Planting our perennial future

What he said.

If anything, please read the conclusion – his final image is very powerful.


Legumes in buuulk.

From Self-Reliance

Christmas presents to myself, in ~5-gallon pails on floor, and to friends and family, above. Lovely local organic black beans, French lentils, and dried peas. I’ve broken into the lentils already and they’re deliiiicious.

Grain mill + staticky container = hilarity.

For Christmas my sister installed the Country Living grain mill I’d had sitting in the living room in its box since this summer!!

From Self-Reliance

With the extender bar, it really isn’t bad to use at all. The handle is wide enough that you can turn it with one or both hands, so by varying your motions you can get quite a nice workout. I find it really nice to be exercising on a machine with such tangible results, instead of my energy dissipating into useless noise or friction heat.

From Self-Reliance

And yes, a brand-new staticky plastic container meant approximately half the flour ground flew off in the opposite direction… upwards, or gluing itself onto the mill body. I now have a pack of valved respirators to use during operation. They should seriously be included in the mill combo packages.

Having the grain mill and the pressure canner out at the same time, with two looms and a drumcarder visible from the kitchen door, makes me feel like I’ve reached my goal of Pioneer Woman…

Solar Dryer Demo

It’s getting to be a good time for a solar dryer demonstration – however, I don’t actually need one myself as in a moment of financial flushness I invested in an all-seasons Excalibur. Anyone interested in working together with me to pick a design and purchase supplies for it, and take it home at the end of the demo? Just like the goal of everything permaculture, the investment would be up front – solar dryers are free to operate!

I am imagining the lovely temperatures inside my car at the end of a work day. Even if you don’t have sun in your home parking lot, how easy would it be to take your dehydrating with you to your office job? Park the car, arrange your racks on the seats, crack the windows and walk into the building – and use your breaks to get a bit of exercise walking out to the car to check the progress. Your car could smell like REAL strawberries.

Thoughts on community and food security

I’ve been immersing myself in Independence Days: A guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation in preparation for the Urban Harvest book club Tuesday at 7pm, at the library. Partly because it is such a hopeful book  that I find myself returning to it to bolster my sense that I, too, can build myself food security; and partly because it will make a wonderful textbook for my food preservation session at the November Sioux Falls PDC. I am having a hard time reconciling being back at work 8-5 M-F with trying to put healthy food on the table on a regular basis with trying to stay in touch with family and friends. It has me thinking about whether a healthy food regime is even possible without sacrificing all my free time to it; and lamenting the geographical distance of the people I want to spend time with.

Anyone who has tried to incorporate all the principles of Nourishing Traditions into their diet will find that it is almost a full-time job. If you want to grind your own flour, bake your own bread, make your own yogurt, your own soaked-and-slow-dried nuts, your own relishes and chutneys, your own bone stock, your own sprouts, your own kombucha and ginger beer… this is more than the typical beleaguered house husband can handle. One wonders how they did it in the old days. The answer is, They didn’t! For one thing, before the age of the suburbs and the automobile, extended families lived together in the same house, and as often as not, next door from cousins and uncles. Four people cooking for 16 people is a lot easier than one person cooking for four. Moreover, communities were small and close-knit, and there was probably some degree of specialization and sharing among households.

–Charles Eisenstein, quoted on Wild Fermentation

In times of recession, people spend more time at home. But this will be the first steep recession since the revolution in household formation. Nesting amongst an extended family rich in social capital is very different from nesting in a one-person household that is isolated from family and community bonds.

–David Brooks, quoted in Independence Days

There’s a big difference between staying home and eating beans and rice alone in your chilly house and getting together with your neighbors and sharing that meal. The sense of loss and privation is very different. Social scientists have confirmed what historian Timothy Breen observed – “rituals of non-consumption” can replace our rituals of consumption, if we come together. It can be a lot easier to bear tough times if you are working together with other people and feel you are all in the same boat.

Sharon Astyk, Independence Days

These quotes dovetail interestingly with my catching up with Barbara Ehrenreich‘s Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. You can’t begin to address the urgent economical and environment issues if you don’t allow yourself to see that serious problems exist!

I believe the best way to reduce my stress associated with the economy is to insulate myself from the effects of its vagaries; I believe this so much that my standard wedding presents will now be Independence Days, Your Money or Your Life, and Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Once I have my pantry full, and more importantly my meal routine adapted to use it efficiently, I will feel a lot better.

Mushroom Propagation at Home

You don’t need a dedicated sterile climate-controlled room to propagate mushrooms at home – they’ve been growing themselves in decidedly un-sterile conditions outdoors since the beginning of time, so you can do it too. Just like sourdough cultures and counter-top yogurt, mycelium is easy to keep alive indefinitely by transferring it to new food sources.

