Week One Summary

All of the tempeh I made this week turned out well:

batch 1: 1/2 pound of soyabean tempe

I didn’t document this trial as well as I should have, but it weighed 1/2 pound at the end and took around 36 hours in the oven with the light on. I used inoculum from Summer Bock’s workshop in the fall and white wine vinegar. I only took a few minutes to rub the beans between my hands for dehulling, so it was very crumbly & developed a bit of a burnt-popcorn taste as a result, but it was super delicious and I ate it all in 2 days.

batch 2: (2x) 1/2 pound of soyabean tempe

I soaked 1/2 pound of dried soyabean from the co-op  for 20 hours (8:15pm on 3/27 to 4:15pm) and dehulled them by hand, which took a half-hour, and still left a lot of hulls on. I boiled the dehulled beans in their soaking water plus an equal amount of tap water, for a total of about 3L. After a half hour, I drained them and dried with a towel. When they’d cooled, I inoculated with a very inexact sprinkling of starter left over from the fall workshop and white wine vinegar. I put the inoculated beans into two of the perforated ziploc bags I had been using in previous batches. The temperature inside the oven was 80F/27C with the light on. I placed the two bags side by side on a cookie sheet on the upper rack of the oven.

The bag that was closer to the light finished in 25 1/2 hours (6:00pm on 3/28 to 7:30pm on 3/29), while the other one took 36 1/2 (until 6:30am on 3/30). Both of them ended up with generous amounts of myceliation and sporulation. The first one didn’t hold together well enough to be worth cutting, so I crumbled it for cooking; the second one was cut-able but developed a burnt taste easily in the frying pan. I think this was due to the number of dehulled beans (which often fell out of cut pieces), so I started looking for easier methods for this step.

batch 3: 1/2 pound soyabean tempe, 1/2 pound of soyabean + quinoa tempe

Still using the same inoculum, although my GEM cultures order came in the afternoon.  I soaked the last of my co-op soyabeans for 22 hours and then dehulled using the slicing attachment on my house’s food processor. This worked beautifully! Including finding all the parts and clean-up, it took five minutes to dehull 99% of the beans. I boiled the beans in their soak water and the rinse water from the food processor (no soap). ***IMPORTANT REMINDER: soybeans boil over pretty easily, and if you have a gas stove, it is very important to check that the flame is still on afterwards!*** They boiled for about 30 minutes, and then I poured some water over them to remove more hulls because I had forgotten to skim them off when there was lots of foam.

I inoculated with a 1/2 tsp of the original starter, and filled one bag with beans and half of another. To fill the second one, I boiled 2 cups of water and cooked 1/2 cup of white quinoa from the co-op for 10 minutes, then drained and dried them with a towel (which made a huge mess, but I was in a hurry). I added an 1/8th of a teaspoon of inoculant and some vinegar to this and mixed it with the soy in the bag. They went into the oven around 2pm on 3/31.

On 4/1, I switched the positions, so that the quinoa one was closer to the light, at 1:30pm. The soyabean bag was myceliated pretty well, but the quinoa hardly at all. At 7pm, the soyabean tempeh was done and I cooked some-it had a very sliceable texture and tasted great! The quinoa one smelled weird, in a way that leftover quinoa has started to smell in my fridge before.

This morning (4/2) I took the quinoa one out at 10:30am. It hadn’t been completely myceliated, but it was sporulating and smelled weird so I wanted to be done with it. To my surprise, it sliced the best of all the tempeh I had made so far, and it tasted delicious!


I’ve started a batch of black beans, but I cooked them until they were pretty mushy and didn’t dry them very well so I don’t have high hopes. I also ordered 25lbs of soy from the co-op!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So this blog is about Tempeh now

New contract for spring quarter: research and experiment with Tempeh, an Indonesian fermentation of soybeans by Rhizopus molds.

Tempeh has been my go-to source of protein since I started eating it last winter. When I lived in the dorms, I would make at least one Tempeh Reuben Sandwich every day on my roommate’s George Foreman. This year my house bought several pounds at the co-op every time we got groceries. It fries up quickly and deliciously and it is very filling, perfect for college students.

I have wanted to learn to make Tempeh for a while now, but two obstacles stopped me until last week: getting starter cultures, and finding a way to maintain a temperature of ~30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) over the course of a 24 hour incubation period.

This fall, I went to a workshop taught by Summer Bock on Tempeh-making and bought a small packet of starter. I thought that my crockpot had a setting that was around 90 Fahrenheit, but it turned out to be more like 190, so my first try was botched. After that, I got sidetracked by numerous other projects until March. I made a second attempt using my housemate’s yogurt-incubating tactic of filling a box with blankets and hot water bottles; this worked better, but it got cold again too quickly.

