Monday, October 30, 2006


Making yogurt is very easy. It takes about 4 minutes of actual time *doing anything*... but about 4-6 hours elapsed time.

The directions are long, because I'm trying to be thorough. But it's a cinch.

This is the process, in short:

Mix dry milk with liquid milk.
Heat it to about 180 F.
Let it cool down to about 110 F.
Mix in yogurt starter.
Keep it warm.

And here it is in detail:

1. Mix liquid (regular) milk with dry skim milk. I use 2 cups of instant dry skim milk to 2 quarts of liquid 1% milk: we like the yogurt to be *very* thick. I use a whisk to mix it very well.

(Or I use 1.5 cups of non-instant dry skim milk. I find that the non-instant milk makes slightly nicer yogurt, but the instant dry milk is fine too, and easier to find. I used to use it, until I found a fairly reasonable source of the non-instant: . I regularly buy other foods from BulkFoods so I'm not incurring shipping charges just for the dry milk.)

You can use less dry skim milk if you use 2% or whole milk, and less if you want the yogurt not-so-thick. The higher the fat content of the milk, the less dry skim milk you need to thicken the yogurt.

2. Heat the mixture to about 180 F. I heat it in the microwave, in a 2-quart pyrex cup. If you heat milk in the microwave, you need to be very careful with it. It wants to foam up and bubble out of the Pyrex cup or bowl and spill all over the place.

I have found - by experimenting - that I can always heat the
refrigerator-cold milk for 35 minutes at 50% power in my 1000 watt microwave. No problems then.

You can heat the milk on the stove, if you prefer. You need to be careful that it doesn't burn in that case. Use low heat, stir from time to time.

3. Let the milk cool down to about 110 F to 120 F. I have a candy thermometer and use it. You can buy these at kitchen supply stores. Or you can just drizzle a little bit on the inside of your wrist and it should just feel a little bit warm - the 'baby bottle' test.

(Why not just heat the milk to 110 F in the first place? I've tried this, and the yogurt's texture is not as good. I don't know why. But it will definitely work, and you may want to try it - maybe you won't mind the way it comes out with the lesser heating. It's faster, easier, and saves fuel.)

3. Mix the starter with the milk - I use a whisk. The starter can be some plain yogurt you've purchased at a store (in this case, use at least 1/2 cup of plain yogurt). Or you can used dried yogurt starter purchased from a health food store or online. The next time, you'll use some of this batch for starter, etc. After 4 to 5 months, the yogurt will get too tart: then you start over with a new starter.

I buy my starter from the New England Cheesemaking Supply: . It's not expensive; each little packet lasts me 4-5 months. They sell 4 packets together for (IIRC) $4.95 - that much lasts me more than a year, so it costs me less than $5/year for starter.

If you use dried starter, keep it in the freezer. Or you can just use plain yogurt from the store, as I said above. But I think the dried starter makes considerably better yogurt.

4. Now you need to keep the milk at that temperature (around 110 F) for about four to six hours. I have, like, and use a Yogourmet Yogurt Maker that keeps it warm. It makes two quarts (two liters, really) at a time.

But I wouldn't buy another one. When/if mine dies, I'll use
this method of keeping it warm:

(Click on the photo to see it larger.)

This is actually better, because you can make up to four quarts of yogurt at a time and it doesn't use electricity - you just need to get the water warm at first. (I'll probably buy one of these coolers when I see one...)

UPDATE: I now use my "haybox cooker/picnic chest" to incubate the yogurt. See: I put the yogurt container in my largest soup pot, filled the pot (not quite up to the top of the yogurt container) with warm water, put the cover on the pot and put it in the haybox cooker. I took it out four hours later - perfect creamy thick yogurt! So now I don't need to use electricity to incubate my yogurt.

I used the heavy plastic container which came with my Yogourmet yogurt maker. But two quart canning jars would work just as well.

There are also directions for making the yogurt on Professor Fankhauser's page which are slightly different from my directions. Note that he says to sterilize everything: I never do this, and I've never had a problem. I just make sure everything is good and clean.

5. Now your yogurt is ready - nice and thick. Take out enough to be the next batch's starter (I use about 1/2 to 3/4 cup - I don't measure it). Put the starter in a separate little jar with a cover, and refrigerate it separately. This keeps it cleaner and (more important) it prevents you from forgetting that you need some to be the next starter and eating it all up. Refrigerate your main container too.

