Monday, January 12, 2015

Sunchokes , A sustainable crop that benefits humans and pollinators.

PrincipleNutrient ValuePercentage of RDA
Energy73 Kcal3.7%
Carbohydrates17.44 g13%
Protein2 g4%
Total Fat0.01 g<1%
Cholesterol0 mg0%
Dietary Fiber1.6 g4%
Folates13 µg3%
Niacin1.3 mg8%
Pantothenic acid0.397 mg8%
Pyridoxine0.077 mg6%
Riboflavin0.060 mg4.5%
Thiamin0.200 mg17%
Vitamin A20 IU<1%
Vitamin C4 mg7%
Vitamin E0.19 mg1%
Vitamin K0.1 µg<1%
Sodium4 mg<1%
Potassium429 mg9%
Calcium14 mg1.4%
Copper0.140 mg15%
Iron3.40 mg42.5%
Magnesium17 mg4%
Manganese0.060 mg2%
Selenium0.7 µg1%
Zinc0.12 mg1%
Carotene-β12 µg--
Carotene-α0 µg--
Lutein-zeaxanthin0 µg--

The Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called sunroot,sunchokeearth apple ortopinambour, is a species of sunflower native to eastern North America, and found from eastern Canada and Maine west to North Dakota, and south to northern Florida and Texas It is also cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable growing to 1.5–3 m (4 ft 11 in–9 ft 10 in) tall with opposite leaves on the upper part of the stem but alternate below.The leaves have a rough, hairy texture and the larger leaves on the lower stem are broad ovoid-acute and can be up to 30 cm (12 in) long, and the higher leaves smaller and narrower.

The flowers are yellow and produced in capitate flower heads, which are 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) in diameter, with 10–20 ray florets.

The tubers  are elongated and uneven, typically 7.5–10 cm (3.0–3.9 in) long and 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) thick, and vaguely resembling ginger root  in appearance, with a crisp texture when raw. They vary in colour from pale brown to white, red, or purple.

The artichoke contains about 10% protein, no oil, and a surprising lack of starch. However, it is rich in the carbohydrate inulin  (76%), which is a polymer of the monosaccharide fructose. Tubers stored for any length of time will convert their inulin into its component fructose. Jerusalem artichokes have an underlying sweet taste because of the fructose, which is about one and a half times sweeter than sucrose.

Sunchokes have also been promoted as a healthy choice for type 2 diabetics, because fructose is better tolerated by people who are type 2 diabetic. It has also been reported as a folk remedy for diabetes.[Temperature variances have been shown to affect the amount of inulin the Jerusalem artichoke can produce. When not in tropical regions, it has been shown to make less inulin than when it is in a warmer region.

Strains vary by skin color, root shape, and maturation time. White-skinned strains include the early-maturing ‘Stampede’ variety, which develops crisp, round roots quickly enough to be grown in climates with short summers. The roots of slower-growing ‘Clearwater’ and ‘White Fuseau’ are longer, which makes them easier to scrub and peel.

Red-skinned strains include ‘Red Fuseau,’ which has red skin over topshaped roots with few attached round nodules, making the roots easy to clean. The roots of ‘Red Rover,’ ‘Waldspinel,’ and a few other red varieties are so long that these varieties are sometimes called “fingerling sunchokes.”

Sunchokes do very well under light insect feeding from Japanese beetles and the like. There is no need to worry about the insect damage to the plant, they take it like a champ, and therefore require no pest management. 
The plant will put sometimes over 100 flowers which are loved by bees and butterflies. These flowers usually come out after your regular sunflowers have already died off making it an excellent crop for extending feeding sources for pollinators . Stepping on some of the canes while they are growing or "lodging "often helps to produce more tubers. 

Planting should be early in the spring, when the soil can be satisfactorily worked. Later planting results in reduced yields. Whole tubers or pieces of tubers that are no less than two ounces and have two or three prominent buds should be planted. Smaller seed pieces will reduce yields but larger seed pieces (over 2 oz) will not significantly increase them. Do not allow cut seed pieces to dry before planting. Plant 3 to 5 inches deep, in rows 36 to 42 inches wide with 15 to 24 inches between plants.

Cultivate shallowly and only as needed to control grass and weeds as the planting is being established. During plant establishment, grass and weed problems will be reduced by shading since plants grow over 6 ft high. Tubers begin to form in August and may become 4 inches long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

The crop should not be harvested until after frost. Tubers dug later in the season are sweeter but have less inulin. Tops should be cut with a mower. Plow open the furrow, pick up the tubers, place in field containers, and remove from the field. Hand rakes can be used to great advantage in locating the tubers. Because of their small size it is necessary to use a small, modified potato harvester to mechanically harvest the tubers.

