A self sustaining lifestyle is very attractive to many people! Many of us are tired of being part of the program that has lead us to the dangerous point in history we now share. I hope that everyone reading this understands that the days of relying on others are almost over. It was a cool illusion while it lasted, yet no fruit from this illusion gave way to better nutrition, or ways to feed a growing world. There are many programs out there, yet they only address specific problems. I am not into problems, but solutions!
What I mean by this is that often government programs, and those of individuals of good intent, very frequently try to address a huge social problem with a carelessly worked out scheme, which often backfires sooner or later, and is likely to contribute little to nothing for the well being and nutrition of those involved. For example, as an attempt to introduce a high protein food source to developing African nations, we instigated mass cultivation of oyster mushrooms. It really was a good idea, and I’m sure there were many who benefited. However, though oyster mushrooms are very nutritious, I would not suggest them as a staple source of protein. Why, because they are also medicinal. Oyster mushrooms are a naturally occurring source of the potent statin drug, lovastatin. Eating oyster mushrooms frequently would be a great idea for people suffering from high cholesterol/triglycerides, but you can over do it. I wouldn’t recommend making a large meal of them daily! So what will these people eat besides oysters? Yea, big hole in a great theory!
When we learned that apple snails were incorporated into the diet of many Asian countries, and were informed of how quickly they breed, and reach maturity, we imported vast amounts of these critters into our swamps, marshes, and waterways. Oops! We neglected to consider a few things. First, many people do not like escargots! So, cultivation of the snail in general, is a limited market. Secondly, apple snails, though I like their flavor, are considered inferior to other snails. They are not gourmet! So the market for apple snails is slim. To make things worse, these snails eat great amounts of vegetation, making them a threat to swamp and lake ecosystems! In the Everglades, apple snails can clear native water flora in staggering amounts. I breed apple snails for food, and can vouch for their aggressive feeding behavior. Twenty snails can crush a large head of lettuce in a day! Oops!
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that those ideas were good, and have their place. The problem is that we are generally looking for answers in all the wrong places! There are plenty of animals and plants that we can include to our diets, which could advance our health and perhaps financial well being. The thing is, that we as a world are not cultivating self sustainability as a valuable resource. It in fact, is our greatest resource!
In many places, downtown Wilmington included, it is against the law to farm in your front yard, and in some places, at all. We are prohibited from using time tested methods of plant and animal cultivation because it doesn’t fit in with the scenery! What kind of garbage is this? Since when has posturing advanced our health and nutrition? We are stating that it is a priority to remain static. Of course, as usual, big money profits, by selling us as quaint and happy residents of a richly historic town. Meanwhile, we pay crazy high prices for inferior food, that we could have grown ourselves, and done a much better job!
This being said, I must warn you that most of the advice I’m giving may be most helpful for neo outlaws:] Just joking. I hope not! Self sustainability is though a crime in many places of the world, and I’m promoting it! If the people of the world refuse to learn how to take care of themselves, then they have just sold their power, their children, and their souls! No government or institution of any kind will ever be able to replace sound judgement, hard work, and personal pride for innovation. You alone can become aware of the needs of your community. Tell Big Brother to take a nap, while you invent your life!
First thing first!
Plan your garden. How much horizontal room do you have? Unless you own a large farm, inventing new grow space is imperative. Do you have trees in your yard? If so, great! Hanging gardens are very possible. Garden towers are good anywhere to take advantage of vertical space. Buckets and tubs are great for this. Do you wish to invest in aquaponics? It would be a good idea, providing not only great produce, but fish to your table. Want to grow mushrooms? We can work out plenty of space for this! You need to have some sort of worm farm, at all costs! They will be very low. Trust me, as we continue, this will all make sense.
Let me share my previous garden, in a former home, as an example of what you can do for yourself, and expect. I live in a semi tropical region, so we get cold in winter, but it doesn’t last long. My yard was only a driveway, approximately 12 by 30 ft.
