Self-Sufficient Christmas

Every Christmas Eve, we do two things at our house. First, we go to our church for a short devotional, after which every single person is given a brown paper bag with an orange, peanuts in the shell, and a few candies. This tradition began 70 years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, when this was a very small town indeed, and families were looking at quite a bleak Christmas. The Burgess family owned an orchard (they still do), and they scrounged up some apples and a bit of candy and gave them to everyone in the town at church on Christmas Eve. There is no more perfect way to celebrate Christmas Eve, and we never miss it.

Afterward, we came home through the blowing snow to my scratch stew. This year, our stew was completely self-sufficient. You can see a picture of it above. The carrots were from our winter garden. I used in two kinds of potatoes, white russets and a rare all-red potato. The onions are from our garden, and, I'm proud to say, even the beef is from our property. Normally our beef comes from my parents' farm. Now we have our own beef. I diced an entire rump roast for this stew.

Delicious, and wholly self-sufficient. This self-provident stew is probably a close replica of what the original folk here would have eaten on Christmas Eve during the Great Depression. Certainly most of the farming families (it was all farming families then) would have used their own vegetables in their winter soup, and most likely their own protein too. Having our brown paper sack with an orange and peanuts, and a Christmas devotional, and self-provident stew felt like a humble and appropriate way to remember those who came before us, and their sacrifices. -Caleb

Fresh Lettuce, Yet It's 5 Degrees!

Today, Dec. 20, 2012 at dusk (4:45 p.m.) it was 24 degrees in my garden. Yesterday it never got above freezing at all, and last night the low was 5 degrees -- so cold we had to run the kitchen faucet all night to keep the pipes from freezing. Despite all this, we have a bounty of wonder in the outside garden.

It bumped above freezing long enough this afternoon to melt a little bit of the snow, so when me and the kids went out to pick lettuce, the cold frames were literally frozen to the ground -- some of them I couldn't pry open at all. Here is what we got -- fresh lettuce, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard (pictured above). There are lots of other things out there too -- carrots, rutabaga, onions, peas, and more. If I ever get a half-hour I'll try to finish posting the photos from the full December winter garden tour.

One more thing before I sign off. When it was 24 degrees in the garden, we decided to go warm up in the geothermal greenhouse -- where it was a balmy 80 degrees! So warm and beautiful we didn't want to leave. I checked on the 50 varieties of seeds I planted a couple days ago, and the kids dug in the dirt and played. It's warmer in there than it is in the house! No artificial heat or electricity, either in the garden or in the greenhouse, yet full of fresh food, despite the bitter 5 degrees last night. -Caleb

Winter Garden -- Geothermal Greenhouse Dec. 2012

Here are pictures from my geothermal greenhouse -- heated by the heat of the earth, watered with snowmelt and rainwater all winter. No electricity, no running water, no artificial heat!

First, the good news about the tomatoes: I found the first two red tomatoes of winter! Now, the bad news: I went on vacation for a week, and forgot to water the greenhouse before I left, and the sun came out and it was 140 degrees in the greenhouse when I got home -- and the tomatoes were wilted from lack of water. I saved them, and but as you can see above, the plants are not looking the best. But there is more good news -- the plants are shooting our new, strong sprouts, and the sprouts are flowering, thank goodness. My fresh winter tomatoes are my pride and joy.

I bought this Kadota fig tree two and a half years ago at a nursery in St. George. I’d never had a fig tree before, but this variety is stable down to 35 degrees, so I knew it would be fine over winter in my greenhouse. It spent the summer outside in the garden, and last winter in the greenhouse. I assumed it would go dormant, and I didn’t water it, and all the leaves fell off, which I assumed was dormancy, and it nearly died of lack of water before I wised up. The root survived, and what you see above is all new growth from this summer, where it spent the summer in the garden again. In October I brought it into the greenhouse again, and have kept it well watered, and lo and behold -- the leaves have not fallen off, and neither has the fruit. But the fruit has also not ripened. Last summer it ripened all summer and I ate it all. Hmmm. I think it needs compost. Will these figs ever ripen? I’m hoping to see progress after the winter solstice at the end of the December. The solstice has a magical effect on plants in winter. (The solstice is the day when day and night are equal, and then the days begin to lengthen thereafter.)

