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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mycelium Magic

One thing I really love about having a rotting wood garden is watching mushrooms pop up everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere! The first six of these photos are from last fall, but the rest are from the last few weeks.

Puff! Out of nowhere, they rise up.

I've used a lot of wood chips on the surface of the garden, mainly for paths. It turns out that wood chips make the fungi very happy, in addition to all the wood rotting beneath the surface. For a visual on what's below the surface, use the blog menu to check out the bed construction pages.

I found these shaggy mane mushrooms near where I had layered tamarack (larch) needles for weed control and to keep moisture in the soil. The property where the larch needles originated supports shaggy mane, so I'm thinking we may have transferred some spores with the duff. The shaggy manes really made me smile!

Inside the cambered frame, these smurfy looking mushrooms rose up...

among the Tiny Tim tomatoes (last summer).

A common place to find mushrooms is along the edges of my cold frames, where the wood chips meet the frames.

On to this spring, which has brought mushrooms at every turn. It amazes me how the earth gives way to these fruiting bodies...

...and how they can rise up even smack-dab in the middle of a dense clump of chives.

They can push through thick layers of leaves.

Here is a close-up from the above patch.

I'm going to need to learn more about identifying mushrooms!

These guys came up where the edge of the tipi greenhouse meets the path...

...and these ones in an asparagus bed, over the past couple of days.

BUT: the biggest surprise of all came at the edge of an area where I had sheet mulched over St. John's Wort, just outside of the garden.

It was dusk, and at first I thought I was looking at a strange kind of scat. I bent over and realized that the sheet mulched area was lined with morels! Here you can see a cotton sheet over some decaying cardboard... and then just a few inches out are morels.

I brought them home and cut them open, and sure enough they were hollow -- the real deal!

Paired with wild asparagus, it doesn't get much yummier.

At first I dried some in the dehydrator...

...but then I learned to dry them on newspaper instead. This way I can use the newspaper in future sheet mulching, and inoculate new areas with the spores. :-)  Spreading the joy around, mycelium magic... What started off as weed control for St. John's Wort has grown into a way to raise edible mushrooms. Stacking functions!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Potato Tower

A few years ago, my daughter planted one innocent looking little raspberry plant -- given to us by our neighbor's mother -- which she named, "Trixie." Oh, were we ever in for some tricks. Trixie grew into many raspberry plants, which are now attempting to take over half of the garden. Above you can see Fawn with Trixie and her descendants, last summer. The raspberries also extend about 12 feet to the left, outside of the picture.

I knew that this year I needed to take some action. I trimmed Trixie way back, and then plastered cardboard down over the canes in one of the areas never intended for raspberries. Around the cardboard I built a simple 4x5 foot frame. This will be my first attempt at growing potatoes vertically. 

Note that it is really important for the first frame to be level. Also, since I'm a firm believer in crop rotation, next year I will use this frame to extend the growing season and to protect carrots from marmots. But for this year: potatoes...

I filled the bottom of the frame with sand, for drainage.

Next, I crammed and tamped native soil along the inside perimeter, to discourage mice from getting interested in sneaking in.

A thin layer of partly decomposed leaves, maybe three inches deep...

more sand...

several wheelbarrows of well composed manure...

seed potatoes and more sand, soil, and compost.

After planting, I built another layer of the frame. I will put a little more soil on top, since the seed potatoes are quite near the surface. Then, as the potatoes grow, I will add more soil, sand, compost, as well as pine needles as mulch. As the potatoes grow upward, more layers will be added to the frame. I am using slab wood from my husband's mill, since the outside pieces of the logs, being rounded and covered in bark, are not functional for very many other projects. It's a little bit like our "Extra Enrichment" classes in elementary school with Mrs. Bev Barling: "Making something out of nothing." Sawyers often just burn or chip these pieces.

