Horrible name, beautiful plant.
I was intrigued by a recent Terry Gross interview with Sandor Ellix Katz about his book "The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World". Katz explains that fermented foods and beverages have been prepared by humans for over 8000 years. Fermentation is the process whereby cultures of micro-organisms (usually bacteria or yeast), often microbes already naturally present in the food or surrounding environment, are allowed to establish and grow in the food, enhancing flavor and, Katz believes, providing numerous health benefits. (Our own bodies normally contain vast -- VAST -- numbers of living bacteria and other microorganisms, known as our "microbiome", though this fascinating topic is way beyond the scope of this post.) As they grow in the fermenting foods, the microorganisms digest carbohydrates and produce byproducts that impart characteristic flavors. (See "glycolysis" in your biochemistry texts.) For example, both wine and beer are fermented beverages, with sugars converted by yeast to alcohol (and carbon dioxide). In the case of some other fermented foods, lactic acid is the product contributing to the characteristic flavor and texture. Lactic acid gives pickles and sauerkraut their sharp sourness, and the extent of acidity can be controlled, for example, by moving the product to the refrigerator to slow bacterial growth.
In his book, Katz cites an estimate that up to one third of all foods eaten by people worldwide is fermented! Some of the most obvious are the foods and beverages mentioned above, and yogurt. Less obvious are cheese, coffee and bread. Think of those beautiful, strong-flavored ("tres fort") French cheeses laced with colorful, happily metabolizing molds. In bread, the yeast also generate ethanol and carbon dioxide, and the carbon dioxide bubbles help the dough to rise. Katz's interview made me realize that I already use fermentation routinely in some of my cooking, for example, in sourdough bread. I knew already that the sourdough starter that's been brewing in my refrigerator for well over a year is a living culture -- one that seems to rebel by giving me misshapen bread loaves if I ignore it for too many weeks. But, I hadn't quite appreciated its connection to beer, wine or sauerkraut.
Yeast breads are good examples of fermented foods, since the carbon dioxide, produced as the yeast metabolize carbohydrates in the mixture, causes the dough to rise. Sourdough breads, like this one, rely even more on fermentation, since the sourdough starter itself is a simmering culture.
So, I decided to try making other fermented foods, inspired by vegetables growing in our Robbins Farm garden. Katz told Terry Gross that sauerkraut is the simplest fermented food for the beginner. Plus, beautiful fresh cabbage is available in our garden and in local farms right now. I followed the basic procedure suggested by Katz in the radio piece. Essentially, veggies of choice are salted to extract their juices, these juices are squeezed from the vegetables and they are allowed to ferment in their own juices in a sealed jar. Katz advises not adding more water unless it is needed to cover the vegetables, because this will dilute the flavor. I did need to add a little water (he said the vegetables should be covered with liquid) but it did taste pretty good, seasoned only with salt and black pepper. I used fresh green cabbage, scallions and carrots. (Because of availability, only the scallions were from our Garden, while the other vegetables were from Busa Farm.) As Katz had promised, it was a simple dish to make.
My first (only, so far) attempt at sauerkraut, using locally grown green cabbage, scallions, and carrots, and the guidelines described by Katz in his radio interview.
Emboldened by my relative success, I decided to next try making kimchee (or kimchi), the Korean staple that happens to be one of my favorite foods. There are probably as many different kimchee recipes as there are for wines and cheeses. Katz didn't offer a kimchee recipe in his book but I found a recipe online for "Basic Nappa Cabbage Kimchi (Kimchee)" that looked about right. This time, I was able to use nappa cabbage from our Garden. I followed the recipe closely, but used half of all ingredients since it was written for 2 lbs of nappa cabbage. Consult the recipe for further details, but essentially, I began by washing and cutting the cabbage and soaking it in salted water for about 24 hrs, then rinsing and draining it, squeezing out the excess liquid. This leaves it somewhat wilted in appearance. Regarding the other ingredients, I first searched a few Asian markets in the Chinatown area (near where I work) but was concerned that the ingredients, especially the fish sauce and red pepper powder, were not necessarily the Korean style. So, I headed to the amazing, though somewhat overwhelming, H. Mart in Burlington. Here the selection is great, with separate sections for Korean sauces and other items. (And, as it happens, H. Mart carries many types of prepared kimchee, sold in jars in the refrigeration cases, or in bulk by the pound.) To my surprise, even the daikon radish was available in both Chinese and Korean variations, so I took the Korean one. Both are plump and white, but the Korean had a greenish color at the base. Again, the red pepper powder selection was huge, with coarse and fine options and many different brands. I took the one that said "For Kimchi" on it, a coarse grind. While it was produced in China, it was packaged in Korea and, of course, the "For Kimchi" label gave me comfort that it was the right kind.
