Altopia Farms

Altopia Farms

Buckets of Wheat: What are you going to do with them?

We have had quite a run on homesteading supplies at the Back to the Land Store since the beginning of the stock market’s giant swings. When folk begin to realize that life as they have known it might not be their future, they often start to purchase items that they never thought necessary before. It seems that the very first thing they want is a non-electric water pump, the second is a wood cook stove and the third is sealed buckets of wheat berries. As I see them leave the store with their new found treasures, I often wonder if they know what to do with that wheat. With the internet close at hand, recipes and techniques are readily available, but bread making is one of those skills that you really “knead to get to get your hands into”. Much of it is technique that only experience will teach, but it surely helps to work closely with someone who has already experienced the glorious triumph of a perfectly baked loaf and the disappointment of a failed one. One “knead” not reinvent that wheel. Let the CAG know when you are interested in attending a bread-making class so that we can schedule it. When I teach bread baking, I usually start with quick breads like biscuits, cornbread and popovers and then move on the yeast breads and sourdough. Each type has its own chemistry and techniques which are surely worthy to learn, but, times being as they are, I think learning to make sourdough bread is the most practical skill to learn. To explain why I chose sourdough, I knead (there it is again) to point out that the characteristics that separate the types of breads are the types of grains and the types of leavening agents. While quick breads are simpler and easier to make, most depend on baking powder, a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar. Baking powder is inexpensive and easy to use. However, it has a relatively short shelf life. It should last 6 months after opening and longer if not opened, but it loses its potency over time. Packaged dry yeast will also lose its potency as it ages. Keeping it in the freezer helps, but it also has a finite life span. Sourdough cultures, on the other hand, can survive forever with very little care. Now, pay attention! I am not talking about what the Amish call sourdough or what was called Friendship Bread when it was all the rage in the 80’s. That bread, although “friendly” to the palate, will drive you crazy. It has to be fed well and often. Potato flakes are usually used to keep it going and unless you have a lot of friends and cousins with whom to share a cup of kindness, you find yourself having to discard a quantity of your stash every week - not to mention the stress of having to remember to feed the baby and bake every week whether you want to or not. I am talking about the kind of culture originally derived from the combination of flour, water and wild yeasts that are present in the air. In older times bakers kept their culture alive by adding some of the dough from an earlier batch to a new batch of bread and thus the culture stayed alive and active. Although they didn’t understand the chemistry behind it, the old timers knew that it worked. Today we can start with a dehydrated, dormant version of an ancient culture, turn it into an active culture and keep it long enough to pass it on in our wills. If the word “sustainable” did not generate such negative feelings in me, I would use it to describe sourdough bread. Establishing a culture and learning to make artisan bread from stored wheat can assure that you and your family will always be stocked with bread without having to visit the grocery store. Artisan Sourdough Bread 1 cup sourdough culture 6-8 cups all purpose flour, divided (depends on the flour) 4 ½ cups water, divided 1 ½ Tablespoon sea salt The process looks like this. The night before you intend to bake, remove your saved culture from the refrigerator.
  1. Take out 1 cup of your stash and combine it with 3 cups flour and 3 cups water. Mix and cover to “work” for about 12 hours. Add a cup each of flour and water to your stash and put it back in the refrigerator for the next baking.
  2. The next morning add 1 ½ cups each flour and water to the mix and allow to rest for an hour.
  3. Add more flour and salt until a soft dough is formed. I use a stand mixer. When the dough cleans the sides of the bowl, I have added enough flour. Knead for 10 minutes on medium speed or by hand, if you prefer. Sourdough will be slightly softer dough than those made with yeast, but it should hold its shape without slumping.
  4. Place the dough in a large, covered straight sided container which has been sprayed with cooking spray. I use a semi-transparent bucket with measurements so I can calculate how much the dough has risen.
  5. After it has doubled in size, gently punch it down and divide evenly. Round it. Rounding is a technique that forms the smooth “cloak” on the outside. Place the loaf on parchment paper that has been sprinkle with coarse cornmeal or grits. Believe me, this is the easiest way to handle it. I have tried all the other methods just so you won’t have to.
  6. Allow to rise about an hour depending on the temperature in the room. Sourdough may not double in size. About 40 minutes before baking, set your oven to 450 degrees. If you have a baking stone, place it on the middle shelf and a jellyroll pan on the bottom shelf.
  7. With a razor blade, slash the tops in some artistic design, but be sure to make the slashes deep enough to allow the loaf to open up and all the way down to the bottom. Otherwise, it will bulge out in places that you did not plan. Paint the loaves with an egg-wash made by beating one egg with 1 tablespoon water.
  8. I use a peel (like the pizza man) to transfer the loaves to the baking stone. Not only does it keep me away from the oven and support the loaves, it makes me look like I know what I’m doing. As soon as the loaves are in, pour one cup of water into the pan on the bottom and quickly close the oven door. Steam is sourdough’s friend.
  9. Bake 30 minutes or until a thermometer reads 200 degrees. Cool completely on a rack.
  10. Enjoy.
There is a lot more to making bread than mixing some four, yeast and water then tossing it in an oven. As Al over at CAGmain says, "We can provide you the 80% solution on the internet, the other 20% requires hands on experience, otherwise, it's all just theory."
I hope you enjoyed my first article in this collaboration between The Back to the Land Store and the Crisis Application Group. We look forward to developing this relationship as a training and education venue that one might call a "Readiness University".
Mrs. Pam

Soil: Where it all begins.

