What a day. Pouring rain for the first part of the mushroom cultivation workshop at Allandale Farm with NOFA-Mass Dan Bensonoff. Good for the fungi, and because it was pretty balmy, not harmful too humans. I am ready to start growing some mushrooms other than Garden Giant.  After that, potting up tomatoes, and sowing squash and zucchini (indoors, in peat pots).

Shiitake on oak, 1 inch deep holes
Shiitake on oak, plunger action
Shiitake on oak: sealing with wax
Elm Oyster on wood shavings
Oyster in totem | lady in pink jacket wearing Dan’s mushroom hat

In between juggling three loads of laundry, baking four “pumpkin” pies with the last root-cellared butternut squashes, and watching the home yard hive for swarming (better go in tomorrow and have a look!), I finally got the Michael Philips Holistic Spray onto the garden today. A bit late: the sour cherry, currants and jostaberry are flowering, the elders, blueberries and grapes are about to pop. But no insect damage yet, anywhere, so I may have caught it in time.

I use the Home Orchard Rate recipe in my 4-gallon backpack sprayer. One gets me through the entire garden, and it takes me about two hours (admittedly because the filter on the sprayer wand needs unclogging so often).

  • 2.5 ounces of pure neem oil with a generous teaspoonful of soap emulsifier (achieves a 0.5 percent neem concentration; more would burn the leaves)
  • 10 ounces of homegrown FAA
  • 6 ounces of mother culture of effective microbes (I use EM.1)
  • half a cup of Brix molasses
  • 5 tablespoons of liquid kelp

I also added a tablespoon of home-made OHN, and a tablespoon of WCa… that is, Water-soluble Calcium, another Korean Natural Farming input I’ve not explained yet (basically, eggshells dissolved in vinegar).

I also sprayed the assortment of indoor plants, mostly ferns, (pictured) while I was at it. The largest fern adorns our bathroom and it’s great only… it is growing exponentially! They’ve been with us throughout winter and we’ve not had a bug problem, and have 0bviously thrived, thanks to a mini-holistic spray once a month.

 

 

The carboys with the Cabernet and the Malbec you see in this post moved from basement to dining room table to bedroom dresser, and finally, last weekend, to the kitchen counter, where we emptied them into bottles. The dresser is ready for the seed potatoes.

 

 

All my ducks in a row: FPJ, LAB, rice water, kombucha.

I use LAB primarily in the  chickens’ water, their bedding, the compost pile and my garden’s soil. It’s versatile. The large jar I made last year is almost finished, so  it is time to make some more, and to introduce it. LAB is one of the easiest Korean Natural Farming (KNF) inputs to make, so maybe that’s why I forgot to write it up. But it’s a fascinating input.

This is how I make LAB

  1. I pour the water (non-chlorinated!) in which I have washed rice into a jar, with a cloth on top so it can attract the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) from the air, and so that it can vent. This rice water is nutrient poor, so only the strongest bacteria will colonize it and thrive.
  2. After a week or so (it depends on temperature), the lactic acid bacteria start to propagate and start to give off a sour smell (this is the lactic acid, which has a PH of 2). At that point you add 1 part of the sour water to 10 parts whole milk (organic is best, as antibiotics in the milk will kill the bacteria). Milk is nutrient-rich, so  the bacteria will have a feast!
  3. In about five days there is a separation between the curds (which float on top) and the whey, a yellow liquid (remains at the bottom). The liquid is the lactic acid with the LAB in it. Once the separation is complete, carefully scoop out the curds – make them into cheese, or feed them to the chickens (they too love it). Keep the LAB liquid in the fridge, where they will keep for months.

How does it work?

  1. Yeasts (which are fungi, not bacteria) consume sugars (carbohydrates) and produce alcohol. Hence beer, wine, mead… Bacteria also consume sugars and starches (carbohydrates), but they produce acids. Some of these bacteria also consume alcohol. My favorite, acetobacter, thrives in the air and if it gets its hands on your brew, it will convert it into acetic acid… vinegar! That’s why you want an airlock on your carboy, to let the carbon dioxide bubbles that the yeasts produce escape, but to keep acetobacter out. (*) Acetic acid preserves food by lowering the pH (raising the acid level) and making an environment that is unfriendly to harmful bacteria.
  2. But  with the rice starch we washed off into the water we are catching a different set of bacteria. Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) too are readily available in the air (should that surprise anyone?). As they digest carbohydrates (sugars, starches, etc.), they produce lactic acid. This process is called lacto-fermentation, which is usually anaerobic (not open to the air).  This lactic acid is what produces the sour flavor in yogurt, raw lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
  3. As the LAB go to town on the sugars in the milk, the rising acidity causes the milk proteins (casein) to tangle into solid masses, the curds. The remaining liquid, the whey, contains only whey proteins. In cow’s milk, 80% of the proteins are caseins, 20% are whey. Human milk, by the way, is 60% whey and 40% casein. The LAB themselves are present mostly in the whey.
  4. In the fridge, the LAB go to sleep (it’s too cold for them, plus you’re not feeding them anymore). When you take them out and add them to drink water or spray them on manure or soil, they wake up again, start feeding, and multiply.
  5. You can pair up LAB with other organisms in AEM (Activated Essential Micro Organisms). More on that here and here.

