Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Survivor Tatsoi

When we moved in here there were no vegetables, only empty vegetable beds, which was great.  Before we moved in there was a decent flood.  After we moved in we had another rather large flood.  A year or two passed, then a vegetable seedling grew in amongst the grass and weeds in the vegetable garden path.  It was from a vegetable that I have never planted, a seed that was here before we were.  I noticed it one day as I was mowing the weeds/grass in the vegetable garden.  I decided to mow around it as I liked its style.

This is one of the descendants of the mystery vegetable
That one determined little seed sat dormant through at least two floods, waiting patiently through several extreme summers, sat quietly through some cold winters, germinated in amongst tall grass and established weeds in a path that was trodden on several times a day by myself as well as my kids.  It then evaded being eaten by snails/slugs/poultry/birds/rodents and grew into an amazing little plant without a great deal of help from anyone.  This plant had earned my respect.

I wasn't terribly certain what it was to begin with, I knew it was some type of brassica.  I thought it was some form of Asian green, but having very little experience with them I did not know which one.  I gave it some water to keep it alive but generally forgot to water it.  I tried to gently pull some weeds near it but was scared of pulling it out too so left it to struggle against them.  The kids stepped on it a few times because it was growing in a rather inconvenient place.

More of my survivor tatsoi plants
I eventually figured it was most likely tatsoi.  I like the determination of this plant, it is a true survivor that beat the odds.  We ate some leaves but I let that single plant mature and flower, then I carefully collected the seed.

Brassicas tend to need other plants for cross pollination but I got a small amount of seed.  Many of the seed pods had no seeds, many of the seeds were too small to germinate, being so hot and dry the aphids covered the flowers at times, even with all this stacked against it the survivor tatsoi set a decent number of viable seed.  Quite often brassicas will have low or no germination if the population is too small, I had one individual and no other brassicas.  Things did not look good.  I planted a lot of the seed in the hope of enough germinating to get this strain going again and almost all of them germinated!

Tatsoi in a vegetable bed, they no longer grow amongst grass
Brassicas also tend to suffer from inbreeding depression with small populations, so I did a large grow out from the seed collected from that single parent in the hopes of overcoming this.  So far the results appear to be pretty strong and healthy, I have not been able to see any lack of fitness and have a decent number of plants from here on.  I will be allowing all of these plants to flower and cross pollinate one another then I plan to collect seed from them all to maintain some small amount of genetic diversity.

What I have now is a strain of tatsoi that has overcome extreme hardship on pretty much every level.  I call it "survivor tatsoi" as I do not have any way to tell what cultivar it would have originally come from.  I hope to keep this strain going indefinitely from here on if I can.

I will probably be able to sell seeds of this tatsoi after the current batch flower/set seed and I test the seeds for germination rates.  I do not sell seeds if the germination rates fall to 85%.  When I do collect seed and test them they will be listed on my for sale page.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Yacon Water Kefir

I have had milk kefir grains for some time now, the kids love it, I like it but find it a bit too sour to drink by itself, and Tracey dislikes the taste of it.  Kefir is good for you so I wanted to try water kefir.  Perhaps that would be a way for the kids to get more of the kefir goodness into their diet.

Recently we obtained some water kefir grains.  Water kefir is different from milk kefir, it is still very good for you though.  The younger kids do not like water kefir all that much (mostly because it is a bit bubbly), Igloo loves it, I love it and Tracey thinks it is ok. 

Both types of kefir contain live and beneficial probiotics.  Basically they consist of "good" bacteria, yeasts and other microbes. These good microbes are eaten by you and some will colonise in your digestive tract and continue to provide you with benefits long after you have finished consuming the kefir.  There are many recipes for water kefir on the internet but we have been mostly following the one that came with the grains.

Yacon contains inulin and other sugars which are not digestible by humans.  Yacon is considered a prebiotic, this means that it contains things that feed the good bacteria etc in your digestive system which help to keep you healthy.  Yacon tubers also taste great, it is a vegetable that is eaten like a fruit and is loved by kids.  Yacon is my favourite vegetable.

Kefir & Yacon?
If water kefir contains probiotics, and yacon contains prebiotics which feed the probiotics, then it made me wonder if I could culture water kefir on yacon and leave out all of the other things.  After internet searching I found many people who claimed water kefir flourished when using yacon syrup instead of sugar.  Some people culture water kefir only on water and sugar, many of these people were the ones saying that the yacon syrup was great.

The only problem is that I do not have access to yacon syrup, I grow yacon plants and have access to the delicious yacon roots.  I do not know how to make the syrup and I do not intend to find out, I certainly have no intention of ever buying yacon syrup!  Nowhere on the internet seems to mention anything about yacon root (which I grow) being used in water kefir.  There is no one saying that they have tried this and failed or succeeded, someone needs to try this and let people know if it works or not.  That is why I am writing this post.
Yacon kefir - all the bubbles are gone because I carried the jar outside to take a picture

This is almost certainly not the best way to do this, but it is my first attempt so I will write what I did, and what I think should be done differently to make it better.  At some point in the future I may write another post and say what I changed and how it worked (or did not work).

Yacon Water Kefir

1 small peeled yacon root (about the size of my thumb, perhaps a bit larger)
1 small peeled and grated yacon root (similar size to above)
1/2 cup water kefir grains
4 cups water

1) add water kefir grains and water to a jar
2) squeeze the liquid out of the grated yacon root.  I put a strainer above the jar and squeezed above this so that the liquid would go in but not the solids.  Discard the squeezed and grated yacon
3) add the peeled yacon to the jar of liquid
4) wait 2 days for the kefir to do its thing.  I do not put a lid on the jar but you need some way to prevent insects and dust from entering
5) remove the yacon root, remove the kefir grains, drink the liquid.  Pretty simple

Even before the 2 days were up I noticed a few things.  Firstly, grated yacon is delicious!  I think it would go well in a salad being grated like this.  Secondly the kefir was bubbling a bit, this tends to indicate that the grains are working well.  If the jar had a lid we may have had issues with the pressure.

