Sometimes the winterscape looks a little strange… We’ve been in a deep freeze for most of the last month (mostly in the -5° to -20° range at night, the days barely higher, with a couple of pleasantly mild exceptions). Today, a little more snow. Need a break to harvest the last of the carrots.
Ice storm. Some strange, quick mix of rain and freezing cold that puts a thick coating of ice on everything, and creates thick little icicles wherever water drips (like, above, from the 3-point hitch that’s attaching the rototiller to the tiny tractor. Quite amazing, and a little alarming as well when you pass under big trees drooping and sagging under the extra weight. Massive branches falling and whole trees toppling are taking out power lines all over, it’s already been out for 12 hours in places around here, and the radio’s saying it might not be restored for another 24 hours. Back to the Stone Age. The Ice Age. At least, the pre-Electric Era. No Internet at night? Light a candle, or use your long-lasting LED headlamp, and read a book!
For the record, this year’s seed catalog! It arrived in late December, and I’ve been thumbing through, but it’s still not well-worn—I pretty much know what I’m ordering. It’s as exciting as always to get the new catalogs, but a bit more symbolic now, start of a new season and all that, than it used to be at the beginning, when I pored over it for hours. Like anything else, do it for a while and it becomes…easier. Also once again for recent years, almost all of my seed will come from just this one place, William Dam, a family owned company not too far from here, that carries only untreated seed. Selection does the trick, service is great, and I like talking to them on the phone. High Mowing and, of course, Johnny’s, both relatively close (Maine and Vermont, to my Ontario), have a lot more in general, and High Mowing is 100% organic seed, but at the moment, I’m fine with Dam! Everyone’s farming has its flow!
Checking in on the winter greens mini-experiment. These guys have been through six weeks of up and down weather, balmy days well above zero (reaching 60-70°F/15-20°C on a sunny day in the hoophouse) , and many extreme freezing nights. So, how did it all do? The Bloomsdale spinach, uncovered (above), is fine, although after all that freezing and thawing, the taste and texture changes (good to eat, but probably wouldn’t sell). It wasn’t the plan, but this spinach can be trimmed back to see how new growth does in spring. The other beds, all brassicas (tatsoi, mizuna, arugula, mustards), left half uncovered, are completely toasted. Meanwhile, under a single layer of medium-weight row cover, arugula (below) is good, perky and quite tasty. Not the most extensive and scientific testing plan, but combined with the experience of harvesting through December and in mid-January, it’s a solid starting point for next winter’s goal of full-on, unheated winter greens production!
Winter breakfast: oatmeal, wild blueberries, banana, maple syrup, cream. Mmmm? Grrrr…. It’s all supermarket stuff, from thousands of miles away, from the bowels of factory farms and processing plants. “Wild blueberries” in President’s Choice designer ziploc bags—what does that even mean? I can’t remember exactly when food became such an uncertainty and a puzzle for me. Once, I didn’t give it much thought (too many distractions!). Now, it’s unsettling. Eating should be simple and fun, right?! Unfortunately, it’s not. And growing food makes thinking about it all so…unavoidable. Well, new season in the field coming up, remineralization on my mind…onwards! :)
Not much to look at, right? Wrong! I spent a good FIVE MINUTES staring at the kombucha tea mother, gently swirling and undulating right after being placed in its tea-and-sugar bath, the watching-chickens effect. I like the look of the mother, although some people find the whole thing kinda…icky. If you’re not familiar, this is a sparkling drink, tartly acidic and slightly sweet, made by floating the mother—it’s also called a SCOBY, symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast—in a solution of tea (black or green or both) and sugar. Let it ferment for around a week and a fizzy beverage is the result. It’s quite impressive. Not surprising, there are all sorts of magical health benefits ascribed to kombucha tea, and from the bit of reading I’ve done, none of it is really “evidence-based,” to use the popular medical description for stuff that’s scientifically proven, whatever exactly that means. In any case, nobody really says it’s BAD for you, maybe it is magical, and I find it…refreshing.
Making it is easy: 4-5 tea bags in some water for a few minutes, top up the hot tea with cold water to about 3/4 gallon (around 3 liters) so it’s all cooled down, then plunk in your SCOBY—any size will do, it grows!—along with a cup or two of kombucha tea (you store the mother in the tea), and you’re done. Cover with a clean cloth to let in air but not dust, stash in a warm, dark place, and taste test in five days or so: if it’s too sweet, leave longer, if it’s too tart (the main bacterium makes acetic acid, which is basically vinegar), well, test earlier next time. It’s all pretty loose and easy, and each batch you get a new, extra mother that you can pass on. Do a search and you’ll find lots of details.
My first mother I was given in a jam jar at a raw food talk, and I made kombucha steadily for a couple of years, for no reason other than that I like it (many people refuse to even taste it?!)—after a couple years off, I’m back in production. Yet another thing to grow!