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Monday, February 27, 2017

It's time to start keeping a list of edible species (as well as non-edibles I find useful) that I am growing in my developing permaculture plot (Temperate climate, USDA Zone 8, Washington State, USA) which includes a small property of my own as well as two neighboring properties belonging to family members.  Looking over this list it would seen that I could feed myself with this, but in reality many of these plants are still in their early stages of establishment, and not all of them are highly productive...  The species and cultivars listed in GREEN are mature enough to be producing some harvest each year.  Those in RED are usually producing very good quantities each year.  Plants with a light blue background have been acquired, but have not yet been planted out.  All others have been planted already, but are not yet producing.

I will continue updating and organizing this list as it is basically a rough draft at this point...


Apples (Malus domestica & hybrids):
*Wild (mature) volunteer apple - Early ripening soft fruit which are very light in flavor.  Does not keep, but I enjoy eating it when in season and have found when picked under-ripe it makes a good pectin source for mixing with other fruits without adding a strong apple flavor.
*'Liberty' - Highly disease resistant red apple.
*'Wolf River' - Extremely large red streaked apple which I grafted onto a wild volunteer seedling apple.
*'Ellisons's Orange' - An offspring of the famous English Cox's Orange Pippin.
*'Centennial' (Crab) - Highly productive of large crabs good for fresh eating, but I find they seem at their best slightly before they appear fully ripe.  Make a nice soft mushy pickle when preserved in salt brine that is a useful addition in cookig.
*'Evereste' (Crab) - Highly ornamental and productive crab that is good for cooking.
*'Gravenstein' - Vigorous tree with good quality fruit.
*'Wine Crisp' - A Patented variety that is supposed to be resistant to a range of apple diseases and a very long keeper (many months).
*New grafts - Grafting unknown dark red as well as gala and granny smith onto rootstock in pots.  Will plant out if successful.
*Columnar - Not sure which one... Either North Pole or Scarlet Sentennal.  The deer keep eating it...
*'William's Pride' - Ripens in August
*'Pristine' - Ripens in August
*Rootstock, Semi-dwarf - Collected from root suckers from a friend's tree.  The trees seemed to be fairly productive & sturdy, and all in the 8'-12' height range.  Young stems seem to have a good bit of pigment in them making them dark, but the leaves are regular green.
*Rootstock, Semi-dwarf/vigorous? - Collected from root suckers from one of my columnar apples.  It could potentially be either MM106 (Semi-vigorous 10'-14') or M7 (Semi-Dwarf 9'-12') rootstock since both options are used for columnar apples, but M7 seems to be the most likely identity since I remember the rootstock was listed as "semi-dwarf" when I purchased it.  We can safely say this would produce trees in the 9'-14' range.

Pears (Pyrus sp.):
*'Bosc' (P. communis) - Classic high quality pear that should keep well and have some disease resistance.
*'Rescue' (P. communis)
*'Seckel' (P. communis)
*'Shinseiki' (P. pyrifolia) - Disease resistant and good keeper.

Medlar (Mespilus germanica):
*'Monstrueuse de Evreinoff' - Large fruited French variety.

Quince (Cydonia oblonga):
*'Aromatnaya' (Cydonia oblonga)
*'Van Deman' (Cydonia oblonga)

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles sp):
*'Toyo Nishiki' (C. speciosa) - Multi colored flowers.
*Seed Grown (C. cathayensis) - More tree like with larger fruit than common flowering quince.  Not commonly available.

Stone Fruits (Prunus sp. & hybrids):
*Cherry Plums (P. cerasifera) - Non-native volunteer with each tree having slightly different flavor and overall quality.  Some with deep purple/red leaves and some with green leaves.  Fruit small, but abundant.  Some specimens tend to bear biannually.
*Green Plum Unknown (P. sp.) - Very sweet green plum that turned out not to be anything like the variety supposedly planted.  Possibly a rootstock type, but very good.
*Italian Purple Plum (P. sp) - Lingering clonal population existing along property line from older (now gone) trees.  Good flavor, but very slow to come into bearing.  Tends to get maggots in fruit.
*Unknown Sweet Plum (P. sp) - Very sugary variety planted from a root sucker from a clonal patch at a friend's house.
*'Shiro' Plum (P. sp) - Yellow plum.
*'Jam Session' Plum (P. sp.) - Damson type.
*Sweet Cherries (P. avium) - Wild non-native volunteers.  Sweet fruit with smaller size than commercial cultivars and variable in color and flavor.  Attractive tall trees with most fruit held out of reach.
*Sour Cherries (P. cerasus), 'Surefire' - Highly disease resistant cultivar with tart fruit that still has enough sugar for fresh eating or cooking.
*'Black Boy' Peach (P. persica) - Very dark fleshed peach with resistance to peach leaf curl.
*'Chinese Sweet Pit' Apricot (P. armeniaca) - Edible fruit and sweet edible seed.

Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa):
*Seed grown - Productive dark berries good for winemaking.

Service Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
*Seed grown - Native edible fruit similar to blueberries, but biologically like mini apples.

Strawberries (Fragaria sp. & hybrids):
*Pink variety (F. ananasa x Comarum sp.), also growing sees out from this variety - Pink flowers almost year round with fruit set during warmer months.  Clumping and not highly productive.
*Alpine (F. vesca) - Clumping, and readily growing from seed.  Both red and white berry forms setting fruit whenever weather is warm enough for pollinators.
*Native (F. sp.) - Small, probably runner-less plants with tiny tasty fruit of the June bearing type.
*'Totem' (F. ananasa) - June bearing with very upright stems on vigorous plants.  Great flavor.

Blackberries & Raspberries (Rubus sp.):
*Red Raspberries, unknown variety (R. idaeus) - Originally from Tolstoy Farm in Eastern Washington.
*Red Raspberries, 'Tulameen' (R. idaeus)
*Red Raspberries, 'NR7' (R. idaeus) - Compact, dwarf and thornless.  Produces on both new and second year stems.
*Black Raspberries, 'Ohio Treasure' (R. occidentalis) - Bears on both first and second year growth.
*Dewberry (R. ursinus) - Trailing native with separate male and female plants.  Not highly productive, but very tasty.
*'Triple Crown' (R. fruticosus)- Vigorous, thornless.
*'Ouachita' (probably) Blackberry (R. fruticosus) - Upright, thornless.
*'Wild Treasure' Blackberry (R. sp.) - Thornless hybrid of native dewberry and Waldo blackberry.
*Salmonberry (R. spectabilis) - Native, shrubby, common.  Fruit orange to red and of variable quality.
*Thimbleberry (R. parviflorus) - Native, variable productivity.  Very tasty when ripe and well watered.
*Black Cap Raspberry (R. leucodermus) - Native black raspberry with whitish finish on stems giving it ornamental look.  Lightly productive of pleasant tasting, but overly mild fruits.
*Himalayan (R. armeniacus) - Highly invasive with some areas producing abundant crops and others just wasting space with poor production and accessibility.  Control measures in place.
*Evergreen/Cutleaf (R. laciniatus) - Invasive, but not common.
*Nagoon Berry (R. articus) - Deciduous fruiting groundcover.  Self-fertile.
*All Field Berry 'Valentina' (R. articus x stellarticus) - Deciduous fruiting groundcover.
*All Field Berry 'Sophia' (R. articus x stellarticus) - Deciduous fruiting groundcover.

Rose Hips (Rosa sp. & Hybrids):
*'MEIdomonac' aka "Bonica" (Probably - didn't keep the tag) - Heavy blooming pale pink rose that was planted as an ornamental and surprised me with a nice crop of rose hips.  I did try making tea from them which was pleasant so I will continue using it for hips.


(Eleagnus sp.):
*'Fruitlandii' (E. pungens) - Evergreen with tasty red fruit in spring.  Winter blooming.  Doesn't seem to set fruit without a pollinator.
*'Golden Silverberry' (E. pungens) - Evergreen with variegated leaves.  Hopefully will be a good pollinator for Fruitlandii.
*'Garnet' Autumn Olive (E. umbellata) - Small red tasty berries late in the season.
*Goumi (E. multiflora), Seedling - Seed grown to pollinate unknown variety listed above.

Seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides):
*Male - Needed to wind pollinate female cultivars.
*Female, 'Goldensweet' - Sweeter than average.  Not sure if this is due to higher sugar content or simply lower acid content.
*Female, 'Otradnaya' - Large fruit.


Figs (Ficus carica):
*'Stella'/'Cordi' - Green exterior, red interior.  Bifare.
*'Desert King' - Green exterior.  Breba.
*'Olympian' - Dark exterior.  Bifare.
*'Atreano' - Green exterior.  Bifare.
*'Hardy Chicago' - Dark exterior.  Main.
*'Violette De Bordeaux' - Dark exterior.  Bifare.
*'Verte/Green Ischia' - Green exterior.
*'English Brown Turkey' - Dark exterior.  Bifare.

Mulberries (Morus sp.):
*Dwarf Black (Morus nigra) - Small growing bush type rather than tree like.
*Contorted (Morus sp. 'Unryu')


Blueberries/Huckleberries/Cranberries (Vaccinium sp.):
*Blueberry, 'Libery' (V. sp) - Grows up to 7 feet high.  Being planted as part of a mixed hedge.
*Blueberry, 'Pink Lemonade' (V. sp)
*Blueberry, Assorted varieties (V. sp)
*Red Huckleberry (V. parvifolium) - Native grows on rotting red cedar stumps.
*Evergreen Huckleberry (V. ovatum)
*Cranberries (V. macrocarpum) - Seed grown, plus one of the cultivar 'Stevens'.

Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo):
*'Compacta' - Attractive evergreen with ornamental and tasty fruit.  Best flavor/texture is just before they look fully ripe while they transition between orange and red.

(Gaultheria sp.):
*Salal (G. shallon) - Native evergreen understory shrub with tasty purple berries.
*White Wintergreen (G. sp.) - Spreading low evergreen with fragrant leaves and white berries.


Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa & hybrids):
*Unknown - Highly productive from a young age.  Green berries take on reddish color when at their peak of ripeness
*Unknown (possibly 'Poorman') - Very tasty and not too tart, but very little production for the first few years.  Now as it's very well established it is beginning to bear heavily.
*'Hinnomaki Yellow' - Low growing
*'Black Velvet'

Currants (Ribes sp):
*Red Unknown (R. rubrum)
*White Unknown (R. rubrum)
*Black Unknown (R. nigrum) - Probably the variety called Consort.
*Black, 'Hill's Kiev Select' (R. nigrum x ) - Hybrid black currant.
*Clove Currant (R. odoratum)
Golden Currant (R. aureum)


Hedgehog Cacti (Echinocereus sp.):
*E. triglochidiatus v. inermis - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now
*E. triglochidiatus v. gonacanthus 'White Sands' - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now

Prickly Pear Cacti (Opuntia sp.):
*O. phaeacantha v. woodsii 'Brilliant Orange' - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now
*O. phaeacantha 'Plum' - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now
*O. phaeacantha 'Mesa Sky' - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now
*O. macrocentra - Growing in terra-cotta pots for now
*O. humifusa v. inermis
*O. sp. - Spinless
*O. sp. (probably O. polyacantha)- Originally from Tolstoy Farm in Eastern WA.


Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum):

(Solanum sp.):
*Tomatoes (S. lycopersicon) - naturalized in greenhouse.
*Black Nightshade (S. nigrum complex, probably S. americanum) - Native volunteer in disturbed soils.  Edible berries when fully ripe.  Not tried yet...

Other Fruits:

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba):
*Seedlings - Seed grown from two batches of seed (both from ebay).  One batch was wild collected from the best tasting fruit found while someone traveled through multiple states.  The other batch is seed from selected commercial varieties.
*'Allegheny' - Variety selected for heavy production.

Persimmons (Diospyros sp.):
*'Nikita's Gift' (D. kaki x virginiana) - Hardy hybrid persimmon grafted onto american rootstock.

Grapes (Vitis sp.):
*Unknown - Productive
*Unknown - Good flavor in flesh, but seeds slightly bitter
*Unknown - Lacks vigor, but small pale greenish berries are very sweet and tasty.
*'Island Belle'/'Campbell's Early' (V. labrusca)
*'Interlaken' - Small green/golden grapes.
*'Venus' - Patented large blue grape from University of Arkansas breeding program.

Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia sp.):
*'Ken's Red' (A. arguta x melanandra)
*A (A. arguta)
*'Meader' Hardy Male (A. arguta)
*'Issai' (A. arguta) - Semi-self fertile.  Lacks vigor.

Elderberries (Sambucus sp.):
*'Emerald Lace' (S. nigra)
*'Black Lace' (S. nigra)
*'Eiffel1' (S. nigra)
*Blue (S. cerulea)

Pomegranate (Punica granatum):
*'Parfianka'  - Well rated for flavor.
*'Eversweet' - Non-staining.  Edible even if not fully ripe.

Olives (Olea europaea):
*'Arbequina' - currently growing in ground in the greenhouse.  I plan to move it out to a permanent spot once it's a little older and has more mass to withstand the winters around here...

Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba):
*'Tigertooth'  - Not sure if it will ripen its late season fruit here, but it should be hardy at least.  There are earlier ripening varieties, but I chose Tigertooth because it was the only variety which was available on its own roots.  Since I want to allow it to sucker and form a clonal colony over time a self rooted cultivar was a must.

Bitter Orange (Poncirus trifoliata):
*Unknown - Accidental addition after a citrus failed to overwinter in my greenhouse and the rootstock took over.  It's an attractive shrub and I look forward to experimenting with it's future fruits.

Magnolia Vine (Schizandra chinensis):
*'Eastern Prince' - Self-fertile cultivar.  Shade tolerant.

Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae):
*Unknown - Probably seed grown, or perhaps cutting grown without a cultivar name.

Mahonia (Mahonia sp.):
*Mahonia repens
*Mahonia aquifolium 'Compacta' - Compact form of tall oregon grape.  When I saw them in the nursery I was struck at how heavy their fruit set was.


*Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) Seed grown from two batches of seed.  One batch was shipped from South America.
*Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) - Seed grown from seed shipped from Korea.
*English Walnut (Juglans regia) - Seed grown, plus one grafted.
*Hardy Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) - Seed grown from Kanza cultivar.
*Chestnut (Castanea crenata) - Seed grown from Silverleaf/Eurobella cultivar.
*Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta) - Wild native volunteering here and there.  Not productive, and seeds are difficult to crack.
*Jefferson Hazel Seedlings (Corylus avellana) - Seed grown European hazels with parentage showing resistance to the hazelnut blight which damages European hazel trees.

Bulbs, Corms, Roots, Tubers, Etc.:

*Camas (Camassia quamash) - Native edible bulb that was historically a major food crop.
*(Crocus sieberi) - Mix of two cultivars, 'Firefly' and 'Tricolor'.  Edible corm supposedly tastes like hazelnuts.
*Sun-snaps (Helianthus tuberosus)
*Hopnis (Apios americana) - Improved variety from Louisiana State University breeding program.
*Walking Onions (Allium x proliferum) - Not as nice as regular onions...
*Hardneck Garlic, 'Susan Delafield' (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) - Huge cloves, very hot flavor!
*Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia)
*Yakon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) - I'm growing it in the unheated greenhouse.  Yields have been nearly non-existent so I'm gonna try a different cultivar before giving up.

Misc. Vegetables:

*Asparagus (Asparagus officinales)
*Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
*Rhubarb 'Crimson Cherry' (Rheum rhabarbarum/Rheum x cultorum)
*Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetocella)
*Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) - Traditional orange non-hybrid species type.  Edible buds.
*Daylilies (Probably Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus) - Lemon yellow non-hybrid species type.
*Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium sp.) - Tasty greens, but not common volunteer on disturbed soils.
*Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) - I have not yet acquired the taste for them, but have made good wine from the flowers, and they definitely are great for the bees.
*Water Cress (Nasturtium officinale)
*Cattail (Typha lattifolia)
*Elephant Garlic/Perennial Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) - I use for the greens not the bulbs.
*Welsh Bunching Onions (Allium fistulosum) - I don't pull these.  I simply cut at ground level and let them regrow.  I can harvest each bulb a couple times a year.
*Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) - I bring this in for the cooler months as freezing will kill it.
*Delicata Squash (Cucurbita pepo) - Growing and saving seeds to develop my own land race best adapted to my conditions with minimal supplemental watering.  First planted in 2016.
*Redwood Sorrel 'Klamath Ruby' (Oxalis oregona) - Groundcover for shade with sour tasty leaves.  This cultivar has a red underside to the leaves making them a little bit more ornate.


*'Bronze' Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
*Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
*Mint (Mentha sp.) - 'Spearmint', 'Scotchmint', 'Peppermint', 'Applemint'
*Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare ssp. hirtum)
*Thyme (Thymnus sp.) - Mixed species.
*Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
*Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
*Nodding Onions (Allium cernuum)
*Bay Laurel/Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)
*Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
*Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) - Sterile hybrid comfrey for mostly external use as well as for green mulch and pulling nutrients from deep in the soil.
*Sage (Salvia officinalis), probably 'Berggarten' - Regular flavor, but doesn't seem inclined to flower.


*Wild Rice (Zizania palustris)


*(Salix koriyanagi var. 'Rubikins') - Basketry willow.
*(Salix sp.) Unknown - Basketry willow.
*(Salix sp.) unknown - Possible use as basketry willow.
*(Salix purpurea 'Nana') - Dwarf possible for basketry.
*(Salix sp.) Weeping Willow - Great livestock forage.


*Mica Inky Caps (Coprinellus micaceous) - Wild, small, but seasonally abundant.  Great flavor and easy to dry for later use.
*Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria sp.) - Wild, seasonally abundant.  Best fresh, but abundant harvests can be dried for later use.
*Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor) - Wild, common and abundant over an extended period of time.  Too tough for eating, but can be used to make a mushroom stock and is reported to have anti-viral properties.
*Yellow Morels (Morchella esculenta or other similar) - Introduced.  Amazing harvest the first year, mediocre harvest the second year...
*Winecaps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) - Introduced.  Seasonally available, growing in wood chip mulch.
*Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) - Introduced into standing deadwood snags.  
*Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) - Introduced into standing deadwood snags.
*Shaggy Mane/Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) - Only spotted on a few occasions, but I hope to encourage it.  It's delishous!

Animal Products:

*Meat (Ovis aries) - The piebald (aka Jacob) sheep help manage the land and the annual harvest of meat from the lambs is the dominant form of meat in my diet these days.
*Wool (Ovis aries) - In the past the wool has been so full of thorns and such that I haven't bothered with it, but as the land gets more tame the workability of the wool is improving.  This year I bought a spinning wheel and was able to make some cozy cold weather hats as well as some dish cloths/hot pads for kitchen use.  Interested in doing more...
*Fat (Ovis aries) - The lambs don't have much fat, but occasionally I harvest an older sheep and it will have enough fat to save for soap making.  
*Honey (Apis melifera) - Delicious, and I'm finally getting the hang of keeping them around.  The key seems to be to just provide housing for local bees rather than purchasing and bringing in bees from elsewhere.
*Wax (Apis mellifera) - As a byproduct of honey harvesting I get a bit of bees' wax which I have found useful here and there.  I've used it to seal terra cotta saucers as well as to make wood treatments.