Let it cool: serve however you like - I like mine with a glob of undiluted frozen orange juice, or with any fruit, fresh, canned, or frozen. Sometimes I make 'pie fillings' (very lightly sweetened) and those are the best thing of all for this purpose. Some people mix jam with their yogurt. Or fruit
syrups you can buy in the supermarket. My husband likes chocolate syrup on it, or he mixes it with honey. I also regularly use yogurt mixed with homemade muesli and fruit for breakfast.

I use some in cooking too, and I always use yogurt when a recipe calls for 'sour cream'. And sometimes we make frozen yogurt from it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Book review and discussion: self-watering containers for edible plants

Book Review: 'Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers', and some discussion of Self-Watering Containers (SWCs).

Details (from Amazon):

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing
POTS System
by Edward C. Smith
# Paperback: 272 pages
# Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (January 1, 2006)
# Language: English
# ISBN: 1580175562
# Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches

(There is also a hard-cover edition.)

What is a self-watering container?

A container with a water reservoir (lower chamber) and potting mix (upper chamber). You fill the reservoir, and the plants water themselves from the reservoir (by wicking). SWCs are often called 'Earthboxes' (TM), but this is a trademarked name and shouldn't be used for other SWCs.

My experience-level: I have considerable experience growing vegetables in containers, but no experience with the (so-called) self-watering containers (SWCs). I want to switch over, though, for several reasons.

Why SWCs?

* First and foremost, I'm convinced that the plants grow better when they have access to water, and fertilizer, at all times, as is true when using SWCs.

* Second, you don't need to water as often, although you may need to water as often as daily in really hot weather, depending on the size of the plants and of the reservoir. But regular containers can need watering several times a day in really hot weather.

* Third, it's economical of both water and fertilizer, and organic fertilizer can easily be used. Organic fertilizer can be problematic with regular containers; they need watering so often that that (slow-acting) organic fertilizer tends to be washed right out of the soil before the plants can grab enough nourishment from it. You could use organic fertilizer with
every watering, but that's really wasteful of the fertilizer, and a nuisance besides.

* Fourth, SWCs keep the ground (or the deck or the patio - wherever the plants are) dry. This is a plus too.

On to the book....

This is a large, glossy, paperback (the edition I bought) with many, many beautiful pictures of plants growing in SWCs. The photos are great, and I really enjoyed them all.

The book's major flaw, in my opinion, is that it does not tell you how to construct a variety of SWCs or, indeed, how to build any SWCs. (Purchased SWCs are very expensive.)

You can find clear directions for building your own SWCs here:

A detailed manual demonstrating how to build a variety of SWCs is here:

And for an SWC with a slightly different twist:
(Scroll down to pages 6 and 7.)

Back to the book....

I like this book very much. I'm glad I bought it, and it gives me, I think, a much better idea of what to expect from SWCs. It also makes the whole concept more clear in my mind.

I also learned a few useful tips, which alone are more than worth the price of the book. One is how to modify a watering hose so that it is more suited to SWCs, and another is a way of supporting a trellis used with an SWC. I would not have thought of these myself; and we'll use both of them.

The author recommends organic fertilizer, and I like this too. He gives instructions for making and using the fertilizer. (You could use many other ingredients instead of the ones he lists, however.)

Very brief instructions for starting seeds are included; and a good general discussion of SWCs too.

But the main part of the book is a directory of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers, giving growing tips (in SWCs) for each one. Some herbs and flowers don't like the constant moisture plants experience in an SWC, and Smith tell you which ones not to grow in an SWC. This is very useful information.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in container gardening, whether or not you are considering SWCs. It very nicely complements the other excellent edible container gardening book, 'Bountiful Container' by McGee and Stuckey. Information on 'Bountiful Container' is here: (or can be obtained by entering the title in the search box at Amazon). These are the only two edible container gardening books that I recommend.

For anyone interested in growing food in containers, I have a mailing list on the subject. It's here:

My other recommendations for gardening books are on my blog, specifically in the August 19, 2006, post entitled 'My Recommendations for Gardening Books'.