After a couple of unseasonably cold and gray days that warranted warm socks and a sweater, we’ve returned to hot (+90F) and sunny again. I return to monitoring my one barrel of rain water, which is about 1/5 full (empty). The couple of rain storms we’ve had and the one night of drizzle failed to fill the bin, let alone my array of four 275 gallon bins. One can have all the storage one wants, but one can’t make the rain fall.

DSCF8121The garden was getting on parched yesterday so I watered with the precious rain water, adding a half cup of fish emulsion and a cup and a half of compost and comfrey tea to each watering can. The tea I had started four days ago: dropping comfrey leaves into the bottom half of a five gallon bucket, adding about two gallons of rain water, then putting about ten cups of fresh compost into a cloth bag and submersing it. Put lid on, put in dark shed, let bubble away. It smelled sweat, going on yeasty, with the typical comfrey smell that I’ve not been able to describe – something like molten rubber? Anyway, it was ready. Though even hotter today, the plants, even the usually droopy tomatoes, look great. I hope the calcium rich comfrey will combat the blossom end rot I’ve spotted on some of the squashes.

Looking west of the garden, here’s an update of what’s going on with the front of our property.

DSCF7053_smallIn February we had a landscaper come with a track hoe to excavate the weeds, brambles and vines that we had combated year in year out – pulling, digging up, covering with cardboard and wood chips – losing the battle. In four hours he had dug them up with the big scoop and put them on one big pile. Then he churned up the massive leaf and wood chips piles that my neighbor had been depositing on our property for years. It looked like a lot of fun, like stirring a massive pot of soup with a massive ladle. This mix he deposited on the newly bared earth, at about a foot deep.

DSCF8032On the slope I sowed white clover, which took really well and is now feeding the rabbit population. I am not sure this is a good idea, but on the other hand, I haven’t had rabbit herbivory in my garden at all this season. Also, it is fixing nitrogen, out-competing most weeds and stopping erosion very well.

Down at the bottom, the hardiest weeds returned slowly, but our neighbor keeps dropping off wood chips and every other weekend or so DH and I go down and pull and cover, pull and cover. The excavation wasn’t a silver bullet that took care of it once and for all, and we never expected that, but our work now is much more manageable, and pleasant. It looks like this now:


Notice the new pile of wood chips in the center.

The idea is that the micro-organisms need all the nitrogen available to burn up the carbon in the wood chips – leaving less or even no nitrogen for the weeds. That’s how woodsy mulch works. An extra weapon in our arsenal is the deployment of fungi. Most of the weeds we’re fighting are invasive greenies. I’m hoping that aggressively running mycelium in the wood chips mulch will suppress them even more. So I started wood chip fermenting. I learned about it from Paul Stametz in this short and informational video:

It’s an intriguing idea: you basically cultivate a herd of anaerobic bacteria, then you harvest them by killing them by exposing them to oxygen, then give them to the (aerobic) fungi as a meal. It’s like growing fodder for your livestock, only your fodder is bacteria and your livestock is fungi!

Here are my barrels, filled to the brim with a mix of soft and hard woods and tap water that sat out in open buckets in the sun for several days to dechlorinate. I’ll drain the barrels in a couple of weeks and we’ll spread the fermented chips and start a new batch. Hopefully, we’ll have great mycelium running soon!




DSCF7979My two kombucha Continuous Brews (one with a spiced Indian chai, the other a more subtle Earl Grey) are growing vigorously, the mothers in them giving birth to more SCOBYs (scobies?). They are starting to fill up the jars. Time for a special hold-over vessel: the SCOBY Hotel. I learned about this from the Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory of Kombucha Kamp, both of which (the book, the site) I am liking very much.

First photo: Earl Grey kombucha with sour cherry concentrate flavoring for second fermentation. Nicely fizzy! We like the flavors of fresh fruits better though, and those also create an explosive buzz. The sweet cherry and the watermelon flesh flavorings were more of a hit, but not as colorful.


Separating the older (bottom one) from the newer mother.


SCOBY motel with four mothers, so far.










I tried again to capture those Indigenous Micro-Organisms, again in the leaf mulch pile, and again I got mostly yellow, pink, blue and predominantly black. It smelled sweet, though, so I decided to make a batch of IMO II, adding 1:1 brow sugar. This can be kept indefinitely in a dark, cool spot.