The third try was the charm: I followed Sandor Katz’s suggestion of incubating in the oven with the light on, and it worked beautifully. For some reason, I thought that only a pilot light would be hot enough (and when I checked the temperature while I was considering this option earlier it had only been around 68F), but it stayed near-perfectly at 85F.

Lots of people suggest building incubation chambers using thermostats and water baths, and I have no doubt that these are more suitable for commercial enterprises or people who like the convenience of being able to use the oven at will. Part of my goal this quarter is to make Tempeh more accessible, so I’m going to be focusing on simple, dirty, cheap techniques at home. It will be a different story at OlyKraut, though.

Here’s a picture of the first batch:

It went a little too long, so there’s a lot of sporulation happening…and I need to work on getting all the hulls off, so the final product is firmer and less burnt-popcorn-tasting…

But it was so gooooooodddddd. I ate the whole half-pound in two sittings.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trees & Shrubs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I took awhile to realize that this tree was not an alder—obviously I wasn’t paying very close attention—but now I know that it’s a member of the Hazel genus (Corylus). I suspect it to be a native Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta var. californica) based on its gray bark and not-very-hairy leaves and petioles (glabrous to pubescent, in the argot of dichotomous keys) (1), but the definitive characteristics of the genus are their nuts and surrounding involucres and this one does not have any right now. There were only a handful of shells on the ground, which either means that this was an off-year (the Beaked Hazel only produces big crops every 2-5 years) (2) or else that the tree is only sparsely cross-pollinated, which occurs by wind dispersal and requires a different variety nearby.

The understory of this tree/shrub is extremely shady and moist, dominated by dandelions and buttercup. The soil was fairly easy to dig, but seemed heavy and clay-dominated.


Vitis spp. growing on an arbor

These two grape plants have put on a lot of growth this year, though a lot of it may need pruning and redirecting. The one along the arbor has substantially outgrown its support and will need some care. Although it is shaded by the conifers for most of the day year-round, it managed to produce a few bunches of very tasty red grapes this fall. Which were not stolen by raccoons, contrary to Brad’s opinion at the beginning of the summer. I think the cats that roam our yard keep them away.

Vitis spp. by the fenced keep them away.

The other grape vine looks like it was pruned back recently andhasn’t been touched since. The space it is growing in receives less attention but a lot more sun, so it may produce well in future years.


Pyrus spp.


Next to the larger grape plant is a pear tree (Pyrus spp.). Right now I’m a little annoyed with it for shading a perfectly nice south -facing wall, but I’m trying to keep in mind that we had an abundance of pears in early September. They might be Bartlets but I’m not very confident. A lot of them got shaken down too early, grew moldy or got fed to the chickens, so next year it would be nice to find better ways to preserve the bounty.

As seen here, the chickens love to sit under the grape vine, which probably means something.

Over the next few days, I hope to put something together on the conifers that dominate the yard and the various shrubs and small trees that dot the yard.

(1) “Corylus in Flora of North America” efloras.org

(2) Duke, James A. “Handbook of Nuts” CRC Press, 2001. pp. 126-127.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Backyard Makeover: Compound


The rental property I live at (two houses nicknamed “The Compound”) had an interesting yard when we moved in. A productive pear tree, a well established grape vine, blueberry bushes, cherry trees, and a few garden beds belied a history food production, but there weeds and two large conifers dominated much of the backyard.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the summer, while I was in Maryland, a few garden beds were dug and planted with vegetables including radishes, cucumbers, kale (a Northwest favorite), squash (which was quite prolific, in our yard and everywhere else from what I can tell), corn, tomatoes, peppers (the three of which floundered during an unusually cool summer). My housemate Chloe also established a small herb garden near the front door with rosemary, oregano, and sage.

Since I’ve been home, most of our garden attention has been towards harvesting produce and caring for our three chickens. The chickens were let out from their small and flimsy run to the full backyard, which is conveniently surrounded by a five foot tall fence. They look healthier and lay more eggs, but their poop makes walking hazardous.

My work at Terra Commons has provided me with a number of plant starts and seeds, leftovers unneeded or unsellable by the nursery. The first week of September I transplanted several New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) into one of the vegetable beds, along with a mallow and a Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) that both got somewhat damaged in bike transit. More recently, I transplanted a few strawberries we had divided and an elderberry.


For the upcoming year, I want to make a comprehensive plan for the garden, rather than planting things as they fall into our collective laps. The design process itself is part of my academic contract this quarter, but actually carrying it out will happen in stages over the next several months.

