By Rob Dzurec, Horticulturist
Last year we installed our first fermentation garden at the botanical garden in what was previously known as the Potager garden. Put simply, a fermentation garden is a vegetable garden dedicated to growing produce that can be fermented. Most produce can be fermented but some things are better than others. Cabbage, fruits, kohlrabi, beets, grains and Colocasia tubers are popular choices.
So, what is fermentation? Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of carbohydrates by bacteria and/or yeast. Alcohol is the result of fermenting grain (carbs) by using yeast. The yeast consumes the sugars and produces alcohol as a waste product. Another way is to utilize specific bacteria (they’re not all bad) to break down sugars. Instead of alcohol, acids are produced. Both products are useful in preserving food as well as instilling unique flavors.
With vegetables, we are typically employing bacteria to do the work. The acid produced by the “good” bacteria is harmful to “bad” bacteria. The bad bacteria are what cause spoilage that decreases the shelf life of foods. And the remaining good bacteria are safe for us to consume. Many are even probiotics that improve digestive health by bolstering our gut biomes which are home to hundreds of bacterium species all working to break down our food. It is as if Mother Nature intended for vegetables to be fermented. We will be planting out our fermentation garden in early June, so come check it out.
There are many useful sites on the internet for more information on food preservation by fermentation. The USDA has put together a nice guide on canning and fermenting foods which can be found here:
Rob Dzurec has been expertly plying his horticultural skills at Cleveland Botanical Garden for eight years. His current role enables him to provide creative and colorful care for all the Gateway Gardens, and to foster and support the work of the Western Reserve Herb Garden volunteer corps. He is efficient, effective, and nice to have at the sharp end of any horticulture project. Rob is a graduate of the Kent State University horticulture program, and the Garden is thrilled that he’s here.