Shown here are several of the ingredients I used for kimchee. Clockwise from front: Daikon radish ("Korean" according to H. Mart), wild salted shrimp, Korean style fish sauce, Napa cabbage from the Garden (after soaking in salt, draining and squeezing out excess liquid), Coarse ground red pepper powder (marked "For Kimchi"), ginger root. Not shown: scallions
Preparation in progress, prior to adding cabbage and fish sauce to pack into jars.
As I write this, my 1 qt jar of kimchee, after brewing in the basement (a cool, dark place) for a little over 24 hrs, is now fermenting in the refrigerator. Before transferring it to the refrigerator, I opened the lid to release the gases; and, there were gases so we're on the right track!. To be continued......
Additional tips from my friends who have experience making kimchee: Val Hays has used, and recommends, another Kimchee recipe by David Lebovitz. While similar to the one I used, it does not have the salted shrimp, making it a good vegetarian option. MJ Keeler suggests letting the kimchee ferment in the refrigerator for at least a week, rather than the three days (minimum) suggested by the recipe. As I post this, it's been in the refrigerator for three days and we haven't tasted it yet.
Update: We have eaten some of this. It is okay, but I am not thrilled with it. The cabbage is a little tough, and the taste a little bitter. Today (August 11) I got another half cabbage, shared with Dick. I am going to try the other kimchee recipe in this post (David Lebovitz). However, I am slightly concerned that it is our nappa cabbage that is bitter or tough. We will see.....
p.s. Gardeners: I have plenty of the red pepper powder and salted shrimp, as well as extra 1 qt canning jars. Let me know if you want some to try this on your own.
I don't have air-conditioning at home. Some summers, there are a handful of days where, to sleep at night, I have to run a fan drafting air directly over me from toe to head. Last summer I did, but this summer not yet.
Last summer, our "dwarf" okra grew over six feet tall. This summer it seems resigned to at most two feet. I think it's the lack of truly hot nights that has held back the okra: it just hasn't triggered it's growth spurt. It's already beginning to flower, so I think now it's too late.
Plants can "observe" their environment, and integrate (sum up and average) such things as daylight and temperature, by accumulating certain chemicals. When they build up enough, that triggers a change. Quite possibly, okra is observing the average temperature, and nightly lows, in order to decide whether to switch to giant growth mode.
So next year, let's hope I have a few insufferably hot nights in July, so our smart okra decides it's okay to be a giant!
A sphinx moth has dropped by the garden once again. That's the parent of the hornworm caterpillar Lisa found munching last week on one of our green tomatoes.
The hornworm looks like something out of a medieval fairytale. It's bright green with slanted white stripes and dark eye-spots on its sides and a curved black horn extending out from its rear end.
Because their coloring is so close to that of the plants they visit, hornworms can be hard to spot at first, clinging as they do to the underside of the branches they defoliate. But once you see one, you think you're looking at a miniature monster.
A hornworm brigade attacked our tomatoes two summers ago. Fortunately, however, right behind them came a flight of parasitic wasps launching a counterattack of their own. They stopped most of the hornworms in their tracks, but not before the little monsters had stripped bare the tops of several tomato plants.
So far this summer, we've spotted just one horn worm, and no parasitic wasps.
Curiously enough, this time the hornworm did not go for the tomato plant's leaves. This time Lisa found him munching on a tomato.
Most of the corn plants in our Three Sisters bed have reached the tassel stage, and some of them have also reached the silk stage. This is important, because corn has both male and female parts -- that is, the silk and the tassel.
Alan was nice enough to snap this photo of the golden and red tassels formed on our popcorn plants:
Proper soil moisture, as well as air temperature, are both critical to having both the tassel and silk appear at the same time, and therefore create the proper circumstances for successful pollination. Many of our crop plants are pollinated by insects, (e.g., bees, wasps, moths and ground beetles), but corn is different. The corn plant depends on wind to carry the pollen from a tassel to the silk strands that form at the top of each potential ear of corn.
For more info, click here for the Top 5 Things to Know about Corn Pollination.
When sweet corn is in season -- as it is right now -- we eat a lot of it. Usually, we are corn purists: just boil it quickly, sprinkle it with salt or Campmix, and eat it right off the cob. Yesterday, though, I wanted to try something different with our sweet corn, fresh from Busa's Farm. (In the Robbins garden, the corn in our Three Sisters plot is a decorative popping corn so we can't use it for this recipe.). With the corn, I bought a bunch of gigantic, freshly picked scallions, also grown at Busa's.
