Saturday, May 2, 2015

Shiitake log inoculation

Because we're never planning to be a big farm, we're hoping to be able to diversify in ways that other farms can't.  We figure, we don't have to have SUPER efficient methods for harvesting massive amounts of any one thing. We can use more/different methods that work better on a small scale. 

One thing we hope to provide to our CSA members (which has doubled since last year!) is farm grown mushrooms (and wild harvested - I can't believe I never blogged about our bounty! This year).

We've decided to start with shiitake mushrooms since they're pretty easy to grow, and lots of people like them. Shiitakes grow well in Red Oak, and we have a lot of that on our property. We ordered some mushroom spawn and some inoculation tools from Field and Forest.

Here's how you inoculate a log with shiitake spawn in our usual photo montage fashion. :)

One of the tools we ordered, and it is AMAZING! It's a modified electric grinder. Instead of the grinding wheel (which we could still attach and use if we wanted), there's a modified drill bit with a stopper. So, you basically touch this thing to the log where you want the hole, and it drills the perfect size/depth every time. Amazing.

Here's Anna in action. You can see several holes she's already drilled. The wood chips did go flying a bit, but we noticed they mostly flew sideways and not up. So, for safety reasons...
Always wear eye protection when your face is at log level. You'll notice the farm manager supervising his apprentice from a safe distance in the background.
This is what the spawn looks like. It's actually spawn in sawdust, so it mostly looks like funky sawdust....but it smells like mushroomy goodness! It's white on the outside because that's the mycelium, and it's about to fruit -- it's only good for up to 6 months in the fridge after you get it.

After holes are drilled, you use another super tool to stuff each hole with spawn. This tool is perfectly sized to push a plug of spawn into the predrilled holes. They seriously have this down to a science.
It's best to work on some overhead presses while moving newly inoculated logs to the next station...

They were unimpressed with our antics...
Next, you seal each hole and the ends of the log with cheese wax. This seals the moisture in the logs so they won't dry out, and  the mushrooms can feed off the log for years to come. The nice thing about this step is that the wax needs to be warm to be liquid (duh!). So, pick a cold, windy, rainy early spring day, light the wood stove in the basement, pump up the jams, and inoculate some logs -- sounds pretty perfect to me!

One year later...  We did two logs at a workshop last year, and it takes a year for each log to start fruiting. Once they start, however, they'll fruit for up to 6 years!  This year was our big mushroom log push, but hopefully if we do a few each year, we'll always have a rotating stock.

Monday, March 30, 2015

We're still here...

We know we fell off the face of the Earth for a bit, but we're still here. We have some new things in the works, and we'll be posting about them soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A river of gold

After keeping bees for two seasons, we finally extracted honey today.  Those of you who know about beekeeping, know that it's really late for us to be extracting honey. Don't worry, we removed the honey super from the hive in September, but it's been sitting in our basement waiting for a good extraction day.  We have a friend visiting, we lit the wood stove in the basement, and let the river of gold flow.  

And now, a photo montage -- it's my favorite way of showing stuff. :)

This is the honey extractor.  Anna's dad used to keep bees when Anna was a kid, and this is the extractor he used then. He stopped keeping bees, lent the extractor to a friend for many years, and now that guy has stopped keeping bees so we have it. I love all our classic handed down manual farm equipment (like our cider press).

We decided to clean out the extractor before putting the honey in it since it sat in our garage collecting dust and pine needles for a while. The farm manager supervises all activities with gusto.

Farm apprentice was not taking advantage of this learning opportunity rather he was distracted by a treat sent to him by a friend. Also, he decided the sawdust was a really cozy bed.

The inside of the extractor.  Originally, it had 4 chambers for frames, but now it's down to two. We're hoping we can find 2 more. It basically works like a centrifuge. You put the frames in, turn the crank, honey goes flying. Amazing.

We only had one honey super to do this year -- 10 frames per super.  Here, Anna removes a frame from the super.

Anna's pretty stoked about all the honey in this frame.  All the part that is capped and pale white is full of honey. :)

The remaining 9 frames in the super.  We're pretty excited.

Lisa examines the honey filled frame. 
Before extracting the honey, we have to remove the caps on all the cells.  

Like a hot knife through buttah.  OK, seriously, the knife is warm, and you just skim the wax off the top of the cells exposing the honey -- sometimes it drips onto your finger. Tragic.

"My favorite part was when Anna cut the wax off and the honey just oozed out. I just wanted to stick my face in it." -Lisa, first time honey extractor.

Here we go...Lisa makes it look so easy!

If only you could smell the goodness. You can kind of see the honey on the sides of the drum.

If the frames were uneven weights, the stand was a little wobbly. This necessitates a team effort.  For the future, we're going to build a solid stand and this thing will live in our yet-to-be-built sugar shack.

The golden goodness.  The chunks on the top are bits of wax from the comb, but it will be filtered out.
Look at the river of golden goodness. Sometimes your finger gets in the way.

The bucket has a strainer to catch all the wax bits. The bucket isn't really as full as it looks here.  Next year...

