Saturday, April 25, 2015

Planting Mushrooms

Inoculating logs with mushroom spawn is similar to starting seeds indoors for planting outdoors when danger of frost is over. Both require procuring growing media, tending nursery beds of growing organisms until they are ready to take off on their own, and lots of watering. This year we are trying a more challenging variety than oyster mushrooms that we've grown successfully for a few years. Oyster mushrooms grow in a much wider variety of soft hardwoods, including trees that commonly grow around here: popular, ash, willow and many "weed" varieties. This fungus aggressively colonizes these woods and out competes fungi that are commonly found in these logs. This year we will use a large ash-leaved maple for producing golden oysters. For growing the more difficult to grow shiitake mushrooms, a friend brought us a pickup truck full of red oak logs, the best medium for growing this hardwood loving variety.

Although we placed our popular logs on corrugated cardboard to prevent soil organisms from competing with the oyster mushroom spawn we used, two years later there are shelf fungi emerging from many of the logs. To prevent this from happening this year, we are placing our logs on old two inch thick solar panels that have an aluminum skin to keep them elevated above the ground. We have kept the bark very clean, minimizing any contact with soil. Within a few days of harvest, the cut ends of the logs and limb nubs have been coated with latex paint both to conserve moisture and to prevent airborne fungi spores from colonizing these wounds.
Red Oak and Ash-leaved Maple Logs Ready for Inoculation
Shelf Fungi Competing with Oyster Mushrooms in Two Year Old Popular Logs
We cut our mushroom logs to lengths that are readily handled. Since we did not have the luxury of ordering uniform logs that optimize the amount of sapwood available, three to eight inches, for mushroom mycelium to colonize, our diameters from only three trees vary from four inches to well over a foot. We ordered 5.5 pounds of each variety of mushroom spawn growing in sawdust that will colonize about 30 logs each. The process starts with drilling 7/16" diameter holes evenly spaced about 6" apart along and around each log. The tool I use pulls itself into the log and automatically stops at an inch deep. A fixture with four wheels makes it easy to rotate a log so that it takes only a minute or two to make the 25 to 40 holes required. These holes are then filled with the sawdust impregnated with mycelium using an injection tool that compresses the mixture so the top is just below the surface of the log bark. This depression is then sealed with hot cheese wax that we've saved from two years of fancy cheeses. The completed logs then look like they have a bad case of chicken pox!

Drilling Holes in a Log on a Fixture That Facilitates Rotating the Log 
Sealing Injected Mushroom Spawn with Molten Cheese Wax
Wax Both Seals in Moisture and Prevents Competing Organisms From Entering the Wound
Completed Red Oak Logs with Shiitake Spawn Sealed In
Closeup of Logs with a Bad Case of Cheese Pox
Once the logs have been inoculated and sealed, they are stacked close together on the north side of a building so they are  always in shade to prevent them from drying out. They are also under the eaves so that they are directly watered every time it rains. When it doesn't rain for a few days, I'll spray them with water. I'll place boards on the east and west sides of the piles to keep early morning sun from shining on them and minimize wind from drying them.

If we're lucky, we'll be getting the first blush of mushrooms from these logs this fall, but real production won't occur until next year. Then, with any luck, we'll get up to seven more years of mushrooms in diminishing harvests.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gathering Wood and Putting Away Firewood

Now that maple sugaring season is over, my primary outdoor activity is replacing the wood we've burned heating our home, cooking and making maple syrup. This winter was very cold and seems to be going on forever. Today, April 23rd, it's in the 30's with snow flurries. The stove is keeping us warm and is cooking our meal for tonight. We've burned over six cords of wood this heating season making room for another six cords for the 2016 heating season. We still have five cords of well seasoned wood for next season.

