Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Its a cold winter

Last year was a mild winter, then we had a cool summer with lots of rain and now a very cold winter.  I had never seen single digit temperatures before so was curious to see how 0 degrees F would feel.  Well, it's pretty damn cold after about 10 or 15 minutes of having any skin exposed.  Trying to water animals in below freezing temperatures is always an interesting undertaking too.  The bowls or buckets of water from the previous watering are now solid blocks of ice and the hose is usually frozen despite having it stored in the heated well house.  Once water is flowing you will inevitably spray yourself in the face or at least your gloves get wet and then turn to ice. Fun times on the farm.

You can see that the sheep have snow on their backs, but they don't seem to mind.  It is like a well insulated house that has snow on the roof and a fire inside.  If the snow does not melt then it means the house is well insulated.  So it goes with the sheep.  I'd imagine a wool coat about 4 inches thick would keep you pretty warm.  Thor is the same way.  In single digit temps he likes to lay outside, in the shade, instead of inside the barn with a nice straw bed.

The hoop house was a big success with lots of lettuce and bok choy, which I recently sold to two customers that were very excited to have organic local produce in January.  I still have spinach growing in there and will probably eat it myself.  In just a few short weeks it will be time to start seeds for the spring garden.  Here we go again.

My buddy Jerry brought his grandson over to catch a couple of trout in the pond.  I then went over to his house to help him slaughter a couple of hogs.  He in turn helped my slaughter and butcher two lambs.  We both have our freezers full of meat and are talking about collaborating on a steer this year.  As I write this blog, sausage from this hog is frying up on my stove and will be my supper.  It is really good to have a friend and neighbor like that.

The duck is Mr. Peepers.  I took a series of photos of him as he hatched and then as he grew.  He became quite the celebrity on my facebook page.  He is getting big now, living with the big ducks outside and is almost fully feathered.  As soon as the cold weather breaks, I'll let him and his clutch mates out to forage and take a swim in the pond.

In other note worthy developments, I grew a beard but trimmed it down as it was beginning to scare people. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

End of Spring 2013

Things are starting to slow down now. This years blueberry crop was outstanding. The most difficult part was keeping up with the harvesting. Before we could pick the entire patch it was already time to start over. I was very happy that we sold every blueberry we picked.
Here is Andrew and Andrew. The one with the big red beard is Andrew Lanham who is now living on the farm in his teepee. He has been an enormous help in completing projects that I have been wanting to do for a while. Andrew on the right is my son who came for a visit this August. He really enjoyed helping us at the Transylvania Farmers Market in Brevard where we sell our berries, mushrooms, chickens and veggies.
The trout pond has also done very well this year. I stocked it with eighty small fry and now I have a pond full of huge Rainbow trout. I catch them with a rod and reel so it is fun as well as delicious.
I also had visitors this year. Tim and Adrianna Posey got married on the farm right next to the pond. The reception was held in the pasture and the pole barn served as the bar and food service area. They erected a huge tent for guests and there was lots of music and lights strung about. It was quite fun!

Five Farms Camp also visited. Those girls were so much fun and so interested in the farm. I look forward to seeing them back again.

Plans have been made for an addition to my two year old house. It is to be a space for my bodywork practice and a future bedroom, if I ever retire. I also have a dream of it serving as a zen dojo for zazen. I am presently investigating the possibility of being associated with the temple in New Orleans where I used to practice.

Fall is upon us and I am already seeing and feeling the slowing down process. It is quite welcome at this point. It will give me some time to resume guitar lessons and have more time for reading and sitting.

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 2013 at Cosmo Farm

The Spring frenzy has begun. The garden is being planted, eggs are being produced by chickens and ducks. Meat chickens are being harvested. Greens are growing and there is a new critizen at Cosmo Farm.

Thor is a 14 week old Maremma which is an old breed of Livestock Guardian Dog that originated in Italy. The breed was developed there over hundreds of years by sheep herders to protect their flocks from wolves and other predators. It will be a while before Thor is ready to kill any wolves though, as he has a long puppy hood before him. In the mean time his instinct to guard is already kicking in.

