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,