Frequently Asked Questions about Fermentation for the DIY enthusiast.
Our questions include dill pickles, hot peppers, kimchi, perserved lemons, salsa, sauerkraut, scrap vinegar, tomatoes and watermelon pickle rinds.
Q: What is the difference between Pickling and Fermentation?
A: No, they are two different processes. Fermentation produces a live culture through the fermentation process, while pickling is a stable process of preserving the vegetable in vinegar and salt. Fermented vegetables are submerged in a salt-water brine, allowing the lactic acid bacteria present on the vegetables to naturally produce an acidic and vinegary flavor. The result is a probiotic and live culture.
Q: Is it possible to be poisoned by fermenting?
A: Just like with any cooking, you need to use sanitary practices. Wash your hands, vegetables and sterilize the containers which you are going to store and ferment in. If you see anything that looks wrong with you fermentation (mold, black/brown, rotten looking) then toss it out. It’s not worth the risk
Q: Do I need to be concerned about keeping the fermentation in a warm room or in a warmed container?
A: No, but if your fermentation is taking place in a cold place it will be a much slower process or the fermentation process may not happen at all. Normal room temperature (68 F) should be adequate for the process.
Q: What equipment do I need to get started?
A: You really need nothing more than a knife a bowl and a jar with a lid. There is a range of equipment intended for helping with fermenting, but none of it is really necessary.
Q: Do I have to use glass to ferment?
A: Don’t use metal or plastic for your process. Glass is really the best because the fermentation will not react or interact in a way that leaches.
Q: What kind of water should I use, when it is in a recipe?
A: If you have decent tap water, just use that. Nothing special required.
Q: Do I need special salt?
A: No, just table salt.
Q: Will the vegetables produce liquid as they ferment?
A: Yes, depending on what you’re fermenting you should see liquid accumulate from the process. Be sure to submerge everything in vinegar at the start of the process, despite the process producing natural liquid.
Q: How do I know that fermentation is taking place?
A: After a couple days you will see the process initiating. You should see the release of enzymes and culture generating, which will be visible.
Q: When will the fermentation be done?
A: It’s really a matter of personal taste and preference. Tasting your fermentation will give you a feel for the progress and when it seems done. When done to your satisfaction just refrigerate and the process will stop.
If you are excited about the idea of growing herbs for tea, this article can help you to get started with recommended herbs and how to grow them. Follow the directions below to start your seeds.Keep your seeds in their sealed packet in a cool, dry place until ready to sow.
To harvest your herbal teas
To harvest and store your herbs, there a a few simple rules to keep in mind. Harvest early in the day, after the dew has dried, but while the herbs are still lush in the cool of the morning. Most herbs are at their peak just before they bloom. Use fresh, or air dry carefully out of the direct sun, in the oven, or even in the microwave.
And now to the herbs!
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
This beautiful perennial is a magnet for hummingbirds, butterflies and beneficial insects and would be welcome in any garden for its showy flowers and fragrant foliage. But many grow it for its medicinal and herbal properties. The leaves have a strong scent of licorice with a touch of mint, hence its nickname “licorice mint.” Leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried for salads, teas and garnishes.
Anise hyssop grows up to four feet tall and produces blue spikes of compound florets. The seeds are easy to germinate and grow with full sun and average water. It self seeds readily and often blooms the first year. New seedlings are hardy and transplant easily. Plant the tiny seeds on soil surface, pat down gently and water well. Optimum germination temperature is 60-70 F. with germination in 10-40 days.
Dragonshead (Dracocephalum moldavica)
When you look closely at the blue flowers of dragonshead, you’ll see where it got its name. Sometimes also called Melissa, Moldavian Balm, or Moldavian Dragon’s Head, this lovely little annual is easy to grow and both the flowers and leaves have a delightful lemon scent. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make a lemony flavored tea. The dried leaves are stronger in flavor than lemon balm and the foliage holds its scent well when dried. Best of all, bees love this plant, and it will attract lots of beneficial pollinators to your garden.
