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The integrated homestead: Part III: healthy plants, livestock, and fungi on the homestead.

Our goal is first and foremost to grow healthy plants, using the soil care practices we have discussed. How fortunate that robust, vigorous plants in the peak of health are precisely the ones that best resist predation by insects. Every gardener has observed the phenomenon: The plant that was growing vigorously from the beginning thrives despite the presence of insects that feed on it. The plant growing right next to it which for some reason was weak and struggling from the beginning, is devastated by insect feeding.

It has been shown that healthy plants can benefit from some insect predation--the loss to feeding of up to 10 percent of their leaf tissue can actually stimulate growth. Yet another reason why it is foolish to go ballistic when we see uninvited insect guests munching on our crop plants.

A crucial caveat

I told the story about my epiphany with Colorado potato beetle (92/4:42), how the surcease of its damage seemed to occur by magic, as soon as I stopped using broad-spectrum rotenone to fight it. But other insect competitors have not been this easy. I've found Mexican bean beetle and squash bug to be much tougher and more resilient. But I have also found ways to accomodate their aggressiveness. Cabbage worm is still a bit of a problem, more in some seasons than in others, but the overall trend is decidely down, as I plant more and more insect habitats.

With one glaring exception, one spectacular failure of the strategy. I want to tell you about that as well, because the tale makes the case all the more strongly that toxic warfare in the garden is always a mistake.

I've seen the colorful harlequin bug in my gardens for years. So scarce was its discernible damage, however, in my naivete I assumed that the harlequin bug was one of those neutral insect species that neither boost nor hinder the gardener's efforts. Then, three years ago, from one season to the next, several of my crucifer crops--especially turnip and radish--were decimated by harlequin bugs. I mean total loss of those crops--zero return on the investment of my time and work. That has been the pattern for three growing seasons now.

There may be readers who part with me at this point: "Rosy visions of ecological balance are great, but I can't go with hundred percent losses--no Way! " But, even with insects at this level of predation, I still am not willing to eat toxic residues on what I've worked so hard to harvest as pure food. Even if someone offers an "organically approved" insecticide like rotenone (so approved because it "won't hurt me"), I still am not willing to undercut the chance for a more balanced, self-correcting mix of insect species in the future. Why is it that an insect that I once didn't even recognize as potentially damaging is suddenly, from one season to the next, so devastating? Why is it that Joan and Mike, gardening only a few hundred yards away, are not having the level of harlequin bug predation I am? Why is it that, when I carefully cultivate turnips in my garden, they are destroyed, yet when I simply scattered turnip seed as part of an overseeding mix in the forest garden this spring and walked away--the turnips thrived, yielding fat juicy roots, the only turnips I've eaten from my own dirt for three years? Trying to answer these questions means far more to my garden as a functioning natural ecology, and to my own evolution as a gardener, than any amount of quick relief I could buy from Monsanto or Cargill.

For readers who remain skeptical, let me assure you that--whatever the nature of insect damage in one crop or another--we harvest from our garden more than we can eat or give away, every season, without fail. If you remember that, it will help you to relax, and be a friend to your garden and the teeming life over, around and under it.

Pollinators

Thus far we have been focusing on insects that damage crops, and other insects who, in their turn, keep them from getting too rambunctious. But remember that large class of insects on whose good work we are deeply dependent: the pollinators. Though their work goes largely unseen, there are few crops that set seeds or fruits without the assistance of these busy little fellow travelers.

Flowering plants, which include the majority of our food crops, go to considerable effort to grow flowers and distill nectar in order to form alliances with countless species of insects. These partner species will distribute pollen from plant to plant, achieving for immobile plants the miracle of sexual reproduction.

Our nurture of flowering habitat plantings helps nurture the pollinators as well. If you ever doubt that, go sit in them and watch the dozens of species come and go--syrphid flies butterflies, moths, various beetles, honeybees and other bee species. If you listen closely enough, you'll hear them saying "Thank you! Thank you!"

