Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beer Making 100: Kolsch

It sure looks like beer...but the verdict is still out on the taste.  Stay tuned for an update.  I titled this post Beer Making 100 because the photos should walk you through the steps, and will hopefully convince you the process is really fun and easy, but you'll definitely need Beer Making 101 (not found on this gardening blog) to really gain the confidence to make your own.  This post is simply an account of my project.

So just for some very quick background, in lieu of multiple gifts exchanged, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law have been doing a Secret Santa type gift exchange for the past several years. The gift must be homemade and should be inexpensive - about $20 or so. Part of the reason I pushed for this Secret Santa activity to begin with was to cut back on the ideas I have to generate for presents for my husband. I count my lucky stars about this guy, but honestly, after so many years, I'm plumb out of bright ideas. Of course, I repeatedly draw his name in our Secret Santa hat year after year!

This year, I decided to try my hand at brewing beer. The man likes his drink, and though the drink of choice is "beast", I decided a Kolsch (info at the very bottom) seemed a little step up. Then again, what do I know, I am not a beer drinker!

Homemade beer making is expensive. Though I knew I wouldn't stay in the $20 range, I didn't want to break the bank either (plus, we should probably start saving now for Scamp's next big veterinary adventure). This whole thing almost didn't happen, but serendipitously, my awesome friend Grace's awesome son Donn was awesome enough to loan me a carload of his awesome beer-making equipment! When Grace and I lugged it all to my car, I was like, look at all this stuff, doesn't it look fun?! Grace quickly replied no. The photo above shows just half of the equipment. The other half that I'll need once the beer is fermented is in my car. 

For the ingredients, I bought the kit above from Donn's favorite online supplier, Williams Brewing, and read then reread, and then reread, and then reread the instructions. I sorted through the equipment and found all these extra pieces I could not figure out what to do with. Who knew making beer would require so much tubing? I really need to stop hassling my husband when he ends up with extra screws and bolts after putting together the IKEA furniture.

This wouldn't be the new canine-loving me without sneaking in a photo of scamp.  But I do have a point that relates to this post.  The point is, stage your beer-making in a kitchen or other area that can get wet, and don't allow animals in the area because you want your area to be as clean and bacteria-free and as dust/dander free as possible.  Scamp is an exception to this rule because he's a sweetheart and won't bother nobody.  

I "smack" the pack of yeast. I paid extra money for this special kind of yeast because I thought the idea of smacking the pack and the two liquids activating was so fun - like those glow bracelets you crack and shake. Supposedly it takes 1-3 days for the pack to swell up, indicating that the yeast is active. Glad I read the instructions before beer-making day!

First snag. The super cool piece of shit yeast packet is not swelling up (update: the yeast pack did end up swelling, but not until about a week after beer-making day). I scour the Internet and luckily there's a beer-making supply store reasonably close (about 45 minutes away). Maryland Homebrew is like a homebrewer's heaven. It's pretty darn amazing, and the people who work there are really helpful. I didn't mind sounding like a total idiot. They helped me figure out what I needed - which was a glass vial of yeast from the yeast fridge. I also had a few questions - in Donn's supplies were a plastic bucket (fermenter), a plastic bucket with spigot (the thing you use just before you bottle - duh, that make sense), and a glass "carboy" - like a glass water cooler jug. Turns out, my instructions were for a more simplified process but I had the equipment to add another step to produce a clearer beer! Yay! So the salesperson said a hydrometer really was pretty necessary to determine if the beer is done fermenting and ready for bottling. I didn't see one in Donn's supplies, so I bought one. I asked how far you're supposed to stick the thermometer-like thing in there and he said you're supposed to pour some beer into a graduated cylinder and put the hydrometer in there. I asked, well can't you just hold it in the bucket so it doesn't fall? He said no, you put it in and don't touch it. OHHHHH!! I get it now. The thing bobs freely in the beer and it sort of measures the density of the liquid. Or something like that.  Point is, it tells you that the beer is ready to be bottled.