And Cosmo is showing Thor the ropes.

The sheep go their spring haircut this year by a professional shearer named Jonathan Hearne. What would have taken me two days to do he did in one hour. It was pretty amazing to watch this man work. I am sure he was doing some Jujitsu moves on them. I wish I could have gotten a photo of him shearing but I was too busy wrangling sheep in and out of the barn. May I never have to shear another sheep.

I am also processing meat chickens this week. I have already done about 25 of them and have another 25 to go. These birds have been raised on pasture according to the practices as set forth by Joel Salatin, sustainable farm guru. I have had to make some modifications by adding tarps on top of the pens due to the amount of rain we get in Tranyslvania county but the system works well. Next batch may be a heritage chicken. I am selling these birds as fresh the day after processing or frozen after that. They are for sale at the Transylvania Farmers Market in Brevard on Saturday morning. Here is a photo of the chicken tractor in the pasture and one chicken that did not make it to the farmer's market.

The farmers market has been lots of fun, meeting new people, customers and vendors alike. There is music every week as well as breakfast and lots of top quality food.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rainy weekend

I am taking the opportunity to update the blog today because it has been raining nonstop for 36 hours now and is forecast for another 36 and I am getting a little cabin fever crazy.

Yesterday I participated in my third Saturday at the Transylvania Farmers Market in Brevard. While the weather was cold and damp we had a decent turnout and I sold some mushrooms and eggs.

While it is still too early in the season to produce much of anything I have managed enough eggs, mixed greens and mushrooms to make a showing. I am looking forward to warmer (and drier) weather so I can get the rest of my garden planted.

Look for me this spring at the market in Brevard with Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms, pasture raised whole chickens, duck and chicken eggs and goodies from the garden and orchard.

Friday, April 19, 2013

April 2013

While it is still a bit early in the season for produce there is still a lot going on here. As you can see I have started fifty Jumbo Cornish Cross chicks to be harvested for meat. This is the same kind of chicken you find at the local grocery store. They have double wide breasts and grow really quickly. They are still in the brooder growing out feathers but will soon be out in the pasture eating bugs and fresh grass.

The pond finally got filled with water and fish! I stocked the pond with 80 small Rainbow trout that I purchased from a neighbor that has a trout farm. They should be ready for harvesting this fall but in the mean time I am enjoying watching them swim and splash around at feeding time.

As a result of clearing a new one acre pasture of pine and poplar trees I am left with around 150 logs. They are currently being trucked to a local mill for cutting into lumber for a new sharn (shop/barn).

After a full year of work, but mostly not working on them, the stone steps leading up to my house are complete. All the stone came from the farm found in creeks and during excavations. The project came out really nice but I am glad it's over. What a back breaker. Thanks to neighbor Martin' for help.

Tomorrow is the first day of the Transylvania Farmer's Market. I have everything ready to go. It is still a bit early since not much is happening in the garden yet but I do have lots of eggs for sale and the mushrooms will be coming along very soon.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Growing Shiitake Mushrooms

When trying to find things to grow on my small homestead farm I look to nature to see what naturally grows here in the mountains of North Carolina. I looked around and found that blueberries grow wild so I started with 125 blueberry bushes. Then I thought of apples since I see lots of wild crab apple trees. The problem with domesticated apples and other fruit is that I happen to live in an area that is considered a temperate rain forest. This means that we get about 80 inches of rain annually. That much rain makes it difficult to grow many things like fruit and berries because of diseases caused by fungi and molds. Well, I thought, if fungi like to grow here then that’s what I’ll grow. Why fight Mother Nature? After doing a little research I found that what I’d need would be oak logs, shade and water. My wooded acreage provides me with all the oak and shade I need. Several creeks and lots of rain provide the water. In my first year I inoculated twenty five logs as a test run. They produced very well so every year I add additional logs to increase production and replace depleted logs. Logs should last from three to eight years depending on the type of wood used and the size of the logs.

