Two-Ingredient GF Vegan Buckwheat Bread

Poetry led me back to bread.

I was in Youngstown last weekend for the amazing Lit Youngstown Festival. Being a hermit-y sort, I’ve never been to a literary festival before but went because an awesome thing happened. An excerpt from a poem of mine was stamped on a sidewalk along with the work of three other poets. It has been a season of surreal poetry honors for me.

Sidewalk Poets: Jeffrey Murphy, Laura Grace Weldon, Jeanne Bryner, David Lee Garrison

After the sidewalk dedications, I had no idea where my car was parked. A wonderful new writer friend, Cherise, said she’d walk me there. Turned out my car was at least a half hour away, which gave us time to talk about obscure movies, gardening, and the strange culinary explorations we’re on as people with health issues/food allergies. Cherise told me about a bread recipe she makes that has only two ingredients if one doesn’t count water — it’s simply buckwheat and salt.

A few years ago I ordered a 25 pound bag of organic buckwheat groats from our food co-op. Getting through it has been a challenge. Here and there I’ve ground it into flour or made puffed groats. My family is pretty tolerant of the many grains I toss into things (although teff nearly caused a revolt). But I gave up baked goods myself years ago. I can’t eat wheat and I’m allergic to many of the ingredients that go into gluten-free products (eggs, corn, psyllium husk, etc). Although I bake bread every week for my family, I just don’t eat bread/buns/wraps/chips.

But I thought I’d give Cherise’s recipe a try. If my angry beast of a body refused to tolerate the bread I could feed it to the chickens. But turned out amazing. The original recipe, from Nele Liivlaid’s site Nutriplanet, suggests the addition of oregano and sunflower seeds. Those aren’t necessary, but the second time I made the loaf I used sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Excellent flavors when toasted!


Fermented Buckwheat Bread


2 cups raw buckwheat groats*

1 ¼ cup filtered water (plus water to soak)

½ teaspoon salt

optional ingredients

3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon sesame seeds



Soak buckwheat groats in water for 6 to 8 hours. There may be some discoloration at the very top, that’s normal.

Dump the soaked grains into a colander, rinse a bit, then let drain 10 minutes or so to get out residual water. (The liquid after soaking is quite gooey.)

Put 1 1/4 cup water in blender and add drained buckwheat. Blend until smooth batter forms.

Pour the batter into glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl (not metal). Cover the bowl with a plate or cloth, then let it ferment in a warm place. If your kitchen is toasty warm, perfect. If your stove has a proofing drawer, excellent. The ideal temperature is 95°F. I cover my bowl tightly, then set it inside our dehydrator turned to 95°F (herb setting). Let rise at 95°F for 7 hours or so. If you don’t have a way to keep it that warm, you can ferment at room temperature for up to 22 hours. After fermenting you should see the batter has risen a bit and small bubbles have formed.

Now add salt and any other optional ingredients. Mix gently with a non-metal spoon. Do not over-mix, you want to keep the batter fluffy.

Pour batter into large loaf pan lined with parchment paper. (I use a large and mini-loaf size to avoid oven spillage.) Put the pan or pans back into your warm area to rise a bit more – an hour or two at 95°F really helps. (I have forgotten the parchment. The bread comes out of a greased pan pretty well.)

Put the pan or pans into the oven, then turn the heat to 350°F. Start timing once the oven reaches temperature. A tiny loaf pan takes about 35 to 40 minutes, a large loaf pan about 45 to 55 minutes. It’s done when firm on top and pulled away from the sides.

Remove bread from pan and place on cooling rack. Don’t slice until cool or nearly cool.

This bread is best toasted.

It freezes well. Slice, place waxed paper or parchment between slices for easy removal, place in freezer bag or freezer container.

Serving suggestions, toast and then add:

Hummus and tomatoes.

Nut butter and bananas.

Guacamole and black beans.

Roasted garlic and cheese, broil till cheese melts.


*This recipe only works with raw buckwheat groats. Not toasted (kasha). Not buckwheat flour.


