Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movin on

Hey all we found a better blog space.  Please join us there by clicking on this here linky-do thing here Amyitis' new blog.  Or copy and paste the following into your web browser and be sure to bookmark us.

Happy Reading!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer in the City

This week's harvest: Baby salad mix, Red Russian Kale, Flying Saucer baby squash, Calendula.

Hot Blooded

So I turned around and they grew.  I mean literally.  I came into the tomato garden one night to check on things and then again the next morning I went into the garden and they had grown.  It felt like I turned my back for one split second and they grew an inch.  In my head,  hazy childhood memories of "A Little Shop of Horrors" were starting to get clearer.  I started to hear "FEEEEEEEEED MEEEEEEEE Seymour!!! Good thing my name isn't Seymour.  I just kept on weeding and ignoring the cry.  

But seriously, I am thrilled amazed amused and enchanted by the growth of our amazing tomatoes.  My grandfather would be proud.  And if there is a realm where the wise spirits dwell and look down upon us mortals, I am sure that he's sporting an ear to ear grin.  In my family my late grandfather was the tomato guru.  He (an urban farmer himself in Pittsburgh, PA) was probably the most notable figure in my developing interest in food and gardening.  His tomatoes were some of the best I have ever had.  Now our Amyitis beauties are some of the best I have ever grown.  It seems like maybe he is sending me good graces from the ether.  
But beyond my grandfather's Midas touch for nightshades, I guess we do have to take some credit for their success too.  Temperature and food make all of the difference with plants like tomatoes and squash.  It should go without saying that a plants will perform best in with optimal support.  Success in our case is being created by numerous insurances of those supports.  The first step to success was in transplanting.  These tomatoes were transplanted into raised beds filled with pure compost.  Compost is like a a plant super food.  For those unfamiliar with the hubbub around compost, compost is literally decomposing organic matter.  Plants, food scraps, yard waste can be (when treated properly) turned into nutrient rich soil through a number of methods.  While not everything can handle the nutrient blast of being planted in pure compost, tomatoes seem to love it.  Decomposing material also produces heat.  And because compost is still on its way to becoming soil it is producing a large amount of heat.  In combination with a sheltered and sunny Mission District back yard and nutrient rich warm soil, we've repaired and added to an old irrigation system to insure that these plants are getting the perfect amount of water.  All of these factors seem to be helping.  Just look at the pictures below.  Notice how the tomatoes in black pots are almost twice the size. The black plastic retains the suns heat better than the boxes.  These plants were all planted in the same soil on the same day.  

Eat your Kale

About a week ago I stumbled into The Corner to hold a meeting with Chef and Kitchen Manager Devon Newby.  As we chatted about greens and food she had to take a call and went outside.  My eyes scanned the restaurant and came to a table of patrons gleefully enjoying and Amyitis Salad.  My eyes widened like Gollum around the ring.  "THIS is why I do this!" I thought.  Feeding people is the fuel in my tank.  Even their toddler child was munching away on baby chard and arugula. I almost shed a tear.  They were graceful enough after learning that we had grown their salad to let me take their photo.  

Link of the week...... err Month.  

When I moved to SF in 2006 I was hunting for people doing interesting gardening projects that I could get involved with.  A friend of mine led me to the doorstep of a woman named Novella Carpenter in 2007.  Novella was in the process of writing a book about her urban garden.  However, "Urban garden"  is an understatement.  Novella is an urban homesteader.  She had livestock, fruit trees and veggies all grown in an abandoned plot of land in West Oakland.  For about a month and a half I visited her once a week to tinker in the garden and shoot the breeze.  Now her book has hit the shelves and I am urging everyone to read it.  Simply from the title "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer" I know I am going to love it.  Because urban farming really is about education.  There are few if any road maps to how it should all work and I learn something new every time do anything.  All of us urban farmers are drawing the maps as we go.  With Novella's book hopefully she'll inspire some more map makers.  It is at the top of my reading pile.  I hope it makes it to the top of yours soon.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hang on little tomato


Has it really been a month since the last entry?  My deepest apologies to our loyal readers and fans for the delay.  Evidently, the pressing needs and demands of a growing garden trump the documentation of it.  As the sun shines longer and hotter, the "to do" list grows along with the veggies and weeds.  With so many developments and so much growth, I find myself now confounded with how to explain it all.  Nevertheless I will do my best to recap the developments at Amyitis that continue to make this such a great and interesting season.  

