Cécile Stelzer Johnson

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since Mar 09, 2015
I no longer have to work, so I'm developing a lot of different interests, beekeeping being the most expensive. Bees/ pollinators are in trouble and I decided to help. Getting chemicals out of our lives seems like a good idea. I'd like to be self sufficient so that I can have fun doing gardening, raising chickens and selling honey. Red oaks are all dying of the wilt and I may have a CAFO just west of me in a very near future. They will start by cutting all the trees, so I'll be the first one to smell their cows. (A confined Animal Feeding Operation is not my dream neighbor). All our red oaks are dying of the wilt and I'm trying to find suitable trees to replace them. Burying all that brush may be the best option to enrich the soil, which is *very* sandy and *very* poor.
zone 4b, sandy, Continental D
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Recent posts by Cécile Stelzer Johnson

Michael Cavalli wrote:Hey Daniel,

Thanks for posting. I live in Hamilton, Montana and am considering a compost toilet system for a small guest cabin on my land. I was just starting to look into the possibility of this idea when I found your post. If I'm understanding you correctly, I can't have a contained composting toilet system if the cabin will have running water. Is that what you're saying?


Just as a biker who has gone to Sturgis a few times, I know that getting fresh water is pretty hard there, with water at a hundred feet or more, so I don't understand why Montana would frown on the use of compost toilets to save some of the precious stuff [I mean water]. I suppose they would not want someone flushing humanure somewhere haphazardly where there is no drain field but it sounds like this could be reasoned: With such large expanses of land of blue skies "where the deer and the caribou poop", you'd think that making a small drain field should solve the problem, especially if you are set up to flush grey water too. It seems that getting freshwater is more complex than getting rid of used water.
I remember that our camp near the military cemetery, they had to bring water by the truckful every day.
22 hours ago

Candace Williams wrote: On a pinch any bucket, preferably with a lid can be a temporary toilet if you can't use your usual one. Urine can go in another container. A man can use a pop bottle.  

It is not that long ago that we had "chamber pots" when there was no convenient running water. The water for *every chore* was drawn from a bucket out of the outside well. In hotels, someone was charged with making the beds, and yes, emptying chamber pots. In large towns, nowadays that this custom is no longer practiced, I would do it in a bucket in a heartbeat: I live far enough out of town. The only problem would be getting rid of it in a large town when everyone is in the same situation. I suppose they could empty in in the storm sewers? It would have to be authorized, I suppose.
In a large town, people can't go anywhere on foot, [think Atlanta] there is the added problem of not being able to get gas at the local gas station that relies on electricity to pump gas out of the underground tank.
As we review and rebuild infrastructure in this country, folks will have to put on their thinking caps or be in a fine mess!
1 day ago
Well, Josephine, I also have some irises that are getting a bit crowded. Turns out they should be split in the Fall, but she is doing it in the spring, which is nice because you can see which part of the plant is best.
She uses a hori knife. I have one and it is really great for working in such tight quarters! It is very sturdy. If you don't have one yet, I can't recommend it enough. Or you could use a sharp spade and dig for the roots if that's all you have.
3 days ago
Here is a link for the “better” dandelions. You would have to research yourself where you can find the seeds in your area:

3 days ago

Josephine Howland wrote:Cecile, I have the same type of "lawn" mother nature planted. We love our dandelions, as well as our orange and yellow Indian paintbrush, and lots of clovers, both red and white. The bees and butterflies enjoy them also.

Oh, yes, Josephine, I do have a little white clover and red clover that I planted in the orchard years ago. They do OK for 2 to 3 years, then they start fading. We also have the tall varieties of white clover and yellow clover [melilotus officinalis]. They flower at slightly different times, so you can extend the season by scattering the seeds together.
Those volunteer along the roads, and it is always a struggle to keep the phone company from spraying them and the County crew from mowing them when they are in bloom! Two years ago, I harvested a little of it from a few plants and planted these seeds in a border. I'll be harvesting them again and again and tuck them in where I don't mow. We also have a few butterfly weeds and the regular asclepias [common milkweeds] that I want to plant under my fruit trees: As long as I can't keep that area free of weeds, I might as well select the weeds I want to colonize around the trees, right?
Also from the ditch, I harvested a few liatris. It was quite easy in the Fall to go around and grab the spikes and pull the seeds off. On some, the bulb came with it! [A small bulb, the size of a hazelnut] I took half a dozen and planted them in one of my borders. Bees and butterflies come on them. It is a real joy. I love that they start flowering from the top and can make a real showing in the border. With a little improvement in the soil, they will be quite something to marvel at. I put the link for the search page so you can see the variety. Do you have some too?

