Building Raised Garden Beds

As my summer has started to come together, it appears that I’ll be in the Ridgway-Montrose area for the best time of the year! This meant that I would be around enough to tend to the beginnings of a garden. I especially wanted to get some raspberries going since it takes a couple of years for them to really get established and growing. Since the lot is bare and might be so for awhile, I wanted the garden to help make it appear that someone cares about the place so raised beds just seemed a lot more substantial.

Considering that I’m a combination of cash poor and kind of cheap, I initially decided to make my beds out of deconstructed pallets. After knocking apart two pallets I decided that was pretty much a waste of time and decided to go to Home Depot and make a different game plan.

I LUCKED OUT. When I went to Home Depot, I found enough slightly flawed 6’x3″ fence boards to build 3 beds at 18″ each I also grabbed three 10′ 2x4s to be the uprights and put all of it on top of Ruth for the trip to Ridgway. Once I started building, things went absolutely swimmingly. (It also helped a lot that my shed was mostly empty and I could use it as a flat stable place to assemble things.

Garden beds

Sprocket amused himself by frequently climbing the dirt pile (happily diminished last fall by someone who needed fill) and checking out the view of the Cimarrons.

Sprocket dog on dirt pile

I paused before tackling the next two boxes to artificially level the first and see how it looked:

Cedar garden beds

And then Sprocket convinced me to stop and enjoy the sunshine for a minute:

Sunshine cuddle break

Building the second two boxes went fast after figuring things out with the first one. The batteries on my drill died and I forgot to bring the charger so I had to go borrow an impact from a friend. My #damselNOTindistress wish list totally grew: it was so much easier. Here are the completed boxes before they were leveled in the ground:

Garden beds

I got a little over ambitious and created another project for myself when I set the boxes level to each other even though the ground slopes to the east; I’ll eventually level the area around them I guess because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Garden beds and shed

I’ll be headed back down to Ridgway soon to fill them from the dirt pile!

Fementation: Homemade Mead

Eek! I thought I’d posted this ages ago! Seems like a holiday week appropriate post though. Enjoy!

My first fermentation experiment was making sourdough bread but The Art Of Fermentation had inspired me to keep playing with the amazing transformations possible with fermenting. Although Sandor Ellix Katz does an excellent job of making fermentation sounding accessible (full review here) I wanted to try something fairly simple.

One of the book’s earliest chapters deals with simple alcohol fermentation: mead, wine, and cider. Mead seemed pretty foolproof: start with raw honey, shake the jar daily, and wait. As with most things, you can make the process more complicated but this seemed like a perfectly feasible experimental set up.

The first thing I needed was raw honey. Although you can use pasteurized honey, this requires the addition of yeasts since the yeasts that are naturally found in honey have been destroyed. Raw honey can often be found at farmers markets and at some natural foods stores. I ordered mine from My Local Nectar, a new online marketplace where beekeepers can sell their honey. I purchased a small jar from Buchanan Bees (run by my friend Adam Buchanan, founder of My Local Nectar) and was ready to give mead a shot.

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I didn’t want to start with too big of a batch so I started with a medium jar (I think it was a salsa jar), 1/4 c. honey, and 1 c. water. And then, I loosely put the lid on the jar and waited. Every time I walked by the jar, I gave it a shake. I was never really sure if anything was happening and I don’t have a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. A little pressure seemed to build which was supposed to happen but it was all a little questionable. Supposedly after 10 days or so, the mead should be “light” and drinkable although not very alcoholic.

Last night marked 11 days and I caved, pouring myself a glass of this honey water that had been sitting on my counter for over a week. I admit, I was a little nervous. Katz had made me feel pretty confident that I probably wouldn’t get sick but I admit I was a little nervous.

The mead was sweet and it didn’t seem very alcoholic but I don’t have much knowledge of mead to compare it to. There is a winery in Palisade that makes mead, I guess I’m going to have to go sample some to know how mine stacks up and what adjustments I need to make before another (perhaps larger?) batch.

On The Page: The Art Of Fermentation

I have a slew of books to plow through that I already owned but after reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked, I found myself really interested in fermentation. Maybe it’s me being a science geek but I just wanted to learn more! I started baking sourdough bread but I still wanted to know more so I could experiment. Finally, I caved and bought Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.

The Art of Fermentation

The Art of Fermentation isn’t a cookbook. Although it contains a ton of general guides to trying different types of ferments, it does not contain classic “recipes.” Instead, Katz organizes ferments into general categories and examines how they developed throughout the world. He is clear that there is no one specific way to make any ferment and encourages the home fermenter to experiment and find a taste profile that works for them. While The Art of Fermentation discusses purchased cultures, Katz is clearly a fan of wild fermentation (he also wrote a book called Wild Fermentation).

It might seem like a boring read but I read this cover to cover. The book begins with an exploration of why we might care about fermentation; this “why” of fermenting sets the tone for the entire book. Chapter 1 is entitled “Fermentation as a Coevolutionary Force” and discusses how our digestive tracts evolved along with bacterial communities inside us and in our foods. Chapter 2 discusses the benefits of fermentation to us. Historically, the primary benefit of fermentation was the preservation of food. In our modern world, refrigeration has largely removed this imperative however those interested in more self-reliant living paradigms (modern homesteaders, preppers, etc.) may be interested in fermentation for this reason. Fermentation also is believed to have health benefits. Although the science is still developming, Katz cites peer reviewed studies that point towards boosted immune response, increased nutrient bioavailability, detoxification, and maintenance of flora in the gut. Plus, as Katz points out, the results are pretty darn delicious. It is clear that Katz is a fermentation evangelist and is interested in the entire range of fermentation procedures practiced around the world.