Anyway, I get home with the yeast vial and hydrometer and get down to business. Everything else runs pretty smoothly. The water boils and I add the giant bag of heavy, sticky, malt (in first photo below). Five minutes later, I add bag #1 of hops. 50 more minutes later, I add bag #2 of hops. So far, it does not smell like beer and I'm concerned, but whatever. I'm sitting next to the stove, stirring occasionally and totally engrossed in Room by Emma Donoghue (highly recommend it). 

I cool the wort (that's lingo that we homebrewers use to describe the stuff in the pot) by putting it in the sink with cold water. Hours later, when cool, I sanitize all the rest of the equipment I'm going to use tonight and then slowly pour the wort into the plastic fermenter leaving the sludge at the bottom of the pot. I top it off with water until I have 5 gallons of liquid. I add the yeast (and notice it now instantly smells like beer) and stir. I put the lid on and add the airlock to the top. I fill the airlock with water and then hope for the best! Apparently I'll start to see bubbles in the airlock in a day or so, indicating that the beer is fermenting.

This is how the project is being hidden during the fermenting process.  A cover on top read, "Do not open or Santa will not come".  I'm taking advantage of the fact that my 42 year old husband believes in the jolly old white guy.

DAY 3:  THERE ARE BUBBLES IN MY AIRLOCK!!!  THERE ARE BUBBLES IN MY AIRLOCK!!!  This is a really good thing.  A harbinger of proper fermentation.

There is really weird vocab related to beer-making.  On day 7, it is time to transfer the beer to the glass "carboy".  See the nasty ring around the bucket in the photo above?  That's also a good thing (really.  It says so in my directions).  That's another sign that the beer has been fermenting (and settling down).

I now see the benefit in transferring this stuff from container to container.  The transfer leaves a layer of (easily cleaned) sludge at the bottom.  Anyway, the beer goes into the carboy and then it's plugged with a rubber cap that has a hole in it for another airlock.  It goes back into hiding for another 7 days.  I'm not constantly checking, so I'm not sure if there are bubbles in the airlock.  It's supposed to still be fermenting, but at this point, I'm a little over the excitement of watching for bubbles.

The most time consuming thing about beer-making is sanitizing all the equipment.  There's a concentrated dark solution that must be diluted a gazillion times with water.  Everything that comes into contact with the beer must sit in (or be filled with) the solution for several minutes, then drip dried.  An easy way to do this is to fill the big buckets with solution and throw the cleaned equipment in there as well.  That sanitizes the equipment and the bucket.  Not rocket science, but something I didn't think of until the guy at the store explained it.  In the photo below, I have the bottles sanitized and am using the dishwasher racks to dry and hold the bottles until they're ready to be filled.  Another important thing to mention, the siphon thingy is a must-buy if you're going to make your own beer.  It has a little hand pump thing that starts the siphoning process and the bottom of the rod that goes in the full container has a little rubber cap on the bottom that prevents the sludgy stuff from being sucked into the new container.

So anyway, the beer in the carboy is siphoned into another plastic bucket.  This bucket looks almost exactly like the same one from the first step, except it has a spigot at the bottom.  The beer is beer-brown in color, but when I stir the priming sugar in, it immediately starts foaming.  Knowing the beer-brewing industry, I'm sure there's an interesting word for this chemical process.

After the priming sugar is completely stirred into the beer, I start bottling!  I bought these bottles from The Container Store.  I'm sure there's a more economical option, but for my purposes, there was a convenience factor to buying from the store down the road.  The beer basically needs to sit in a warmer place (my bedroom closet) for a week or so to build carbonation, then can be chilled.  You might remember that I bought a hydrometer, which was supposed to determine whether the beer was finished fermenting and ready to be bottled.  Well, I tried to avoid looking at the precise little tool sitting among my supplies because in the end, I was too tired to check (and worried that I would have to recap the carboy and clear my schedule for  another day to bottle).  I figured ready or not, this beer would be bottled on the designated bottling day.  Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best...

