All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

The Power of Fermented Foods: Making Sauerkraut

You may have heard  people talk about how good yogurt is for you because it contains probiotics. However there’s actually a variety of foods that are naturally fermented and contain these helpful organisms. When made at home, products like kimchi, certain pickles, kombucha, and even natural sodas are all chock full of probiotics. One of the easiest foods to ferment yourself is Sauerkraut.

Benefits of Sauerkraut

  • It’s great for gut health.
    The probiotics in sauerkraut helps keep your digestive system healthy.
  • Kraut is highly nutritious.
    The fermentation process makes the vitamins and minerals in cabbage more accessible to your body.
  • It’s good for your immune system.
    Many studies show having a healthy digestive system is important to having a healthy immune system.
  • It’s a  great way to preserve and use extra cabbage.
    It can last for months in the fridge or cold storage.
  • It may help improve your mood.
    Some recent studies have led scientists to believe that there’s a connection between gut flora and a person’s mood. Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut may help you feel better physically and emotionally.
  • It’s simple to make.
    Sauerkraut requires just 3 basic ingredients and there’s no fancy equipment needed!

Want to make your sauerkraut? Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Cabbage
  • Kosher, pickling, or sea salt (non-iodized)
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Mixing bowl
  • Clean jar or jars with lids

To begin rinse your cabbage and then set a few nice, whole cabbage leaves to the side (you’ll need one per jar). Then finely slice your cabbage. If you’re doing a lot of kraut you may want to use a mandolin vegetable slicer however I usually just use a knife.

A lot of recipes call for a specific amount of cabbage but you can use as much as you’d like to make and adjust your salt to the amount of cabbage you’re using. You should use approximately 1 1/2 tsp of salt for every quart of kraut you’re making.

Once you’ve sliced your cabbage, place it in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the salt while squishing the salt and cabbage together with your hands. The cabbage will begin to look slippery and shiny. Eventually there should be a good bit of juice (called brine) in the bowl. You should be able to see it run out of a handful of cabbage when you squeeze it. If you taste your cabbage, it should be pretty salty but not disgustingly so.

Then you can pack your cabbage into a clean jar. Start with a spoonful or handful at a time carefully packing each one into the jar to avoid any air pockets. You can use a clean spoon, your hand, a tamper, or a pestle. Leave at least an  1 1/2 inches of head space in your jar.

Use the cabbage leaf you set aside at the begin to cover the top of your kraut. You want all of your cabbage to be fully submerged. You can way your kraut down with a sterilized stone like I did for these pickles or if you have enough room you can use a little dish of water. You can also use a ziplock bag of water or a crock weight if you have one.

Place your jar or jars of kraut out of direct sunlight but somewhere you will remember to keep an eye on them. You kraut will need to ferment between 4-14 days. It will ferment faster in warmer temperatures. You should open your jar at least once per day to let out any gases that have built up. You don’t want your jar to explode. You may also need to pack the cabbage down if you notice any above the brine or any air pockets. If you notice a film on top of the brine you can just scrape it off. It won’t hurt you.

You’ll know your kraut is finished when it is more yellow than green and translucent. It’s flavor will get more intense the longer it ferments so how long you leave it is up to you. Once it’s finished you can store it in the fridge or a cool root cellar to stop fermentation.

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DIY Compost Tea

In our last post we discussed the importance of soil tests and what nutrients plants require to thrive. There are numerous ways to improve your soil but may of them take quite a bit of time. Like the rest of gardening, using organic methods like cover cropping and mulching to build healthy soil requires patience. Sometimes you’ll need to quickly get nutrients to your plants. A great simple and affordable way to give your plants a boost is to water them with compost or manure tea.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 5 gallon or other large bucket
  • compost, manure, or grass clippings
  • water
  • optional: egg or oyster shells

To get started fill your bucket about 1/4 full with compost, manure, or grass clippings. Using any of these will provide your plants with nitrogen. Then if you’ve decided to use shells (this is where a soil test is handy) add about 1/2 cup to your bucket before filling it the rest of the way with water.

Store the mixture well to ensure all your ingredients are well mixed and not just floating in the water. Then allow it to steep for 2 days, giving it an occasional stir once or twice a day.

You can then water plants with it. For plants in the garden, water around the base with about 2 cups per plant. For seedlings or potted plants add about 1/2 cup compost tea to a gallon of water. If they were showing signs of a nitrogen deficiency you should see an improvement in just a couple of days!

You can also use this as a foliar spray but be sure to dilute it first! Use about 10 parts water to 1 part tea.

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Understanding Soil Tests

If you’ve never had your soil tested you may want to consider it. While soil tests may seem like something more suited to commercial growers than backyard gardeners they’re actually quite simple and affordable. In fact some local extension agencies and/or state colleges offer this service for free. While you can purchase at home soil tests generally having it professionally done is a good place to start. 

Here’s what you can expect from a soil a test and what it will mean for your garden. 

Macronutrients

Primary Nutrients

The following three nutrients are considered the primary nutrients and the probably the most discussed by gardeners.

  • Nitrogen 
  • Phosphorus 
  • Potassium 

Nitrogen is important for plant’s vegetative growth. Phosphorus helps in root and flower development. Potassium promotes vigor. These are found in a variety of commercial fertilizers and homemade garden amendments.

Secondary Nutrients

  • Sulfur 
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Calcium helps plants build strong cell walls, magnesium is an important part of chlorophyll, and sulfur is important for the growth of roots and seeds. Just like primary nutrients these secondary nutrients can be purchased in commercial amendments or you can make homemade ones.

Micronutrients/Trace Minerals

Some soil tests will give you the option of testing for micronutrients or trace minerals. These are minerals that plants need in very small amounts. 

  • Boron 
  • Chlorine
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Zinc

Unless you suspect a problem testing for these is probably unnecessary. Most soils have enough to keep plants healthy and deficiencies in these minerals aren’t caused by their lack of presence in the soil rather an inability for plants to take up the nutrient because of other problems such as drought stress or incorrect pH. 

These minerals are also typically present in large enough quantities for gardens in any organic fertilizer or other amendments even simple, good quality compost. 

Soil pH Level

Another important part of your soil test is your soil’s pH. pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. It’s an important feature on your soil test as it affects soil nutrient availability and microbe activity. This means that even if a nutrient is in your soil it may still be unavailable to plants do to your soil’s pH.

It’s also worth noting that some crops like blueberries and potatoes prefer more acidic soil than others. 

Amending Your Soil

Once you get your results you can amend your soil as needed. There are a variety of products available commercially or you can use homemade garden amendments like compost and compost tea, manure, coffee grounds, egg shells, pine needles and more. 

You may be able to get personalized recommendations from your local extension agency or soil testing service.

When adding any garden amendment it’s important to thoroughly research its effects on your garden. Certain amendments like oyster shells for calcium can affect your soil’s pH and may affect the availability of other important nutrients. You also want to avoid adding too much of anything to your garden as this can be just as bad as too little. Excess nutrients can also run off into streams and other water bodies causing toxic algae blooms.

11 Free Organic Methods to Add Nutrients to Your Garden

Seedlings

If you start your own transplants at home don’t forget about the nutrients they need. Buying or mixing a good quality potting mix is important to their success. One of my favorite ways to give seedlings a quick boost is to add a bit of compost tea or liquid kelp to their water. I typically use about 5 TBS per gallon of water. 

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