Category Archives: Garden

Good bye, driveway

We haven’t had a car (working or otherwise) in over two years, and we have no plans to get another. We do have plans for a lot more vegetable gardening, though, and the driveway was just taking up space we could be using for more raised beds. So last weekend we took out most of our driveway.

Using only a 6-foot pry bar, a 4-lb hand sledge and chisel, and some 4x4s (plus, later, a borrowed 10-lb sledge to break up the larger chunks once they’d already been lifted out), we got about 3/4 through before deciding to call it a day. We thought we might have to borrow a jackhammer, but it turned out that once we got the first chunk out, it was all possible with proper leverage and hand-chipping.

I think we’re looking at putting in another couple of large beds there, and maybe a wood-fired pizza/bread oven. We’ll see. For now, I still have to find the carbide blade for the sawzall to see if it will work on the last section, which isn’t already cracked at the point where we want to stop pulling it up.

We have mushrooms!

I swear, I looked away for just a moment, and pow! Mushrooms! The kit I started on the 19th has started producing, right on time. Unfortunately, the mushrooms are showing the long skinny “octopus” formation that indicates that they’re not getting enough light. I’m not yet sure what to do about that. I don’t think I have a spot that provides better indirect natural light. Time to get out the light-meter.

Besides learning that I needed more light for good fruiting, I’ve learned a few other things from that kit, not the least of which were to use a humidity tent and to get the coffee grounds pretty damp. (They’re really not all that hydrated when they come out of the espresso machine.)  That was probably the major problem with the batch I started from grocery-store oyster mushrooms. I should have hydrated the grounds. And I think it would have been better to start with a more modest batch of substrate and then expand the mycelium out into a whole bucket; the mycelium wasn’t quite keeping up with the bacteria on the bottom, I think.

I should look into this stuff: Growing Mushrooms with Hydrogen Peroxide. Not that building my own laminar flow hood doesn’t sound like fun!

Pleurotus bucket is growing; compost is confusing

Well, my slapdash attempt at growing oyster mushrooms is coming right along. There’s definitely some mold contamination in some spots, but it’s very limited. [ETA 9/28: Yeah, not so much with the limited anymore.] The mycelium is doing its thing.

You can get a kit from Fungi Perfecti for growing a bucket full of Pleurotus on coffee grounds. (Not to mention a lot of other neat kits. I’m taken with the shaggy manes and garden giants.) I think they may mix in some more carbonaceous materials, and I’m pretty sure they start with a whole lot of sawdust spawn. That might give Pleurotus a boost in outcompeting the mold.

Speaking of Fungi Perfecti, I talked to a guy there who hasn’t seen any ill effects from using spent Pleurotus bags in his compost. (Nice, helpful guy. Myco geeks rule.) The inhibition effect was seen by a woman who grew it together with vegetables; I wonder if perhaps the stuff is just so aggressive that it’ll sometimes go after root hairs. It’s pretty hungry stuff.

I’ve been reading up about this critter. People who grow it at home without a lot of experience or equipment have reported no little trouble getting it to fruit. That sometimes might be because they don’t know, as I didn’t know, that it requires light to form primordia (“pinheads”) and fruiting bodies. Chang and Miles say, in their wildly expensive textbook Mushrooms, “The [formation of primordia] requires light of 200 lux intensity for over 12 hours. The growth of the fruiting body requires light of 50 to 500 lux intensity.”

I’ve also been reading up about compost, and getting a lot of contradictory advice with not much in the way of scientific references, and all of it strongly expressed. Add lime! Don’t add lime! Hot! Cold! Add soil! Don’t add soil! Yay wood chips! Boo wood chips! For crying out loud. The TAMU guide has some hiccups but might be the best of the lot. Its take on lime is interesting:

Ammonia escapes as ammonia hydroxide as the pH rises above 7.0. In the later stages of composting the pH may rise to between 8.0 and 9.0. At this time there should not be an excessive amount of nitrogen present as ammonia. Materials which contain large amounts of ash will have a high pH and may be expected to lose more nitrogen.

