Making Okra Pickles

What can I say? I hate okra. It’s slimy, and the flavor is simply not my favorite. Unfortunately, it grows really well in the summer heat, and so it ends up going into the garden. The food pantries take it, it can garner a few cents at the farmers market, and of course I have friends that will take it, and I’m happy to give it all away, that is, of course, after I make my personal batch of okra pickles. Nothing beats okra pickles; the hollow pockets inside the pods fill with delectable brine and the little immature seeds act almost like capers. My wife isn’t a fan, nor is my son, but my daughter – the one who would drown in kombucha – will eat them right along with me.

Before I get into the actual pickling process, a word or two about these seeds. I like to save my seeds, or acquire them from local sources. If a seed has been selected from a plant that has produced well and survived in my local climate, it is much more likely to do the same when it grows again in the same climate, than a seed that was saved from a plant in a very different climate. As I was new to the area, I asked around among some local farmers and found some okra seed that a guy from church had been growing for a number of years. He gave me some, and I was off. They’re a very long pod but remain tender up to eight inches, sometimes more.

Okra is also exceptionally easy from which to save seed. There’s no fleshy vegetation on the seeds so they don’t need any washing, and the pods ripen right on the plant, just make sure you pick them when they start to crack. I’m pretty diligent about not letting seed spill out into the garden, but I still have trouble with volunteers popping up all over the garden in the spring. If you do plan on saving seed, only grow one variety (unless you plan on caging or hand pollinating), but don’t worry about cotton or hibiscus (the flowers look very similar). The three are in the same family, but that’s as far as it goes.

As far as pickling goes, I use pods that will fit in pint jars after lopping off the stem. Quart jars will work, but that’s a lot of okra pickles and we don’t need to take up that much fridge space all at once. For four pints I’ll use 2.5 cups of apple cider vinegar and an equal amount of water, with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt. While that’s boiling, I’ll throw my spices in the jars. As you can see from the video, I like to use an eclectic variety and no two jars are the same. Then I pressure cook them for 10 minutes.

Give it a try sometime. They’re delicious and if you’re growing okra, you know you have extras to experiment with. Also, if you want some seeds, let me know.

Farming for the State

TL;DW

Yeah, so the audio is kind of rough. I’m working on patching that up, but if you couldn’t bear to watch and you’re curious as to what I was rambling on about, here it is in text:

I grew up in Upstate NY – four or five hours north of the city – and my wife and I lived in Vermont for a couple of years. We wanted to raise our growing family in the vicinity of our extended families, but we also wanted a little bit of land where we could raise animals and grow some vegetables. And of course we wanted one of us to stay home with the kids. Unfortunately, the high taxes and cost of land in New England made this goal all but impossible. And to be fair, we’re not the only ones feeling this pinch as many young adults are leaving the Northeast for cheaper areas around the country.

One of the issues with this high cost of living that often goes overlooked is the effect it has on farmers. Farmers may have tractors worth $100k, or expanses of rolling fields dotted with $600 milk cows, but most of what you see is leased. When the cost of living goes up, farmers, who’s products are heavily subsidized and price controlled by the State, start to feel a bit of that pinch, especially when it comes to land taxes. Yes, farmers often get a subsidy on taxes, but it still goes up. Also, consider if you’re a new farmer trying to find land to set up your operation: you don’t get a break on the price of the land, and often old tracts of land are excellent areas for development which drive the cost up. Rhode Island has been hit hard by development and has come up with a plan to combat skyrocketing land costs for future farmers, but as it turns out, it’s one of the scariest plans out there and is akin more to feudalism or communism than anything else.

In the past few years, Rhode Island’s land prices have skyrocketed. Where as farm land across the US is valued at an average of $3080 per acre, Rhode Islands are $13,800/acre: over $10k per acre. Why? Mostly just supply and demand: since 1940, Rhode Island has developed 80% of it’s farmland, so it stands to reason that as less and less developable land exists the cost will go up, no matter what it’s used for. But, what makes Rhode Island so special? Well, it’s only 37×48 miles but has 400 miles of coast line. Anywhere you live, you’re pretty close to Narragansett Bay, and anytime you’re near a desirable feature, prices go up.

