means we must react to our situation and find personal solutions to the IMPACTS of the New Reality on our lives.

This will mean many things, and the they will be very different to many people.  Tom recently commented with a challenge that went something like “cut the theory and prove it with your checkbook” ; i.e. try to see if the ideas are economically viable by earning my living through their implementation.  Tom runs a successful CSA in North Carolina and is well along his way towards resiliency assuming he isn’t running a mortgage and depending unsustainably on inputs.  Its a fair question, but as a “challenge” it is also arrogant and insensitive to the New Reality, and in that arrogance which runs the strong risk of demoralizing rather than inspiring.  There is no more cheap credit to buy land (5 acre farmettes are still running $350,000 hereabouts – add $10,000 for each additional acre), there are likely mountains of debt that were accumulated in the Old Reality forcing a much higher income threshold to maintain principal and interest payments, and hundreds of other economic and social facets of our individual situations that makes “proving” our ideas by forcing them to support our families a false challenge.

The fact is that the New Reality will do that for all of us.  The rub of the next few decades will be: can we re-adapt fast enough (using theories, hunches, untried ideas, and examples from those around us) to reduce our dependency on the Old Reality at least as fast as it is replaced by the New Reality.  Can we offset our energy needs as fast as their costs rise beyond our ability to pay for them; can we grow increasing amounts of food as fast as their price increases beyond our ability to afford them. Can we find additional incomes in cottage economies (or career changes in the case of those lucky enough to be in a situation like Tom) and reduce our expenses fast enough to keep our homes, pay down our debts, reskill, and retool?

In many ways it can feel like a race – can we pay off the mortgage before I lose my job, etc?   The impact of the Recession Rollercoaster will in many ways be limited to our connection and dependance on the system.  With a 40 mile commute, traditional mortgage, and no wood stove or PV cells, I am far more dependent on the Old Reality and its cheap energy, than if I am able to relocalize my income, truly own my home, and add more than a bit of self reliance to my household.

The coming, hell CURRENT, crisis will be mitigated in so much as we are able to innovate and implement individual organic solutions to the changes that are being forced upon us by the New Reality.   The changes may come faster than I can adapt to them  – I could lose my job this year and become one of the millions of long term unemployed and my permaculture orchard will be for naught.  But, knowing that, I can take strong, bold steps to limit my exposure and control the variables I can.  We can ALL do this. And my suspicion, based on the experience of the past 4 years, is that in adding that control back to our lives, in living in closer touch with reality, we will find more value in what really matters most and very likely increase our personal happiness in direct proportion to our reduced adherence to the Old Reality.

It will be wicked hard, there will certainly be moments of dread, but we can do this.

Be the Change.

Kunstler on Suburbia- Dang Sucka.

As part of my commitment to doubling down and getting real about rebuilding Suburbia into something that is livable I stumbled across this talk by James Kunstler of Long Emergency fame, which I am finally getting around to reading.  Well worth 20 minutes of your time. Though he spends the majority of the talk beating the shit out of Suburban and current Urban planning, he is a gifted speaker and refuses to pull punches.  The shit is real.  Get busy.

Be the Change.


Winter Reading Project, Post Script

Some other additions for the small scale ag side of things.  Notice that these are ALL from Chelsea Green.  They are a publisher (along with New Society Publishers) that I hit frequently and they are also offering 35% off EVERYTHING and free shipping over $100 until 12/31/10. Resilient Gardening has been on my short list for a year and with its glowing recommendations from several reader/bloggers, passing it up would be foolhardy at this point.  Laughton’s book is on a larger scale, but I refuse to let my dream of a small holding die and I also do consulting work on larger properties so that will be welcome reading as additional viewpoints are always welcome.  Cooper’s book seems to be right up my alley and I would like some more perspective from “over the pond”.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden
An A–Z

by Emma Cooper

“The Alternative Kitchen Garden is an evolving idea of what a kitchen garden could be in the twenty-first century: organic, environmentally sustainable, resilient, and about localizing at least some of our food production. It’s also a place not only for learning and practicing growing skills but also for enjoying ourselves and having fun. The Alternative Kitchen Garden is the ideal companion for anyone getting dirt under their fingernails for the first time and full of fascinating ideas and experiments for the adventurous gardener.”

