May 29, 2008

Tips from Charles on Building a Compost Pen

Our site for mining "black gold"

Let's take a closer look at the features of the compost pen that Charles designed and built.  It's a simple structure, but its features improve the flow of collecting, turning, and harvesting compost.  Charles also minimized the cost of building the pen by using salvaged and free materials.

1. Drain tile is set into a foundation of compacted dirt, which slopes toward a drainage trench at the rear of the pen. The trench is filled with cobblestones, which were collected from the yard.

2. Charles had intended to fill the bottom of the pen with gravel, but changed his mind when a neighbor offered a supply of wood chips.  Wood chips are appropriate for this application because they absorb moisture and encourage compost-benefical insects.  Wood chips are also preferable to gravel because some of the base layer will inevitably be integrated into the compost during turning.  A layer of wood chips in front of the pen provides an area to stand while adding to and turning the compost.

3. The wood used in the frame was left over from the house construction several years ago.   By saving wood and other materials, the homeowners have a collection of usable materials for many projects, and avoided contributing to the huge amount of waste accumulated by residential construction.  According to the National Association of Homebuilders' Research Center, construction of the average 2000 sq. ft. home generates 8000 lb. (50 cubic yards) of material waste, 3000 lb. (11 cubic yards) of which is wood.

4. Charles's original plan called for 1 cm square-grid "hardware cloth" to line the pen.  However, lighter-gauge chicken wire was a quarter of the price of the hardware cloth. Doubling the chicken wire created a 1.5 cm grid at half the cost.

As you can see, Charles's building techniques include using salvaged materials, working with materials provided by the site, and designing creatively.  Whether you live in a rural or urban environment, opportunities exist to reduce the cost and resources used for your project.

May 26, 2008

Introducing The Nest

It's been several weeks (months?) since the last update on our summer garden.  I'm happy to report that we have sturdy seedlings in the rows marked zucchinibutterpearadish, and every kind of lettuce.  They look so beautiful that we wanted to create a suitable environment for them.  Wonderful Husband Charles suggested a raised bed with wicker walls.  We built it over several days using yard waste.  As you can see, the finished garden looks cozy and inviting!

Behind its fair facade, the garden holds functional elements, too.  We filled the 4' by 6' space with dirt from an old pig pen, vegetable scraps, and a thriving vermicultural  community.  That's right, we transferred most of the red wrigglers from the vermicompost bucket to our new garden.  We topped them off with soil and mulch, and seeded a cover crop of alfalfa.

We were both delighted by the garden's resemblance to the nests found around the yard: those of sparrows, robins, even woodpeckers.  We painted a whimsical sign to introduce our garden to the world. 

A nearby structure is as practical as the garden is fanciful.  Charles spent the weekend building a compost pen.  It's a 4' by 8' pen, three sides of which are lined with chicken wire.  He laid lengths of drain tile inside and stabilized them with a layer of woodchips.  A trench filled with cobblestones surrounds the pen.

The compost heap will be rotated from the right side of the pen to the left as it breaks down.  Charles formed the heap into a volcano shape, so that kitchen waste can be easily integrated into the compost.  Of course, he couldn't resist adding some worms to work on the heap at a macro level.  The final step was to sprinkle dirt over the heap and top it with two conical lids.  Now, we have a compost system that should avoid problems from moisture and pests, and is accessible for turning and harvesting the compost.  (See?  I told you he was wonderful!)

What next?  Before we leave town this weekend, we'll need to transplant our seedlings and sow the remaining seeds into other garden plots.  

Happy gardening!

May 22, 2008

Post Migration

Coming soon: a new look for Savor Culture!

You may have noticed that the Toma post included a link to my new domain.  Soon, the blog will be there, too-- stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

May 9, 2008

Making Toma

Toma is a semi-firm, natural rind, cow's milk cheese.

Having tackled Camembert and Cheddar, the intrepid beginner cheesemakers set their sights on a semi-firm variety: Toma.  The family of Toma has members in every village of northern Italy; their ages and textures vary, but they're all from the same thermophilic stock.  Our instructor, Jim Wallace, calls this version Vacha Toscano, because it's made with cow's milk in the Tuscan style. 

Toma is a highly customizable cheese because its optimal aging time is determined by the moisture content of its curd.  If you want to eat the cheese in three months, shoot for a quarter-inch curd size and stir it for twenty minutes before draining the whey.  If you can wait a year for the cheese to age, cut the curd smaller and stir it longer.  

By the way, you can throw in some dried herbs or peppercorns when molding the cheese.  Jim recommends whole peppercorns and smoked jalapenos.  We sampled a year-aged wheel studded with white peppercorns in the traditional pepato style.  

Now, if I could just get my hands on some ewe's milk, I could make pecorino Toscano!

May 4, 2008

Making Camembert: A Slideshow

This young Camembert will soon be covered by a thin layer of 
white mold, which the French poetically call, "croĆ»te fleurie."

On the first day of the cheesemaking workshop, we made Camembert while the Cheddar was being pressed.  As you will see in the slideshow, the process for making this soft-ripened cheese does not include several of the steps that Cheddar requires, such as scalding and milling the curd, and pressing the cheese under weights.  

Camembert is an unpressed cheese, its curd drained exclusively by gravity.  A Camembert mold is 4.5 inches tall, and the curd initially fills it to the brim.  After several hours of draining, during which time the cheese is flipped in the mold, the curd settles to about one-third of the height of the mold.   

Jim explained that the drying process of the molded cheese is important in its rind development: blue mold may develop if the Camembert is not dried thoroughly, but the white mold will not form at all if it is too dry.  The rind is actually a product of three distinct microbe populations: yeast, geotricum, and P. candidum.  Full development of the rind takes about two weeks, and the interior of the Camembert will ripen over the following one to two weeks.  Of course, that's a matter of personal preference.  

May 2, 2008

Important Announcement

Godzilla, meet Mozzarella.

We interrupt this post series to bring you the following message: I have successfully made soft, creamy, even pillowy mozzarella.  My own fiore di latte.   I used a water bath in the sink to control the temperature, reduced the amount of culture and rennet, and shortened the setting time.  Knowledge is power, my friends.

We now return to your regularly-scheduled posting.