Rhode Island though, ranked #7 in the country for it’s tax burden, is not cool with this influx of development and they are attempting to make an effort to encourage farmers to build new farms in the state as opposed to having them move somewhere cheaper. In fact, Rhode Island has the highest population of new farmers than any other state, but farmers can’t find affordable land. Where are all these farmers coming from? If you examine the local surroundings i.e. New England, you might get an idea: millenials throwing off the chains of the oppressive capitalist system that afforded their parents such wealth as to allow their children to purchase $150k, degrees on how to be a farmer. But I digress.

Already, the State of RI owns two farm areas – one is a 150 acre tract, the other is a 50 acre parcel. Each of these farms is divided into smaller areas and leased to local farmers who grow food for CSAs, farmers’ markets, and even community gardens. It’s not a lot of land, (Rhode Island is only about 777,000 acres) but the fact that the State is the one who owns the land and then leases it to the farmers is rather curious.

But this is where RI’s new plan comes in, and it is something we’d be better for if they just put it down. As I said, the main reason RI has become so expensive, is because it’s a great place to build a McMansion, it’s close to the ocean and there are many old mansions from yesteryear that give the place a charming New England feel. So more often than not, when an old farm or large tract of land goes up for sale, the price tag it carries also includes the assumption that it will be developed. Well Rhode Island is going to cover the difference between the development potential value and the agricultural value for the farmers. That’s right, they’re going to buy the land for “fair market value” and then resell it to farmers for the agricultural value which is about an 80% discount. Yes, they are going to buy vacant land and then resell it at an 80% loss. A spectacular business practice only one with never ending pockets would engage in.

There is so much wrong with this. As I said, RI is already ranked #7 for tax burden, how do we all think that 80% loss is going to be covered? By taxes, and you know the State isn’t going to take it out of their existing budget, it’s going to be a new item, it’s going to cost the tax-payers even more. Congratulations Rhode Island, you’ve just made it even harder for the folks you’re trying to help.

Secondly, by removing developable land, the already high housing costs – RI’s median home cost is about $50k above average – are going to go up even more. Supply and demand, less houses means higher house prices. Again, who does this end up hurting? Not the guy who is purchasing his second home.

So all that sounds pretty stupid, but this is where it get’s really scary, the State is going to take ownership of land. They say they’re going to buy it at fair market value, and sell it back to farmers as quickly as they can, but there’s no definitive timeline here, and before you know it the State will be sitting on a stockpile of vacant land that will again raise the price of land Rhode Island isn’t keen on buying.

They claim they will only buy land for sale, and never force someone to sell, but we all know how hard the state can lean on someone when they want something. And of course, we all know how well eminent domain works when it comes to compensating land owners.

They also say they’ll only hold the land as long as it takes to transfer it to another party. Again, there is no time frame! What happens when the agricultural valuation becomes too steep for farmers and the State is just sitting on land that it owns? No doubt it will create more of these land trusts in which farmers lease the land from the state. And I think we’ve all seen how that model has worked in the past.

So if you end up buying land at this discounted price, your new deed will come with a restriction that states the land must remain a farm. What does that mean? Broadly, it must continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops. So what happens if after buying land and trying this farming thing for five years, you give up and want to sell? You have to find someone who is willing to continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops, but what if you can’t? Are you stuck? Will the state step in and re-purchase the land? How easy would it be for the state to now keep this land in a continuous cycle of private individual to state ownership?

What about crony capitalism? What happens when the state starts playing favorites and decides to buy land that is garbage for development but is owned by a friend of someone in the State? Or the state decides to forgo purchasing a particular plot because a key developer friendly with the State wants to buy it?

Rhode Island’s plan is an absolutely, horrible idea that leaves too many questions unanswered and too much leeway for the state to accumulate land and power and favors.

If we consider this from a liberty-oriented perspective, we can see how this would work quickly and easily.

