Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finished grape juice vinegar experiment

Home made grape juice vinegar.  Jar on left is filtered vinegar and larger jar on right is unfiltered vinegar.  Notice the ring of slime and layers of slime around the larger jar.  The upper ring is mostly yeasts and molds that fermented sugar into alcohol, and the lower slime layers are mostly Acetobacter sp. bacteria that metabolized the alcohol into acetic acid or vinegar.

It has been four weeks since I started my batch of grape juice vinegar.  (Click here for original post)  For some unknown reason this batch is a lot "cleaner" looking then the last batch of cider vinegar I made.  Despite the differences in appearance it was still the same process that made this batch of sugary grape juice into a vinegar.  This batch started with grape juice and sugar, then when through fermentation where yeasts and molds converted the sugar into ethyl alcohol.  Once alcohol levels were high the yeasts and molds were killed off for the most part and Acetobacter sp. bacteria metabolized the alcohol into acetic acid making it vinegar.

This batch of vinegar tasted much better then my previous batch.  I believe using the old vinegar as a starter and adding extra sugar was the key.  It had an interesting complicated sort of flavor.  A sort of sweet, fruity, musty, acidic flavor.  It might not win any state fare prizes but I'm satisfied by the fact that it tasted at least somewhat good.

Weed corridors

Weeds don't just spontaneously generate in your garden or landscape, they are transported there by some means.  Understanding the means of transportation of weeds into your landscape or garden takes careful observation but can save you a lot of pain in the future.

Seeds move through the landscape in a variety of different ways, the most important are likely wind, water, and animal.  When placing a garden, designing a landscape, or trying to manage or understand natural areas this is extremely important to factor in.  Understanding how seeds move through the landscape can mean both good and bad things.  For example, understanding how a stream floods can aid where willow or cottonwood seeds will be deposited for habitat restoration.  Or if you place your garden in a low laying area or a place that catches wind deposited seeds you could have a huge weed problem.  Unfortunately, we don't always have control of how we design our landscapes or where we place our gardens, we simply have to deal with the problems that come a long with the site.  Also, it is often hard to determine seed corridors until it is too late.

For example, the college garden area below:
Note the large gap between the two walls.  This appears to be a major source of weed seeds that are deposited in the garden.  Seeds blow in through this gap and are deposited in the garden.  The first beds immediately adjacent to this gap can have pretty bad weed problems compared to the rest of the garden area.  One solution to this would be to close the gap, but that really isn't a possibility so I'll just have to deal with it.  Another solution if we were in the design phase of this garden might be raised beds.  Often, far fewer seeds will be deposited in beds slightly elevated above ground.  However, in the case for these gardens we wanted sunken beds in order to conserve water, so we'll just have to deal with the weeds.

The dry wash below is another example of a weed corridor:

Any type of waterway, whether it is perrenially wet or dry for most of the year transports huge amounts of seeds.  If you want to identify what invasive species will be invading an area in the near future you need to look along waterways.  Water transports seeds and provides a moist habitat with higher quality soil in which all kinds of plants can get a foot hold in the landscape.  This includes ditches a long roads.  Before designing a landscape or placing a garden it is very important for you to know how water flows through the land and where it concentrates.  This is much easier then identifying where wind deposits seeds.  Simply observe water movements in the landscape during and after large rain events, then adjust your landscape design accordingly.  Riparian areas, whether dry most of the year or wet, are also major corridors for the movement of animals which carry sometimes large amounts of seeds.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


After being asked several times how to sprout seeds I though maybe I should try to figure this out.  So I did a little research and found it is extremely easy.  So I sprouted some of my own seeds (below) and found that in-fact, it was even easier then I initially though.  I'm surprised more people don't do this.  The basic process is first, soak seeds 8 to 12 hours.  You will need some sort of jar to soak them in where the water can be easily drained off.  I used a 1 quart mason canning jars with their bands.  The bands were used to hold pantyhose in place. 
Day one.  Mung beans (left) and alfalfa (left) soaking in canning jars.  The jars are canning mason jars with a portion of pantyhose held on the top with the threaded bands.  Seeds need to be soaked 8 to 12 hours and then drained by pouring the water out through the pantyhose.  Note: The number of seeds I soaked in the jars above was way too many, it would have been better with a quarter to a tenth as many seeds.

Then, after soaking the water was drained off through the pantyhose and the jars were left to sit on their sides.  The seeds are still wet at this point so they continue to sprout.  the sprouting seeds need to be rinsed two or three times a day simply by filling the jar up with water (through the pantyhose) and then immediately draining the water off through the pantyhose.  The moisture keeps the seed sprouts growing and rinses a lot of the bacteria.  If you set your sprouts in sunlight they will green up.  Keep doing this until your sprouts are the size you want to eat them.  I started eating my sprouts on day three but continued to rinse them and let them grow until day six.  Personally, I thought they tasted better the longer they grew and the greener they got.

Day two.  These sprouting seeds have a small root showing after being drained from the initial soaking about 12 hours ago.  I left my jars like this in a sunny window, rinsing three times a day.

Day three.  Sprouts have been rinsed three times a day and were left in a sunny window.  The beginnings of green leaves are showing.  Sprouts in areas not receiving sunlight remained yellow.  I started eating the sprouts on day three but found they tasted much better on day five and six.

