Thursday, 16 March 2017

A tribute to the late Denis-St Jean

Denis was an active member of the Nepean Allotment Garden Association (NAGA) from its inception in 1991 until his death on March 14, 2017.

BACKGROUND: In early spring of 1991 the then City of Nepean (City) stopped funding the gardens on Viewmount Drive for financial reasons. The City after receiving many letters and phone calls agreed to host a public meeting to discuss the future of the gardens. The City spokesman at the meeting agreed to let a volunteer group operate the gardens. At the intermission, a hastily formed volunteer group informed the City spokesman that a volunteer group will take over the gardens. The attendees at the meeting were invited to go to another room. In that group was Denis where an Interim Board of Directors was appointed. Denis became the Publicity Director: a post he held for many years. Denis also held the position of Vice-Chair and Director.

Over the years Denis helped in many ways: cutting the grass. He liked to cut the grass in the early morning before sunrise, looking after the distribution of mushroom compost, and tidying up the garden waste especially at the end of the garden season. Denis, an experienced gardener, helped many inexperienced gardeners get started in the right way. 

Mary, his wife became the garden registrar in 1996. Mary held that position for many years. Denis was very supportive of Mary during her years at the gardens.

Denis will be missed, not only by his family but, by all the NAGA gardeners.

Ian Reid, NAGA Gardener                                                               16-March 2017

Saturday, 14 January 2017

How to make the fermented drink, Kefir

Ian A Reid,  (NAGA member since 1991)


Some of my friends have asked me about the fermented drink called kefir. I’ve been making kefir for years. So I’ve preparing this article so that you can make your own kefir at home. I’ll answer the questions: what, where, when, why and how.

About Kefir

Kefir is a slightly effervescent acidulous beverage made mostly from cow’s milk and kefir grains (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter). Much has been written about kefir. References are provided at the end of the article, in case you want to research the subject in more detail. One reference states that kefir grains involve a community of 30 different types of microbes, including common food fermentation favorites, such as actobacilli, leuconostoc, acetobacter and saccharomyces. So far, nobody has been able to reproduce kefir in the laboratory. Most kefir grains prepared commercially in the US are not made with traditional kefir grains. Instead they are made using starter cultures consisting of some, but not all, known organisms that are part of the traditional kefir symbiosis. Powdered starters approximating kefir are not limited to large scale producers. Several powdered kefir starters are available for small scale home production. Buyers beware. If you want genuine kefir grains, do your research. The laboratory produced starter cultures not only taste good but are beneficial to health. They are not, however, genuine kefir. I’ll list companies that, hopefully, sell genuine kefir grains at the end of this article. It is thought that kefir grains originated in the Caucasus Mountains centuries years ago some say 9000 years ago. Kefir is made today by adding kefir grains to cow, goat or sheep milk.


I use the following utensils: Two one liter bottles, labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’, one strainer, one 2-liter glass container, a couple of spoons and a chop stick. Some authors use wooden spoons and plastic strainers instead of metal ones. I feel that the metal strainer is OK because the kefir is in contact with the metal for such a short period of time.

The picture to the left shows: one fermenting bottle of kefir, utensils (glass bowl, strainer, funnel, chop stick), and half a bottle of ready kefir, half consumed. The picture on the right shows a close up view of fermenting kefir in the left bottle.


When you receive the starter culture follow the instructions to the letter. Raw fresh milk is considered to be the best by some. If you use raw milk; make sure you know the conditions of the source. Raw milk could contain bad bacteria and dirt. Make sure the milk you use isn’t ultra-pasteurized or lactose free. The next best milk is whole milk followed by 2% then skim. When using powered skim milk, be sure to mix it with chlorine free water (boiling water will remove chlorine). For the first week, I use whole milk to get the grains growing. Grains under optimum conditions double in size about every ten days. After a week or so after starting a new batch I switch to powdered skim milk, which I buy wholesale. Skim milk powder has fewer calories than whole milk and seems to work fine. If I see degradation in the kefir quality, I’ll switch back to whole milk for a while.

Steps for Making Kefir

Make sure your two bottles, ‘A’ and ‘B’, and clean and dry.

1. Place a little more than one table spoon of kefir grains into bottle ‘A’, then add the milk to within one inch (2.5 cm) of the top. Give the bottle a shake, then cover the top of the bottle with cheese cloth, or something similar, to let the culture breathe. Place it in a dark corner for 24 hours. Sometime during the day give the bottle another shake to expose fresh milk around the grains.