The recipe, Quinoa and Fresh Corn with Scallions is from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone". (Highly recommended book, by the way!) A photo of Deborah's recipe is shown, but I varied it slightly. I used more vegetables: 5 ears of corn and 3 of the huge scallions. Instead of the Tbsp butter or canola oil, I used 3 Tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil and 1 tsp butter. I also sauteed the corn and scallions longer than the recipe recommends, til the scallions were wilted. I used an organic tricolor quinoa from Trader Joes.
I thought this would be good, but didn't think it would be SO good. John (who is really into corn in its "purist" preparation and also does not get very excited about some of the grains I like) loved it! We didn't even add the cheese that the recipe suggests -- it was delicious all by itself, seasoned with salt and pepper. We had it as a side dish with grilled fish.
By the way, the beautiful bowl in the photos was made by my friend Amy Goldstein, at Mudflat Studio.
It started cloudy, but as gardeners arrived, the sun came out in full force. Despite being past 9AM, the far left corner still had a bit of shade from the tall trees at the edge of the Park.
A white board of to-do activities, prepared by the planners, organizes our work. It's harvesting time! Lush eggplant of both the long Asian and the fat Italian varieties are joyfully picked. Bush beans of all three colors --green, yellow, purple-- are available, but the soybeans are not yet ready. Some summer squash, several cucumbers. A debate ensues over how much lettuce to pick, as what we may leave behind may bolt or turn bitter in the hot weather. Our next generation of seedlings were only planted last week, so are not ready for transplant to take the place of the picked lettuce. We also planted more lettuce today. Collard greens are plentifully abundant, although many gardeners prefer the swiss chard.
There is much promise of more to come. The tall corn displays purple and golden tassels. Immature pumpkins and watermelons hide in the trellis of leaves. We added more support (netting them with plastic mesh) to some of them. The winter squash has plenty of flowers, and the Jerusalem artichokes are blooming. The sunflowers seemed to have shaken off the early-season leaf eaters, and are climbing high. And even the weeds are prospering, encroaching from the paths even as the vegetables encroach onto the paths. We'll have to do something about that.
We applied a spray of a small amount of potassium bicarbonate mixed with water to the squash and watermelon plants. Unlike the last two years, we've seen no mildew, so getting an early start at prevention seems to have worked. We did a pH test of the soil near the tomatoes, and added some lime. We're watching closely for signs of blossom end-rot.
Given yesterday's rain, the compost was deemed too wet to sift and extract, even though one pile is clearly ready. Instead, we turned both piles, to feed them air.
Water, water, water, says one of the garden planners, who says the fruiting plants (e.g. tomatoes and eggplants) especially want it. No one saw any pests, like the tomato horn worm of last week, and we have some bees buzzing around our flowers.
Not everything picked is 100% perfect. One tomato did not pass the eat-me test. Some parsnips decided to stop growing down after they encountered some rocks.
The biggest surprise of the day was the lack of visitors. Normally we get about twenty, divided between adults and children.
As the white board gets all checked off, people gather for tea, and we start the divvy-up process, a mix today of some things in piles and other things (like greens) taken in turns. Herbs like rosemary and chives are taken separately by those who want them.
As we finish near Noon, the sun decides to go behind the clouds again.
When we expanded the garden between years one and two, we added a parcel with a drop in elevation that was evident the day we paced out what our request to the Rec department would be.
It turns out that the drop is about 16 inches, as measured early this season by Alan Jones and I (mostly Alan). We weren’t seeking data for its own purpose, but to assess how high to stack stones to make a level bed in our southeast corner.
We found the rocks, it should come as no surprise, while double-digging other beds (which may well be my next blog-post topic). Just for this one bed, whose walls fade away to nothing about two-thirds up the slope, we used not only most of the big rocks we excavated this year, but reclaimed some we’d relocated along the park perimeter.
The stacking is as rudimentary (skill-less) as you can imagine. Steven Lee and I put the biggest rocks in the corners, the next largest along the bottom row, and for the rest, tried to match shapes that “interlocked” as best we could. We can say that, so far, the rocks are still standing.
One reason we wanted to try the raised bed is that last year, downhill flow during a rainstorm actually washed away some garlic we’d planted. By making a level planting field, we thought could mitigate, or redirect, any such future torrents. And, it looks nice, in a rustic, New England sort of way.
On Saturday morning, July 14th, I discovered this 1/4-inch long, light-orange colored bug on the basil. It proved difficult to photograph, since it really didn't like to stand still. However Alan, being very patient, finally captured these two shots -- one for close-up detail, and the other with my hand for scale.