I'm not a beer convert, but I can say that there is definitely a not-unpleasant earthy/organic aroma to this beer.  It was actually very lovely compared to the canned shit (in my humble opinion) my husband typically drinks.  As I've found with just about any project, there's a specialness to homemade that doesn't compare to commercially manufactured.  Voila - the finished product - 3 of many, many bottles of my home-brewed Kolsch!

Info from the Williams Brewing website about this beer...
Kölsch is a pale, mildly hopped ale, with a unique soft fruitiness in the finish. Developed in the German city of Cologne, Kölsch has become increasingly popular in Germany in recent years, perhaps due to its unique quality of being an ale with the refreshing lightness of a lager, yet with the more complex, fruity finish of an ale. True German Kölsch is rarely seen bottled in the United States, probably due to German law which states Kólsch can only be brewed in Cologne, and only by one of the 22 licensed Kölsch breweries. Alcohol: 3.8%, IBU's 27.  William's Kölsch is an authentic rendering of this famous Cologne beer style, and can be either consumed quickly like an ale, or lagered (stored cold) after bottling for 8 weeks to develop the milder traditional flavor.

Long time no blog

Wow, it's been so long Blogger's interface has changed and I'm totally confused. All my usual options are gone...

Anyway, I have half a mind to start over with a new blog. It would be called "Scamp's Adventures: stories of a million dollar dog". BUT, my seed catalogs are in, and just as soon as I'm done (well, at least for a week) with this pesky thing called a full-time job, I'm sure I'll be back with all kinds of exciting reports on new varieties of vegetables I'm going to try this spring.

Until then, happy holidays to all!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

GBBD, GTTC, ironies, birdseed ornaments, Scamp update

Happy Garden Blogger's Bloom Day! Though I'm sure many of us are in the autumn perennial clean-up phase, there are still colorful blooms all around the world. Visit May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of each month to check it out. While you're here, check out the rose below. A pretty little yellow rose that seeks out the sun coming from unfortunately the direction of my neighbors' house. As you can see from the weeds on the neighbor's fence, they are not big garden aficionados. Still, the plants I care for end up greeting them as they walk out of their side door and meet the world each morning. ho hum...

In other ironies, I thought the sight of big old mushrooms growing next to the bottle of fungicide was pretty humorous.

And still more ironies... This is our typical farmers market booty. Pear cider, lemon bar with brownie hiding underneath, the sausages that the Amish family grills up, apple walnut turnover, lemon drop cookie. Not a single vegetable in sight.

I'm still harvesting these beautiful peppers (and wondering what to do with them). For those who have been enjoying the Garden to Table Challenge, I must officially put the meme into dormancy for at least the season, perhaps indefinitely. I'm going into my annual anti-cooking kick, in preparation for making Thanksgiving dinner.

Though it looked like cooking, what we're doing below is following Garden Gate magazine's recipe for birdseed ornaments.

We doubled the recipe, but the original recipe below makes six ornaments. You'll need 3/4 cup white or wheat flour, 3 cups bird seed mix, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup raw peanuts, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 ounce unflavored gelatin, 3 tablespoons light corn syrup. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Microwave the water until boiling in a glass measuring cup, then dump the gelatin in and stir until dissolved. Stir in the corn syrup and pour the liquids over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spoon the "dough" into a muffin tin. While the mix is still moist, poke a hold with the back of a wooden spoon for hanging. Allow the mix to harden for at least three hours before dumping the cakes out of the pan. Allow to dry overnight and add a ribbon or raffia for hanging.

We used a mini-muffin pan to do some extras and strung them in a chain to hang below.

This was the dregs that we made into a ball. Poked a hole through the middle with a chopstick.

These heart shaped ones were pressed into a cookie cutter.

