Brown Reishi in Gulf Coast Region

WP_20150415_013In terms of medicinal mushrooms, reishi are probably the most well known, at least in our culture here in the US. They actually have a whole website dedicated to them: Here on the gulf coast and right on the Pensacola Permaculture property we’re finding that the brown reishi grow quite commonly in the wooded areas.

Reishi are a staple in Chinese medicine. Mushrooms are generally considered a booster to the immune system (sorry, not so much the white ones you see in the super market) and reishi especially so. The list of reported benefits of reishi extract is fairly extensive and includes:

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-allergic activity
  • Bronchitis-preventative effect, inducing regeneration of bronchial epithelium
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial, against Staphylococci, Streptococci, and Bacillus pneumoniae (perhaps due to increased immune system activity)
  • Antioxidant, by eliminating hydroxyl free radicals
  • Antitumor activity
  • Antiviral effect, by inducing interferon production
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Enhances bone marrow nucleated cell proliferation

WP_20150415_014Popular was to ingest the reishi are tincture in which the properties are extracted by soaking in alcohol for two to four weeks, decoction  in which a very strong “tea” is made, and double extraction, which combines the two.

What we’ve been getting into around here is somewhere between a decoction, tea and coffee-substitute or breakfast beverage. Here’s the basic recipe:

  • chop equal parts ginger root, turmeric root and reishi mushroom into small chunks, about the size of a chocolate chip. (powdered item can be substituted if necessary)
  • boil water with about a 10/1 ratio of water to mushroom/root.
  • let simmer for 20 – 40 minutes
  • drink plain or with milk, honey, lemon, etc.

Turmeric is also reputed to be a strong anti-cancer medicine and is said to be more accessible to the body when ingested along with something spicy like ginger or black pepper (a nice addition or substitution of ginger is not available). Ginger is of course also a “super-food” and garlic can be a cool addition as well.

Cutting the reishi mushroom ain’t terribly easy once it’s dried out, but slowly and surely it will come down in size. If you don’t have a mechanical or electric chopper of some sort, I’ve found that serrated knife works fairly well.

Our children also really enjoy this drink. Feel free to share your experiences or suggestions, as always. Enjoy.

Picking Blueberries

There are blueberries everywhere this time of year. We have many large bushes in the woods with a few berries on them. They are delicious. Then we ventured out to the cemetery behind out property. We found tons of them! What was different? Why so many more around the cemetery? The answer…EDGE!

Edge is where two different ecosystems overlap. Such as water and land or in the case of the blueberries forest and grassland. These areas are more productive due to the increased energy and bio-diversity at the boundary. In our example the blueberry bushes benefit from the increased access to sunlight. However, they also benefit from the having animals and insects from both the forest and the grassland ecosystems depositing nutrients around them. In some cases unique species are also living on this edge. The easiest example of this in our scenario is a bird flying out to grab a grasshopper and landing on a branch at the edge of the forest. After eating the grasshopper  he federalizes the ground with his manure.

In Permaculture, the edge of any system is most productive. Picking berries today was a great way to observe this important principal.

As we design our food forest in the woods, we will be sure to include plenty of edges in the mature blueberry forest to make it more productive.

Worms at work.

Worm Composting

Looking to turn trash into treasure; set up a worm bin. Worm composting is a great way to recycle kitchen scraps, yard waste, paper, cardboard, cotton fabrics, and manure turning it into biological rich compost. If you live in an apartment or small urban lot it is especially valuable. Worm bins can be kept on a porch, balcony, or even inside the house. Worm composting creates three products: Worm castings, worm tea, and fishing worms. Making your own is cheap and easy.

We found this old tub in the woods.
We found this old tub in the woods.

Worm castings – Worms eat the bacteria and particles of the organic material put in the bed. As the material passes through its body, beneficial bacterial from the worms gut are added. After digestion, a worm casting is excreted from the worm’s body. Worm castings have an earthy smell and have been shown to make plant resist disease, grow faster, and produce more food.

