Category Archives: Tips, Hints and Secret Knowledge

Three ways to deal with slugs

Article and photo by Jacqui Shannon
It’s the time of year when our gardens are starting to really come into their own. Our delicate seedling are full of vigor and the promise of harvest is within sight, we know it and so do the slugs.

Slugs. Grotesque, slimy, and capable of completely devastating your plot. It’s enough to dishearten even the most dedicated and have them reaching for a spray bottle.  There are multiple reasons I won’t use chemicals, but I don’t want to get political.

As an organic gardener, I am always looking for ways to improve my soil. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers may offer a short period gain but ultimately leave our soil poorer.   But how do we “win” against slugs without turning to chemicals?

Pick them off. For those with small plots of vegetables and time, a daily commitment to checking each plant is an ideal solution. Taking time for a daily inspection and removal and disposal will keep slugs in check, but this may not be practical if you’re short of time or if your garden is larger than a few meters.

Mulch. A slug is a delicate creature. It has a soft underbelly and will avoid crossing any mulch that is rough and irritating. I ring of mulch of moderately abrasive material such as diatomaceous earth. I suggest 10 cm wide and at least 1cm thick as an effective barrier, or rough bark mulch. You’ll need to ensure you keep it topped up of course, but weekly inspections should suffice. Mulch should not come in contact with the plant, try to leave a good few centimeters circle empty around each stem. I like this method because along with creating a barrier it also helps keep moisture in the soil.

Provide shelter. Slugs do most of their damage at night. During the day a slug will look for refuge. By placing an piece of untreated board at both ends of your garden row, and one in the middle if the row is long, you’ll encourage the slugs to use this as a daytime refuge. This doesn’t stop them from eating your plants, but it does make collection an  disposal quite easy and quickly puts a dent in the number of slugs feasting on your patch . Simply lift the board each morning and remove the slugs below. A upside down empty grapefruit skin in the same positions also works.

Many a gardener has heard about the effective use of copper in deterring slugs. Every year I hear people talking about copper and pennies. Copper tape, if thick enough may certainly do the trick. My experience is adhering it and ensuring it doesn’t get accidentally covered over by soil, (and thus ineffective), can be laborious, it’s also quite expensive.  Pennies unfortunately, have not contained enough copper to work as cheap substitute for a very long time. My advice is to forget about copper and do two or even all three of the above for success.

Photo from http://www.allaboutslugs.com

Trapping Wild Sourdough Yeast

Trapping a wild yeast culture is the first step in making true sourdough bread and easy as could be.

You’ll need:

  • Two cups of reconstituted skim milk
  • Two cups of flour
  • Cheesecloth
  • Elastic band
  • Container with a loose-fitting lid. This could easily be a canning jar, so long as you are careful never to tighten the lid too much. The yeast needs air to breathe.
  1. Yeast Trap
    Yeast Trap

    Begin by putting the two cups of milk into the container with the cheesecloth secured to the top with a band. Keep on the counter in a spot where it can be undisturbed.

    Sourdough starter with the flour incorporated. It looks a lot like paste... if this doesn't work, maybe I'll make a pinata. :-)
    Sourdough starter with the flour incorporated. It looks a lot like paste… if this doesn’t work, maybe I’ll make a pinata. 🙂
  2. After two days, the milk will have soured perceptibly. At this point,  you should add the 2 cups of flour, by putting it into a bowl and then adding the milk to it, slowly in order to create a relatively smooth paste.
  3. Yeast Day 3, six hours after the flour was added
    Yeast Day 3, six hours after the flour was added.

    Within the next couple of days (in my case, the signs showed within hours), your yeast culture should begin to grow.

    The medium that you have placed to catch the yeast, will begin to have that “yeasty” smell, and the surface will begin to bubble and froth.

  4. Over the next couple of days, “feed” the culture each day with a half cup of flour mixed with a half cup of reconstituted skim milk.
  5. By day 5, your yeast should be fully formed.
  6. At this point, stir it down, put the permanent loose cover on the jar, and store in your sourdough culture in the fridge.
  7. If after 5 days the yeast  has not begun to form, or if your mixture starts to mould, toss it out and begin again.
  8. This culture will be able to raise your dough within the first week if properly cultivated, but will not actually be truly sour until a few weeks have passed. The longer it lives and is fed, the more sour it will become.

ONGOING CARE

Yeast is a living being and needs to be fed regularly. If you regularly make something that requires a sourdough culture then you have the perfect opportunity. If you don’t use it weekly, you can either use this as an opportunity to grow a larger culture, or you can toss out or gift part of it to a friend.

  1. Remove one cup of the starter for your recipe.
  2. Replace it with one cup of skim milk and one cup of flour.
  3. Since it’s all about souring, you can feed it with any milk or cream that you happen to have go sour in the fridge.
  4. Cover with cheesecloth and keep it on the counter for a few hours, When it looks spongey again, cover loosely with a proper lid  and refrigerate.
  5. To increase the starter either because you want to give some away, or prepare for a larger recipe, simply follow the  2nd and 3rd steps of ongoing care without first removing any of the starter.
  6. Do not make more than double each time you add to the starter.

Crisp Pickle Tips

Use these tips with our pickle recipe.

Grape Leaves!
Last year at a party a friend told me that the grape leaves growing in the garden could be used to keep my homemade pickles crisp. We have Concord grapes growing and I have been using a small leave or portion of a larger one since. Results have been excellent.

Other things to consider:

  1. The cucumbers should be perfectly fresh and unblemished, just as with any other preserves you might make.
  2. Trim off the blossom end of the cucumber. This can have microbes that will give you soft and meh, whatever, pickles.
  3. Use the appropriate type of cucumber, making sure they are not more than 2″ in diameter. In general, pickles are better and crisper when they are smaller.
  4. Salt the cucumbers after washing them and before putting them into the jars. This will draw out excess moisture. Rinse and drain them before putting them into the jars.
  5. Make certain that your immersion bath (canning water) is boiling and your pickling liquid is hot when you add the liquid to the jars, immediately before putting them into the bath. These two things will minimize the amount of time required for the bath to come to a boil again and reduce the overall time your pickles need to be processed. (Processing time is counted from the beginning of a rolling boil, not from the moment the jars hit the water).