To plant some stinging nettle plants that a new friend – new, but he understands me all too well already! – brought for me, I went into a seldom-visited patch of our property. While digging the trench, I found the soil there to be super soft and hyphal, especially around an old beech tree. It may be that the indigenous micro-organisms are all the colors of the rainbow, not snow-white, but I may try one more time under that tree. I will have to brave some fast growing nettles to get there. Might as well harvest some of the tops and make a nettle tea…



I visited the two buckets of FAA today – they’re nicely tucked away in the cool, dark basement. Amazing how it doesn’t smell awful or even fishy at all, since it’s just fish and sugar, and some apples. The apple smell dominates, along with a sweet fermented smell. The top of one had a lot of mold, which I just scooped up and fed to my compost bin buddies.



Underneath that layer the liquefying action is well and truly happening. Basically, only the big fish heads are left. This is what it looks like after a stir:




Meanwhile, outside, this, in case you too were wondering where some of those sumptuous ripe peas went (click to enlarge):


Ah–ahcronyms! That stands for Korean Natural Farming: Fermented Plant Juice and Oriental Herbal Nutrient. After weeks of prep, FPJ and OHN were ready to “decant” and use and store.

  • FPJ

DSCF7565On 5/2 (about a month ago), I went about my garden collecting the meristems of all the most vigorously growing plants that I could find. The meristems are the undifferentiated growing tips of plants, full of energy. These are the ones you want in your Fermented Plant Juice. I added comfrey (smallest, newest leaves), common and spear mint, and all kinds of mostly unidentified weeds reaching for the sun. This document from the University of Hawaii has a list of which plants to look for, to which Aaron Englander, who taught me this recipe, added the more readily available purslane, nettles, and mugwort.

I packed these leaves and shoots into a jar, layered with a 1:1 ratio of raw brown sugar (by volume), leaving 2/3 of head space. I covered with a cloth and let it sit at room temperature. After a week I found it didn’t make much juice, so I added a small amount of (non-chlorinated) water (a tablespoon) and that got it going really well. Today I poured off the liquid – amazing how much poured out after all. It is stored in the jar with a cloth, in a cool, dark place.

FPJ, which is packed with growth energy, is used weekly at the growing stage of plants as foliar feed (at 1000:1 dilution) or a soil drench (at 500:1).

  • OHN

DSCF7567Also on 5/2 chopped up and crushed the five ingredients for the OHN and put them each in their own jar:

  1.  2 parts (by volume) the bark of Angelica acutiloba (which I had ordered from Mountain Rose Herb – I also ordered the seeds so I can start growing it myself). Because the quantity of angelica is double that of the rest, I filled 1/3 of a jar that is twice the size of the other jars. You can also just two jars the same size. Same difference.
  2. 1 part licorice root (Glycurrhiza uralensis), which I have growing in the garden, but the plant isn’t ready yet for harvesting, so I got this from Mountain  Rose Herbs as well (1/3 jar).
  3. 1 part cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum sp.), from Mountain  Rose Herbs (1/3 jar).

I added beer (the one I happened to have in my fridge, a hoppy honey beer; you can also use rice wine) to hydrate these and covered them with cloth.

After 2 days, I chopped and crushed the two wet ingredients:

  • 1 part fresh ginger root (Zingiber officinale), skins and all, organic from the store.
  • 1 part garlic cloves (Allium sativum), stem, skins and all, homegrown.

Then I added 1:1 raw brown sugar to all five so all the jars were 2/3 full and covered them with cloth. I let them ferment for 5 days, then I topped all of them off with vodka and closed the jars with lids. I shook them every day for two weeks. Then I strained the juices (but see *!) into two big jars and covered them with cloth (not sure if that’s necessary, but I guess some more fermentation may happen if not all the sugar has been converted yet, and if the jar is closed off, it might explode).  Here’s a good fact sheet on OHN, it also uses turmeric.

OHN is used weekly at all stages of plant growth as a health elixir and immune booster, as a foliar spray, soil drench, seed soak, or compost booster. It has to be diluted 1000:1.  It is also one of the ingredients in IMO 4.