Worm tea – While worm tea can be made by simply adding a handful of worm castings in a watering jug filled with rain water, I prefer a different approach. I put a handful of worm compost in a fine mesh bag and hang in a 5 gallon bucket full of rain water and a couple tablespoons of molasses. I then use an aquarium aerator to add oxygen to the water at a high rate. The bacteria in the worm compost will multiply in the water with high oxygen and sugar content. I let the tea brew for 24 hrs, after which, I foliar spray on plant within 24 hrs of being brewed. If you use tap water instead of rain water, let it sit uncovered for 24 hrs prior to starting to let the chlorine in the water gas off. Worm tea can also be made by catching the liquid that drains out of the bottom of the worm bin, using the same technique.

Fishing worms – There are thousands of different types of worms in the world. Only a few types of worms are suitable for a worm bin. Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) are commonly used for worm composting. Other common names are panfish worm, trout worm, tiger worm, and red wiggler. They are vigorous eaters and multiple rapidly. Red worms live longer under water allowing them to wiggle on the hook for up to ½ an hour. Night Crawlers can also be used in a worm bin but will not compost material as fast.

This tub of worm breaks down 4 inches of rabbit manure a week.
This tub of worm breaks down 4 inches of rabbit manure a week.

Worm compost bins can be purchased commercially or made from Rubbermaid bins, 5 gallon buckets, old sinks, or tubs. I have used a commercial bin, The Worm Factory Tower, which works great but it is expensive. The good thing about it is they catch the liquid as it drains out, have adequate ventilation and are designed with flow through systems that allow you to harvest castings without separating the worms from them.

For a thrifty worm farmer, 5 gallon buckets can be used to create a similar setup. Just drill ¼ inch holes in the bottom of every bucket stacked. Do not drill holes in the bottom bucket, as you will want the liquid to have a place to collect after draining. Sinks and tubs are used to create systems where a container can be placed under the bin to catch the liquid run off. The down side is you must manually sort the worms from the compost unless you make a tumbler to do it for you. An easy way to separate worms from vermicompost is to dump the bin out on a tarp. The worms will move away from the light and into the compost. This allows you to remove the top few inches of castings every 10 minutes or so as they continue to migrate towards the center.

Our catchment under tub for worm liquid.
Our catchment under tub for worm liquid.

Setting up a worm composting bin – Start by giving the worms a habitat to live in. Bedding can be peat moss, coconut coir, or shredded newspaper. We chose to use coconut coir because it is a byproduct of the coconut industry, where as peat moss is usually taken from natural eco systems. Shredded newspaper is hard to keep from matting down, creating an anaerobic environment that is hostile to the beneficial bacteria. Make sure whatever you choose, is moist but not soaking wet. If bedding is allowed to dry, the worms will dry out and die. Adding a handful of soil to the bedding material, will add bacteria to the worm bin and give the worms some grit to eat. They use the soil in their body to help them breakdown organic matter. Now is the time to add the worms. Most people start by adding 1 pound of worms but you can add more if you want your bed to handle more waste sooner. The biggest mistake people make is adding material to fast for the worms to eat.

After the worm compost bin is set up, begin adding waste in one corner of the bin at a time. Put the waste under the surface of the bedding, not on top. Make sure the previous material is almost gone before adding more.

What not to put in worm bin

Meat, fish, Dairy, Citrus, Dog or Cat Feces, Twigs or Braches, or any yard waste that has been treated with chemicals.

What to put in your worm bin

Raw vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grinds and filters, tea bags (remove staple), egg shells, rabbit manure, leaves, grass clippings, cover crops, hay.

Worms at work.
Worms at work.

The smaller the material the faster they eat it. Worms love pulp from making juice (except citrus).

We have found worm composting to be a low cost low input way to create a great soil amendment for our plants.