The Lighter Colored Wood on the Left Is for Next Heating Season, the Darker Colored Wood on the Right Replaces Half of What We Burned This Heating Season
Today I cut down a few dead cherry trees and placed lengths of trunk on the trailer. I cut up wood to the largest pieces I can readily handle, usually two or three times as long as readily fit into the stove firebox. This minimizes handling and trips to load the trailer. I can get a half cord load of wood on the trailer if I place larger pieces two deep on the bottom and cover these with ever smaller diameter limbs. 
A Half Cord Load of Wood
Same Load as Above with One Side of Cart Removed Showing Large Pieces on Bottom and Tree Limbs on Top, Chain Saw in Its Holster
I try to minimize burning diesel fuel in the tractor and gasoline/oil in the chainsaw by using them very sparingly. Gathering wood for one heating season takes less than one gallon of each. I'll eventually use solar panels to charge batteries that will enable accomplishing both tasks without burning fossil fuels by using an electric tractor and electric chainsaws. I've been removing all the limbs smaller than a thumb with hand clippers and slightly larger ones with lopping shears. Limbs up to two inches diameter I cut with an efficient hand saw. I've cut a few of the foot diameter logs into stove lengths with a crosscut saw but it would take me too long to do all of them this way. There are gardens to plant! To cut logs to length I now use a corded electric chainsaw or chop saw that can be readily solarized with photovoltaic panels and a battery bank. Maybe next year. 
Newly Stacked Wood Showing Halves, Quarters and Sixths of Logs and a Variety of Smaller Limbs: Sizes Reduced to Dimensions That Fit Through the Firebox Door

When I cut down a tree, I try and use as much of the wood as possible. Since you need kindling to start fires and burning any wood produces heat, any wood that fits through the stove firebox door is good. I leave only rotten wood and twigs too small to readily handle on the forest floor or hedgerow.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Superlative Maple Sugaring Season

Sap started flowing here in upstate New York on March 12th and ended a few days ago. We pulled out our spiles on April 18th. These 14 maples delivered over 460 gallons of sap that my neighbor and I reduced to 12 gallons of maple syrup. I had to carry our portion in five gallon buckets of sap about a quarter mile, usually two at a time, together almost 80 pounds, almost a ton and a half altogether. The best part? The daily activity and multiple trips helped me lose 7 pounds of winter weight.

Early season maple syrup is quite light in color and as the season progresses, it get ever darker from nutrients trees add to the plasma. Some trees add more and their sap seems to diminish before the others. A few of the clear sap trees were still producing a quart or two of sap when all the others had stopped.
Eighteen of our 34 quarts of 2015 Maple Syrup
Quarts of Syrup Showing Changing Color, Sunshine from Behind, One Shaded
Every day we collect sap (some cold days none flowed) we boil off the excess water on our wood stove that's burning anyway for heating our home and cooking.  Periodically we carefully bring the ever thicker syrup to 104 degrees Celsius that indicates the proper amount of water and sugar. We let the refined maple syrup settle for a day or two at room temperature and then decant the clear portion so that we don't have to filter it. The solids that settle to the bottom, usually a quarter inch in a quart jar, we collect in a separate jar for use in cooking. We keep collecting full jars of clear syrup in the refrigerator until the season ends and then can them by steaming them for 10 minutes above a hot water bath. The canned syrup keeps for years.
Last Maple Syrup Finishing with First Batch of Canning
All the equipment used in the sugaring operation have to be cleaned and disinfected before being used again and I prefer to do this before storing it away. Altogether, this year we used nine pails for carrying and storing sap, two pails for collecting sap from the most prolific trees, and eleven milk jugs. Next year, if we tackle maple trees at all: not so many.
Pails and Jugs Ready for Cleaning

Friday, April 10, 2015

Heron Swallowing Fish: Part 2

More than 100 close-up photos of a heron gobbling fish, over and over. I'm amazed at the fancy feathers.

Arranging the Fish So It Slides Down Easily
Down It Goes - Head First
One Second After Photo Above

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Blue Heron Eating Sushi

Ice on the pond is all but gone, allowing more dead fish accumulate on sticks of the beaver dam at the outlet. 

Breakfast Fish

Taking Off

Afternoon Snack

Friday, April 3, 2015

Belle's First 2015 Swim

Yesterday our dog Belle broke through the ice and the trail camera captured the event. Too bad she exited stage left so there is no record of the the resolution. I did reach her and pulled her to shore and we were both just fine - though severely muddy, cold and wet.