As quantity of houses declines, land prices go up and new houses are built. As prices go up, lower income households are forced out. While this may sound horrible, the fact is that as these lower income households move, job vacancies are left and eventually those low-paying jobs will demand a higher wage. Likewise, private organizations like Habitat for Humanity can step in and build houses for individuals for much lower prices (they’ve done this at least once, building a small home for a divorced single mother of two who makes ~$40k/year and selling it to her for $110k). Likewise, there may be an increase of rental units with affordable rents. The problem is when the State get’s involved and subsidizes this housing and land prices, or puts regulations on development, they create an artificial environment. The prices are controlled and as soon as you start controlling one aspect of the market, everything else follows suit.

One of the concerns cited by the state of Rhode Island is the lack of locally grown, healthy, organic produce available to it’s citizens. Once again, if this was something that was that important to the local populace, the free market would take care of this. Many larger farms are subsidized by the government, some farmers are paid not to produce certain crops so the crops that are produced command a particular price. There are regulations put on the way farm products can be sold. These regulations hinder the free market. A conventional dairy farmer can get about 2-3 dollars for a gallon of milk, but when they sell raw milk to locals, that price at least doubles. The same can be said of meat products, but alas, the state says no and forces farmers to demand lower prices.

And believe it or not, there are ways for individual citizens to keep undeveloped land undeveloped. My wife and I looked at purchasing some land near our family in the Great Peoples Republic of New York, and we actually found some fairly cheap land. I think it was right around 100 acres, and the list price was $110. Usually there’s something wrong with land that cheap, but I knew the area from my childhood, and there were no environmental hazards in the area that would drive the price down, and while it was a little swampy on one end, most of it was pretty nice.

So we explored further and got in touch with the real estate agent, and as it would turn out, the seller, deeming the importance of undeveloped land, put a few clauses into the deed. As it turned out there was a small public trail that cut the corner of the property and that had to be left alone, there would also be no commercial log harvesting or sale of wood products – i.e. firewood, cabinets, etc. Further, the homestead site was a designated one acre spot and this was the only area building, gardening, or animal husbandry could take place. You could still hunt and fish the land, and create small hiking trails, but there was to be no motorized traffic – ATVs, tractors, snow mobiles, etc. The inability to use the trees on the lot to make cabinets for sale, or other products was a big turn off, but the real deal breaker was the one acre homestead site. In fact, I was pretty pissed. 100 acres of land, and you decide to limit the homestead area to one acre? How about five or ten acres, something a small farmer could actually utilize? I can see the desire to stop development, but these restrictions were ridiculous! But guess what, it was the sellers choice. It is there property and they decided to make these covenants and the price reflected that. The seller decided that vacant, undeveloped land was of such importance they were willing to take a pay cut of epic proportions (land usually goes for $7-10k/acre in the surrounding area.) But that’s the free market. That’s a voluntarily entered contractual agreement. That’s private property rights. I may disagree with the contract, but no one is forcing me to enter into it.

Rhode Island is forcing tax payers to enter into a contract by buying land and selling it at an 80% loss to farmers with the caveat that the land will remain a farm in perpetuity. It is corrupting the free market and looking to gain the means of production. This is unacceptable.

Thanks for sticking with me. Find me on twitter @HSandHSpod, steemit.com/@bpangie, facebook search for Homesteads and Homeschools, or just hit the follow button on here.

Now get out there and sow those seeds of liberty so we can all reap sheaves of freedom together.

SCOBYs, Get Your SCOBYs

scoby
A big old SCOBY ready to be bagged and shipped off.

Making a SCOBY is not super difficult. In fact, I think it is fairly easy. Though for some this is not the case. (My brother has tried multiple times to start a culture, but continued to fail until I gave him one.) Once you have kombucha brewing, you will have an abundance of SCOBYs.

If you cannot get a SCOBY to grow, we offer some of our SCOBYs for sale. All the SCOBYs we sell are raised on organic black tea and sugar (any SCOBYs grown on flavored teas are given to the chickens).

We sell SCOBYs wet or dehydrated. Dehydrated come in packages of two – in case one does not rehydrate properly – wet SCOBYs come individually.