Blooming in summer, the bright blue-violet flowers are held in upright terminal clusters above the dark green thin foliage. It grows about 2 feet tall, with a spread of about a foot. It will tolerate semi-shade, but is happiest in full sun and moist soil, although it is more drought tolerant as it grows. Start seeds indoors to plant out after all danger of frost. Plant seeds ¼” deep, germination temperatures can range from 50-75° F, and germination should be from 7-14 days.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Although chamomile is an annual, this sturdy little plant will reseed readily if planted in the right location, and reward you with a bouquet of uses: aromatic, cosmetic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal. Among other uses, the leaves and golden dried flowers are used for tea to calm frayed nerves (or even your restless child), to treat various stomach problems, and to relieve muscle spasms. Dried leaves and flowers are used to scent potpourris. Chamomile also is used for soothing baths and skin lotions, and a chamomile rinse adds golden highlights to blonde hair.
Chamomile seeds are tiny! When you are ready to plant, carefully shake the seed packet contents onto a piece of dry white paper, and use a slightly moistened toothpick to pick up the seeds. Plant into prepared medium, gently pressing into the surface, do not cover. Germination is 4-8 days at 55-70° F. When the plants are big enough to handle, transplant into your garden or container 6 inches apart. Prefers light, dry soil. Keep plants moist until established.
You can grow horehound and use it in your own soothing teas, or if you are adventurous, in your own homemade candy. Candy made from the herb horehound was often given as a cough drop to sooth deep chest coughs. Horehound can be started from seed and harvested the first year. This woody perennial grows 8-24″ tall and has hairy stems covered with downy, gray-green leaves. The leaves have a wooly crinkled appearance. The small, off-white flowers are born in summer and are said to attract beneficial insects to the garden. As an added bonus, it’s a great companion plant for tomatoes and peppers.
Start your seeds indoors 12 weeks before transplanting. Sow the seeds ¼” deep with soil temperature 70-85° F. Keep the seed moist until germination. When two leaves have formed on the seedlings, they are ready to transplant into the garden in a sunny location. Do not over water horehound, it likes to dry out between waterings. Grow horehound in any well-drained, soil in full sun.
Keep cutting back for new growth and extended harvests. The leaves and flowers lose their flavor quickly, so snip them into smaller pieces to dry on screens. When dry, crumble and store in jars.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is one of the most prized summer herbs for teas. A perennial lemon-scented member of the mint family, it’s a great candidate for a container. Fresh sprigs are beautiful to top drinks and as garnishes on salads and main dishes. The dried leaves scent potpourris. Lemon balm is used in a facial steam to clean the skin. It also is used in teas, beers, and wine and with fish, mushrooms, and soft cheeses. Fresh leaves are used in salads, marinades for vegetables, chicken salad, and poultry stuffings.
Lemon balm is easily grown from seed; germination is best when seed is uncovered. Start earliest seed 6-8 weeks before the date of last frost. You may also sow the seed directly outside in the spring or fall. Germination time is widely variable, between 10-40 days at 60-70° F. Make sure the planting medium does not dry out while the seeds are germinating, and be patient if needed. Enjoys well-drained soil in full sunlight. Leaf growth may be slow the first year, and more vigorous thereafter.
Harvest before the plant flowers, for optimum fragrance. Cut the entire plant about 2 inches above ground. Dry quickly to prevent the leaves from turning black. Lemon balm should be dried within 2 days at temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees F. Place on a wire rack to dry. Store in an airtight container.
