Homemade sauerkraut is hard to beat


Local cabbage fields are nearing harvest or have already been cut. Many would have been harvested sooner  if fields hadn’t been so wet. I always look forward to fresh cabbage. It’s so versatile.

One of my favorite cabbage dishes is sauerkraut. My mother-in-law made the best I’ve ever tasted. Elloise Minney passed nine years ago, but I can still taste her kraut. She used an old-fashioned wood framed kraut cutter to slice it just the right thickness.

Sauerkraut is easy to make. I’ve made it myself, but there was always something special about hers. Maybe it was her crock, the coarseness of the cut or the temperature of her cellar. I don’t know, but her kraut was spectacular.

She used a large stone crock, stuffed it with sliced cabbage, salted it by layers and mixed it thoroughly. She inserted a large thoroughly washed smooth stone to pack the cabbage down and keep it submerged. Then she placed a board on the crock with another stone to hold it down.

Eventually, she packed it into jars and stored it in her cellar house. She always seemed to know precisely how long to wait before storing it in jars, and she made sure the jars were not sealed. This would have been difficult anyway, as gas is produced that would break the seal. Somehow, she could tell when it was ready by consistency alone.

This cabbage delight cures by a process called lactofermentation. Lactobacillus bacteria, the same or very similar ones contained in milk and yogurt, convert natural sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is the substance that keeps the stuff from spoiling. It also helps give it its incredible tart flavor.

Elloise was always careful to keep all her equipment clean. This keeps competing bacteria and fungi from entering the mix. She didn’t use gloves, but she always was careful to wash her hands thoroughly. Other than that, the fermentation process is simple.

No other ingredients need to be added other than the pickling salt, which contains no iodine. The salt draws moisture from the cabbage. No water or vinegar is usually required for the fermentation process.

If cabbage has dried some it’s sometimes necessary to add salted water to the mix, but this is rarely necessary. Usually the cabbage is reconstituted in the washing process.

I think what made her kraut so good was that it wasn’t processed. Some folks can their kraut after it has fermented, thinking it will last longer. It might, but the final product loses flavor and the texture isn’t as crisp.

Sauerkraut not only tastes good, it’s good for you. A cup has less than 30 calories. Product that has not been processed contains probiotics that promote healthy digestion. Beneficial bacteria can also help us if we must use certain antibiotics to treat infection. Probiotic bacteria in kraut re-establish in our digestive systems.

Kielbasa and kraut is a delicacy I often crave. Unfortunately, it’s just not the same when using store-bought kraut. This cabbage delicacy is also great on hot dogs, brats or eastern barbecue. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Elloise Minney in her kitchen 34 years ago

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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We should encourage native pollinators and native plant species


The European honey bee is perhaps agriculture’s most important pollinator. Its greatest importance is that we derive honey from it. Honey production is a multibillion dollar industry.

There are no native honey bees. The varroa mite nearly wiped out honey bees in the late 80s and 90s, but those bees originally escaped captivity. They weren’t native. In fact, the European honey bee is the only honey bee that doesn’t reside in tropical regions. There are other pollinators though, and many are more effective than honey bees at pollinating plants.

I knew there were a lot, but I read there were over 4000 species of native bees. There are dozens of species of bumble bees alone. Bumble bees are more efficient pollinators for most plants than honey bees.

Bees aren’t the only pollinators. Wasps, beetles and other insects are important, too. So are hummingbirds, beetles, ants, butterflies, moths, bats and other small mammals and lizards. Many of these we’d like around our homes. Some we wouldn’t.

Agriculture is dependent upon pollinators. Some crops can’t exist without them. More than a third of all crop plants rely upon some type of animal for pollination. Fruit production especially depends on them.

We often look at pollinators only as they relate to agriculture. However, our ecosystems depend on them. When native pollinators suffer, so do native plants. When native plants suffer, so do native wildlife species.

In our home landscaping it is important to keep in mind when different plants flower. Pollinators need a constant supply of food. If we plant things pollinators like but they all bloom in the same season, we aren’t helping much. The same goes for planting food plots for wildlife. Stable supplies of both vegetation, pollen and nectar are essential.

When landscape plants invade the natural environment, they tend to upset that balance. In the past, well meaning individuals have planted exotic plants for conservation purposes. This has led to disastrous situations. Multiflora rose and kudzu are two examples.

Our unfortunate interference hasn’t been limited to exotic plants either. We’ve introduced nutria to control vegetation in ditches, and that has caused major problems for our waterways.

