Sunday, June 29, 2008


Des got me a cheese making kit for Father's Day, and we just got around to making some cheese from it. The process is slightly less arcane than it sounds, as the kind of cheese we made - mozzarella - is the second-simplest cheese in the world (ricotta is #1 by my estimation). For those curious about the steps, they are:
  1. Heat milk with a tiny amount of citric acid to 88F.
  2. Add a tiny amount of a natural enzyme, rennet, to the warm milk.
  3. The rennet performs a minor chemical transmogrification, gelling the milk into something that resembles a loose custard. You wait a few minutes while this occurs.
  4. The custard is just milk solids suspended in a yellow fluid called whey. You drain off as much of the whey as you can. This is tricky but it turns out a simple wire strainer (and some patience) works great.
  5. You now have a big bowl of ricotta. You could stop here, but if you want mozzarella, you heat the results in a 185F water bath. You dunk chunks of the prenatal cheese in the water, getting it hot enough to melt. Then you knead the hot cheese, developing the texture and forcing out the remaining liquid.
  6. Put the cheese in ice water to cool. This is important if you want the cheese to maintain its shape.
There isn't much to it, but I will say that we probably won't be making all of our own cheeses in the near future. For one, it's a messy chore, consuming several pots, bowls and spoons very quickly. It also takes a fair amount of time; it was about 1/2 hour for our first try. Finally, a gallon of milk, which weighs about seven pounds, turns into a despair-inducing 3/4 pound of cheese. I'm sure the math is the same for cheese makers all over the world, but organic milk ain't cheap and watching most of it go down the drain is disconcerting. Mozzarella has a very high water content, so I'm interested to see what tiny percentage of milk is kept in harder cheeses like cheddar.

Our next stop is ricotta. We've already been there, but more as a rest stop on the way to its more advanced sibling. I'm willing to try other cheeses if anyone is particularly interested in other varieties.


One morning last week, I noticed something interesting about our corn. It had funneled the dew from the air into the conical vase the leaves made, creating little oasis (is oasis plural for oasis?) in the plants. It seems a little too convenient to be an accident, but I'm wondering how the plants can use the water they're holding. I know leaves can take in a small amount of water, but it seems unlikely they can use everything they collect. Maybe they don't have to?

The Enki project is going forward. I'm trying two plants: Genovese Basil (our Italian neighbor noted that he cannot find it in the greenhouses, so maybe we'll have something for him by the end of the season) and a viola. The viola is mostly to see if there's an effect on flower production. The pots are all filled with amended soil in our back yard, and the ones with blue tape get the Science Water treatment.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I have some free time, and the garden is one of the few things appropriate to my challenge level. As such, I've been doing some obsessing over things. On the plus side I have the time to actually garden for the first time in my life, but on the down side there are so few outlets for my technology fetish in this field. Sure, there are the usual things like water timers (thanks Patty!) and hoses made from nanomaterials or whatever marketing ploy they have to use to sell more hoses, but there isn't much cutting edge about putting seeds in the dirt and watering them. - cue cheesy announcer voice - That is, until now!

I found this guy at Bachmans and was instantly captivated. It's a watering can that has a twist - if you fill it full of water and plug it in, it will super oxygenate the water. The claim is over 150% oxygen saturation of the water (if you've made rock candy you know the principle) and a resulting bump to plant growth. Everyone knows that plants create oxygen, but they also consume it like most every other living organism. More oxygen means more growth, and more oxygen in the water source means that oxygen poor soil (which is almost all of it) isn't as much of a hindrance.

The Enki device works through electrolysis, which simply means that it uses an electrical current to separate the hydrogen and oxygen of the water. The result is what appears to be billions of little bubbles rising up from the bottom of the watering can; those are the oxygen and presumably hydrogen bubbles rising to the surface. It takes about four minutes for the device to be ready.

It sounds totally scientific, so I bought it. I'm not a fan of science - too much hard work - but I do love scientific lingo. I also like to experiment, so I'm thinking that a trial is in order. I'm thinking of starting up two pots, each with the exact same soil and each with a seed from the same packet. Put them in the same location, and use different water sources. Not much to it, and it would be fun to see if I just wasted $80 or not. I'll post the results here as time goes on.

Any suggestions on a plant to grow?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Thanks to many of our friends, our garden is beginning to take off. The asparagus spears have been sent up and are about two feet tall; many have thrown out their lateral branches and look like scrawny Christmas trees. The blueberries are leafing out nicely, as are the raspberries. The only real casualty of the fruit plants were the grapes. I have no idea why they did not thrive, but only one of the three managed to survive. The two fallen grapes will be replaced by hops and hardy kiwi, so all is not lost.

The chickens have been restricted to a small portion of our yard, as they're more than a match for any sprouting plant. Their run isn't the most elegant of constructions - chicken fencing staked out around their domain is all we could manage - but it's given us an enormous amount of breathing room while starting the garden. Last year the chickens were a serious nuisance for several of our plants. They demolished the corn seedlings, and once they found out what cabbages and broccoli tasted like, it was all over for those as well. They've adjusted well to their new, smaller domain, and the two flocks have finally integrated, so peace once again reigns over chickenland. Now, if they would only start laying eggs again...

The little beauty on the left is an alpine strawberry. I feel like it needs an intro, as it's been our anchor fruit plant for the past few weeks. You'll find them as thick as flies in most temperate permaculture designs, and for good reason. They're tougher than hell, they do not 'creep' like regular strawberry cultivars, and they're everbearing. This means that from early June to some time in the fall they produce fruit constantly. The berries aren't particularly big, even smaller than a dime, but they have an incredible taste. I liken it to a strawberry crossed with a bubble gum ball. Apparently chefs like to cook with them and consider them a gourmet ingredient, but I'll never find out if that's true - the girls swoop in on the plants every morning and afternoon, scouring the plants clean of even the most nominally ripe fruit.

Anyway, this post is more of a 'thank you' than anything else. Without the assistance of our friends, this year's garden would have been a few rows of corn and a potato patch. I'll post more pictures as things become photogenic (an early garden is a desolate looking thing, more potential than reality), along with some shots of the hens living in harmony.