To your health!

My first ginger soda (I’m going to call it soda as of now because otherwise my European readers think I am brewing alcoholic beverages) lost its fizz at some point. Probably when it was in the carboy, before I bottled it. It’s still mighty good to drink but I want to make soda, and champagne, not as ginger and lemon juice.

{UPDATE: Aha! I probably found out why that happened. First of all, I should have kept the carboy open, so more yeasts could colonize the drink and so the yeasts already present could use the air to feed on further. At this point one wants just fermentation, no carbonation yet, which happens when you bottle it.  Also, it turns out that honey – an antibacterial  after all – inhibits the yeast considerably.  So I changed the honey-sugar ratio a bit. I also rewrote the original recipe, in case you want to re-consult it. Life is one big experiment!}

So I started a new bug (I plan to have them going nonstop now) and this time waited a little longer. Now I can actually hear the fizz. I put my ear to the jar and it’s like there’s thousands of bugs in there having a dinner party. You can also see large bubbles rising to the top. Surely it’s ready!

For the base I combined a strong chamomile tea, some frozen berries (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry), and instead of juice of two lemons I added juice of one lemon and a sliced clementine. Oh, and 1/2 cup of honey, 1/2 cups of sugar.

summer in winter

I added the bubbling ginger bug and it’s now sitting in two half gallon ball jars – nice and tightly sealed covered (so far) with cheesecloth.


Echinacea Tincture still seeping and being shaken twice a day

DH and I tried to save it, but the snow inside the “boat”/”float” is unapproachable. The bent pipes are still holding it up, about 1 foot off the ground, which is good on the one hand because the beds inside aren’t (totally) crushed, but which is also a problem because we can’t just jump in and shovel out the snow. We tried to push it up from the inside, but the snow load is too heavy. Raking, shoveling or sweeping the snow out from the sides only got us so far.

So we decided to leave it as it is.

If we get a big thaw we can drain the thing and put it aside. I’ve given up on the produce inside – grown and nurtured from seed, transplanted with my Mom’s help in September, covered with row cover and later with the top heavy hoop house when we moved it from its Summer to  Winter position. If it survives, we rebuild the house or cover each of the beds with their own plastic.


At least there was something to cheer about – it’s good to look around for those. The slightly warmer temperatures brought out some bees. They took cleansing flights and shoveled out a whole lots of dead bees. Signs of life, at least.


I also washed my indoor plants again. I am resigned to having the whiteflies in the house, and that just like mites on the bees I can’t get rid of all of them, but can only  manage their numbers to tolerable levels. It felt good to wash off as many as I could, though. The plants look a lot happier too.

I also found a good trick to keep the soil from falling out of the pots and muddying up my bath tub:

We woke up to one more foot of snow and this:

That’s not the shape it had yesterday. Something gave.

I’m still smiling here. I don’t know why.

A peek inside: one of the connectors snapped.

Should I go in and try to push off the snow from the inside?

It’s creaking ominously…

Better not, because…

Good call.

The clamps could no longer hold the weight and snapped off. The plastic slid off and the whole thing caved.

On the inside it now looks like this.

None of the plants in the beds are crushed.  There is wonderful mache, by the way, but I had to get out of there before I could take a picture, and all the broccoli was still alive. If the thing keeps this shape, and if the vegetables survive tonight, then tomorrow when DH is back we might be able to save the whole thing, rebuild it.

I need winter boots and snow pants.

I bottled the ginger beer. It is still sitting out, and I am waiting for bubbles to reappear before I stick it in the fridge.

As I was forwarding the link to the recipe, I noticed that in my haste to share this with you, I made a mistake: I added 1 cup of sugar, not water. That should be water, of course, and preferably filtered water, because the chlorine in unfiltered tap water will weaken (or even kill) the natural yeasts that will make your bug ferment.


8 am

This might be nothing to others in the world, but to me, that’s cooooold.

The hive in the distance. Gotta go dig it out.

Some wading and digging and it’s done.