Possible Future Additions Under Consideration:

*Pigeons (Columba livia domestica)
*Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
*'Perpetual' Sorrel/French Sorrel (Rumex acetosa 'TM683')
*Renkon/Lotus Root (Nelumbo nucifera)
*Ramps (Allium triccocum)
*Akebia (Akebia quinata)
*Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea)

If you're in Washington State and would like to chat about permaculture and/or trade materials then please join my Facebook group: Permaculture Swap - Washington State

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Teas for brewing Kombucha

For the past year I have been running a fermentation group over on Facebook.  With the large number of people to share with and learn from, I have been able to compile a list of teas which people have vouched for as effective for brewing kombucha.  This list is intended to inspire the adventurous.  It is not intended to imply that teas not on this list can't work.  If you find an unlisted tea that works well for you then please visit Wild Fermentation Uncensored on Facebook and share your experience with us.  :)

Disclaimer: Sometimes a tea is reported as working well by some while not working well for others.  I believe there are a couple of reasons for this... 

  • Kombucha strain used (the exact mix of culture species and their vigor varies)
  • Differing definitions of success; success meaning vigorous scoby growth to some, while simply meaning great flavor to others. 

*Assam Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Barley Tea (Hordeum vulgare
*Black Tea, generic (including decaf) (Camellia sinensis
*Bugapoop Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Butterfly Pea Tea (Clitoria ternatea
*Cannabis Leaf Tea (Cannabis sp.) 
*Chaga Mushroom Tea (Inonotus obliquus
*Chicory Root Tea (Cichorium intybus var. sativum
*Cleavers Tea (Galium aparine
*Coffee (Coffea arabica, Coffea canephora
*Darjeeling Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Dragon Pearls Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Earl Gray Tea (flavored Camellia sinensis
*Ginger Tea (Zingiber officinale
*Green Tea, generic (including decaf) (Camellia sinensis
*Gunpowder Tea  (Camellia sinensis
*Hibiscus Flower Tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa
*Hibiscus Leaf Tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa
*Houjica Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Jasmine Tea (flavored Camellia sinensis
*Lapsang Souchong Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Mauby Bark Tea (Colubrina arborescens)  
*Mulberry Leaf Tea (Morus sp.) 
*Nettle Tea (Urtica dioica
*Oolong Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Pu-erh Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Raspberry Leaf Tea (Rubus idaeus
*Rooibos Tea (Red and Green) (Aspalathus linearis
*Sencha Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Tulsi Tea (Ocimum sanctum
*Turmeric Tea (Curcuma longa
*White Tea (Camellia sinensis
*Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis)

Additionally, I’ve heard about a number of tea blends which work successfully, but I can’t be sure if the individual ingredients in them all work if brewed separately or only in combination with the other ingredients.  The following for sure work in blends, but further feedback is needed to determine if they can be used alone when brewing kombucha.

+Blackberry Leaf (Rubus uva-ursi
+Chai (Camellia sinensis with a range of spices added) 
+Chamomile (Matricaria recutita
+Cinnamon (Cinnamomum sp.)
+Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon
+Elderberries (fruit steeped with tea and then strained prior to 1F) (Sambucus sp.) 
+Elderflowers (Sambucus sp.) 
+Lavender (Lavandula sp.) 
+Lemon (Citrus x limon
+Lemonbalm Leaf (Melissa officinalis
+Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus
+Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis
+Peppermint Leaf (Mentha × piperita
+Rose Hips (Rosa sp.) 
+Rose Petals (Rosa sp.)  
+Silver Birch Bark with Wood (Betula pendula
+Stevia Leaf (not as a substitute for real sugar) (Stevia rebaudiana
+Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

Special thanks to contributing members from Tibetan Temple Kombucha, Kombucha Nation, and Wild Fermentation Uncensored for contributing experiences to help create this list.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Wild Flock System (Modified Multi-Sire Management)

I have never been one to do things the way people say to. This has shown itself in multiple aspects of my life. For the last seven or eight years now I have been keeping a small flock of Jacob sheep to help with land management while providing meat for the freezer, beautiful sheepskin rugs, and wool. Actually I made a tiny block of cheese this year from some Jacob milk, but that's besides the point! :) For the last few years I have been trying a system where I don't pick who gets to breed with who. All the current season ram lambs (provided they meet breed standards) get a chance to compete for breeding with the ewes before heading off to the freezer in January. For a couple years I didn't even keep a mature ram around, but this past year I changed that as I increased the size of my pasture area.  
I have been struggling to find information about this style of management as most breeders hand pick each ram for each group of ewes to be bred. I have been struggling with what to even call this style of management until recently. After a long conversation with a number of people in a sheep forum I was able to put my thoughts together and describe what exactly my system is.

Following is the "Wild Flock System" or what could also be called "Modified Multi-Sire Management".

What it is:

  • Ram(s) and ewes are kept together year round .
  • Ram lambs which meet breed standards are not separated or castrated thus allowing them a chance to breed even if they aren't a part of the permanent breeding flock. 
  • Rams in this system can be a mix of any number of mature rams + the current season's quality ram lambs, or the current season's ram lambs only in the case that space can not be afforded to keeping adult rams in addition to adult ewes in the flock.
  • A way to ensure that natural selection pressures will be supplementing artificial selection pressures from the shepherd. A dominant ram may father a greater percentage of the lambs.
  • A way to minimize having too many lambs sired by the same sire and thus slowing inbreeding in closed flocks where offspring will be kept as breeding replacements.
  • A system which involves culling any individuals which do not meet breed standards or breeder's goals.

What it is NOT:

  • A way to maintain registered sheep.
  • A way to maintain highly selected, high production commercial sheep.
  • A lack of management or selection.
  • A lack of control in other management aspects of animal husbandry.
  • Lazy or neglectful management.
  • Feral or un-managed.
  • An attack against single-sire breeding systems (they have been proven effective).
  • A way to achieve maximum uniformity between individuals.

I'm really hoping to find a community of people who are interested in this and even better if they have experience with this or something like it to share our observations and experiences with this style of management. I am not trying to promote it as anything better than the single-sire system which seems to be the norm. It is simply a different system. If you'd like to join me I've set up a small forum on Facebook to talk about this system or similar systems with sheep or other livestock to which this may apply. The forum is a group called "Wild Flock System (Modified Multi-Sire Management)"

Monday, March 7, 2016

Making Sparkling Cider or Hard Cider with Zero Specialized Equipment!

Check out this fun short video about making sparkling cider and hard cider.  If you've been intimidated by this sort of thing in the past, and thought it was too complicated then this is gonna set you free!  If you like what you see then you should pop on over to the Wild Fermentation Uncensored group on Facebook to share in the collective learning and sharing of information on all things fermented.  :)
See you there soon!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fresh Lamb

There is something liberating about being involved in the harvest of food.  Even if I can't produce enough for a year round supply, it still feels good to harvest an animal that was raised under conditions that were humane and with techniques that contribute minimal stress to the animal.  Setting out to do something like this can be intimidating, but if you take a step back for a realistic look you will remember that people have been around harvesting and eating food for as long as they have been in existence.  The fact that a large part of the human population is now no longer involved with the process of harvesting and processing plants and animals into food does not mean we have lost the capability to do so if we just put forth a bit of effort. 

Sheep having a hay day.
I honestly do get most of my food from the grocery store.  However, I am fortunate to have access to land where I can raise sheep.  Therefore if I want lamb I do not need to buy it from the store.  I simply need to harvest it.  It is more work, and the upfront costs do make it more expensive initially.  There is the cost of fencing, foundation stock for your flock, and supplemental feed to get them through the winter when the natural forage has all but stopped growing.  To be honest I started with sheep just because I wanted some help keeping my parents' acerage from getting overgrown with blackberries and weeds, but then I decided that if I was keeping sheep anyways I might as well breed them and harvest the offspring for food as a byproduct of the land maintenance.

First harvest...
My first harvest of a sheep was a young ram in the fall.  The process of slaughtering, skinning, and cleaning the carcass took a few hours.  It was a long laborious process partly due to my inexperience, and partly due to the use of rudimentary tools not really designed for the purpose.  In the end though it worked.  I wasn't sure if I could actually handle the part of the process where the meat is hung to tenderize and then cut and wrapped, so we sent the carcass off to the butcher and the next week received back a box of various cuts of frozen lamb meat.  I'd like to say it was tasty, but it wasn't.  There was a very strong flavor to it, and I had to experiment with various preparations in an attempt to make it palatable.  In the end I finally found that the strong flavored meat tasted good after being marinaded in a mix of kombucha (basically tea vinegar), soy sauce, and shallots or onions and garlic.  I've found kombucha does a great job at pulling out flavors from objects placed in it to soak which is why it's so easy to flavor with fruit ect., but I digress.