What is it good for?

  • For animals, LAB are nutritious. They make B Vitamins, Vitamin K2 and enzymes in fermented foods – all good things. LAB are also probiotic.. When you eat them (alive, as you should eat them), you are adding beneficial life forms to your digestive tract. Also, the lactic acid lowers the PH in the gut, and the other the beneficial life forms there like it acidic. Thus the thriving beneficials will crowd out the non-beneficials.
  • For plants, it’s the same. But where is the plant’s gut? It’s its rhizosphere, the soil all around its roots, and its phyllosphere, its leaf and stem  surface. So just as we introduce probiotic organisms into our gut with yogurt, we should introduce probiotics into the plant’s guts by adding it to the soil and spraying it onto its leaves.

What do these LAB do for animals and plants?

  1. Being probiotic to beneficials, lactic acid is also antibiotic to non-beneficial organisms. Its PH of 2 inhibits salmonella and e. coli. and most Gram-positive organisms including spore-formers such as Clostridia Botulinum and heat-resistant spoilage organisms”  (more on that here).
  2. LAB also keep a check on the alcohol-producing yeasts. Yeasts are anaerobes that make alcohol. We don’t want alcohol in our soil because it kills (most of that antimicrobial hand wash is alcohol, which dries out the protective cell walls of most organisms).
  3. We don’t want an anaerobic soil because the pathogenic organisms are predominantly anaerobic (more about that here). Also, roots need oxygen. LAB are facultative anaerobes. In aerobic conditions they breathe in oxygen, in anaerobic conditions they ferment and start bubbling (just like yeasts bubble inside baking bread), which creates pore spaces, which can then fill up with oxygen. So they ventilate a soil that is about to go anaerobic, and help a soil that already is.
  4. While they do this, they also eliminate bad odors. Usually, if it smells bad, it’s bad. The foul odor in a compost pile is due to anaerobic decomposition, which gives off corrosive ammonia. Better not  breathe that in too deeply. Same in the chicken coop: if it smells like ammonia, the bedding is too loaded with manure, or too wet. You can fluff up the compost pile, or change the bedding, but you could also try spraying some LAB. The LAB feed on ammonia. I use LAB in my coop, and they are also sprayed on pig stalls, smelly sports shoes, etc. So waste becomes food.
  5. As part of the plant’s gut, LAB digest minerals that are not easily dissolved, making them available in a form plants can absorb.
  6. If you use it to lactoferment animal feed (more here), that feed is already pre-digested, making it easier to digest, and it will add the probiotics to the animals’ gut. I would not feed only fermented grains to hens, because the bacteria in the gut need to do the work too. A healthy mix is best. Same for plants. You eat yogurt and you know it’s good for you. Let’s put aside this notion that humans are so different from chickens, and that animals are so different from plants. All should get a healthy dose of probiotics!

How to use

  1. Foliar spray
  2. Soil drench
  3. In animal water
  4. In animal feed (more on fermented chicken feed here)
  5. In animal bedding
  6. Spray on compost pile
  7. Clear clogged drains and keep the septic organisms happy
(*) When brewing kombucha you’re playing with the yeast-bacteria balance. Kombucha is the output of a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts. The yeasts make alcohol and carbon dioxide, which makes the kombucha bubbly, and the alcohol is immediately consumed by acetobacter, was turns the liquid sour. Too much yeast, and your kombucha turns alcoholic. Too much acetobacter, and it becomes too acidic, killing all the life in it and stopping the ferment.

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Today I also gathered the meristems of the fast-growing weeds I could find for another batch of Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ). I still have half a jar from last year,  and one dilutes a lot when using it (1000:1 or 500:1), but it’s good to look ahead. Also, this is time when the nettles and comfrey are at that super-growth-hormonal stage.

2 jars of FPJ and 1 jar with the first stage of LAB (rice water)
1:1 compressed plant material:brown sugar and trusty stomping stick

Our flock is down to six. Three generations:

  1. From 2012: Tweety (Rhode Island Red), Pecky and Skipperdee (Black Sexlinks) – we suspect that only Tweety still lays eggs. (Lost Toothless, cause unknown.)
  2. From 2014: Oreo the Ameraucana – still the trusty provider of blue eggs. (Lost Nocty, cause unknown.)
  3. From 2015: Kerfluffle (the Buff) and Lucy (Barred Rock) – both laying well. (Lost Jennie to a predator, probably a fisher cat, as well as Goldie, who decided to escape from the chicken yard and never returned).

This year we got six chicks through the Natick Organic Community Farm (what a place it is in Spring: baby piglets): three Comets (Cinnamon Queens) and three Easter Eggers. One of the latter (the little black one in the upper left corner) is either a runt, or an errant bantam We’re keeping an eye on her.

