It’s a Shiit(ake) Show Around Here

It was just another day at home when Andy and I, for some reason that now slips my mind, decided we needed to grow mushrooms on our property for four reasons:

  1. We can
  2. We enjoy tasty food
  3. We enjoy growing tasty food
  4. We enjoy growing tasty food that is easy and we don’t have to weed/constantly tend to

After a brief discussion, and for reasons listed in bullets 1-4 above, we settled on shiitakes. I finally bit the purchase-the-spores-bullet when I was walking around the indoor farmers market at Fort Andross Mill in Brunswick and came across North Spore Mushrooms. It seemed like as good of a time as any other to go ahead and buy some shiitake plugs. Then, they sat in the house for about a month before we finally inoculated the logs this weekend.

The guy at North Spore Mushrooms told me to read the website on how to properly inoculate mushroom logs. So, obviously, I didn’t.

I’m normally on top of this type of stuff but not this time. This time I read the general process and off we went. Here is our process. It is, by all accounts, only partially correct. Our best guess is that we’ll still end up with some shiitakes. We’ll probably end up with some other kind of fungus too if we’re being completely honest. Should this go well we will likely do some more logs in different types of mushrooms because you know, we’re wild and crazy.

Shitake Innoculation (2)

Step 1:

Cut down a fresh oak tree that is crooked and being crowded out, thus giving the bigger trees more nutrients and room to grow that are not longer being taken up by the tiny crooked tree. Don’t take any photos of this process because you’re at Target and have no idea the process has started .Pat yourself on the back in hindsight, even though you had nothing to do with it, for supporting sustainable forest management. 

Step 2:

Cut tree into 2-4 foot log segments. Again, do not take any photos because you are now driving home from Target still completely unaware you are about to walk into a mushroom inoculation activity.

Step 3:

Realize you don’t have any beeswax on hand, but hey you’re a soap maker so you must have something you can use. Candelilla wax is a good substitute. Except that it gets super hard, super fast, and will probably just crack off all together in the cold weather. Regardless, melt a bunch of candelilla wax in a double boiler – also known as a cheap pot and a tin can you were going to recycle.

Shitake Innoculation (3)

Remind yourself to purchase cheese wax so you can go back outside and recover all of the plugs. Promptly forget.

Step 4:

Drill a bunch of holes, completely randomly but at least 3 inches apart or so, into the logs to a specific depth and width that you should probably know, but you don’t. In turn, rely on your iPhone and your husbands handy skills to know how to do it based on the size of the mushroom plug.

Shitake Innoculation (5)

Step 5:

Place a plug in each hole and hammer it in. Make sure the plug is flush with the log or even counter-set just a little bit.

Shitake Innoculation (7)

Step 5:

Go in the house and get your wax. Carefully bring it outside while trying not to tip the tin can over and get melted candelilla wax everywhere. Swear to yourself once again to remember to buy cheese wax. Forget within thirty seconds. After your wax is at the site – where it should have been from the beginning – start trying to put wax that is rapidly hardening onto each plug with a paint brush. Give up with the paint brush and start putting it on with your fingers. Try to find all of the plugs before the wax completely hardens, instead of waxing over as each plug went in so you knew exactly where they were. Plugs blend really well with bark as it turns out.

Shitake Innoculation (8)Shitake Innoculation (9)Shitake Innoculation (1)Step 6:

Crib those logs up. Shitake Innoculation (10)

Step 7:

Wait and see what happens. Remind yourself while writing this to buy cheese wax and go fix the issues. Make a mental note not to forget the mental note, but do not proactively actually write it down.

Now, just wait for science to take over. Thank God for nature and it’s processes, because it clearly has it’s shiit(ake) together way more than I do.

xo,

Heather

A New Porch, A Garden Downscale, and A Kitchen On The Way

Last year Andy cut down cedar on his mom’s property for the porch we needed to finish. We then brought the cedar home, milled it out, stacked it, and turned it into decking. I’m of course using the marital “we” because it was 99.99% all Andy.

Here’s the kicker, I took photos of Andy turning the lumber into random width, plantation grown, decking. I cannot for the life of me find them though. So what you get are finished photos instead.

June 2015 House Updates (3)June 2015 House Updates (5)It’s a pretty great view, and the porch creates a little wind tunnel from the field to the road. It’s perfect for sitting on because the almost perpetual light breeze helps keep the black flies and mosquitoes away. We’d call it intentional, but it definitely wasn’t. We’ve already had a few “porch parties” with small family gatherings on it, as well as dinners outside etc.

Andy really wasn’t sure if he was going to start the kitchen first or finish the porch, and I have to say that I at first pushed for the kitchen. Once again, Andy had it right. Having this porch is SO nice, and it’s going to make a nice retreat when the kitchen and everything else is completely torn apart.