Tip: Temperature affects the speed of fermentation. A warm environment speeds up the rate of fermentation while a cooler environment slows down the rate of fermentation (It does not matter if your temperature varies during fermentation time between 18C and 30C which gives a wider spectrum of bacterial and yeast growth. A fermentation of a constant 18o C or constant 30o C is not recommended. - source).

2. After the 24 hours, strain the kefir into the glass bowl. Ladle (spoon) the kefir grains left in the strainer into a clean bottle ‘B’ and fill it to within one inch of its top with milk and set it aside for 24 hours. Then pour the strained kefir from the bowl into the first liter bottle, bottle ‘A’. Bottle ‘A’ is kefir that is now ready to drink (sometimes I put some on my fermented cooked steel cut oats to which is added a little turmeric, cinnamon and ginger).

Tip: Often, just before straining the kefir, I notice whey in the bottom third of the bottle. I simply use a chopstick to stir the milk before straining. (After the grains are producing well you could experiment with soy, almond or coconut milk.)

3. The next day, repeat the process for straining, with bottle ‘B.’ Re-use bottle ‘A’ to take the new strained kefir (if you are done with bottle ‘A’), or use a new clean bottle.


Making kefir is a daily chore. Kefir contains large amounts of good bacteria as well as being slightly acid. It’s probably a good idea to consume a small glass at first to see how your body reacts to kefir. When your body reacts favorably increase your daily consumption to say one glass a day. If you need to go away for a few days or weeks, here is what you can do.

Freezing is the best for medium to long term storage of kefir. To freeze, rinse the grains with water and pat dry with a paper towel. Roll them in a bowl of powdered milk. Partly fill a freezer bag with powdered milk and bury the powered milk covered grains into a freezer bag. These grains should last in good condition for six months or more. Another option is to place the grains into a small bottle with a lid and place it in the freezer. I stored mine this way for about 6 months without problems. To store grains for only a day or two, it’s probably safe to simply put the grains into a bottle of cold milk and then into the fridge. A cool environment slows down the rate of fermentation. A web site address is provided, below, for more information on long term storage.


Kefir grains have been around for thousands of years, some sources say for 9000 years. It is thought that the grains originate in the Caucasus Mountains. Many stories have been passed down by word of mouth over the ages about the health benefits of kefir. Traditional kefir is fermented at room temperatures for 24 hours. Fermentation of the milk yields a sour, carbonated, slightly alcoholic beverage. Real kefir grains under the right conditions last a long time, maybe forever. Some authors say that real kefir has to be made at home. Some Suppliers are selling kefir starter cultures that do not have the same qualities as the real kefir grains. These starter cultures are thought to contain fewer of the beneficial bacteria. Some of these powdered started cultures only last for a short period of time according to some suppliers. Costumers of grains must do their homework to make sure you are buying the desired product and not some inferior product.


a. Wikipedia: The article in Wikipedia lists 26 references, plus 2 references for further reading.
b. Katz, Sandor Ellix (2012), The Art of Fermentation, An in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world. With practical information on Fermenting Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Milk, Beans, Meats, and more. Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont.
c. Kefir Kitchen, What is Kefir and How to Make It, They sell what look like real kefir grains,
c. Yemoos, Genuine Culture Products and Information. Milk Kefir – Step-by-step Guide. For these items view Milk Kefir Recommendations.
d. Kefir, Yoghurt for Life, website:

edited by Craig Hamm

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Fermentation of Vegetables for Food

Ian A. Reid, 11-Nov-16 (NAGA member since 1991)

This is the end of the gardening season and I have a few nutritious vegetables left in the ground.
I have no storage facilities and only a little extra space in my freezer. I have giver lots of vegetables away but still have lots left. Do I chop the vegetables up for the compost bin or do I ferment them? I choose to ferment them the way some of us did in the old days before the invention of electricity.

I will briefly answer the following questions; what, where, when, why and how.

Right off the bat, I must confess that I’m not an expert on the subject. I do have what I believe to be the best books on the subject that I’ll quote or at least refer to.

WHAT: Fermentation—Webster’s Dictionary definition: a chemical change with effervescence; esp: a transformation of an organic substance by the action of ferments. Sandor Elli Katz in his books a, Wild fermentation and the Art of FERMENTATION (Reference at the end) gives scientific explanations of fermentation.