4 days ago
I have dandelion in the 'lawn' that we have. [We never planted it, just removed dead trees and brush and started mowing] Also painter's brush [orange and yellow] and miner's lettuce or an acceptable facsimile: [It is a perennial and I eat it in my sandy zone 4b].

Getting back to dandelions, I've made wine from the flowers years ago, before I got into honeybees. The wine was OK, but as we say in French "It didn't break 3 legs on a duck" [Ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard].
To me the advantage of letting them grow is my honey bees and other pollinators crave them so early in the spring, plus the beautiful yellow flowers!
When you think of the price we pay to "naturalize crocuses" so we have yellow spring flowers in the lawn!
What folks object to I think is the 'past floral' stage, when you have balls of seeds that blow in the wind, leaving the ugly stalk standing there. [Roses have thorns, and we pay through the nose for a good variety! So what have we got against dandelions?]
A friend of ours is into green lawns. That is his business: Removing anything that is not just grass, fertilizing, mowing getting rid the [contaminated] grass at the dump for his customers. He was pretty surprised [and disgusted] to see me grab an old vacuum cleaner on its last leg and set about vacuuming my lawn to harvest the seeds. I told him it is for the orchard that doesn't have any dandelions yet. [My mower is a mulch mower, so that is why the vacuum.] The look on his face was worth it!
My understanding is that there is a 'civilized' version of dandelions that grows bigger. I'd like to get myself some to see if my bees like it: This one has larger roots, so more leaves in the spring, before it flowers for salads. Once those gorgeous flowers grow, the leaves turn bitter, although the chickens still love it. The root is great too as a diuretic. Plus it makes an ACCEPTABLE coffee substitute [in war times!]. The French name is "pissenlit". literally "piss in the bed". I was looking at the price of the root, dried into a powder: From $11.00 -$17.00/Lbs.! I may have a fortune on my lawn!
On the north side of the house, there is a patch of moss. I love it: I do not need to mow it and it is always green, contrary to my lawn which turns totally brown in the summer.
4 days ago

John F Dean wrote:I live in an area that has experienced a lack of power for a week.   While I am still on the grid, I do have solar and a gas generator. I also have a quality hand pump on the well. I am looking into an LP generator that can be remotely started.  I have begun construction on two methane generators.  