Some things to keep in mind when sprouting seeds.  It is important to rinse the sprouts, this keeps the sprouts growing, prevents dehydration, and washes away bad bacteria before it can build-up.  Also, make sure if you remove the pantyhose to replace it quickly before bugs can infest your sprouts.  Also, sprouts from some seeds such as kidney beans are toxic, so be sure that you know it is safe before sprouting.  Here is a great resource for growing your own sprouts:

Sprouting is a great way to improve the nutritional content of seeds.  Apparently, all seeds contain anti-nutritional factors called phytic acids.  With only a few hours of soaking these anti-nutrients disappear and the seed begins to increase in protein, vitamin, and fiber quantity and quality.  The nutrients continue to increase with several days of sprouting.
Check out Wikipedia for more information on this:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Garden economics update

Last months garden on November 8th.

December 8th garden
The past month in the garden has been relatively slow.  It has been the sit and wait period between planting and harvesting.  Only 1.25 hours have been put into the college garden and 2.25 hours into my home garden doing light duty tasks such as watering, thinning, weeding, and a little bit of harvesting.  Chives, chard, and lettuce are the only things harvested up to this point.  12 ounces of chives were produced at my home garden, valued at $11.34 with 113 calories.  8 ounces of swiss chard were produced valued at $2.49 with 45 calories, and 8 ounces of romaine lettuce valued at $1.99 with 40 calories.  Values were determined by the cheapest price found at the local grocery store (Fry's or Sprouts) and calories were determined using this website:  A different website to determine calories burned was also used due to the old website not working anymore and its lack of "light duty aerobic exercise" for light duty gardening.  This is the new website used to determine calories burned:

Weather conditions have been near perfect the past few weeks with highs in the 70's and lows in the 40's most of the time.  We did have a night or two with frost but they were so lite frost sensitive plants easily recovered.  This winter will probably be a dry one being we missed the late November rains we often get and I suspect we will have some more freezing temperatures due to this lack of rain.  Problem with pests is also minimal due to the cooler temperatures.  We probably won't see a return of many pests until March or so.  But that said, everything is growing extremely well.

So here is a garden update for the month of November:
                               Home       College
Hours of work:        2.25         1.25
Calories burned:      715           397
Food produced:      .75 lbs.      1 lbs.
Calories produced:   113           85
Production:              $11.34     $4.48 
Total Cost:               $0            $0

Summary of garden project:
                               Home      Garden
Hours of work:        7.5           5.75
Calories burned:      2049        1540
Food produced:       0.75 lbs.  1 lbs.
Calories produced:   113         85
Production:              +$11.34   +$4.48   
Total Cost:               -$61         -$61
Net:                         -$49.66    -$56.52

So nothing impressive at this point.  At this point I'm a little concerned about even breaking even, but we'll see.  Over the next month or so things should really pick up though.  A lot more chard, lettuce, and chives should be produced along with some snow peas, carrots, radishes, and turnips.  I'll post an update for the garden in about a month.

Mixed romaine lettuce

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sauerkraut final product

This is what our cabbage looked like to start after being shredded up, mixed with sea salt, and weighed down.  This apparatus was then left to sit at room temperature for about a month.
And this is what our final product of sauerkraut looks like after sitting at room temperature for one month.

So the sauerkraut we started a month ago is finally finished.  To review, I simply 1. shredded the cabbage, 2. mixed the shredded cabbage with sea salt to taste in a container with vertical or strait sides, 3. weighed down the cabbage so it was submerged under the liquid, and 4. waited several weeks for lactic acid fermentation to take place.  The biological processes that took place to make this sauerkraut are fairly interesting.  First, salt removed water from the cabbage through osmosis to form the liquid the fermentation would take place in.  Salt also works as a preservative by excluding harmful bacteria by killing them off in a few days time.  Leuconostic sp. and Lactobacillus sp. bacteria tolerate salty conditions and and acidify the salty cabbage juice by producing lactic acid.  The increasingly acidic conditions also kill off harmful bacteria and encourage Leuconostic sp. and Lactobacillus sp. bacteria.  The cabbage is also submerged under the cabbage juice to promote anerobic conditions (conditions without oxygen) which also kills off harmful bacteria and again encourages lactic acid production by Leuconostic and Lactobacillus. The remaining species of bacteria, especially Lactobacillus, at the completion of the sauerkraut are well known probiotics, which are bacteria that aid digestive health.

A slightly overgrown culture of bacteria from our last batch of sauerkraut.  The white colonies are Leuconostic sp. and Lactobacillus sp. of bacteria which compose the majority of the bacteria.  The six or so colonies of different color are harmless coliform bacteria.  This culture was grown from the sauerkraut juice as the bacterial populations were transitioning towards Leuconostic sp. and Lactobacillus sp.
So was the sauerkraut good?  Of course yes!  If you like sauerkraut and have never had any home made, it will likely be the best you ever tasted.  Less acidic, less salty, with a stronger sauerkraut flavor then store bought.  If you like sauerkraut or have an excess of cabbage this is a very simple project you can do to produce a lot of it for a long period of time.  After the initial bubbling is complete (after one to two weeks) the kraut is ready to eat.  You can keep it fermenting at room temperature longer and the flavor will change slightly with time.  You can taste it every few days or so to determine if you like the flavor or not.  I prefer the flavor after about four weeks, but every batch is a little different.  Once you decide you like the flavor just stick the sauerkraut in the refrigerator and it will keep for several months.  Be careful though, do not eat sauerkraut with a pink or brownish, hue to it, that looks slimy, or smells bad.  These are all contaminants that happen relatively rarely and usually only when the cabbage isn't submerged well enough during fermentation.  These problems have only happened to me twice in my many many batches that I have made.  And if you do eat them, it probably won't kill you, it will just give you bad gas. 

Here is a good website with additional information: