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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.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Story of a Son

He was frozen again. Staring blankly, but in his mind he saw vivid images what had happened. Not just one thing though. What had happened over and again, time after time through his life. Every time it happened it was unexpected, and every time was just as unpredictable as the last. A desire to escape the torment was strong within him, but the timing was not right…

Son used to think that he was not good. He thought he was the reason his father yelled at him. He tried his best not to hate his father, because he was taught “Honor thy father.” Sometimes he tried to show honor, and sometimes he didn’t. Either way the abuse was the same. Abuse, but he didn’t know it. Sometimes those at the center of the pain are unable to see it for what it really is. Abuse.
Son tried so hard to be good. He hated himself though. Not only could he never seem to live up to his father’s expectations, but he had another father. “Father God” they called him, and He had high standards too. Son tried his best to honor both fathers, but in the end the impossibility of this showed itself to him. Earth father told him, “You could do anything you set your mind to.” What’s wrong with that? Nothing, but that’s only what earth father told him when he was trying to sway him to do things according to his own fatherly plan. Son had ideas of his own. Sure they were not likely to amount to much. Just little ideas to do this or that, and no harm in trying them. Nothing to be lost, only to be learned. Those ideas didn’t belong to earth father though, so whenever son would venture to mention them, earth father would recite a list of reasons why son’s plans would never work out. They would never be worthwhile.
Heaven father was much better at avoiding the appearance of cruelty. He would fill son with words of love, and words of guilt. The guilt was hidden though. This father would say things like, “No man is good,” and “All fall short of my glory.” Heaven father also had rules. So many rules, but they weren’t just for son. They were for every man, woman, or child on earth. Those who were willing to follow those rules were bribed with the prospect of heaven, and assured that if they did not exercise their free will to follow those rules they would be sent to a place called Hell for all eternity.
Needless to say, it should come as no surprise that son hated himself. Why not though? He couldn’t live up to any of his father's expectations no matter how hard he tried. If he made an animal out of clay earth father would say, “That’s really good, but you need to sign and date it for it to be worth anything,” and “You need to make lots of those so I can sell them.” That almost sounds good. However, when son would say “I’d like to sell some of these,” earth father would discourage him and say, “You would have to make so many of those before you could even pay for the space to sell them out of, let alone factor in the value of the time spent trying to market them.” Of course this was a realistic thing to say, but was it not a horrible thing to do to a child? Twisting him one way, and then back the other.
Earth father was confusing, but Heaven father was just plain impossible to please. He would demand all sorts of physical and mental praises unto himself for being such a wonderful creator, but then he would instill guilt in his creation (son) for being imperfect. As of his early days, son was too naive to understand how wrong it is to create something imperfect and then blame that creation for its own imperfections. So, he simply tried his best to love heaven father, and to make him happy.
I said he was frozen didn’t I? Yes, he was frozen and deep in though. Only just yesterday it was his Birthday. Friends from near and far had sent him well wishes, and he had been feeling good. No, I shant say anymore about that… It’s still too painful to tell in this way… That is, the pain his earth father inflicted that day just like so many other days before.
One day, son grew up. Well, he set out to do so at least. After speaking with a military recruiter at his high school he decided to enlist after graduation. No, it was not really what he wanted to do. In fact he had been very against the idea only months before, but now the idea had become appealing. What a perfect way to get away from the confusing earth father who could never be pleased. Earth father was against this of course, and he refused to give his blessing. Son didn’t care. He went away to become a man. To learn who he really was.
The military was not easy for son. Basic training seemed to be the worst time of his life. What’s with all the yelling? He thought he was getting away from that. At least this time it wasn’t earth father yelling for whatever reason he decided to be angry in that moment. At least son knew that this time there was a real reason to justify the cruel treatment. They needed to toughen him up. It didn’t really work though. He just went through training crying to himself when he had the time to do so. He found comfort in Heaven father though. He kept reminding himself that Heaven father was blessed no matter what he was going through in life.
Soon enough that horrible training was over and son was off to other things. Still in the military, but the better parts of it. For a while he was unhappy, but then one day a friend invited him to start attending Bible study. “No,” said son, “I don’t have time.” After a few weeks though son felt guilty for not taking more time to devote to heavenly father. Heavenly father deserved to have that time from him, so he resolved to attend Bible study. It turned out to be the best decision he ever made.
Fast forward. Son is in love now. In love, with a beautiful man. One could hardly ask for a better partner in life for son than him. That’s all I’ll speak of that for now though.
I said that the Bible study was a great decision didn’t I? Yes, that Bible study rocked son’s world! It left him traumatized, scared, liberated, and free. What a wonderfully horrid way to feel. The exact Bible verse, and its precise wording are of no matter now, but the moment he heard them something pierced into his soul. All the things son had ever done to try to be good, to be perfect, they were for nothing. It all amounted to nothing. It was after that, that son, for the first time in his entire life began to love himself.
Son realized that his prior efforts to deny his very being in order that he may imitate the perfect image of what heaven father wanted him to be were futile efforts. He stopped apologizing to heaven father day in and day out. Apologizing for his imperfections. Apologizing for his sensual thoughts that were not for women. Apologizing for not being perfect. The very principals he had founded his life on (self denial at the core) were broken, and having known nothing else in his life he was traumatized. The trauma was due to the speed with which this shift in perspective occurred. The veil was ripped open and for once he could see clearly and he was unprepared. Scared? Yes, that to, for he no longer knew what to expect from life and death. He no longer knew what he believed. Liberated! No more to hate himself. No more to pray that heaven father would release him from his earth body. Free… Yes, free to love himself. Free to BE himself. Free to love.