In nearly each and every chapter I found something that I wanted to try making (or at least find someone who had made the live culture ferment to try). I read about wines, meads, cheeses, prosciutto, I read about grain fermentations we would never normally learn about in America, I read about the history of beer like beverages in Africa, and about sauerkraut. It was incredibly hard to not feel like I could make all of the things. (I mean, I can, but I have a full time job and I only need to be growing so many things in my food on top of having worms in my laundry room.) Katz makes fermentation sound so achievable for the average person that The Art of Fermentation is powerfully inspiring. He is also realistic about the number of fermentation projects any one person can handle and encourages home fermenters to barter for ferments made by others.

I am really impressed with The Art of Fermentation (and kind of bummed that I couldn’t make it to Denver last weekend to hear Katz speak at the Cultured Colorado Festival). I am excited to be sharing some of my experimentation inspired by the book over the next few months here on 3Up Adventures (and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more real time updates). I really recommend this book to anyone but if you’re interested in the intersection between food and science this is for you. Or, if you’re interested in re-learning some fading food traditions that make us more self-sufficient, this book is for you. Or, if you’re looking for ways to make a wider variety of healthful foods, this book is for you.

DIY Vermiculture: Composting With Worms

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling a little bit frustrated about living in a rental house and not being able to have house projects to work on. (I have no idea why this is the case since I have three furniture projects in various stages of completion, a quilt in process, a blog, a hiking project, and I’d really like to read more but alas, this was how I felt.) One of the things that I’ve wanted to try for quite some time is starting to compost. I reached out to the Twitter-verse, and Modern Steader came to the rescue:

And then, the see (er, worm?) was planted.

I read lots of DIY vermiculture posts and ultimately decided to use a post from the Washington State University Extension Center in Whatcom County. (They have a whole website about composting!) This set of instructions were clear, detailed, and, as advertised, was cheap and easy to build.

I had a sort of terrible time finding the classic Rubbermaid totes that I wanted to use. Target didn’t have them. Walmart didn’t have them. I finally found them at Home Depot where they ran me about $7 each.

Once at home, I drilled a series of 1/16″ holes around the top of each bin and in one of the lids, as directed in the WSU DIY build instructions.

Vent holes

Vent holes in lid

Next, I drilled 1/4″ holes in the bottoms of both bins:

Holes in bin

After that, I stacked the bins on a few sour cream and cottage cheese containers and waited for my worms to arrive. I ordered my worms from Colorado VermiCulture. I am still thoroughly confused as to where these guys are based because they call themselves Colorado VermiCulture and have a 970 area code number on their website but the return address was somewhere in Pennsylvania). I thought I was buying local-ish (even if they were being shipped) but I guess not..

Perishable!

When the worms arrived, I excitedly made their wet newspaper bedding (that’s a lot of newspaper!) puta handful of dirt on top and sort of anxiously unpackaged my “wormies.” (Yes, I am 30 years old and referred to the Red Wigglers as “wormies.”)

Newspaper and dirt I unpacked the box to learn that the worms were from “Uncle Jim’s” worm farm and happily noted that they were, in fact, still moving around. I still don’t know if I was supposed to put their peat moss into the compost bin with them but I decided that it was unlikely to matter so in they went with the peat moss.

Uncle Jim's Worm FarmSprocket was thoroughly confused about the presence of worms in the house.

Sprocket checks out the worms

Sprocket is confused

I fed the worms some peach peels, coffee grinds, and sweet potato skins I’d been saving for them by burying it in the newspaper then covered the newspaper with wet cardboard and nestled the other bin on top. I then moved the whole thing to the laundry room sans laundry facilities.

Stacked bins

I was a little bit freaked out about the possibility of waking up in the morning to worms desperately attempting to escape from their plastic jail. I did a bit of Googling and turned up some helpful people suggesting that worms like it where it is dark so leaving the light on outside of the bin for a few days might help the worms adjust.

When I opened the bin the next day (I couldn’t resist!) there were several worms kind of crawling up the sides of the bin, a couple on top of the cardboard, and most were existing in two masses under the cardboard. A huge part of me was convinced they were all going to die.

Worms at workToday, I fed the worms some more stuff and got excited to peek into their home. They’ve dispersed into their bedding and I’m really hoping they’re enjoying their artichoke leaves and tea bags. I’m finally feeling like they’re not going to die at any moment and I bravely have turned off the light in the laundry room the last couple of days—and no one has escaped.

It’ll be quite some time before I actually have any worm casings to use in a garden but in the meantime, I really like the awesome earthy smell when I pull off the top bin to feed my little “wormies.”

Peaches!

Although Palisade Peach season is coming to an end, I’ve finally been settled enough to really start enjoying the awesome local produce.

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Last week, I made three batches of peach jam.

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My first batch I used low sugar Sure-Jell. I’ve only ever made berry jams so this one turned out too chunky at the end (although I think it’ll really taste great on waffles).

The next batch, I used Pomona’s Pectin. This pectin uses calcium to gel, not sugar like most pectins, so you can use smaller amounts. For my first batch, I decided to only vary one thing at a time and just softened the peaches on the stovetop a bit before adding the sugar, lemon juice and pectin although I still stuck with about two cups of sugar.

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This batch turned out at a much better consistency so for my final batch, I cut the sugar down to 1 cup and cooked it again.

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Then this week, I decided it was time to make pie. I really really love pie.

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Peaches and cream pie! I had a slice on my way to school this morning. It is delicious.