My goals, which I hope to explore further over the next few days, are to improve the capacity of the property to grow useful plants in the future; to produce useful amounts of food and other plant products; and to create a space to learn and teach in. In a negative sense, I don’t want to harm the well-established trees and bushes, violate my lease, or take away from the social functions of the yard.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Compost @ Terra Commons

One of my first projects at Terra Commons was building a compost bin, which inspired my previous post.


As a kid, my few experiences with carpentry were intimidating and on the whole unsuccessful. Apparently my gross motor skills have improved to the point that I could perform basic hammering and sawing at a satisfactory level; I still screwed up a few nails, but we were using salvaged wood and nails so I don’t blame myself too much. I learned from Michael that vibrations are what remove nails, so quick strikes work infinitely better than pulling with the claw of a hammer.

Michael brings a lot of energy and confidence to projects like these, even if he’s experimenting; I find it really difficult to start projects and follow through with them even when I know I have a good chance of success. Over the past couple of years, I’ve moved a little bit towards the self-motivated camp but I still have a long way to go.

The compost bin itself

((Picture forthcoming))

Michael used a standard slotted bin design, constructed out of four two-by-fours and several old boards and measuring 4’x4’x3′. The boards were spaced a few inches apart, allowing for plenty of aeration while containing the pile.

The pile itself started with a layer of cardboard to capture leachate as the compost matured. On top of that alternated layers of weeds (from areas without morning glory), spoiled hay, and kitchen waste, the general principle being to bring together materials with different ratios of carbon to nitrogen*. Once the pile filled the bin, Michael watered it pretty thoroughly.

One month later

Last week, Sayre and I helped Michael turn the compost pile and move it back from the path. The pile did indeed work—for one thing, the smell was indescribably less offensive than the rotten kitchen waste that went into it. For another, the pile had heated up to the point of steaming in the chilly autumn morning. Unfortunately this heat, and insufficient water in the middle of the pile, resulted in a lot of dry material covered in a specific grey mold that Michael recognized***.

The bin was easy to lift off the pile, and the pile obligingly held it’s shape, which made turning a lot less messy. As we went, we added the bedding from the goat barn, which will add a lot of nitrogen and hopefully help decompose things quicker. Michael also watered each layer this time; this might not be necessary in a pile being added to over time, but probably would have helped one which was filled all at once.

Michael and I also built a second bin identical to the first. I hit my thumb really hard hammering the first nail, and now sport a sick blood blister. It would have been a nice opportunity to use St.-John’s-Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a plant featured the day before in Medicinal Botany for treating nerve pain, but there wasn’t any handy. Other than that, construction went smoothly. Both bins are now in the shade next to the goat barn, where they should stay at a good level of moisture during the wet winter.


Even though these bins should generate a lot of compost, they don’t meet all of Terra Commons needs. Though they handle odiferous waste (kitchen- and goat-derived) well, they require too much work to compost all wastes or to generate enough for the new annual beds, so two other solutions are being used right now.

On the annual beds, several truck loads of horse manure were spread and covered by a straw mulch. Over the winter, this ought to break down and begin rebuilding the soil that used to be covered by a parking lot. One concern I had when the plan was first described was that without anything growing over the winter, much of the nutrients (particularly nitrogen) would leach out, but hopefully the straw will hold nutrients until a spring crop can be planted.

By the hugelkultur**, there are several piles of weeds. Since these contain morning glory, which can take over an area if it is spread through compost, they’re being half-composted-out-of-the-way, half-fed-to-the-goats. Zola (a La Mancha) in particular devours morning glory.

Zola fixes the camera with her powerful gaze. (She looks at everyone like this, all the time.)

None of these compost strategies apply particularly well to my domestic situation, but they have promise at Terra Commons. Michael has a goal of not taking any waste off the property, and compost will play a major role in that effort. I’m excited to see how these projects turn out!

*The ratio is typically around 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The reasoning presented in my soil science class last year is that the bacteria that perform the bulk of the decomposition are made up of 8:1 C:N (nitrogen being used primarily in proteins), and they respire 2 atoms of carbon for each they incorporate into their cells, using 24 atoms of carbon for each atom of nitrogen. If the balance is skewed too much in either direction, the bacteria will either be less effective or they will deplete surrounding areas of nitrogen in order to digest carbon.

