Progress in the Pantry
July 24, 2012, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

While making dinner tonight, I chopped some extra beets and carrots and got a root pickle fermenting. Then I realized my kombucha had grown a new mother, so tasted it. It’s just the way I like it, so I bottled it to give it a little fizz. The pickles and kimchi are also tasting delicious. I transferred them all to the fridge, but the sauerkraut needs more time yet. I started new batches of viili and kefir. Very excited because, thanks to a friend, I’m getting a real piima culture tomorrow! She’s using it to make cheese.


Sauerkraut, Kimchi, and Kombucha
July 21, 2012, 12:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The kimchi has cabbage, carrots, daikon, burdock, ginger, scallions, garlic, and a ripe jalapeño. No fish sauce.

Tonight I finally got around to starting the kombucha. I made a small, one-quart batch to start, and lined it up in the fermentation station, which seems to be suffering from a bit of urban sprawl.


I cycled the kefir grains through milk for 24 hours before straining them out and feeding them fresh milk again, trying to get them going quickly. I tasted the results of the first culturing and it’s actually not too bad already, although not as good as established kefir.

I also started more piima cream and a larger batch of viili, to see if that culture can handle expansion and growth. Both that and the kefir are in milk that’s been frozen, though, which suffers from textural issues if nothing else, so I’m viewing it as a bit of a gamble. I’ve been bitten by dairy cultures in thawed milk before. Don’t worry, I have more viili reserved — plus the viili that’s culturing the cream, which seems to encourage thriving good health anyway. I am a little worried about the kefir grains, but when I changed the milk today they seemed to be multiplying already, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Some Successes, Some Not-So-Much
July 19, 2012, 9:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I soaked some homegrown “Black Aztec” and “Roy’s Calais” corn in lime/cal, laboriously picked off all the pedicels, and made a variation on posole, with smoked pork jowl, white soup beans, several kinds of chiles, and a couple of tomatoes. It was delicious.


Since then, I’ve continued making viili every day or two, in small batches.

I wanted to make some vegetable ferments, too. I started with brined sour pickles, using Sandor Katz’s recipe:

Img_0473 Img_0476 Img_0481 Img_0479 Img_0482 Img_0480

I started these two days ago and ate the first one today because I just couldn’t wait. It was still really nice and crispy-crunchy, but a little too salty because the fermentation isn’t really done yet. But I think that jar might be done tomorrow. It seems to be going a lot faster than the other two jars for some reason, and really fizzing up a storm.

I also got a cabbage, daikon, carrots, ginger, and scallions; and I have garlic, some chiles, and a burdock root. I want to split the cabbage in two and turn one half into plain sauerkraut and the other into mixed vegetable kimchi. I keep meaning to do this. Maybe tonight!

In other lovely ferment-y news, today I bartered a bit of viili starter for some kefir grains and a kombucha mother. I put the kefir grains in some milk as soon as I got home, because they’ve been hibernating for a while, and I think they’ll need to go through a few batches of milk before they taste good.


I’ll start the kombucha one of these nights, too! Off to think about chopping some veggies for kimchi…

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Fermentation-Station Back in Operation
July 4, 2012, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m pleased to announce that the long-neglected domestic fermentation-station is back in operation, this time primarily located in the bad-ass pantry adjacent to the kitchen:


I asked my dad to bring back a new container of viili from Finland when he was there last month, but he didn’t think he could get home or to me safely, so I ordered a culture from Gem Cultures. We had a bit of shipping address confusion that led the culture to sit in a hot post office warehouse for almost a week, but wonder of wonders, it still made viili when it arrived and I immediately dumped it into a quart of milk. I’m breaking the rules by doing it with raw milk again, so I’m making sure to maintain multiple cultures as back-up in case one gets contaminated by competing bacteria.

The viili I started yesterday (and another I started today) is being cultured by piima cream. After I dumped the culture I ordered right into milk, after it had “set up,” I used some of it to culture a couple containers of pasteurized heavy cream, to nourish the culture. This stuff is deeee-licious. It does seem to be a hardier culture than the versions I’ve made just from milk, so I’m using it instead of the milk culture for a couple of ferments to get things healthy.