Honeybees

Of course, all this interest in pollinators may inspire you to start raising them. Keeping hives of honeybees is fascinating and fun; produces valuable hive products in addition to honey (such as royal jelly, pollen, propolis, and beeswax), and ensures heightened pollination of our fruits and vegetables.

We have enjoyed having two hives of bees on our place for two years now. We do not tend the bees ourselves--they are cared for by a friend who pays us a rent of five pounds of honey each time he harvests a hive. Keep this sort of arrangement in mind, even if you choose not to keep bees yourself.

Season extension: Growing in cold frame and greenhouse

Extending the harvest season with sheltered growing is about imitating for naturally cold hardy plants an unusually mild winter--not transporting them to Miami. That is, no gardener committed to sustainability aspires to grow tomatoes in January by pumping in ungodly amounts of artificial heat. Instead, the goal should be to give naturally cold hardy plants sufficient protection from the extremes to accommodate winter's onslaughts.

One way to extend the season on a small scale is simply to grow salads like lettuces and chicories, and potherbs like spinach and kale, in a fall garden bed as usual. Then, when winter starts to nip, assemble a cold frame over them, and tuck a heavy mulch around the exterior sides to keep the surrounding ground from freezing.

A more ambitious alternative is to assemble an unheated greenhouse from a kit. I recommend the largest model you have funds and space for, since you will certainly discover more ways to use your greenhouse as the seasons roll.

Our greenhouse is 20'x48', a Paul Boers gothic kit (rounded peak at the top) with 1-1/2-inch steel arches. Here are some of the integrative ways I've learned to use my greenhouse:

Growing winter greens

Some are hardier than others. My lettuces will succumb to a particularly severe chill, but the chicories offer fabulous salads right through the dead of winter. Tatsoi may also be more limited in the unusually cold temperatures, but spinach is basically un-killable in my climate (zone 6b).

Winter forage for livestock

I reserve space in the greenhouse for growing cut-and-come-again green forages for my poultry--small grains, crucifers, peas. This vitamin-rich fare is a godsend when there are few other possibilities for fresh foods.

Winter shelter for livestock

A greenhouse can be used to house livestock as well, poultry and pigs for example. The body warmth from the animals, and from their exhalations, benefits the growing plants. (There is more below about poultry in our winter greenhouse.)

Shelter for tender perennials

Some perennials are tender enough to be marginal in my area (rosemary, white sage, tarragon). If I take the trouble to transplant them into the greenhouse, I ensure that they survive when moved back to the garden, come spring.

Earlier crops in spring I plant extra-early (by one to two months) crops of potatoes, carrots, cabbages, and tomatoes in the greenhouse, ensuring harvests from these crops much earlier than from their garden siblings. (Some varieties are better suited to greenhouse conditions than others.)

Starting warm-season transplants

The shelter and higher temperatures of the greenhouse allow me to start heat-loving summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and sweet potatoes for transplanting when the season is right.

Habitat for insects

The idea of encouraging beneficial insects with habitat plantings applies in the greenhouse as well as in the garden. A couple of seasons ago I set plantings of yarrow throughout the greenhouse beds. This past late winter and spring, I saw more lady beetles than ever before, and the aphid population was a fraction of what it has been in previous years. Once the beetles have achieved their task, they seem to migrate outside, perhaps ensuring an earlier start on their work in the garden.

Vermicomposting

I mentioned vermicomposting above as an excellent way to practice responsible manure management, produce fertility for our soil (earthworm castings), and even to provide a source of live, nutrient-dense food (harvested worms) for poultry (or pigs). Two years ago, I installed 40 feet of worm bins (four feet wide, dug 16 inches into the earth), right down the center of my greenhouse. Since I needed that center access anyway, I didn't lose much growing space to the worm bins. The heavy-duty lids over the bins have been a great place to lay out construction projects, as well as to set up a table for a winter picnic, or benches for a class on a raw March day.