**Subject of a future post.

***It is not immediately clear to me what kind of mold this was. If I find out, I’ll update this.

I woke up feeling really under the weather this morning, so I’m not coming to the mushroom inoculation thing today. I did talk to my housemates about plants, and I think we’re interested in Coastal Strawberry, Cranberry, Salad Burnet, Mint, Lovage, Chamomile, Cardoon, and Garlic Chives. I’ll be by Oly Coffee Roasters tomorrow morning so we can talk then I guess. 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Toxic Kitchen Waste

Growing up, my family had two waste bins in the kitchen, one for recyclables and one for everything else. My friend Noah’s family had an exotic third container hidden under the sink: compost. My first impression was that it was a huge burden for Noah to remember to take the bucket out to the pile in the backyard and to throw food scraps into this secret container and not the readily accessible trash can. Over time, I acclimated to compost as one acclimates to any foreign custom in another’s house, but I still failed to see the reason behind this ritual.

Modern waste disposal is almost pure ritual at the personal level. Trash is constantly generated, and yet it vanishes according to a weekly schedule, never to be seen again. Recycling is a more environmentally-conscious waste ritual, but it has the same effect of displacing the burden of unwanted things. (On a positive note, recycling requires a certain amount of care for the world around oneself.) Municipal compost requires more personal energy investment than recycling or trash, but the results are still distant.

Even though I could see the pile and the finished compost, I had to go through several layers of understanding to truly appreciate it.

I could see in Noah’s dad’s garden that compost helped grow beautiful plants, but that seemed only beneficial to gardening-qua-hobby.

In a separate direction, I learned about the environmental problems associated with landfills. Like recycling, compost reduces the volume of waste entering landfills, in turn reducing the space required and buying time for other waste reduction strategies.

Through an interest in organic farming (starting in high school), I discovered that compost could help grow food, and in doing so transform problematic wastes into a valuable resource. My thinking at the time was that compost acted directly as a fertilizer; after taking a soil science course my current understanding is that compost supplies stable organic matter to the soil, which acts more as a matrix for holding water and nutrients in plant available forms, as well as supporting a diverse and benefical microbial community.

I shouldn’t say as well as, because I think that the living portion of the soil is actually of the utmost importance to plants. A healthy community of bacteria and fungi support a soil food web that quickly recycles nutrients, outcompetes disease-causing organisms, and directly supports plant growth.

Compost is complicated, and I don’t think I could have necessarily understood it at the age I first encountered it without a lot of help. However, there is a strong disincentive to exploring compost, on account of how it entails a fair amount of regular work which left undone results in a mess of rotting food in your kitchen or your yard, and all the attendant problems. Noah’s family was always complaining about rats and flies, and most houses I’ve been at in Olympia have at least a moderate fly issue.

At the home level I think composting is a valuable act—the question is how to transform it from an unpleasant ritual to a smoothly functioning link in a loop between the kitchen and the garden. (On farms, I suspect that composting in place with decomposing mulches or the like would be more efficient. See, for example, Masanobu Fukuoka’s excellent book One-Straw Revolution) At my house, we have a bucket that stays on the porch with a sealed lid and chickens patrolling for flies. This is somewhat inconvenient in terms of throwing out scraps; worse, the next destination is the municipal organics recycling cart.

DESIGN CHALLENGE: Over the next few weeks, we want to implement a more effective system that handles our kitchen waste on-site, and results in usable compost for our gardens, and is simple and pleasant enough to be carried out by all members of the house reliably. We will be constrained by our impermanent living arrangement (one-year lease) and our landlady, who justifiably doesn’t want to be left with a large, rotten compost pile when we move out.

So far, Vermicomposting and Bokashi seem like good candidates. Vermicomposting uses worms and Bokashi uses Lactobacillus to quickly decompose kitchen scraps. I haven’t read broadly enough to feel comfortable comparing the two beyond that yet, but I can share some of my reading below.


DIY Bokashi from isolating lactobacillus to the garden

Real-time accounts of the above process

An amazing article/man that I want to comment on further


The best explanation of the process I’ve seen

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Welcome to Your New Job

The first day of my internship was also the first day of September. I showed up before Michael got back from picking up a pair of goats and read a few pages of Ivan Illich’s Tools for Convivality on an old carousel by the main path.

The goats’ arrival involved a lot of bleating and jumping, but fortunately they had collars—and soon, improvised leashes. I learned that their names were Pepper and Maggie. “Maggie” was short for “Daystar Magnolia” and she was a pedigreed Nigerian Dwarf. Pepper was a male kid and he was only there to keep Maggie company.

Daystar Magnolia


We set stakes around a patch overgrown with Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and black-cap raspberry (Rubus leucodermis)—the first an opportunistic non-native, the second a native species planted and then not pruned—to feed the goats and clear the space for future plantings. We rolled out a coil of 3.5’ wire fencing and tied it to the stakes. Unfortunately, Pepper could clear this height with a running start and did so repeatedly. I kept watch from atop a cedar stump while Michael picked up a roll of 5’ fence. This did the trick.

The Futureheads

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment