Using Whey in the Garden

Like, most home cheese makers I’m always in the pursuit of productive ways to use up that plentiful cheese byproduct – whey. After making a hard cheese you have roughly 2 gallons of whey – that’s a substantial amount to try an use! A great solution is to put your whey to work in your yard or garden as either a plant enhancer or killer.

As many of you probably already know, whey is acidic. In the garden this can be helpful or harmful depending on what kind of plants you have. Acid loving plants can benefit greatly from a whey amendment (i.e. pour whey around the base of the plant.) Essentially your acidifying the soil. In fact, some plants require acidic soil to thrive. If you’ve ever planted or tried to grow a blueberry bush, you probably acidified the soil in the desired location before you planted it. If plants that require acid do not have the proper soil ph they can fail to thrive or  become sickly. In addition to blueberries, pine trees, azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas all prefer acidic soil and can benefit from whey. Hydrangeas are the most noticeably affected by whey as the blooms become a bright beautiful blue with sufficient acid. To do this, pour the whey on the soil around your plant where the roots would be. Don’t get it on, or to close to, the plant itself, as this may damage delicate plants. Don’t go overboard, and do it too often, as  too much acid can be just as bad as too little. If you’re in doubt about a specific plant or overloading on the acid, I’d advise doing some research and ph testing your soil.

Whey can also be a great organic plant killer. For neutral or alkaline soil dwellers, whey can sufficiently affect the soil ph to make it inhospitable to the point of death (there’s more chemistry, microorganisms, etc. to it, but I’m not a horticulturalist.) All you do is pour the whey directly on and around the plants you want to kill. The effect might not be be immediately noticeable (after all, we’re talking about whey, not Roundup), but with enough applications you can kill a lot plants. First plants will change to a yellow color – that means it’s working. They will continue to look more sickly and weak if you keep adding whey. Hardy weeds might not be killed completely but they will be greatly weakened and stop spreadingI have a spot in my backyard between my fence and the neighbor’s that is very weed prone but difficult to get at, so I’ve  been whey bombing it. I grow veggies near by so non-organic solutions are out of the question and I have a lot leftover whey, so it’s win-win (albeit a little slow.) Be careful as you pour the whey or you will become sticky where it splashes. Keep in mind you’re not just killing the plant itself, you’re also changing the ph of the soil which will affect what can and will grow there in the future.

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Hard Cider Clearing

hard cider color

All fall and winter I’ve been busy making hard cider. The photo above is my last batch for the season – 2 gallons of Honey Crisp and 2 of Granny Smith using Belgian and Bavarian yeasts, no sugar added. Three days after I added the yeast the fermentation absolutely exploded – first time I’ve had it overflow through the blow-off tube! What’s interesting, though, is the extent 3 of the 4 gallons cleared. Previously all my batches have turned out like the middle gallon. I do not rack to a secondary fermenter or  add any fining agents. Because of the extremely active fermentation I left the blow-off tubes on the three clearer gallons rather than put an airlock on. On the hazy one, I switched it to an airlock once the fermentation calmed down. Truthfully, I noticed they were clearing faster without the airlock so I left the tubes in place to see what would happen. I really like a hazy cider, but this was too interesting to pass up. I’m not exactly sure why they are so different. I  assume it has something to do with amount of oxygen/air or possibly some of the sanitizer gassing off into the tube (?). I plan on doing some investigating, but if anyone knows why this happened I’d love to hear it! I have taste tested (and bottled) all four gallons and there seems to be no noticeable difference in taste aside from the variation of yeast and apple strains. Fermentation never ceases to amaze me!

cider color 2

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