The skin of the chokes is very thin. Care should be taken in handling to avoid skinning, cuts and bruises. The skin is also susceptible to rapid moisture loss so the crop should be put in storage immediately after harvest. Cold storage facilities should have high humidity (85 to 95% relative humidity) and a temperature near 32 0F. Under these conditions, tubers can be kept for several months. If the tubers are to be washed, fresh water sanitized with bleach should be used.

I usually store them in Ziploc plastic bags with a moistened paper towel on top of them. 

There is considerable variation in yields but generally growers may expect from 5 to 7 tons per acre.

Please keep in mind that all you have to do is plant them once because they are a wee bit invasive. You will never be able to get every tuber and every rhizome out and the plant will reseed itself. You of course can control this by burying edge treatments to keep them contained into a certain area or plant them in very large potted containers. The pollinators love these flowers and are all over them and once you get used to tasting sunchokes you will too. Some of the restaurants we sell them to primarily make Jerusalem artichoke soup or do a 50-50 mash mixing them with potatoes. I personally like them as a replacement for water chestnuts in my stirfries and baked Jerusalem artichoke chips are now the rave.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Systemic pesticides -harbingers of doom

Systemic pesticides or chemicals that are actually absorbed by a plant when applied to seeds, soil or leaves. The chemicals then circulate to the plant tissues killing the insects that feed on them. Use of these pesticides on food crops began in 1998 and has steadily increased during the past 10 years. Unlike with traditional insecticides, you can't wash or peel off systemic pesticide residues because they're in the plant tissues not on the plants exteriors.
The four main systemic pesticides used on food crops are members of the nitroguanidine/neonicotinoid group of chemicals, which has been implicated in the mysterious calmly clips disorder that his killed billions of bees.
Bee deaths attributed to CCD

Imidacloprid - these can be applied to many vegetables right up to the day there harvested

Thiamethoxam - first approved as a seed treatment for corn in 2002,these products have been applied to the soil since they were approved 

Clothianidin - it is used as a seed treatment for canola, cereals, corn, and sugar beets as well as a soil treatment for potatoes. 

Dinotefuran- this can be applied to the soil or sprayed on leafy greens, potatoes in the cucumber family.
Zylam 20SG Systemic Turf Insecticide uses the active ingredient dinotefuran, which is a 3rd gen neonicotinoid insecticide, in a 20% soluble granule.

When the pesticide action network reviewed the results of pesticide residue tests conducted by the US Department of Agriculture from 1999 to 2007, numerous samples contained residues of the systemic pesticides. For example, 74% of conventionally grown lettuce and 70% of broccoli  samples showed Imidacloprid residues.

Clothianidin - was found on potatoes,Thiamethoxam showed up and strawberries and sweet peppers, and some collard green samples were laced with Dinotefuran
The US Environmental Protection Agency has launched comprehensive review of the environmental safety of The environmental safety of imidacloprid. The California department of pesticide regulation cited reports of eucalyptus nectar and pollen with imidacloprid levels up to 550 ppb. That's nearly 3 times 185 ppb needed to kill honeybees. The deadly levels of the systemic poisons are even showing up in the leaf  guttation drops, those are water droplets that plants sometimes exude. The journal of economic entomology reports "when bees consume guttation drops, collected from plants grown with systemic pesticide coated seeds, they encounter death within a few minutes.
Equally disturbing, it appears that nitroguanidine pesticides can persistent in soil for 500 days or more, which creates a high risk scenario. After 1 or 2 applications, plants grown in treated soil may produce toxic pollen nectar, or guttation droplets for more than two seasons. All the while ,the entire treated area will be moderately toxic to beneficial earthworms Carabid Beatles, lady beetles, predatory pirate bugs, and more.
there is no scientific evidence yet that says food laced with these will harm humans, but why is the EPA allowing systemic pesticides on food plants in the first place? Do people really want to eat pumpkins that are so full of poisons they kill every cucumber beetles that dares take a bite? Looking beyond food plants, does the use of systemic pesticides to grow perfect roses justify the death of millions and possibly billions of bees and other insects? We need to set things right and learn this important lesson: When we let a novel, man-made chemicals loose in the food chain, we can't be entirely certain of what will happen next. This new contamination of our food is yet another reason to grow and buy organic.

EPA analyzed the use of the neonicotinoid seed treatments for insect control in United States soybean production. This report provides the analysis and EPA’s conclusions based on the analysis. It discusses how the treatments are used, available alternatives, and costs.

EPA concludes that these seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations. Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment. There , can we finally be done with using such a dangerous and potentially worthless product ? 

Below is a link to the EPA's study and analysis and the public comment period on the analysis is open until December 22, 2014.

