"That you may ruminate"

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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

…On Apartment Fermentation.

Posted by Steve on September 7, 2008

Apartments (with a few exceptions) lack basements. This is significant because it means apartments lack cool, dry, places where you can leave a five to ten gallon bucket for a few weeks, secure in the knowledge that its temperature will never leave the range of 50-75 degrees.

Why does this matter?

Simple: fermentation gets pissed if you try to make it happen at too high a temperature. Now, what “too high” a temperature means is kind of dependent on what sort of fermentation you’re after. Wine, I’m told, takes a 70-75°F fermentation fine, whereas lagers need to be fermented at <50°F. Sauerkraut can be done anywhere in the 50-75 range, with colder temperatures being slower but having less risk of infestation by yeasts or molds (it’s made via lactic acid fermentation, which means bacteria).

Actually, it’s sauerkraut that brought this to my attention, since I’d been thinking about making it. I looked for recipes, assuming it entailed boiling cabbage in vinegar with some sort pickling spices. Turns out, sauerkraut’s made by fermentation. It’s a lot less labor-intensive than some other fermentation products (beer, from what I remember of my dad’s homebrewing, is a pain to make), but it’s got that whole temperature regulation issue. So, most likely no sauerkraut-making for me, at least until winter.

Oh, of course, all the internet recipes I could find for sauerkraut assumed you’d be working with home-grown cabbages. As with many other things, you can’t grow cabbages in an apartment! At this point in time, I can, though, say conclusively that you can grow poblano peppers just fine. You’ve got to wait until August or September, “fertilize” with epsom salt, and manually pollinate using a Q-tip, but right now my two bushes have over a dozen peppers growing. I’m not sure if I want to try figuring out a way to dry them to make ancho peppers for chili, have a chile relleño feast, or treat them the way I would green bell peppers, but I’m gonna do something with them.

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…On the Difficulties of Apartment Crop-growing.

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

I should be asleep this time of night, but as I only woke up around 12 or 13 hours ago…

By this time tomorrow it’s possible Cristobal will have brushed my apartment slightly. The latest projections I saw showed him skirting South Carolina and curving away from the coast around mid-North Carolina, but he could still be close enough to send rainbands and squalls towards Hampton Roads. If this happens, it’ll probably have the same effect on me every sizeable storm has this spring and summer: it’ll knock over one of the Plants-for-Eating I have on my balcony.

That’s the biggest disadvantage of living in a second-story apartment: you have no dirt of your own to grow things in. And given the prices of certain vegetables at the supermarkets – assuming you can even get them, which after they pulled tomatoes this year, spinach last year, and green onions two years ago, isn’t something I’d say is guaranteed – it’s considerably cheaper to grow your own. But when you’ve got to grow in pots on a balcony, it gets a little trickier. For instance, on a hot day I can water the plants in the morning but by the time I’m home from work, the soil in a pot is almost dessicated and leaves are wilting. Or, as mentioned, wind knocks a pot over, which not only does bad things to the leaves, but spills potting soil. Also, since the balcony is screened-in (which was actually something I’d asked for, not having self-farming in mind when I picked the place), I get very few pollinating insects. Not a problem for tomatoes, which are wind-pollinated, but I’m fairly certain peppers aren’t wind pollinated. And I like peppers. Not to mention, they’re quite expensive at the grocery stores.

Herbs, of course, don’t need pollination. However, I’ve noticed they don’t necessarily take well to getting planted in pots on the balcony. I’ve had 3 of them, of 3 varieties (cilantro, rosemary, and basil), die within days of getting planted. Granted, the replacement rosemary’s done great, as have the other 3 basils, and the second cilantro bunch is… well, it’s stagnant which is something better than dead. I suppose.

Anyway… I know some people who participate in community-supported agriculture programs. I like buying local, but frankly I don’t eat enough vegetables for me subscribing to the local CSA farm to result in anything other than a lot of stuff rotting in my fridge. But putting one or two tomato bushes and peper plants, plus a few spices, on my balcony to grow my own, that I’m fine with.

I’d just prefer for them to grow well.

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