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Mow Less, Save Nature

One year our school had an exchange student from Turkey. He was gifted in athletics and darkly handsome. As a blond klutz this meant I had nothing in common with him. But we ended up as science class lab partners, so we chatted regularly. I still remember something he said. He told me it was hard to see people in the U.S. squandering water, fertilizer, and fertile land on the inedible crop of grass when elsewhere in the world people suffered terribly to grow food. Why would anyone take pride in green fields that nourished no one?

I saw exactly what he meant everywhere I went. I also saw the way our elderly next-door neighbors let as much of their lawn as possible grow wild. Somehow they eluded zoning and only mowed their front yard along with a tiny patch near the back door. The rest was a glorious tangle of tall trees and undergrowth brimming with wildlife. It was a lively contrast to the flat monoculture all around us.

Every weekend meant the drone of lawnmowers and the smell of cut grass. I asked my father once if that smell meant the grass was bleeding. He didn’t take me too seriously. Turns out I wasn’t too far off. When plants are injured they release volatile organic compounds called green leaf volatiles which have different functions. Some of the compounds send out distress signals, some speed growth of new cells at the wound site, others act as antibiotics, a few stimulate defensive compounds at intact parts of the plant.

Turf grass in the U.S. overall covers an area larger than the state of Georgia. It is the largest irrigated “crop” in America, even more than corn, wheat, and fruit orchards combined. Americans use an estimated 10 times more fertilizer, per acre, on lawns than are used on food crops. (Fertilizer production as well as its run-off are serious environmental burdens too.)

According to a Penn State professor’s calculations,

Every weekend in the United States, fifty-four million Americans mow their lawns, which uses eight-hundred million gallons of gas per year [Springfels n.pag]. When broken down, that’s about 15 million gallons of gasoline to cut our yards and businesses alone. The eight-hundred million gallons of gas used each weekend is accompanied by the seventeen million gallons of gasoline we spill just filling up our tanks of gas each year, this amount is more than the amount of oil that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

Mowing less, or not at all, is a significant way to help when our planet’s pollinator and bird population are in serious decline. It’s not a radical step. Even state transportation departments are reducing or eliminating roadside mowing in favor of native grasses and wildflowers.

Mowing less frequently, such as every two weeks, helps to provide forage for bees and other pollinators. Mowing fewer overall areas provides even more flowers and seeds for vulnerable populations of bees, butterflies, and birds. And it can look amazing.

Here are some examples posted to the Twitter account of Scottish gardener Brian Cunningham.

In In many communities we may need to ease zoning or HOA rules. But it’s worth it. The reasons are wise, the outcome is beautiful.

On our property we have plenty of space devoted to trees and undergrowth, some former pasture planted in native wildflowers, but we still mow too much. I hope to change that soon.

Here are some wonderful organizations and books to help you find out more.

Wild Ones

We Are The Ark

Xerces Society

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Glorious Summer

Sunflower leaves, as they rustle in the breeze, sound like commuters in raincoats walking to work.

I am an ungainly peasant, bent over, yanking out roots of life’s green impulse. Even as the weeds go limp they send out the freshest breath. I apologize to them for my human-centric approach. I may be impressed by morning glory’s sneaky charm, but climbing up tomato stems and smothering beans is not allowed.

Strawberries keep trespassing where peppers and eggplants grow. Sunchokes stomp into the potato bed. Dill sprouts everywhere. The humidity is thick as oatmeal but I am grateful for all of it.  The harvest, heavier every day, reminds me how the weight of minutes lived also tips the scales toward the farther side.

I straighten up, making a little oooof noise as I do, and wave to the remaining weeds. “You, my friends, will live another day.”

Canning season has arrived. The kitchen holds two big bowls of ripe tomatoes waiting to be transformed into salsa.

Staggered planting of beans keep us from being overwhelmed (so far) by dozens of plants bearing at once.

Paper and straw laid down in the center of our giant sunchoke patch form a lovely Secret Place for small people.

Our bottle tree garden is easy to maintain because plantings are spaced far enough apart for us to mow between rows.

Even the cauldron plantings at the front of the house have refused to stop blooming.


