Since moving to a new house and garden two years ago, I didn´t find time to blog. I intend to reviwe the danish version, and guess there will be a convenient translation option. I also intend to let wild fermentation become a major subject in my blog.

Skrubtudsens Have

Ready homemade Ivan chai

In Russia, rosebay willowherb (fireweed) leaves are fermented in to a lovely tea. It is an old tradition, and before chinese tea was readily available in Europe, Russia exported huge amounts of Ivan Chai to western Europe. In russian it is known as Koporskij chai (Копорский чай) or Ivan chai (иван-чай), but Ivan chai is also the russian name for rosebay willowherb, as found growing in the wood. Leaves are picked both before and during flowering.


Rosebay willowherb, Chamerion angustifolium

Rosebay willowherb often grow in large groups in clearings in the forest or wood. It is quite common in my area. You can start to harvest as soon as you recognize the plants, and you can continue during flowering until seeds are formed. Seed fluff in your tea is not pleasant. 

A harvest tip: Grab the stem below the inflorescence. With the other hand slide down the stem, collecting all the leaves while doing so. This way you can harvest what you need for a year in an instant.


The fermented leaves prior to drying

The leaves must undergo a fermentation process to bring out the good flavor. The flowers can be dried without fermentation and mixed in as decoration.

Russia is a huge country, and similarly there are many opinions on how best to ferment and dry Ivan chai.

I chose to squeeze the leaves until the got soggy from their own juice, tucked them firmly in a polythene bag and let them ferment for two days. I’m using longer fermentation than russian sources prescribe, as my summer temperatures are considerably lower, and I don’t want to use artificial heating during the fermentation process.
After fermentation I cut the leaves into narrow strips and dry them.


Ivan chai after drying

Preparing the tea for drinking, I use about double of black chinese tea. But then I can prepare a nice tea two to three times from the same Ivan chai leaves, before the taste deteriorates.
The taste is lovely, a bit like a cross between black and green Chinese tea. Contrary to Chinese tea, Ivan Chai is slightly sedative.


Processed Mongolian tea ready to store

Mongolian tea is naturally, on plant, fermented leaves of Bergenia crassifolia (syn. Bergenia cordifolia). It is used in Mongolia and Siberia, where Bergenia crassifolia grows in the wild. The leaves are collected when the snow melts in the spring.

Bergenia crassifolia, flowers in may

Bergenia crassifolia is quite a common perennial in older european gardens. It is green all winter. My Bergenia crassifolia comes from my grandparents’ cottage garden. They had a large bed with it, and my mother could remember the plants from before 1930. The bed is still there – the cottage replaced with a modern comfortable house.

The withered brown leaves harvested in winter

In Siberia and Mongolia is not unusual to drink mongolian tea. I can remember the taste. I definitely got this tea served in Siberia, thinking it was ordinary chinese black tea. Nobody told me I was wrong. The taste is gentle and pleasant.

To make your own mongolian tea, collect leaves blackened over the winter. I have noticed that in cold winters it is good to wait until the beginning of March. In mild rainy winters, I find the taste best when collecting leaves earlier, sometime in January. The crucial for harvest time decision, is how far the natural fermentation has progressed. I look into the bed from time to time during winter.

When leaves are collected, I wash off dirt, chop and dried them. They easily dry on a tray indoors. Quality is not affected by a prolonged drying time, as are so many other products for drying.

A nice cup of mongolian tea

The mongolian tea is infused like regular black tea. However, one might consider using more tea leaves than usual, to enrich taste and colour. You can infuse the same leaves two or three times, before the taste gets insipid.

Do you want to know more, please search on “Бадан толстолистный”, and translate with Google, babel fish, etc.
Eg. I found out:
When growing, expect to harvest 3-4.5 tonnes of dried leaves per. hectare. The leaves can be harvested from the third year after planting. The area can be harvested 8-10 years or longer.
The thick rhizomes are edible, after a thorough leaching – I found no recipe.

