30 August, 2010
I’m now back in London, where it all began. The journeys have ended for now; it feels weird not having a timeframe anymore.
This means it may be some time before I post another blog. But I will, I promise, once I’ve figured out the story I want to tell.
In the meantime I can recommend the following blogs:
25 July, 2010
What do these things have in common? A clue: the urn to the right is used to make surkål, which is called by it’s German name sauerkraut in English. The herrings to the left may look harmless enough, but if you could smell them there would be little doubt in that they are fermented, or sour as we say in Swedish.
What these two things have in common, in my opinion, is not only a tiny bacteria but also that they both prove how incredibly clever our ancestors have been, and how important is is for you and me to try to preserve (pardon the pun) an important craft.
It’s harvest time at the farm. The first vegetables are ripe and I sense a couple of great months ahead. So far we’ve harvested salad, tomatoes, courgettes, kohl rabi, cucumber, chard, spinach, dill and a few strawberries. Eating freshly picked stuff like this is new to me, even if organic vegetables have been a major part of my diet for a few years now. I feel like a queen!
The spaceships have landed
Name the good things that last. These few weeks are the result of a full years’ labour, and soon it will be winter again. Nothing is possible to harvest under a thick layer of snow, so the need to preserve all this goodness is and has always been essential. We all know a few ways of doing this. Freezing parboiled vegetables is one method. Drying them another. Pickling in various ways a third. Then you can ferment them.
Many of the foods that we eat contain within them an outstanding way of preserving them: the lactic acid, also known as milk acid (mjölksyra in Swedish). This bacteria is present in obvious foodstuffs such as yoghurt and kefir; curdled milk is just another word for fermented milk. Kvass was once upon a time preferred by hard working laborers; it didn’t cause nausea such as a sip of cold water when you’re too hot can do. Another common food using this process is actually salami.
A bit of a forgotten art in food preservation is the use of lactic acid in vegetables. Borsjtj, the famous Russian beetroot soup, is made on acidified beetroot. One reason this method of preservation is less used today could be the relationship between healthy soil and a slowly grown vegetable; an impossibility in an industrialized agricultural landscape. The process of fermentation requires a certain level of minerals (salt which the plant extracts from the ground), a certain temperature and an oxygen free environment (hence the urn above).
If you get this process right there are two stages the food passes through. First the food, let’s say we’re acidifying cabbage in order to make sauerkraut, starts degrading. If the requirements mentioned above are not met there would most probably be a development of for example acetic acid or butyric acid (which smells pretty bad). The cabbage rots. However if the circumstances are the right ones the cabbage will degrade until a certain point, until it turns and starts building up again. Just like their fresh parents the lactic acidified veggies are bursting with nutrients and are easy for the body to digest. Because you and I carry lactic acid in our intestines, on our skin and in our mouths.
The presence of lactic acid is indeed a gift which, as Annelies Schöneck writes in her book on the subject, is bestowed on all higher beings on this planet of ours. Big words for a tiny bacteria perhaps, but if you remain unconvinced, have some lovely warm sauerkraut with your next frankfurter…
17 July, 2010
Carl Linnaeus, 1707-1778, means a lot to the world of botany and ecology. His life can only be summarised in books, but the outcome I’m interested in covering is his work and research into plant sexuality, namely the discovery of the stamens and pistils.
I highly recommend reading about him on Wikipedia. There you can also read that he in 1738 married a Sara Elisabeth in Falun. (He has also called Falun “Hell’s Suburb”, something highly understandable considering the mining that have left traces in my hometown’s flora still visible today.)
Basically the stamens and pistils are what helps fruit bearing plants reproduce. They are the plants’ sexual organs, if you see things that way (like I do). Some have them both within the same flowers, others in separate ones. Regardless of which the thing about these two organs is that they need to touch, in order for pollen from the stamen to reach the pistil, or the gynoecium which effectively becomes the plants’ ovary. This is why bees are so important, by the way. It’s estimated that a third of the food we eat comes into existence through this process.
