Too Much of a Good Thing

Dr. Earth Fertilizer

Our vegetable crops require the absorption of specific elements in order to survive and thrive. However, our garden soil may be lacking in one or more of these nutrients. That is the reason why we apply fertilizer to our gardens. A fertilizer, by definition, is a substance that improves plant growth directly by providing one or more necessary plant nutrients.

When applying fertilizer, take care to apply the correct amount. More is not better. In fact, overfeeding can do more harm than good.

Applying too much nitrogen (usually in the form of manure) will cause the plants to produce an overabundance of leaves and a dearth of flowers and fruit. Plants need phosphorous to produce flowers and fruit. That’s why, if you use manure in your garden, you should also provide supplemental phosphorous.

Many fertilizers are also salts. Overfeeding of fertilizers can cause a build-up of salt in the soil. According to Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, when the soil absorbs too much salt, it eventually loses the ability to absorb water. In addition, overfeeding can cause an over accumulation of boron and chloride, which can result in slowed or stopped plant growth, yellowing foliage and even the death of the plants.

So how do you avoid overfeeding? Probably the best way is to test your soil before applying anything. You can purchase soil test kits from local nurseries or from gardening catalogs. You can also send samples of your garden soil into a lab for testing. The results of the test will show what nutrients are deficient, optimum, and in excess. This will establish a baseline that will guide you in choosing the right fertilizers and applying the right amounts to insure that your plants get all the nutrients they need – not too much and not too little.

Aging in Place – the Right Place, That Is

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When it comes to making cheese, the making portion – heating the milk, adding the starter culture and rennet, cutting the curd, etc. is only part of the process. If you’re making a hard cheese, then once it comes out of the press, all you have is a block of curd, which is edible, but rather flavorless. In order to turn that block of curd into cheese, you have to age it. Aging is what gives cheese its flavor and character. When you age cheese, you set that block of curd in an environment that will allow the bacteria in to roam throughout that curd block chewing up lactose and other material and expelling waste products. It is these waste products (a.k.a. bacterial poop) that makes cheese look and taste so good.

But what exactly is this “environment” of which I speak? Simply put, cheese must be set in a place where the temperature is 46-60oF and the relative humidity is 75-90%. If it’s too cold, the cheese won’t develop the proper level of acid and flavor. Too warm, and the cheese will develop a sharp and pungent flavor and/or undesirable microbial growth.

So how do you create this environment? There are several ways.

Caves – In Europe, where they have been making cheese for centuries, there exist various caves where the conditions are just right for aging cheese. Here is the United States, cheesemakers will build warehouses where they can artificially create the proper conditions. But since most of you who are reading this probably do not own or have access to a cave or have the time, money, and materials to build your own warehouse, there are other ways of creating the proper aging conditions

Basements – Many home basements, since they are below ground, are often much cooler than the house and land above ground. Temperatures in most home basements are usually right in that 46-60oF range. Moisture levels can be increased by hanging wet towels or using a portable humidifier.

Wine coolers – Wine coolers are ideal for aging cheese, because they have controls for both temperature and humidity.

Small, dorm-sized refrigerators – These work well for aging cheese, however, the built in temperature control dial is often not very precise. Turn it a notch one way or another, and the temperature is either too high or too low. You may have to purchase and hook in a thermostat that allows you to control temperature with more precision. Humidity can be maintained by setting a bowl of water on the bottom shelf and/or placing wet paper towels at the bottom.

Though the aging requirements for cheese are precise, they are not impossible to attain. With the proper equipment and locale, be it basement, wine cooler, or dorm-sized refrigerator, you too can age cheese in your very own home. A homemade Cheddar, Swiss, or Manchego can be a reality!