What does it taste like, Would I do this again

It tastes alright, but nothing to write home about.  It is similar to how water kefir tastes when it is made on sugar rather than adding any kind of fruit.  The water tastes like it is bubbling, even when it is not, other than that it does not have a strong taste.  I could barely taste the yacon, if I did not know that yacon was in there I would not have guessed it.  Kind of like soda water.

I don't think I will do this again, or if I do I will change things around and perhaps add some limes.  I love how water kefir normally turns out and found this yacon kefir to be less than exciting.  I also prefer to eat yacon normally rather than to eat it after it has been kefired.  The water kefir grains did not multiply as much as I had hoped.  They did multiply a bit, and the grains had been in the refrigerator for a week which generally means that they wont multiply a lot, but I had high hopes.  The water kefir grains have been multiplying slowly lately and I had hoped that the natural sugars in yacon would fix this, apparently we just have to wait for the weather to change.

Interestingly enough, the peeled yacon root also tasted like it was bubbling after it is removed from the completed kefir.  The kids thought that eating the yacon was fun as it did not taste much like yacon, it tasted like it was bubbling.

I also found it interesting that yacon normally discolours reasonably quickly after it has been peeled, but even after two days in the kefir the peeled yacon root looked much the same as when I put it in the jar.

What I would do differently

Yacon kefir tastes ok, but not great.  Adding some kind of fruit or berries or something may have made it much nicer.  Adding some sort of juice or something to the finished yacon kefir certainly makes it taste great.  I don't know, I may try a few different things and then write a post about them.

Where to get yacon and kefir grains

I sell yacon crowns on my for sale page over winter.  I may offer water kefir grains and milk kefir grains for sale, if I do they will be listed on the for sale page too.  Kefir grains sometimes reproduce slowly, other times quite fast, so you may need to contact me to see if they are available.  I also sell a few other organic perennial vegetables and some organic heirloom vegetable seeds.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Yellow pear tomato

Yellow pear tomatoes are beautiful to look at and highly productive.  They are an old heirloom variety of tomato that dates back to the 1700's and it is still widely grown today.  They are reasonably common in Australia today and sometimes even appear in supermarkets.  Being so old and still being widely grown today means that this variety must have something going for it.  Each year after the season is over I kick myself for not taking photos as they are truly beautiful.
Yellow pear tomato
Yellow pear was one of the first yellow tomatoes that I ever grew back when I was a teenager, I also grew Banana legs and another one that I can't remember the name of.  Back then no one grew heirloom tomatoes and no one in my area knew that a tomato could be anything other than red.  In those days "Apollo" was new and was heralded as the best tomato variety.  Apollo did not perform well in my climate back then and in my opinion is a bland dog's breakfast of a tomato.

The year my first son was born I got some yellow pear tomato seeds.  The plants and fruit were amazing.  We have saved seed and planted them each year since then, partly out of sentiment and partly because I like this variety.
Yellow pear tomato seeds
My kids love the yellow pear tomatoes, they are sweet and delicious and the plants produce them by the bucketload.  When my second son was learning how to walk we had yellow pear tomatoes growing in a raised garden.  He used to walk around holding on to the garden edge with one hand and trying to feel for tomatoes with the other.  Now that my kids are older they gladly eat every yellow pear tomato that they can get their hands on.  If these tomatoes are put out in a bowl next to a bowl of chocolate the tomatoes are the first thing to be eaten.
Yellow Pear Tomatoes - I wish I took more pictures earlier in the season
One year we had a mouse plague, apparently it was the largest one since the 1980's.  During this plague I lost most of my tomato seeds and was left with a single precious yellow pear tomato seed.  I could easily buy more seeds if I wanted, but I have been caring for this strain since my kids were born so wanted to protect it.  I carefully grew it and saved a lot of seed that year.  That one plant survived right through two winters and proved its worth to me.  This year that plant died due to the frost.  This shows how hardy the yellow pear tomato plant is.  I assume in a frost free climate they can be grown as a short lived perennial.

The plants grow vigorously, we have had plants grow to well over 6 feet tall in the past.  We try to stake the plants as best we can, honestly I am a bit too relaxed with that kind of thing.  If you do not stake them the plants gladly root anywhere they touch the soil creating a giant patch of a tomato plant with tempting delicious fruit that is fairly inaccessible without stepping on the stems.
Yellow Pear Tomato flowers
Each plant will send up clusters of half a dozen or so flowers, these clusters will appear pretty much all over the plant.  As these tomatoes produce fruit and begin to ripen the plant will continue to grow and send up more flower clusters.  Like pretty much all tomatoes they are simple to grow from cuttings so you can increase your numbers easily even with a small number of seeds (or a single seed).

They taste rather sweet, but they do lack the rich taste of a nice paste tomato or something like that.  We mostly eat them raw in salads or out of hand while walking in the garden.  They can be cooked or turned into sauce but there are better varieties that have a deeper taste and darker colour if that is your plan.

Yellow pear tomatoes, slight variation in fruit shape
This one was a bit old so the colour is a little off
 Like many other things I grow I do sell seeds of the yellow pear tomatoes on my for sale page.  I plan to grow these each year so should have fresh seed each year.