Anyhow, even though the farmer keeps some bumblebees for this very purpose in the greenhouse, nature needs a helping hand and I’m always willing to lend mine! “Pollinating the courgettes” have quickly become my favourite task of the day:
If you have courgettes and they tend to rot and die before they ripen, you now know why. Go on, give them a helping hand! And as always, very little needs to go to waste:
On a side note Carl Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné as we know him in Sweden, left another significant imprint in my life. My grandmother and my niece bears the name of his favourite flower, the Linnéa Borealis:
5 July, 2010
Last week I came to experience a new layer of organic growing, which is the problem with unwanted germination in the fields. In other words: the battle against the weeds have begun.
The Farmer tells me about his fathers’ constant struggles with the weeds. He, like all other farmers of the past (and indeed the present), were at war. Then suddenly a nuclear bomb came around, and sooner or later the vast majority of the farming community were using it. The chemical herbicide.
Otherwise known as weedkiller the chemical herbicide comes in many ways, shapes and forms and I have no intention to account for them here. I am however very willing to understand why these chemicals were an attractive option. It’s just a shame that there are side effects such as ground water damage, indescribable disturbance of the soils’ health and cross contamination with crops intended for ingestion!
There are many ways in which a farmer can protect her or his crops against these thieves of light and important nutrients. Tilling the soil regularly, for example. But the sensitive area around the fragile carrot shoot cannot be tilled. This is where an army of teenagers enter the arena.
I have already met a few people from the city nearby who tells me about their early experience of this very farm: their first job was to weed the fields.
It’s sort of considered a last resort for youngsters wishing to earn a bit of dosh for ice cream. The youngest of them are 13. It’s not exactly the age where you cherish lying in the mud, if ever you do, but I can see the Farmer’s wife’s efforts in making these young citizens feel proud. Without you I couldn’t farm organically, she tells them, I would have to spray herbicides and that would make me devastated. There are definetely worse places to have your first experience of working life, and I’m always up for new ways to engage youngsters perhaps not with the land but at least with their food… The social awareness of the Farmer and his wife sure shines through here. Oh and I didn’t get away either- of course I’ve been weeding just as much which sure is lovely on a sunny day. It’s like, you work really hard and get lots done AND you get an even tan at the same time. Double win!
According to SLU, the Swedish Agricultural University, weeds account for 40% of the global total loss of crops because of pests, disease and weeds. This equals about 380 million tonnes of wheat, which would have been half of the global annual production in 2009. Weeds are by no means a mere eyesore, and the teenagers really are important. Once they’re done the heavy artillery is called upon to till the earth between the rows:
Tractors are after all the younger siblings of tanks, just as weaponry and dynamite were the predecessors of chemical fertilizers…
At ease, soldier.
5 July, 2010
A sure sign of time passing is that it’s now been time to bottle the dandelion wine:
… then I poured the wine into old, cleaned wine bottles of varying sizes…
… and then I made some nice labels. Sadly the type font didn’t follow the mac-pc transition but you live and learn, hey?
So the bottles now have to stand for at least 8 weeks although I doubt it will taste nice by then. I’m keeping bottle 1/8 to myself, and am planning to open it around the London Olympics… I’ll let you know the result!
3 July, 2010
23 June, 2010
There is an important difference between planting and sowing. I don’t know if it’s news to you but it really was to me. Shows how much of this farming business I actually have a grip on, hey?
Sowing is when you put seeds in the mud. Planting is when what you have sown have started growing and is transplanted elsewhere. See the difference?
The light enters the north around April time, before then it’s depressingly dark and wintery. By this time of year, the week of Summer Solstice, the sun spends less than two hours away from the sky, but it doesn’t ever get dark. The disadvantage of the lower temperature is made up for tenfold. “It grows so quickly you have to move off the field” as the Farmer’s father used to say.
Like always it varies quite a lot as to when the Farmer gets to harvest. Weather, wind and frost all plays their part. In other words, I may well not be here for all of it. From a learning point of view I’m happier to see the planting, though.
Tomorrow morning I am off on the bus (like a peasant… or student… of WWOOF:er) to Stockholm for Midsummer celebrations, the second biggest holiday of the year! See you beyond pickled herring and vodka in tiny glasses.