Brand New.
 I am excited to announce the addition of a new member to the Amyitis team.  Eben Bell, a permaculture landscape artist, has joined up with us to help see Amyitis along its path.  Until now Amyitis has been taking baby steps to success.  Creating a restaurant CSA while holding down another job has thus far dictated the pace of our expansion.  Now with the addition of Eben we hope that Amyitis will enter toddler hood and begin running and jumping its way into new spaces.  We are happy to  have Eben.  His background and help will undoubtedly give solid momentum to our growing project.  

Micro-climate change.
It goes without saying that San Francisco has interesting weather. But for the sake of this blog and its widespread readership (ha!) I will explain it anyway.  While my friends back east are enjoying the heat of May, San Francisco is like a petulant child in the throes of indecision.  She's hot one day and cold the next.  She's 90 degrees in the sun and 65 in the shade on any given day.  Above all, she goes to bed early pulling the icy sheets of fog over her everyday at 5pm.  Each backyard garden too has its own wild ways.  Two of our gardens lie on opposite sides of the same street no more than 100 yds. apart.  On the same day I have experienced up to a 15 degree temperature difference between them.  In some ways this is ideal.  We've found that the warmer garden is well suited for tomatoes while the other is best for greens.  I suspect that after this season we will be able to make expert choices as to crop and variety locations.  Having a variety of spaces and micro-climates has allowed us to think about product diversity in a new way.  Due to Eben's influence, I've begun letting certain prolific plants go to seed in hopes that we can save them.  The idea being that, plants who've done well in a certain climate and location will produce seeds that will produce the same results in the next generation.  Since this is all really one big experiment anyway, it doesn't hurt to try to produce "indigenous" seeds to help us out.  Eben's ideas also make me excited for the rainy season here in the city.  As it turns out, his interests in mushroom cultivation have carried him a bit further than myself.  With his ideas and planning, Amyitis might become the gourmet fungi producer I'd once hoped.  

In the restaurant.
As we continue to grow food, the Corner and Weird Fish continue to find ways to serve it up.  We are grateful to the innovative staff there that are helping us streamline the way we serve them.  While we eventually aim to serve a wide variety of restaurants in the city with our produce, we have had the great pleasure of having a direct relationship with the kitchens there who keep us informed about our product and how they can use it.  It is clear that we will need many more spaces here in the city before we can serve anyone else.  It has been a great education and a fortunate union to pair our fledgling project with a burgeoning restaurant.  Go down to the Corner and Weird Fish and give them (and us) your feedback.  

Its a girl?
We've got our first tomato!  One hot day this past week Eben and I and a couple of hardworking volunteers got the tomatoes into the planter boxes we'd built for them so long ago.  They are happy as.... well... tomatoes.  When you've nurtured such a fickle plant from seed in an even more fickle environment, sign of the first fruit is worthy cause for a celebration.  We hope this means that they are happy.  And now our mouths and stomachs look eagerly to the future when the first taste of a Green Zebra tomato passes our lips.  

For other San Francisco gardeners (or just gardeners in general) SF Grow is a great organization providing tons of resources to people like us and you.  From compost giveaways to free weekly tips, they are a vital source of info on all things garden related.  Be sure to give 'em a click.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


As the season kicks in to high gear here at Amyitis there seems to be less to say and more to do.  Well that is not totally true.  In fact, I have so much to say I don't know where to begin.  Do I begin with the huge debt of gratitude I owe to all of my volunteers and clients?  Do I begin with the extreme quality of the baby greens we've been harvesting from the gardens?  Or, do I begin by talking about the challenges of growing for a new restaurant?  While all of the above are topics worthy of further missives, I will stifle my will to blather on and simply say that Amyitis is moving rapidly forward.  And, if the results we've seen so far are any indication of what is to come, we are in for an exciting summer full of challenges and triumphs.  