Anna scraped the sides to get all the goodness into the bucket....

...also so she could do this.
And there you have it. Our first honey extraction was a success. I cannot wait until we have more supers to do next year! 

Monday, December 1, 2014

When winter stops you cold...

I was just about to start this post, and I noticed that my previous post was about being unprepared for winter.  Interesting.  Since that first storm, we've lost power 3 more times, and amassed about a foot of snow -- then it was almost 60 degrees today (and we lost power...hmm...).

The latest storm came to us on the day before Thanksgiving. I'm sure you heard about it on the news or were a part of it if you live on the east coast. It wasn't anything out of the norm except that it happened before December...barely.  Anyway, I'm not here to write about a storm, but rather the effect of having said storm and what it does to our life.

Since we've lived here on the farm for the past 2 years, I have really come to enjoy the winters.  I think that many farmers feel this way -- it's a time to reflect on the past growing season, take stock of what worked and what didn't work, and start planning for next year.

That being said -- we had many more things on our "before winter" to do list.  We make a lot of lists in this house, and if we get to everything on the list before the predetermined deadline, then it's a lucky day.

Anyway, the storm arrived the day before Thanksgiving, and we lost power at about 6 pm.  We are fortunate enough to have a wood stove for heating our house and for cooking (though we have a gas range, so we could cook without the wood stove), a composting toilet, and a generator.  Usually, when we lose power, we only use the generator for a couple hours at night to let the water pump more water up from the well, and to use lights for reading or whatever (though we have definitely embraced candlelight).

We LOVE our Waterford-Stanley! In the winter, we cook almost exclusively on and in this stove, and it keeps our house so warm!  It is Dec. 1, and we haven't turned our heat on yet.
It was already our plan to try to cook the entire Thanksgiving meal in the wood stove, but without a back-up, the challenge was even more fun.  We learned with this power outage that none of the outlets in our kitchen is connected to the generator. Excellent. When making the pumpkin pie using our long pie pumpkins, I thought about moving the stand mixer into the living room to blend the squash smoother, but I figured people could handle some chunks -- and they could. Dinner was a success, and everything cooked swimmingly in Stanley. I think we'll do it again next year, power or no power.

It was really the day after Thanksgiving that struck me as wonderful.  I've been making a conscious effort to change my thoughts and my perspective trying to shift it toward the positive, and Friday morning was the perfect opportunity.  After cooking all day the day before, I was tired, and I was looking forward to a lazy day by the wood stove.  The dogs, however, we unfazed by me being tired or by the fact that there was a foot of heavy snow on the ground.  Anna was working, so I couldn't even pawn the dog walk off on her.  So, we went for a snowshoe.

It was glorious.

At first, I was grumbling about being cold and tired, but then I decided to stop and really look at where I was.  This is what I saw.

Clearly, the dogs did not need a shift in perspective to enjoy this walk.
I mean, really? I live here?!?!  How fortunate am I that I get to walk out my front door to this? The vast majority of people have to drive to get somewhere like this.  I spent the rest of the walk marveling at the beauty of the snow on the trees with the sunlight all around.

When I got home, I made some tea and cozied up next to the window for some quality reading time. One of the perks of farming is the off-season.

Wake up. Coffee. Dog walk. Yoga. Read. Dog walk. Read. Bed. Repeat.

Can't complain about that to-do list.

......also we cut firewood at some point...there's that.

Gratuitous dog and snow photos...

Baxter's favorite toy -- Chuck.  He flips it around, does back flips to catch it, pounds it into the snow, and then roots it out with his nose. Best. Day. Ever.

Really, he loves the snow, we promise.  Oliver's answer to this predicament....more rolling in the snow!!!!  As soon as the snow hits the ground, he starts rolling.  He usually doesn't make it 100 yds up the driveway without rolling. Adorable.

The view from our deck. Can't complain about that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We were so unprepared...

As many of you know, Maine was the beneficiary of a pretty big snow storm on Sunday, Nov. 2.  We had been out of town, and we were actually driving home during the storm.  Anna completely missed the turn off Rt. 1 because the blinking light wasn't blinking.  We made it home, though we were far from prepared for this storm.

Ways this storm kicked our asses:

We had no power.

Our French doors had blown open, there was snow in the house, and it was 30 degrees inside our house.

The barn isn't done.

The fence for the chickens in the barnyard isn't done -- and they need to be moved up there before the winter really sets in.

The chickens are still in the field, and their fence was buried in the snow (not very effective).

We haven't planted our garlic or the rest of our bulbs -- hopefully the snow will melt today, and we can plant it tomorrow before the next cold snap, rain/snow mix this weekend.

Firewood isn't stacked inside.

Wind blew the door off the high tunnel.

High tunnel still has tomatoes in it -- we need to plant greens in there.

Road hasn't been graded -- at least we have piles of gravel ready for this.

Big trees fell down all over

Ways we were prepared for this storm and winter in general:

Fruit orchard has been winterized.

New duck pond has been dug and filled and fenced in.

Well, that's better than nothing...