Where did you get your hand pump, John? We've already made the decision to get  something done about having a hand pump that could not freeze, but we are stuck. We'd like one we don't have to prime every time we get some water.
About LP generators with a key fob, I found this list:
5 days ago
Parmentier said that to get your starter going faster, you could cheat by adding some baker's yeast the first time. I just put this cheat note in there but this would add a bit of gluten. [I'm wondering because is there gluten in baker's yeast? I suspect so but I'm not sure].. maybe not so much that it would matter for Celiac people, but if you do not have Celiac...  also, this would be a one off, so after a few batches, there wouldn't be much gluten left of that original starter...
6 days ago
I was checking an article on Parmentier, the French guy who introduced the potato to France after being forced to eat potato in a Prussian prisoner camp in 1778. [Potatoes were considered OK for hogs and prisoners. I found an original recipe in French that dragged over a hundred pages [He was defending the tuber plus explaining it to a bunch of sceptics who had never used potatoes or didn't believe he could get potatoes to rise. The measures were in old French  Ounces and Pounds so I had to convert but I think they are close enough to the oz and Lbs we are used to that it may not need converting. It is indeed possible to make bread out of potatoes and *only* potatoes. It is more involved than wheat bread because everything takes longer, from preparing a starter "sourdough" to baking it in a low oven, but he said he ended up with a totally white bread, and it will be perfect for Celiac people because it does not use any gluten, which is the protein responsible for that allergy. I apologize for the length of the post but I condensed a 200+ page book dedicated entirely to make that bread.
Parmentier’s recipe for making potato bread.
He made his own yeast, somewhat like we create a sourdough starter, and it needs to be cut in half and renewed every time you make a new batch of bread, just like you keep the sourdough alive. This yeast, just like for sourdough bread gets better with age.
Other than that, it is relatively easy to make potato bread that does not contain *any* wheat flour, therefore no gluten..
The ingredients are simple and few:
Potato starch [from raw potatoes] Peel and grate with a fine rasp, add water and squeeze through a cloth. The water will precipitate and at the bottom of the bowl, you will get potato starch, which you can evaporate and keep on hand.
Potato pulp [from boiled potatoes] peel and boil. The water could be kept to add as the "hot water".
A bit of salt. [More for flavor as the bread has a "wild taste"
Very HOT water. [He insists on that I don't know if the type of starter thus created is immune to very hot water??]
This will be the basic composition of the bread, and of the starter. And every time you make more potato bread, you will be adding *all* these ingredients again in the same proportions. The long fermentation time is what creates the bread work.
For those who already make their own bread, the main difference I see it that it takes longer for every phase of production: The *original* yeast takes about 6 days to prepare, After you punch it down, rising still takes about twice as long as wheat bread, baking is done with a lower temperature and takes longer. But you do get a delicious white bread for your efforts.
Since Parmentier didn’t have the type of ovens we have now, he cooked with a wood stove/ oven.
He would prepare the dough the evening before, after making a starter. [The first starter takes 6 days] In the morning, he’d punch the dough and shape the loaves, put them in a damp and warm environment, covered. [He didn't have plastic film so he often sprinkled water before he covered it. After 4 hours, he’s start the wood stove, which would take about 2 hours to get to the desired temperature. [So that accounts for the 6 hours]. Then you finally put the loaves in the oven and bake about 2 hours. He repeats that this is an important point: a low oven and a long time in the oven. [For comparison, wheat bread takes only 25 minutes at 350F]. If it cooks too hot, all the moisture might evaporate too fast, a crust would form prematurely and prevent the center from getting cooking fully.
These are the proportions given in French pounds and ounces in the 1780s for 1 French pound of cooked bread at the time: With my nimble converter:
9 ounces of starch [9.71oz]
9 ounces of potato pulp [9.71oz]
4 ounces of hot water [4.31oz]
"That mixture adds up to 22 ounces of dough, of which 6 ounces of water evaporate during cooking, leaving a loaf of bread weighing one pound".
The salt is there for taste.
To prepare the dough to bake, place the yeast in the center, surrounded by the hot potato pulp in chunks. Add the hot water and salt and knead vigorously until you have homogeneous dough. Here is a French link which is a pain to use but anyway... I have not made it yet, so if you try it, please let me know how that turned out. We have tons of potatoes around here, so making bread out of potatoes rather than wheat berries you have to mill etc. is interesting.
6 days ago

Jenny Pear wrote:We just had a series of bad weather that left A LOT of people (nothing like Texas though!  My heart goes out to everyone there...) out of power for a week or longer.  This happened during and after an ice storm and it was a real wake-up call.  The household was out of power for 9 days total.  

Yikes! where are you to experience 9 days without juice? We have a couple of chest freezers and yes, putting snow or ice in them will keep everything safe. You have it right about the mindset: If you don't determine that no matter what you will trudge along, you can easily have a terrible time. I'm happy you kept your wits about you and fared OK. We are investigating a hand pump that would not freeze so we can pull water if the electricity goes out. Boiling snow so you can lush the john is tough! I have an outdoor toilet [not 100% legal] if we have to if we could not flush, but that is about it. In the winder, lack of electricity would be catastrophic as there is no way to pump gas at the gas station, so no way to go anywhere, buy any supplies [the pantry is over full, and so are the freezers, and we don't move much anyway, but still]. Good you got the electricity back.
Our plumbing system and the roof is built Wisconsin strong, so no risk for freezing pipes or collapsing roof. Even with a few days at -40F. [wind-chill] I still feel lucky.
1 week ago