There is no better place to site a vermicomposting operation than in a greenhouse--the activity of the busy earthworms, including reproduction, continues through winter, without a dormant period.

Our Lady of the Shadows

One caution about working in a greenhouse: It can provide good habitat for black widow spiders, who like dark, hidden spaces close to the earth. I try to avoid leaving clutter like plastic trays and cell-packs lying around, but I see the shy lady of the shadows from time to time. (The undersides of the worm bin lids are also prime real estate.) These are beautiful and unaggressive spiders, as welcome in my greenhouse as the skinks and garter snakes that hang around in the worm bins. It is unlikely that you will ever have a problem with the black widow, if you are careful where you put your fingers.

Energy issues of greenhouse use

The objection is often made that a greenhouse is an unnatural and unsustainable use of energy and resources: The metal frame represents a lot of embodied energy--greenhouse plastics are made from petroleum. That is true. But the energetics of greenhouse growing must be measured first of all against actual energy-expenditure patterns in our current food system. The hydrocarbon fuels expended in moving a single shipment of lettuce from California or Chile to my state of Virginia, is greater than the energy expended to create and cover my greenhouse. (Eliot Coleman has calculated that the fuel expended transporting a single head of lettuce that distance is more than three times the embodied energy in a square foot of greenhouse plastic.)

Local greenhouse growing can take us a long way toward rehabilitating an extravagantly wasteful food/energy system.

The forest garden

The permaculture concept of the forest garden is the more diverse, dynamic, interesting alternative to the conventional orchard, which usually has a limited number of species, mainly fruit trees and grass ground cover. Unless we are going to do something interesting like grazing sheep in that orchard, the level of diversity is unimpressive. It is much better, as anywhere else on the homestead, to create patterns as kaleidoscopic as possible.

The model for this increased diversity of species and function is provided by a natural forest. The largest, tallest plants in the forest are the trees, which form the canopy with their greedy reach for the sun. Their smaller siblings, the shrubs, cannot compete for canopy space, so have had to learn to thrive and even produce fruit and nuts in the partial shade of the trees. At ground level is a diverse cover, mostly perennials, also adapted to varying degrees of shade.

Such a mix, if well planned and executed, can be more productive than the conventional orchard. That shouldn't be surprising, once we start "shoe-horning" compatible shrubs in between the larger fruit and nut trees, and covering the ground with a profusion of plants, many producing harvestable food.

The forest garden is also more productive because we can harvest continually over a greater portion of the growing season. Orchard fruits and nuts have a harvest season of only a few weeks at most, but we can harvest in the forest garden throughout the growing season. We might start the season by digging skirret, a perennial that grows a root which tastes like a cross between potatoes and parsnips. As the season moves on we might harvest perennial bunching onions, garlic chives, violets (both flowers and leaves are edible), and sorrel; medicinal perennials such as Chinese milkvetch (Astragalus membranaceus, one of the most important Chinese medicinal herbs), feverfew, lamb's ear, and yarrow; culinary herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, and anise hyssop; and small fruits like bramble berries, cranberry, lingonberry, and wintergreen. Don't forget the weeds that make nutritious people food as well: dandelion, upland or field cress (Barbarea verna), burdock, and poke, whose (very short, early) shoots make an excellent cooked spring tonic. Also clamoring for our attention might be nodding onion, Good King Henry, sea kale, Solomon's seal, and edible ferns.

After listing a few of the many possibilities above, we have yet to ascend into the shrub and canopy layers of the forest garden. Our current plantings in these levels include three plums, six apples, three kaki (Oriental) persimmons, one American persimmon, one quince, one medlar, five European pears, two Asian pears, three paw paws, four cherries, a juneberry, three mulberries, several elderberries, three gooseberries, two currants, two bush cherries, two Nanking cherries (one each of white and red), two jujube, and one each (melon tree). Nuts include eight filberts (hazelnuts), two each of pecan, walnut, and hickory, and one each of hican (hybrid of hickory and pecan) and Carpathian walnut. (Our bit of woodlot already has wild black walnuts and hickories, as well as white oaks that produce abundant crops of acorns.)