Finally, precious Scamp below. You can see the area of his back that was shaved in order to do the surgery. They also shaved the back of his head where they also did something - not sure what. He's about...3.5 weeks post-surgery now and still slipping and sliding on the floors a little bit, but pretty sure-footed on carpet and grass. We've even been going for very short walks in the past few days and he's mostly out of the crate except for while we're out of the house. His bowel and bladder control came back about...2.5 weeks post surgery. It's pretty fricking miraculous. The last thing I'll mention about this whole ordeal is how interesting the reactions of people have been. A few posts back, I typed out the whole saga, and if you read it, you know it was a huge dilemma whether we should do the surgery or not. I have had someone say, "Wow, you have taught your kids a wonderful lesson about life". And the following day, when I conveyed the ordeal to a co-worker, she said, "Wow, my kids would have learned a quick lesson about life", an exact opposite lesson that the first person meant about life.

Here's Scamp - waiting patiently for food to drop. He's lost some weight since we've adopted him - a good thing since he was on the overweight side. Now that he's made great strides towards recovery from his surgery, we're back to getting to know each other.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween and (short!) update on Scamp

Halloween went off as it usually does. My husband always plays a spooky sounds CD or record, but this year, he ran the audio to the movie The Mummy in honor of his friend Neil who passed away too early and too suddenly from colon cancer. Puh-leeze get a colonoscopy if you're recommended to.

This year we decided to keep a tally of our trick-or-treaters. Congrats to my daughter who predicted 50. She was the closest to the actual number of kids who came to our door, which was 122! She has won her place at the front of the line at Thanksgiving dinner. I have good news to report: Scamp (who ruptured a disk and became paralyzed 4 days after we adopted him) has been trying to walk. We're close to 2 weeks post-surgery and he's doing a little step step step, cross-legged, fall over, step step, stand for a second, step, fall, kind of walk. Here's a benefit to shelling out $8,000 for his surgery (well, through a loan, that is): we've got this lovely go-for-broke attitude now. On a day that I'm dog-tired (no pun intended) and don't want to cook, "Let's go out to eat, we're broke anyway". When my 6 year old wants a vampire costume instead of using a hand-me-down, it's, "Who cares, we're $8,000 in the hole anyhow". And when I'm standing in front of a row of candy I need to buy for my 122 trick-or-treaters, I skip the crappy Tootsie Roll party mix and buy the "good" candy, because well...buying cheap candy isn't going to make the $8,000 in debt from dog back surgery go away.

When my 13 year old saw this candy bowl, she said, "Mom, we're THAT house!" (the house that gives good candy). Of the 122 kids, I swear about 100 delighted kids walked away saying, "Crabby Patties!". And you KNOW I let them see what I was putting in their little pillow cases. Anyway, you've got to take the pride and joys wherever you can get them! Hope you all had a fun and safe Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lots of random stuff

Happy Halloween! The little one is going to be some sort of vampire princess - the costume is pretty ornate and the natural fangs (since the top two teeth are missing) complete the look. It'th juth tho cute!!! (that's the missing front teeth lisp)

Today, it snowed all day! The fall scene looks a little odd dotted with the large flakes of snow. My husband said it was being called "The Rare October Snow". Wonder which creative genius coined that?

I must thank all those who commented about Scamp in my last post. It was a really stressful and emotional week. This is Scamp above, bored out of his freaking sweet and gentle mind during this 2 week period of crate confinement. I've been waxing poetic (and melodramatic) in a journal about this whole thing so I'll spare the readers of this public blog, but if anyone happens upon this, is going through it, and would like to e-mail me for more of my/Scamp's personal story, please feel free. But for the rest of the garden readers here, I'll just say it's been a difficult time, but we're feeling optimistic after seeing his tail wag ever so slightly yesterday. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I saw him pick up and move one of his back legs ever so slightly as well. We're now about 11 days post-op. Anyway, your comments have meant a lot and have been reassuring and so helpful!!! Thank you!!!!! :)

For my husband, the month of October becomes "Shocktober". He spends all his spare time watching horror (many b-rated) and other Halloween themed movies. He noticed that in this scene from Attack of the Giant Leeches, the main character was apparently getting his spring seed order together!!! See the seed catalog on the table?