I’m also making dosai dough for idli and perhaps an experimental batch of uttapam if there’s enough leftover. I haven’t done this in a few years and I’m excited to eat idli again. I still have the steamer trays, luckily. What kind of curry and chutney should I make to eat with these?

I’m also starting a wild non-gluten sourdough with about 2:1 teff to sorghum flour, to see if I can establish something viable for regular flatbread production. I’m also going to buy some more whole buckwheat today and start a buckwheat culture for sourdough pancakes. Thanks to a nutrition course I started last month that is the inspiration for the renewed fermentation vigor, I discovered Stephan Guyenet’s Whole Health Source blog. He has a recipe for sourdough buckwheat crêpes (really more like thick pancakes or fried unleavened flatbreads) that I’m looking forward to trying.

I’m also going to boil and soak some of my Black Aztec corn in cal later today:


On the right is my daily viili smoothie with, in this case, raspberries from the backyard. Slightly bubbly (from the immersion blending?) and seedily delicious.

More soon, I hope!

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Planned Rock County Mega-Dairy Criticized at Public Hearing
May 13, 2011, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Activism, Farm

(Long time no post, I’m sorry! But I went to a hearing in Janesville Monday night that I want to give a heads-up about, late as it is, if anyone still reads this:)

A public hearing in Janesville, Wisconsin Monday evening allowed the community to comment on the proposed Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit being finalized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for Rock Prairie Dairy LLC in Bradford Township in Rock County.

Tuls' Butler County DairyRock Prairie Dairy LLC is owned by Todd Tuls, who, with two similarly sized CAFOs in Nebraska, is recognized as Nebraska’s biggest dairy farmer.

Mr. Tuls will send his son TJ, a college freshman, to Wisconsin to run the new facility.

The proposed dairy, a confined animal feedlot operation (CAFO) and “factory farm” in every sense of the term, would milk 4,600 cows three times a day and house a total of 5,200 (including dry cows and heifers), according to a company handout available at the hearing and confirmed by a DNR fact sheet.

The WPDES permit would be issued for the maximum allowable period of five years, expiring March 31, 2016.

The proposed site of the operation is in the watershed of Turtle and Blackhawk Creeks, two tributaries of the Lower Rock River. Construction has already begun, based on other permits already approved by the DNR and other agencies.

According to DNR permit drafter Mark Cain, there would be zero discharge from production. Liquid manure would be strained out of the sand bedding and solid manure from six freestall barns, collected in four manure storage facilities and sent via a dragline hose to fields where it would be injected straight into the soil.

This reflects a change in the permit. An initial draft proposed “center pivot nutrient applications,” or spray irrigation with liquid manure. After a February letter from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services expressed concern over “Public Health setbacks for manure spray irrigation,” Tuls removed the center pivots from the application, but Cain says that they’re not ruled out permanently and could be added at a later date after further review and permit modification.

The liquid manure storage facilities, or lagoons, one of which is already built, would be lined and covered with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), with bio-filtered vents.  One is lined with cement.  The three remaining would be lined with HDPE, and leak detection units would be installed under the liner. The capacity of all four is enough for a projected 397-days of manure.

Solid manure would be stored (with enough storage for a year of production) and then spread over more than 5,200 acres of leased farmland in the area as “nutrient management,” replacing a portion of the synthetic fertilizer currently used on those lands.

The draft permit specifies that applications of solid manure “will not occur within 100 feet of a private well or other direct conduits to groundwater or within 1,000 feet of a municipal well.”

Cain said that Rock Prairie Dairy’s provisions are more protective than other Wisconsin CAFOs but admitted that compliance would be self-monitored and -reported by the factory farm, submitted annually to the DNR.

All 5,200 cows would be housed at all times and fed a mix of conventional feed and sweet corn silage made from the waste from Seneca Cannery in Janesville. Excess sweet corn silage could also be applied to land in the area under a provision of the permit.

Members of the audience distributed pamphlets with pictures of a release of 320,000 gallons of purple leachate coming off of 26,000 tons of silage at Traditions Dairy, a mega-dairy near Nora, IL in late September and early October, 2010. This dairy was also designed to be zero-discharge, and dumped this leachate on 5 acres, causing a tributary of the Apple River to turn purple within 24 hours. Samples of the leachate-contaminated creekwater showed a Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) of 400, twice the level of raw sewage.

Tradition Dairy Leachate

Tradition Dairy Leachate

Tradition Dairy LeachateLocal resident Dr. Margaret Palera, in an impassioned speech in opposition to the permit proposal, showed maps of the proposed site and pointed out that it’s located directly over a large recharge aquifer in the Turtle Creek Watershed.  Turtle Creek Watershed has been “a priority watershed project under the Wisconsin Nonpoint Source Water Pollution Abatement Program,” but a post-project evaluation report found that “there was no discernible watershed-wide reduction in nonpoint source (runoff) pollutant loads” and so it is still an area of concern, according to a 2001 “Lower Rock River Water Quality Management Plan” published by the Walworth County Land Use & Resource Mangement Department.

Palera Comments & Maps

Dr. Palera suggested 350-foot setbacks between manure applications and direct conduits to groundwater given the volume of manure, a three-year rather than a five-year permit and a prohibition on spray irrigation of liquid manure.

Miriam Ostrov, a staff attorney at Midwest Environmental Advocates who has been working on behalf of community members like Tony and Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, a family farm with a small herd of dairy goats, pointed out remaining deficiencies in the permit application. For example, she said, “the draft permit fails to require groundwater monitoring of land application fields” for standard contaminants like “nitrate, fecal coloform and chlorides.”

Julie Waite, who with her husband Jeff and three children has a small family farm in southcentral Wisconsin, pointed out that the land leased for the land application of solid manure is largely tiled, so that manure runoff could leach through into groundwater. She pointed out that there are 150 pathogens in manure. A 2003 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report entitled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Regulation and Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)” confirms that “more than 150 pathogens found in livestock manure are associated with risks to humans.”

Comments on the proposed permit can be sent to:

Mark Cain, Permit Drafter
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – South Central Region
3911 Fish Hatchery Rd.
Fitchburg, WI 53711

The comment period ends Tuesday, May 17, 2011.

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July Garden News
August 16, 2010, 1:22 am
Filed under: Garden | Tags:

How many days in a row has “Write July garden post” been in my tasks list?  More than you want to know.  And somehow it’s already halfway through August…  And that’s not the only thing I’ve fallen behind on.  I haven’t been keeping track of my garden activities very well at all, and I’ve completely given up on weighing incoming harvests.  There’s just too much, too often, and too many other things to do.  I’m sure I’ll wish at the end of the season– I do already– that I’d weighed, but so be it.

But, loosely, here goes:

On July 1st, we cleaned and moved the chicken coop and run.  Very exciting, I know, but it needed it.

Rosie, Queen of the Roost

Mae West

Karma (and Cordelia behind her)

On July 2nd, I transplanted some brassicas (mostly brussels sprouts, if I remember right) and seeded collards, kale, scallions, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, carrots and turnips (don’t ask me now where I seeded those last three things because I have no idea…).  I had made a note to remind myself to watch for squash vine borers, especially since I’d taken the row cover off the kabocha, delicata and costata romanesca squash plants when they’d started to blossom and needed to be accessible to pollinators.  When I checked that day, it was already too late.  I tried to cut them out of the stems (found several little wigglies in there behind their obvious entry points) and then wrapped the stems with aluminum foil and also laid some of the foil down as a mulch around the base of the stems.  The delicata and costata romanesca plants weathered this OK, but within a few weeks the precious kabocha (planted for the second year running from seeds I originally saved from a beautiful squash bought from some farmer friends) plants had all withered and perished.  We got so many lovely kabochas last year, and several kept through the entire winter to be cooked and eaten in February and March, not to mention the frozen puree which we even now haven’t quite finished, and the incredible kabocha squash pie with ginger butterscotch sauce I made for Thanksgiving, so this is a real heartbreaker.  Next year: war on vine borers.