The recent SF heat wave has shot things into full summer at the gardens.  The heat is such a stark contrast to the cold snap that came just before it, I often wonder how plants manage to hold on.  Well, I guess that some do and some don't.  The cold nights we recently had paired with the wind in the evenings has wreaked havoc on our squash and basil.  Most all of the squash and basil transplants either stunted or died.  Hopefully, after some more in-depth investigation we can actually grow a decent squash plant this summer.  They've always grown like weeds before. I am unsure of what we are doing wrong there.  

In other news, the tomatoes we started in the basement are outside hardening off... and just in time for the heat wave.  That was lucky timing.  They are a bit leggy but I think that they will adjust to full sun quite well.  We've transplanted them into 4" pots to give them a bigger root ball and a thicker stem before we let them go off on their own.  

We couldn't be happier about the quality of the arugula, mizuna and lettuce that are coming out of the gardens now.  I can shamelessly say that they are without a doubt some of the best greens I have had the pleasure of eating.  It is these times here at the gardens that I would like to take a moment to enjoy.  There is no prouder moment than harvesting something delicious that you've nurtured and cared for.  In the contrast of a relatively harsh urban environment, to eat such a fine salad is almost enough to make the tears flow.  Well, at least salavatory tears.  

Lastly, while harvesting the lovely greens I speak of last week for a delivery to Weird Fish and the Corner, I stumbled upon a large and lovely toad enjoying the refuge of a canopy of mizuna. I nearly stepped on him as I made my way through the rows.  And while fully aware of my towering presence next to his, he sat seemingly indifferent eating flies.  I have no idea how he got there.  In fact I am not sure I care.  It's undoubtedly a good omen.  

Happy gardening.  


Lovely D'avignon Radishes

A Friday Harvest

Fat Omen Toad

Friday, April 10, 2009

on the menu

Link of the week

I just wanted to post the interview I recently had with Adam at SF menu pages.  I am grateful for the press.  Certainly, spreading the word about what we do is the hardest part.  A little help never hurts.  Thanks Adam.  

Be sure to come down to The Corner this weekend for some fresh mission-grown green garlic, salad mix and Russian Kale!!

Click this link to read the interveiw.  



Monday, April 6, 2009

Farmers Anonymous

There really is no stopping a moving train.  At this point we've gained enough critical momentum that there is no stopping or turning back.  Not that we'd ever had plans to stop.  Simply put; the reality of the encroaching growing season and, its unique backyard slant for us, is setting in quickly and deeply.  We predicted we'd be busy, but as we've learned recently with our economy, predictions are one thing, reality is another.  
During the past two weeks, both Jessie and myself have moved homes and started building a new garden space in the Mission.  We've developed strategic tag-team watering plans for all of the spaces (plants don't give us a day off!!) And we've begun to take the first of our weekly shipments to The Corner (18th and Mission  We are jumping with glee each time that we do.  Moments like that are when what we do most feels like a selfish act rather than an environmental or communal one.  Mainly because it is.  When what you happen to enjoy is also something that is good for communities and the environment, there is no reason not to be as selfish as possible.  The pure satisfaction I get from bringing our own city-grown organic produce to a restaurant 4 blocks away is narcotic.  All idealism aside, I like this.... a lot.  
Of course I knew that I liked it when I was farming in VT, but this is something different.  I am continually awestruck by how little I know each time I learn something new. Each piece of food we pull from a backyard feels like a triumph, a victory.  It feels like we are regaining control of our spaces and inspiring others to do the same. And not simply because it is trendy or altruistic, but because it feels good.  It feels right.  

Here are some pictures of what we've been up to:

"talkin' it over"

"step one"

"a little help"


"almost done"

"Green garlic for The Corner"

"Proud grower"

"Proud grower"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Will work for food

Volunteer Update

We're gaining more sunlight everyday and with each new sunny moment we're seeing great changes in our backyard farms.  These changes mean more work to make sure we can pull off great harvests for The Corner and Weird Fish, the restaurants we grow for.  More work means that we are in ever greater need for more hands.  Our volunteers have responded to those needs in numbers.  