Dehydrated: $6.00
Wet: $6.00
Both prices include shipping fees. Send us an email, and we will get you a SCOBY, or two.

Fermented Fridays: Carrots!

After college, I was not sure what to do in terms of a job, I had not applied to graduate school, so I started to peruse the Yahoo! Jobs section. Long story short, I ended up in South Korea teaching English for a year. It took me a while, but eventually I fell in love with that pungent, spicy dish we call kim chi. When I returned home, I struggled to find authentic kim chi the way the ajumma’s in Korea make it. The stuff in the jar at the grocery store was passable, but by no means a substitution for what could be found at any random Korean restaurant. I then started to venture into making my own kim chi, and sadly, was never able to make it right. (I think a fair bit of it has to do with getting authentic go chu jang powder – this is probably the best.)

Despite not being able to make truly authentic kim chi, I experimented with some other vegetables and eventually – with some assistance through Sandor Katz – found the world of fermentation. Really, you can ferment anything, especially if you go the lacto-fermentation route; granted some things taste better than others, but it’s always fun to experiment and see what happens. Sometimes you get a winner, and sometimes you made some chicken food.

This past winter we had a spectacular carrot harvest. We froze some, and kept a supply in the refrigerator, but we still had plenty left over. (Unfortunately, here in Georgia, it would seem that no one has heard of a basement or a root-cellar so we have no ideal place for storage.) Rather than just chuck more carrots in the freezer, I decided to lacto-ferment a few and see what happened.

We don’t use pesticides or chemicals in our garden, so I have no concerns about eating the skins of our vegetables, so before cutting the carrots into spears I gave them a good scrub, but left the skins on. I’m a big fan of garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, so naturally, they were part of my supply list as was a jar that has a slight taper towards the top with a rubber gasket – and of course sea salt. My wife got this jar a long time ago for storing dried goods, but the slight taper allows me to pack things in, and then the pressure keeps vegetables submerged without needing any sort of weight to keep them down.

Dragon Carrots, purple on the outside, orange on the inside.

Lacto-fermenting is really one of the easiest ways to preserve food. I peeled a couple garlic cloves and cut a couple big chunks of ginger up before tossing them into the bottom of the jar and adding a healthy dose of hot pepper. I cut the tops off the carrots before slicing them lengthwise into quarters – sixths for the bigger carrots – and then shoved them in lengthwise packing them tight. When I could fit no more, I used a measuring cup, keeping track of how much water it took to fill my jar about half an inch above the top of the carrots. I like to use a ratio of 1:1, tablespoons of salt:cups of water, so I ended up needing just under two tablespoons of salt. I added the salt and used a chopstick to wiggle the carrots around which helped the salt sink down, but who’s real purpose was to allow any trapped air bubbles to escape. (If you trap air bubbles, you defeat the idea of lacto-fermentation and you’ll get inedible rot.)

carrot topWhen my salt, carrots, spices and water were added, I shut the lid and put the jar in the closet of the warmest room in our house. By about day two, I noticed little tiny bubbles rising to the surface, on day three I burped the jar, but probably did not need to as there was no pressure to speak of. (Secretly I wanted to give them the sniff test and it’s really hard to leave them alone.) At this point you don’t want to agitate the carrots any. The carbon dioxide – a byproduct of the lacto-fermentation process – is heavier than air and will sit on top of your ferment, keeping the nasty oxygen away from your vegetables and preventing contamination.

How long you let your carrots sit is really up to you. It depends on how warm the ambient air temps are, how big your ferment batch is, and how tangy you like your veggies. I left our carrots for five days. As this was the first time trying to ferment carrots, I wasn’t really sure how they would come out and part of me was ready to march straight away to the chicken coop – my wife has disallowed me from keeping ferments in the fridge that I “might” eat “one day” – but much to my surprise, they were delicious – crisp and slightly reminiscent of relish, but with that lacto-fermented-almost-kim chi- flavor I’d been searching for. Next to some radish kim chi I made a few years ago, this was the closest flavor I had come to that reminded me of that spicy goodness every capable Korean grandmother creates. And, as a bit of a surprise, the red-purple coloring from our Dragon Carrots leached into the water giving it a red hue. Give it a shot!

