mother is bunk (speculations on innoculation)

The trouble with making kombucha, for me, is not getting around to refrigerating it before it turns all to vinegar. I’m not really all that fascinated by sweet-tea vinegar. I make a shrub with it. It’s okay, but for me, not worth the crock-space.

I tried eating the kombucha mother. I have so much of it. It’s reminiscent of squid, except without flavor. Harder to sever. It would have to be prepared some way that would soften it. I don’t think I’m intrigued enough to experiment.

I had a fruit fly infestation in my kombucha not long ago, so I poured it all out and tried to start from scratch with just a massive amount of washed mother. That is, without any liquid starter. The result: it took a month.

I grew my original starter mother in less time than that, from the dregs of a commercial kombucha bottle. I did it the same way I make vinegar: add liquid (sweet tea in the one case, alcohol in the other) to an equal or greater amount of the desired liquid, and as the one turns into the other, repeat.

I’ve been making vinegar for at least five years now, and I’ve never seen any sign of a gelatinous mother.

My conclusion: mother is probably bunk. While they’re no doubt coated with the organisms you want to replicate, I suspect you’ll find those in higher densities in the liquid itself, so long as it’s unpasteurized. And even if it were pasteurized: I think the chemical qualities, such as high acidity, help foster the domination of the right bugs as much or more than a high initial population of them at an unfavorable pH.

The bugs, you don’t really need to worry about. If you have a sweet liquid, yeast will find it. If you have a moderately alcoholic liquid, and the presence of air, acetobacter will find it. You’d need laboratory conditions to keep them out.

And you don’t have to worry about maintaining populations of special bugs, either: that sourdough starter you brought from San Francisco apparently went native to wherever you keep it a long time ago. So I’ve read. The humidity and temperature of your refrigerator probably have more effect on your bugs than your original starter culture.

I wonder if there are any special kombucha organisms at all, independent of vinegar organisms, and whichever others make themselves at home in the presence of tea chemicals, and tannin.

I wonder what mother is, and what provokes it in some solutions but not in others.

Practical microbiology is fascinating.


casual seedsaving

An acquaintance of mine is selling two excellent, similar varieties of musk melon at the farmers’ market. I am aware that she is also this year growing seed for a regional seed company. I figure, perhaps she is raising melon seed? and I save some. Turns out, no—these melons, the only she grew, may have crossed. Next year, were I to plant them, likely as not they would not come back true.

However, true or no, it is highly likely they will come back excellent. And, I will have the pleasure of opening each one with a sense of anticipation: maybe a new melon! Never before tasted! What will it taste like!

And, of course, it’s free.

Seed saving doesn’t have to be about preserving rare varieties. Not attempting to preserve rare varieties, we can be sloppy: risk strange crosses and inbreeding, experiment with serendipitous crosses of inbred plants, toy with things we need not fully understand.

Not that I’ll stop buying seed. I’ll just buy less of it.

This reminds me, this time of year it’s time to start thinking about stocking up on garlic, potatoes, onions and winter squash. Pop corn. Meal corn. The new harvest of dry beans. Don’t want to have to go to the grocery store any more than necessary this winter. Any of those potatoes, corn kernels, beans, left over, you can put them in the ground next year. Garlic, you can put in the ground soon this year.

Also, recently, I’ve been saving the seed from hollyhocks and black-eyed susans. Why not?