In this small space, I had a fish pond, stocked with mosquito fish, apple snails, and some catfish. There were a few trees in the back, a magnolia, a mulberry, and a cherry. Outside of their fruit and medicinal properties, they provided hanging room for mushrooms, beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and much more. On ground I grew arugula, collards, okra, asparagus, and asparagoides, lettuces, cabbages, including bok choy, and more. I grew great shiitakes, turkey tails, reishis, button mushrooms, and many others. At that point in my life, I didn’t need to invest in food, just growing supplies, though most of them were free. I’ll get to that soon.
So how was I able to accomplish all of this?
I used my trash. Everything I threw away went to my garden. Paper products, cardboard, vegetable scraps, bones, and much more transformed into food rapidly. I never used Miracle Grow, or any commercial fertilizer. Instead, used fermented urine, which is high in phosphates, and humanure. Hey, I was growing produce for myself, my family and friends. Donate, eat, and donate. Why not? Many commercial fertilizers contain treated sewage, but when you invest your own waste products into future food, you know exactly what has been put into it. This is really the best way to grow food! Yes, you hear reports siting it as dangerous. These people are idiots with hands on cyberspace. Establishing an input/output relationship with life is all it takes to sustain yourself. My countries accept the use of humanure. The United States in general, is still too prissy. Why would anyone, or any institution, not take advantage of our greatest renewable resource?
So I covered all available ground with a deep mixture of cardboard, trash, and aged humanure. I watered the yard very well, which took care of any smell. Afterward, it occasionally smelled as if horses had been there, except not as strong. All kinds of mushrooms popped up, including psilocybes! Once a week, I watered the grounds with fermented urine diluted with a lot of water.
During that period, I never bought any produce. In my yard, I had everything I needed to be healthy. Tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, asparagoides, arugula, artichokes, lettuce, pinto beans, peas, cabbage, collards, spinach, turnips, carrots, beets, sun flowers, arnica, lichens, spirulina, snails, fish, and still a lot more! It was a humble investment, with a great return!
Now, I live in an apartment,
which means I have to modify some of my growing practices. At this point I no longer use humanure, as I have no place to cure it. Doing this safely and correctly is a long process. If I ever am able to live in the country again, I will resume. Without a doubt, I could grow much more, and better produce with it!
Anyone interested in growing produce with humanure? I strongly recommend reading “The Humanure Handbook”, by Joseph Jenkins. It is a guide to composting human manure. Although I’m very much a free spirit, composting waste is a subject that requires some study. You can’t just shit all over your tomatoes, and expect good results! The trouble will probably start with food poisoning, or long hours in court. Both are expensive. Using humanure is a terrific idea, so learn to do it right! This book is one of the best reads I have encountered. Joseph Jenkins really knows his…er… subject matter:] He is a terrific author, and philosopher as well. Anyone seeking the wisdom of a self sustained life owes it to themselves to seek his tuition. He’s so funny too! I don’t have enough words to praise this guy!
Humanure is one of our greatest compost mediums, but there are many others! Coffee grounds, food scraps, leaves an most yard waste, cardboard and paper products, [excluding glossed, and many color inks…these are toxic], egg shells, old pet food, spoiled left overs, all have their place in growing the best produce you have ever seen or tasted! There is a secret that brings all these things together.
Remember I said that having some kind of worm farm is a must? It is. I’m speaking of earthworms. They are the employees of my personal food factory! They turn my trash into state of the art growing medium the likes of which no garden shop can compete. How do we make this happen?
