Tag Archives: Urban Permaculture

Underground Food

The SF Underground Farmers Market :

Wow…  Over a thousand people visited the market last month.  On my left: Boris was selling homemade Demi-Glaze on my right: Treat Street Granola.  Over forty vendors from the Bay Area, ranging from wild boar buns to sourdough bread, the warehouse was packed with food producers and food lovers.  A close friend in Colorado is starting a Denver/Boulder version of the West Coast phenomenon, hopefully this kind of experience will spread East.  It has been especially encouraging to see how many new vendors sprout up at each new market.  Check out these pictures from the market and then start one in your city:

Raw Oakland Honey

The market is set up as a food club where patrons can “donate” cash for food items.  Finding a legitimate farmers market spot is no spring chicken.  Most Farmers markets require commercial kitchens, certifications, multi-year commitments and more.  That’s if they even let you in.  “Sorry there is already a honey vendor.”

HONEY HONEY HONEY

Check out all these Hungry People:

Crazy town!

Going to need a bigger spot next time for this little dino egg.  Started in an empty Victorian living room where I was selling honey out of a bathroom.  Now it’s a colossal monster vehicle.  Seriously think about setting something like this up any place where people like to eat food.

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Mulberry = Angel Food

Fruitless Mulberry

Mulberry!

I really wish our cities were littered with Mulberry trees.  Wait….  they are. Unfortunately most of the mulberry trees planted in Western urban areas do not bear any fruit.  Ornamental, but sterile, these fruitless trees not only take up important growing space, but cause serious bouts of berry craving.

As the super stars: pear, apple, plum, peach and apricot attract fruit growers across the U.S. with their juicy round fruit, mulberries are somewhat of a wallflower in the West.  Unfortunately, mulberries are not widely cultivated as a commercial crop because the berries are so fragile and hard to transport. I’ve only found a handful of fruiting mulberry trees in the Bay Area, compared to the hundreds and hundreds of lemon trees… too bad.

The mulberry situation improves the farther East you head.  The Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is native to eastern North America, ranging from Vermont to Florida and as far west as South Dakota. Mulberries were an important food staple for Native American tribes, but today mulberry trees are far less prevalent.

Mulberry Fruit

Mulberry trees have been are incredibly important in Chinese culture.  The white mulberry (Morus alba) was cultivated 4000 years ago for silk worm production.  In Chinese medicine the fruit is used to treat greying hair.  The leaves are antibacterial and are used to treat eye infections and flu.  Tinctures from the bark are used to treat a number of common ailments, notably toothaches.

Mulberry!

Look at this berry!!

The largest mulberries come from Black Persian Mulberry trees (Morus nigra) which in California typically fruit in July. These berries can  be four inches long and when timed right taste great.  They do have an intense acidic/tart taste coupled with high levels of sugar.  Most people absolutely love them.

The Morus alba mulberry tree is allegedly as good as the Black Persian berry.  Look for “Oscars” and “Pakistan” varietals.

Mulberry trees are self-fertile and prefer well-drained soil.  They should be planted in a sunny spot where they have plenty of room to grow.  They will reach height 30 to 40 feet over the years.  It takes a while for the tree to get established and you probably won’t be eating mulberries for five or more years. Delayed gratification.  Everyone in your neighborhood will love you after 15 years when the tree reaches full production level.

More information about mulberry trees.  Information about which varieties test the best!  Burnt Ridge is a great nursery to order a Mulberry tree from or check out Spiral Gardens in the East Bay.

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Filed under Edible, Medicinal, Perennial, Permaculture, Plants

Turn your Compost into Mushrooms!

Mushroom cultivation may seem daunting and mysterious, but with time and effort, unused shady spots can become productive mushroom farms.   Urban permaculture can be challenging.  We are constantly presented with “less than ideal” growing conditions: three hours of sun a day and contaminated soil are just a few examples.  The freeway underpass lined with chain-link fence, the old Superfund site where school buses were maintained, a shady weed ridden ally. Hopefully the process described below will inspire you to start utilizing some of these less desirable zones and grow pounds of mushrooms at the same time.