And here's the docket section that allows you to leave a comment!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0737

Saturday, September 20, 2014

saving cucumber seeds the easy way

Saving cucumber seeds is fun and easy and you'll find many different ways to save them online. Some people ferment the cucumber seeds like tomato seeds and most of the processes you'll find out their use this method,where you ferment the cucumber seeds for up to five days. Fermenting cucumber seeds does not aid its germination like tomato seeds and the reason people ferment them is to make things easier to clean. This is one process to skip the fermentation process altogether.
First, allow your cucumbers to fully ripen indoors. By ripening ithey should get soft and you should store them in a cool dark place till this happens. When your cucumbers are fully ripe and cut them in half and scoop out the inside. 
Depending on the variety of cucumber that you're growing the seeds may or may not separate easily from the large white opaque-ish material that holds them together in the seat array. Using your fingers you should easily be able to squeeze out most of the seeds and remove almost all of the white opaque-ish material until you have something that looks like this
Note that it is very gelatinous and the seeds also are surrounded with a gelatinous type of coating. This is where some people will ferment their seeds and of course this is how we teach you to skip that process. First of all,add some water to this material and separate out any remaining bits of large pulp. Then depending on the size of your sieve, fill it with one third volume of seeds and gelatin and place it in your sink.
Using the nozzle from your kitchen sink spray directly into the seat and gelatin mixture. You will find that the water action in conjunction with the sieve itself will begin to break up and separate the seeds from the remaining bit of gelatin.
Do not overflow yourself and allow it to drain before repeating the process with the remainder of your seeds. Place this in another bowl while you finish repeating this process. After you have finished all your seeds you should now add some water to the bowl
That funny looking haze you see in this picture is the seedcoats that have begun to separate from the seed itself. Something else you'll notice is that the good seeds have already begun to sink to the bottom and the immature undeveloped seeds have begun to float to the top. Allow this mixture a couple of minutes to settle and then pour off some of this water/gelatin seedcoat/immature seed taking care to leave the good seeds behind. As you pour off, you'll be able to see the ghost like seedcoats that have separated from the seeds themselves, and can easily be removed by this pouring off process.
Repeat this process three or four more times and you will find that each time its repeated the water gets clearer and clearer. Finally drain all your seeds in the sieve and allow it to drain for a few minutes. 
I then place a towel on a plastic tray or in this case a lid to a plastic tote and on top of that I put a couple layers of paper towels. On top of the paper towels I have put the seeds to drain even more water off them and I am helping to encourage it by the aid of a small fan.
I picked this little fan up from a garage sale and it also has a heater option to it as well. This can work with some seed saving if you put the heat option on to encourage drying. Make sure if you are using a heat option to keep it at a distance from the seeds to prevent any accidental cooking. In this case I'm using no heat. I am only allowing this to run for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture from the seeds . I will remove the seeds from the paper towel and put them on the final drying receptacle. In this case it is in old tray to an old defunct microwave that I no longer own.
I could not bear to think about throwing out this beautiful glass tray just because the microwave did not work anymore. I often utilize this glass tray in seed saving. With some seeds that are processed wet it's best to do your final drying on either glass, parchment paper, or those silicone and plastic cutting board. Sometimes a window screen from a triple track storm window works well too.The final drying of seeds on towels or paper towels sometimes causes a nightmare with the seeds wanting to stick to themselves and the paper itself making separation hard. So I will only use the paper towel method to blot off moisture and utilize a glass tray for the final drying process. For the first few hours in final drying you should go through the seeds with your fingers helping to spread them around to ensure even drying. Usually within 24 hours you'll notice that the seeds have lost a lot of their exterior moisture and are now resembling the dried seed you buy in a pack.
At this time you can turn the fan off and let your seeds finish air drying or you can speed the process up by keeping the fan on for the next day or two. Do not immediately pack the seeds in any kind of plastic receptacle. Just because they feel dry doesn't mean that they are dry and often the seeds will turn and encourage mold to develop if left in a environment like a Tupperware container or a plastic baggie. I will let my seeds dry for a full week before I pack them into paper envelopes.
Like these fine envelopes I got from office supply solutions
They are fantastic and work well for our seed swaps and are freaking cheap too .

Grow seed 
Save seed 
Share seed
Save seed

Monday, August 25, 2014

The case against big sugar

"Drastic Measures", in the Financial Times (April 25, 2014) details a dramatic shift in health care priorities and the effect of putting the first significant, coordinated pressure on sugar consumption: "… governments are waking up to the rising costs of illnesses such as diabetes and cancer that have increased alongside obesity. ‘The discussion of sugar linked to dietary concerns has been has been gathering momentum,’ says Stefano Natella of Credit Suisse. "The related global healthcare costs are at an all-time high–the bill is $500 billion or over 10 percent of global healthcare spending — as are obesity and diabetes levels."