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Oca, Oxalis tuberosa, from neglected tubers surviving in the ground during last winter

Oca are late to develop underground tubers. This mild start of winter has been a gift for the ocas. Harvested between christmas and new year, it is my best oca harvest ever.

The two clones that yielded best, I’ve grown for years. The neglected tubers survived last winter in ground. But I guess the better yield is due to better soil and more space.

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Oca, Oxalis tuberosa, from neglected tubers surviving in the ground during last winter
With a good harvest came the desire to use oca for food. They cured some days at room temperature, before being boiled in water until tender. The taste was pleasantly mild and slightly sour. I guess most people will like oca.
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Oca from a first year seedling
In the spring, I was presented some new oca clones, and a small bag of the rare oca seeds. The seeds made it in to a single healthy oca plant, that produced these nice tubers. Many thanks to Philip Heinemeyer!
Oca is producing tubers in short days. Quite unfortunate in scandinavia! For more ease of culture, shortday dependecy need to be bred out of oca, like it was done in potatoes. To breed oca, I need seeds. Before seed harvest, ocas must flower. Unfortunately, also flowering seems to be shortday dependant. (*correction: Oca, I learn, can flower in long days) Anyway, I still wait for the first oca flowers in my garden. While waiting for the flowers, I really appreciate the efforts of gardeners in milder parts of Europe!


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Entire oca harvest

The above photo show the entire oca harvest. The six pots on the right contain named clones and the seedling, the six pots on the left contain the two old clones.

Ps. I’ve saved some tubers of all the clones for next garden season.

Apios, Apios americana

A scientist asked if I could send him some old pea cultivars. He is interested in hardy crops that will adapt to climate change. I sent what I could get hold on to him. As thanks, he sent some clones of apios, and asked me to follow them some years and report back. When I reported back last year, he sent several more clones.

Now I’m learning to grow apios. First lessons included.

– If they dry too much on the surface, they go dormant. It can take a whole year for them to break the dormancy. Therefore, they must be kept slightly moist in plastic bags if they are to be sent by mail.

– They can withstand frost, far more than I expect in a harsh winter here.

– They develop edible tubers like huge pearls on a string, and the roots are very long. I have not yet dared to put them into the ground, but grow them in tubs. I was recommended 40ltr. (10,5 gallons, US) tubs as appropriate size, and it has worked fine. Had I carelessly put them in a row in the vegetable garden, I would now, two years later, not be able to keep track of the clones.

The set-up with 40 liter (10.5 US gallon) tubs

First year harvest didn’t impress.

I also learned that Apios are slow food. They must grow for several years before the harvest is reasonable. There’s something to improve, by selective breeding for more productive clones, and a few scientist work on this in USA.
I have yet to see them bloom. No flowers – no seeds – no chance to improve anything. Maybe if I sacrifice space in the greenhouse, I could harvest seeds and start breeding Apios.
For now I’m grateful being able to grow some.

Some of the clones increased surprisingly much in second season

Now I have taken interests in Apios, I have acquired a clone from a danish seed saver who have grown it for a decade I think. It derived from Chiltern Seeds originally. It is shown in the first image in this post. I feel I need it for comparison.

A few good qualities I just have to mention:

– Tubers of Apios contains as much protein as dry beans, and of same good quality.

– Apios can be harvested throughout the year, if frost doesn’t prevent digging in the ground.

There are several pictures of individual clones on my photo page on Flickr:

PS. The scientist had my short report a few weeks ago. Quite banal, mainly a link to the photos I took (link above). In the text of the pictures I have inserted clone no. and weight, in case it is not clear enough on all photos. In response, he sent a new clone he thinks we can benefit from testing in Scandinvia.