Fermented Friday: Oatmeal!
Fermented Friday: Ginger Bug!
Fermented Friday: SCOBY Dooby Doo!

Push the Little Daises!

While some parts of the country are still locked into frigid temperatures and snow, the south has managed to climb it’s way to spring. The nights have warmed into the 40-50°F range. The skies have turned gray and the waters have started to fall. Some of the field grasses have started are beginning to pick up a slight green hue. The dock is unfurling fans of worship. Undoubtedly, we will still have a haunting of the ghost of winter-past, but spring is here. And with spring comes seedlings.

It wasn’t long ago we received our package of seeds from Baker Seeds and some new seed trays from Amazon. They sat for a few days on the foldable tables in the guest room we use for as a make shift greenhouse, longing for some soil and a bit of life. They got their wish last week. It’s still early, but it’s not too early. When I lived in Upstate, NY, I would plant tomatoes and peppers at the end of February and by the end of May, I would have sturdy little seedlings, ready to go as soon as they got in the ground. If we followed the same schedule here, our season would no doubt be cut short as the heat sets in and causes the flowers to abort. Solanaceae – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants – like it warm, but extended periods of daytime temps in the upper 80°F’s and nighttime temps in the 70°F’s will cause flowers to abort, and in the south, those temps come by June. In truth, we may have been able to get some of our pepper and tomato seeds in a little earlier, but too long inside and they start to get spindly, and really need to be repotted more than once. As it is, we submit to transplanting once, twice doesn’t seem worth it.

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Empty tubes.

Over the years we’ve saved our plastic six pack seed planters, many are split down the side and crumpled miserably from poor storage and abusive removal. I was planning on reusing them this year, but not two days before I was about to start planting, my son filled all but a handful with chives he dug up from the yard and is now attempting to sell at the end of the driveway, and while I should have quashed his dreams and taken back my six-packs, I didn’t. I had to find something else.

I had seen on Instagram – not sure where – that someone cut and used paper towel tubes. So that’s what I did. I cut a bunch of paper towel, toilet paper, and wrapping paper tubes (we collect them for home school crafts) into 2-3” pieces, stuffed a square of brown paper grocery bag into the bottom and filled them with dirt. They paper bag holds the dirt in, and the cardboard acts like a peat pot and wicks water up from tray keeping seeds and soil moist without soaking them from the top. When it comes time to transplant, we should be able to just drop the tubes into new pots and not have to disturb the seedling roots at all. (As a side note, it seems like the toilet paper tubes kind of unroll

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Paper towel tubes can be difficult to separate when you have different varieties, but there are ways.

when they get wet – not so much with the wrapping paper and towel tubes.)

With the arrival of out foster kids, we were unable to get our fall garden going on time, and with a couple of really prolonged cold snaps, everything but the carrots, brussel sprouts and cabbage died. That included all of our cauliflower! So along with our tomatoes and peppers, we have a few cauliflower six-packs. The literature says we started them too late and they won’t mature before it gets too hot, but we’re going to try. If nothing else, we’ll be able to eat the greens like collards.

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Thought not a lot, this room gets the best light.

It’s an exciting time. Everyone loves the turning of winter to spring; the cliched rebirth of the world, but for me it’s the planting of the seeds that gets me excited. All winter the ground has been too cold to work and sometimes buried under snow. Planting seeds gives a reconnection. It lets me get my hands dirty. It fills the room with the smell of dirt. And it reminds me to get going and plan out the garden.

Willowy Oysters

I love mushrooms. I’ve always been slightly intrigued by them – maybe it’s because my mother told me to stay away from them? I think part of what piqued my interest in mushrooms is the amount of diversity in them. They come in all colors and seem to pop up overnight. They exist in a network of mycorrohizae that we walk on and around all the time, but are totally unaware of. But, the thing with mushrooms is that once you open your eyes to them, they seem to be everywhere. Now not all of them are edible – and I’ll write a post about that soon – but a good many of them are, and if you’ve priced mushrooms in the store, (not just the white button ones) you’ll know that they can get fairly expensive. So whenever I find edible mushrooms, I get really excited.

