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Low Cost Mushroom Production at Home
Preparing for Seed Saving
The Buzz About Worm Castings
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Low Cost Mushroom Production at Home

by Arzeena Hamir

Gourmet mushrooms like Shiitake, Oyster & Enoki mushrooms are growing in popularity but the retail price for many of these delicacies can often be out of range for most people. Mushroom lovers on a budget have another option - growing mushrooms at home.

Mushroom production might seem complicated but there are many kits on the market that make growing mushrooms easy. These kits provide the substrate, pre-inoculated with mushroom mycelia and simple instructions.

Mushrooms

When we think of mushrooms, we often think of the soft caps & stems that we see in the grocery store. Hidden underground, however, is the vast majority of the mushroom mass itself- the network of feathery mycelia. These mycelia, often seen when turning over compost, are what the mushroom uses to absorb food & moisture. The cap & stem that we commonly eat is just the fruiting body.

To grow, mycelia require an uncontaminated food source, free from other microorganisms, moisture, and temperatures between 60-80F. The food source can vary, depending on the species of mushroom, from sawdust & shavings to manure or compost. Once mycelia have colonized a food source, they begin to produce fruiting bodies, commonly referred to as pins. As the pins mature, they develop into recognizable mushrooms.

Kits

Most commercially available kits range in price from $20-$30. The most common species available in kit form are regular button mushrooms and portabellos (Agaricus species), shiitake, and oyster. Most kits will start fruiting within a week and you can expect a harvest of 1-2 pounds of mushrooms per flush. Commonly, each kit will provide 2-3 flushes of mushrooms before the food supply is spent. Finished kits can then be placed on the compost pile where you can sometimes get a bonus flush of edibles.

Types of mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes), have a rich, meaty texture. The brown caps often grow up to 3-4 inches in diameter. They have been highly prized in the Orient for centuries and scientists are researching its medicinal, anti-viral properties. Indoors, the kits can be stored from 55 to 75F and will produce 2-3 pounds within 3 months.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp) are named for the fact that their flavour & texture resembles oysters. The mushroom itself comes in different colours, depending on species, from pink, cream, white & gray. The white mushroom is the easiest to grow and will fruit over a wide temperature range from 55-75 F. These mushrooms are particularly sensitive to humidity and need to be misted 2-3 times per day.

Few people realize that the common white cap, crimini & Portobello mushroom are all related (Agaricus spp.). Crimini are smaller, brown mushrooms while portobellos are quite large (up to 6" in diameter). Growing these types of mushrooms takes a little longer but they don't require sunlight to grow and will yield more than other kits, 3-6 pounds over 3 months.

Procedure

Once a kit arrives, it should be free of any different coloured molds. If you do see anything strange, get a replacement. An incubation period is required for the mycelia to colonize the whole substrate. The kit should be kept at the proper temperature and should be kept moist at all times. Colonization usually requires 7-10 days.

After this period, the mycelia need to be forced into fruiting, usually by placing the kit in the refrigerator. Afterward, the kit will have to be opened and exposed to some light (excluding Agaricus species). A good place to keep the kits is in a garage or a sheltered place outdoors. Keeping the kits under your sink usually results in fungus gnats. If outdoor temperatures dip, a Styrofoam cooler makes an excellent humidity chamber, insulating the kit against cold temperatures.

As the fruiting bodies appear, the humidity needs to be kept high. Most kits come equipped with a plastic tent so a regular spray of water is enough to achieve the right conditions. Using the right water, however, is critical. Spring, well or rainwater is best, as it doesn't contain any chlorine. If none of these are available, leave a bucket of water to stand overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

Outdoor production

If you become hooked on mushroom production, you can move on to the next step- growing mushrooms on logs. While logs take much more time to develop edible mushrooms, they produce for up to 4 years and are even more economical than the kits.

Resource Books

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, by Paul Stamets

The Mushroom Cultivator, A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home, by Paul Stamets and J.S. Chilton

Websites

The Mushroom Council- http://www.mushroomcouncil.com/
Mushroom Harvest http://www.seedman.com/rachel/harvest.htm
Puget Sound Mycological Society - http://www.psms.org/

This article was originally published on Suite101.com.


Preparing for Seed Saving

by Sharon Hanna

I like to think that humans are still relatively in touch with their native abilities to create food. I have had a hankering to collect seeds since I was little, and I've seen children do it year after year - so for me seed-saving is a lot of fun, and just a natural thing to do.

"Open pollinated" seeds (sometimes abbreviated to "O.P") have not been crossed with anything else. These seeds can be saved and will normally produce a reasonable facsimile when you sow them, and you can keep saving OP seed for growing the following year. Of course, mutations do occur, even though your back yard is not a laboratory. It's one of life's mysteries for you to enjoy - and that is how hybridization started in the first place.