I started giving mushrooms to friends, using them for barter, then selling to a local restaurant. This year I will be at the local Farmer’s Market as I approach having 200 logs in production. I also eat lots of fresh mushrooms and dehydrate them for off season use. Growing mushrooms is a lot of work up front but once the logs are inoculated subsequent work in the following years is minimal. Holding a mushroom inoculation party makes the work fun and quick and everyone goes home with a log or two.

What you’ll need:
1. Oak logs about 3 to 8 inch in diameter and 30 to 42 inches long. Just remember that you’ll have to pick them up and move them around occasionally and the larger ones tend to get heavy, especially when wet. Shorter logs tend to dry out faster so size your logs according to your lifting capabilities. You can also use other types of trees like Maple, Ironwood, Sweetgum, and other hardwoods but Red Oak or White Oak is best. Shiitake means “mushroom of the oak” for a reason. The bark on Maple does not hold up as well as Oak and Maple will also not last as many seasons as Oak. There are also certain types of trees that should not be used such as any Conifer, soft hardwood, Locust, Black Walnut, Ash or Elm. If you cannot cut logs yourself you can order them from a firewood supplier. Just make sure they are fresh logs.
2. Mushroom Spawn in any of several forms. The spawn is mushroom mycelium mixed with some type of substrate. I purchase sawdust spawn which is best for preparing a lot of logs but you can also get wooden dowels that contain the mycelium which is easier for small runs. Mycelia are spores which is like the seed of the mushroom. When in contact with a suitable food (wood) and the right amount of moisture, it grows and produces fruit (mushrooms). Spawn may be stored in the refrigerator for several months. Since the supplier cannot always ship your spawn immediately, order in advance and you’ll have it when you need it.
3. Tools such as a drill and inoculating tool if using sawdust spawn or a hammer if using dowels. I use an angle grinder that has been outfitted with a special bit to drill holes of the correct diameter and depth for my inoculation tool. If only doing a few logs use the dowels, and drill holes with any drill but if doing many logs it is worth the investment to get the angle grinder and special bit. Your wrists will thank you and you will save yourself many hours of drilling.
4. Wax is used to seal the holes once the log has been inoculated. I suggest using cheese wax. I once used beeswax only to have it all melt in the summer heat and leak out. I use a dedicated $5 crock pot from Goodwill, to melt the wax and a special dauber to apply it but you can use any small paintbrush.
5. A shady cool spot to store your logs. Eighty percent dappled shade is just about right and protected from wind especially if you are in a dry area.
6. Water to soak the logs or a sprinkler system. I store my logs next to the creek and throw them in to soak them when needed, or just let the rain keep them wet. If a creek or pond is not available you can use a garden hose with a sprinkler or any tank of water such as a stock watering tank, a 55 gallon drum or old bathtub.