On July 3rd, I made sorbet out of some blueberries from work and harvested lemon thyme and Thai basil.  The lemon thyme, believe it or not, was for the sorbet, and it was delicious.

Lemon Thyme

Thai Basil

Gardens of Goodness Blueberries

Firming Up

Blueberry-LemonThyme Sorbet

That morning, we came home from the DCFM bearing plants:

'Glut' or 'Glow' Astilbe

Heuchera & ???

'Chandler' Blueberry

It took me a while to get these transplanted– especially the blueberry, which I potted up, so I had to try to figure out how to make its growing medium acidic enough– so in the meantime, I seeded some things:

Bean Pot

I also discovered that the dratted squirrels had been active (story of the month of July):

Dratted Squirrels

Things were looking pretty good otherwise.  I had thought we wouldn’t have any cucumbers this year because they germinated so poorly and then transplanted so dismally, but by early July, we had five plants growing nicely, by hook or by crook, so I caged them up.

Caged Cucumbers

The whole raised bed was doing alright, although the kale still looked stunted after their harrowing experience with aphids upon transplant.

Collards, Kale, Cucumbers & Parsnips

The next raised bed was doing well, too, getting a little more jungle-y every day.  Matt rebuilt the tomato trellis from last year in a new orientation for this bed, so the vines wouldn’t shade too many other things, and I twined the little guys up on strings.

Carrots, Scallions, Lemon Thyme, Beets, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil

By that point, I was pretty sure that the tall, wispy volunteer there on the left of the forefront was a cosmos, ‘tho for sure I didn’t put it there.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes & Basil

When Matt attached the trellis frame in the new orientation, he also attached a cross-piece at the bottom so that I can anchor the string to that rather than tying it to stakes at the base of the plants, since those just kept popping out all last season.

The Tomato Frame

I love it when Matt builds me things…

Right behind the tomato frame is the new Vitex agnus-castus plant I bought this year at Four Elements’ open house in Freedom, WI in June.

Vitex agnus-castus

The many passionflowers whose pots I scattered all around the garden were growing admirably and beginning to embrace their stakes.


The salad spiral was looking a little hairy.

Salad Spiral

And three kinds of bitter Italian chicory might perhaps be too many…

On the other side of the garden in the herb bed, the feverfew was beginning to bloom.

Flowering Feverfew

I’d been eating about a leaf a day as I passed this plant, but more recently I’ve forgotten, and lo and behold, the headaches have returned (‘tho still not too bad or too frequently).

On July 4th, I focused more on El Jardin del Elefantes.

Elef 7/4/10

Elef 7/4/10

It was looking so neat in those days…  Now it’s just a tangled jungle.

Some of the garlic and potatoes were already ready to harvest (which I promptly did) on July 9th.  At home, Matt and his dad had finished building a new, bigger and better run for the ladies, with multiple doors and even a fancy, almost Frank Lloyd Wright-esque perch that his dad built for their roosting pleasure, and we installed it, with some frustration for minor details, but with great pleasure in the final result (‘tho not as great as the ladies’).

Chickens 7/9/10

The oats, shallots and garlics I was drying in the “barn” were looking rustically delicious.

Drying Oats, Shallots & Garlic

Meanwhile, the milky oat tops I’d harvested and dried a couple of weeks previously were ready to be threshed and made into tea.

Dried Milky Oat Tops

The first cherry tomatoes were just about ready.

First Cherry Tomatoes

In the weeks following, I continued to monitor the garden and harvest whatever was ready, but I didn’t keep very good notes at all.

On July 18th, I transplanted flowers, cucumbers, collards and the blueberry bush, which had just about finished fruiting (and oh, were they good).  I don’t think I got the soil mix right and can’t make sense of my pH tester, so I’m still working on that.  I also made an incredible sorbet from perfect Door County Bing cherries.