This week Joel, Sierra, Tina, and Adrienne showed their lust for learning about food by getting dirty.  They donated a Friday to getting some plants and seeds in the ground at both of our current garden locations.  Blessed by a warm sunny day in the Mission we were able to get some of our seedlings in the ground. Throughout the day we planted head lettuce and scallions that we'd started from seed on our grow table.  After that

we got crazy with some direct seeding of arugula, tat-soi, kale, and mizuna.  While seeding doesn't take all that long in a small backyard garden I had a great time showing people the ropes.  Beyond that, I was really grateful for all the help and good company.  Before long I reckon we'll have some real black belt volunteers.  Thanks guys.  

Can we get a light?
While the sun sticks around a little longer now, we've been having some light issues on our light table in our grow room.  Our squash starts just have not seemed happy.  When a plant thinks winter is coming (i.e. when light decreases) it reacts by producing as much offspring (veggies in this case) as it can before the light is no longer enough to sustain the plant.  In controlled environments, one strictly controls the amount of light a plant receives in order to give the plant time to mature before it decides to produce fruit and ultimately die.  By systematically reducing the daily light cycle, we encourage the plant to "flower" and then "fruit".  
In our case, our squash was flowering prematurely.  Which meant it thought death was immanent.  We had set our lights on a 12 hour time cycle to ensure that the plants had ample light to photosynthesize and grow large before we planted them outside.  But for some reason it wasn't working.  Scratching our heads, we just couldn't make sense of why our squash thought the end was nigh.  That is... until now.  
I donned a dunce cap the moment I realized, while laying in bed at 3am, that the master switch to the power was being turned off every night at 8:30 by our cleaning service at the restaurant.  This master switch includes our timer.  So regardless of what our timer decided to do, it was lights out every night at 8:30... no questions.  Some days our squash was getting a full day of "sun" and others it was getting maybe only 3-5 hours.   Now, with problem solved, we need to seed a new bunch of squash.  And now the death-row squash will be granted a pardon and set outside to start hardening off.   With any luck they'll brought back to health.

I believe that Homer Simpson said it best when he said "Dooooough"!!  He knows as well as I do, its hard to sleep with a dunce cap on.  

Link of the week
This week I've decided to try something a bit out of the ordinary for us and suggest a link that is off the beaten path.  "Fringe" Author Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: the return of Quetzalcoatl) writes mainly about altered consciousness and the point break of our political, social and environmental culture-wave but has also been known to wax poetic when it comes to sustainability.  While I will leave the research on his credentials up to the masses, I will advocate his very interesting blog  In addition to his provoking ravings and rants about consciousness expansion, he has interesting views about the state of the environment and what we can do about it.  While he's no Michael Pollan, his views about personal responsibility and urban farming are worth more than a mention.  Explore his blog and decide for yourself.  

Happy reading, 


Monday, March 2, 2009

Mission Statements

Urban Gothic:

Lately, when Jessie and I talk about Amyitis, the subject that most often comes up is "what next?" It seems that for any bits of knowledge we'd gained from our days on the farm, we have
 three times as much to learn.  Every day we wonder what we could be doing that we haven't thought of yet, what is worth our energy and how much?  Is our grow room good enough?  Have we been over-fertilizing or under?  What else is economical to grow for a restaurant? Just how much food are we expecting to yield this season? Is there a better way?  What are we forgetting?
With each question we try to answer it seems that two more appear.  With only a 1/2 season under our belt because of our late start last year, we're finding that there are questions that only time will answer for us.  As uncomfortable as that is, until time passes we have to make the mistakes and choices like first timers.  And let's face it, we are novices at this after all.  With full time jobs, there is only so much time to hesitate.  So we are doing what we know how one day at a time.  

While we are waiting for mother nature to squeeze last drops out of winter  from the clouds, we're doing our best to make plans for what is to come.  But with all of our questions, we're both feeling a little less than efficient.  It still feels too early to direct seed some things.  We're not planning on planting many, if any, root veggies like carrots, beets, or potatoes because of the time and space it takes to grow them.  So, naturally, we're a bit hesitant to direct seed squashes and cucumbers just yet because of their more sensitive nature.  We have chard, lettuce and scallions hardening off under the cold frame that should be ready to hit the ground soon.  For those that don't know, hardening off is the process of toughening up the plants between the greenhouse and the open field.  Also, it is not too early for lettuce, peas and kale to go in, so they will get planted this week too.  