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Dirty little willow.

One of the things I noticed about our house when we moved in three years ago, was a willow tree near the side walk. My wife loves the willow, and I admit they are pretty trees, but they get big, they drop lots of leaves, they’re heavy, and they have a pretty big root structure; I certainly don’t want a willow growing 20 feet from the house. In fact, it is already starting to buckle some of our sidewalk. So I put in my head that I would take it down in the winter; winter came and passed into spring, and the willow still stood. Part of it was lazy, part of it was other tasks, and part of it was wanting to root a twig to move the willow somewhere else where we could enjoy it in the future, after all they make a dynamite shade tree.

Three years later, and the willow still stands. I think this spring will be it’s last, but instead of using it for firewood, I have another plan. You see, after a recent rain storm, I went outside to find the willow full of dinner: Oyster mushrooms! Now I got out there a little late and these guys got a little old (see the yellowing?), but they aren’t buggy which is a huge win for Oysters. While oysters aren’t always the best, they can make a mean burger when cooked right. So now, instead of cutting down the willow and putting in the woodpile to cure, I’ll be relocating the willow logs to a damp, shady area and will hopefully be able to keep the willow log producing dinner for sometime to come.

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Hooray for mushrooms!

 

Fermented Fridays: Ginger Bug!

One of the reasons behind homesteading for us is the cutting down of stuff; a limiting of trash. Unfortunately – or not – a lot of this garbage comes from food packaging. Not only can we (most probably) all agree that refined foods are bad for you, but they also generate some of the most garbage – plastic bags inside of boxes, wrapped in cellophane? This means that the sleeve of saltines is one of the first things to go, which isn’t a huge effort for us, but a little tougher than kicking the saltines to the curb is our seltzer habit. Aside from milk, seltzer is the only beverage we buy from the store.

Embarking on a seltzer-less journey, I really wanted to find some sort of substitute for the whole family that could still give us that mouth cleansing effervescence found in a can of seltzer. Of course (mediocre) beer is easy enough to make, but even with a low ABV, it could easily result in trouble, especially if we start giving it to the kids, so that’s out. Then there is kombucha, which my daughter will devour, but my son is repulsed by. So I turned my eye toward soda.

Our kids very rarely have soda – mostly at church functions and birthday parties – as it isn’t exactly what I’d call child-friendly or healthy. As I thought back to college, making a few batches of Birch beer soda, and I remembered adding sugar. Yes the yeast feed off the sugars, but we’re not going for long standing ferments here, we’re just looking for some carbonation so the potential to limit the sugar going into a recipe is, to some degree, up to the cook.

You can make soda a few different ways, most recently it seems that soda making machines are all the rage, but that sort of defeats the purpose of getting rid of stuff. You can also just add sugar water or juice to seltzer – again, defeating the less-junk purpose. But believe it or not, there is a way to make soda naturally, with lacto-fermentation. This is the path we decided to take. Where as kombucha needs a SCOBY to grow, soda needs a bug, and once you have a bug, the soda possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And there are a plethora of books out there to help you on your journey to

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It’s a bug: ginger on the bottom, bubbles on the top.

soda making master.

Once you’ve made a bug – or otherwise obtained a culture – the process is fairly simple: boil some water, add some sugar, add some flavorings, cool, add some bug, bottle. But before you go making a bug or some soda, there are some things to consider:

  1. Grolsch style bottles are recommended, though they should be burped during the fermentation process. No one wants a ginger ale cocktail bomb in their pantry.
  2. For the cocktail bomb reason, we prefer old plastic soda bottles. (Plastic bottles don’t really create shrapnel.)
  3. Carbonation is fleeting. We’ve found that once a bottle is fully opened. Soda should be consumed with in a couple of days lest it become a flat, nasty, mess. This is why we use 1-liter or smaller bottles. (Also, Grolsch bottles are smaller, single serving sizes.)
  4. Like beer, you can filter your soda and remove some of the flavorings before bottling, or you can leave them for an unfiltered taste and appearance. Once soda has become carbonated, it’s very hard to filter the flavorings without going flat.