Door County Bing Cherries

Cherry Sorbet

On July 22nd, I harvested the biggest Yellow Borettana and Yellow of Parma onions and the remaining garlic and shallots and a bag of potatoes, mostly the All-Blues.  I hung the onions, garlic and shallots up in the garage to dry (except what I took inside for us to use right away).

On July 29th, I seeded fall peas, but I’m not sure they’re going to work, because they’re still not up.  I think the soil may be too warm for them to germinate.

Throughout July, the string holding the cherry tomatoes to the trellis frame kept disappearing.  Matt witnessed squirrels working on it.  We think they’ve been stealing the string for their nests.  So, after three or four re-stringings, and with no string left to continue that fruitless pursuit, Matt took some wire and attached the tops of the remaining bits of string to the frame with that.  We’re hoping the squirrels don’t go for the wire, or regret it if they do.  Dratted squirrels…

But really, the garden grew like crazy in July, with plenty of sun and plenty of rain, and its bounty has been loading down our table.

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June Garden News
July 5, 2010, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Garden
OK, so I think I just about covered May in my last post.  Sorry about all the crazy post-post editing and the pictures showing up all wrong…  Bear with me as I try to figure out the best, easiest way to post so that it doesn’t take me all day each time (I’d much rather be gardening).

I started off the month with mulching, first with straw (what I had) and then with cocoa shells (on sale at an Ace in north Madison).  I’m not sure how much I needed to, since we had so much rain during the whole month of June, but well, there it is.  On June 3rd, I seeded brussels sprouts to transplant in mid-July and seeded some more greens in the salad spiral.  I went over to Elef. on June 4th and took some pictures because things were looking so good.

Potatoes, oats, peas, etc.

Beets, Cabbage, Squash, Tomatoes, etc.

You can see that I put row cover over the brassicas (to protect against cabbage moths– would have worked better if I had wider pieces to really come down to the ground on either side) and the cucurbits (to protect against vine borers– now I need to go back and wrap the stems with aluminum foil for the same reason, since I can’t keep them covered while there are flowers being pollinated).  The tomatillos and tomatoes are staked and the oats are getting tall but not heading out yet.

Garlic, Winter squash under cover, etc.

The garlic leaves have yellow tips already but are forming nicely.  I had already cut scapes (earlier that day, actually).  The cabbage is straining underneath its blanket but the buckwheat is still short.

I took another picture of the tomato row after I mulched the first time:

Beebalm, Buckwheat & Tomatoes

I weeded a little on June 6th, but it really wasn’t possible to do much with so much rain coming down all the time.

On June 10th, I harvested the first shell peas (at least that I wrote down– I think there was at least one harvest before that).  There were also lots of nice radishes and the first Genovese basil.  On June 13th, Matt came over to Elef. with me to harvest another load of peas and take pictures.  In the nine days since the last pictures, the potatoes had really shot up:

Potatoes 9 Days Later

The oat experiment was progressing apace, with the beans doing just fine but the corn looking slightly hesitant:

Oats, beans & corn

The peas were still flowering beautifully, promising the bumper crop that we continued to reap:

Pea vine

The tomatillos and tomatoes were growing despite the lack of sunlight.  Here you can see that cocoa bean mulch I replaced the straw with (I put the straw on the garlic instead because it was getting really weedy):

Tomatillo & Tomatoes

The winter squash were flourishing under their straw mulch and row cover:

Winter Squash

The nasturtiums looked beautiful in the rain.  They left me a little birthday present:

Jewelled Nasturtiums

I had panicked a little about the slow growth of the ground cherries I’d pre-germinated and started at home, so I brought home a couple from Blue Moon Community Farm after a day of volunteering there, but then of course mine took of, so now we’ll have plenty of ground cherries:

Ground Cherries

I have to say that the red-brown cocoa bean mulch sets of the young fresh green of things like onions and carrots very nicely…

Onions & Carrots

And the buckwheat was really starting to take off, a little to the chagrin of the now-submerged pepper plants (can you see them?  I can’t see them, although this is the back of the row, where there’s a pepper-free space):

Happy Buckwheat

The Costata Romanesca zucchini were already flowering:

Costata Romanesca

Etc.  (There are more pictures, believe it or not, but you can see them on Flickr).