After many hours of searching the internet, I am now convinced that what I found is the nymph stage of a type of Stink Bug -- the Spined Soldier Bug, Podisus maculiventris. While many types of Stink Bugs are exceedingly damaging to many food crops in the U.S., this particular bug is actually beneficial because it's a predator. It kills other insects by literally sucking the life out of them!
So, this is one of the good guys! It's a good thing that we don't need to get rid of this bug, as stink bugs are very difficult to control, both organically and conventionally!
For more info on Spined Soldier Bugs:
Chief Gardening Officer Mike Smith recently made us aware of Flower Sprouts, called the first new vegetable in 10 years, a cross between Kale and Brussels Sprouts. (See Mike's post). At Mike's suggestion we decided to try them in the Garden this year.
Flower Sprouts thriving in the Robbins Farm Garden, with proud parents Kale and Brussels Sprouts (not shown) close at hand.
Reportedly, the Flower Sprout was developed by Tozer Seeds, a family-owned business in Surrey, UK and was first introduced in 2010. Both an owner and a senior plant breeder from Tozer expressed pride to the press over this first new vegetable in a decade. Apparently, this enthusiasm is not shared by everybody in the UK, with the Daily Mail announcing "A New Vegetable for Your Children to Hate". Even the BBC Surrey reporter interviewing the Tozer Seeds representatives seemed to be trying to overcome her timidity over veggies to faintly praise the Flower Sprout "... although Dr Frankenstein probably thought the same about his little project, the Flower Sprout is different. Far from being some sort of hybrid monster, it has been developed over the last ten years using traditional breeding techniques........ It has a Brussels sprout-like growing habit with its tall stem and rosettes forming all the way up to a frilly-leaved top. A bit like one of the more imaginative hats you see at Ascot Ladies Day. And its appeal may go further than just the aesthetic. Brussels Sprout haters around the world could possibly be won over by its milder, sweeter flavour. But for those of you who, like me, are of a nervous disposition and get easily frightened by funny shaped vegetables, be warned!"
"Funny-shaped"? We would take issue with that description, but, of course, we Robbins Farm Gardeners are particularly enthusiastic and welcoming to our veggies, be they "old standbys" or exotic newcomers. As the reporter notes, Flower Sprouts grow in a stalk like Brussels Sprout, but the "sprouts" remain open, forming small curly leaves like Kale. And, they're a lovely deep green and purple. Many of us are excited for them to be ready to harvest but we hope you will come visit them in our Garden first.
Garden fabric, aka row cover or floating row cover, can be very handy to have on hand in your garden, as it can serve many purposes!
Garden fabric can . . .
* slow evaporation from a plant and its surrounding soil
* act as a thermal barrier, protecting plants from the cold and the wind
* help to shade the plants, protecting them from overheating
* prevent insect damage, by keeping munching insects away from the plants
* stop birds and other critters from helping themselves to your harvest
* control pollination, in case you want to try very specific cross-pollination experiments
Available in different thicknesses, the heavier garden fabrics are better in the colder months (for heat retention), while the lighter fabrics are a much better choice when the weather gets hot.
Also, remember that many vegetable and fruit crops require cross-pollination and, since the fabric will limit access to the plants' flowers, pollination must be done by hand, or the fabric must be removed for an hour or two each day to allow pollinators to do their job. Once pollination has taken place, the row cover may be left in place to protect the maturing crops.
In some cases, garden fabric should be cut into strips, and the strips wrapped around the stems of plants to protect them from boring-type insects. E.g., most types of squash are susceptible to attack by the squash vine borer (SVB). As the name states, the SVB (in its large caterpillar form) bores its way into the main stem of squash plants, and then eats its way through the stem, usually until the plant wilts and dies. This attack may be prevented with a garden fabric wrapping of the stem. The best time to apply garden fabric in this manner is before a seedling is put in the ground. Start wrapping the stem about an inch below ground level, and wrap it all the way to the top, avoiding the side branches as you go. As the plant grows, more fabric may be added, and the fabric already in place may need to be loosened to avoid restricting growth of the stem. In this way, the stem is protected from vine borers, but the entire plant does not have to be covered, thereby using much less fabric.
For more info on this very versatile tool, see: www.gardeners.com/Row-Covers/5111,default,pg.html
A newcomer this year to our herb garden is unexpectedly boisterous and intriguing: The herb borage joined one of our two herb beds at the end of April, when we redug and redesigned them. It's already a hearty bush, about three feet tall and right now in heavy bloom. Known also as "starflower", its blooms appear on the plant in both blue and pink versions--apparently younger and older flowers. The honey bees are enjoying the plant immensely; the plant is known for producing good honey, and we're always happy to see pollinators in the garden. We're just learning about borage, since it isn't commonly found in North American herb gardens. It's a probable native of North Africa that has spread across Europe, Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, and South America. Borage is apparently easy to grow from seed, but we acquired our plant from Mahoney's; it's an annual that is said to reseed itself easily, so we won't need to shop for it next year.