Speaking of “completely torn apart” we are getting there on the other side of the house. The windows have come in, and the siding…well, it looks like this:

June 2015 House Updates (2)Propped up is the new door that is going to the right of the current door, which will lead into the new mudroom. I don’t really have much else to say beyond that, so let’s awkwardly segway into the last big to do here…

..we’re not growing a garden this year.

I know, I know. This is hard to even wrap ones head around, let alone mine. Essentially it came down to three factors, first and most important, the soil needs to rest because it became too weedy so it’s now covered in black plastic for the summer; two, we’re renovating; three, I’m in graduate classes until August. Between the soil needs, and our schedules, it was one of the hardest calls ever not to grow the majority of our own food this summer.

Thankfully, we live in Maine where CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are rampant. We’ll be getting one this year through Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, Maine. We’re looking forward to see what comes our way, and we’re hoping it will help keep our diets on track while the house is ripped apart. We have a new grill (you can sort of see it on the deck in the photo above) that has a side burner as well. The plan right now is to cook up big batches of rice and beans at the beginning of the week, and then grill veggies all week long. This will allow us to have quick, delicious and healthy dinners which will help both our budget and our waistlines.

If you thought we weren’t growing ANY food however, you would be wrong.

June 2015 House Updates (1)Troy did indeed come out this year once again. We tilled a small patch behind our blueberries and planted some butternut squash, summer squash, zucchinis, and cucumbers. Then, behind another stone wall we planted basil. In the garden area we do have about 100 feet of garlic, as well as our asparagus. That’s all we’re doing for vegetables, but we have more fruit going this year. We expanded our blueberry and strawberry beds because they are getting large and spreading fast. It’s perfect! We even added some more blueberries this year, two more grape plants, and six elderberry plants.

Then there are the herbs. Like I’m going go go through a summer without a sufficient planting of herbs. Knowing we didn’t have anymore planting space, I bought a huge planter and now my herbs are right on my deck.

June 2015 House Updates (6)Overall it’s been a good spring and summer, now if I can only remember to keep my camera on me. If I ever find the photos of Andy turning the lumber into decking, I’ll post it here. As you can imagine, it was a load of work (understatement), and I’d love to be able to show you all how it went!

All for now,

Heather

Letting The Garden Fallow

I thought this post was scheduled to go up last week, but it wasn’t. This is what happens when vacation brain kicks in. Without further ado, a new post.

—————

August is a big month for us around the house. It’s my last full month before another graduate class starts, but it’s also the month we harvest a significant portion of produce from our gardens and start planning next summers garden.

2014BlueberriesExcept, next year, there won’t be a garden. At least not in the same format that we’ve had our six gardens in the last seven years we’ve lived here. Here’s why: the soil. I’ve found the most important part of gardening is learning to read the soil. This is something I’m still learning every year with every garden we have. It’s a science and an art. The soil tells me just about everything I need to know about my garden, and this year it’s screaming for mercy. We do crop rotations (i.e. planting a nitrogen fixer where the previous year was a nitrogen feeder) for both insect infestation control and soil management. I care a lot about our soil as it’s own living structure and don’t believe in perpetually placing synthetic petroleum based amendments, or even organic, to force it to continue to produce when it’s so clearly needing some rest.

This year we’ve had a pretty intense weed struggle, more so than any other year to date. The weeds are OUT OF HAND.

DSC_1249-01This is the same side of the garden we had the worst trouble getting anything to grow before the weeds announced themselves. Take a look in the bottom left corner. Those are basil plants. It’s the one area I’ve managed to keep a little bit weed free. Those basil plants should be double the size they are, and they almost haven’t changed size at all since being planted. The other side of the garden also has basil plants which are doing fabulous. Along with the better basil, the rest of the garden is growing healthy and with minimal soil pests, so we’re happy about that. Still, the weeds need some serious control throughout, not just in the horrendous “I give up” patch above.

DSC_1247-01After six gardens in the same (but slightly expanding every year) plot, we’re going to do a controlled fallow of the garden. Our plan is to use black plastic to starve most of the weeds, but we’re still going to plant some items through the black plastic like garlic and potentially tomatoes. We’ll be building a bean fence or tent somewhere else in the yard, and we’ll use another 2×40 ft bed we have to grow squash, cuc’s and some greens in. We’ll figure out the rest for the things like cabbage, radishes, broccoli, basil, etc. Perhaps raised beds somewhere else, perhaps another garden plot, who knows.