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All About Perspective

Two years ago we had a 30′ x 72′ high tunnel built, with a wooden kickboard and heavy chicken wire where the sides roll up to keep it secure. My husband planted 54 grapevines in a range of carefully selected varieties. They grew rapidly in the temperate plant-friendly enclosure, safe from pests and predators. No spraying, no special treatments needed; just some water and attention. Last summer brought weeks of sweet harvest, but since it was our first yield it was only enough to share with friends and family while giving us plenty of juice and jelly to can.

The high tunnel was a big investment and we hoped it would start paying off this year. We had reasons to be optimistic with plants 6 to 9 feet tall, healthy and brimming with grapes. Well, I should say they WERE brimming with grapes.

Something got into the enclosure a few nights ago. My husband mowed between the rows Friday, checked the plants on Sunday. He went in on Wednesday to find the place devastated — plants bent, limbs broken, and nearly every ripe grape gone. Some enterprising creatures, probably raccoons, bent the chicken wire to gain access and gorged themselves a few nights in a row.

My husband wasn’t pleased, but he wasn’t all that upset either. He’s got some perspective.


A few weeks ago he was complaining of numbness in his fingers. He figured it was some version of carpal tunnel syndrome. It came and went, so he tried to avoid overworking that hand. But one afternoon the numbness traveled up his arm, even reached his mouth. I took him to our local small town hospital. All his tests came back normal showing no cardiac problems, no infection, until the imaging test of his brain. It showed a brain bleed, a stroke. Not long after he was on a helicopter, being life-flighted to the Cleveland Clinic.

My 45 minute drive to join him there was the longest drive of my life. Seeing him conscious and able to speak when I arrived was a blessed relief. He spent two days in neuro ICU where they determined he’d actually had not one but two small strokes. He’s home now, with no more impairment than some lingering numbness. Many specialist visits, tests, and medical bills later it seems he’s going to be absolutely fine.

This week he’s securing the high tunnel with welded wire fencing (1/2″ x 1″ openings) around the sides. It should protect the few grapes left. We’re already grateful.



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Livestock Bedding As Garden Soil

Everything I read about gardening, even in the more esoteric books I enjoy, warns about planting anything entirely in animal bedding. There are strict criteria about making sure such material is no longer “hot” and even then, it must be well-mixed into generous ratios of soil. But every year we noticed seeds sprout, grow, and mature in the piles of bedding and manure from our cow barn. Mostly squash and melon seeds — quite naturally those seeds were available after feeding cattle the leftover squash and melon from our gardens.

It got me thinking.

I’ve spent years of organic, hopefully regenerative gardening, only to watch my beautiful squash plants succumb to the bad influences of powdery mildew, cucumber beetles, vine borers, and squash beetles. I had no place left to plant them where these dangers weren’t already lurking in the soil. Even with large planting areas, there are only so many places to rotate crops, especially when it’s recommended to avoid planting anything in the Cucurbitaceae family in the same area for three years.

So in early June (quite late, due to heavy rainfall), I put only a few of the seeds I’d saved into a garden bed by the house. Here they are, small and beginning to suffer the ravages of squash beetles.

Most of these leaves are a handwidth or handwidth and a half across.

That same week, I thought of our large pile of bedding and manure from the chicken coop. (A new pile to us. The old piles are in the woods.) Some of the bedding had been there six months or more but some was relatively fresh. The pile was over three feet tall and about 12 to 14 feet in diameter. I had so many seeds saved from heirloom squash varieties that I thought it was worth planting some right in the bedding. I leveled the pile out a bit, made five or six hills, and put a few seeds in each hill. All winter squash — Boston Marrow squashGete Okosomin Squash, Cypriot Squash, maybe another variety I’ve forgotten.

Uninspiring pile of bedding and manure from chicken coop. Doesn’t look very promising does it?

I was pretty convinced this was a doomed experiment. The seeds had no access to actual soil, which was many feet below. The matter itself was loose and I was sure the seeds would wash away in the next rain. And the pile was hot! It felt ten degrees over my body temp at least. Plus it’s way out back, far from the house where watering and weeding are somewhat likely to happen.

The seeds emerged with wild enthusiasm, far quicker than the garden bed seeds. Within two weeks the chicken bedding plants were four times larger than the garden bed plants. They remain four times larger.