Calculating your carbon footprint: The first step in understanding your impact on the planet
Practically all of our daily activities affect the environment, from the consumption of natural resources to the disposal of our household waste. By now we all can agree that there has been a marked increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide as a result of human activities. For example, the burning of fossil fuels for home heating, transportation, and electricity production generates a large percentage of our personal carbon dioxide emissions. The atmospheric concentration of carbon is causing our planet to warm at an alarming rate and is commonly known as “Global Warming”. The perils of global warming are many and we are seeing them play out across the globe in alarming fashion. We all need to do our part to stop or slow global warming, and the good news it that it’s not difficult to lower your emissions, but first you need to know how much you’re producing—your carbon “footprint.” This figure represents both the amount of carbon dioxide you generate each year and the lifestyle choices that contribute the most to your total. The average American’s carbon footprint is 20 tons. To put this in perspective, this is approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted each year by three new cars. With nearly 300 million people living in the United States, these numbers quickly add up. There are several interactive calculators available online to help you estimate your carbon footprint. Each takes home energy use and transportation into account, since a significant portion of our annual carbon dioxide emissions is derived from these two activities. Some calculators factor in additional items such as waste generation and water consumption, and others consider footprint-shrinking actions you may already be taking, such as recycling or purchasing “green” power (electricity generated from renewable sources including wind and solar). While your total carbon footprint will actually be larger than what these calculators compute, they will help give you a sense of just how significant your impact on the environment can be.
Many carbon calculators also describe ways in which you can reduce your footprint, and compute how many tons of carbon dioxide you will save. These actions range from small lifestyle changes (e.g., turning off lights when you’re not using them, turning down your thermostat a few degrees, increasing the percentage of waste you recycle) to major purchases such as fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles and, solar panels and Energy Star-rated appliances. Most people can take a huge step by replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFL light bulbs or LED light bulbs. You can also invest in zero-emission (green power) or negative-emission (reforestation) projects to reduce your footprint even further. An added bonus of reducing your carbon footprint is saving money. Energy conservation and energy efficiency result in lower heating and electricity bills, and fuel-efficient vehicles can save hundreds of dollars at the gas pump every year. Ultimately, by combining conservation and energy efficiency with carbon-offset projects, you can become “climate-neutral”: releasing a net total of zero carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now that’s a step in the right direction! Visit any one of the many carbon calculator websites to calculate your carbon footprint and find out how you can minimize your impact on the environment. Below are a few good carbon calculators to help you get started. We think you will be surprised by what you learn. Start making a difference today! Environmental Protection Agency’s website
This past fall, we started a new bed in a shaded area along our driveway. We planted some red-twigged dogwood, ornamental grasses, several types of groundcover and mulched it heavily with compost. But the reality of any newly planted bed is that there’s still a lot of ground showing, and where there’s open ground, there’s also a rich crop of “volunteers,” happy to take advantage of the newly opened space. Yesterday as I drove in, I took a quick look at the new bed, and all the weeds that had sprouted among the plantings. It was cold and damp, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood for weeding, but I couldn’t resist a quick plant check. But when I took a closer look, I found much of the newly sprouted greenery in the bed was the plant at left, Montia perfoliata (syn. Claytonia perfoliata). It goes by the common name of Miner’s Lettuce. Or Winter Purslane, or Spring Beauty, or Indian Lettuce, depending on whom you ask. With this many names, you have to guess that it has something going for it to have attracted all that attention. In fact, Miner’s Lettuce got its name because it was an important source of vitamin C for the native people and early settlers. Imagine a prospector a hundred or so years ago, subsisting on a winter diet of wild game, beans, ground meal, beans, jerked meat, and did I mention beans? Finding a succulent edible green plant, sprouting up in late winter or early spring, must have been as tasty as it was beneficial. So instead of pulling any of it, I got my camera. The plant in the picture above is newly sprouted, in the summer a pair of leaves close around the stem to make a little cup to encircle the small pink or white bloom. It grows from Alaska through Mexico to Guatemala. I’m not sure if it’s found on the East Coast, but it’s widely naturalized in Western Europe. You can even find seeds at several seed suppliers. It naturalizes and spreads profusely when it finds a place it likes, but it’s really never a problem. It’s shallow rooted, and pulls up easily. Miner’s Lettuce tastes to me like a tender butterhead lettuce, with a little bit of a lemony attitude. It tastes wonderful in a salad of mixed greens, or added to romaine in a Caesar salad. And there’s something very satisfying about finding a succulent wild plant when I take the time to look at what’s growing under my feet. It reminds me that as we cultivate and try to control everything that grows in our environment, we forget to appreciate the diversity of life that persists in spite of us. So tomorrow, if the rain stops, I’ll not weed my newly planted bed. I’ll go out and gather some salad.