  • OHN marc compost tea

DSCF7563DSCF7568(*!) Now it turns out I should have poured off 2/3 of the liquid and kept the leftover liquid and marc for another round of extraction – you can use the separate jars up to five times. It was too late when I read that, I had already mushed the marc all together for one final press. Then I read you can use that marc for a compost tea, and so that’s where it went, along with the marc of the FPJ.

I have a small, rotating collection of buckets with filtered tap water that I leave open in the sun for 24 hours before putting on the lids to keep dust and animals out. I do this to let whatever the water filter didn’t get, evaporate out – a matter specifically to get rid of the biocide chlorine. I used one of the 5 gallon ones for the tea: wrapped the marc in an old cotton shirt, hung it to steep in the water. I’ll play this one by ear as it will depend on the temperature during brewing.

While I was at it, I also started a new kombucha (following this recipe) and a gallon of ginger soda (using this recipe).

Bubble bubble!

{UPDATE 6/13. This is what it looks like now, without oxygenation. Smells good too. Smells sweet.





DSCF7490Yesterday we racked DH’s two wines (3 gallons each of Cabernet and Malbec) and my four meads (one of which turned into vinegar).


I got a comment from Ashley about her mead. My apologies, Ashley, for responding so late, but in any case I can’t help much. I’m just a dabbler in mead myself, and do most mead making by the seat of my pants, eyeballing it and experimenting. I’ve not yet had to throw away any mead, but some (usually a melomel) has tasted better than others! If you would still like some ideas, I’d say your yeast didn’t have enough sugar, or lacked something else, and so consumed all it could then died too quickly. I’d rack the mead to get rid of the graveyard at the bottom and to oxygenate anew, then add new yeast and sugar.

As for my mead, DH will need the two big carboys soon for his wine, and so I had to empty the one with an old mead that was still sitting in the basement (started in August 2014). It was flat and tasteless, but it hadn’t turned to vinegar, so instead of chucking it, I decided to experiment. I racked it into two smaller bottles. In one I put dried apples and peach leather. In the other, one fresh green apple and a large spoonful of a friend’s raspberry jam. I put the bottles in the porch to warm up a bit and will add fresh champagne yeast and some more honey and let it ferment away again. Like I said, it’s all an experiment.



amie_cello_forFMMusic is such a large part of our lives. Amie is playing classical pieces that truly ask the best of her. It is a marvel to see her small fingers dance on the fretless fingerboard, touching each note. Her playing folk with some of the kind folks of the 12 Georgia is a lot of fun. So far, the guitar sings Twinkle Twinkle and House of the Rising Sun. I love it when she practices. When I bring her with me to visit our friend Rebecca, we bring her cello and she plays. Rebecca, who can no longer speak, studies her intently, like she is trying to engrave her, or her song, in her memory – I like to think so she will remember them on the other side of life.

As for myself, I never had any musical education and can’t even read music, but I do have a good singing voice. Never very confident, I’ve always kept silent, but now I am changing my mind about that. I may never play the cello, but I can honor the world with my song and tell story and make beauty that way. So I picked up my courage and sang, full-breasted,  “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” for Rebecca. Apart from my closest family, she was my first audience and she liked it very much, I could tell.

Because it is for the world I want to sing, I want to sing songs from all over the world, songs that go way back or way deep too. Right now I’m learning Gaelic “Song of Amergin,” which according to some sources means “Birth of Song”. It is an ancient wizard riddle that may go back to the 4th or 5th century. The language is wicked hard to pronounce and then to memorize, and so are the subtle pitch changes, the unexpected melodies, and the tremelos. I take it line by line and it becomes an invocation. My guide on this song too is Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance (she sings it here, but I wish it didn’t have the ever louder background music).

With song comes wine. We measured the specific gravity of the crushed grape juice (1.04 for the Malbec, 1.08 for the Cabernet), then put the yeast to it. We need to feed it in a months time.

The mead I made in September has cleared a lot. This is the bottle (front) in September:


It’s much lighter now. Here’s the bottle next to the year-old, wholly clarified mead:


The bottom is a moonscape of dead yeast people and quaintly coalesced beeswax. But something else in the yeasts must make them consume and break down the color. I need to learn more about this because a bottle of homemade mead is always an occasion for storytelling.

Not wanting to disturb the sediments, I used the thief to extract some and tasted it: just right, still enough sweetness left. I filled a couple of glasses and here’s to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!