Note that not all the plants in the forest garden are planted for harvesting food. Some we plant for soil fertility--our dynamic accumulator friends like dandelion, comfrey, and yellow dock; and nitrogen-fixing legumes like clovers or Baptisia--while others are planted to encourage insect diversity, or to provide medicines.

The forest garden project often starts with killing an established grass sod. A "kill mulch" for killing the sod while leaving soil organisms undisturbed can be assembled from refuse from clearing/cleaning operations elsewhere on the homestead--raking leaves, mowing grass or pasture, chipping prunings, etc.--together with ever-accumulating newspapers and cardboard.

The woodlot

If you are lucky enough to have a wooded area, remember the many ways it can be used to produce food.

Medicinal and culinary woodland plants: Some useful plants grow in the deep shade and moist soil of a woodland setting. I have made a little woodland garden that includes medicinals such as spikenard, downy rattlesnake plantain, bloodroot, goldenseal, black cohosh, blue cohosh, and Solomon's seal. Culinary plants in this lovely little retreat are ramps (wild leeks), sweet cicely, and wild ginger (Asarum).

Tree crops: Look around you--you may find that your woodlot already contains large numbers of valuable food trees such as mulberries, black walnut, hickory, oaks, and native American persimmon. Oaks? Actually, the native Americans used acorns as food. Some oaks have been bred to have sweeter acorns which are more appropriate as "people food." However, acorns, wild persimmons, and mulberries were once especially prized as free, self-foraged feed for livestock. Many a homesteader of previous eras fattened the fall crop of pigs and turkeys by turning them loose in wild stands of such trees.

Wild water: If you have any sort of water on your place--spring, pond, stream--you are lucky indeed. Plan to incorporate it into the needs of the homestead and its communities. Establish wetland plantings and habitat for useful and interesting species. Neighbors of ours dammed a spring on their place to make a small pond, which became a magnet for all sorts of amphibians, dragonflies, aquatic plants, and birds, greatly increasing the diversity of their landscape. A future project as our forest garden becomes better defined will be the addition of a small artificial pool for aquatic plants, and a water source and egg-laying site for insects and amphibians.

Livestock on the homestead

When we look at almost any natural ecology, anywhere in the world, we see that it is a complex, interrelated community of plants and animals. If we wish to imitate natural systems, we should welcome one or more species of livestock into the homestead if at all possible.

Domestication of animals is sometimes seen as a harsh exploitation of fellow species in the service of man, but in truth it is as natural an alliance between species for mutual benefit as we will see anywhere in the natural world. When humans first started practicing agriculture, they opened up new ecological niches, into which certain opportunistic species such as sheep and cattle moved. A period of accommodation settled into patterns of inter-dependent alliances. We are true to the spirit of those mutually beneficial alliances when we treat the animals in our care with respect, best nurture, and gratitude.

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While meat has often been denigrated as being "wasteful" of agricultural resources, it certainly does not have to be. Frances Moore Lappe pointed out (Diet for a Small Planet) that "it takes 10 pounds of grain to make a pound of flesh" (with the implication "better that humans eat the grains directly instead"). But such profligate resource waste is primarily in what has become the "conventional" approach to meat production: the CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). If we think of the traditional homestead or small farm as a resource base, we obviously achieve fuller and more productive use if we introduce animal species able to utilize resources that we cannot--chickens to eat insects, geese to eat grass, pigs and turkeys to eat acorns in the woods--and turn them into food resources otherwise not available--eggs, meat, and milk. Goats can browse areas of underbrush, hedgerow, etc. not us able for crop space. Sloped fields that would erode disastrously if plowed (to grow grains and soybeans to feed people) are well used by planting to fruit trees and grazing with sheep. We may feel as passionately as Lappe about the abuse of agricultural lands and resources; but Lappe was not a farmer, and lacked a farmer's vision for fitting appropriate food production to the land (as opposed to the reverse).