Surviving and Thriving on the Land
How to Use Your Time and Energy to Run a Successful Smallholding

by Rebecca Laughton

“Surviving and Thriving on the Land looks at ways in which projects can be designed that care for the people involved in them as well as the earth that they are trying to protect. If land-based ecological projects are to offer a realistic solution to the problems we face in the twenty-first century, it is imperative that they be sustainable in terms of human energy. This book offers a framework, backed up by real-life examples, of issues to consider when setting up a new project or for overcoming human-energy-based problems in existing projects.”

The Resilient Gardener
Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times 

by Carol Deppe

“Scientist/gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields — resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine. In the last half of The Resilient Gardener, Deppe extends and illustrates these principles with detailed information about growing and using five key crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs.”

Enjoy your reading!


Winter Reading Project

Last winter I read a bit over 1200 pages on Soil Science, and the learnings from that project were profound enough that they inspired me to revamp the way I plant my gardens,  created and taught several workshops on Introductory Soil Science and posted enough about composting that you all were justifiably concerned about my interests bordering on obsession.  Passion often comes delivered without an “off” switch…  I never did write up my learnings on Soils in a specific series of posts and that is on my list of winter writing projects.

But this year, with December half gone, I was struggling a bit as I was lacking a research project for the winter.  Plans for next year will be coppice experiments and a Full Bore shot at small scale, intensive “ecological yardening” (really need to just take a Permaculture Design Course so I can use the dang copyrighted term in my business).   With the readings of the past several month and the 3 days at the Midwest Biomass Conference I am only about 2 books short of the books on coppice that I want to read – and one of them isn’t even written yet.

So for this winter I am focusing on 2 subjects:  Systems Thinking for the theory side, and Small Scale Agriculture systems on the practical side.  The goal will be 3 books on each, which will leave some room for the week or two in January where I lock myself into a room with seed catalogs, coffee, and spreadsheets to plan my gardens, and still leave time for some strolls into literary whimsy should one present itself.  To that end here are the first few contenders (please add your own if you have recommendations) – I typically only buy 1-2 books at a time, as they almost always lead me to new pathways.

Systems Thinking

Resiliency Thinking, by Brian Walker and David Salt.  I just finished this and HIGHLY recommend it.  If you want to better understand the theory on how complex, ecological systems respond to change and why some bounce back and some cross tipping points, this book is a fascinating starting point.  150 pages means you can polish it off in a day of reading and a few pots of tea, but though it is very accessible, it is so dense with epiphanies that I gave it 2 weeks so that the insights could percolate through my thinking more thoroughly.  Great books change how you think and interact with the world.  This is one of those.

Next on order is Thinking in Systems, by Donella Meadows. Ms. Meadows authored Limits to Growth in 1972 and has been one of the most influential thinks of the Energy Descent movement.   When an author is recommended highly by the likes of Lester Brown, Hunter and Amory Lovins and is referred to by Bill McKibben as “one of the smartest people I ever knew” I take notice.

We’ll see where my muse takes me after that, but contenders are some of the books by Fritjof Capra, though not sure if he’s a quack yet, and likely a re-re-re-read of Permaculture Principles by my hero David Holmgren.

Small Scale Intensive Ag / Applied Suburban Permaculture

Solviva, by Anna Edey has been on my “should read” list for several years now and I need to tear the bandaid off.  So its on order too.  There are several other practical books out there such as Gardening When it Counts, the Urban Homestead, The Self Sufficient Gardener and the Backyard Homestead.  But likely I will stick to more theory (shocking) and read some of the newer permaculture books out there that I’ve missed so far such as the Earth User’s Guide by Rosemary Marrow or The Permaculture Way, by Graham Bell.  The upcoming book by Sepp Holzer should be a knock out – I loved what I saw of him on You Tube.

And that brings up another element – we are reaching a point now where the interweb is an ever more important source for researching these aspects as the practical applications of Permaculture are far outstripping the pace with which conventional media outlets can keep up.  Again, it is the diverse organic solutions that we as individuals are creating that will be the solutions.   And to that end expect these books and research to continue to influence my thinking and writing this season, and of course expect the dirt to fly as soon as the frost is out.   Should be a great winter!


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