I suspect that I made a mistake in harvesting the ram lamb in the fall because that is the prime breeding season for many sheep.  As with many male animals behavior during the breeding season can be noticeably different than in the off season, and this is no doubt expressed internally in the way of raging hormones.  That I suspect fouled the flavor of the meat.  Every subsequent lamb harvest I have participated in I have done in mid to late winter thus ensuring two things.  The first is that the sheep are given time to normalize their bodies after breeding season, and the second is that I can wait for them to use up some of their winter fat reserves  ensuring leaner meat (I've found that in lamb the stronger flavors tend to concentrate more in the fat).  It may be luck, or maybe I'm on to something, but my lamb always has good flavor now.
Greyhound Sheep

This year I decided I didn't want to shell out money for the butcher anymore.  I'm sure he's a nice enough guy, but part of the benefit of raising food is that it is supposed to in theory be cheaper than buying it from the store (if you've harvested enough to recoup your set up expenses).  My family was initially against the idea of aging, cutting, and wrapping the meat at home because they wanted to make sure we had proper commercial cuts of meat.  However, I finally came to the conclusion that it's going to be the same meat no matter how it is cut, so I bought a knife kit for field dressing game on hunts.  I also sewed a cloth bag big enough to cover the carcass and keep any flies off while it ages out in the shed.  I had a few lambs to process this year so I figured the cost of my new tools would pay for themselves quickly not having to pay a butcher to cut and wrap the carcasses.

I was amazed at the difference it made having a knife kit designed for processing game.  It made the whole process of slaughtering, skinning, and gutting faster than ever and for the first time in my experience the carcass was still warm by the time I was done.

I'd like to note that the sheep I keep are one of the smaller breeds and I refer to the carcasses amongst those I know as greyhounds because they're so small under all that wool.  That said my father has told me I need to switch to a larger breed of sheep so we can get more meat.  That leads me to my next point.  When we were paying a butcher to cut and wrap our lamb he was apparently cutting the carcass into all the same cuts as he would have if it were a larger animal.  Therefore each cut of meat was very small, and it's no wonder my father felt the sheep were too small.  I realized though that when I am in control of portioning the meat I can make much larger cuts.  I may get less cuts overall, but the cuts I end up with are much more substantial. 
Whatever size we want
If I were to switch to a larger breed it would make the job more difficult without a more specialized facility to process it in.  It is much more practical to stick with the breed I have now, and just raise a larger number of them which is easy because a pasture can support more small sheep than it can support large sheep.
Pasture to Plate (or napkin)

While cutting and wrapping the meat we took some trimmings and rolled them with rosemary, baked them and then sliced them up for sandwiches.  Now that's pasture to plate for you.

More recently I took the neck roast of one and cooked it overnight at 200°F resulting in tender juicy meat that was falling off the bone.  That meat was then cooked down with wine, tomato paste, fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon to make a delicious bolognese sauce that we ate with pasta.
Lamb Bolognese

A cushy byproduct of lamb meat are the lambskin rugs.  I process each one a little differently as I have an experimental nature and I want to see the results of different techniques while I decide what methods give me the best outcome for the effort I am willing to put into it.  In general though it's just a matter of washing, trimming, scraping (or rather tearing off fat and connective tissues), salting, drying, working, and oiling.  The nice thing about salt is that it preserves the hides so I can work on them when I have time and there is no time crunch.
A washed and salted hide laying on a towel to dry.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Yesterday I had the opportunity to harvest wapato for the second time.  I have been growing them in tanks for two seasons now.  Last fall I had a small harvest having planted only three small tubers at the beginning of the season.  This year's harvest was more sizable; still not too many meals worth, but if I compare the labor input to harvest ratio I'd say they were quite worthwhile.  Other than occasionally adding some water or manure to the tanks there was really not much work involved.  Also, harvesting was more fun than work.  I just stirred up the muck with a long handled garden tool and then collected the wapatos as they floated to the surface. 
   To the left is a portion of my wapato harvest next to a few sunchoke tubers.  You'll notice that there is quite a range in sizes.  The large egg sized tubers all came from a larger tank of water that was only lightly populated with wapato this season and the muck they grew in was predominantly very well rotted manure with a little dirt mixed in.  The smaller tubers came from a smaller half whiskey barrel where they were very crowded and grew in a predominantly mineral soil muck with a little manure mixed in.  There were also some rocks mixed in and they caused a number of the wapato to be flatted on one side where they grew against a rock.  Needless to say well rotted manure seems to be the better choice for growing larger wapato.  All of my wapato are the same clone so genetic variability is not coming into play here.
   I wish I had taken some pictures during the growing season because the wapatos appeared morphologically different from each other from one tank to another depending on the type of muck they grew in.  The wapato in rocky mineral soil had leaves that were incredibly narrow, while a small planting I had in pure well rotted steer manure where incredibly wide and gigantic.  They didn't even look like the same species let alone clones.  That was pretty fun.  At one point I added some chicken manure to the whiskey barrel where the narrow leaved wapatos where growing in the rocky mineral soil and within a week the leaves were growing large and wide.  The chicken manure was actually pretty fresh and didn't seem to burn them at all.  I guess they are just very nitrogen hungry plants.

