Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Woodland Mushroom Cultivation

Our previous attempts at inoculating logs and stumps with the mycelia of edible mushrooms have met with varied success. I thoroughly recommend Paul Stamets Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. He suggests a multi-pronged attack on the wood: even the (vegetable oil based) lubricating oil for his chainsaw is inoculated with spores. From experience and from reading, I’ve also come to realise how important it is not to let the log or stump dry out.

Oyster mushrooms are saprophytic, that is they are decomposers. (The other basic categories are parasitic, mycorrhizal and endophytic). We’ve had most of our success with this one and decided to try again and use a different supplier to get another point of view.

Ann, of Ann Miller’s Speciality Mushrooms, supplies the inoculated dowels that we’re used to. (Mushroom spawn is also available in an amorphous mass of bran and sawdust but that requires a special tool to insert the plug into the hole in the log).

Included in her kits are flakes of wax with applicators; the wax seals the plug off from other airborne spores, to give our chosen mycelium the best opportunity to get established first.

She also suggested some variations on the technique we’ve been using to date. The stump gets covered with a black plastic bag, to help preserve humidity and then covered with brash to keep the sun off. When our chainsaw-wielding volunteers, Paul and Liam, thinned a patch of sycamores for next winter’s firewood, I asked them to leave the stumps standing to a comfortable working height of a couple of feet (60 cm). I also asked them to cut again, below their felling cut, to leave a flat surface in which to drill a ring of holes for the dowels and provide a cap to cover, and so keep moist, the inoculated face.

The two main problems I think we’ve had is using wood that was already infected with another mushroom (fortunately another edible mushroom!) and letting the stumps dry out. Ann says that watering stumps or logs with a watering can doesn’t wet the log, which need to be immersed in water for a while, impossible with a stump, meaning that we should spend more effort not letting them dry off in the first place.

Just two weeks later, I had a peer under the brash, under the plastic bag and under the wooden cap, to see that the mycelium is already running. We’ll keep and eye on them over the next few months and, if they look ready to flush, we’ll remove the plastic bags as it turns cooler and damper in autumn.

Permaculture-wise, we don’t need to do anything to kill the stumps, which would otherwise coppice and, after the initial effort and expense, we can leave the mycelia to work unassisted, eating the stumps and turning it back into soil, while intermittently throwing out edible mushrooms for up to five years.

photos show the dowels as they arrive from Ann; me applying wax; an inoculated stump; protected by a bag, the mycelium starting to run and one I prepared earlier, fruiting!

Monday, February 15, 2010

L’agnelage a commencé :

Our vet, the affable Dr Mouhli came calling on Saturday morning. As our animals are registered with the établissement départemental d’élevage, an organisation that is charged with ensuring the traceability of farm animals, we automatically receive communications from the Directions Départementales des Services Vétérinaires concerning our responsibilities and animal welfare. We have to nominate a local vet, in our case Hamadi Mouhli, and he is also informed by the DDSV which holdings he must call on to carry out testing or vaccinations. We were thus expecting the phone call from Annick, his secretary, to make an appointment for a three-yearly blood test to detect the presence or absence of brucellosis in our flock and to vaccinate our sheep against blue tongue.

As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, in order to get these important vaccinations produced and rolled out across the country, the use-the-whole-bottle-the-day-it’s-opened flasks come in an inconvenient size of 100 doses. This provides our vet and his secretary with an additional logistical task of matching up larger farms with small flocks like ours to get the most out of each bottle.

With a multi-dose syringe in each hand (our sheep were receiving annual boosters for both serotypes 1 and 8) and counting out glass phials for the blood tests as if he was loading up with cartridges, he had a certain air of Clint Eastwood about him.

Finding a vein under a winter woollen coat wasn’t the easiest of tasks and we were amazed to see how easily the wool came away as he plucked it—much as you’d pluck a chicken—to give him a better chance of hitting the mark. It made us wonder whether we shouldn’t try plucking our sheep this May, rather than shearing them!

With our sheep officially perforated, we asked Hamadi if he could tell whether our ewes were pregnant. They certainly seem to have a seasonal width in the beam. He gently manipulated down the right hand side of one ewe and then placed my hand in the same position. I’m not sure I could feel anything specific. Maybe I’ll have a feel later in the year and see if I can detect the difference. He apologised for not having his echography equipment with him but we weren’t that bothered, just interested to know whether he could tell by putting an expert hand on their tummies. (Read Renée’s clues to sheep pregnancy.)

One of our ewes gave us her answer yesterday morning—see the photo at top. Yet another boy: now in our forth year of keeping sheep, we’ve only ever had male lambs. We don’t habitually name our animals here, even the cats don’t have names, but as the first lamb of 2010 and born on St Valentine’s Day, we’ve decided to call him Valentin. He heralds the start of our lambing season, or as it’s called in French, l’agnelage (agneau is French for lamb).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Woodland Visitors Various :

We’ve been down to our woods a lot recently, to finish off our work thinning a plot of Corsican pines so that we may receive a European subsidy. With keen eyes, we’ve noticed that we’re not the only ones there.

First off was a sluggish little beetle that we inadvertently uncovered. After a couple of snapshots for the blog, we relocated him/her to what we thought to be a similarly sheltered spot to let him get back to his/her hibernation. As far as I can tell from my Collins Gem Insects, it is a Bloody-nosed Beetle, Timarcha tenebricosa but I’ll be interested to hear from anyone who can either confirm that or tell me otherwise. It apparently has this name for its habit of exuding a red fluid from its mouth when alarmed.

We know there are wild boar in the area; Gabrielle and I saw a mother followed by three piglets cross the road in front of the wood very late one evening a couple of years ago. And here’s evidence of them in the wood: a pine tree that’s been used as a rubbing post. The ground beneath it has been “poached” by the boar walking on it and the bark has been completely rubbed off, all around the tree, leaving smears of dry mud on the trunk.

Another time, as we walked in, woods, there was a cracking of undergrowth and a flash of russet brown as a startled a group of five chevreuil (roe deer) made off. The snow we had last month made it a lot easier to see animal tracks and I believe this print is of a roe deer.

And last but not least, yesterday’s visitor was Laurent Girard of the Centre Régional de Propriété Forestière, come to cast an expert eye over the work we’d been carrying out. He’s ticked the boxes and signed the form, so we will get our subsidy. Thanks again to our friends and volunteers who helped: Kristen, Jérémie, Debbie and Stuart, Graham, Liam, Paul and Chay.