And there’s a significant difference in plant health.  The squash stems in my regular garden beds are brittle and weakened.

The squash stems in the livestock bedding are thick, supple, and healthy.

It’s hard to tell from a distance, but this is a huge mountain of eager squash plants with many emerging fruits.  Strangely, the chickens have left them alone and the only creatures interested in the flowers are pollinators.

Leaves are easily three and four of my handwidths across.

I’m not suggesting anyone plant anything they intend to eat raw in livestock bedding. But foods meant to be cooked are a different matter. I’d be interested to hear about plantings you’ve attempted in livestock bedding.

Late August update

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A few weeks later and we have dozens of giant winter squash. This picture doesn’t offer much perspective as the plants die back to reveal their fruits, but the squash are between 3 and 5. 5 feet long already. Oh, and volunteer potato plants also popped up in this fertile mess. I still have to get in there to dig them up. Amazing!


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Appreciating Diversity: Eggs, Orange Juice, One Another

A few eggs from the day’s gathering here on Bit of Earth Farm.

The same flock of chickens, even the same breed, lays fascinatingly diverse eggs. But chances are you’ve never seen them.

In part, that’s because hens in a commercial operation don’t live out their natural lifespan, so the rippled, dimpled, and bumpy-shelled eggs they’re more likely to lay as they get older don’t happen. And in part because non-standard eggs never make it to the grocery store carton — tossed out or relegated to “egg product” uses.

I put the most interesting eggs in our cartons with joy, sure the people who buy them will be delighted. I’m startled when people say they don’t want “odd” eggs, some even ask if they’re okay to use, as if an unusual shell implies the contents are flawed.

Food that is standardized in appearance and flavor is very new to our species. But now, even so-called single ingredient products like orange juice consistently taste the same.

Manufacturers strip oxygen from freshly squeezed orange juice so they can easily store it for a year or more before bottling. Problem is, removing the oxygen also removes the flavor. So they’ve formulated “flavor packs” to add to the juice to make it taste fresh and, well, orange-y. That’s why your brand of orange juice always tastes the same. The ingredients added? The citrus industry says it’s “orange aroma, orange oil from the peel, and pulp.”  Technically this can include chemically similar ingredients like ethyl butyrate. Consistent taste is one way corporations seek your brand loyalty (Tropicana is owned by PepsiCo, Minute Maid and Simply Orange are owned by Coca-Cola.)

Unvarying sameness is in direct opposition to the way food naturally tastes, although the word “natural” is so over-used by advertisers that it’s essentially meaningless. For all the years we raised cows, we grew to understand that milk tastes different depending on what cows ate as they grazed and the season itself. We could tell, day to day, if our cow had a hankering for a particular weed in the pasture. We could tell what spring milk tasted like in contrast to summer, fall, or winter milk. Everything we made from it — cheese, yogurt, kefir, butter —tasted of that season as well.

I can’t help but wonder if the standardization of commercial food, in taste and appearance, contributes to our cultural obsession with surface appeal. Appearance is perceived as much more desirable than substance, or at least more Instagrammable.

And I can’t help but wonder if our cultural discomfort with diversity stems in part from a corporatized food culture that prizes sameness of taste and experience in everything from packaged foods to restaurant franchises.

The egg that’s mottled, bumpy, or rippled is as nourishing as any other egg. When we see it at a farmer’s market or at a roadside stand, it’s also likely to have come from a hen living an uncaged, non-standardized existence.

We’re nourished in far deeper ways when we welcome diversity in people.

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Creating a Forest Garden

For years I’ve been fascinated by the concept of forest gardening. Elderberries grow in our woods, along with nut trees. But we’ve had little luck seeding logs with mushroom spores, getting ginseng to grow, or fostering the growth of berry bushes in partial shade. Now, faced with the heart-wrenching uncertainties brought by climate change, the importance of exploring this permaculture-based possibility seems every more urgent.

Throughout time, people have relied on forests for an abundance of foods. The practice of forest gardening imitates the forest’s nature structure to grow an abundance in a sustainable way. It avoids the inherent instability of monoculture agribusiness and can be done on a small-scale in yards, community gardens, school lots, and parks without tilling, weeding, fertilizing, or irrigating (although a few paths covered with wood chips or stone are helpful).