In many ways it feels like the eye of the hurricane.  The excitement of preparing our grow table building beds and ordering seeds has passed.  And for now it appears that things have gone slightly idle.  Yet at the same time, we both know that in a months time, we'll be too busy to think.  So for now we're learning how to make the best use out of Mother Nature's limbo time: updating our business cards and trying to find more backyard spaces in the Mission! That being said, we're always looking for ways to find more usable spaces that are close to or in the Mission.  Never hesitate to pass us along to a new reader or someone that might be interested in having their back yard space transformed into a producing, wholesaling micro-farm.

Much of what we are planting now will be going to the cozy kitchen of a brand new restaurant opening .....soon? in the Mission called The Corner.  Another venture of Peter Hood and Timothy Holt, The Corner will be a small-plate wine and espresso bar.  Their menu will focus on local and seasonal meat, fish and produce from our Bay Area as well as fine wine and coffee.  Amyitis greens will be a strong part of the menu as we give them a weekly harvest.  We're very excited.  It is a real privilege to see your food be magically transformed by inspired chefs.  We can't wait.  Be sure to keep eyes and ears open for news of the grand opening coming very soon.  

Link of the Week:

Alemany Farm is a great local farm here in the city dedicated to growing community through growing food.  If you are unfamiliar with Alemany, be sure to go check out their website at Alemany Farm.  They provide meaningful youth and community activities at their multi-acre city farm and grow food for their low-income neighborhood.  Alemany's Mission Statement reads:

"Alemany Farm empowers San Francisco residents to grow their own food,
and through that process encourages people to become more engaged with their communities. We grow organic food and green jobs for low-income communities, while sowing the seeds for economic and environmental justice"

Huh... sounds a lot like us... but with loads more practice and expertise.  We applaud the efforts and accomplishments of Alemany and encourage the growth of them and organizations like them.  Like us here at Amyitis, they are always looking for volunteers.  More information is listed on their website about how to be involved with them if you have something to learn or something to share.  

Happy reading, 


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Down and Dirty


Exciting new things are always happening here at Amyitis. It seems that, with each week, we're faced with a new challenge, a new experiment, and a new opportunity. Stepping back to admire the growth of this project is truly inspiring and motivational. This week we were inspired and motivated by the show of support we received from our volunteers. Joel, Sierra, and Dillon came out on Tuesday to help us with our biggest job yet; moving 8 cubic yards of soil mix into the new raised beds at one of our gardens. It was a tricky project with only the use of 5-gallon buckets and tarps to move all of that soil through a tight (and very clean) carriage house and two doorways.  Scheduling this project has been tricky as well. We have fully welcomed the much needed rain but it sure makes a muddy muddy mess out of a huge and heavy pile of planting mix. Trying to dance around volunteers schedules and make peace with the weather for long enough to get it done wasn't easy but ended up working perfectly. We had to cancel the soil move a couple times before we just had to go for it. Even though it rained throughout the day, we were able to keep things dry enough to get the job done. And while we suspected that it would be really difficult without sufficient help, we now know that we couldn't have done it without them.  As the pictures below will illustrate, we had a lot fun doing it too.

Now that our second garden is ready for planting, we'll be able to start planting some of the seedlings we've had growing in our grow room. They are continuing to grow healthy and tall but it is clear that they are ready to spread out their roots. So far we've started five heirloom tomato varieties, lipstick peppers, red butter lettuce (MFS for those that care), calendula, Athena cucumbers, and several varieties of patty pan and flying saucer squash. It is also nearly time for some direct seeding now that we're gaining considerable sunlight with each passing day. We've already moved some butter lettuce seedlings to a cold frame we built last week. In the coming week we'll be making the plans for how to make the most productive use out of our new space.
Enjoy some of the pictures below from this week's soil project as well as another peak at our grow table as it moves along.
The Destination
Almost there
Proud ladies
Dirty Dirty Dillon