Making a ginger bug is a fairly simple process. It requires a bit of prolonged attention, but very little time. To make a bug here’s what you’ll need:

35-45 grams of finely chopped ginger
35-40 grams of white sugar
2 cups of water
Quart Size Mason Jar

Before we make the bug, we process all our ginger in the food processor; after we’re done with what we need for the day, we put it back in the fridge until the next day we need it. In apples and berries, the naturally occurring yeast that turn apples to cider are found on the skin, so we include our ginger skin when making a bug, but you don’t have to. As for the sugar, you can experiment around with different types, but when it comes down to it, simple white sugar seems to be the best. Remember, honey is an antimicrobial, so while you may be able to play around with individual batches and honey, it will not work for your bug.

On day one add 15 g (or 1 large tablespoon) of ginger to your mason jar. Add an equal amount of ginger, and your two cups of water. Stir it up so the sugar dissolves. Put it in a warm place and let it rest until tomorrow. (Supposedly, metal kills yeast and shouldn’t be used to make breads and other products that contain microorganisms. Growing up we always used a fork to make pizza dough and never had a problem. All the same, we use a wooden spoon now.)

On day two, add 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. Stir and let rest.

Continue this process for a total of five days – so three more days – or more if you are in a colder climate and your bug doesn’t seem to be generating much activity. You’ll know your bug is alive when bubbles start amassing on the surface. You also can start smelling faintly floral yeasty activity within the jar and if you’re quite, you can hear the bubbles popping.

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A lovely coating of yeasty respiration.

Once your bug is formed, you can use it right away to make some naturally fermented

Gingerale
Ginger Ale from a homemade Ginger Bug!

soda, or you can wait. There are two options to waiting, you can store it on the counter or in the fridge. If you store the bug on the counter, it will remain active and will need to

be fed nearly daily 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. If you store the bug in the fridge, it will still need to be fed, but on a weekly basis. To be honest, I’ve had a bug in the fridge that I’ve forgotten about for three weeks, and it survived.

After making your first batch of soda – most recipes call for ½ cup of bug – you need to replenish your bug. Add half a cup of water, 5 g of ginger and 5 g of sugar. Typically after use we like to leave the bug on the counter for a day or two (feeding it each day) to really get active and incorporate the new water before we throw it back in the fridge. It’s been a fun experiment

for both parents and kids and tastes pretty good, too, though I can’t say it’s a permanent staple in our fridge.

Fermented Friday #1: Oatmeal!

Growing Tails

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. I love beans. Not just for their unending versatility in the kitchen as a food product, but for all the joy they bring in the garden as well. I’ve always had good luck growing beans and I remember as a second grader building teepees in the garden with my father in the late spring, and reading books in the late-summer shade provided by the mass of trefoil leaves and beans tying the poles together. They’re easy to grow; they’re good for the soil; they can be snacked on raw in the garden or dried for use in the winter. And to top it off when it comes to saving the seeds for planting next year’s crop, they’re probably the easiest thing going.

The major variety we grow in our garden is called Potawatomi – a pole lima bean – named after the Potawatomi Indians of southern Michigan and later Wisconsin. I acquired these seeds almost a decade ago through the Seed Savers Yearbook from a woman who actually lived in Michigan. (I’ve no clue of this line’s heritage before that; but for a more detailed account of the beans check this out.)

When it comes to food you can grow in your garden, I dare say beans are one of the top crops. The harvests are some of the most bountiful as the plants will continue to put forth new pods as you pick the maturing pods. For us, we can even get two harvests of dry beans thanks to an extra long growing season. On top of a large harvest, beans are a great source of protein, especially from the garden. And did I mention they’re super easy to preserve? If you pick them green they make awesome pickles or they can be blanched and frozen for later use. If you choose to let them dry, they can easily last all winter and even longer if you decide to keep them in the freezer.

