Saturday, June 30, 2018

Expanding Mushroom Production

It's been awhile since I've made a blog entry: nothing much new to write about - I've harvested the same crops, split and put away the same size wood for burning in our stove and cared for critters through the long winter, bubbling the pond to keep fish alive. Maple sugaring went the same as other years.

Gathering wood, though, this year was different: a pinched nerve in my leg prevents me from carrying logs out of the woods so we got a delivery of logs, eight cords worth. It's been more than a decade since I've had to order logs so I wasn't prepared for the volume of chainsaw shavings in one place!
Log delivery
The largest logs are four feet in diameter!

Working through the pile reduced about 3% to chainsaw chips.

What to do with up to 4 inches of chips? Mulch? Or Something else?

To fit 8 cords into the space reserved for it, firewood had to be stacked higher than ever: to 16 feet and touching the roof!
I started using the chainsaw chips to mulch garlic but received an ad from our mushroom spawn supplier that Wine Cap mushrooms grow well in wood chips. I ordered two 5.5 pound packages of 
spawn in sawdust that would populate a cubic yard of wood chips. During a rare rain I spread the chainsaw shavings under an apple tree in a ten by ten foot square area, five inches deep. After sprinkling 11 pounds of Wine Cap mushroom spawn over this, I raked it deep into the chip bed and added another few inches of fresh chips. This bed I covered with a few inches of fresh hay to keep it moist. Luckily we received another quarter inch of rain that night to keep the bed watered. I'll have to water it whenever we don't get an inch of rain per week. This has been the driest spring in memory and the water table is quite low compared to other years.

I also ordered 11 pounds of Almond Agaricus mushroom spawn that grows in compost. Over a few decades we've been piling many, many wheelie bins of weeds and discarded flower trimmings in a pile that has grown four feet high and a few hundred square feet in area. Though the top is covered in vines, the rest has been reduced to fine compost that only has to be sifted through a quarter inch mesh to eliminate stones and sticks. Last fall we also collected a few cubic yards of composted horse manure form our neighbor that we also sifted and added to the "weed" compost in case it wasn't rich enough for mushrooms, since it has had Virginia creeper continuously growing on it for years. Because this mushroom variety is cold sensitive, in the greenhouse I built a 52 by 36 inch stainless steel tray (13 square feet), six inches deep, to keep it intact and free from varmints. The materials came from very old solar collector prototypes that I reworked into a rodent-proof tray.

Sheet metal tray before adding sifted compost

Five inches deep sifted mulch with holes punched at six inch spacing to receive 11 pounds of Almond Agaricus mushroom spawn
The compost had to be made very moist (so drops of water came out when squeezed in a fist). After covering the spawn with compost, I covered it with a few inches of grass mulch and sprayed water to keep it moist. I'll have to do this every day or two to help the spawn thrive. It's possible to grow a crop in this tray while the mushrooms develop and I'll probably add an array of fancy lettuce that also requires lots of water and will shade the bed.

If all goes well, in September we'll have two new kinds of mushrooms to harvest!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Processing Tomatoes

Summer has been cool so tomatoes are ripening later than usual. We plant about 100 tomato plants so that we can process what we need in large batches. We share early and later harvests when there are fewer. This year we were running low on soup stock, tomato sauce and ketchup so tackled replenishing these.
Floradade Tomatoes Ripening Nicely But Leaves Drying Up
Super Roma Tomatoes Producing Well But Leaves Also Withering
Sauce Tomatoes: 2017
We use a Squeezo food processor to separate tomato pulp from seeds and skin. It takes a whole day each to pick a few bushels of tomatoes, manually grind them through the Squeezo, decant and preserve the "tomato plasma", add spices to the sauce and ketchup and can them, clean the equipment and feed what we don't use to the Guinea fowl. This year's totals: 22 quarts of tomato sauce, 31 pints of ketchup and 65 quarts of soup stock. 