The way that smoking leads to tobacco farmers, the path to the current health care crisis begins with sugar producers. In the United States, the obesity and diabetes epidemic point to Florida where sugar billionaires tied massive subsidies in the Farm Bill to subsidies for corn fructose. When earlier this year the World Health Organization reduced the recommended daily sugar intake by half, to the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar a day, billionaire sugar barons in West Palm Beach and Coral Gables paid closest attention. Florida sugar producers have a global reach — with operations proliferating in low-cost labor nations like the Dominican Republic, but their intense focus is the Florida proving ground where a sophisticated mobilization of economic, social, and political resources maintains the aura of Big Sugar as good corporate citizen.

Big Sugar is quick to repel environmental and community indignation in Florida — as well as decades of lawsuits over its pollution of the Everglades — , but it hasn’t decided what direction to take with respect to emerging science on the crisis triggered by its products.  While Republican members of Congress rant and rave about the costs of the Affordable Health Care Act, none complain about the toll on consumers’ health through excess consumption of sugar.  Thirty years ago, 1 in 20 kids were obese. Today, it’s 1 in 5.

The Institute for Responsible Nutrition notes that 77% of grocery store items contain added sugar; "Food companies know that the more sugar they add, the more people buy."  In Great Britain, policy makers are considering a sugar tax. In Florida during the first Clinton term, when Big Sugar faced a tax that would have forced the industry to pay for polluting the Everglades, it enlisted among its chief supporters the churches and leaders in the African American communities of Florida, appealing to minorities disproportionately bearing its high costs.

A recent investigative series by the Tampa Bay Times disclosed that Florida’s top GOP politicians, including Gov. Rick Scott and senior Republican legislators, were flown to all-expenses paid hunting trips to the King Ranch in Texas by U.S. Sugar. Through its Florida subsidiary, the King Ranch is a major sugar and citrus producer and bridges sharply contested water policies in both states: in Texas, where water rights go with land title and in Florida, where the public commons are supervised by the state’s nine water management districts, each administered through a board of gubernatorial appointees.

Florida’s top Republicans attempted to reassure the public that no state business with their hosts was discussed, but it is impossible to dispel the myriad ways that Big Sugar freely undermines the ideals of its base; a heavily subsidized industry that dedicates a portion of its profits to control state and federal regulations that might otherwise protect Americans and the fading Everglades.

Daniel Ruth, for the Tampa Bay Times, opined, "It’s merely an idea, but perhaps the oath of office for our state’s elected panhandlers should be rewritten to read: "I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the sugar industry interests of the state of Florida; that I am duly compromised to hold office under the legalized bribes of various vested interests in this state, and I will well and faithfully perform the duties of a compliant shill and will to the best of my abilities follow the hunting laws of the great state of Texas for which I am about to board an airplane for an all-expense-paid trip by agricultural lobbyists to butcher unsuspecting critters, so help me (a lot!) the Republican Party of Florida." (Visions of sugar dance in legislators’ heads, August 20, 2014)

Big Sugar reacted with predictable indignation to the outrage triggered by the Tampa Bay Times disclosures. Florida House Agricultural Chair, Matt Caldwell, wrote in the Fort Myers News Press: "Unfortunately, for much of the last 30 years, an all-consuming obsession with sugar farmers prevailed in Lee County government. As statewide policy makers looked for solutions to heal the Everglades and our estuaries, the inability to see past this obsession meant we stopped getting invited to the table… If we want to continue to have that seat, we must enable constructive leaders, not destructive naysayers. The old politics of division will not solve our woes."

It is not just the GOP. Democrats are also loathe to tie the costs of Big Sugar to the domestic health care emergency because of the enormous impact of campaign contributions to members of Congress and state legislatures where sugar is grown. According to the website of the Center For Responsive Politics, "sugar is the only industry in the entire agribusiness sector that has consistently supported Democrats in the last two decades." When Michele Obama tried to move her popular "Get Moving" campaign towards the sugar problem, she was warned off by White House policy makers.

The only surprise in extravagant largesse parceled by Big Sugar to its political allies is that it is ever discovered at all.

Although the entire nation is afflicted by the "corporations are people" results of Citizens United — blowing the doors off campaign finance rules — Florida is a special case. "How-low-can-we-go" is the Florida meme, and it is linked to producing as much sugar as possible on hundreds of thousands of acres that were historically part of the Everglades.

In 1996, Florida voters approved a Constitutional amendment holding sugar polluters to be responsible for cleaning up their farm runoff, laden with excess phosphorous. In the last session of the Florida legislature — nearly twenty years after the measure had been passed, Florida Republicans decided to side-step public outrage by proposing a measure to clean their farm runoff by capping and then reducing the tax sugar polluters pay at $25 per acre; a fraction of what the polluters should be paying for its share of destruction of the Everglades. The 1996 amendment instructs that Big Sugar is primarily responsible; interpreted by some that sugar should pay fifty plus one percent of cleanup costs associated with its mess.