On June 14th, I seeded some more haricot vert, this time Fin de Bagnol, an heirloom variety from Seed Savers.  Embarrassingly, though, I can’t remember where I seeded them!  It was a rainy day and I was tired, what can I say?

On June 2oth, a flower-planting day, I seeded a few Platinum Blue Flowers (Echinops ritro, I think) at home, realizing as I did so that there were some volunteers of the exact same thing migrating over from the neighbor’s yard right next to where I was seeding.

On June 21st, I transplanted more broccoli and cauliflower at Elef. and seeded greens and more cucumbers at home (struggling to fill the spaces in the bed where the other cukes just weren’t thriving).

And then… the big news!  On Wednesday evening, June 23rd, Laura and Matt and I drove to Waunakee to our friend John’s Equinox Community Farm to pick up four 12 week-old pullets!  Matt and his dad had spent the last several weeks building quite the most perfect little coop I’ve ever seen:



We took these the next morning.  We’d picked them up after dark while they were a little calmer and just placed the whole cage we brought them home in inside the coop for the first night, since they didn’t seem to want to come out quite yet.  When we got up the next morning, we coaxed them out, opened up the coop door and waited for them to gather courage:

First Emergence

As you can see, the Araucana, whom we’ve since named Mae West for her bossy ways and buxom stature, was first, but the rest followed quickly on her heels to check out the new digs (literally– we’d placed their first run strategically over part of an ant hill to give them an opportunity to root them out):

All 4 Out

We named the Rhode Island Red Rosie, after a good friend:


We named the Australorp Karma, since Karma named a sow after me after we left:


And in the middle of this next one is the Dark Cornish that Laura named Cordelia:

Karma, Cordelia & Mae

We’re all pretty well smitten with them, bringing them treats constantly and losing lots of productive hours to sitting (with deck chairs arranged in a semi-circle) and watching their antics.

Well!  Tearing ourselves away for a moment, the potato box Matt built was thriving and growing.  I’ve added new layers of compost several times now and need to add more, but on June 25th it was looking pretty well-balanced:

Ozette Potato Box

Speaking of potatoes, I finally got a close-up of one of those All-Blue Potato flowers at Elef.!

All-Blue Potato Flower

I’d fertilized the corn with fish and seaweed emulsion the week before (and need to do so again now), so the oat-beans-corn experiment was looking better:


I finally took the straining row cover off the cabbage, hoping the interplanted thyme will help against the cabbage moths:

Cabbage & Thyme

Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage

Aren’t they gorgeous?!  The little bee balm plant I put in last year and that came back this Spring suddenly morphed into a gigantic mop of pink:

Pink Beebalm Blossom

Everything was blossoming, including the tomatillo (another monster):

Tomatillo Blossom

The newly-wrapped tomatoes were setting off the flowering buckwheat elegantly:

Spiral-Staked Tomatoes

Remember those D’atil plants I bought?  Well, they’re not thriving as I think they ought (probably all that rain, but maybe I do need some rabbit poop):

D'atil Pepper Plant

Here’s a new one for my garden (planted last fall), Egyptian Walking Onions:

Egyptian Walking Onions

Strangely, it reminds me a little of Klimt’s “Kiss”…

Ellie-Ganesha, sunburnt and peeling ‘tho he might be, is in a prime location to enjoy all the color:


All cycles of life, abundant as they may be, come to an end, however, and the peas are dying back:

Pea Vines Dying Back

On June 26th, we went on the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood “Tour des (Chicken) Coops,” but that will have to be a whole ‘nother post, because we saw so many great coops and so many phenomenal gardens that I couldn’t possibly squeeze it down here at the end of this already-very-long post!

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