Get a large plastic tub, with a lid. 2×5 feet works perfectly. You may purchase more if needed. Drill 1/4 inch holes all along the sides of the tub, starting near the top, make descending rows, each about a half inch from the previous row. Do not drill holes in the lid. It’s purpose is to protect the worms from drowning in heavy rains. Do however drill about a hundred 1/4 inch holes in the bottom of the tub. These will allow drainage, and prevent sour compost as well as death for the worms. Now lay some sheets of water soaked cardboard on the bottom. Upon that add layers of shredded newspapers, leaves, and cardboard scraps. Do not use a lot of coffee grounds yet. Worms like them, but they can lower the ph to unhealthy levels if you over do it. Cover with a layer of leaves, and water well. You do not need to fill the tub. Fill it to just about half way. Set your tub in a place outdoors and out of direct sunlight. You may place the tub over cinder blocks, or over another tub with holes drilled in the lid, if you want to collect compost drainage. I use the leachate as a water in fertilizer. Since I did a nice post on vermiculture some time ago, I will skip a lot of details now, but I have provided a basic outline here for making a productive worm composter.
Just add worms!
I have been asked many times, what kind of earthworm is best for composting. Many folks hope that they can buy worms from a bait shop and dump em in. I will address these questions again. For most applications, red wigglers are your best bet. These are small worms, seldom exceeding three inches, and usually much less. Don’t underestimate them though! They eat almost anything, and are very sturdy. If things go wrong in your compost bin, wigglers will be the last to die. They have been used to treat sewage! Also, they can tolerate temperature extremes that no other worm can. They will begin to die at 105F, and have been known to survive freezing! They reproduce so rapidly, that a few pounds of these guys can easily colonize a large compost bin. You can buy one thousand wigglers for about $30, give or take. They are a little expensive, but well worth it. I bought three thousand wigglers over ten years ago, and I still have them! South African night crawlers and blue worms are also terrific composters, though they have some drawbacks. They cannot tolerate cold, and will begin dying in temperatures under 50F. Secondly, they may wander. Storms scare them, and often send them off in all directions. In spite of this, they can turn pounds of trash into compost, almost daily! You will need to keep them inside during winter, unless you live in the tropics. I keep my blues inside, except in summer. Don’t be surprised though, if you do this, to find one crawling on you one morning during a heavy storm! I love worms, and have grown over being skittish of them. Just warning you though, it happens.
Last and Least!
Worms you buy from a bait shop will work in compost bins, but I won’t recommend them. These are usually Canadian Night crawlers or lob worms. These worms are very nomadic, and hard to confine. They are great in garden compost heaps, but their health is poor in captivity. Canadians begin to die in temperatures over 60F. Unless you live in a vey cold place, forget about it! Lob worms are similar, except that they can tolerate cold and heat pretty well. They move around to places of greatest comfort all the time. They are the common earthworm we see in our yards. These guys don’t make good composting worms, unless you have an outdoor compost pile. The reason being is the care it takes to keep them happy and healthy. If you really cannot afford a good composting worm, sure, go ahead and use lob worms. They will do a great job, if you make sure to keep the soil ph near neutral. Low ph will get these worms taking off, or dying, whichever comes first.
The reason I said to not fill the bin to the top is, that we will be adding things to it daily!
Add paper products, anytime you have them, within reason. Add washed egg shells, and or chalk, to raise the compost ph. So give your worms most of your egg shells. Produce scraps, such as carrot, bell pepper, lettuce, and cabbages are great on a regular basis, as are melon rinds. Coffee grounds are acceptable infrequently. Worms love them, but they lower ph. Meats, pet food, tomatoes and manure, should only be added occasionally. Again, worms love them, but they foul a compost bin if over loaded. this can kill worms.
One day your bin will become quite full. What to do now? Start another, or perhaps two other bins. Remember, cardboard, leaves, etc. While doing so, you can now utilize the compost that has been produced. Dump the bin onto a tarp. Scoop handfuls of the compost, making sure to drop worms. Add your compost to buckets. Continue until there is little left but worms, and add these to your new compost bins.
You may build worm composting towers if you wish to skip this step. Worm towers are compost bins stacked one on top of another. So when one bin is filled, add a lid with multiple holes drilled in it. Set a new bin on top of it. as the new bin is filled, worms will migrate upward, seeking food. By your third bin, there will be few worms left in the first. Remove the first bin, and enjoy growing in the best soil available!
Beware the Hammerhead Worm!