If you’re starting to plan a new garden, one of the first things to do is to establish where you’ll find the maximum sun throughout the growing season. Especially if you’re gardening in a small area, existing trees and structures cast shadows that can have a big impact on the space you’ll have to grow sun-loving vegetables and flowers. A shade map is a great tool to find the best places to site your planting. To begin, draw your space out to scale, and include all existing buildings, trees, fences or other structures that will cast shade during different times of the day. The example below is a shade map I created in June, on the first day of summer. My house and garage are at the west end of my city lot. At the east end, there are four huge fir trees (outlined in black), and I have three deciduous trees (outlined in green) in the middle of the yard. At first glance, the map may seem a jumble of lines, but each colored line represents the area that is in shade at different times during the day.
I’ve drawn the shapes cast by the shade at 9:00am in blue, at noon in yellow, 3:00pm in green, and 6:00pm in pink. This means as the sun shines into my garden from the east at 9:00am, everything within the blue boundary is in shade. By noon, with the sun almost overhead, only the areas inside the yellow boundary are shaded. By 3:00pm, the sun has moved to the west, and the shadow cast by the house and garage falls within the area of the green lines. Finally, at 6:00pm, the sun is lower in the west, and the areas from left to right within the pink boundaries are shaded. The patterns of sun and shade change greatly from spring through fall. By mapping your space in March, June and September, you can get a very accurate idea for the best place for the best plant. Of course, you won’t want to wait a whole year before you plant your first garden, but like everything else in gardening, each year you gain a little more knowledge and experience. So make your first shade map this year, and next year you’ll have another tool to make your garden just a little better.
Each year there’s increasing interest in growing our own food, even if the available space consists of containers on the patio or plants tucked in with the landscaping. In our part of the country, hints of spring begin even in February. And gifted with a sunny day or two, all of the winter plans we’ve made while poring through this season’s seed catalogs beg for our attention. But whether you’re a novice or an experienced gardener, there are some basics to remember as we anticipate planting those first seeds, or setting out the early plants. When to start Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in a temperate zone, the date of the average last frost needs to be marked in red on your calendar. All of your garden planning starts from this date. If you’re new to gardening, or perhaps have moved to a new area, there are many places to find this information. One of the best I’ve found is at Victory Seeds. Victory Seeds. Victory Seeds specializes in open-pollinated and heirloom seeds, and they have a wealth of information on their site. Their chart of dates for the last frost lists major cities in every state, so you should be able to come pretty close for your area. Remember that the date of the last frost is an average, so 50% of the time you could be watching the temperature drop below freezing for a week or so after the date listed. Of course, you could also enjoy the last frosty day a week or so earlier, and the gardener’s optimism is another thing that blooms anew each spring. Sowing directly in the garden. When you plan your planting schedule, you’ll want to start with the most cold-hardy plants first, and wait until the soil warms a bit for others. The chart below comes from the University of Colorado Extension Service. As you can see, there are many cold-hardy plants that can go into the ground as much as six weeks before the date of the last frost, as soon as you can work the ground. Others need a warmer soil temperature (not air temperature) to germinate. If you push the season, they’ll just sulk along till their needs are met, or not germinate at all.
Cold tolerance can vary even within different cultivars of the same plant, so always check the growing instructions provided by the seed manufacturer. However the following table will give you a general guideline for soil temperatures needed for sucessful germination for most garden vegetables.
Armed with these charts and information, you’re well on your way to growing a successful garden. Start with the cold-hardiest crops, and keep an eye (or ear) on the weather to ensure your plants don’t succumb to a late spring cold snap.