Monday, April 21, 2008

Wild Fermentation Update

This is for Robbyn who is homesteading in Florida and has expressed an interest in wild fermentation.
Well we have had some successes and a major failure. 
First the successes. Kefir is very easy to make once you have the grains to start it with. We got ours at the silent auction at the Georgia Organics conference a couple of months ago. We have made kefir from coconut milk and raw cow's milk. Both are really tasty. The cow's milk kefir gets really thick and tastes like feta cheese. We could definitely drain off the whey(?) and have some simple cheese. We keep about 3 cups going all the time.
The collard kraut turned out to be very tasty. We put it in beans, soups, on cheese sandwiches. If you add it to something hot, do it at the last minute so you don't kill the microorganisms in it. They are really good for your digestion and nutritious too. As you can see we've almost eaten it all. Cabbage is on the way.
The brined carrots on the other hand didn't fare very well. It's my fault. I was lazy and didn't tend to them as i should have. The process is an anaerobic (without oxygen) one. Thats why you put something over the top of the vegetables to keep them submerged under the brine. Sometimes molds do form at the surface which you are supposed to skim off regularly. I didn't keep up with the skimming. Also the water evaporated some exposing more of the carrots to air allowing the molds to grow. I became fascinated by what was growing on the surface so let it continue to grow until my Robin made me throw it out. Hence this update.
We'll be having radishes coming out of our ears soon so i think i'll brine some of them. 
And do my skimming too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Worms are Livestock Too!

I love raising worms. It is the easy way to break down organic waste into fantastically nutritious food for plants. I built 12 bins in the barn in which i'll raise my herd. Yesterday is got in the mail 10 pounds of red wigglers. They are consumers of partially decomposed organic matter and live in the forest duff not down in the soil like earthworms. I filled 2 bins half way with material that has been composting since 4 pm on March 22 according to those meticulous records i referred to in the last post. I put 5 lbs. of worms in each bin and filled them the rest of the way with the partially decomposed organic matter. I mounded each bin up above the sides. During the process of decomposition by the worms the mass will be reduced by about 50% as co2 and other gasses are given off during the process. Over the top i put a wet burlap bag. I sometimes use wet cardboard. Worms need to be kept moist and they need air. The organic material should be coarse to allow for good drainage and thus aeration to keep the worms happy and reproducing. There 2 rewards from worm composting. One is the worm castings (yea it is worm poop) the other is more worms. After 60-90 days the worms will have consumed all of the organic matter and will have had many orgies producing many eggs that hatch into many more worms. When the process is complete i will separate the worms from the poop (i'll describe that process when we do it) and start 4 more bins. After the next cycle i'll be able to start 8 bins, then 16, etc. But since i only have 12 bins , i,ll either have to build more bins or sell worms or both. Probably both.
My bins are 3' x 2' x 16" deep. Why are they that size? because that is the size that fit under the benches in our former greenhouse and could be easily be moved around by 1 person. (the first 6 are on castors so they could be rolled around.) They hold about 2 wheelbarrows of organic matter. After the worms finish their work i can harvest about 150 lbs. of worm castings and 10 lbs. of worms from each bin.
You may be wondering if i bury my kitchen scraps directly in the bins. No I don't. I put them in a pile with weeds, and other green matter from the garden. Worms have tiny mouths and can't bite into fresh greenery. As worm expert Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee said " What's a worm going to do with a potato?" The detritivores (sow bugs, pill bugs, springtails and such) and the microorganisms need the break stuff down into small enough pieces for the worms to ingest them. When the pile gets big enough i start a compost pile. I'll talk about how i spice my compost in a future post. I will start the next compost pile a month before the bins are ready to harvest so i will have fresh partially decomposed material to fill the new bins. Then the process starts all over again.

Oh wait, I almost forgot, what i plan to do with the excess worms is feed them to the future chickens and the way in the future fish livestock.
All part of my cunning permaculture plan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Keeping it Greens

Michael Pollan put it best but I don't  remember exactly what it was he said. Something like " eat vegetables, not too much, mostly greens." Close enough for this post. I try to follow that dictum (except the part about not too much which is why I'm 20 pounds overweight but thats a topic for another blog.) I want be growing and eating fresh greens 365 days a year. This time of year is sort of the 'tween time when the overwintered collards and kale have started to make seeds ( or been turned into kraut) and the new crop is just starting to sprout from the soil. To bridge the gap I grow what is called by the top chefs i watch on TV microgreens. They use them mostly as decorations (garnish they call it). I eat big bunches of them... in beans, on sandwiches, in soup, everywhere i can find a reason or no reason at all.
Here's how i grow them. I line the bottom of an empty flat with landscape fabric or cardboard or newspaper, anything to keep the soil from falling out the bottom. I fill the flat almost to the top with potting soil to which i have added 25% compost and some organic fertilizer. Then i sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible over the soil. About 2 tablespoons is enough. I use the All Greens mix from Johnny's Seeds which is a mixture of various kales and asian greens. Being a southerner i add some collard seeds too. Yum, collards. then i cover the seeds with about 1/4" of soil mix and water it thoroughly. I put it in our unheated greenhouse but you can put them outside or on a porch or inside until they sprout. Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout. Looking at my meticulous (?) records, i see that i planted them on  March 12 and the seeds germinated in 4 days, right on schedule. We started harvesting on April 10th so it took about a month to get fresh greens. I started some more yesterday. Since it has gotten warmer they will be ready to eat sooner. These are "cut and come again" like mesclun meaning that you cut the tops off with sizzors leaving the central bud and they will grow back in about a week. It takes about 1/3 of a flat to make enough greens to satisfy me for a meal. Being young and tender they need very little cooking time. I throw them into whatever i'm cooking for no more than 5 minutes. That way they are still crisp and full of those nutrients i so carefully provided them in the compost and fertilizer. If you live in a loft or apartment you can do this in a wide pot or bowl. The bowl in the photo above is made from bamboo husks and is biodegradable. It will last 5-6 years.
Tonight we're having cranberry beans and kefir cornbread. Yep i'll be tossing a handful of microgreens into my beans. Yummy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ramblings about Food

I think about food a lot. How much i like it, why do i eat so much, where does it come from, is it good for my body, can i grow it, how do i grow it, how can i cook it, what am i going to cook for dinner.... You get the picture. Tonight i'm making lentil stew for dinner. I like making flavorful mixtures of different ingredients. The stew has animal (diced pancetta ham fried into bacon bits for a garnish at the end- wonder where the pig was grown?), leafy vegetables from my garden, seeds (lentils ... don't know where they came from either), flowers (star anise, very popular among the chefs on the cooking shows i watch and learn from... mainly that fancy food is not good for you... fat, fat, and more fat), fungi (mushrooms), minerals (salt), bacteria (in the collard kraut i fermented which is tasting good now after about 5 weeks), probably lots of other microorganisms too.

I used a variety of cooking methods to prepare the individual ingredients for the stew; frying, sauteing, simmering, fermenting. The end result is very tasty, nutritious, a little fattier than it could have been. All in all it will be a very satisfying experience as soon as i'm done eating too much of it.

By the way, i did some research on star anise. It is the dried flower of Illicium verum. It is hardy to zone 8 and sounds fairly easy to grow so i'm going to plant some seeds and see if they germinate. The flowers are used in homeopathic remedies, chewed after a meal to aid digestion and freshen the breath, and are a main component in the preparation of Tamiflu, the drug that is supposed to protect us from the bird flu epidemic. Ya'll remember the bird flu epidemic don't you. Be careful with those chickens you are growing they might kill you.
Eat More Star Anise!