A Fungus Amongus

I have been working on this post for in my head for over a year. Not that it’s a complex topic, but the final paragraph took way longer than my impatient little self could tolerate.

Once upon a time, on a very rainy day in April 2014, some curious folks set out to grow shiitake mushrooms. At $14+/lb, this mushroom is not often what’s-for-dinner, but I love them almost as much as the elusive morel and want to invite it to my table on a regular basis.

The following is our virgin voyage into the mushroom world. If you’ve successfully grown them, feel free to advise. If you never have, pretend I’m the expert who totally knew what she was doing.

We bought our spores from Fungi Perfecti, a family-run company out of Olympia, WA. Picking a company was a crap shoot, I went with one that had solid reviews. This bag of 1,000 spores was about $30. Pretty cheap considering how much shiitake are:

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We set up operations at my sister’s house. She just loves big messes. She welcomed us with our battle cry: 20140412_131941

About a month prior, we (and when I say “we”, I mean my brother-in-law) cut some oak logs with dimensions recommended by most mushroom growing guidelines. I can’t remember what those dimensions were so you’ll have to look ’em up, but do give them 4-6 weeks to dry.

Oak logs are seriously heavy, so if you have soft arms-of-newt like I do, get yourself a burlier sort to lift them.

Oak logs are seriously heavy, so if you have soft arms-of-newt like I do, get yourself a burly sort to lift them.

Drill holes into the logs where you will plug the spores. We averaged about 70-80 holes per log:

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After pounding the spores in until they are flush with the log, seal them with melted beeswax. I am fortunate to have access to cheap beeswax from my local honey source:

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Make sure it is pissing down rain so you are cold and clammy through the entire process:

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This is the outfit I wear when it is cold and clammy. I have three lumpy layers under that windbreaker.

This is the outfit I wear when I am cold and clammy.

Seal any open gashes in the log so unintended fungi doesn't enter.

Seal any open gashes in the log so unintended fungi stay out. “Unintended fungi” is also a name for a man who wants to crash your party.

Once you drill, pound and seal, stack the logs either “log-cabin” style…

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…or lean them “teepee” style. Get them off the ground so they don’t start to rot at the bottom. This is their final home on our property, under the shade of some invasive buckthorn (f-ing buckthorn) where they still get hit by the sun and rain.

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And then you wait. And wait. And wait. After 14 months, I felt immense joy seeing these fun guys:

These guys are

These guys are “intended guests”. They will party in my belly with some butter and salt.

What would I do differently? Water the logs regularly and pay attention to the type of mushroom I buy. There are cold weather strains that might grow more quickly in my zone (4b).  Keeping the logs wet is also key; I recently read logs need at least 30% moisture at all time for growth, which I didn’t do. Recent rain, much like what was surging down on the day of their inoculation, seems to have triggered some life force.

I did talk to the logs a few times. I told them how much I loved shiitakes and that I was really, REALLY looking forward to their arrival. I’m pretty sure that’s what finally did it.

There you have it…adventures in mushroom farming. Let me know if this inspires you to set forth yourself. Definitely share your story with us.

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Clinging on to summer like a monkey to its mother

Summer is winding down here at the ol’ homestead. Yes, I say this in mid-October because despite a few cold snaps, it was almost 70 yesterday. Summer lingers. 

 Last year by this time, I was so done with gardening. This year I hug these days like a tender baby Rhesus monkey. Don’t let go. You would too if after years of fumbling you finally pulled in a wheelbarrow of honest bounty like this.

and this was just one load!

 There’s more out there. Carrots and beets still grow in the ground, kale and Brussels sprouts thrive above it. Mint has finally decided to come out of hiding after triple digits beat it down.  I am grateful. No winter is complete without chocolate mint tea.  

I am proud of my accomplishments this summer. Yes, there were some failures. The tomatillos never bore fruit. Despite their beautiful biomass, the Yin Yang (Calypso) beans only yielded 1.5 cups of food, proving why you need multiple 10 ft. rows for some crops. My Japenese Shoya cucumbers, last years’ showstopper, rotted on the vine. My bottom lip still quivers just thinking about my loss.

The drought took its toll. But it gave me that evening when I turned on the sprinkler after a particularly blistering day. I busted open a cold one two, pulled my chair into the Splash Zone and just stared at my new corner garden patch. I’m hoping none of my neighbors witnessed this, lest they realize I’m truly bats.      

aaahhhhh….

I bid a bittersweet adieu to the growing season but review it with pride. I learned quite a bit. I OD’ed on Sun Gold tomatoes.  My pepper patch has never been more successful.  

The moral of the story?  You can grow a lot on less than ½ an acre. These are not the successes of a woman frolicking through idyllic rural farmland. These are the success stories of one living smack dab in town.  Small spaces be damned. Rise to the challenge and see what you can grow.

 

What was your gardening success this year? Do you have good ideas for small gardening spaces?

Water from the sky

We try not to notice. To accept it. To be Zen.

Once we do take note, we try not to complain. What would that do? Make it worse. Can’t take it personally. It’s happening to everyone. Everyone. Think of the troops in faraway deserts. Think of starving children in Africa. Think of….and shush.  

It’s just summer, it’s just summer…..right?

It’s running a marathon. It’s holding a long, slow, deep yoga pose that you just…can’t…quite…melt into. Painful…but bearable…I can do this. Breathe. We adjust our schedules. Early mornings. After sunset. I. Will. Not. Complain.   

It’s the ongoing joke. It’s the only conversation at the Farmer’s Market. How are you? Fine..but could really use some rain. No shit? Me too.

One farmer laughs… “I’m not gardening anymore. What I’m doing is 90% irrigation..and 10% gardening.”

Most farmers stopped laughing more than two weeks ago.

If you don’t grow or garden or care, this respite into central air may have felt like cool, calm solitude. Cozying up during a long, steaming sun ray blizzard.

But if you grow food, flowers, living creatures…if you run, bike, hike, jump…

If you rely on the outdoors for sanity…

If you have children who grow, run, bike, jump…

You go…a…little…mad.

Rain, rain, rain….beautiful open tumultuous heavens. Plants sigh. Shoulders drop. Attitudes adjust. Vegetables stand to attention.

Pure, honest humility and gratitude for the power that is water.   

Hmmm…What to do when there’s a heat advisory…?

I know! I’ll go help out on the farm!

I’ll weed onions…and then help mulch…

They’re so perky because I drenched them in sweat.

I’ll heave-ho buckets of water. I’ll cough on chaff dust while learning about red worm compost. And just because I’m not completely drained of electrolytes, I’ll help dig potatoes…

Adirondack reds are THAT fuchsia.

This is what Sampson did today…

The Little Prince doth find his chambers quite comfortable

But when you don’t crouch betwixt the taters, you miss out on this…

Smart tater frog finds relief in the shade

AC and a fresh shower are my just rewards. As is having a hands-on opportunity to learn more about organic farming.

Needless to say, the Kennebecs and Adirondack reds are market-bound. I’ve seen where they live. I know how they grow.

And I pity the fool who passes them up.  

Seeds of Change

Seeds are a constant metaphor. Seeds of knowledge. Seeds of inspiration. Seeds of hope. Seeds of life burst from his quivering loins. You get the picture.

Let’s pull out of the metaphors for a bit and focus on the literal. As in, seeds that actually turn into fruits, vegetables, herbs and trees. 

Let’s start planting more of those.

In the World War era, citizens were encouraged to plant gardens. The point was to increase family sustainability so more resources could be shipped to our soldiers. Here is a great article promoting modern day Victory Gardens.

When did this local food movement shift from being a patriotic duty and become a left-leaning ideal?

Our soldiers’ needs are different now. But if more people joined this seemingly bipartisan activity, we might actually improve this globe. We may not completely solve the world’s hunger or obesity crisis that oddly coexist. But we might teach future generations how to grow fresh food by introducing the concept into our homes. We might address food deserts to a small degree. We might save a few more tanks of gas and reduce a few more carbon emissions from shipping food, on the average, 1500 miles to our tables.

We might empower local communities and individuals instead of behemoth food industries involving big government.

We might, we might, we might.

So I’ve been drooling over seed catalog porn the last few days. Every year my eyes are bigger than my gardening ability and available space. Every year I imagine this:

taken by “the hills are alive”/flickr creative commons

But end up with this:

stupid idiot beetles

But this year is different. This year I have more full sun thanks to the felling of a dangerously looming linden. I’m educating myself on organic seed that I aim to save for next year. This year, I know a little more about what I can grow (cucumbers) and what I can’t (carrots).

So if you still want metaphors, look no further. REAL seeds are tiny little packages of hope. Real seeds provide knowledge about the origins of food and the health of the soil that nourishes it. Real seeds inspire you to get outside, play in the dirt and design.

And if you want to get reproductive about it, real seeds produce a new life you commit to and nurture.   

So scrub off your black thumbs and plant some seeds. Do it to save a little grocery money. Do it for that burst of excitement you feel finding sprouts and cute little baby veges.

Do it…for your country.

victory!

There are some great resources for beginner gardeners. Here are just a few.

Planting your first vegetable garden

The Farmer’s Almanac

Tips for starting seed indoors

Seed starting simplified

Do you have any seed starting tips to share?

The bane of my existence

My mother taught me that hate is a very strong word. I had a bad habit of saying “hate” when it was not (always) warranted. As a parent and role model, I don’t go hatin’ as much as I used to. Out loud anyway.

I HATE japanese beetles. I HATE ’em. From the very core of my little being. Because I love raspberries. And those little assholes bone down in wild orgies all over my tender leaves and growing berries. Seriously, it was my child’s first lesson on mating.

I hate beetle group sex

Forget the honey badger, japanese beetle don’t care. Japanese beetle is bad ass. Ultimately, they leave my raspberry leaves in shambles. The patch deteriorates more each year.

It pains me.

So please, I would be grateful for any suggestions to rid myself of these screwing, winged hemorrhoids. But I don’t do pesticides. Yes, I am aware that’s the quickest solution, but that’s my reality. I also hate pesticides.

kickin' beetle ass

 Off to defend my territory….

Photo 1 by shaka/morguefile.com; Photo 2 by openphoto/morguefile.com