Showing posts from February, 2016

Pharmaceutical Fungi

Mushrooms are like insects - there are some that can cause disease, but the vast majority are beneficial. The proof of whether many of the mushrooms I started cultivating last year will emerge will begin soon. I am very confident of having a good crop of shiitakes, as the few logs I started in early 2015 are already wanting to explode with mushrooms. The lion's mane, hen of the woods, reishi, and three types of oyster mushroomare still in question. I am getting turkey tail, but I can also find natives quite easily.

The turkey tail tea I am sipping while composing this may ward off prostate cancer, should it darken my backdoor. Paul Stamets devotes a page-and-a-half to the medicinal value of turkey tail in his book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. In my upcoming talk to Calvert Eats Local, I plan to concentrate on the medicinal value of gourmet mushrooms that are often available commercially in our area. These include those just mentioned and two others, al…

Oyster Farms on Land

Let me clear up some common misconceptions about mushrooms. We used to have a saying in the Navy, that the Combat Information Center (CIC) watch was like being a mushroom, since we were always kept in the dark and fed sh*t. The truth about mushrooms is a little more nuanced. Yes, they do enjoy shade, but most tolerate a bit of direct sun, and most grow in the soil or on wood, though some are cultivated in manure or compost.

It's the manure part that bothers people, leading them to eschew mushrooms. In fact, I'm not particularly thrilled about buying button mushrooms from the store, seeing all the growing media residue still clinging to them. Thing is, the manure, if used, was probably composted and possibly topped by a pasteurized,non-fecal casing soil to remove pathogens and interfering fungi in the process of being implanted with the fungus you'd be eating. That's better than you can say for the soils that grow many of your vegetables.Farmers often apply manure to th…


The idea of scarcity, when it comes to food, seems a long ways off these days. Even the unemployed and destitute have free kitchens and food banks to avoid starvation. I imagine that starvation these days is mostly on the level of particular nutrients. Food deserts exist where nutrient deficient food is the norm.

The immediately obvious way to ensure a more nutrient dense dietis to grow your own produce, and if food ever does become grossly scarce, that choice brings a little more security along with it. Since I really dig gardening, that's my chosen solution, but it's really not an option for those whose schedules are already crammed to bursting.

If you can't afford the time, transportation, trepidation, and toll of routinely dining out, cooking your own food is a good way to go. According to Michael Pollan, the most important thing we can do for our health is to cook our own meals. I've found that I can make just about any produce on hand taste good with the help of …

Off the Beaten Path

When we first came to Maryland, it wasn't long before we decided to pay a visit to some local farms which surround us. Driving until we saw a welcoming sign, we tentatively approached what turned out to be a ramshackle farm with goats scrounging amidst the junk heaps. Before we could quietly turn around and leave unnoticed, we encountered the Amish owner, with whom we held a brief, polite exchange of pleasantries and then departed, a little unnerved by the messy reality of farm life. I am sure today, that any visitors I bring to my 'mini-farm' have similar troubling reactions after trying to mentally screen out whole sections of the landscape that contain industrial detritus (which I employ for making biochar). It's slowly improving, as I landscape the area and shift the production into more hidden parts of the property, but it's a multi-year project.

For the farms in the Maryland Governor's Agriculture Hall of Fame, refinements are often multi-generational pro…

Thought for Food

If Michael Bloomberg throws his hat into the ring this year, he will get my vote because I love the programs being conducted at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Bloomberg, a fellow Hopkins alumnus, gave over a Billion $ to the school three years ago, so the research they conduct is likely to have a significant impact, both locally and farther afield.