Here is, more or less, the proposed fallow plan:

  1. Prior to tilling the garden this fall, take soil core samples and send them to the University of Maine for soil testing to get an accurate reading. This has needed to be done for years. It’s about time.
  2. Spread manure and compost on the garden and till the entire plot.
  3. Cover the entire garden in black plastic.
  4. Cut slits in the black plastic and plant garlic in the side of the garden with the least weed damage.
  5. Early spring pull up the black plastic over the asparagus patch and heavily mulch with mulch straw or second cutting hay from the previous year.
  6. Hope for a hot spring and cook the garden until late May, early June.
  7. Repeat for a second year if needed.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a large beautiful garden filled with food in the back yard. However, taking care of the soil is vitally important or there won’t ever be food growing there again in any kind of quality or quantity. It will be nice to get more of our land into production anyway, and this is the perfect issue to force us into it. As for right now though, this beautiful August month in Maine, we’re going to keep harvesting, weeding, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

DSC_1228-01Heck, worst comes to worst, we join a CSA for the summer to supplement our smaller garden. We’ll get to try veggies that we potentially don’t grow yet while also supporting a local farm. I’ll call this a win-win.

xo,

Heather

 

Let The 2014 Garden Begin

Hey, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and aren’t too hung over/tired/burnt this morning! We stayed home this Memorial Day weekend but have started and done so much. Renovations are back in the swing, and so of course is the garden. Speaking of the garden, I realized I’ve barely written about it this year!

This past growing season confirmed to me that I really wanted to get serious about growing some of my own seeds. In the past I’ve tried winter sowing, but I had decided it wasn’t for me. After lots of research on different methods I decided I wanted to go with soil blocking. It’s literally what it sounds like, creating blocks of soil and starting seeds in those blocks. There’s a lot of great soil blocking material online so I won’t write a ton about the method, but good places to start are to search “Eliot Coleman soil blocking” and to check out Johnny Seeds, which is where I got my soil blocker. Personally I don’t do mini soil blockers, I stuck with 2″ and then moved up to pots for the items (like tomatoes) that needed to be potted up eventually.

DSC_0380-01First was deciding what we wanted to start from seed, what seeds we wanted to direct sow once it got warm enough, and what started seeds we still wanted to buy from our local green house. I knew hands down we were going to start tomato seeds. I really felt I could grow stronger plants by transplant time, but I also wanted more control over the varieties I grew. Beyond tomatoes I wasn’t positive what I would do. In the end I went with tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, celeriac and tomatillo’s. I’ve yet to see how the cabbage, cauliflower and tomatillo’s do and if they’ll be big enough to transplant anytime soon (pictured above). They also got a bit leggy since I forgot to turn my grow light on for two days. Oops. The celery, celeriac, and tomatoes all have done very well. The broccoli I’m not sure what to think of. It looks okay, but it suffered a little after potting it up. I’m not sure if it will do well once it get into the garden so I’m just crossing my fingers.

DSC_0341-01 DSC_0342-01Outside of soil blocking, we have a lot going on in the garden already. So far we have peas, cylindra beets, red ace beets, peas, garlic, onions, and as of yesterday, eighteen of the twenty-eight tomato plants!

DSC_0347-01 DSC_0350-01 DSC_0353-01 DSC_0355-01 DSC_0356-01We also expanded our asparagus patch with the asparagus I bought at the Fedco Tree Sale. Our patch was about 1 ft. by 2 ft. and it’s now about 4×4 which is a pretty good size. To plant  I first air dried the crowns for about twenty-four hours to get any storage mold dried, built the trenches, laid in the crows and covered with soil. We already have a few sprigs showing up from this year, but we won’t pick them. The second and third year asparagus has been delicious, while we’ve let the one year old asparagus go to seed.

DSC_9684 DSC_9697-01 DSC_9714-01 DSC_9731-01DSC_9694-01DSC_0345-01In the other areas of the yard I decided to transplant the strawberries to go in with the blueberries. I figured the acidic soil would be better, it would keep all of our fruit in one area, and it would allow me to build a 2×40 bed behind one of our stone walls to move our squash into as part of a crop rotation plan. At first I was worried the strawberries weren’t going to make it. Turns out though, weeks later, they are thriving in their new home. I really think the change in soil was perfect for them.

DSC_9701-01 DSC_9705-01DSC_0361-01Beyond strawberries the deer got at our blueberry and raspberries this winter since it was so harsh. I really wasn’t sure our new raspberry vine made it but sure enough, it did! Along with the raspberries, the blueberries and rhubarb are also in bloom. I’ve cropped the rhubarb pretty heavily already, but it’s still going.

DSC_0357-01 DSC_0363-01 DSC_0367-01 DSC_0370-01 DSC_0372-01We also expanded our orchard to include two peach trees and two more apple trees. Andy had the great idea of keeping one of the apple trees by the stone wall where the blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are. While all of them are doing good, the one by the stone wall seems to be doing best. There must be something about the soil around that wall, because everything seems to thrive over there.