Instructions I have found online call for screwing each layer of the frames in place, then unscrewing at harvest time. I know myself during the harvest season, and I'm going to want to quickly pull this potato tower apart when the time comes, with no tools needed. So I am experimenting with some pivot latches -- one screw in one slim board, which can be pivoted to hold or release the board above it. Just like the barn door when I was a kid, only sideways.   :-)

What you grow matters...
A key piece of information to know if you are considering growing potatoes in a tower: not all potato varieties grow alike. Short season potatoes mature sooner and may not put out tubers from the stems. So it doesn't make sense to grow these varieties vertically, because vertical is not going to happen! Instead, choose mid or late season varieties, which will continue adding tubers to their stems as long as you add frames and soil in a timely fashion. A quick internet search will inform you as to what varieties are early, mid, and late. Although you may come across some conflicting information, certain varieties are often listed as late season, such a most russets, German butterball, fingerlings, purple majesty, etc. Many yellows and reds are listed as early season varieties, which you should grow in a more conventional way. A rule of thumb seems to be that an expected maturation of at least 90 to 130 days means that the variety will continue to set potatoes further up the stem, making it worthwhile to grow in a tower.

Planting prep:
I exposed my seed potatoes to warmth and a moderate amount of light for a couple of weeks prior to planting, to let them pre-sprout while I prepared the tower. I let the cut potatoes dry out and heal a little for a couple of days, and then planted them. You can sprinkle some fir bark dust on the seed pieces if you think the soil is going to be overly wet. In our climate, this doesn't tend to be an issue.

Looking forward to another growing season!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mixed Bed Construction

Looking back on the construction of my subterranean hotbeds, this is one that hasn't been covered on the blog yet.

I decided to make one bed with a diverse mix of species -- spruce, alder, aspen, whatever I could find. Depending on the piece, it was laid either vertically or horizontally, making it a truly "mixed" bed.

This bed was built during the second year of hugel-construction in the garden. The green areas on the right are one-year-old rotting wood beds, growing prolifically. The bare soil at left-center includes the place where the mixed bed went in.

The soil was so dense before building the subterranean beds, that it felt like walking on a high traffic hiking trail. Our farmer friend Bill remarked on the sensation underfoot, saying that it felt like hard pan, with no give. Now it is fluffy with earth worm castings and plenty of aeration as the wood settles and breaks down.

I put manure on the top of every exposed vertical end, to provide nitrogen at those important interfaces. The logs were surrounded by horse manure, with longer pieces in layers with the manure.

Next, I added lots more wood, filling some of the gaps with large and small pieces.

Another load of horse manure helped turn this into a hotbed. Thorough watering after every layer helps trap moisture inside the bed. This is the one and only chance to directly water these surfaces, so it's important not to take shortcuts in applying water during construction.

And leaves! Lots and lots of leaves...

A little soil, more leaves, and more water.

As I built up closer to the surface, I added smaller diameter wood in a bed of leaves. The experiment here is to see how it works planting into the smaller diameter wood as compared with the large pieces. Also, being smaller, they have greater surface area and will break down quicker -- similar to the smaller food pieces in your compost pile. 

More water

Another layer of horse manure on top of the small wood and leaves, providing nitrogen and warmth.

More leaves, more small wood...

...and a final skin of soil across the top.

This close up of one of the vertical pieces helps you to visualize how accessible the wood tissues would be for roots to penetrate, as compared with the side of a log. This is the rationale behind placing pieces vertically. However, that said, my horizontal beds are performing just as well in general, so the orientation has not proven critical in the Wood for Food garden. The amount of manure and rotting straw seems to be a more important factor (the more the merrier).


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Who is Hardy? Perennial Garlic

Garlic is well known for being hardy. When fall-planted, it begins to grow and then has no problem going dormant through the winter, ready to be first up in the garden. Unfazed by spring snows, you cannot beat the hardiness of this plant. Or can you?

Quite accidentally, I learned a few years ago that garlic is even more hardy if you allow it to grow as a perennial. Wow! It will not only be the first sign of life in the spring, but it will become lush, thick, and tall before the radishes have sprouted -- or even been planted.

You can use the garlic greens like a "cut and come again" option for salads, baked potatoes, and anything else you like to eat with the lively taste of fresh garlic. It's a wonderful garnish for just about any meal. It's got to be incredibly good for you, too, with its rich green color and its bioactive components, especially when eaten raw.

Then, throughout the season, you can tug on one of the plants that make up a clump, and enjoy fresh cloves also. Just leave some in the ground and you will always have garlic... no planting required.

If perennial garlic was not "a thing" in my garden before, it is now!