Adventitious Mycelium is adventitious

You can’t see this too well here, but I must have left this Grey Dove oyster kit in its dark incubation area for too long because the mycelium tried to make a break for it. Looking for light and air, it grew a tower of material all the way up to the air patch in the top of the bag (twice, as I accidentally broke a column off its shaky moorings to the plastic bag once.) The corally stuff to the left is the remnants of the dash to freedom – the chunk at the top right is the part that actually attached to the air flow.

From Mushrooms

This is that chunk – see its structure? It wasn’t spongy either, as this suggests – it was wood-solid. Cooooool!

From Mushrooms

Here’s a closer look at that adventitious mycelium, branching off in search of light, air and more nutrients. This chunk of mycelium is actively growing, so it is a perfect candidate to transfer to a new food source a la yogurt starter. If you have an active mushroom bed that hasn’t exhibited this particular behavior, you can use any bit of fully colonized wood chip; if you have a mushroom you picked with a sort of “root cluster” coming off its base, cut off this “stem butt” with the growing area at the base still attached and it will be perfect for this sort of thing. The mycelial chunk at the base is definitely actively growing – it just grew a fruit, after all!

This is the Quick and Easy Corrugated Cardboard spawn method.  Corrugated cardboard is great because it holds moisture and provides shade to the developing spawn, but the corrugations also ensure an air supply and growing space that can’t get cut off by water gluing the layers shut.

From Mushrooms

Cut a piece of clean corrugated cardboard to a workable size – no tape or glue – then soak it in water until you can peel one of the plies off.

From Mushrooms

Layer your actively growing mycelium pieces onto the corrugated portion of the cardboard part. Break them into smaller chunks if necessary – you want the cardboard to lie relatively flat when you close it back up, while still getting maximum surface contact with the pieces.

From Mushrooms

Close up the layers and stack them in some sort of suitable humidity retainer. This is one of those closeable plastic container dealies that isn’t airtight; I could also have used a plastic bag closed 90% of the way if I put it someplace dark where it wouldn’t collect heat, or a cardboard box buried halfway out in the garden, etc etc. The beauty of this technique is that it works with whatever you’ve got on hand and acclimates the mycelium to your local conditions – making it stronger than lab-grown mycelium straight out of a shipping container. 

I closed this container and put it on a shady countertop, opening it daily to spritz with water and letting any excess water drain out before I put it back.

From Mushrooms

One week later you can see a beautiful mycelial ring spreading outwards from a coral piece’s contact point with the top ply.

From Mushrooms

And the whole ply visible. This is great growth – a few more days and I can use this to inoculate any substrate where a layer of spawn is best suited – a lasagna-style box of woodchips or straw suitable for basement growth of fresh mushrooms in winter; layered inside refrigerator-cookie-dough slices of logs otherwise too heavy or unsuited for shiitake cultivation;  wood chip beds outside; or, rolled up or cut into strips, potentially even more tp rolls or mason jars full of pasteurized grain. I just got a pack of hard foam air filter disks optimized for the mouth of narrow mason jars, so I might go with some grain spawn next (as this year’s straw crop is not quite ready.)

Permaculture Toolkit: Living Mulch

From Plant Pictures

One of the five big “resources” to manage when considering your local environment is the soil. The best long-term way to increase the health and fertility of your soil is to add organic matter – and the least effortful way to do that is to layer the organic matter on the surface of the soil and let existing natural processes break it down for further use. In addition to providing a source of future organic matter in the soil, this mulch preserves water contained in the soil, lessening your need to add additional water; shades the roots of neighboring plants, in most cases making them happier; prevent weeds from growing by depriving them of light; and making your soil microbes happy by reducing your inclination to till underneath it. 🙂

I.e., “Mulch is Good.”

However, you don’t have to restrict yourself to dead shredded cellulose – you can achieve many of these same effects by what we call a “living mulch”, allowing short plants to grow underneath your specimens. In addition to shading the soil and preventing growth of unwanted plants, plants have a vested interest in keeping soil microbes alive and are willing to share their food – secreting nutrients from their roots. Soil is healthier with plants in it, than with just mulch on top, than just bare exposed to the sun –

Wpod sorrel self-seeded in a perennial bed

Example – my ornamental perennial bed has an undercoating of wood sorrel. I love wood sorrel to pieces because it self-seeds, comes in various shades of red and green all in the same seed population, and is edible – its lovely tart lemony flavor makes a great accent to salads. The teeny spiral yellow flowers are edible as well, and decorative.

Wood sorrel flower

I love the journal Agroforestry News – I always find out the most random things. Isn’t it fun when the stuff you’re thinking about already shows up in media all on its own? Chefs in Britain are currently paying up to 50 pounds per kilo for wild-harvested wood sorrel – something which comes up for me all on its own every year without any work on my part. Talk about free food!