This photo was taken of Scamp the (hot) dog during one of the 4 days we spent with him before he ruptured a disk. The costume was so much cuter on the slimmer dog on the website. So it's the same story for the canine world, huh.

Since I basically do not cook anymore due to my schedule and recent stress, my husband's little concoction is this week's Garden to Table Challenge entry. These jalapenos are stuffed with a combination of different fillings - garlic, garlic/blue cheese, blue cheese/cream cheese, and other combinations of the three ingredients. These were then stuck on a skewer and grilled. He and his friend Walter sure had a good time trying each combo. I personally made sure he kept his distance until we got a fresh bottle of Listerine. Anyone still harvesting out there? In what ways are you using your harvests? Link below and tell about it!

Finally, my friend Grace sent this lovely short video of blooms opening set to music. You may have seen something like this, but it's always nice to watch again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Dog Scamp - a long story of a short week of a bumpy emotional roller coaster

Exactly a week ago, we were anxiously waiting for 1pm to arrive on Saturday. It was at that time that if all went well, we would be able to adopt Champ from a rescue. We adored him from the moment we saw his two photos on the website - in one, he's upside down, smiling (no, really!), and in another photo, he's joyful in someone's arms. There are so many awesome qualities about this dog and when as we took him home, we decided to name him Scamp - close enough to the name the rescue had given him but with our own family's spin on it.

Though I have pets, I'm not an animal lover. In fact, I'm really more of an animal disliker (hater is too strong of a word). This dog has changed me. Now when I see a person walking a dog, I pay no attention to the human, but only the dog. I want to get down and ruffle the ears of every dog I see in Petco. I want to get one of those dog paw magnets for my car. I want a keychain that says "I love my beagle". I want to go to the dog park. And guess what? I even bought a halloween costume for Scamp.

After just a few days of bringing a dog into your home:
  • You learn that he likes to drink a few sips of water before starting on the food.
  • You know the treats make him crazy happy.
  • The family settles into a routine of letting the dog out, going on walks, and feeding the dog.
  • You learn that he likes to walk to the left side of you.
  • You are accustomed to hearing little footsteps on the hardwood floor.
  • At the end of your work day, you wish you could teleport home to see the dog.
  • You open the front door and there sits the happiest living being to see you (a banging of happily wagging tail against the wall).
On Wednesday, 4 days after we adopted Scamp, I got home and noticed his back legs were sort of wobbly - and he was dragging one back leg a little bit. I called the vet suspecting that maybe he was having a reaction to the lyme vaccine he'd received the day before. She did an exam and some x-rays, and suspected it might be a ruptured disk that couldn't necessarily be seen on an x-ray. We got a steroid shot just in case it was a lyme vaccine reaction, but she was really leaning towards something else. She suggested keeping him there overnight in a "quiet place", but I insisted that I'd take him home and promised to keep things quiet. By the time I got home and carried him in to the living room, his back legs were completely paralyzed and he was dragging himself across the floor. There was something so completely grotesque, and horrendously sad about that sight and the only reason I kept from bursting into tears was that I was trying to stay composed for my 13 year old kid in the room. I called the vet who told me to go to the animal hospital.

The animal hospital is amazing. The immediate care and compassion you get there is better than the care and compassion you'd get at any human facility. The ER vet did several tests and drew me several pictures and proposed several possibilities. She leaned towards a ruptured disk. So here's what happens, the disks start degrading at age 12 months for these low and long dogs. Any little tweak - jumping off a couch, going down the stairs, can rupture a disk. The disk stuff gets pushed up and pushes against the spinal cord, rendering the animal at least temporarily paralyzed. An MRI or CT scan, and then back surgery can possibly fix the problem. She told us that there was a very narrow window of opportunity to perform the surgery or else he would become totally paralyzed. Scamp went from wobbly to paralyzed in about an hour, so we definitely needed to act quickly. In Scamp's case, we were given a 50-70% chance of being able to walk again. Of course we'd do surgery. We love this dog, I told her through tears.