The traditional winter cantaloupe, grown in hot beds in winter for hundreds of years. Mine got hit by the same heat and lack of water that hit the tomatoes, but is still alive. It should begin to thrive after the solstice. I’ll keep you informed. 

This is my three-year-old stevia plant. This is the plant they use to make natural sugar. Some of you have tasted it on my garden tours -- pure sugar in the leaves. I use it in recipes coming out in the back of my winter gardening novel -- yes, novel -- in April 2013! Each winter, the stems die back and the plant resprouts from the base. Above you can see the new shoots. I’m hoping to sell some live stevia starts this spring -- if I get around to doing the propagation.

Last winter, I wanted flowers in my greenhouse over winter for a splash of color, so I went to a local nursery and bought some pansies -- the only thing they had. Little did I know the plants were infested with aphids, which immediately infested my greenhouse. (I dealt with it organically and successfully and self-sufficiently. There is a whole chapter about it in my vegetable-by-vegetable guide to winter gardening, coming to bookstores everywhere April 2013 -- yes, I have TWO books coming out in April! Anyway, disheartened, I went back to the 200 year old books to see what people were growing in their greenhouses -- and found geraniums were among the best. So I got some geranium seed and sprouted these geraniums. I left them in the greenhouse all summer in the 140 degree heat and I assumed they would die, but they just hung out all summer -- and now they are thriving in December! Best of all, no aphids!
This is a Christmas cactus. No sign of blooms yet. This also spent all summer in the greenhouse, bearing the heat, and it is growing and happy in December now.

Three winters ago, my neighbor came over one day with a pineapple top they had planted and kept in the garden just for fun. It was growing, and they didn’t have a greenhouse, so she said, here, you have a greenhouse, you take it. So I did. Over the summer it looked like it was dying -- and then this fall, it sprouted a whole new plant off the side, as you can see above! So perhaps I will eventually get a fresh pineapple?! We’ll see. I’’m told it takes three years to mature a pineapple plant, so maybe this plant is on schedule. 

This is a test of greenhouse peas. I have done some testing of winter peas in the outside garden, but not a lot in the greenhouse. I was out of the peas I usually plant in the greenhouse over winter, so I’m trialing two new varieties. I planted these about three and a half weeks ago I believe. Both types are doing well, but one kind, over the past few days, has suddenly begun to shoot up and grow taller than the other. But both types have about the same amount of leaves per plant, and it is the number of leaves that determines the number of peas the plant will grow, so being taller may not actually mean anything in the end. I’ll keep you updated in January.

Well, with every success there is also problems. Some animal -- I suspect a vole -- has dug into my greenhouse to eat my chard. I”ve filled the hole and saved it once, and I’m trying to save it again. This chard plant is three years old. But it is December -- I suppose the vole is hungry. Luckily, I have LOTS of chard in the outside garden. 

This is my orange tree -- interestingly, it does better in winter than in summer. The greenhouse has some humidity and I think the dry summer hurts it. Now if I could just get some oranges...

And this has nothing to do with the greenhouse, but I thought I’d give a quick update on our baby chicks. They were hatched out, naturally, by one of our hens on Nov. 12 -- extremely unusual. We had three. When we came home from vacation, one had vanished. But the two that are left are thriving, despite the bitter cold. They have a good mom!