Shaggy Mane

The Story of the Shaggy Mane

For my Dad’s 60th birthday I gave him the idea of a present.  A small note with a few well-intentioned drawings of mushrooms sprouting up around our property.  For the last 2 months Isaac and I have been deep in the laboratory, sterilizing, inoculating and building an army of mycelium.  Isaac has been cultivating oyster, shiitake and reishi mushrooms for years and is incredibly knowledgeable.  He has been a great mentor and leader for my journey into the world of fungus.  We chose three species of mushrooms to cultivate in outdoor patches and oak logs: The Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and the Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus).  This first post will focus on our experience cultivating the Shaggy Mane.

Note: Mushrooms are fascinating creatures that are more closely related to humans than plants.  They form giant mycelial webs that function as a “forest internet” transporting information and nutrients to different plants.  Mycelium is the white mold like strands that collect nutrients.  Mushrooms are the actual fruiting body that contain reproductive spores.

Step 1:  Making Agar

We started with a master Shaggy Mane culture that can be purchased at Spore Works or for a far more expensive, but commercially rigorous strain: Fungi Perfecti. Rather than extracting massive amounts of mycelium from the master strain, we started by brewing up some agar solution.  This way, a small portion of the master strain can be grown out before being added to the growing substrate.

To make Agar (mushroom food) we used this recipe: Potato Dextrose Yeast (PDY).  Isaac uses a whiskey bottle with a hole in the cap to pour the piping hot agar into sterilized petri dishes.  Let the Agar cool overnight.

Step 2: Inoculating the Agar

Wait a couple days for the Agar to set.  Before we inoculated the plates we inspected them to see if the agar had cooled and molded evenly.  Keep an I out for the evil Trichoderma, the most common fungi contaminating mold.

We used a home-made sterile glove box to inoculate the agar plates.  Using a scalpel we cut “sunflower seed size” pieces of mycelium from the master colony and placed it onto the agar plates.  Being sterile is really important.  Bring a towel soaked with rubbing alcohol  into the glove box with you to clean the scalpel in-between inoculations.  Once each agar plate has been inoculated, re-wrap the petri dishes in cellophane and put them somewhere dark and warm.

Step 3: Sterilizing the Substrate

Pressure Cooker

So much birdseed!  Wild birdseed is high in nutrients and cheep.  Before introducing the mycelium into the birdseed it must be sterile.  Fill  wide-mouth quart mason jars with birdseed that is soaked to the consistency of a dry sponge. Drill four small holes into the metal top of the mason jar.  You’ll need to get some tyvek from somewhere, packaging envelopes work pretty well.  Cut large squares that can fit completely over the top of the jar.  The order  is Jar, tyvek square, screw top, tinfoil.  Unscrew the jars a quarter turn from tight and  put them in a pressure cooker.  The pressure cooker is probably the most expensive investment in the whole process.  I suggest looking on craigslist.

To start the cooking process, fill the pressure cooker  a fourth of the way full, put it on the stove with the pressure valve open until it gets heated up and then after it hot close the valve.  Lower the stove to medium heat.  Aim to cook the bird seed for at 15 psi for 60 minutes.  Here is a great step by step documentation of sterilizing birdseed (by a blogger growing magic mushrooms).

Step 4: Inoculating the Substrate

Mycelium on an Agar Plate

Back to the glove box!  Scalpel pieces of the agar quickly into the sterilized mason jars and seal them  back up.  The more meticulous and obsessive you are the better.

Step 5: Feeding the Machine!

After three or so weeks the mycelium will run through the birdseed and create something that looks like this:

Healthy Mycelium

Before transferring the Shaggy Mane mycelium make sure you have about 6 shovel full of decomposed horse manure and compost.  Drill holes in the bottom of a plastic tub for drainage.

Plastic Tub

Drilling the holes with a hole saw!

Drill Holes

Smell the substrate.


Gavin Smelling the Compost

Mix it up all nice.