The new dead bees at the entrance means the bees in there are still alive, trying to clear out the die-off. They’re well insulated now in that blanket of snow, as long as the hive gets some ventilation. I am eager for that first day of temperatures in the higher 40s, when I can go and take a peek and maybe even move some honey frames closer to the cluster, or feed if necessary. I’ll have to wait a while still, because after some really cold nights (- 9 F = – 22.7 C) we’re looking at yet another snow storm.

I also put more seeds and nut in the bird feeder, which was on the way to the hive anyway.


When not wading through 3 feet of snow, I am reading two new books, wonderful books by wonderful people, Nancy and Michael Phillips’ The Herbalist Way and Michael Phillips’ The Apple Grower. Wow, I want to learn and do too many things at once. Better start making up a budget…


The Ginger Bug is bubbling so I’m moving on to the next stage of brewing a good beer: adding the culture to the base (water, more ginger and sugar/honey) and letting it ferment away some more. I’m making a little less than a gallon,  about 6 wine bottles, I should say.

DH made some wine a many years ago (it was really good), and so we have carboys in several sizes. You could use a milk container but 1) they’re plastic and 2) they’re not clear, which makes keeping an eye on the fermentation difficult. Also, 3) you need to find a way of closing the container, and that flimsy cap won’t do it, it’ll blow right off as the fermentation keeps going. DH’s carboy comes with a stopper with an airlock. Perfect!

A week to two weeks to my first ginger beer!


I want to grow ginger root, or rather, ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale). It seems challenging in a cold climate – it needs about 8-10 months of growing time and is not cold-hardy, so it has to come inside for a large part of the year. And inside I am still struggling with the whiteflies and the aphids – the neem seems to have gotten the majority, but the survivors are recolonizing rapidly. Keeping humidity-loving, pest-prone exotics happy in the extra dry winter indoors is not easy.

Nevertheless I want to give it a try, and while I’m at it I’ll also try to grow ginger’s relative, turmeric (Curcuma longa), another great medicinal and culinary rhizome, if I can find a fresh root somewhere.


More snow is coming down. It’ll have added 7 to 8 inches by the time it’s done. I  don’t think that  I’ve ever seen so much accumulated snow in the twelve years that I’ve lived in the Boston area. School is canceled for an unprecedented second day int he history of our town. I will have to go out to dig out the hoop house and the beehive. I’ll have to wade through snow up to my knees. A plus is that it is making me take a closer look at where to put the chicken coop.

If we want to make a snowman we’ll have to do it today. After today we’re looking at a couple of days of excrutiating cold – minus 5 (F) Sunday night!

Today I started an Echinacea tincture. Don’t know why I waited this long (and will have to wait for 6 more weeks) . This winter I’ve already spent a good $40 on store-bought tincture – gah! You can make it for about $2 a bottle at home, and control the ingredients too.

It’s a 1:5 Echinacea purpurea dried root tincture made with 80 proof vodka (that’s 40 grams of dried, powdered herb in 200 ml of vodka).

I’ve ordered more herbs, more glass dropper bottles and a stainless steel funnel from Mountain Rose Herbs. I need to find a cheap and local source of large quantities of 100 proof vodka ($20 for 750 ml at the liquor store) and 190 proof alcohol. Because this time I used dried herb I could get away with the cheaper 80 proof, but I’ll want to tincture fresh ginger root soon.

I’m using James Green’s Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook. It’s very user-friendly for the beginner and encouraging. I ordered Nancy Phillips’ book The Herbalist Way as well as Michael PhillipsThe Apple Grower. I got to peruse both books at my leisure at the NOFA conference and was very impressed.

So I’m back to the gotta-shake-my-tincture (in addition to gotta-feed-my-bug) days. Tomorrow I hope to start up the bread-baking again. Then we’ll be more or less back into our routine.

Yesterday I had great fun at the NOFA Mass. Winter Conference. (I took my red scarf off, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.)

One of the things I learned, from Sarah Shields of Birch Moon Farm & Herbals, was how to use fermentation from airborne yeasts to carbonate drinks. I just started my first ginger bug, so soon we’ll have ginger beer!

