Feb 1, 2014

A Clean Start on Fodder

Fodder from one of our former runs at it.
I've tried growing fodder a couple of times, now.  I know my rabbits absolutely love it, but unfortunately, most of the times I try it, I end up with mold (a common problem).  This time, I'm going to try it by sterilizing everything and keep the environment more controlled and monitored.

If you want to learn more about fodder, Peak Prosperity is where I first read about it.  There are many other resources available online, with a few different methods.  My own method differs somewhat from the method they discuss, and I'm considering eventually going to an automated system for it once I get the kinks worked out.

Boiling jars to sterilize them.
As I've said, mold has been a problem for me before, so this time, I'm going at the whole process with a "brewer's mind," as my sweetie likes to say (he brews beer, which requires sterilized equipment).  Being a canner, myself, that's more what I like to think of it as.  Either way, the idea is to sterilize everything.

The first few times, I've soaked the seed (whole grain wheat, bought from the feed store) in plastic tubs, similar to how The Urban Rabbit Project does it (he uses margarine tubs). This time, since I'm wanting to sterilize everything, I figure it's best to use some of my canning jars, which I can boil without risking any chemicals leaching where they shouldn't be.  Just like in canning, I put clean (read: no visible residue, washed in soap and hot water) jars into hot (not boiling) water in a deep pot on the stove.  I also put some reusable jar lids in the water to sterilize.  You want the water to be at least an inch above the top of the jars.  I don't have a canning rack, otherwise I would have used it.  A canning rack will keep multiple jars from bumping into each other while the water is boiling, and also make it easier to remove them from the water when they're done.  Once the water starts into a rolling boil, start your timer.  For elevations under 1,000 feet, it only takes 10 minutes.  If you're over that, add another minute for each 1,000 feet.  So, if you're at 4,000 feet above sea level, you'll want to boil for at least 14 minutes. Extra time just means extra sterile.

Removing jar with a jar lifter.
When time's up, I removed the jars (and lids) from the water and set them aside to cool to a handleable temperature.  (For those who aren't familiar with canning, the red contraption in the picture is a jar lifter, which--if you don't have a canning rack--is the only way to remove jars from boiling water.)

Fill the jar 3/4 with seed.
Once the jars got cool enough to handle, I put the fodder seed into the jar.  I filled the jar about 3/4 of the way with seeds.  You don't want to fill all the way because the seeds will swell as they drink in the water.  I then topped off the jar with water and tiny splash of bleach.  The bleach is to kill any mold spores that might be hiding out on the seeds themselves.  Some people have used distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar, but at this point, I'm not quite ready to switch to that method.

Give the jar a good shake.
After I got the lid on the jar, I gave the whole thing a good shake to make sure it's all well-mixed and hopefully work out any bubbles of air that are still hiding in there.  From there, the jars were set aside to soak for some time.  I'm letting mine soak for 12 hours (others only do a one- or two-hour soak with bleach, and then let it soak in straight water; still others will soak for a full 24 hours).

Temperature within optimum range.
The optimum temperature for growing fodder is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  The last few times I did this, I was worried that I may have been working outside of the optimum temperature range, but I'm apparently good for this round, with temperatures hovering between 66 and 69 degrees.

In the meantime, I wanted to sterilize the trays that the seed will be going into when they're done soaking.  I'm using nursery trays bought from the local hardware store.  Other people have used organizer trays, plastic totes, disposable roasting pans, and other things.  Many people punch holes in their trays, but for the time being, I'm leaving mine as-is.

Bleaching the seedling tray.
In order to sterilize the trays, I started by scrubbing the whole thing down, inside and out, with soap and water.  After that, I poured some bleach into the tray and scrubbed the entire inside down with bleach.  Then, rinse the whole thing with hot water.

Since I'm taking extra precautions to control the growing environment and reduce the risk of mold, I then covered the tray with plastic wrap and taped it down.  If I had thought about it when I bought the trays, I should have grabbed the clear plastic lids that come with them.  At the time, I didn't think I would ever use them (oops).  The plastic wrap will keep anything from getting into the trays while we wait for the seeds to sprout.

Plastic wrap taped down to keep contaminates out.