Isaac Mixing the Substrate

Open up the jars and spread the mycelium in layers (lasagna style) throughout the substrate.

Spreading the Mycelium

Put the tub somewhere dark and dry.  In a month, check to see if the mycelium has spread through the compost.  Have a spot picked out on your property where you can mix a big pile of compost and decomposed horse manure.  Layer the inoculated substrate in lasagna style and let it sit.  If built correctly, the patch should produce for years.  Make sure to add more manure and compost each year and you will have shaggy manes for a long time.

I understand this process may seem daunting for the first time mushroom grower:

I’ll let you know how the Shaggy Mane harvest turns out.

Over and Out.

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Filed under Fungi, Outdoor Cultivation, Permaculture, Projects

BASIL Seed Exchange Soiree

Already kicking myself for not starting 4 flats of veggies a week ago, showing up to a room, jam-packed full of enthusiastic gardeners caused an upwelling of giddy excitement and mild stress.  Every year I am reminded Spring is fast approaching, when I attend the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL) seed exchange in February.

Gardeners

This event is a little bit like a Star Trek convention for urban gardeners.  Plastic tables strewn about display hand written signs separating the room into plant families.  In the middle: root crops, along the window: Brassicas and crammed in the back of the room hid the nightshade and goose foot family.

Seeds!

The entire office of the Sierra Club next door was a flower seed bouquet.

Scurrying from table to table to the rhythm of a seven piece bluegrass band, gardeners traded their saved seeds from last season and filled envelopes with new varieties to plant in the garden.  I practically ran to the root crop table to grab some of the bright orange and green Oca tubers hidden behind a 5 gallon bucket of sun chokes.  I had been trying to get my hands on this somewhat rare Andian Perennial for sometime.

Sun Chokes

This event is a wonderful gathering of farmers and Bay Area gardeners.  The room is alive with knowledge and experience.  You will see Merritt Permaculture teachers, homesteaders, West Oakland food-justice gardeners, organic farmers from Bolinas, WOOFers and an assortment of community food activists.

Pumpkin Seeds

As small seed operations focusing on heirloom varieties are bought out by large corporate seed producers such as Monsanto (recently bought Seminis the leading vegetable seed producer in the U.S.), local seed saving and exchange is becoming an increasingly important resource.  Genetic lines and heirloom breeds that are not economically viable are often discontinued, eliminating bio-diversity in our gardens and farms.  If your city doesn’t yet have a seed interchange library, start one!  For inspiration visit Seed Savers Exchange.  If you become a member for $40 dollars or $25 reduced rate, you will have access to over 13,571 unique varieties of vegetables!

If you plan on saving your own seed, I suggest you start with beans and peas.  These are some of the easiest species because they won’t easily hybridize with other plants in the neighborhood.  Steer far away from corn, which necessitates many rows to harvest rigorous seeds.  Seed to Seed is an excellent book on seed saving.

The BASIL library is open for rummaging during the week at the Ecology Center. Plan on attending the BASIL seed exchange next February.  You’ll get in free if you bring your own saved seeds!

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Siberian Pea Shrub – Caragana arborescens

"Caragana arborescens"

Siberian Pea Tree

The Siberian Pea Shrub is a nitrogen-fixing perennial shrub that can be planted with success in the Bay Area.  Growing 4-6 meters tall it grows edible seed pods that are somewhat bland, but can be added to other meals.  This plant provides excellent chicken forage and can be grown inside fenced chicken areas because of its height.

Siberian Pea Shrub’s have been used as living fences and are noted for their “attractive” quality when attempting to distract deer from the rest of the garden.

The Pea Shrubs root system is extensive and the shrub should be used to mitigate erosion and build wind blocks.  This shrub is pollinated by bees!!

Plant on a sunny edge in your garden or in the chicken area (if the seedling is tall enough) and harvest the small, but highly nutritious seeds in the Spring and  Summer.

More information here.

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Filed under Beneficial Insectary, Edible, Nitrogen Fixing, Permaculture, Plants