   Last year when I harvested my first wapatos I peeled part of them and cooked the rest with their skin on.  Despite everything I have read telling me their skin would be bitter, I found that when boiled the bitterness was not a major factor in any of them.  The only notable difference was that those with the skin still on had a little more texture.  Last winter I had the opportunity to try the asian version of the wapato which is traditionally eaten for Chinese new year (so I've read).  I found that its skin was quite bitter even after cooking.  This makes me believe that the reputation of the latter has been inappropriately transferred to our native counterpart.  Don't get me wrong, our native wapato does have some bitterness to it.  I tried a peeled wapato raw and it was almost good save for the undesirable level of bitterness.  Basically what I'm trying to get at here is that if I were going to cook the asian cousin I would peel it, but for the wapato I think it's a waste of energy.  Note:  My opinion is based upon my experience with my clone of wapato.  Maybe others are more bitter.  Considering that most of the info I've found on the internet about bitter skin seems to come from people who are simply regurgitating the same information over and over rather than sharing their own personal observations, I'm going to say that based off my experience I would recommend trying wapato cooked with the skin on.  A nice scrub is all they really seem to need.  If you have a nice abrasive scrubber a significant amount of skin scrubs off anyway.  See the above picture which is the same wapatos from the first picture post-scrub.
   I don't want to talk about the flavor or texture of wapato.  If you search the internet you can find lots of references saying they taste like potatoes, chestnuts, a little nutty, etc.  Maybe these things are a bit true, but at the end of the day wapato is not any of those foods and despite some similarity in flavor and texture it really has its own flavor and texture that can not be accurately envisioned if described as tasting like other foods which it is not.  To me wapato tastes like a good source of palatable starchy calories.  A very important part of a healthy varied diet. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My thoughts on Achira (Canna edulis)

Earlier this year I worked at a retail plant nursery where I was able to get lots of free plants off the dump rack.  On one occasion I lucked into a number of ornamental canna plants.  They were being "dumped" because they carried a virus which caused visible streaking on the leaves (not to be confused with the natural desirable streaking of some cultivars).  Viruses are very common in cannas.  I figured I would take them and just grow them for a season to get experience growing cannas as I had not grown them before.  I repotted them in larger pots and grew them on for the season.  Now that the winter is upon us they are going dormant.  I dumped out the first of the five potted plants and cleaned the tubers.  It took a few minutes to remove all the roots which held a lot of potting soil, but once they were all off not too much soil was left to clean off the actual tubers.  I have read very good things about the edibility of canna tubers both for varieties cultivated specifically for larger tubers as a crop and also for the tubers of the ornamental types.  After slow cooking the tubers in a crock pot with a little water for many hours I tried a tuber.  I can confirm that it is a great source of starch, and also a little fibrous as I had read they would be.  However, they lacked the soft texture and sweetness that I had been looking forward to after reading their description in my Perennial Vegetables book by Eric Toenmeier.  It may be that I need to store them for a time after harvest to allow the starches to partially convert to sugars.  I imagine that would affect both flavor and texture.  Based on my experience cooking them freshly harvested I would say that they do have good food value, and they did not have any off putting flavors.  They were not particularly delicious, but I will not count this against them because this is my first try at preparing them.  I imagine if I had never eaten potatoes in my life, and had no real idea how to prepare them I might not think very highly of them after giving them a poorly prepared taste test.  Also, this was not a cultivar specifically selected for food production.  On a side note: After I acquired the virus ridden ornamental cannas I lucked out into finding another canna for sale in the water garden section of the nursery (later in the season when I was no longer working there).  The canna I found was the less ornamental plain Jane green leaved type, but it was labeled as "Achira" which is the term used for cannas grown specifically for their starchy tubers in some parts of the world.  I bought one, and potted it up as well.  It has been doing very well for me, and I have been keeping it in my greenhouse at my parents' home to avoid the spread of virus to it from my ornamental cannas.  I will not try harvesting any tubers from the Achira this year as I want it to spread more first giving me a better harvest as well as tubers to grow on for future years.  The less ornamental Achira is still a lovely plant so I enjoy having it even if it doesn't have the same eye catching effect of some of the ornamental cultivars.  I have four more ornamental cannas in pots, and over the coming months I plan to un-earth them one at a time and try preparing them for food.  I hope I can start getting enough of a feel for them to be able to start making them into something that is enjoyable to eat in addition to being a good source of carbohydrates.  Unlike some people who are always trying to limit their calories I am usually trying to figure out what I can grow that will actually provide maximum calorie yields.  I feel that if it came down to it we could easily starve if we had to rely on some of the "edible" foods that we can come by locally.  All those leafy weeds that we can eat may be nutritious, but they're not usually too high in calories.
Note: Canna "tubers" are actually rhizomes, but "tuber" sounds better than "rhizome".  Hence my improper use of the word.