Went down to the green house with Mike and some new friends yesterday and was amazed at how many plants still need to be planted, if the weather ever clears. There are petunias and straw flowers, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus….you name it. All of them still look healthy, except some bok choy which bolted in the trays. The rest fill the float trays and other trays so full they will be a little difficult to transplant if none done soon. Besides the weather preventing that, now we are in a time crunch too.
We’ll spend this weekend with Mike on the tractor preparing the soybean fields, if the weather is sunny like they forecasted. He’ll probably only be able to do the higher areas due to standing water, but even if he gets 40 acres done, that will save some time later. We still need to plant the rest of the garden with the produce plants, mow (always), and then boil the straw for the oyster mushroom bags that will hang in the garage.
The damp boiled straw, which we do in an old cast iron wash cauldron, is cooled slightly and inoculated with the mushroom spawn, then stuffed into plastic tubes tied off at the bottom. When the bags are as full as possible, they are tied again at the top with baling twine and hung on hooks near the windows of the garage. The windows allow a good amount of sunlight without baking the mushroom bags. In a few weeks, every hole (shown as brown spots in the picture) will produce the delicate treasures. If you look closely on the left side of the bag shown in the picture, you’ll see some beginning to emerge from the bag. All we have to do is keep the contents of the bags moist.
This method worked best for Mike. He tried a similar technique, but grew the mushrooms in plastic tubs. They produced well but took up too much space and opening the tubs to harvest allowed mold spores to set up housekeeping and shortened the life of the growing media. It does look a little odd to go into the garage and see all these bags, white from mycelium growth before they flourish with the mushrooms…kinda of eery, like pod people will be breaking free from them any moment!
Our experiments in mushrooming have so far been successful and it’s a good thing Mike is a science geek too (that’s his day job) because he’s always thinking about ways to improve production. One of the surprising things for me is learning that farming is very much a scientific endeavor. You hypothesize that certain things will yield certain results, you experiment to see what works in a given situation, and you repeat those things in the hopes of getting the same (or better) results. It takes a gambler’s spirit, too. Family farmers risk everything for their crops and do it against all odds: the marketplace, fuel prices, pestilence, weeds, wildlife, weather,…you name it. Most of us ‘city folk’ who buy our groceries at the market and complain about the food prices would never risk our homes or our livelihoods for a never-ending workday with non-guaranteed wages. Mike, however, is looking for a pearl among the oysters hanging in bags in the garage. Perhaps one day, he’ll find it.