You can find this concept in active use around the “developing” world today (despite the agribusiness lobby, with Bill Gates’s help). Wisdom passed down in tropical regions continues as tall mango and coconut trees loom over plantain and papaya trees, partially shading smaller plantings of cassava, with fruit vines climbing over all of them. Chickens (sometimes goats or hogs) may range freely through, eating thick weeds and contributing fertilizer. This is forest gardening, tropical style.

It’s possible in more temperate climates too. Robert Hart, from the UK,  spread the idea in the 1980’s with his book Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape  As he wrote, “Forest gardening offers the potential for all gardeners to grow an important element of their health-creating food; it combines positive gardening and positive health… The wealth, abundance and diversity of the forest garden provides for all human needs – physical needs through foods, materials and exercise, as well as medicines and spiritual needs through beauty and the connection with the whole.”

Although monoculture and backyard gardens typically rely on annuals, that’s not the way nature works. Annuals are a small segment of what makes up the natural landscape. Annuals in nature typically take over disturbed ground (turned up by migrating hooves or barren after fire). Annuals are high-energy, short-lived, get-it-while-you-can plants. In one season they germinate, grow, ripen, then die. (See a metaphor for our “developed world” diet based on annuals?) Perennials, in contrast, don’t require tilling. They preserve the soil structure, prevent loss of topsoil, and maintain the essential soil microbiome. Perennials dig deep into the earth, making it more drought and flood-resistant, shading more tender plants, and keeping everything more lush in sustainable forest ecosystems.

Robert Hart began his forest garden experiment to provide a healing environment for himself and his brother Lacon, who had some learning disabilities. Robert initially tried to maintain annual vegetable beds and an orchard while raising livestock. This proved too much work. But he noticed that a bed planted with perennials was thriving without intervention. And interestingly, these same plants were the most useful in promoting health. His investigations drew him toward nature’s lessons.

Robert adapted a small orchard of pears and apples into an edible landscape using what he called nature’s seven dimensions.

Although we’re not accustomed to a “productive” garden arrayed in what appears to be forest-like disorder, a tiny plot can produce all sorts of bounty when we’re attuned to what it yields. This means we need to look beyond the limitations of today’s crops. All sorts of plants are edible and useful, well beyond the few cereal grains, fruits, and vegetables that make up our limited diets. Robert Hart found that it took little more than an eighth of an acre to put out prodigious yields including apples, plums, pears, cherries, gooseberries, Jerusalem artichokes, grapes, currants, raspberries, sorrel, ramps, herbs, lovage, almonds, hazelnuts, mushrooms, and more. Plus medicinal herbs, basketry materials, firewood, and building materials.

A wisely planted forest garden provides nourishment, building materials, and medicinal stock. It also creates a wildlife habitat and attracts pollinators. It takes notice of naturally beneficial relationships between plants as any woodland ecosystem does, resulting in a productive space for the wise gardener.

The canopy, or top layer, might be made of full-sized fruit and nut trees such as apple, pear, plum, chestnut, pecan, chestnut, walnut, and pine nut trees.

The short tree layer might include some of the same fruit and nut trees in dwarf and semi-dwarf stock as well as peach, apricot, nectarine, filbert, almond, fig, elderberry, black mulberry, persimmon, pawpaw, and hazelnut.

The shrub layer might include blueberry, serviceberry, currant, and rhubarb.

Herb layer includes shade tolerant, non-invasive herbs such as fennel, chamomile, chives, ginger, cilantro, and cardamon.

Ground cover layer might include strawberries, comfrey, and nasturtium.

Root layer might include onions, potatoes, beets, garlic, and wild yam.

Vine layer might include kiwi, grape, squash, and hops.

Check out this wonderful video by Martin Crawford.

I’m excited to explore these possibilities, probably starting on a very small-scale. Here are some of the books we’re reading as we plan.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel

The Food Forest Handbook: Design and Manage and Home-Scale Perennial Polyculture Garden by Michelle Czolba and Darrell Frey

Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops by Martin Crawford

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