When wild Canada goose populations were in decline, we introduced a strain of Canada goose that doesn’t migrate. Now we’re stuck with resident geese that leave their droppings everywhere and are a health hazard. They also consume resources that won’t be available for future migrating geese.

Introducing species not native to an area can have unforeseen consequences. Creating an imbalance can limit native plant species. That can hinder native animal species.

People often want to manage the environment to favor certain species. Some would even like to see certain ones wiped from the earth. However, if we wiped out mosquitoes, ants and wasps we would upset the balance and we might not like the results.

Native plants and native pollinators have existed since the beginning of time. If we plant native species we stand a greater chance of encouraging native pollinators and achieving more stable populations of wild creatures.

Native rose mallow being pollinated

Same flower a little more close-up

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Pollination and pollinators are important for our environment


I’d say most people have little regard for pollinators at all. They might even think the world would be better if all these critters went extinct. Bees, wasps, beetles and the like are usually not among your average person’s list of favorite organisms.

These disparaged creatures are vital to our food supply. Our environment would be drastically different without them.  Most plants need to be pollinated to reproduce, and there are three ways this is accomplished.

Some plants self-pollinate, and this can usually be accomplished without any outside interference. Flowers that have male and female parts near each other are often good candidates for self-pollination. In vegetable gardens, prime examples are: tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans. You might see bees working them, but pollinators aren’t necessary.

Fruit trees and most blueberries are an exception. They have stamens and pistils near each other, but these plants will not self-pollinate. That’s why two different cultivars must be planted or be close enough to another of the same species for pollinators to transfer pollen.

Another way plants may be pollinated is by wind. Corn is a good example here. Pollen travels from the tassel of one plant to the silks of the same or a different corn plant through a combination of wind and gravity. That’s why in small plots like home gardens it’s best to plant corn in blocks rather than in a few long rows.

The final way plants are pollinated is by insects, birds, bats or the like. These creatures visit the flowers and physically spread the male gamete to the female gamete. This is not their goal. They aren’t altruistic creatures, but their actions result in fertilization and seed production.

Some plants have what we call imperfect flowers. Flowers of this type are either male or female. Those plants not fertilized by wind are dependent on pollinators. Garden examples are: cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelons and cantaloupes.

Asparagus, hollies and persimmons are examples of plants that are totally male or female. Both sexes of plants must be present for fruit to develop. In other words, your holly bushes will never set fruit unless both male and female plants are nearby. Once the flowers wither, your shrubs will remain green the rest of the season. The same goes for your persimmon tree.

This whole process is important to more than our gardens. The whole ecosystem would be drastically changed if we didn’t have species that depended on nectar and pollen as their primary or total food source.

Pesticide safety is critical. We must be careful to target our chemicals, so we limit their exposure to beneficial insects and other pollinators. Spraying when these critters are active should be avoided, if possible. For home gardeners, it’s often helpful to try other methods of pest control.

When selecting plants for your garden or landscaping, always keep in mind the pollination requirements. You could do everything else correctly and still not get the results you want. Also, if you don’t want to encourage bees, beetles or wasps, select plants that don’t require pollinators.

Small grains like these need no animal pollinators

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Cattail pollen is a fleeting delicacy


A few years back I wrote a column about the survival uses of cattails (Typha latifolia). There are many. This time I want to focus only on cattail pollen. It has been shedding now for over a week and if the high temperatures continue we can only collect it for a few more days. Normal collecting season averages about two weeks.

This fine yellow powder can be substituted for flour on many recipes. It’s also gluten free. My favorite two uses are pancakes and breading for fish, chicken and country fried steak.

Color of the final product is glorious. Just looking at it makes me want to hoe in. Once I do the real treat shows itself. This stuff really tastes great, and it need not be a major component to add character to a dish.

In pancakes I find that substituting about a third of the flour with cattail pollen works best. Judging by color alone you’ll think there was no wheat flour in the mixture at all. It looks like fine ground corn meal. Flavor is nutty, a little like buckwheat. Maybe the color has something to do with it, but there’s also a slight eggy taste and texture. I like that.

I think putting a little in a vanilla cake might be worth trying. I’ve never done it. I don’t seem to collect enough, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

With every positive comes a negative. Unless you’re really lucky, collecting enough for multiple uses requires copious time in the hot sun. Harvesting a pint in an hour is optimistic. I rarely do that well.

Numerous methods appear on the internet. The most traditional is bending the developing heads into a paper bag and shaking them. I quickly shifted from paper to heavy duty plastic. You still lose a lot.

I read about using a clean milk jug in one article. That’s a great idea as less pollen gets lost. That gentleman must be more talented than me though. Either that or he has a great stand of fertile cattails. I’ve never been able to come close to matching his yields of a quart per hour.