Hammerhead worms are terrestrial flatworms. They frequent soil where earthworms live, and also live between gaps in stone and concrete. They love a high ph environment. They are predators of earthworms! They look a lot like stretched out slugs, usually having a brown body with black stripes. They roll along much like a snail, with a smooth white underside. See one of these, and you could have trouble. Remove and kill it quick. Often when you see night crawlers inching along the sidewalk aimlessly, it is because they were attacked by hammerheads. They not only are parasites, but lay eggs inside the earthworm. Their weakness is that they will die quick in dry conditions. See one,
This concludes my post. If you have any questions, please ask. Comment anyway, I want to know how you feel about all this stuff. Peace!
Close to 20 years ago, I began growing mushrooms. I always had a great interest in the fungus, and began purchasing mushroom kits. These provided me with years of educational fun, and a constant supply of fresh mushrooms! Unfortunately, mushroom growing isn’t usually easy. The growing medium you need for your preferred fungus is often also great for growing fungus you don’t want, like mold! Providing a nutritious growing medium, free of contamination, can be a real challenge. Times are changing.
In 2001, I bought a small booklet titled:
Growing Mushrooms The Easy Way
Home Mushroom Cultivation with Hydrogen Peroxide Volume 1
R. Rush Wayne, Ph.D.
That book was a real game changer for me. First of all, I learned that many mushrooms grow great on cardboard and paper products. Growing media can be sterilized using hydrogen peroxide, which most mushroom spores are immune to. I advise anyone interested in growing mushrooms to check out this book, and also:
Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms
by Paul Stamets.
Paul Stamets is a true authority! He can make any mushroom grower a professional, if they heed his teachings!
Ok, so now straight to the point. I will share with you my experience with growing one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate: The Oyster Mushroom![pleurotis ostreatus]
I choose to talk about this mushroom because not only is it quite easy to grow, a great source of protein, a delicious gourmet mushroom, a naturally occurring source of a powerful cholesterol lowering drug, but it’s a terrific gateway mushroom. Once you know how to grow these well, you will find it much easier to grow any mushroom!
Growing oyster mushrooms can be easy!
This is really all you need.
fresh coffee grounds
2. shredded cardboard
3. Some cardboard pieces, about 3by7 inches
4. some Tupperware to house growing mycelia
5. a very sharp knife or razor
6. a good cluster of oyster mushrooms bought at a store. [you can make your own spawn!]
7. Hydrogen peroxide 6%
You may grow oysters indoors, or preferably outdoors, either in a container, or on compost prepared ground. The latter yield the most potent and flavorful shrooms! Also, when growing shrooms on the ground, you can feel free to add grains, urea, rice flour, without excessive sterilization, as the outdoors takes care of most of that.
You may grow oysters in a container, such as a perforated bucket, or a plastic bag. The container is stuffed with hydrogen peroxide soaked cardboard, coffee grounds, and any other media used. The peroxide will give your mushrooms a winning chance over other fungi! Whatever container you use must be punctured with holes, both to let the mycelia breathe, and to let the shrooms grow from.
What you are creating here is in effect, an artificial log. Oysters grow on dead and dying trees. They consume the nutrients and cellulose from the wood. It is fairly easy to recreate these conditions. For example, a perforated plastic bag filled with inoculated cardboard and coffee grounds. Perforated plastic buckets achieve the same effect. [note: Do not perforate the lid to the bucket. Heavy rain could waterlog your growing medium. The lid also helps to retain moisture in between mistings.]
Whatever method you choose, the media should be sterilized with peroxide, wrung out until just moist, and mixed well with oyster spores, or better still, mycelia.
How To Grow Mycelia From Oyster Mushroom Cutouts
Presoak the 3″ by 7″ corrugated cardboard pieces in peroxide. wring out to just moist. Place on a clean plate or cutting board. Peel each piece of cardboard in two. place small pieces of mushroom tissue on one piece of cardboard, and cover it with another. Each layer should alternate one smooth and one ridged piece. You may stack three or four layers, then repeat the process to create a new stack. It is like making lasagna.
