Garden Geography, Biomass Turns Dust
The watchful season of Winter emerges and organisms of outdoor botanical gardens surrounding DA Greenhouse seek dormancy. True, even when temperature below freezing point water, our gardens hold communities of diverse species: soil prokaryotes, fungus, multicellular eucaryotes, perennial botanicals including Lavandula. As lavender is a favorite, students in French classes have germinated many of the organisms that grow in variety of niches around greenhouse. Although garden habitat varies, lavender prefers full sun, occasional lime and then even poor soils will get it growing. One reason lavender is favorite, its long enduring fragrance when cuttings taken. The predominant lavender stock cultures are in garden SW of greenhouse. This space is next to a pair of four year old balsam firs, just north of chamomile and medicinal hyssop tea patch, begun by Ella Peoples. Botanical resources available for the respectful harvesting for aesthetic enjoyment.
Now cut back for dormancy, echinacea with health offerings is dominant genus of garden NW, a space that’s partially shaded in growing season late afternoons. Further north by Gordie’s East overlooking turtle habitat, Rudbeckia planted by APES grows among the partially buried maple logs students inoculated with Granoderma (Reshi) and Trametes (TurkeyTail) mycelia. The decomposers, essentially ubiquitous, are necessary for breakdown remains of good harvests past; the tomatoes, peppers and broccoli tended by young McVaugh’s steady small steps strutting through rows past summer. But now is time for catabolism of biomass from veggies, flowers and leaves on compost piles that will resource future growth.
Asparagus and Garlic, Two Dormant Garden Plants, Inspire Ferment
Herein lies opportunity to prepare food delicacy for New Year’s and spend time learning cellular biology. Consider first the energy sources of two organisms: oxygen breathing human and anerobic bacteria (lactobacillus). Both organisms use glycolysis to transform energy from food. Obtained from food is glucose, then when reacted with the electron acceptor NAD+ and ADP, chemical conversion creates products ATP, NADH and pyruvate (energy still stored chemical bonds). As adept tool building problem solvers, humans at DA grow asparagus and garlic in what are now dormant winter gardens. Given the dormant season, reacting grocer obtained garlic and asparagus in salt water for two weeks at room temperature produces fermented foods, whereby organisms of genus Lactobacillus (some 80 fermenting species known), that are present naturally on veggies, anaerobically ferment, producing lactate. Unlike human aerobic metabolism, Lactobacillus are inefficient with their food, extracting only two ATPs per glucose. These forward reactions producing pyruvate and two ATPs exhaust the supply of NAD+, now reduced to NADH, limiting additional ATP synthesis. An adaptation by Lactobacillus allows for pyruvate to be reduced to lactate, (lactic acid fermentation) as it reestablishes reagent pool (NAD+) necessary for making ATP from glucose. Beyond increasing the NAD+ concentration in cellular Lactobacillus, fermentation reduces pH of environment (lactate acidity) which is beneficial for preventing potential pathogen growth. A grandfather of immunology, E. Metchnikoff (1845-1919), proposed that the extended lifespan of people in Balkans is partially attributable to their rich intake of probiotic fermented foods.
So if, for a couple of weeks, garlic and asparagus are paired in jar of salt water, pickling produces products, that if eaten, metabolized, get released in urine and can be sensed from pee. Oh, the question words, why, how, who?! Maybe, remember from bio books that an important vertebrate waste product is nitrogen: in fish it’s passed as ammonia, bird’s uric acid, human’s urea. Asparagus, named for high content of aspartic acid (recall the amino acid), contains another acid that’s unique to it, asparagusic (C4H6O2S2). Although not mechanistically clear here, sulfur, when free from bonds broken with asparagusic acid, enzymatically collides (proper energy, orientation) with carbon atom containing methane-type molecules, producing odiferous thiols, like methanethiol (H3CSH), that get flushed by consumers of the photoautotrophs, along with urea. One last thing: not all humans smell the stinky asparagus induced thiols, as molecular structure in olfactory receptors varies genetically in populations. If you’re curious, single nucleotide polymorphisms exist that distinguish alleles for asparagus induced thiol sensing receptors from alleles encoding non-thiol sensing receptors. Garlic, asparagus, sulfur and gas, maybe these are just a few fitting products for a 2020 that is an experience for all.
Recipe: ferment garlic & asparagus
. Wash and cut asparagus at length, peal garlic and fill into jar.
. Make 2.5% salt solution: Dissolve 25g NaCl (10g = ½ TBSP) into 1L warm water.
. When cool, add solution, fill jar, weigh asparagus down to remain under brine using fermenting weight.
. Cover jar with clean cloth and rubber band and set in cool dark place, 1-2 weeks.
. After fermentation you may note that asparagus color fades but flavor improves. Also, your brine will develop a harmless, edible white film (remove the developing yeast if you like). Avoid any black or green mold that could develop. Share, enjoy with others as complemented by vegetables, cheese, bread.