Some folks use a different method and harvest the entire male flowers. They place them in a good drying location and shake pollen loose over the course of several days. That may yield more pollen but it’s too tedious for me.

Once the pollen is collected it must be cleaned. Usually a fine strainer removes dust, debris and bugs quite effectively. I refrigerate clean pollen in sealed mason jars.

For those who are concerned about their appearance, there is another consideration. While collecting, you’ll get covered with yellow dust. Clothes, fingernails and skin pores will turn yellow, almost like you’ve been spraying paint. Fingernails and skin clean up easily. I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on different types of clothes.

Collecting cattail pollen is not for everyone. I think it’s fun but finding time at the end of the school year is difficult for me. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to experiment more.

Cattail head full of pollen

Several cattails with pollen ready to be harvested

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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Deer like flowers too


Last week I wrote about selecting trees and shrubs to minimize deer damage. This week I’ll concentrate on flowers, both annual and perennial.

Deer will tear up many annual flowers. Some of their favorites are impatiens, sweet potato vine and pansy. From that list one might conclude that succulent growth might be the main indicator. It’s not that simple.

Deer aren’t particularly fond of begonia or coleus and they also have tender foliage. Vinca isn’t a favorite food either and its foliage is not exactly fibrous. Polka dot plants and pentas are other soft textured annuals to try if deer visit your flower gardens wanting a free meal.

In general, deer don’t like plants with fuzzy foliage. Ageratum and dusty miller fit this description and deer don’t like them. Zinnias have a rough, sandpaper-like texture. Deer don’t like them either. Cleome is another with rough textured foliage. As one might suspect, they are one of the last to be grazed.

Most mints aren’t desired deer foods. Their spicy aroma is a turnoff. Plants in the onion family aren’t sought after either. Ornamental peppers could be a good plant to include, because they contain capsaicin. They are colorful and rarely eaten by critters. Flowering tobacco is another annual to try when deer pressure is high.

As far as perennials go, daylilies and Hosta are among the first that are devoured. Deer will graze these to the ground overnight. The same can be said for tulips and crocus. They are poor choices for this area.

Many perennials commonly planted in this locale are rarely damaged, including a wide variety in the mint family. Catmint, bee balm and nearly all the sages will usually send deer looking elsewhere. Rosemary is also rarely touched.

Yarrow, coreopsis, gaillardia and coneflower are good choices for sunny places. Ornamental grasses are also not high on the menu for deer.

In gardens with more shade, coral bells, dianthus and Lenten roses are a good bet. Angel trumpet is poisonous to most animals as is false indigo.

Lantanas have the same type of foliage texture that zinnias do. They also have strong fragrance. Lambs ear are fuzzy. Neither is sought out by these destructive animals. Prickly pear cactus isn’t a favorite food either for obvious reasons. The thorns can be quite irritating.

When food is scarce deer often go where we don’t want them. Sometimes physical barriers are the best defense for flowerbeds. Electric fence may not be practical or even legal in some places, but it’s effective when designed properly. Other types of fence might not be as effective, but they are more aesthetically pleasing.

There are many deer repellants on the market, but they need to be used regularly. A single dose won’t do the trick. These repellants contain mixtures of smells deer hate. To be honest, most people hate them too, so they are not always a desired treatment.

Pets will sometimes roll in these repellants too. That also destroys plants and can foul the air inside your home if pets then come back inside. Nothing is foolproof.

Deer usually won’t touch lantana

But they’ll tear up daylily

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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Selecting deer resistant trees and shrubs


People ask me about this all the time. I wish I had a fool proof answer. The problem is that many factors can influence whether deer will eat shrubbery or not. White tailed deer, (Odocoileus virginianus), are beautiful and graceful, but they are a nuisance.

Some plant species have chemicals in them that deer don’t like. Daffodils, are highly poisonous to deer. Tulips are another spring flowering bulb. However, deer will tear them up and devour everything.

Plants containing bitter white latex sap are a general turnoff. Thorny plants aren’t usually appetizing either. Deer seldom like plants that have fuzzy leaves or strong smells.

The most common factor that makes plants attractive to deer is the general availability of food. Deer will eat almost anything if they are starving. During periods of drought, deer will eat many plants they otherwise wouldn’t. Harsh winters cause deer to eat outside their comfort zone.

Some plants go through periods of succulent growth. This can be made worse by overwatering or overfertilization. Succulent growth usually increases palatability. Some species might be consumed in spring and avoided the rest of the year.