How to get slices of mushroom tissue?
Purchase a clump of fresh oyster mushrooms. Usually, many individual caps will grow from one base. This base is often dirty, with some mycelia still intact. Cut off the caps and stems. Save these for dinner:] Now, using a very sharp knife, make slices from the base. Cut away the dirty outer part, leaving thin slices of white mushroom tissue.
So you now should have a few stacks of moist cardboard, each containing mushroom tissue slices.
Place these in a Tupperware bowl and cover. Keep this in a dark area and wait about a week. By the end of the week, open the bowl and lift a layer off a stack or two. You should see some fuzzy white growth coming from the mushroom slices. It looks somewhat like mold. the cardboard should have an unmistakable scent of almonds. That smell is confirmation that your project is going well. Mist slightly if drying out, but not much. Recover and allow mycelia to cover the cardboard. If mold should begin to grow, throw away and begin again. You may use these pieces in a compost pile though. They still might work. Just keep them far away from mushroom growing buckets, logs and bags. Definitely remove from indoors and sterilize everything.
Cardboard strips well colonized. Its time to run mycelia through the peroxide treated cardboard shreds and coffee grounds!
Use clean scissors, and cut each colonized cardboard strip into little squares. If you are growing on the ground, add a layer of cardboard-coffee grounds in the growing area, and place some of the squares on top. Cover these with more growing medium, add more squares. Repeat until all squares are used, add the rest of the cardboard growing medium, then cover with leaves and cardboard. Water well and cover with a tarp for about a week or so. Choose a shady location.
If you are growing in buckets or bags, follow the same instructions, lightly packing layer upon layer of growing medium over mycelia squares until your container is full. Do not add leaves or other non sterilized material though! Close your bags and hang in a cool growing room, or outdoors in a shady place. Buckets should be misted and covered. Either should be misted daily, but not soaked.
Both buckets and bags can be hung from tree branches. This provides a good shaded environment, while also limiting insect infestation.
Under ideal conditions, you may begin to see mushrooms growing within three weeks. Mushrooms growing on a compost pile are often large, with very short stems. Those grown in containers usually have longer stems. When grown outdoors, oysters usually are much bigger, and more flavorful. Their medicinal value is also much higher than most indoor grown shrooms.
You can easily see the difference! Oysters grown indoors usually are white, and the clusters are smaller. One or two dominant caps will get large, while many shrivel.
Most oyster mushrooms grow best in cooler climates, which is why in nature, you will usually see them in spring and fall. There are exceptions, the pink oyster mushroom for example. As for p. ostreatus, temperatures above 50F and less than 80F are favored. if outdoors is too hot or cold for growing, you may grow oysters indoors, but must observe certain concerns. For one, like mold, oysters usually produce a lot of spores. These can cause severe allergies in many people, so you will need a grow room. I would not recommend growing these mushrooms in your living room, or bedroom, interesting as that concept is.
Secondly, growing mushrooms will attract fungus gnats, and though they are harmless to humans, they are very annoying, and can damage mushrooms. There is a partial cure for this…
You can purchase these from Amazon, and Ebay. You need to water these guys into your spawn, and they will kill gnat larvae. Recognize though, that oyster mushrooms are somewhat predatory and carnivorous. They prey on nematodes, and will kill many. You probably will need more than one batch.
Growing oyster mushrooms is a great exercise in self sustainability. They are a great source of protein, and the media they grow in, once spent, becomes terrific for growing other mushrooms, or for garden soil. I encourage organic gardeners to grow oyster mushrooms first, and continue! They are a first step in establishing a self sustaining lifestyle.
Please experiment for yourself!
I’m sure you will find, that by growing oysters, 1. you will have a steady supply of a great gourmet mushroom, 2. By eating these, your “bad” cholesterol levels will lower. 3. You will have a supply of spent compost to run in your gardens.
Also, growing oyster mushrooms is very fun, and educational.