The vet told us that surgery would cost 6,000-8,000 dollars. This is when I called my husband an had a lengthy and tearful conversation about all implications ethical, moral, financial. We've only had this dog for 4 days. But we love this dog and he's a member of our family. It doesn't matter if it's been 4 days or 4 years. We can still give the dog back. The rescue gives a 20 day window, and they have other "special needs" dogs. But you don't adopt a dog and then give it back. But we don't have any money! But is it worth it to take a loan? He is considered a member of our family, and you don't throw away a 50-70% chance of walking. But the x-rays showed he has a large heart (but no murmur). What if he has a heart condition and we spend 8,000 and he has a heart attack next month. But then again, you never know what will happen in life and this little dog has brought us so much joy, and he is the absolutely sweetest dog. He doesn't deserve to be paralyzed and then possibly put down just because of money. But how stupid are we to take out a loan for 8,000 for an animal?! But do we really consider animals throw aways? Scamp is so perfect but maybe he's really a dime a dozen? But could we just say forget it and then adopt another dog and feel good about that? But the vet said about 10% of dogs who rupture a disk will rupture another one, and we've just paid off debt that we've been carrying for 15 years! But what if we do the surgery and he's still paralyzed? We adopted a dog for the kids to grow up with - not to enjoy for 4 days before taking on this huge burden of a paralyzed dog with a possible heart issue who cannot control his bodily functions. And Scamp is in the back room paralyzed while the clock is ticking, and I'm sobbing on the phone, completely unable to make a decision.

We spent probably 30 minutes on the phone flip-flipping, being realistic and logical, and trying to be responsible adults - there is simply no way we should even be entertaining the idea of doing this surgery while we're just breaking even every month. We have kids and no savings or emergency fund. But in the end, we both decided that there was only one decision that we felt would be the right thing to do, and that was to take out the loan and do the surgery. This would be the only option that would allow us to sleep at night, to feel like we've fulfilled our responsibilities to Scamp when we took him home.

The vet neurologist performed the surgery that night and said the rupture was big (whatever that means) but that the spinal cord looked good (whatever that means). He increased the prognosis to an 85-90% chance that Scamp would walk. However, the recovery will be a long process. He will have to be cage confined for 2 weeks and it typically takes several weeks before he may start walking. During that time, he'll be on wee wee pads because he won't be able to control the peeing and pooping (the animal disliker in me used to scoff at the wee wee pads when I saw them on the shelves. Now I know one reason why people buy them). There are all kinds of therapies available (we saw a dog doing hydrotherapy today - with a life vest on and swimming in the water to gain strength), but I'm pretty sure the vet neurologist said that wouldn't be necessary for Scamp.

I've been a blubbering mess for the past couple of days. Yesterday I cried almost all day. I was trying to determine if it was a hormonal thing, but no, definitely not. There are two main reasons why I'm so sad about it. I'm really sad to think about how incredibly sweet and innocent this particular dog is, and sad because he doesn't deserve all this shit. Another thing that makes me ridiculously sad is to think about all this approximately 6 year old dog has been through. Where's he been? Who has cared for him or lost him or abused him? He was with a foster, Earl, for about a month. Earl really loved him, and then we took him away from Earl. The first two nights with us, he chose to sleep on the first floor on the futon. The third night, my husband carried him up to the dog bed in the girls' room. Funny because he stayed there for a long while but went back down to the futon in the middle of the night. The fourth night, he started off on the futon (we figured that would just be his place, so we left him), but in the middle of the night, he decided to come up and slept on the floor of our bedroom. It felt like he was finally settling in and realizing we were his new family. And now he's in a kennel. We've tried to visit him twice a day since he's been there so that he knows he hasn't just been dumped again. Though he's been a little dazed and confused from the drugs, and though he can't yet move his legs and wag his tail, I'm sure he knows it's us, his new family, visiting.