DSC_0373-01If it seems like a lot has been going on around here, you’d be right! Thankfully I have my new handy broad fork to thank for a lot of the work in the garden. We originally tilled the entire lot, but as I’ve needed beds I’ve been aerating with the broad fork. Unlike tilling it helps keep the nutrients deep in the soil and also doesn’t expose weed seeds—a big issue we’ve been battling for a while now. This no-engine, no mechanics, simple piece of steel equipment is absolutely my favorite gardening tool I own.

DSC_9689-01In the end, that’s what’s been going on so far! Since spring is a bit behind I decided to wait until next weekend to buy the rest of the seedlings and direct sow most of the plants. I might put in the celery and broccoli this week, but I’ll be playing it by mother-natures ear. It’s a ton to do, but so far, so good.

One last thing, I’ve already been canning! This is our first year with rhubarb growing on our property and I realized it was a use it or lose it moment. Sunday I scoured my Ball Company canning recipe book and found one for Victorian Barbecue Sauce using rhubarb. Over all it’s a really unique sauce and pretty darn tasty. I ended up with four small jars and enough left over to use on the pork tenderloin we had last night for dinner.

10401791_310803725740660_785031501_nBesides all of this, the first week of graduate school is done! Only seven more weeks of this class to go and then an eight-week break until the next session! Thank goodness too, because that will be prime gardening time!

xo,
Heather

 

My First Time

We all remember our first time. You’re excited but nervous. You have an idea of what to expect from what you’ve been told, but you don’t really know what you’re in for. You’ve heard it can last a while, and you’ve heard it can be quick. So, you excitedly take a deep breath, and let it out. This is happening.

Then, you load the dogs into your hatchback Saab, make sure you have your sales slip, and head up the highway to the glory land. The Fedco tree sale awaits you.

The huge two weekend event every year draws a very large crowd, with the first weekend reserved for those who pre-order trees. I had ordered two peach trees for our mini-orchard all the way back in December. This was the year I was going to go up there. This was the year I was going to see what everyone had been talking about years before me. Was it really as great as they said? It must be. My hopes were high. Since I had ordered trees early, I also got first chance at the cream of crop trees, bushes, and other goods before it was opened to the general public.

IMG_9378That friday morning just a few weeks ago I piled myself and two dogs into my hatchback, with no idea what was coming my way. I had a general idea everything would fit. It took a bit of finagling though when I not only picked up the two peach trees, but opted to buy 25 asparagus crowns, a  Honey Crisp apple tree, and a McIntosh apple tree. Will power got the best of me that day, thankfully. Common sense was not lost as I left beautiful cherry trees, blueberries, pear trees, and a huge variety of a hundred other glorious items where they lay. Thankfully so too, because Primrose wasn’t too happy with me as is.

IMG_9379As it were, Winnie was in the front seat, and Rosie laid right behind the passenger side on my comfy coat but most assuredly giving me the side-eye the entire time. I laughed when I ended up accidentally snagging this photo of Winnie while trying to get a photo of the cramped quarters. It looks like she’s yelling at me for the space issues. While it doesn’t look cramped in the photo I can guarantee you that there were four trees, particularly the apple trees, touching from the back of the trunk all the way past the rear view mirror with an inch to spare.

IMG_9380After leaving the tree sale I decided I wanted to grab some copper fungicide at their other warehouse and ended up stumbling into my version of heaven. I found where they keep all the potato stock. To be truthful I just wanted to eat them since I’m a carb loving broad. No one told me there would be potatoes my first time. No one told me there would be potatoes.

IMG_9382I also ended up meandering over to the seed warehouse where I bought some things in a haze. I remember buying peas, but I couldn’t tell you everything else I bought off the top of my head. I know I managed to get out with only about four packs of seeds though after thoroughly reminding myself about all the Johnny Select Seeds I had previously ordered that were waiting for me at home.

IMG_9383A few weeks after digesting everything, let me tell you the truth from the other side.

The Fedco tree sale is everything I had ever been told, and more. Aside from everything I’ve mentioned already, the people were just so incredibly nice. As far as patrons, every type of person was there. There were small gardeners, to people who just wanted a nice tree for their yard, to small homesteaders like myself, to legit farmers who I have an intense respect for. Their wealth of knowledge is staggering.

If you have never been to the Fedco tree sale, go. Order a tree so you can get in that first weekend, and just go. Get there early in the morning on the opening Friday and you’ll have plenty of time and space to take it all in.

Go slow. Enjoy it. Don’t rush. It will be worth the wait.

xo,
Heather