Christmas gifts from me to you -- recipes, seeds, yeast

As my Christmas gift to my blog readers, below you will find free recipes. And I’m encouraging everyone to give self-sufficiency for Christmas this year in the form of heirloom vegetable seeds. The squash seeds from our property -- all meticulously isolated for purity -- are available now, with winter lettuces, etc. I’m also giving free seeds with any order of $15 or more (my choice). I’m offering free LIVE natural yeast with every paid seed order of $15 or more. Check here to see the list of my seeds, which include some of the rarest in the world!

If you’d like signed copies of my books to give for Christmas, please email me with your order. Forgotten Skills is $20 for two copies, plus $5 shipping. Art of Baking with Natural Yeast is $25 for two copies, plus $5 shipping. To order, email

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  -Caleb

Recipe copyright Caleb Warnock

1. Wash a winter squash. Cut into large chunks.

2. Steam on the stove with a blossom steamer or steamer pot. Dense squash (hubbards or Potimarron, etc. ) will be done in 20 minutes. Light squash (pumpkins) will take longer -- about 30 minutes.

3. Pierce with a fork to check that squash is now tender. Serve with butter.


3. let the squash cool about an hour. Using a butter knife or steak knife, remove skin from each piece. Puree in a blender, or through a mesh strainer using a spatula.

Recipe copyright Caleb Warnock

1 medium butternut or other winter squash, cooked
1 cup cream
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 carrots, finely diced
1 onion, chopped

1. Put broth, salt, chopped onion, cream, and cooked pumpkin into blender for 20 seconds.
2. Put pumpkin mixture into a crockpot on low. Add carrots. Cook 3-4 hours on low. Enjoy!

Fresh Winter Garden -- December Lettuce 2012

Hello All :) Here is the December 2012 update on my winter garden. Below is what my garden looked like on Dec. 11. Two nights before these photos were taken, the low temperature was 9 degrees. Despite the chill, a FRESH winter garden is not only possible, but will possibly be the easiest gardening you've ever done.

If you look carefully, you can see my simple cold frames under the snow. Below are pictures of what these cold frames are hiding from winter! Keep in mind there is absolutely no electricity or artificial heat involved here. Just a cold frame -- varieties of which have been used for more than 2,000 years. The first documented cold frame was used by Emperor Tiberius in the first century Rome. He grew cucumbers in winter. I wish I had his seed. I'm still trying to find a winter cucumber.  

Here is a picture of some of the winter lettuce inside the first cold frame:

This is a larger view of the same cold frame, showing several varieties of winter lettuce:


Here is a different variety of lettuce in cold frame #2. This lettuce is Winter Green Jewel Romaine, an heirloom (never hybrid). I'm the only seller of this seed in the world. This is the world's best winter lettuce. You'll see more of it in a moment.

Below is a picture of Winter Green Jewel Romaine sticking out of a cold frame, with snow on it, and it as been exposed to a night of 9 degrees -- and it hardly seems to notice!

This is my largest cold frame of lettuce. It is about 8 feet long and two feet wide. There are mustard greens up front, and the rest if Winter Green Jewel Romaine:

What can I say? I even have winter frogs :) I bought this in Oregon and had forgotten all about it until I found it in a sea of snow. I couldn't resist a picture.

This is cold frame #4, with several test varieties, and one proven variety:

This is a close-up of the east end of cold frame #4. In the back you will see Caleb's Deep Winter, which I introduced to the U.S. this year. I am the only seller of this seed in the country. (I am now sold out of this variety.)

Cold frame #5: This is the fastest growing lettuce I've ever found, and I've tried probably 100 different kinds of lettuce (and will try more this summer). You can also see multiplier onions in here. This lettuce gets huge and has already been cut down. It grows right back, despite the temperatures. 