Stacking of species

If our available space is limited, we should remember the concept of "stacking" species. Say we have a piece of pasture that will support a cow and her calf only--adding any more cattle would lead to overgrazing and abuse of the pasture. We have maximized the usage of the pasture--for cattle. But it is still possible to introduce a flock of chickens to share that pasture. The chickens will eat some of the green forage, to be sure, but not so much as to seriously compete with the cow and her calf. They will also reap a large harvest of live animal foods such as earthworms, slugs, and insects, which the cattle can't utilize at all.

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Other examples of stacking: Include a flock of sheep and a flock of geese in the same pasture rotation. The geese and the sheep are both grazers, but will tend to graze different pasture species by preference. Raise rabbits or pigeons over deep litter in the poultry house. No additional floor space is needed for the added species (and increased production), since their housing is suspended above floor level, and the chickens provide the service of dispersing the droppings from the pigeons or rabbits into the litter.

Responsible manure management

In industrial livestock operations, what comes out of the far end of domesticated animals has become a curse: There is just so much of it in one place--inevitably it becomes a source of serious pollution of groundwater and streams. On the homestead, wise use makes animal manures a blessing, as we recapture their potential fertility and prevent its loss to natural water systems, where it functions more as toxin than nutrient.

The key to responsible manure management is encapsulated in something I've heard my friend Joel Salatin say many times: "If you're around any livestock operation, regardless of species, and you smell manure--you are smelling mismanagement!" What a surprising statement. We have come to accept that any livestock husbandry has to be stinky. What a relief to know that we can keep useful domestic animals, without enduring the reek of raw manure. (We will consider specific strategies below.)

Natural feeding

The key to wholesome feeding of livestock is to feed each species as they evolved to eat, in contrast to current practice. Industrial beef operations, for example, supercharge ruminants--who would naturally eat a mostly grass diet--with grain, corn, and soy feeds, at great cost to the health of the cattle and, incidentally, with an inherent tendency to encourage natural and harmless types of E. coli to mutate into strains pathogenic for humans.

On the homestead, the heart of our feeding program should be maximizing our animals' access to live, natural foods. For example, rather than going to the additional labor of harvesting and storing a field of corn, a farmer of an earlier era might turn his pigs in to "hog it down," getting a big boost in growth and fat content before fall slaughter. Farmers would also plant whole fields of turnips or mangels (a fodder beet) or rape (a relative of kale), and turn cattle or pigs in to feast on this cold hardy banquet in winter, when there were no other sources of fresh green forage available. Flocks of free ranging chickens largely fed themselves by foraging insects and other nutrient-dense foods of a quality greater than anything the farmer could have purchased. Their assistance with insect control in the orchard was a major reason that our grandparents could grow fruits like apples without toxic sprays.

Other integrative livestock practices

Joel Salatin feeds his breeder cattle over winter in a large loafing shed, where they eat hay harvested from the Salatin fields. As the winter progresses, the cattle manure, mixed with waste hay, builds up in a pack four feet deep. From time to time, Joel scatters whole kernel corn, which gets buried in the deepening manure pack. By spring, the pack is a treasure trove eager to expend its fertility onto the fields. First, however, it has to be aerated to become a finished compost that will be readily assimilated by the pasture sod. Does Joel drive in a big growling tractor with a frontend loader for the task? Why, no, he turns in his pigerators--300-pound pigs who go after the fermenting corn kernels in a feeding frenzy, in the process turning over every cubic foot of material, speeding its decomposition and readiness for application. Labor-saving bacon--now that's using your head!

In a smarter but less energy-intensive era, another labor-saving use of pigs was to fell trees. The farmer used a long auger to bore numerous holes into the root zone all around the tree to be brought down. After filling the holes with corn, he turned in the ever-hungry pigs. The trees didn't have a chance.