Squeezo Processor With Sliced Tomatoes Placed in Funnel, Juice and Pulp Slide Down the Chute and Seeds/skin Comes Out the End

Squeezo Closeup From a Different Angle

Bowl Full of Tomato Skins and Seeds But With Some Pulp

Second Squeezing of Above, Now Much Drier and a Third the Volume
It takes only half an hour to cook these because we separate the plasma from the pulp using a colander which we try to float in the sauce. To keep it from sinking, we bail out the clear liquid that leaks through the holes in the colander. This process does steal some of the garlic, onion and basil flavors from the sauce  but delivers them in the soup stock. We make the ketchup after separating the plasma so that soup stock is pure tomato juice.
The Colander We Found That Works Best for Bailing Soup Stock from Sauce
We use a canning technique that uses a small amount of water in a pan covered by a jar support plate with holes. When the water boils, steam envelopes the jars and exits through two small holes in the lid. We steam these acidic products for 15 minutes once steam exits the lid. 
Canning Technique Where Water Boils under the Plate that Holds the Jars and the Cover Traps Steam to Envelop the Jars.

Difference: Ladled the Left Quart While Tomato Sauce Was Boiling. Right Ladled Out of the Colander With No Boiling (Steam Bubbles Pumps Some Pulp Through the Colander Holes)  

First Batch (18 Quart Pot) of Soup Stock and Tomato Paste (5:3 Ratio)

First Batch of Soup Stock and Ketchup (12 Quarts: 12 Pints or 2:1 Because Vinegar Is Added to Make Ketchup)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mid Summer Harvest

We spent almost two weeks in California visiting our two week old grandson and his family. Although a few folk looked after our animals and were encouraged to pick veggies from our gardens, we were overwhelmed by what we still had to pick. Summer squash outdid themselves this cool, moist summer and there were over 100 pounds waiting. Four of the Italian zucchini were hiding and grew so large that we're letting them fully ripen so we can harvest their seeds.
Summer Squash Row Harvest
Squash and Cuke Harvest from the Bean Tunnel
Italian Zucchini Growing Through the Fence
Early Tomatoes 
Greenhouse Harvest Included Guinea Fowl and Hen Eggs
Purple Pole Beans and Sweet Hungarian Peppers with Cupcake
Of course we can't eat or preserve all this food so we donate most of it to a homeless shelter, 127 pounds this week. When tomato production peaks in a week or two we'll process them into sauce, ketchup, soup stock and bags of sun dried slices. 
Pears Showing Surface Cracking

 Pears and early apples are disappointing. We missed peak ripeness period of our early apple tree and most of the fruit had fallen and was not suitable for cider. We will make a few pies with these but we have applesauce left over from earlier years so we don't need to make more. We will make pear cider in a few weeks when they mature and hope cracking doesn't hurt the taste.
Overripe Apples on the Ground

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ocean & Beach Mobile

This spring our pregnant daughter asked me to carve a wood mobile for her new little one because commercial ones were primarily made of plastic and fabric. At the time I was learning how to carve birds out of wood and welcomed the challenge. My target for completing the figures was our older daughter's May birthday because she is a wonderful realistic life painter and I'm not. So we shipped 15 figures in early May to give her a few months to paint and ship them to California when the baby arrives.
An Eagle and Owl with Wire Legs and Talons
The Set of Wood Figures Sent for Painting
Closeup of Isa, a Cattle Dog, Our Daughter's Long Time Companion
My first choice was to dangle the figures under a large octopus but both my wife and our new grandson's mom thought this too scary. So we settled on using a tree branch that worked out quite well.
The Octopus I Was Going to Hang the Figures From
Penguin and Clown Fish, Painted

The Owl

A Snow Goose

An Orca

A Bald Eagle

A Seal and Isa

Turtle, Seahorse and Starfish

A Beagle: Added for Wordplay with toddlers (mistaking it for a seagull or eagle)
 The above photos show straightened fishhooks used to hold the figures while painting. A few of the birds kept these so they maintained their orientation. The rest of the fishhooks were removed and replaced with swivels that are easy to attach to fishing tackle snaps with an additional swivel so the figures can be oriented in specific directions. The figures are robust and can be readily handled and their positions switched, then pointed in an appropriate direction.
Outdoor View of Completed Mobile

Mobile Over Crib
Added Shark and Two Salmon Showing That Figures Are Mounted on Barrel Swivel with Snap so They Can Be Removed for Play and Reoriented Appropriately