Caleb is Mouthy. Get Over it! :)

I got this in an email from one of my friends, yoga classmates, and former students. Every word of it is true. Enjoy! -Caleb

PS - I know a lot of you out there could add to this list. If you want to, email me your "calebisms" and I'll post them here for the world :)

Hi Caleb,
I came across a list I had made in class of fabulous one liners you said, so in the spirit of holiday giving I am passing that on to you :)
  • Every word I say is fascinating 
  • Nyquil all the children (instructing a class member about how to find time to write)
  • I am a rather genius teacher
  • I do have an inflated opinion of myself
  • I don't know why all you people are piping up with your opinions as if they mattered (my personal favorite)
  • We need a man in this class - or at lease some sturdy lesbians
  • OK back to me and my point
  • You did it! I'm a genius!
Happy holidays! - Katarina

And more Calebisms, from my friend Tanya (all of these are also true -- I said them. I admit it.)

"If your manuscript begins with 'It,' go ahead and turn around." (meaning, LEAVE)

"Stick a pin in everyone."

"Let's wallop him. Do it with some chutzpah!"

"I'm a little afraid of me."

"Never underestimate the power of my arrogance!"

"Save these golden dewdrops falling from my mouth."

Sorry, But Commercial Fresh Yeast is Not Natural

Sigh. I just got off the phone with the corporate office of Kneaders Bakery and Cafe.

Here's the problem, which a lot of people are confused about. My wife came home a couple days ago with a take-out bag from Kneaders. Here is what it says on the bag: "We love great European bread! We love everything about it -- the simple pleasure of kneading it by hand, the rich aroma of the levain (natural yeast)..." The parentheses are theirs, not mine.

The moment I read this on their bag, I knew it was not true. I wish there was a "magic" natural yeast -- by magic I mean a natural yeast that acts like the genetically modified yeast used commercially and sold in grocery stores.

But there is not.

And I also knew exactly what was going on with Kneaders -- they are not trying to lie to their customers. They just don't know what they are talking about. They have confused "natural" yeast with "fresh" yeast, like so many other people.

There has been a lot of confusion about this lately. I've been getting a lot of emails about it. Here is an email I got this morning from Arlene Butler, who is the Taste of Home field editor & former writer for the food section of the Ogden Standard-Examiner:

"Ten years ago my son brought a sourdough start home from his mission. It's history goes back to the Yukon & Alaska gold rush. It is an amazing start! It has a good balanced flavor and is very vigorous. I guess it had to be vigorous to survive the cold (minus 50). We also tried several other starts including a Mormon pioneer start that the people in Ft. Bridger WY have kept going but it was not as strong - the loaf was heavier.  No other starts have compared to this one. I just wanted to share that this start has gone 4-5 months (while I remodeled my kitchen) without being fed!  I am not sure why you have to feed yours twice a week but I am thinking it is because you are keeping it active."

Here is what I wrote back to her: 

"Thank you for your email. The problem with so-called "gold rush" starts is that the recipe to "start" them is to go to the store, buy dry yeast, and make a "start" -- which means that the start is simply fresh yeast, not natural yeast. Which is why your start was so vigorous (it is genetically modified and not natural). Kneaders is also advertising that they are using "natural" yeast but if you call their corporate headquarters, they say it is fresh yeast. Which means it is genetically modified and not natural. Melissa and I are very, very careful to make sure that any yeast we use and hand out is documented natural yeast. This is because if the yeast is just fresh, it does not predigest the gluten, which is exactly the same as using grocery store yeast. I hope that helps."

I spoke this morning to the corporate headquarters for Kneaders. David Vincent is their corporate baker and yeast expert. He had no idea that commercial yeast is genetically modified and is not natural. Here is what he said, through a spokeswoman, to me: "We do use a commercial yeast, so there is no guarantee that it is not genetically modified."

So what they are advertising as "natural yeast" on their take-out bags is actually just fresh yeast. There is so little education about the fact that commercial yeast has been genetically modified to be vigorous, but not to eat the gluten. I don't know what to do about this except keep speaking out and trying to educate people.