In the summer, Joel follows his beef cattle--managed through intensive rotational grazing--with a big flock of laying chickens. The chickens scatter the cowpies, picking out the fly maggots in them as high-protein feed; and in the process disperse the fertility in the droppings over the entire sward, and break parasite and pathogen cycles by exposing them to nature's sanitizers: air and sunshine.

Goats are more browsers than grazers, going after honeysuckle and poison ivy and weedy tree saplings like Ailanthus and black locust in preference to grasses. Thus it is possible to use goats to clear areas of tangled brush or undergrowth, or to prevent a pasture area from continuing in its natural succession to shrubland and forest.

The usefulness of lactating animals like goats and cows (and even sheep) does not need to be stressed. Keep in mind, though, that excess milk--or skimmed milk and whey from butter and cheese making--can be offered as high-quality supplemental feed to most other livestock species. Indeed, the lactating dairy animal could be seen as the foster mother of the whole homestead.

Under-the-radar livestock

Homesteaders striving for greater food self-sufficiency may find themselves hampered by widespread prejudices, sometimes written into local law, against the raising of livestock. You may be pleasantly surprised at the possibilities available to you, however. My daughter Heather wanted to keep chickens, despite the fact she was living on a minuscule city lot in the middle of Greenville, North Carolina. When she checked with City Hall, she found that she was permitted to keep a maximum of four fowl within the city limits. We set her up with a large suspended cage something like a rabbit hutch, with room and nest boxes for four bantam hens. Those little hens kept Heather and her mother supplied with eggs for several years.

In some cases, whatever the zoning codes, the most critical aspect is the tolerance of close neighbors of our practices. If we are careful to manage animal manures in a way that will not generate offensive odors, our neighbors are more likely to be accepting of their presence. Noise is sometimes an irritant as well, so the choice of quieter species is well advised. A small flock of laying hens might pass muster with the local noise police, where the self-important bragging of a cock would find zero tolerance. (An often misunderstood fact is that hens do not need the attentions of a rooster to lay eggs.)

Rabbits are an easy, super-quiet choice whose care can be low-profile and inoffensive. Pigeons might be a good choice for those unable to keep the larger domesticated fowl. In some cities of the world, guinea pigs are raised as a low-maintenance source of meat for the family table.

Living fences

A final thought about livestock husbandry: In a previous era, people established living fences to confine and protect livestock. In the case of "pleaching," suitable trees were planted in a line, then woven into a dense hedge by tying branches together in crossing positions. In the species preferred for pleaching--such as linden, hornbeam, and hawthorn--the points where the branches cross abrade actually grow together, in a sort of natural graft. Another approach is to plant suitable trees or shrubs tightly spaced and prune them hard, to shape a stout, impenetrable hedge. If the plants in the hedge have thorns (hawthorn, Osage orange, Rugosa rose), so much the better. Though such a hedge can pose a barrier even to cats and other climbing predators, it will also serve double duty as a windbreak, and provide food and habitat for insects and birds. Some species might also provide fodder for livestock, or vitamin-rich foods for our own needs (hawthorn, Rugosa rose).

Using fungi in the homestead

The cultivation of mushrooms has made tremendous strides in recent years. These beings (fungi are not plants) have much to offer the homesteader seeking food-producing strategies which fulfill other needs as well. Mushrooms can assist us to produce edibles and medicinals; to serve as decomposers in both garden and woodlot, speeding breakdown of organic residues to soil; and (sadly, an increasingly critical need) for bioremediation--the cleansing and reclamation of land affected by the side effects of our careless industrial culture.

The cultivation of mushroom spawn--live cultures used to inoculate growing media like logs, wood chips, manure composts, and straw--is a process requiring laboratory precision, equipment, and techniques. Most homesteaders will choose to leave those tasks to the experts, and purchase the started spawn, which is much easier to work with in the homestead setting. (Once we have mycelial "patches" started, however, it can in some cases be easy to propagate from those patches to make satellite colonies.)