We often take for granted all the things that are happening in the dirt. We get the idea that we can simply take a seed or a potted vegetable plant from the store, plop it in the ground and pooooof! Bean stalks to the heavens and an abundant harvest. While in some cases luck allows this happen, it actually is a little more complicated. There are billions of bacteria in a handful of dirt. It's a web of micro life that does all the work. in order for dirt to become soil, it needs to be alive with these microorganisms. Good soil is a mix of sand, clay and silt. There's a lot going on in there. It is a constant life and death cycle. Living organisms grow and die, other organisms consume them and turn them from organic material into humus (electrically charged chains of carbon that attract nutrients). The clay has a charge and it attracts nutrients. All of it has surface area that is great for bacteria to colonize. The plants actually secrete different types of sugars to feed the bacteria. Fungi send out long strands and weave throughout the soil. Bacteria is cultivated by the plant, they also eat organic material, protozoa eat the bacteria, worms eat roots, fungus, bacteria, protozoa, then insects and small animals eat the worms. It's an amazing process. This cycle provides what the plants need...and its not Brondo! Of course nothing is ever perfect so we have issues that interfere with this process. It could be as simple as a lack of water or as complicated as water that is too acidic. Some plants have adapted to certain conditions. A cactus in Arizona survives just fine without much water but Kentucky Bluegrass will never grow naturally in that environment. So, sometimes we have to make adjustments in order to put the soil to work for us. For example, here in Western Kentucky, the soil is usually too acidic. This interferes with the electrical charges within the soil particles and prevents the uptake of nutrients by the plants. We add pulverized calcium carbonate (lime) to adjust the Ph while it also adds calcium (cell structure) and magnesium (chlorophyll). This allows for improved uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in acid soil. Out west, some soils are alkaline. The weathering of organic materials, high in calcium carbonate, in arid environments increases the Ph level in the soil. This limits the uptake of other nutrients like iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Sulfur, sulfuric acid, aluminum and iron compounds will help adjust the Ph. Peat and ammonium sulfate fertilizers as well as the addition of organic material can help as well. BTTL header By far, the best things you can do to help improve your soil is to mulch, cover crop and compost. By applying a cover of  organic mulch (as opposed to plastic), you keep moisture in the soil, which is good for the bacteria. It creates humus, draws beneficial creatures like earthworms that will till the soil and provide aeration and increased surface area for more microorganisms. It is basically composting on top of the soil with the side effect of keeping weeds from growing around your plants. Cover crops are plants that will cover the soil to prevent weed growth, prevent erosion with their extensive root systems while also pulling nutrients from deep within the soil, and when tilled in, provide organic material to feed the soil. The addition of this organic material helps break up the soil, especially the clay aggregate, into small, well mixed particles. This increased tilth, provides for better aeration, water infiltration and drainage. For those of you that live in an apartment or subdivision, all this information still holds true. You can cheat by putting soil in containers or by purchasing potting soil, peat moss, composted manure and vermiculite in equal amounts and making your own soil. It is surprising how much food one can grow in a 4ft x 4ft raised bed filled with this mixture. While I don't think this method suited to large scale production. I have emulated it in my garden. I was overwhelmed with joy while driving through the Israeli countryside and I saw the same technique being used on a grand scale. [caption id="attachment_2431" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Chickpeas Wide raised rows of garbanzo beans.[/caption] A soil test kit is a good investment. After a while, you will get to know your soil and your plants. They will tell you what they need. There are maladies that can be seen on the leaves and on the fruit.....but that's another lesson. AL Firearms, Tactical & Defense Training

Back to the Land Partnership.

We are proud to announce a strategic partnership with the Smiths that own and operate the Back to the Land Store (as seen in Mother Earth News) in Erin, TN. I have been friends with them for quite some time and finally convinced them that teaming up with the Special Forces Cadre of the Crisis Application Group ( was a match made in heaven. Now we have a facility that offers not only the "Cool Guy" shooting on our future range but the full spectrum of preparedness skills. image Skill sets as varied as the food preservation classes taught by myself and Mrs. Pam, how to drive a team of mules or pole barn building by Mr. Jim, pistol and rifle marksmanship and beyond,  we can accommodate here in the midsouth. image Just a short drive from Nashville, a short drive south from Ky or  meander west from Knoxville or east from Missouri, we are in an ideal location. Currently,  non tactical classes are available.  Whether you live in an apartment, subdivision or rural setting, these classes will either help you sustain your homestead or gain a skill that will make you an asset when you bug out to that rural friend's house. We are also making austere medical classes available. Shortly after changes have been made to support a range, shooting classes will also be available. image The Back to the Land Store offers nearly everything you need for off grid living. Windmills to provide water pumping solutions by Aeromotor, grain mills large and small, horse drawn farming equipment,  milking equipment or just plain ol' hand tools f o r the garden or just lesrning in the community garden. image And now, as a joint venture with CAG, austere medicine, survial, marksmanship and communications taught by Special Forces veterans and other subject matter experts. What's not to love?  The possibilities are limited by your imagination. image Their one of a kind treadle thresher was featured in a Mother Earth News article. Available exclusively from BTTL store. Keep checking the store for available classes. We hope you take advantage of this dynamic partnership that ties the tactical with the practical with respect to preparedness.
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