This is a painful subject for me because I have a friend who bought an enormous quantity of my books and immediately went to a local bakery, bought some of their fresh yeast, and started using in all our recipes. And it works perfect. Unfortunately, it is genetically modified and not at all natural. I have not had the heart to tell her this yet. I got another email earlier this week from someone who said to me that they wanted to use "dry active yeast" from the grocery store as natural yeast in our recipes. In our book I wrote that yeast was genetically modified in 1984. This person's logic was this: Dry active yeast -- freeze dried yeast -- was invented in World War II and therefore should still be natural as long as it is not labeled "rapid rise" yeast.

Here is the problem. Since our book was published, I have learned that yeast was genetically modified long before 1984. In fact, yeast is the preferred and original test subject for genetic modification. This is because it grows very fast, is a simple organism, and is free. If has been used by universities and laboratories to study genetics for decades. It is the most used genetic modification test subject still to this day, because it is free and easy to use, and there are more than 1,000 varieties occurring in nature, so there is lots of room for study and work. I have not yet been able to determine what year yeast in the grocery store first became genetically modified, but I now know for sure that it was before 1984.

Here is the other problem, to be frank. I preface this by saying that I'm not complaining, I'm simply explaining. I have other books to write, and other work to do (not the least of which is my full-time job), and no one is paying us for all this work and research. Our publisher has sold 10,000 copies now of our natural yeast cookbook, for which I will, in six months, be paid $2,000 as my wage. And that is less than I spent on photography of the recipes and supplies for creating my recipes in the book. So I've made exactly $0 for three years of work. I will continue to work on yeast research as I can, but you have to understand that this is volunteer work on my part, even though it directly affects the health of hundreds of millions of people who are being made sick because genetically modified yeast does not digest the gluten in flour. I'm doing what I can, as fast as I can. -Caleb

This is What Winter Gardening Looks Like -- Nov. 5 2012

Because there is so much interest in winter gardening when I give speeches and garden tours --  and so little first-hand experience out there -- I’m determined to keep a monthly update on this blog of the winter garden this year. So today I’m going to take you on a garden tour. All of these photos were taken in my backyard garden today, Nov. 5 2012.

Above is a picture of thyme in a glass cloche. I've been collecting glass cloches from thrift and antique stores -- this is a glass jar kept upside down. 

Two more glass cloches, each with lemon balm under them. If given some protection, lemon balm is perennial.

You can't hardly see it, but there is a spinach plant in this cloche. I found two of these glass cones at a thrift store for $1 each!

This is one of my homemade cold frames filled with the fastest growing winter lettuce -- it grows an astonishing four times faster than any other lettuce -- Grand Rapids. We had this lettuce for dinner last night. 

This is inside another homemade cold frame -- spinach and a rare Chinese kale.

This is some of the 109 square feet of winter wheat planted in my garden right now. This wheat will never need any protection, and it will be ready to harvest in the first week of June. This is my largest wheat planting in my garden to date -- all from our own seed. I started with about 20 grains of antique wheat and have now grown it out to this!

A glass cloche on the left with Swiss chard on the right. This chard has not had any protection yet because it has been unseasonably warm.

This is a view inside another one of my homemade cold frames. On the left half you see my bush beans. On the right you see some of my multiplier onions. Because the onions are so tall, I had to put a big frame over them -- but that meant lots of empty air space above the beans, and on a night when it hit 10 degrees outside, the top leaves of the beans froze. I should have put them in their own fitted frame. 

This is a view of multiplier onions and a whole bunch of self-planted Swiss chard. All of this has been outside without any protection so far. 

This is inside another cold frame, this one purchased from the internet for about $120. These are cabbages and lentils. 

A close-up of my lentils in flower -- in November! This is only possible in a cold frame. It's taken me five years to find a lentil seed that would grow in my very, very short growing season with alkaline soil. I will sell a very limited supply of these lentil seeds between now and Christmas. 

These are the cabbages we are eating now. These cabbages are 20 months old, and spent all of last winter under a cold frame. If you look closely you can see on the bottom left and bottom right that there are new baby cabbages too. 