Amie is ecstatic to have chicks in the house again. And it’s fun, peppering one’s day-to-day conversation with friends with words like “pasty butt” and “chick grit”. Their arrival also prompted  us to clear up the chicken yard. I hope to find a way to split that yard and fence off an area to grow some forage for them.

But first I will be taking care of the two non-laying Black Sexlinks soon.

I’m in good shape for this growing season with the KNF (Korean Natural Farming) applications.

The FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice; explained here, along with OHN) is a beautifully thick and deep chocolate brown, sweet-smelling syrup. My only worry here is that I don’t have a lot, but I’ll be gathering a lot of the meristems of the fast growing (“hormonal”) weeds soon and making more.

My two jars of OHN Oriental Herbal Nutrient) had molded over. The issue was that I had left the cloth on, hadn’t closed the jars, and of course the alcohol that preserves it evaporated. They both looked like this:

OHN is pretty costly to make in terms of $$ and time, so I was a bit worried, but then I saw the mold formed a thick mat that I could scoop up, and the stuff underneath looked as nice as the FPJ. So that’s what I did, carefully. And looks at what these mats looked like underneath:

Wild, what? Wacky landscapes both on the up and the undersides! I added some alcohol to the juice to squash any more mold growth and closed up.

Then it was time to filter the FAA (Fish Amino Acids), of which I had two batches, assembled on 5/6/2016. They had been sitting in my basement till now (so 10 month), with an air lock on them so they could off-gas (though I never smelled a thing). I had checked on them in June and found mold, but Philip Ang (on the invaluable Korean Natural Farming group on Facebook) writes that “molds are normal in FAA. there are fungi which produce protease enzymes which break down protein. the goal of FAA is to reduce proteins to amino-acids which is absorbable by plants. protein hydrolysis can be done via enzymes or acids. microbes produce enzymes to do this while we use hydrochloric acids in our stomachs to do the same. the same principle is used to produce soy sauce by fermenting with the mold aspergillus oryza.” I love that stuff!

When I opened the buckets today it smelled sweet – mostly of the apples I had added, with only a whiff of sourness. When I pushed the mold on top to the side, I found an oily, syrupy juice. I scooped off the mold and set it aside, then strained the juice from the fish bits that hadn’t yet been dissolved and fermented.

It doesn’t look appetizing, but it smelled great!

When I assembled them, I did something slightly different with each batch: in one I had just put fish, brown sugar (each 29 lbs of fish, 7 lbs of sugar), and apples. In the other, I had added some water, because the slurry wasn’t wet enough, and then some kefir. The latter was not as far dissolved as the first: more, and also more recognizable fish bits, less juice. The first also yielded a greyer emulsion, the latter a more yellow one.

My strainer quickly clogged up and needed frequent rinsing. I collected the mold and the thick slurry in a new bucket, and added more brown sugar for a second round. A quick stir leave the lid open a little, and it’ll go back in my basement for a couple of months.

I did most of this in the back yard. The rinse water I offered to the currants, hazels and the cherry tree.  Don’t I look happy?

This jar is for my ready-to-go KNF potions box. We’re ready for the growing season!

Well, almost… I never did catch my IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms) last year. I tried several times, must have wasted a pound or two of precious (imported!) rice. Having taken several Elaine Ingham “Life in the Soil” classes, I now know why I always caught the colorful and black stuff, never the white hyphae that indicate the well-established, beneficial fungi. I was trying to catch them on my own property and the neighborhood I live in is pretty recent, and it just doesn’t have the good IMOs. By the time I caught on, the weather shut that down, and we spent the entire winter with a couple of bags of wheat bran in our bedroom (didn’t want to put it in the basement or shed due to mice). This year I plan to capture IMOs in my town, about a mile from here, in an older growth forest, undisturbed for a 100 years. Let’s see what happens!

 

Because This:

This:

My apologies for the dearth of posts. As you can see, I am deep into study. So deep I had to move to the dining room table. Where, you can also see, we’re still up to our usual/unusual activities. These need to be bottled, by the way, this weekend. And outside it has begun to snow. And again I cut it short because the books on that able are beckoning. It’s only logical.

It’s cold now, below freezing all day long, but next week we’re looking at the Polar Vortex again, or so they say. So I got cracking on finishing up the wrapping of the hives. I choose to go with just the black tar paper – foregoing the pink insulation material. Here they are:

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Sam, in the Home Yard. One deep, two mediums, still needs insulation on top.
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Tatjana, in the Common Yard. One deep, two mediums, and a Mann Lake inner cover with insulation on top.
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Beatrice (right) and Katharina, in the Common Yard. Both are one deep, two mediums, one quilt box on top – no sugar candy yet, but the Beatrice cluster, which is massive, is already in the top box, so they’ll probably need it soon.
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Beatrice bees keeping an eye on the crazy lady with her black paper and noisy staple gun.