In addition to the mushrooms we cultivate, we will find wild opportunists colonizing the permanent areas of organic litter which we maintain. On our place, for example, I've found blewitts and wine cap stropharia growing in mulches in the forest garden and elsewhere. Reaping where we did not sow is always welcome, of course, though we should consult a good identification guide (or several) before ingesting any mushroom. (A few species are lethally toxic.)

Here are some of the species we have grown or have begun experimenting with, and the uses to which we are putting them:

Shiitake: We have grown shiitake "Lentinula edodes) for years. We cut living hardwood trees in the dormant period of late winter--oak is best, white oak best of all--of a size to make logs convenient to handle. A month later we inoculate the logs by drilling numerous holes in each log and inserting the prepared spawn. After an "incubation" period of up to a year, the mycelium (the fuzzy, hair-like strands like the ones we see in decaying logs or forest leaf litter--those are the fungus itself) grows what we call mushrooms, fruiting bodies for making and releasing spores, and reproducing the species. Shiitake are easy to grow. Like the garden tomato, the homegrown version is superior to anything you can buy--at a fraction of the cost.

Lion's mane: Hiricium erinaceus is a delicious, beautiful, and unique mushroom--shaggy and pure white. One of its great virtues is that it will colonize black walnut, which serves as host to almost no other fungi, as well as black locust.

Maitake Grifola frondosa or maitake or hen-of-the-woods is a large, gray, fleshy polypore made up of numerous overlapping caps. It may be the best choice for recycling stumps after tree cutting operations, given its large size and gourmet eating qualities. Maitake is considered a potent medicinal as well--extracts are used for their antitumor properties.

Reishi and turkey tail Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) are both shelf polypores growing on dead or dying trees. Both have long histories of medicinal use in Asia, and are being extensively studied the world over for immune-enhancing, anticancer properities.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are prolific, fleshy colonizers of dead trees. An exceptionally aggressive species, it offers itself as an ideal decomposer following clearing operations in the woodlot. When we did some clearing of Ailanthus this past spring, we did all our felling and trimming cuts with the regular bar lubricating oil replaced by "mycospored oil," a vegetable oil carrying a heavy load of oyster mushroom spore. Since Ailanthus is not desirable as firewood, we cut the trunks and branches into short sections to ensure better contact with the ground, and hence greater moisture in the wood. The hope is that the mushroom will hasten return of these woody materials to the earth, while providing excellent edibles for the table for several seasons.

Elm oyster: The elm oyster mushroom (Hypsizgus ulmarius) is a saprophyte (fungus feeding exclusively on dead organic materials) which can be used as a garden companion to boost plant crop yields while supplying excellent edible mushrooms. The elm oyster can be grown in the straw mulches in garden beds, or in sawdust or wood chip mulches.

Blewitt (Lepista nuda) is another possible garden companion. It can be inoculated into mixed debris piles of tough, woody stems and stalks that are hard to break down in a compost heap. As it colonizes these materials--which could be laid down in mulches that will not be disturbed, as in blackberry beds--it speeds their decomposition while producing choice edible mushrooms.

Wine cap stropharia King or wine cap stropharia (Stropharia rugoso annulata) is another candidate as a garden companion which can colonize high-carbon mulches like straw, and wood chips. This mushroom sometimes grows to extraordinary size (another common name is garden giant)--up to five pounds, and nearly two feet across. Once resident in the soil it will continue to be active as long as approprite organic debris is added as mulches.

Shaggy mane: The shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus) is a member of an interesting family of mushrooms that prefer grassy soils frequently receiving manures, such as horse pastures. Shaggy mane can help make the nutrients in manure composts more available in the soil, while producing mushrooms that are delicate in flavor but widely enjoyed by "mycophagists" (mushroom lovers).

Next time: Harvey will finish this series with thoughts on food storage and resources of all the topics covered.

HARVEY USSERY

VIRGINIA
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Author:Ussery, Harvey
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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