"Those special taxes since 1995 have raised enough to equate to about 12 percent of the nearly $2 billion spent building 57,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas, which filter polluting phosphorus from stormwater runoff."  (Sugar industry accused of dodging Everglades clean-up costs, Sun Sentinel, June 15, 2014) 12 is a long way from 51 percent.

For Big Sugar, it is always someone else’s fault: dairy and cattle ranches upstream or municipalities and coastal sprawl spreading inland from the coasts. Except for Big Sugar’s intransigence, there would be land enough to cleanse and store the millions of acre feet of water that are periodically pulsing into the Everglades and estuaries; fouling both. Florida’s waters are such a mess one wonders if God hasn’t reached down in exasperation of paradise lost and with His Thumb smudged out the value of homes and real estate values because of water pollution.  As though that weren’t enough, toxic algae blooms —  even flesh-eating bacteria — are proliferating in waterways contaminated by agricultural runoff. Sugar’s response; you can’t prove it has anything to do with us. The entire governmental investment for Everglades restoration, spending billions of taxpayer moneys and hundreds of thousands of agency hours in the multi-decadal effort, is a work-around of Big Sugar.

Last June, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the latest work-around: "Instead of increasing the $25-per-acre charge on sugar-cane and other growers as environmental groups had long sought, lawmakers last year opted to maintain the current charges through 2026 — 10 years beyond when the tax was set to start declining. After 2026, the tax begins to decline, eventually dropping to $10 per acre."

Gaston Cantens, Vice President of Florida Crystals, crowed, "For two decades, the Florida sugar industry has worked together with policymakers, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders in the best interest of Florida … This agreement is a continuation of that successful collaboration and spirit of cooperation we know will get the job done for restoration."

Representative Matt Caldwell walked point for Big Sugar on the bill. "A few months later, Caldwell’s re-election campaign received $4,750 from U.S. Sugar and $500 from King Ranch. Soon after, Caldwell registered for his first ever Texas hunting license." Caldwell would not answer any follow up questions. (Why won’t FL GOP leaders talk about hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas?, Tampa Bay Times, July 25 2014)

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott appointed a top executive from the King Ranch subsidiary to the governing board of the water management district, the taxing entity that is shouldering most of the state’s portion of costs related to Everglades restoration.

Cynical industry manipulation of public processes, with billionaires at their campaign contribution joysticks has crippled government agencies, forcing Congress through the Farm Bill and state legislatures through lax regulations to keep intact sugar’s protected status. In June 2013, George Will, the conservative columnist, bemoaned in the Washington Post, "The provisions by which Washington transfers wealth from 316 million American consumers to a few thousand sugar producers are part of a "temporary" commodity support program created during the Great Depression. Not even the New Deal could prolong the Depression forever. It ended. But sugar protectionism is forever. The Senate recently voted 54 to 45 against even mild reforms of the baroque architecture of protections for producers of sugar cane and sugar beets."

So why haven’t environmentalists decried Big Sugar as the same kind of destroyer as Big Tobacco? Environmentalists are hunkered in their silos, hoping for some opening in the iron curtain drawn over the Everglades and Florida politics by Big Sugar. They ought to join forces with public health experts to provide a clear accounting:  to the multi-billion dollar costs of cleansing farm runoff in Florida, add the recruitment through farming practices of the most toxic substance known to mankind: methyl-mercury, then add the potentially lethal use of one of America’s largest fresh water sources, Lake Okeechobee, as Big Sugar’s reservoir, plus the unsustainable practice of exhausting the soil through its farming practices; these are still dwarfed by the public health costs of excess sugar.

"Sugar has become the new tobacco," says Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at Liverpool University, one of the founders of Action on Sugar, a UK campaign group formed in January. "Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focused on profit not health."

It is time for environmentalists and taxpayers to embrace the one tactic that hasn’t been tried — teaming up with health care professionals and experts fighting the costs associated with excess sugar consumption. Dr. Robert Lustig’s video, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth", has been viewed on YouTube nearly 5 million times. The public is ready for a very clear message: sugar poisons democracy, poisons the Everglades, and poisons people.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Saving onion seeds

 Saving Onion Seed 

Sweet yellow onion 2nd year 

The Alliums produce perfect flowers, most of which are cross-polli nated because stigmas in each flower become receptive only after pollen in that flower is shed. Flowers in an individual umbel open and shed pollen at different times so crosses can and do occur on the same plant. Cross-pollination is performed mostly by bees. Many onions require vernalization (cold, winter-like temperatures for several weeks) before flowering occurs. Store for at least two weeks in a refrigerator.

Onions display a fair amount of inbreeding depression after two or three generations of self-pollination. Save and mix the seeds from at least two different plants.

