While Edible Kent's full-on harvest of garden goodness at our beds is a few weeks away, with Main Street Kent’s Potter Fest coming up this weekend we thought this was a great opportunity to cover one of the special ways to preserve some of our coming bounty - with alcohol. (We’ll also be addressing harvesting tips and tricks, as well as seed saving basics on our blog and at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market later this summer.)
Since the big event is right around the corner, we wanted to provide some supplementary material for our July 30, 2016 Potions & Herbology Class at Hog’s Head Pub (AKA The Local Public House - where you’ll also find whiskey barrels of Edible Kent herbs and cocktail recipes). Here, we'll be discussing herbs and alcohol from a preservation perspective. On Saturday, we’ll be covering how you can use the herbs and alcohols that you’ve created or acquired.
Pairing Your Herbs & Alcohol
For all of these preparations, you’ll want to be sure that the percent of alcohol in your mixture stays above 40%. If you’re preserving material with a higher water content, adjust the proof of alcohol you choose accordingly. Also, try to be mindful of flavor and pair herbs with an alcohol that will be complementary to the herb’s flavor profile. Alternatively, you can choose an alcohol with little to no inherent flavor so it won't clash with the herbs - vodka is a good example of this. When using the finished products, be aware of the alcohol that you’ve stored the herbs in. Some cooking methods, like baking, are good at drying off all of the alcohol, while other methods like boiling are not as effective.
Hard Spices in Alcohol
The easiest preparation is simply preserving hard spices in alcohol. This is best for roots, bark, and twigs that may not dry easily - like licorice, ginger, turmeric, and others. In these cases, you want to clean and prepare the material into large chunks, just small enough to fit tightly into a container and large enough to accommodate typical recipe amounts. Pat the cleaned material dry to remove excess water, then pack it into a jar or other vessel. Fill the container with a high-proof alcohol (80 proof or more, the higher proof the more room for error and less chances of deterioration). Make sure that there are no air bubbles by scraping along the inner edge of the container with a flexible spatula or flat side of a knife blade. There is no minimum storage time, and the maximum storage time varies depending on the final percent of alcohol and storage conditions; but six months is fairly standard. When using these spices, use as if they were fresh; the alcohol preserves the flavor so you can stock up from your garden or a market sale and use at will.
Another popular method of preservation for herbs is as a tincture. In this case, you’re interested in the liquid that the herbs have been steeped in, as opposed to the herbs themselves. You will again want the alcohol percent to stay above 40%, so you may choose to dry herbs first, and then create your tincture - in most cases that is unnecessary, especially if you start with 100-proof alcohol. Chop the herbs finely, as a larger surface area allows easier diffusion of alcohol into the plants. Pack the herbs loosely into a container and pour alcohol to cover all parts of the plants. Cover tightly and store in a dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking regularly. After the tincture has had time to develop over its 4-6 weeks in storage, remove the jar and strain the contents through a cheese cloth, reserving the liquid and squeezing all of the fluid out of the herbs before disposing of them. Use the resulting tincture as a flavoring in dishes or drinks, like you would an extract.
To learn more about herbology and mixology and the healing benefits of herbs and alcohol, stop by our Potions & Herbology Class this weekend!
Have a drink to your health!
The History of Seed Bombs
Seed bombs, seed balls, ballistic seeds, seed packs, earth balls -- have nearly as many names as they have purposes and histories. The simple act of putting seeds into a protective casing is not a new idea and not an idea unique to a single group, but instead a fairly common theme in the history of farming.
Today, we often focus on seed balls as a great tool for guerrilla gardening or seeding hard-to-reach areas, but seed balls have many other benefits, which explains their near ubiquity across cultures -- from China and Japan, to Native North Americans, to ancient Egypt.
Modern-Day Seed Bombs
The modern history of seed balls begins with Japanese microbiologist and farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote the book on seed balls in 1957 (The One-Straw Revolution). New York City activists, the Green Guerrillas, introduced seed balls as a way to beautify urban landscapes as urban decay took its toll on predominantly sub-altern and low-income communities. Even more recently, organizations across the globe are using seed balls in ecological restoration projects, in areas like Thailand, Kenya, India, and Tanzania.
Seed Bombs Explained
Seed balls are, first and foremost, a way to protect seeds -- the clay exterior prevents rodents from eating the balls, the drying process protects them from rot, when exposed to sufficient rain, the absorbent compost helps to provide the right amount of water for germination for most seeds (some plant species, especially water plants, will require more water or soaking, and should not be used in seed balls), and the compost provides nutrients for germination and early root establishment. Seed balls also help to protect the soil ecosystem, by encouraging no-till agriculture and preventing disruption of soil microbial communities.
Seed Bomb Tips
You can join Edible Kent for a simple seed bomb how-to demonstration at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market on July 16th, and a simple Google search turns up plenty of other instructions as well. Some things to remember are seed choices, ball design choice, storage, and planting. Seed choice can really be as simple or as complex as you want. A simple weekend project to beautify the neighborhood might benefit from the choice of mixed native perennial flowers, while trying to do your own garden landscaping may push you to include more annuals or do single species balls. Vegetable gardening tends to lend itself to single species seed balls also (although the Three Sisters gardens - corn, beans, and squash grown together - are an area where mixed seed balls do very well). In mixed seed balls, try to avoid plants that have allelopathic chemical defenses (the inhibition of one plant or organism by another, due to the release of substances into the environment that act as germination or growth inhibitors), which can make the soil inhospitable to other plants. Ball type is also important, and most of the time a simple mixed ball will do the best. The exception is if you’re looking to make seed balls for use in the next planting season, as the protective outer coat of clay helps these balls to last longer, and do require extra attention to make sure balls are thoroughly dried before storing in a dark, cool environment. In general, the longer you plan to store the seed balls, the more time and care you should take in preparing them. Combining seed saving and seed ball making in the fall can also be a great way to reduce the costs of gardening.
If you're interested in learning more about seed bombs, please join us at the Haymaker Farmers' Market on July 16th! You can also learn about seed saving with Edible Kent, later this summer - stay tuned for more details!
Join Edible Kent's co-founder, Lisa, for our interactive seed bomb class at the Haymaker Farmers' Market!
Learn HOW TO make seed bombs and how to use them in your own garden. This event is great for kids and their families, who are visiting the market.
We will be setting up under the Haymaker Farmers' Market Bridge from 10 a.m. until Noon on July 16th.
If you have any questions about this event or our organization, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com.