Pods of the last harvest. Phaseolus vulgaris Prinsesse NGB18186 x Blauhilde F2

The best bean cross this year was no doubt the accidental cross between Prinsesse NGB18186 og Blauhilde. It is the F2 generation I have grown, and the seeds harvested is F3. It is confusing for most people. This years F3 seeds will grow the F3 plants next year, to produce the F4 generation of seeds. A little, but for understanding these photos, important detail is, that the seed surface consist of tissue from the mother plant, thus showing us F2 fænotypes. The inside of the seeds with the embryo is F3 tissue. Keep your mind clear, or just enjoy the photos 🙂

F2 generation with a wonderful diversity

Pod shape and colour show a great diversity in this F2 generation. In next generation even more diversity may show, as genes recombine. Some of the beans er quite long. Others are curved and charming, in a way usually selected against in breeding programs. Straight pods are preferred by consumers. As a gardener, I have to find out, if I really share this view on pod shape. I’ve read about german “posthörnchen”, strongly curved wax beans, reminding of old days posthorns.

F3 bean seeds, skin is F2 tissue

Each photo in the above mosaic show the seeds from a harvest event. In the first harvest are only seeds from the early maturing individuals. In following harvest events the same individuals probably also released pods. To me the first harvest is the most important, as cold climate is a limiting factor in beans in my garden.
A few seeds are very dark. One pod in the first harvest, and one in a later harvest. The same plant must have set more pods, with a different colour. This is all normal, as patterned beans tend to make an occasional “negative”.

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From left: Cherry plums with French tarragon in kombucha, Syrian rose (Hibiscus syriacus) buds, Cherry plums pure, Cherry plums with beetroot pieces, cherry plums with French tarragon

For some years, I have wild fermented unripe cherry plums, and been utmost satisfied with the result. This year, I repeat the process, now with some variations. I try to put some raw beetroot pieces into one of the glasses for red-coloured plums ferment. I put French tarragon in two glasses, one of which is fermented in kombucha.
Since I had to cut my Syrian rose slightly, I searched for it on the web and found, that it is edible. The buds are about the size of cherry plums, leading me to wild ferment a batch of them. Never read about anyone fermenting Syrian rose, could be wonderful.

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Cherry plums wild fermenting in boxes

My recipe for success:

Lactic acid fermentation. Prick the Cherry plums with a fork. Add herbs or beet pieces and cover it all in a cold 5% saline brine. Now, keep it a warm room temperature to start the wild fermentation. Let it bubble happy for a week or two, then relocate to a cool pantry. Fermentation develops gases that have to escape. In glasses release the lid shortly on a daily base (at longer intervals, when little gas is released). When I use plastic boxes (food grade), I use an extra box as lid an weight. It works very well, keeping the Cherry plums (or other ferments) neatly under the fluid, leaving a narrow space where gasses can escape. The bubbles seems to make enough turmoil to prevent mould from growing in the first most microbial active weeks. When I transfer them to a glass later, I can pack cherry plums closer, it saves space. And I don’t have to release the lid so many times.

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Cherry plums fermenting with beetroot for a nice red colour

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Cherry plums with French tarragon in kombucha

Fermenting in kombucha will probably be shorter than the lactic ferments. As I close the lid, only releasing pressure once a day there will be little oxygen available. I expect the kombucha culture to only develop a little under these conditions, enough to make a thin SCOBY on top, as a kind of interior lid. This may cause, a secondary fermentation, either alcoholic or lactic. The first time I saw a secondary wild fermentation, I was a little frightened. It was the spring shoots of Hosta. But the result was good and mild tasting. Now I have to wait and see how the plums in kombucha develops.

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Flower buds of Syrian rose (Hibiscus syriacus) fermenting with the box-method

When wild fermenting flower buds of Syrian rose, I decided to use the box method. From the taste of the raw flower buds, I guess they are very nutritious. All this nutrients can feed a powerful fermentation, with lots of gasses, a stormy fermentation. With the box-method no gasses will build up, but are continuous released.

Now my patience is put to test – I want to taste, but must wait.