Tomorrow we bring him home. I've turned a corner and finally stopped crying (well, crying all the time - but typing this has obviously brought up a lot of emotion again). I fixed up a borrowed crate, lined it with a dog bed covered in trash bags, put blankets around each edge, and hung pictures that my 6 year old made for Scamp in the corner walls of the kitchen where he'll spend his time recovering. I feel more optimistic after setting up the area, but I'm really scared - scared about how to get him out of the crate, scared that we'll hurt him accidentally (he has a quite large incision down his back), scared that he won't walk again, scared of what kind of decision we'll have to make if this is the case, scared that he'll recover but then rupture another disk, scared of the stairs and the height of the futon, scared that he'll keel over and die from a heart attack, geez there are a lot of fears. I guess starting tomorrow, we'll just have to take it one day at a time.

One thing that helped me feel better (though it's sort of sad that it has to be), was to hear other stories about pets getting really sick or injured and then getting better - especially recovering from a ruptured disk. In the past few days, I learned the vet tech's dog had 2 surgeries for this, my daughter's piano teacher's dachshund had this back surgery, and the dog of a woman in the waiting room of the animal hospital had the surgery twice. This woman had her other dog there for cancer treatment. I felt bad because when I started talking to her (and was crying), she started crying too. We were like crazy people. I told her about the money dilemma and she said she understood and that people think we're crazy, but it doesn't matter.

Anyway, I'm labeling this "completely unrelated" because I don't often diverge from gardening topics, but if you have a positive story to share about a pet, or if you have experienced this and have advice about the recovery, I would love to hear it - it really helps!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Left Fork Farm - ginseng and other herbs

Last week, I got to tour this lovely piece of land that Left Fork Farm owners Emil and Eva call "a paradise in the hills of West Virginia". On this farm, the earthy retired-from-government-jobs couple grow lots of "seng" in addition to many other medicinal herb plants. I shouldn't tell you where to set your Garmins though because one thing I learned is that ginseng, also known as "forest gold", is susceptible to theft, being such a valuable crop. But, despite the high price that roots may fetch, it's sort of complicated. Some other facts I learned...

  • Ginseng is picky about growing conditions. Mostly shaded mountain land is best.
  • Ginseng is a tonic and adaptogen. See here for more about health benefits.
  • Ginseng needs to be "hunted". Look for indicator plants such as ferns, to help guide you to areas where ginseng may thrive.
  • You need a permit to dig. Theft is the number 1 problem for big growers. Ginseng must be sold to buyers, who will ask for paperwork proving where the roots were harvested. If roots are stolen, growers will inform buyers who will keep an eye out for the stolen roots.
  • The couple sum up the process of growing successfully in a few steps:
  1. Find the right land.
  2. Plant 6,000 seeds the first year.
  3. Wait 7-10 years.
In other words, it's not easy! While Eva and Emil wait years for a significant root harvest, they stay busy in other ways: harvesting berries for juice, which yields a high price; harvesting mature roots and leaves to make tinctures for sale. Eva's ginseng tincture was a popular item for those on our tour. Of course, the couple seems to have found a use for everything growing on their farm...

This was a stream that our bus had to cross in order to get to this middle-of-nowhere property!

Can you imagine if this were your backyard?!

The vegetable garden and a gigantic patch of holy basil. At the end of our tour, we got to have some cookies and Eva's holy basil tea. It was interesting and quite good - sort of cinnamony, but with a very different aftertaste.

Above and below: this is the black walnut operation. The couple has been collecting black walnuts...

The black walnuts are opened with a corn husker. The nuts are washed and sold in portions as you see below. They also crack the nuts and sell the fresh walnut meat to area restaurants. The outer green rind of the black walnut is made into a tincture that is given to dogs as a dewormer!

Herbs drying in the drying house...

The process of making Eva's concoctions...

Ready for sale!

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