Here’s the recipe:



  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (or dry ginger powder)
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 cup of water (preferably not chlorinated)

{UPDATE: I corrected a mistake in my earlier recipe: 1 cup of WATER, not of extra sugar! My apologies!}

{UPDATE: honey – an antibacterial – will inhibit the yeast you’re trying to grow. So be sure to use mostly or all sugar.}

Leave the bug in a mason jar on the counter, with a cheesecloth over it so it will draw the yeasts from the air but not get dust in it. Every day feed it 2 teaspoons of ginger and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Stir it twice a day to aerate it. After about 2 days – 1 week (depending on how warm your house is) you will see bubbles going up to the top. And you’ll hear it, bubbling away – it’s like listening in on thousands of little bugs having a dinner party. At that point it’s ready: fermentation has started.  After that you can feed it every 2 days but it’s best to use it straightaway in the beer.

  • The WORT = the base

Bring to  a boil:

  • 1/2 gallon of water
  • 3-6 inches of fresh grated ginger root

simmer 20 minutes, add water to taste (let it cool down a bit first!). While still warm, add

  • 1 1/2  cup of sugar

Pour the whole thing into a gallon container. Let it cool to room temp, add the juice of two lemons (or oranges), which will slow down the fermentation. Then add the ginger bug (either with or without the sediment – keep some sediment for making more bug).

Keep the jar on the counter, with cheesecloth, and stir twice a day. Keep it warm and keep an eye on it.  It could take from 3 days to to 1-2 weeks (again, depending on the temperature) to get ready. Taste it once in a while. If the bubbles rising up at the edge, it’s usually ready.


Bottle the beer. Leave the bottles out for 1-2 more days.

Keep an eye on them! Sarah kept warning us: IT’S ALIIIIIIIVE! She had many stories of exploding bottles and soda geisers when opened {UPDATE: yes, it also happened to me}. That is why corking is better, for the beginner, than capping. If the fermentation runs out of room in the bottle, it will blow out the cork, or it will explode a capped bottle. Both are messy, but the latter is more so, and dangerous. If you add fruits (and thus more sugar, i.e., food for the bacteria), then cut the fermentation and carbonation times in half and watch them even more closely.

When the yeast ferments the sugars (which it will keep doing unless it gets too cold), it produces CO2. Closing off the container at this point will force that CO2 into the liquid instead of letting it escape, thus carbonating your soda, or making it fizzy.

After several days, put the bottles in the fridge to stop the fermentation. It is ready to drink.

These drinks are usually not alcoholic. But as it’s alive and it depends on many factors, it will be up to you to tell…

This is what the view out of the window looks like at the moment. Glorious!

DH and I spent three hours digging out our driveway on Wednesday (1 1/2 feet of heavy  snow over about  2000 sq.f) and it had been a long time since I had been that exhausted. As I trudged back up our hill and felt like just falling down, face first into the snow, like you see in the movies. Instead I took a hot shower and took a two-hour nap.

But where are the plants – the overwintering peppers, the herbs – you might ask. Good question.

They’re in the tub.

The plants started out with a population of aphids and whiteflies from the beginning. I kept a lid on the infestation by washing them once every four weeks. I’d never get all of them, of course, so they would repopulate, but they never got to affect the plants too badly.

Then we left for India for three weeks and took a week to recuperate and BAM: population overshoot! It was pretty bad and some of the habaneros might not survive. But some of these pepper plants are overwintering for the second time, and they are my best producers, so today I washed the whole lot again and sprayed neem oil.  Let’s hope it does the job without stressing out the plants too much.

There was a neem tree right in front of my parents-in-law’s flat in Calcutta, where it is thought of as the Sacred Tree. The leaves taste really bitter. DH told me a horror story of how he had to eat neem leaves fried in oil.

Neem tree (not the one mentioned) on the left


And now back to here and now:

What a contrast! Well, I guess I won’t be visiting the hoop house any time soon… But I will be at the NOFA MA Winter Conference tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see you there? I’ll be the one wearing a red scarf!