Unfortunately, much like oats, dry beans contain an elevated level of phytic acid which hinders the bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients. However, in the same way that soaking oats and allowing them to ferment reduces the amount of phytic acid, soaking beans does the same thing. A good soak of the beans allows some of the phytic acid to be removed, but to really remove the phytic acid, you ought to let them sprout.

Sprouting beans before you eat them may sound daunting, but it’s really quite simple.

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Two cups of beans at the beginning of the soak.

(You can even buy a kit with seeds from Amazon.) More often than not, we use our Potawatomi Limas for sprouting, but sometimes, we’ll find some store bought dried beans on our hands. Depending on the age of the beans and how they’ve been stored, they will still sprout, though, older beans will take longer and sometimes may not sprout at all. Fresh dried beans from the garden will sprout in a day or two, some store bought beans will take three or four days before they start making tails.

There are a variety of ways to sprout beans, though I’ve found

mid soak
Just about done soaking, they’ve almost doubled in volume.

the easiest to utilize a half-gallon mason jar. I start out by soaking the beans for 12-24 hours. Once they’ve sat and expanded, I’ll drain the water and cover the mouth of the jar with a coffee filter and a canning jar band. This allows for some air flow, but keeps potential flies and other things out. With the top of the jar semi-sealed, I lay the jar on it’s side someplace warm – in the winter this is on the wood stove hearth, in the summer it’s anywhere on the counter. (Ideal bean germination temps are in the high sixties-low seventies.) Then every six hours (or more frequently if I can remember); I fill the jar with tepid water, shake the beans around and then drain it. It is important to keep the beans clean and moist. (You don’t want to use hot water as it may kill the beans depending on your water heater temperature, and if you use cold water, you’ll slow the sprouting process a shade.)

full soak
Done sprouting, the jar is full!

Technically, when beans have sprouted about half an inch, you’re done, though I like to let mine get a little longer. As they get longer, the actual seed-coats may start to develop into the first leaves – cotyledons – and then you’ve got a sprout with some greenery. This is tougher to do with big beans, but can certainly be done with some of your smaller beans and peas.

Soaking the beans not only helps to change the nutrition profile for the better, but it makes cooking time a whole lot shorter. No hour plus boils or water changes. You can even eat some of the smaller bean sprouts raw, though I wouldn’t recommend it for the larger beans. You’ll notice as they cook, some of the beans will slough their coating. You can remove the coatings as they float to the top of the pot or you can just cook them in. Your call. Sprouting beans is a fairly simple task, and with semi-fresh beans, it’s a fairly consistent venture. I know some folks complain that it’s time consuming, but the time put into rinsing probably adds up to the time it takes to cook non-sprouted beans. It’s definitely a worthy experiment, so give it a go!

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Potawatomi Lima Beans

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Potawatomi Lima beans hail from the Potawatomi Indians of Southern Michigan. After numerous years of selective preservation of these seeds, the Potawatomis had a lima bean that could grow in colder climates and shorter seasons. These are a pole variety and easily cover 8-foot teepees before looking elsewhere to climb. The seeds can be eaten as a shelling bean, or allowed to dry on the plant and used as a dry bean.

These limas did well in Vermont where we were able to collect both dried and green beans. In Georgia we are able to get two dried bean crops off one plant per season. Sometimes the pods will shatter while still on the plant. The seeds that land early in the summer will often end up producing by the fall and we will have a new harvest of shelling beans.

Very prolific plants, these cream, maroon and black seeds all came from pods of four or more seeds. Over the last decade or so we have been selecting for plants with four or more seeds per pod and while the numbers are still low, the number of 4+ pods have been increasing.

Climbing vines up to 8 feet
Many three seeded pods
15 grams ~25 seeds, $2.50 plus shipping and handling, just drop us a line.

Read up on how we came to select this variety.

Picking a Bean

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

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Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It’s a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We didn’t have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans I’ve grown when it came to cold nights.

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Soaked, sprouted, and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We’re able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We’ve tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?