What is this ugly photo, you say? This is one of my winter lettuce trials. This is a section of three lettuces planted a couple weeks ago and grown without any protection so far. The two stones in the center mark the three sections. You can see the lettuce in the center has failed to thrive. The lettuce on the right is doing okay, but the lettuce on the left is really thriving. We'll see how it does over the next two months. 

This is an overview of my perennial herbs -- savory, garlic chives, parsley, lemon balm, time, bergomot. 

This is a close-up of Marvel of Four Seasons, inside a homemade cold frame.

This is Green Oak Leaf lettuce, inside a cold frame.

This is Red Iceberg, which is a ballhead lettuce. This is a little baby, just planted about a month ago. It will begin to form a ballhead in late January.

These are a variety of winter pea that withstands hard frosts! These have been in a cold frame. I have another section of a different type of pea that is actually doing better than these, but I forgot to take a picture :(

These are the rutabaga. The deer started eating them, so I set a cheap wire cage over them. They will be ready to harvest for Thanksgiving, fingers crossed!

This is a purple mustard greens plant, and it has not had any protection yet this winter.

Inside a cold frame full of my Winter Green Jewel romaine lettuce, with some more purple mustards up front.

This is our former glass front door to the house, now being used to cover a raise bed of fall-planted carrots, which are thriving.

This is Caleb's Deep Winter lettuce, in a cold frame.

These are some of the rarest onions in the world, and certainly the rarest onions in this country -- I am the only one growing them. These are the best winter onions according to historic garden writers. I'm trying to save them from extinction. The seed for these were flown in from the Netherlands for me by the federal government. I planted the seeds in Feb. 2012 -- these are the same plants, being saved for seed. My friends have been saying we should sacrifice one so that we can see what this very rare onion tastes like, but a tasting will have to wait at least another year -- everyone of of them is needed for seed production right now. 

Some makeshift cloches covering baby leaks, with a garden decoration.

A close-up of baby leeks in a cloche.

More leeks thriving in a cloche.

These are a cloche of those very rare onions you saw a moment ago. These were planted from seed a few weeks ago. There is very little of the seed left, and no way to get more.

An overview of some of the cloches. In the front is a 2-foot-deep hot bed made of a mix of natural materials, topped with an old bale of grass hay while it heats up. I just made this hot bed a couple days ago, and when I finish it I will plant more peas. I really wish I'd planted a lot more peas -- we could eat them all.

This is a glass house covering four huge collard greens plants. 

This is a closeup of some mature Swiss chard which has not been covered with any protection yet this year.

One of my pride and joys -- a baby cantaloupe plant in November! This is one of the rare cantaloupes that used to grown historically over the winter. This is being kept alive by a three-foot-deep hot bed. Cross your fingers for me!

This is a broody hen. She is sitting on 10 eggs. Last year I had not one but two broods of chicks hatched out here in October -- a feat so rare that a picture of it ran in the local paper. I've never, ever heard of a hen hatching out chicks in November -- its a frightening comment on how unusually hot it is this winter here. Nevertheless, we've had no other chicks born here this year, so we really want this brood to be a success!

These are figs on my fig tree in my geothermal greenhouse.

This is a peach tree, which I grew this year from seed, and a Swiss chard plant that is almost three years old, in the geothermal greenhouse. 

The winter tomatoes are coming along beautifully in the geothermal greenhouse! Here is a closeup of a roma tomato.

The tomato plants in the geothermal greenhouse are a whooping 7 feet tall! They fill the greenhouse from top  to bottom -- and it is hard to get a picture!

Carrots and lettuces under cold frames. 

This is an overview of part of my garden -- you can see a bunch of cold frames in the front right, and composting beds topped with sand on the front left, with my scarecrow and bunches of cold frames in the background.

Thanks for touring my winter garden! My vegetable by vegetable guide to winter gardening -- the first we know of to ever be published in the U.S. -- hits bookstores in April 2013!