Save seeds from non-hybrids, as hybrids are often unstable and breakdown. It's best to target heirloom crops for this. I save some seeds from hybrids that I have and use them only for bunching onions, as bulb size or long term storage isn't an issue. 

Clip umbels or pull out the entire plant as soon as dried flowers begin to appear. I will usually grasp an inner flower from the center , which is still green or semi green  and when it is cracked open, the Blackseed will emerge .

onion flowers fully fertilized and ready for hanging and drying 

Seeds will start dropping from some flowers at this time so check often. By removing a large portion ( or the entire stalk ) of the onion stalk , the seedhead willl continue to draw on residual moisture and minerals in the plant to finish off the seed production. Place a paper bag over the onion head and tied with string or place on it a rubber band. Then hang it upside down so that when the flower finally dries the onion seed will fall inside the bag .Allow to dry in cool, dry location for up to 2-3 weeks.

Fully dried flowers will drop clean seeds naturally. For small amounts, rub remaining flowers to free seeds. For larger amounts, rub heads over screens. Winnow to remove remaining debris.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Stackable mushroom grow tower

We started growing these a few years back and we improved on the system to make it accessible to almost all homesteaders whether city or rural and this is what we came up with.

Materials : 
Inoculated spawn mixture usually consisting of spores mixed with a sawdust product.

A drill with 1 to 3 cm ( .5-1 " US ) drillbits. 

A few food grade buckets ( with lids ) and a large plastic tote or container . 

Access to a very large and safe container or a standard bathtub.

straw broken up 
Usually about 10-15 lbs of wet straw per bucket. 

Plastic sanitation gloves  optional

A couple of pots for boiling water

A large plastic garbage bag

A little bit of food grade alcohol. ( or bleach , more in this later ) 

Paper towels or small rag

The 5 gallon bucket mushroom grow system is not only versatile but it's also practical. This method is not for anal retentive cerebral folks looking to prove how much they think they are a god. This is a simplified method for people who
Just want to grow some shrooms .Single food grade buckets ( often free )  could be kept on your countertop or the corner and since the buckets are stackable it allows you to grow many different varieties of mushrooms all-in-one place. Oysters are used primarily by me with this system but experiment if you like.
Boil water and place straw in a basin . Pour hot water over straw in basin and keep soaking for a few minutes .Your straw can be roughly chopped or just broken up well. The more you chop the less spawn mix you can use. I skip the chopping method and instead beak it up
Well and use more spawn because ... Spawn is cheap especially if you make it yourself .  
Now comes the straw sanitation.
Variants : 
Purists will say you have to place your straw in a pressure cooker and heat the it to all Hades . 
Some will say you have to boil it in a pot for an hour 
Truth being they are also destroying the nutrient base that is suppose to feed the mushrooms by doing this. A few minutes is all that's needed to destroy the native spawn. If your making your own spawn then use their techniques because sanitation is key, therwise keeping it simple is my plan. You'll find some say one whole hour of boiling some a half some none at all .
Some claim you shouldn't heat it at all. If you have good spawn it should be in a condition that would be able to take over before native spawn that's dormant even has a chance. They also say that you preserve more of the nutrient base by not heating it. Truth is I like the Buddhist path to mushroom growing ... The middle path . 
 Now is the perfect time to drill the holes in that bucket. Using a drillbit a couple centimeters across ( 1-3 C ) begin drilling in a diamond pattern by alternating the holes . 
After you have drilled the holes in your bucket take a little household spirits (vodka gin etc. )and using a small rag or paper towel wipe out the inside of the bucket or use the hot water you are boiling .Set this bucket aside and you just performed another sanitation process that will help ensure success. You could skip the alcohol or hot water and instead use bleach water or maybe antibacterial soap. Make sure you rinse all of these multiple times as you do not want any bleach or antibacterial soap residue left in the bucket. You then take your  straw
and add it to your tub , tank or basin .
Using your thermometer you then add boiling water until you reach the ideal temperature of 71°C. Here's where the tricky part comes in. Some straw is under the hot water while some is floating on top above the water. I allow it to sit like this for 10 minutes and then flip the whole mass like an egg . And soak another 10. Unless you have hands like mine use tools like a pitchfork or gloves to manipulate the straw lest you burn yourself. 
While you are maintaining your temp , now is a great time to take out your spawn medium which is mixed with sawdust and place that in a sanitized bowl. 