What we need to know is that fermentation breaks down food into something nutritious: example (e.g.) Yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. The literature also states no one has been poisoned so far as is known from eating fermented foods. It is stated that fermented foods are a powerful aid to digestion and a protection against disease.

WHERE: Any plant from your garden that hasn’t been sprayed with a chemical and is not rotten.
Any plant from anywhere else that is chemical free. Before starting the actual fermentation, all plants should be washed with chlorine free water. In addition, chlorine and fluoride free water must be used in the fermentation process.

WHEN: At any time, but generally, people ferment when there is an abundance of plant food available. At the end of the gardening seasoning is an ideal time providing surplus plants, in fairly good condition, are available before freezing weather sets in?

WHY: To prevent waste. Throwing good plants in the compost bin in not really a waste but a better choice is to make nutritious food that lasts well into the winter. Some authors state that fermenting food is as easy as 1, 2, and 3. Why not give it a try?

HOW: Please see the foods we are fermenting at the present time.

The two garlic bottles front left are in 2% brine. The bottle with air lock is self- brine sauerkraut. The others are 2% brine: Swiss chard stems, Collard greens stems.  bitter melon is self-brine. The bottles to the right are: 2% brine as follows: Back, Green Tomatoes, Beets and Radish, in front are Red Peppers.

Most authors recommend unrefined sea salt. These salts have the trace minerals intact. What you don’t want to use is iodized table salt with the material in it to make it run freely.

Brine Formulas
One tablespoon (15 ML) salt weighs about 14 g or ½ oz. It’s difficult to get an accurate measurement of salt as the grains are so large.

Pickle-it ( has 3 brine formulas as follows:

a) SELF-BRINE: meaning that the juices in the plants provide the moisture, no additional water is necessary. E.g., Cabbage, beets, bitter melon, Swiss chard leaves.
Formula: 19 grams salt plus 3 pounds of vegetable. This works out to about 1.4 % brine. The calculation is: 3 lb x 16 oz/lb = 48 oz. Now, 48 oz x 28.35 g/oz = 1360 grams. Therefore, (19g/1360g) x 100 = 1.4% salt.

b) 2% BRINE: This means for vegetables that haven’t enough juice when shredded or cut up into small pieces to make enough juice when pressed down in the jar to cover the vegetables. 

E.g, green beans, broccoli, garlic.
Formula: 19 grams of salt plus 4 cups of chlorine free water. As stated above, this works out to be 2% brine.

c) CUKE-BRINE: Pickling cucumbers have 2 formulas:
Full sour:  48 grams of salt plus 4 cups of water = 5% brine. 
Half –sour: 33 grams salt plus 4 cups of water=3.5% brine.

Please note that the above formulas are using air locks to exclude air from the vegetables being fermented. See example in picture of jar with air lock. An air lock allows the release of CO2 and oxygen, creating anaerobic conditions. Without oxygen mold doesn’t form.

Fermenting without an air lock requires a little more salt. To give 2% brine, a cabbage weighing 1360 grams requires 1360 x 0.02 = 27g of salt . Some authors use less salt others more. If you don’t have a digital scale, you can use measuring spoons to measure the amount of salt necessary for your 2% brine. A spoon measure is not as accurate as a digital scale measure. I’ve weighed the following on my scales using unrefined sea salt.

Another important consideration to keep in mind is that HEAT kills bacteria (good and bad). The most nutritional benefit is the live bacterial cultures which are destroyed by cooking. This doesn’t mean that you can’t cook the fermented foods. It only means that all the beneficial bacteria when cooked are dead. Store bought pasteurized fermenting foods have no beneficial bacteria left, they are all dead.  Fermenting foods give off a gas. If you sealed the container while the food is fermenting the container will explode. After an extended period of time, maybe after a month or more, all the food used in the fermentation process is probably consumed. At this time the container can probably be safely sealed. Fermented foods won’t last forever. As a rule of thumb, I’d check the quality of the fermented food after it’s been in the fridge for say six months. 

Since I’m most familiar with making sauerkraut I’ll briefly explain the process. Acquire a red or white cabbage and carry out the following steps. 1 weigh it, 2 quarter it, 3 and shred it 4 calculate weight of salt to use. Use the 2% formula for self- brining. 5 in a large bowl sprinkle the salt over the shredded cabbage. 6 with your clean fingers and nails work the salt into the cabbage. Salt brings the juice out of the cabbage. This step is very important so do a thorough job.7 Ladle cabbage into a suitable (not metal) container within about one inch of its top. Squeeze down the cabbage by hand or other tool so that the juice rises above the top layers of cabbage. Any portion of the cabbage not covered by juice will spoil. When necessary add a little salt water so that the cabbage is always totally covered. 8 Attach air lock or weigh down the cabbage with a glass nearly full of water that fits inside the cabbage container. Other clean weights can be used to weigh down the cabbage. Wait 2 or 3 weeks for fermentation to take place in a shady location. After the fermentation stopes, the jar can be placed in the fridge.  Since there is quite a bit of salt in the sauerkraut, one should limit, for health reasons, the amount of sauerkraut consumed at one time.

In the vegetables that had the 2%brine, there is lots of juice left in the container. This juice can be used as a digestive tonic and as a soup stock. Don’t throw this juice out because it contains complex flavors and it is full of Lactobacilli. If the juice is a little salty, add a little more chlorine free water.

Health Benefits
Many health benefits have been claimed for sauerkraut. Source: Wikipedia
It is a source of vitamins B, C, and K;[19] the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage.[20] It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium, and it is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.[19]
If unpasteurized and uncooked, sauerkraut also contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and supply of probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract.[20][21]
Sauerkraut has been used in Europe for centuries to treat stomach ulcers, and its effectiveness for soothing the digestive tract has been well established by numerous studies.[22]
Raw sauerkraut is distinctly different from store-bought, canned sauerkraut. While many food manufacturers can or jar their kraut using heat in order to extend shelf life, raw sauerkraut is lacto-fermented and is alive with good bacteria and probiotics. Raw sauerkraut is fermented over days or weeks at room temperature, packaged into jars with its own brine solution, then refrigerated to preserve the vitamins, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria without any heat. The lactic acid creates beneficial intestinal flora, balances stomach pH both directions, and helps break down proteins.[23]
During the American Civil War, the physician John Jay Terrell (1829–1922)[24][25] was able to successfully reduce the death rate from disease among prisoners of war; he attributed this to the practice of feeding his patients raw sauerkraut.[26]
Sauerkraut is a time-honored folk remedy for canker sores. It is used by rinsing the mouth with sauerkraut juice for about 30 seconds several times a day, or by placing a wad of sauerkraut against the affected area for a minute or so before chewing and swallowing the kraut.[27]
The October 23, 2002 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that Finnish researchers found the isothiocyanates produced in sauerkraut fermentation inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test tube and animal studies.[28] A Polish study in 2010 concluded that "... induction of the key detoxifying enzymes by cabbage juices, particularly sauerkraut, may be responsible for their chemopreventive activity demonstrated by epidemiological studies and in animal models".[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36]
Sauerkraut is high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.[37].

Remember, I said that I’m not an expert on the subject of fermentation. I hope that I’ve made no serious mistakes or gave wrong information. I’ve only scratched the surface. There are lots more to learn. If I’ve sparked your interest in this subject, I’ve accomplished my task.

Local libraries should stock the above two mentioned references. If they don’t carry them, they might order them. There are probably other good references on fermentation in our library. occasionally offer canning workshops, in Ottawa, as well.

a. Wild fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz,Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River, Junction,Vermont, 187 pages, The flavor, nutrition and craft of Live Culture Foods.
b. The ART of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz,Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River, Junction,Vermont, 498 pages, an in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world.
(Please note that I haven’t copied or quoted from the above noted two books as the material is Copyrighted.)
c. Wikipedia (numbered references as indicated above per Wikipedia page)

Take care, 
Ian Reid

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Kazimierz Senkowski (April 8, 1936 - September 27, 2016)

Long time NAGA gardener, 'Kaz' passed away 27 Sept 2016. His obituary is posted at the Ottawa Citizen.

NAGA member and friend to Kaz, Ian Reid provided the following tribute to Kaz:

Kazimierz Senkowski passed away on September 27, 2016. I’ve known Kaz for about 25 years at the NAGardens. We shared neighboring plots for both the Annual and Perennial gardens during the past 25 years. Stakes mark the boundary corners. We only marked the plot boundaries, not by a string as most gardeners do, but by a foot path made by a shovel between the stakes. Kaz knew where my boundary was and I knew where his was. We never augured about the boundary .Kaz never stole from me nor I from him. To sum up you couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.