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Garlic Harvest: 2017

When green garlic leaves fade to brown, it's time to harvest them. It's important to get them out of the ground before tops get too weak to help pull the roots out. Also, as the leaves fade, organisms start eating away the membranes that cover the cloves, exposing these gems to soil. Although dirt readily washes off, bulbs are much fancier wrapped in colorful membrane layers. Also, it's only possible to braid garlic together if the leaves are strongly attached.
Garlic Bed with Parsley Growing Between Rows
Another View Showing Green Garlic Leaves Turning Brown

This year it took six hours to collect about 200 pounds of garlic and stack them exposed to air to cure them. The bulbs must be oriented separately from the leaves so they dry quickly without starting to make "compost". Our new wagon seems to be an ideal tool for curing because the mesh bed allows air to circulate.

Wagon Full of Garlic, Stacked So Bulbs Are Exposed to Air
Knowing that garlic is harvested before the end of July, in early June I broadcast parsley seeds all over the garlic patch. It's now growing very well and by September will be ready for freezing packets of parsley pesto. Last fall the garlic was planted through inches of leaves and other mulch. This spring, some garlic sprouts needed help getting through the larger leaves. Today the mulch has disappeared, processed away primarily by worms, but there was enough left in June to successfully germinate parsley seeds.
Parsley Now Without Competition from Garlic
This year has been cool and wet so garlic scapes didn't appear until later in June. We picked them as soon as they appeared so that the plants' energy goes into the cloves.
Fifteen Pounds of Scapes from the Above Garlic Bed

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Starting Well

One spring planting goal is to get major crops in the ground by the first day of summer. We have three staggered plantings of sweet corn, more than 100 each of tomatoes and peppers, Swiss chard, onions, basil, cucumbers, beans, winter and summer squash, kale sugar snap peas, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, okra and salad items. So far only one tragedy: over 100 basil plants were eaten by some critter the day after they were transplanted! Luckily we have two additional beds with better fences that are growing well. Deer browse our tomatoes and peas, but we have more than enough for sharing.
Asparagus Sprouting

Asparagus are our first vegetable harvest in spring and lasts through early June. Our next harvest is rhubarb that we make into pies. At this time our Guinea fowl also start to lay eggs so we have lots to for custard to incorporate the rhubarb chunks. 
Rhubarb Pie
One trick I use to prompt judicious planting is to soak seeds for 24 hours and then moisten them a few times a day until they sprout. This gives them leg up since they don't have to absorb moisture from the soil. It also insures that only viable seeds get planted. And planted in the order they sprout! Keeping the array of cups with a moistened seeds by the coffee machine, prompts me to check them at least three times a day when I brew cups. Most of our favorite Zucchino Rampicante seeds we saved from last summer's crop didn't sprout. Luckily we still had a few mature fruit in the cellar so we processed the largest one and its seeds grew! We also had to make lots of pies and squash meals.

Cups of Seeds Waiting to Sprout

The Seed Cavity of the Above Squash

One Zucchini Pie
Another sign of spring: when it gets hot, our dog melts and hides deep in the garage, lying on the cool concrete floor. We then know it's time to shave her. Though she reluctantly puts up with the noise of the clipper, she's overjoyed when it's over and she zips around, rolling over and over in the cool grass. She now follows me around but takes advantage of shade when I work in sunny gardens.
Belle, Half-shaved

Our Dog, Belle, Happily Sporting Her "Lion" Cut

Some of Belle's Hair to be Made into Yarn One Day
Shiitake mushrooms are another sign of spring: after a heavy rain, they bolt out of the oak logs we inoculated the year before.
Shiitake Mushrooms Growing out of Oak Logs

Many Pounds of Harvested Shiitake Mushrooms
A few weeks later, oyster mushrooms begin sprouting out of their ash-leaved maple logs.
Oyster Mushrooms 1

Oyster Mushrooms 2
As soon as summer begins, garlic scapes pop out the top of each plant. We incorporate them into many meals, chop them for freezing but donate most to a homeless shelter. We have so many garlic bulbs on the way that store well without taking room in the freezer so we don't need to preserve many scapes.
Broccoli and Garlic Scapes for Dinner!

Broccoli and Scape Curry With Rice

First Garlic Scape Harvest: 15 Pounds, 10 to a Homeless Shelter