Some compost operators have suggested the addition of lime to improve composting. This should be done only under rare circumstances, such as when raw material to be composted has a high acidity due to acid wastes or contains materials which give rise to highly acid conditions during composting. It is recommended that when the pH remains above 4.0 to 4.5, lime should not be added. The pH will be increased by biological action and nitrogen will be conserved.

First shot at growing Pleurotus

Today I inoculated half a five-gallon bucket full of espresso grounds with about 50g of oyster mushrooms, using these instructions.

If I were really going for it, I would have been a whole lot more careful with sterile technique. (Espresso grounds are more or less steam-pasteurized, but I didn’t bother sterilizing the bucket.) As it is, part of what I want to learn is just how slapdash I can be and still get some kind of useful result. Right now, I’m not really interested in going into the oyster mushroom business. I’m in it for the compost, primarily. In fact, I might actually prefer that it not fruit: people do become allergic to Pleurotus spores pretty easily, or so I’ve read, and if the mushroom is as aggressive as I hope, it could be one of our major compost digesters. We could be growing a lot of this stuff.

According to Stamets, oyster mushrooms do a good job of breaking down caffeine. That’s my main interest at the moment. I’m composting a whole lot of espresso grounds on the property here, and I’ve got first-hand experience (Whee!!) with how much caffeine is still in the grounds. If I break up the espresso pucks with my hands, I can absorb enough of the residual caffeine through my skin that I become wired. So I’ve wondered about the wisdom of dumping that much alkaloid into my little toy ecosystem here. In the plant, it functions as a pesticide and inhibits the germination of other coffee seedlings. What’s its effect, in my soil, after composting, with different insects and plants? I don’t know, but pesticides and germination inhibitors sound like something to be a little concerned about, given the quantity.

It’s been interesting to play with these grounds from Blue Saucer Espresso. I’d say we’re getting about a garbage can’s worth every two weeks. At first I thought I’d just incorporate it directly into the ground, but there’s just too much material to make that work well unless I’m careful; it tends to crust up unless I work it in very well and don’t use too much of it. Digging it more deeply into the most fertile bed has worked better, but still, I’d need a lot of room to do it all with sheet composting. I’ve got some of it in a “Garden Gourmet” digester that we got free from the side of the road; that filled up fast (three weeks!) and has been getting impressively hot — perhaps verging on too hot. My latest compost heap is a more traditional heap-on-the-ground style with generous helpings of dirt to moderate the temperature down and, I hope, suck up some of the nitrogen that might otherwise gas off.

I’ve also been running a worm bin with a lot of coffee and seeing how that goes. If I build a bigger one, it may be a good way to re-use the old chicken bedding, too. It’s been a few months now since I started the worms on the mostly-coffee diet. They weren’t looking so happy for a while, but they’re looking a little better these days; I may be getting a population of adapted worms.

In all these cases — especially when worms are involved at all — I should probably check the pH and find out if it needs adjustment. I’ve been dropping anvil-like hints about getting a pH meter for my birthday.

I sure hope this works well, because our native soil here is horrible. It’s slightly dusty sand on top of a layer of clay with a lot of rocks in. It needs a lot of humus, and I’m not sure we’re ever going to be all that successful in growing high-demand vegetables in it. (I tried onions this year, and they grew to the size of ping-pong balls. And that was in a relatively well-established bed.) Dragging home all these coffee grounds reminds me of women I’ve read about who lived on rocky, barren Scottish outer islands and lugged seaweed up from the beach to build their garden soil almost from scratch.

ETA: The mycological plot thickens. It turns out that P. ostreatus (and I’m assuming that’s what I’ve got here, though apparently Pleurotus spp can look a lot alike) can inhibit plant growth. (Mycelium Running pg. 189) Possibly this is not what I want to be using alone as my big coffee-ground digester for building garden soil. So I’m left with questions: how persistent is this effect? What it the spent compost is further composted? Can I grow something else, such as Hypsizygus ulmarius, on coffee grounds?

New tea plant

Self-sufficiency in caffeine! Today we packed home a tiny tea seedling, no bigger than my thumb, from the Rockridge Orchards stand at the farmer’s market. Heaven knows the ornamental camellias around here grow like weeds, so I have high hopes for Camellia sinensis.

If it does well enough, I’d like to try propagating some cuttings in a couple of years. Some people say that cuttings root well; some say they don’t.