Volunteer work

Kaz volunteered for many jobs over the years: Here is a picture of Kaz and I cleaning out a compost bin to make room for the next year’s supply of plant material.

Here is that same Bin after being cleaned.

I’m showing this to point out that there is not a speck of compost in the bin even though it was being filled with plant material the next day. Kaz was a perfectionist. Most people wouldn’t bother cleaning out a bin like Kaz did. Everything Kaz did was done right, no short cuts. His gardens were laid out in straight lines and were weed free.

Cutting Grass

Kaz took over from me and cut the grass for several years. I used to ask him if he serviced the Mower (changed the oil, oil filter etc.) If he didn’t say it outright, he basically said that I have a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering (I think I’m right, correct me if I’m wrong) and in addition he said that I worked in a garage back in Poland. Kaz as it turned out he knew more than me about servicing the Mower than I did. He did a fine job.

Kas will be missed at the gardens and elsewhere..

Thanks for being my friend. Ian Reid.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count

Friends of the Earth are taking part in The Great Canadian Bumble Bee Count.

As you know Bumble Bees are declining in numbers world wide according to the literature.
Volunteers are asked to upload sightings to: where your sightings will go into a data base.

Mike, our Chair thinks is a good idea to send an e-mail to all the gardeners on the e-mail list in case some gardeners want to participate in the count. I’ve already uploaded a sighting.

One of the required items is the Latitude and Longitude of the sighting. These readings can be obtained before filling out the form from Google Maps.

There is lots more information in the web site.

Take Care
Ian R.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Mowing the Grass at NAGA by Ken Medd

I retired in 2015 and quickly found that I wasn’t really ready to retire. I had too much time on my hands and I started taking contracts and odd jobs. Earlier this spring, I jumped at the chance to mow the grass at NAGA. Shortly after that, I landed a short-term job that kept me very busy for May and June. In fact, my garden plot was badly neglected during that period. That job is over, however, and I’m paying more attention to my plot again.

When I started cutting our grass, I wasn’t familiar with the brand of lawn tractor we use (a Columbia) but it seems powerful and well suited to the size of our garden. We’re into the second half of the 2016 gardening season now and I’ve cut our grass quite a few times. I’m getting comfortable with the garden’s layout and I’ve learned some useful things like where the tractor can’t turn around and where it just doesn’t fit. I think I’ve found a good height for the mower deck. It doesn’t leave the grass too long and the blades are high enough that they don’t dig into the ground or hit many rocks.

Sometimes, things are left beside the plots that can present challenges for mowing. I’ve come across rocks, piles of rocks, sticks, stakes, netting, fence wire, plastic bottles, pails, bags, papers, ropes, hoses and other things that we all use in our gardens. Earlier in July, I broke both of the mower’s blades in one evening when I hit rocks that had been thrown into the grass on the headlands. I’m learning where to expect those obstacles though and I’m sure I’ll get better at avoiding them.

I’ve met many of you already and I look forward to meeting the rest of you as opportunities arise. If you have suggestions or constructive criticisms about the mowing please flag me down and let me know. That’s all for now, except to say thanks for letting me mow the grass. I’m really enjoying it.


Saturday, 26 March 2016

Renewals for 2016 and Annual General Meeting

The following is current as of 26 March 2016:

The renewal applications are now being sent out electronically and by regular mail (for those who don't use email).

2016 NAGA Annual General Meeting (AGM):
The AGM will be held on Saturday 23 April at 1PM at the Tanglewood Community Centre, 30 Woodfield Dr, Nepean. Free onsite and street parking. Wheelchair accessible.

Status of waiting list for non-members:
The current waiting is over 120 people, and the average waiting time is 2-3 years. To get on the waiting list send an email to the registrar with your full name, mailing/street address, phone number. The waiting list is addressed in the order that names were added. As your name is reached on the list you will be offered a garden plot. Once two offers are refused your name is removed from the waiting list. Attempts to subvert this process will result in your name being removed from the waiting list.

Actions taken with respect to gardeners not respecting the Terms and Conditions as agreed to by their signature, in 2015:
  • The gardeners of 28 plots will receive extra scrutiny during 2016.
  • The gardeners of 6 plots are on Final Notice for 2016 ("last chance").
  • The gardeners of 10 plots have lost plots (and possibly membership) due to serious and/or persistent violations.