Let me list the program elements under the CLF that seem to jive with my view and have direct impacts in Maryland:

The Aquaponics Project - learn about aquaponics and its potentialFood Policy Council training - to create systemic and meaningful improvements in the food system through collaboration amongst various sectors – community, government, nonprofit, and private. Almost 280 food policy councils now exist throughout the country.Maryland Food System Map - op. cit.Improving food security and food sovereignty within the greater Baltimore community through education and financing.Documentaries about the food system.Community…


Snowden is hiding in plain sight close to the NSA property in Ft. Meade, MD. Snowden Rd. winds through a neighborhood next to the Patuxent Research Refuge (PRR), which sits adjacent to Ft. Meade on a line that runs south toward the alabaster city at the core of Washington, DC. Unlike the federal enclave, the neighborhood around Snowden Rd. is not undimmed by human tears due to its abnormally high incidence of diabetes. It is probably no mistake that the PRR is a large landmass on this spoke protected from commercial development, since the NSA would want to ensure their datalink to the White House has an unobstructed path. Tom Clancey, in The Teeth of the Tiger, postulated that the building codes along this path limited any high structures for that reason. Just sayin', but microwaves could have something to do with health issues in this otherwise well-to-do community near the NSA complex.

I didn't arrive at this conjecture by reading about it in a news article, but like the sle…

Wholesome Eating

My enthusiasm for gardening built on my interest in biochar, but we have an even more compelling reason to seek abundant vegetables. When you garden, your sunk costs burden you to recover as much as you can by consuming the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors. Dietary guidelines point out that eating vegetables is key, especially for those plagued by diabetes. Since my wife has that condition and my father contracted it in his demise, gardening may be one of the best things we can do.

Last year's crop brought in enough food to overflow our shelves with canned pickle and tomato products. I expect that to happen again as our soil becomes healthier every year. Biochar is to thank for much of that improvement, but drip irrigation under black plastic sheet, decayed wood chip mulch (fostering more mycelium), cover crops, legume inoculants, double digging, pollinator host plants, forking vice plowing, compost, mycorrhizae additions, crop rotation, keeping soil covered, soil sampling a…

Sheriffs of Nothingham

Taking liberties with the law (for instance growing your own weed or raising unpermitted chickens) could get you in a heap of trouble. Police forces throughout the country are increasingly resorting to an obscure fundraising mechanism known, mainly within the war on drugs, as civil asset forfeiture.

It is a sign of the trust that we place in our police and judicial system that we allow them to take lives and property in the performance of their mission. We trust that law enforcement will not kill or injure without being able to defend their actions. We trust that they will not steal from law-abiding citizens with wealth transfer as a secondary motive. In civil asset forfeiture laws (civil asset seizure would sound too much like a violation of the 4th Amendment), the standard of defense for the police is much lower than for killing a suspected criminal, as it should be.

Still being sorted out is the matter of how much evidence of criminal behavior is required to seize assets. Maryland&…

Food and Drug Security

After Maryland decided to legalize medical marijuana, there were 146 applications for grower licenses, while the state plans to grant only 15. These licenses should be approved by the end of this summer. Two applicants are from Calvert County, one North and one South. The degree of planning and definition by these entrepreneurs on how they intend to set up their greenhouse facilities is impressive. There will have to be extraordinary security around the greenhouses. Bob Simpson, the applicant from Solomons, plans on heating his 38,500 sq. ft. greenhouse geothermally. 'twould be a good place to incorporate biochar as a long-term investment.

The reason for all the exuberance over getting licensed to grow marijuana is that there is pent-up demand for the product. Once that demand is given a legal outlet, will it last? Will a greater abundance of marijuana contribute to dissolution leading to breakdown of the rule of law? When the law loses its power, and people grow their own, how ca…


Listen to the arguments for vegetarianism and it won't take you long to be convinced that it is a morally superior choice over the typical American diet. I would like to at least stop eating animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Chickens may be future residents of our homestead, but it may be easier to avoid the complications of homeowner's association rules by setting up an aquaponics operation for obtaining our animal protein. I guess you could call aquaponics a form of CAFO, but I'm not ready yet to concede that fish deserve the same privileges as mammals or birds, especially as Jesus himself was at least an accessory to the consumption of net loads of fish.

+Jonathan Bates, of Paradise Lot fame, gave a presentation at a U.S. Biochar Initiative symposium that I attended explaining how he substituted biochar as the growing medium in his aquaponics system. There, as in a chicken pen, biochar could help grow edible plants and serve as grit for th…