Sunday, February 28, 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 mushroom are 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, almond portobello and garden giant, which I am also attempting to grow. Their medicinal value ranges from helping the immune, cardiovascular, and/or digestive system to fighting cancer.

Mushrooms offer some unique compounds that you probably won't get from eating plants. Since I have eaten plants all my life, but few mushrooms, chances are that my body hasn't received its due from the fungal kingdom. Common ways to get these compounds are by either cooking the mushrooms at low temperature (< 220 F) or by extracting them with alcohol. Some of the compounds that come out with alcohol won't be extracted through cooking, and visa-versa. Since taking a homemade alcohol extract of shiitake, I've instantly enjoyed what seems to be better digestion and sounder sleep.

The medicinal benefits from shiitake also extend to helping the immune system, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and cardiovascular system.  They are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and they suppress many cancer cell types, e.g. breast, prostate, colorectal. They are also delicious. One cannot eat enough mushrooms to get the full range of unique benefits found in each species, but extracts and teas could supplement your diet to help. If you have a particular medical concern, then there is probably a mushroom that you can benefit by eating a lot of, while supplementing with others.

One mushroom that many people would like to eat a lot of is the morel, mainly for its special flavor, but also for immunity support. I don't cultivate them yet, but finding them this year should be easier with the help of guidance from one of our area's premier mycophiles. Things to look for are stands of tulip poplar in areas where moisture collects. Searching should begin for black morels when average night air temperature is above 50 F. Morels appear for about 6 weeks in early spring.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

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 their soil, allowing as little as 3 months for natural processes to kill off pathogens before harvesting the crop. So, wash your vegetables, as well as your mushrooms, before cooking or consuming them.

We could do better by the Bay than to spread manure on farmland. About 20% of Maryland farms are restricted in the types or amounts of manure they can use now because of the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulations. Phosphorus is an important pollutant to manage, but Nitrogen is also a growing concern, having negative impacts on at least 5% of affected ecosystems' endangered species. Much of the sandy soils in the Coastal Plain don't accumulate nutrients and pass them through quickly to aquifers and waterways. Rather than base manure application limits on soil phosphorus content, we should be looking at nutrient flows.

One of compost's key characteristics is that it holds on to chemicals, such as phosphorus, acting as a filter in the soil to limit the amount of nutrients that make it through to the Bay. The same can be said of biochar and mycelium, but to an ever greater degree. Blaming the PMT on the decline in the number of Maryland farms ignores the whole issue of nutrient pollution, while the PMT ignores the flow of nutrients from the soil. Adopting a more rigorous protocol for reducing nutrient pollution seems to be warranted, but we need to avoid burdening small farms with added costs and management effort. Options in the PMT for measuring reductions in actual pollution to waterways, rather than strict limits on fertilizers, could be the way to go.

Of all the methods mentioned, I think mycelium is the most promising (though farming with biochar would do enormous good). In Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Paul Stamets discusses implanting bunker spawn in trenches to filter runoff from areas of concentrated pollution. I'm starting to do this on my own property as I acquire mycelium in my various experiments.
Oyster mushroom mycelium is supposed to be good for this use. Once the mycelium is established it can flourish, if fed new wood chips occasionally. The great thing about it is that farmers could harvest and sell the highly nourished oyster mushrooms that would grow out of these mycofilters.

Monday, February 22, 2016


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 diet is 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 recipes available online, using tools such as the Perfect Produce app.

If you find grocery shopping difficult, and don't mind a little adventure in your diet, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangement may be for you. The type that will save you some time at the grocery store offers pre-packaged items from the local harvest and might include meal kits and processed items such as breads. Here, we have Taste of Southern Maryland offering in-season, locally grown, nutrient dense foods delivered by priority mail with weekly plans scaled to your needs. Like growing your own, this approach seems like a good way to make your meals more veggie-centric.

If the chore of cooking is too much to handle, Calvert County (and many others) host Meals on Wheels to eligible (invalid or shut-in) persons. If you don't qualify for that free service, you can drive a short distance and get the same menu by signing up for lunch at one of the local Senior Centers for $3 to $5, depending on your age.

Our next local food outing will be tonight's Calvert Eats Local meeting, which is a pot-luck this month. There is usually a presentation, with next month's to be given by your's truly on the topic of gourmet mushrooms.

Friday, February 19, 2016

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 projects. The Hall of Fame, established in 1991, includes 46 farm families from 23 counties who have been honored for their high standards of conduct; personal values; contributions to their community; and performance, leadership, innovation, and achievement in agriculture. Calvert County has been honored to host more than their share of these stellar farms, including Taney Place, belonging to the late Y.D. Hance, Maryland's first Secretary of Agriculture. The latest addition to the list is Swann Farms out near the end of Chaneyville Road in Owings. All of these farms have something to offer to those interested in various aspects of agriculture or who just want wholesome food. +Swann Farms, for instance, offers u-pick produce of various types throughout the year.

Our first (faltered) foray into agri-tourism could have been better informed had we initially found the Hall of Fame or one of the local guides put out by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. I would hope that all of these farms exemplify the ideals expressed in the documentary film, "Out to Pasture: The Future of Farming?" put together by students in the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The film lauds deindustrialization of farming, especially with regard to animal husbandry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

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:

Saturday, February 13, 2016


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 sleuths of the deep state, put pieces of the puzzle together as they emerged. The thought the the NSA would revel in bombarding with death rays anything exalting the name "Snowden" was only an ironic twist on the whole concept.