After your chopped straw is sanitized you may then drain the tub or bucket. Removing the straw from the tub or bucket and place in a large sanitized container to cool, you are now ready to begin the seeding of your bucket. 
After the temperature of the straw has fallen to body temperature it's now time to pack your hole drilled bucket. 
Put a nice thick layer on the bottom and sprinkle some spawn over it . Place another layer of straw on top and push down generously and repeat the spawn sprinkling . Alternate layers inside this bucket by placing  packed straw and then a small handful of your inoculated sawdust spawn  mix on top of that, followed by yet another layer of straw. Alternate these layers until you get to the top of the bucket.I usually make 3-5 layers and you can use another 5 gallon bucket on top to push the straw down in your mushroom bucket and that works very effectively to pack your bucket. Make sure you sanitize the outside of hat bucket .You can also bulk mix your spawn with your substrate and some people go anywhere from 5-7 lbs per 100lbs of your sanitized substrate. Usually I go a wee bit heavier than that in my mix. 
When your bucket is packed to the top ,put the lid on the bucket and place the entire bucket into a plastic garbage bag and tied shut. Please keep in mind that certain commercial garbage bags have added fungicides to them like hefty and many other namebrand products. This is where using the cheapest product is best because the cheaper plastic bag will not have such antifungal treatments.
I usually leave mine in a position like this for a month and then I will inspect everyday . When I see a bloom I then remove the bucket from the plastic bag and stack them. You may find, depending on the humidity in your house, you may need to "water "your bucket after removing it from the bag. This can be easily accomplished with the water spray bottle and clean non-chlorinated water. Spraying a little bit into each hole every now and then( like once or twice a week ) will help ensure that the bucket never dries out. It may take a few months for your first "flush " ( bloom of mushrooms ) to appear it may happen as soon as a few weeks . And a bucket is usually good for 2 to 4 flushes before it has to be replaced.After that , dispose of the spent material and reseed . 
This method can be used to grow a few mushrooms in the kitchen or stackable towers in your basement for commericial purposes. 
There are hundreds of you tube videos and papers teaching you how to grow mushrooms. Don't like this method ?  go find one you do . That's the beauty of growing food , so many beautiful ways and only control freaks claim they know the only right way ... Take it easy and have fun first ! 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The squash vine borer and it's management

The squash vine borer, Melitta curcurbitae, is a common clearwing moth in home gardens in Midwest. It is a serious pest of vine crops, commonly attacking summer squash, winter squash, and pumpkins. Cucumbers and melons are less frequently affected. In home gardens, entire crops may be lost in a year of high borer populations.

    The adult Squash vine Borer Moth 

The adult borer resembles a wasp. It is about 1/2 inch long with an orange abdomen with black dots.The first pair of wings is metallic green while the back pair of wings is clear, although that may be hard to see as the wings are folded behind them when they at rest. Eggs are flat, brown, and about 1/25 inch long. The larvae are white or cream-colored with brown heads, growing to almost an inch in length.

Larvae inside a stem 

Beginning in late may or early June ( might arrive earlier or later depending on how far north or south you are , Times are given here for the St. Louis region) , squash vine borer adults emerge from cocoons in the ground. Squash vine borer adults are good fliers for moths and resemble wasps in flight. These moths are unusual because they fly during the day while nearly all other moths fly at night.

Soon after emerging, squash vine borers lay eggs singly at the base of susceptible plants. Approximately one week after they are laid, the eggs hatch and the resulting larvae bore into stems to feed. The larvae feed through the center of the stems, blocking the flow of water to the rest of the plant. The larvae feed for four to six weeks, then exit the stems and burrow about one to two inches into the soil to pupate. They remain there until the following summer. There is one generation per year.

SVB eggs on stem

Damage and tell tale signs of infestation 

Often the first symptom of a borer attack is wilting of affected plants.  Wilting may occur only in strong sun at first , but if the problem is left unchecked, the plants eventually collapse and die. Closer observation of a wilting plant often reveals holes near the base of the plant filled with moist greenish or orange sawdust-like material called frass . Over time, the base may become mushy or rot away altogether. Several borer larvae may attack a single plant.


Squash vine borers are challenging to prevent or manage. Use integrated pest management (IPM) methods for the best results. Most management options are limited to control the hatching larvae before they enter the plant. Once the larvae invade the stem, it is difficult to treat squash vine borers. Home gardeners can take a proactive stance against squash vine borers by monitoring your squash for the presence of adult borers starting the last week of May . Monitoring tells you if and when squash vine borers are present. This information helps you determine what further management measures may be necessary. There are two methods for detecting squash vine borer adults. The first is actual observation of adult activity in the garden. These moths are conspicuous insects when flying and easy to detect; watch for them when you're in your garden. In addition, the adults make a very noticeable buzzing sound when flying that is easy to detect while in the garden.

You can also use yellow trap pans to detect squash vine borer adults. This can be any container (e.g. pan, pail, bowl) colored yellow and filled with water. Because squash vine borer adults are attracted to yellow, they will fly to the container and be trapped when they fall into the water. Place traps by late June, checking your traps at least once a day. When you notice squash vine borer adults in your traps you know they are active and it is time to take further action.