What have we been doing all summer?!?!  More on that later...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reachwood perfect.

Pretty early on in our time here, we knew we were going to want/need a greenhouse of some sort. It was pretty obvious that we weren't going to build a state-of-the-art glass greenhouse, so we opted for the next best thing -- a Reachwood-perfect high tunnel.  Reachwood-perfect is a phrase we've coined to describe something that might not be made perfectly or the most beautiful by most standards, but it functions, looks okay, and is a job that's finished.  I think the chicken tractor falls into this category.

At any rate, we found a NH based company that supplies you with a kit to build your own high tunnel.  Sounds easy, right?  Buy the kit, get the kit, put the kit together.  Simple. It shouldn't take too long (this phrase is no longer allowed to be uttered on our farm).

Here we go...

The building site -- alllllllllmost level.  It has to be level from side to side, but it can be on a slope end to end.  You can see that we started building this in the fall (2013).

All of this + some wood + a LOT of time = high tunnel.

First order of business, pound the posts 2 ft into the ground. The kicker -- they have to be plumb in all directions.

Get it!  The board is a guide to help us keep the posts spaced correctly and (hopefully) plumb.

Procedure -- post driver to get it started, sledgehammer to finish it off.

Naturally, we were well supervised.

We've squared the corners (at least 3 times), and marked level with the carpenter string.  All lined up and ready to be put in -- piece of cake....this shouldn't take too long. 

Son of a #$)@%*#!!!!!! We wanted to double check to make sure everything was spaced as it should be.  This happened at least 2 times.  By the time we got all the posts in and squared, we had pounded them in, removed them, and re-pounded them in at least twice.  

To get to this point, it is supposed to be a simple putting together of the pieces. You simply put the tops of the bents together, then slide them into the larger posts (the ones in the ground) and secure them with bolts.  Here's the kicker.  In all of our driving in, removing, driving, removing, driving we managed to dent one of the big posts in the ground (how this happened still escapes us).  As a result, we were unable to get one of the bents in all the way....this will come back to haunt us for the duration of high tunnel construction.

Ridge pole is up -- and clearly some time has passed since we started.  With the amount of snow we had this winter, it was almost impossible to get any work done on the high tunnel -- not to mention that we were busy plowing our road and cutting firewood in the snow.

Aaaaannnndddd....we're back!  Spring has sprung, and we're itching to get the tunnel done so we can plant seedlings in it.  We've framed one wall, put on the hip boards (shoulder height, why hip boards?!?!), baseboards, and we're ready to finish the walls and get the plastic on.  We are feeling so confident about the speediness with which we're going to finish the high tunnel that we got 2 yards of greenhouse compost so we're ready to plant!  Right.

One wall is done (save for the window at the top -- we want ventilation).   Yes, the door is purposely off centered....though I honestly don't remember why.  I'm sure it was totally logical.

Super sweet cedar door for $30 from a local junk shop -- love the hooks on the back.  We'll find good use for those.

Second wall is framed -- we're going to use plastic on this end since it is the sunny side of the house (not south, but the sunnier end).  Waiting for the greenhouse plastic set us back a bit, but it was worth it.

Plastic is on!  We got an old sliding door that we're going to put on hinges and on this end.

Baxter is inspecting the area for planting.  As the spring presses on, things are growing and growing in the tunnel -- and not the things we want to be growing in there...

Weeding has happened, extra earth has been added in the low spots, and we're ready to spread the compost.  

Spreading compost....and the door hooks are already coming in handy. :) 

More and more compost -- so delicious!

Warm compost on a cool day = oh yeah!

A little nest dug into the dirt just your size = oh yeah!
Compost is spread and ready for plants....almost.
Paths are lined with shavings to help fight off weeds.

Life is good -- and my hair is a situation.

Tomatoes were so desperate to get in the ground, we couldn't wait for the plastic.  We were repeatedly thwarted on putting the plastic up by crazy windy days.  Wielding 36 ft of plastic in high winds = recipe for disaster.

Planting peppers -- one particularly small seedling (attacked by...ahem...a certain dog with lots of grey fur) needed special attention and some TLC.
Giant roll o' plastic -- farm manager is ready for the challenge.

Are we up for the challenge?  Our faces aren't very convincing...
It wasn't that scary -- we like working together. It actually went way more smoothly than any other aspect of the high tunnel -- and way more smoothly than we thought it would.  It actually didn't take that long.
I love this shot.  My dad took all the photos of us putting on the plastic, and he totally nailed it with this one.
Almost done!
Roll the plastic down, and as quickly as you can, attach it to the hip board.  Another aspect that went relatively smoothly and quickly. :)
Attach the plastic to the ends, trim off the excess, and voilĂ ! 

It's a thing of beauty.

From another angle...

OK, just one more.
They're so happy -- if only I had a photo of them now! They're practically at the top of the tunnel.
The high tunnel will allow us to grow greens all winter long, and we'll get a jump start on the growing season early in the spring. There you have it.  We started last fall and finished this spring.  It shouldn't take too long....and it's totally perfect...for our standards.