We might have made more of the plant's role in companion planting, had we known: it repels tomato hornworms if planted with tomatoes--and cabbage worms when planted with brassicas (hurray!). The plant debris is also a helpful mulch; it contains high levels of calcium and potassium which help the setting of fruit for all fruits and vegetables.
The whole plant is edible, the leaves having a cucumber flavor (I can vouch for that, though the fuzziness of the leaves is a little odd on the tongue), the blooms somewhat honey-sweet; the flower is often used to decorate desserts as it is one of very few truly blue-colored edible substances. It can be used both as a fresh vegetable (in salads and soups) and as a dried herb (in tea).
Beyond its kitchen garden uses, the plant's seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid found chiefly in vegetable oils. This fatty acid is found as a dietary supplement said to treat inflammation and auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, borage is a traditional garnish in the Pimms Cup cocktail, the expected beverage at your neighborhood polo match or Wimbledon.
A quality we will not test, though it would have been timely on the 4th, is due to the plant containing nitrate of potash; when burned, the plant throws sparks with a tiny explosive sound.
Grieve, M. (Maud) (1931). Borage. In A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html
Klein, Carol (2009, January 23). Star Turn. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/24/carol-klein-borage
Borage. (2012, June 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved23:31, July 9, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Borage&oldid=499739160
A living organism that can be used to control pests and/or diseases is called a "biocontrol." The following web sites all sell (or have a list of sellers of) Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, a parasitic nematode (microscopic worm), that enters and destroys the larvae of the cucumber beetle. It is effective against some other larvae, as well.
And for more info on insect parasitic (i.e., "beneficial") nematodes: http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/nematodes/
Buying beneficial nematodes can be a bit pricey, especially for a smaller-sized garden, so you may want to try buying them and sharing the expense with other gardening neighbors, (which is always a good idea, anyway, since this helps to eliminate the pest from your entire neighborhood, not just your yard !), or you may want to try a different, less expensive solution first, e.g., the Burpee cucumber beetle trap. However, these nematodes will eliminate some other pests besides the cucumber beetle, while the traps (I believe) are very target insect-specific.
Note: Nematodes and other treatments that control the Striped Cucumber Beetle are equally effective against the Spotted Cucumber Beetle.
Spotted Cucumber Beetle (adult)
[See journal entry, below, for more info regarding the Cucumber Beetle.]
FYI, last week, while examining our potato crops, I found a 1/4-inch long, yellow and black striped beetle -- the Striped Cucumber Beetle -- on one of the leaves! This chewing insect can devastate a crop if allowed to munch and reproduce unchecked. Besides the obvious leaf damage that they do, (which compromises a plant's ability to photosynthesize, i.e., create food), these insects can oftentimes be vectors of plant diseases such as bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus. The adults feed on squash family plants, beans, corn, peas, and blossoms of many garden plants, often killing the plants. Larvae feed on roots of squash family plants only, killing or stunting the plants. Adults overwinter in dense grass or under leaves, emerging in early-spring to early-summer. Eggs are layed at the base of target plants, and hatch in 10 days. Larvae burrow into the soil to feed on roots for 2-6 weeks, pupate in mid- to late-summer into 1/2-inch, white grubs with brown heads, then, in 2 weeks, emerge as adults to feed on blossoms and maturing fruit. One to two generations per year.
NOTE: Besides the adult beetle's description, the above information regarding the Striped Cucumber Beetle also applies to the Spotted Cucumber Beetle. See above journal entry for photo of the Spotted Cucumber Beetle.
Striped Cucumber Beetle (adult)
For more info on the Cucumber Beetle, and to see a diagram of the Life Cycles of both the Striped and the Spotted Cucumber Beetles, click here.
To control: Remove and destroy crop residues where adults overwinter. Use floating row covers to protect seedlings and plants, and hand-pollinate (using cotton swabs) the squash family plants. Pile salt marsh hay or straw deeply around plants to discourage beetle movement amongst plants. Apply kaolin clay to uncovered plants, using special care to coat the undersides of leaves, too. Reapply after rain. Hand-pick or vacuum adults, and/or apply parasitic nematodes, (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora), weekly to soil to control the larvae. If all else fails, pyrethrin (a plant-based insecticide), may be applied to beetles seen feeding on pollen in flowers.