  • Plant vine crops that are usually not attacked by squash vine borers, such as butternut squash, cucumbers, melons, and watermelons.
  • A second planting of summer squash made in early June will mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs.
  • Promptly pull and destroy any plants killed by squash vine borers.


You can physically exclude adult borers by placing floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine (or for non-vining varieties, starting late May or early June ) or when you first detect squash vine borer adults. Keep the barriers in place for about two weeks after the first adult borer has been seen. Be sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent adults from moving underneath it.

Generally do not use floating row covers anytime crops are flowering. This prevents bees from pollinating your vegetables which will have a negative impact on plants. An exception to this would be if you pollinate your crops by hand while the floating row cover is erected.

Another alternative would be to release the parasitic wasps called Trichogranma which lay their eggs inside the pest eggs, stopping development. The larvae feed on the egg and then emerge as adults. Tjhey ( the larvae ) take 10 days to develop within the pest moth egg, which turns brown or black as the larvae pupate. They chew a small hole in the moth egg to emerge. Adult wasps feed on nectar, honeydew and pollen. The adult wasps live anywhere from 7 to 14 days, depending on temperature and moisture. The females will parasitize up to 300 pest moth eggs, laying one or more eggs inside each moth egg.They will work as a beneficial insect for control of the following: Armyworm (Pseudaletia unipuncta), Beet Armyworm (Spodoptera exigua (Hubner)), Black Cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon (Hufnagel)), Bollworm (Helicoverpa zea), Broccoli Worms; Imported Cabbage Worm (Pieris rapae), Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae), Cabbage Looper (Trichoplusia ni), Cabbage Moth, Cabbage Army Moth (Mamestra brassicae), Cabbage Worm (Pieris rapae), Caterpillar Eggs (Mult), Celery Worm (aka Parsley Worm, Parsnip Butterfly, Eastern Black Swallowtail, American Swallowtail) (Papilio polyxenes), Cherry Fruit Worm (Grapholita pacakardi), Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella), Corn Borer (aka European Corn Borer) (Ostrinia nubilalis), Corn Borer (aka Southwestern Corn Borer) (Diatraea grandiosella), Corn Earworm (Helicoverpa zea), Cutworm (Agrotis, Amathes, Peridroma, Prodenia spp), Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella), European Corn Borer (aka Corn Borer) (Ostrinia nubilalis), Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), Fall Canker Worms, Inchworms (Alsophila pometaria), Fall Webworm (hyphantria cunea), Grape Leaf Folder (Desmia funeralis), Grape Leafroller (Erythroneura variabilis), Greater Peach Tree Borer (Synanthedon exitiosa), Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), Hickory Shuckworm (Cydia caryana), Hornworm (Manduca sp), Inch worm (Mult), Iris Borer (Macronoctua onusta), Leafminer (Phyllocnistis sp), Leafroller (Archips argyrospila), Leafroller (Platynota stultana), Leafroller (Choristoneura rosaceana), Leafroller (Pandemis pyrusana), Leafroller (Argyrotaenia franciscana), Leafroller (Epiphyas postvittana), Lesser Peach Tree Borer (Synanthedon pictipes), Omnivorous leafroller (Platynota stultana), Orange tortrix (Argyrotaenia (=citrana) franciscana), Orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), Oriental Fruit Moth (Grapholitha molesta), Parsleyworm (Papilio polyxenes asterius), Peach Twig Borer (Anarsia lineatella Zeller), Pecan Casebearer (Acrobasis nuxvorella Neunzig), Pink Bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), Plume Moth (Platyptilia sp), Red-banded Leafroller (Argyrotaenia velutinana), Sod Webworm (Mult), Sperry's Lawn Moth (Crambus sperryellus), Spring Canker Worms, Inchworms (Paleacrita vernata), Squash Vine Borer (Melitta curcurbitae), Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum), Tobacco budworm (Heliothis virescens), Tomato Fruitworm (Helicoverpa (Heliothis) zea), Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), Tomato Pinworm (Keiferia lycopersicella), True Armyworm (Pseudaletia unipuncta), Walnut Caterpillar (Datana integerrima), Webworm (Hyphantria cunea), Western Lawn Moth (Tehama bonifatella)

If, despite your efforts, your crop is successfully attacked by borers, you can try to kill the borer inside the vine. Although the chance of saving the plant is not good, you do not have much to lose. As soon as wilting is noticed, use a sharp knife to cut a slit in the affected stem. Slice carefully up the vine until you locate the borer (or borers). Once you have killed any borers with the tip of the knife, mound moist soil over the cut area and keep this spot well watered. New roots may grow along the cut stem, allowing the plant to survive. Watering it with Willow water will help to encourage more root growth.