Among the native trees deer avoid are pines, magnolias, American holly, live oak and bald cypress. They aren’t particularly crazy over red cedar, river birch, buckeye or devil’s walking stick. Other trees deer don’t like that are commonly sold in nurseries are honey locust, Vitex, crape myrtle and ginkgo.

By contrast, deer love redbud, crabapple, dogwood and most fruit trees. Barriers are often needed to protect these. The same goes for blueberries. Electric fence can be effective. Invisible fence and a good dog can also deter them.

Several common evergreen shrubs are favorite foods of deer. Arborvitae, euonymus, azalea, pittosporum, Indian hawthorn and Japanese aucuba are evergreen shrubs to avoid near high deer populations. The critters don’t particularly like abelia, gardenia, wax myrtle, nandina and oleander. Spicy shrubs like wax myrtle, anise shrub and rosemary aren’t prized by deer either.

Deer aren’t crazy about most of the holly shrubs. An exception is that they occasionally damage Japanese hollies, like ‘Helleri’, ‘compacta’ and ‘soft touch’ cultivars.

Among popular deciduous shrubs, perhaps one of the biggest surprises is that deer like to eat thorny roses. They especially love them during periods of new growth when the prickles are still soft.

Deer even eat the popular knock-out roses. However, their pruning usually doesn’t damage the plants that much. Depending on the season, the pruning can even be beneficial if the deer population isn’t prolific.

Deciduous shrubs deer don’t like are Japanese barberry, beautyberry, butterfly bush and bridal veil spiraea. Fragrant deciduous shrubs like sweet shrub and fothergilla aren’t favorites of deer either.

This is obviously a partial list, even of the trees and shrubs. I decided to profile woody plants first, as they form the foundation of most landscaping.

The main thing to remember is that no plants are deer proof or rabbit proof either. Other strategies should be employed in addition to planting landscaping that generally deters them. Within city limits it’s not possible, but out in the country acquiring a taste for venison can be part of the solution.

Deer love Rhododendrons and azaleas

They also will devour arborvitae

They’re not crazy over Abelia

Magnolia is not on the menu of Odocoileus virginianus either

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Clary Sage is an important crop in northeast North Carolina


Most folks have seen it from their vehicles.  Few likely know what it is or why it’s grown. Some might say that the flowers look like those of salvia. They’d be right.

The plant in question is clary sage (Salvia sclarea). Take a drive down Route 17 into Bertie County and you’ll see a lot of it. You might even be tempted to cut a bunch for a flower arrangement. I strongly advise against that.

Not only is that stealing, but you’ll regret being a plant thief. Plants are beautiful in the field. However, their aroma will likely force you to heave your bouquet out the window within a few miles.

The big surprise is that the major use of that crop resides in its ability to make pleasant aromas linger. It might not smell very sweet, but it contains a chemical called sclareol that is used in soaps, perfumes, deodorants and the like. It enhances their fragrance and duration.

Clary sage is a biennial plant. That means it produces only foliage in its first year. Plants flower and complete their life cycle during the second season.

Farmers trick the plant and can make fields flower every year. They do this by planting seeds in late summer or fall and letting plants go through a winter. The following year clary sage flowers and is harvested.

Though a true biennial, many folks consider clary sage to be a short-lived perennial. When planted in flower gardens it often persists for several years. It’s also hardy to zone five. I have not spoken to any farmers to see if they have had much success carrying fields over from year to year, but I understand it can be done.

This plant grows best on sandy soils with good drainage. We have plenty of those in eastern North Carolina. Clary sage tolerates drought but not wet soil, especially in winter. Full sun is necessary for optimal growth.

Pollinators love the stuff. When in bloom I’ve noticed gobs of bees and other insects working the flowers.

From a distance fields appear lavender when in bloom. However, individual flowers run from off-white to pink to purple.

Clary sage is a large plant, sometimes reaching heights of more than five feet. Typical size is probably more like two thirds of that.

Due to its aggressive nature, some environmentalists are concerned that clary sage might become invasive. It’s classified as a noxious weed in some states. So far, North Carolina is not one of them and planted acres continue to increase.

In recent years this salvia has exploded in popularity. It has long been used as a medicinal herb. Uses and claims are numerous and varied. The most common uses are for stomach and kidney problems and to cleanse and soothe the eyes.

Clary sage has contributed greatly to the whole science of aromatherapy. Sometimes it’s used by itself. Generally, it enhances other fragrances.

The greatest importance of clary sage is how it affects other things. It might not smell or taste appetizing in and of itself, but it makes other products smell and taste better.

Clary sage flower cluster up close

Clary sage plant

Field of Clary sage

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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