Link of the week:
With the fear that I might spoil some grand surprise, I have been hesitant to announce a prideful secret: Amyitis is the subject of a documentary film now underway!  And yes, theyand their gear braved the rain to film us move all that soil.  Alex Beckstead and Joelle Jaffe of 4SP Films have started filming our trials and triumphs throughout a full growing season for the subject of their latest documentary.  Alex and Joelle most recently produced Paperback Dreams, the story of two independent Bay Area bookstores trying to make ends meet in the digital age.  Paperback dreams, which aired on PBS,  is a thoughtful and in depth film that is a perfect fit for anyone interested in the future of literacy and the ever burgeoning history of the San Francisco Bay area.  Paperback Dreams just might help inspire you to save your local bookstore as well as whet your chops for the in-depth look at the life of Amyitis.  Find out how to watch and buy the movie at  

We don't know if they have a title yet or a release date, but you can be assured we'll keep you posted.  We have some title ideas of our own, but we wouldn't dare yet release such nuggets of gold.  

Happy Gardening, 


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Well, David is off on another epic West Coast journey, this time driving from Fairbanks, Alaska back down to San Francisco.  He'll be retracing some of his bike trip route, this time in the cab of a pickup truck, and starting waaay farther north. He and our good friend Chris have been battling some subzero temperatures in the Yukon, but all in all, having a great adventure. 
Meanwhile, I have been tending to the seedlings and keeping things going here at Amyitis. Growing in California is still somewhat strange to me- we've had such warm weather, I just want to put things in the ground, but I realize that I have to be patient as (hopefully) those winter rains might still come. The seedlings are doing so well in the basement grow lab that we started. The tomatoes have sprouted and the cukes and zucchinis are already a few inches tall.
Last weekend, to make some more room for these burgeoning plants, my good friend Caitlin and I built a tiny cold frame in our garden. We transplanted all the lettuce that we had seeded in an open tray into cells of their own, gave them some water, and then set them in the cold frame that we had placed in the sunny part of the garden. Unfortunately, at this time of year that garden doesn't get a whole lot of direct sunlight due to the angle of the sun and how it hits all the surrounding buildings. The lettuce seedlings are hanging in there, but look a little jolted from their adjustment from 14 hours of light a day to maybe two or so hours of direct sun.  But the little cold frame is keeping them moist and toasty and Caitlin and I were quite proud of our little building. I dream of a big cold frame, that I can actually stand in and do my seeding and watering, but this one works just fine for now. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photo Maki

Dear Readers, 

Although it has been some time since our last post, we can assure you that we've been hard at work here at Amyitis.  While enjoying the warmth and glow of these holiday and inaugural seasons, we've been toiling away here to insure our success for the seasons that lay in wait.  We've been so hard at work, both at our day jobs and at the gardens, we've only found time now to get you caught up.
Taking swift advantage of the recent Bay Area warm spell, we motivated to get some timely projects and experiments finished.  Thus far, the results of these projects are getting us really excited as we move forward into the spring and summer seasons.  Along the way, the owners of gardens #2, showed incredible enthusiasm and generosity by having raised beds built in their yard.  This huge commitment on their behalf was humbling and inspiring.  We're unfailingly grateful to them and their efforts to keep Amyitis alive and well.  On a day this past week I helped Michele, Amy and their builder Lucas clear brush, trees and stumps from the space to prepare for the beds.  A day later Lucas had finished the beds, and beautifully.  The before and after photos below truly speak for themselves.  But rather than ramble on here, I will let the photos do the talking.  Scroll down for a tour of what we've been up to.  

Happy reading,


From top:
1) Starts in our "start room" in the basement of Boogaloos
2) Jessie tending to the trays
3) MFS lettuce dicots for head lettuce
4) Hericium erinaceus or Lion's Mane mushroom grown in our home kitchen
5) The Author with kitchen grown Shiitakes
6) Before and after photos of garden #2 under construction of beds
7) Garlic sprouting in garden #1 planted a couple of months ago.