You, too, can create your own theories of causality of the connections between health and geography by scouting the information available on the Maryland Food System Map. This online tool, offered free by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, allows you to overlay data regarding various sources of food and health problems of areas throughout the state. Whether or not you use it for research, this tool could become instrumental to finding food in your locale when trucks and ships can't afford trips from afar because credit has evaporated and grocery store shelves go empty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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 and nutrient adjustment, and opening the canopy for more sunlight all have helped. This year, I am hoping to incorporate Garden Giant mushrooms in planting beds shaded by taller crops such as sorghum, tomatoes, eggplant, and lima beans. These mushrooms, in addition to being deliciously healthy to eat, are helpful to their garden companions' growth and yields. 

Another mushroom we are hoping to see more of this year is the oyster. We have been blessed with a patch of this found growing naturally near one of our gardens, and since, have tried to cultivate it on logs in brown, blue, and yellow variations. So far, we have had little luck. I grew some on coffee ground this year, but the yield was very low. With oyster mushrooms, we could receive many benefits to counter diabetes including decreased obesity and regulated blood sugar

We inoculated some logs with lion's mane mushroom spawn last year, and would love to see those come to fruition. Lion's mane could help regrow some of the deteriorated nerves in my wife's feet that cause her debilitating pain. If we ever see maitake mushrooms fruit from the buried logs we went to great lengths to cultivate last year, they may also help with blood glucose

Where we had the most immediate success so far, is shiitake logs. This year should be tremendous for shiitakes with ten times as many logs prepared. By fall, we should be harvesting armloads! Shiitake improves immunity, blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, the cardiovascular system, and the digestive system.  It has antiviral, antibacterial (e.g. strep, staph, candida), and anti-inflammatory qualities. Something new I am trying with shiitakes is to make an alcohol extract from them. This will make certain beneficial compounds available to take in easy spoonfuls, rather than rely on cooking the mushrooms daily.

Local folk who want to hear a bit more about the benefits and methods of cultivating mushrooms are welcome to attend the March meeting of Calvert Eats Local where I will be giving a presentation and sharing a delicious shiitake dish.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

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's laws are among the most liberal on this score and becoming more so, with the recent override of Governor Hogan's 2015 veto that would have continued to allow petty (under $300) seizures and proposed legislation that would require criminal conviction prior to forfeiture.

I, personally, think Maryland's implementation of civil asset forfeiture has been relatively just and don't think that we need to convict people before seizing assets reasonably deemed to be connected with major crimes. However, other laws should be scrutinized in view of the possibility that a violation could lead to brutal deprivation of essential goods. For example, a greenhouse that one uses for sustenance could be seized if it contains a few marijuana plants. Chicken coops could be seized if their occupants aren't allowed by zoning regulations. No trial required, just a judicial hearing. This is the kind of thing that could happen when Judge Judy or one of her wannabes reigns on the bench. You're either right or wrong, and if you're wrong, God help you.

I anticipate that the breakdown of the rule of law following the collapse of national commerce will cause law enforcement to do whatever is necessary to sustain their power, including civil asset forfeiture as their main funding mechanism. When we begin to see acronyms widely tossed around like CAF (civil asset forfeiture) and EJK (extra-judicial killings) as euphemisms for theft and murder by the ones entrusted with our protection, it will be too late to ask if we've lost control of the police (not to mention private security goons).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

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 can the legal marijuana businesses hope to carry the profits built into their models? This won't progress overnight, but freely growing weed might be a leading indicator in the arc of collapse as we move from financial, to commercial, to political, and then to social breakdown. Yet, we will need marijuana, prescribed or not, for treatment of pain. Excessive casual use, however, could accelerate our demise as a society.

It's great that there will be high-security greenhouses built. Once commercial collapse occurs, the demand for marijuana may be superseded by a demand for food. If the rule of law breaks down, at least some food could be grown securely in these facilities. The greenhouse that I hope to build might eventually be part of the grow your own revolution, since my wife suffers from diabetic neuropathy. I am being careful to invest only as much as will provide a positive net return in a greenhouse, as costs can go quite high if you try to get fancy. The first stage might include a thin, simulated stone, concrete floor and clear polyvinyl sheet over a frame we have that was made for a gazebo tent. Eventually, I'd like to have a sturdy, classy looking greenhouse. Some kits are available that might at least get me to sturdy. Once I get to sturdy, highly secure might be another intermediate attribute to shoot for.

Monday, February 1, 2016


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 the crops (gizzards) that both fishes' and chickens' digestive systems rely upon.

The first step for us will be a greenhouse, which will require HOA approval, but the aquaponics system inside is not burdened with any regulations, to my knowledge. Bates touts the book, Aquaponic Gardening, in his USBI talk, hoping that the next edition includes information about biochar. In any case, I have biochar in abundance to apply to aquaponics. Bates' talk shows that the bigger chunks are preferred. I will want to charge it first, with fish fertilizer or some other nitrate-dense inoculant, in order to support plant growth.

My guess is that the aquaponics system, i.e. the tank(s), pumps, and connections, will cost less than the chicken farming infrastructure and it will probably yield more food. Sometimes, playing by the rules opens your eyes to better solutions, while keeping you in good stead with the community.

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