Seeds which you buy in a packages marked "F1" or "F2" (first, or second generation) are called hybrid seeds. If you prefer to use hybrid seed, you'll need to keep buying them when you run out. The seed which is produced from hybrids may be sterile, or may have reverted, which means they have returned to the qualities of either parent. Or, no proper seeds will form at all.

There are as many different ways to store seeds as their are gardeners. Some people think freezing seeds is the answer. Some prefer to keep them in the fridge. Some keep them in the basement, some sealed, some not sealed.

I do not practice the freezing method. The reason for this is simple. If my freezer breaks down, which is a possibility because of power outages in a wind storm, say..my seeds would thaw. At that point, they would lose a lot of their efficacy, since storing seeds is about the temperature remaining about the same over the period you are storing them.

Different approaches work, but common to them all is consistency of temperature and lack of humidity. Okay, I will readily admit to keeping seeds all over the place. I may have been a pack rat in my past life - and still my germination rates are good on seeds I have kept for years. So the bottom line is keep them dry, and the humidity and temperature relatively consistent, and you should have no problem.

Individual types of seed, however, do have a 'shelf life'. Spinach, for instance, is not a good keeper. But beans, peas, and many other large seeds can last for years. It seems Mother Nature has quite the sense of humour - weed seeds have been know to last for upwards of 30-40 years!

All seeds are living organisms. However corn, bean, and pea seeds actually breathe. Avoid suffocating them in a sealed plastic container.

Sharon Hanna is a garden writer and avid cook. Read her latest articles on Themestream


The Buzz About Worm Castings

by Don Trotter

Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome, once again to the undersoil realm of the fantastic earthworm. In this discussion we will be touching on some of the many benefits of using earthworms and their casts (politically correct term for poop) in the garden.

Earthworm castings have been used for centuries to increase the quality of soil and to improve the overall health of plants growing in that soil. Aristotle, the philosopher, called them "The Plows of the Earth," Charles Darwin spent a great deal of time looking at and studying these amazing creatures. The net result of all this fuss about wigglers was that they became revered as the most helpful and beneficial organisms in any garden or on any farm or nursery where plants are grown directly in the ground. Today, many of us don't have the space or the inclination to make an attempt at worm or "vermi" composting so we go directly for the castings, which are sold at garden centers and nurseries all over the country. Worm castings have hit the mainstream because gardeners are finding out that they do so much more than just improve their soils.

Worm casts are digested organic matter that has been run through the gut of the earthworm. They are one of the most stable sources of organic matter for the garden and the biology they support is unlike that of any regular commercial or home made compost. Earthworms impart into their casts an incredible diversity of hygienic microorganisms that work to competitively exclude disease-causing organisms as well as a number of destructive pests such as root knot and root lesion nematodes. Worm castings have recently been discovered to fight other pests on plant surfaces also through an ingenious little enzyme known as chitinase.

Chitinase is a degrading enzyme that eats the material chitin. Here is the fun part.pest insects are made of chitin. Chitinase is formed by several types of microorganisms that are found in the gut of the humble earthworm. Chitinase producing organisms are theorized to be taken up by plant roots in the water they utilize and are then moved throughout the plant via vascular tissue. This translocation results in chitinase being distributed into the leaves and other parts of the plant. When a pest insect such as an aphid, mealybug, whitefly, or any other plant-feeding insect begins taking juices from a plant with chitinase in it they find out the hard way what chitin degrading means. The chitinase works to dissolve the insect's stomach lining thus disabling the pest. It dies from the fact that its insides are being slowly dissolved. There can be no more effective way to control pest insects on plant that this method because insect pests cannot change what material makes up their bodies. And it is very difficult in nature to develop resistance to things that eat you.

Earthworm castings also have the added benefit of being loaded with other beneficial, hygienic microorganisms that will help your plants fight such regular maladies as powdery mildew, rust, black spot, and a number of other fungal pathogens through competitive exclusion. Competitive exclusion is the process by which one species dominates and eventually excluded another from surviving. With worm castings you get so many beneficial organisms that the pathogens do not stand a chance of survival.

When applying worm castings to the garden, it should be known that the best place for them is where your plants do the majority of their feeding, the dripline. Worm casts should be applied in a ring of about three-quarters to one inch in thickness around the dripline of your plants for maximum insect and disease repellency. This ring should be in the form of a band of between six inches to two feet wide depending on whether you're using it on smaller shrubs or trees. A layer of organic compost over the top of the casts will help to keep them moist and protect them from the sun depleting their biology, which is sensitive to the rays of the sun.

So the next time you are cursing your poor soil quality, raving at your pest infestations, or lamenting the outbreaks of fungal diseases in your garden, reach for some earthworm castings. With a little patience you'll see the amazing effect of the lowly earthworm on your precious gardening spaces. Next time we'll be discussing shade trees and their value in the landscape. See you in the Garden!

Got Questions? Email them to the Doc at Curly@mill.net
Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. For more gardening tips check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener at bookstores near you and all on line booksellers, both from Hay House publishing www.hayhouse.com



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