What to do
1. Cut logs to size. This is best done when the trees are dormant as the bark has a better chance of staying tight. Cut them in winter or early spring about a week before inoculating. Do not use tree limbs that have fallen or any tree that shows signs of decay or disease. Do not let logs sit on the ground for too long as they will pick up competing mushroom spores from other strains that will compete with or kill the Shiitake spawn.
2. Drill holes according to the type of inoculating method. Holes must be drilled to the diameter and depth as set forth by the dowel or plunger type inoculation tool. Instructions will come with whatever type inoculate you order. Do not predrill lots of holes with the idea that you’ll come back and fill them later. Only drill what you can fill and seal in a short time. Holes should be drilled in a diamond pattern. Drill a lengthwise line of holes 6 inches apart and then roll the log about two inches. Drill another set of holes 6 inches apart this time staggered with the previous line of holes, thereby creating the diamond pattern. The pattern is not critical; you just want to get the spawn spread out evenly throughout the log.
3. Insert spawn. This can be either dowels for small jobs or sawdust spawn for larger jobs. Use the special plunger tool with sawdust spawn. Make sure that the hole is neither under or overfilled. The top of the spawn should be slightly indented leaving room for the wax seal.
4. Seal holes with cheese wax. Make sure the hole is thoroughly sealed to keep the spawn from drying out and other spores from entering your logs. Be careful to not overheat cheese wax. If overheated it can ignite. A crock pot is usually safe.
5. Set completed logs in shade. I stack mine up off of the ground on other oak logs or on pallets to keep foreign spores from entering since I am located in a very wet area. Shade should be dappled with sunlight, about 80% shade. Logs must not be allowed to dry out during incubation or the mycelium will die. In dry areas keep them close to the ground.
6. As the logs incubate, the mycelium that you have injected will begin to grow and form a network of tiny “roots”. When the temperature and moisture content is right the logs will start to pin or show signs of mushrooms. The mushrooms contrary to popular belief do not pop out of the holes that you drilled but can for anywhere on the log. Fruiting usually begins in autumn if it is not too cold, other conditions are right and you have used sawdust spawn. Doweled logs will normally produce one year after inoculation. Some strains do better in warmer weather and some in cooler weather. I use a broad range strain which produces in a wider variety of conditions. When conditions are right and the logs are ready to produce you can soak the logs for about 24 hours then remove them for forced fruiting or you can just wait for a heavy rain. There are different ways to stack them but I usually stack mine log cabin style. As in my case, too much rain while mushrooms are growing can cause them to get soggy. I sometimes need to cover the logs with a tarp while they are fruiting. They are best picked while the caps are still curled under. If left on the log too long they flatten out and begin to deteriorate. Check logs frequently especially in wet weather as I have often been surprised by a huge flush of mushrooms.
7. Just as you like mushrooms so do a host of other creatures such as slugs, squirrels and other furry friends. You can set beer traps for slugs. I am trying ducks this year as I hear that ducks love slugs. The biggest danger to your logs is that they become too dry so make sure proper moisture content is maintained.

Keep in mind that like growing any crop, what you do depends on many factors such as climate, type of wood, and strain of mycelium used, some of which may be quite different from what I have described. Do a little local research to see what works best in your neck of the woods. Don’t be intimidated either. The logs will pick up mushroom mycelium with or without your help. This is nature’s way of decomposing wood fiber. All we are doing is helping the logs to grow the kind of mushroom that is good to eat. If you want to just dip your toe into the mushroom growing world and this just seems like too much of a commitment, you can also buy a small starter kit with everything you will need for about five logs. You can even get a table top farm to stick in your kitchen garden that is guaranteed to produce mushrooms. While there are many suppliers of tools and spawn to produce mushroom logs, I can recommend the following two from personal experience. Both of these companies can also supply you with books and free information to help your inoculation go smoothly. Field and Forest Products 1-800-792-6220 Fungi Perfecti 1-360-426-9292

Spring 2013 - Farmer's Market

There are a lot of things happening on the farm this Spring! As you can see from the photos Cosmo Farm now has a new pond, stocked with Rainbow trout, laying Kahki Campbell ducks, new lambs on the ground, and a new acre and a half pasture only to name a few. There are fifty baby chicks in the brooder growing feathers so they can get out in the pasture where they will be on fresh grass and have plenty of bugs to eat. That makes for good healthy chickens, the natural way. I have doubled my Shiitake mushroom production and have added Oyster mushroom cultivation. A new green house has been erected to produce plant starts, summer tomato and pepper growing and for growing winter greens. The green house extends the growing season to year round.

I am happy to announce that I am finally, after years of preparation, to have a stall at the Tranyslvania Farmer's Market in Brevard on Saturdays. As the little farm slowly grows, I feel like I can finally put out enough high quality product to be proud to call my own. Since it is still early in the season, I'll start with Shiitake mushrooms and eggs from chickens and ducks. Then in a few weeks, if all goes as planned I'll have pastured broilers to add to the mix. Then the vegetables and fruit and blueberries. I am excited not only to finally see the fruits of all my years of dreaming and work but also to be a more active part of the vibrant Brevard community.

The dreaming does not stop here though. I am also wanting to add pastured pork to my offerings by running Tamworth pigs in the woods. Tamworths are a heritage breed that has retained it's innate ability to forage for nuts, roots and grubs. This natural diet is what makes woodland pork unequaled.

Saturday April 20th marks the opening day of the farmers market in Brevard. Please come out to visit as there will be music and other special events happening. Our little market is growing and becoming more diversified and we welcome your participation.