Link of the Week:
Check out Novella Carpenter's blog at
Novella is someone I met two years ago when I was looking to get my hands dirty.  After just having moved to the city from Vermont, I was unsure of how to get involved in the urban agriculture movement I knew was happening all around me.  As I applied for jobs I quickly realised that no job in urban farming was going to pay my San Francisco rent. Through my consistent search for a good fit, I was directed to Novella through a friend of mine.  Novella was kind enough to have me come over to her very unique garden/mini-farm operation in the east bay once or twice weekly to see how she ran things and volunteer.  She, unwittingly, is the inspiration for the blog you read today and quite possibly Amyitis itself.  Do check out her sight and read on.  What she has done and continues to do in urban agriculture is groundbreaking and fearless.  I applaud her efforts and achievements.  If you read her blog, you may too.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Yule Log

Before I left to see my family on the east cost for the Christmas holiday, Joel and I had gone wood hunting at a couple of the local green waste management facilities.  Climbing upon huge towering piles of mostly cedar and eucalyptus wood scraps, branches, and stumps, we culled a couple of logs that looked like appropriate hardwoods (again, hardwoods are what we need for mushroom cultivation).  The facilities managers all were invariably friendly, eccentric, and happy to let us free climb dangerously unstable piles of scrap.  In spite of the fact that my tree identification is poor at best, I evidently seem to be able to successfully sniff out hardwoods from a nebula of various aromatic pine and cedar.  I only know this because, still unsure of my gleanings, Jessie and I traveled to the headquarters of some SF tree removal specialists in the midst of a holiday barbecue to get an ID on the species of log we had gotten.  According to them it was Poplar; a fact to which we sunk our heads to upon hearing.  Poplar they said is "...about as soft as you can get".  "It's only good for toothpicks and Camembert boxes. You're holding a couple million tooth picks right there."  Though discouraged, we didn't stop there.  A little more research was in order.

After doing a bit more research we found out that Poplar IS actually a hardwood, commonly called Cottonwood.  Perfect!  Cottonwood just happens to be an ideal species for shiitake cultivation!  My sixth sense for hardwood location was verified.  I had unknowingly picked a very ideal couple logs.  It was time to start plugging away.  

I started by drilling the holes in a diamond pattern about two inches apart.  Immediately I was glad that we only were starting with two logs.  I can imagine it being a really back-breaking job to do 200 or so logs (what we'd most likely do if we had a commercial mushroom operation).  After I had drilled holes for the better part of an hour I started with the plugging.  The dowels are soft enough that they need to be pounded in with a rubber hammer.  Once the plug spawn bag is open you have to use them all.  Once exposed to the elements, the plugs can't be saved.  So pound away I did for another hour or so.  In the end I was able to get in about 170 plugs.  Following getting the plugs in, I heated up about 1/2 lb. of beeswax.  This all natural wax is recommended to seal the fresh plugs that you've just labored to put in.  Evidently the wax will give the shiitake spawn the best fighting chance of inoculating the log by not letting in competitor fungi or disease.  After drilling, plugging, and waxing all exposed wood I was finished.  All in all the process maybe took 2 and 1/2 hours.  Now the logs will sit for 4 to 6 months until it is time to induce fruiting.  "Fruiting" has a couple different methods that encourage the fruiting bodies (the mushroom itself) of the mycelium to emerge.  But, more on that later.  Much later.  

Link of the Week:

You may have noticed by now that my links of the week are all over the map.  One week were talking local and the next were promoting Incorporated and global.  In an Internet column, I think that it is a duty to diversify ones sources and influences, from the grass roots to the corporate level.  The Internet being the Internet, the vast and sprawling matrix of information it is, it holds for us the keys to drive contagious information all over the planet.  I feel it encourages the destruction of barriers to conscious changing information and wisdom no longer confined by physical location or hours of operation.  This of course means we are faced with the responsibility of honing our own skills of discernment and critical thought.  One's challenge is to glean valuable bits of good information despite its maybe suspect context.  In other words, our challenge is to recognize a good thing when we see it.  In the last few years, the New York Times has tuned an ear to the low but growing rumble of the food movement.  The NYT magazine has been highlighting young farmers and their efforts to reclaim this human right that Amyitis attempts to exercise.  A couple weeks ago they posted a slide show and feature on young farmers.  While I don't often feel that large corporate media enterprises need my help in spreading their journalistic wares, I commend them for their part in helping to spread this grass roots food movement.  You can visit the slide show here, as well as gain access to more of the stories about the farmers featured there.  

Happy reading,