Dig a “Woody Bed”…your plants will thank you

A great way to increase production in the garden without taking up any more space is digging a “woody bed”. Woody beds are based on the technique of hugelkultur; wood stacked up a several feet high and covered with dirt and mulch. Notable permaculturists, Sepp Holtzer and Paul Wheaton have had a lot of success using hugelkultur. For those of us with a more limited space, the design can be scaled down. By adding the wood under the ground and not piled on top. You get the benefits of hugelkultur without the tall mound of dirt in your yard.

After adding leaves, rabbit manure, compost, and mulch. The bed was ready to plant in.
After adding leaves, rabbit manure, compost, and mulch. The bed was ready to plant in.

We decide to create two woody beds in our annual garden this year. We started with a plot cleared by chickens in the winter. After laying out the dimensions of the bed, the topsoil was removed and placed on a tarp. Beds were laid out on contour to catch the water as it flows down the gentle slope. A two foot deep trench was dug the length of the bed, taking care to keep the depth level. The wood we placed in the trench was logs from a fallen oak. As the dirt was added back in, we added water to help the dirt settle and fill in all the free space. The topsoil was added back on, creating a nice mound of loose soil. The final step was to add compost and mulch in the form of rabbit manure. A seasonal cover crop of crimson clover was planted to prevent weeds and increase fertility. We planted our warm weather vegetables into the bed this spring. The green beans, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes grew vigorously. Our second bed, which not purposefully planted, was covered with volunteer pumpkin and spaghetti squash vines. I guess the chickens planted those for us as they ate the kitchen scraps.

Top soil on one side and clay on the other.
Top soil on one side and clay on the other.
Filled the trench with a tree that blew down during Hurricane Issac.
Filled the trench with a tree that blew down during Hurricane Issac.
  • Holding moisture – Anyone who has sat on a log in the woods knows that rotting wood is full of moisture. The shade from the trees and contact with the ground turn the log into a sponge. Putting that sponge in the ground creates a reservoir of water under the crops reducing the need for irrigation.
  • Creating air pockets –Not walking on your grow beds is the most important way to avoid compacted soil. However, there are other ways to reduce soil compaction. Just the act of digging the trench to put in the wood will loosen the soil. Adding the wood creates soil life, which keeps the soil loose as it feeds on organic material. Finally, as the wood breaks down it creates pockets in the soil for air and water.
  • Creating organic material – There is no substitute for adding compost, mulch, manure, and green manure on top of the bed. Only so much can be added on top of the soil. Adding wood underneath the bed is an option that adds more organic material in the bed.
  • Adding nutrients to the soil – Forests are built on fallen forests. The nutrients from the wood will be recycled in the soil as the soil organisms break them down.
  • Providing food for fungi – Fungal hyphae in the garden bed forms a symbiotic relationship with the plants. The fungal hyphae transport nutrient and water that the plants cannot reach in exchange for sugars that the plants make.
Fungi in the bed is a good sign
Fungi in the bed is a good sign

I encourage anyone putting in a raised bed to take the extra steps to make it a woody bed. The benefits are many and your plants will thrive.

The plants loves it
The plants loves it


Why Permaculture?

People from all walks of life, all over the world, are discovering the principals and techniques of permaculture design. As one learns more about the benefits of these techniques to create a beautiful abundant landscape, it is hard not to get excited about Permaculture design. By mimicking nature with design components to fit each individual’s needs, a person can provide food security, while creating a beautiful landscape. One that takes less time, money and energy compared to a conventional vegetable garden or typical ornamental landscape.

Garden 5The key aspect Permaculture design is creating bio-diversity within the system. Planting several different types of plants in an area creates an environment that is, not only beautiful, but will confuse pests, reduce irrigation needs, build soil and grow nutrient dense foods.

Why Permaculture

Pest control – By planting food and shelter plants, [Corn flower (Centaurea cyanus), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum or A. rugosa, aka Korean mint), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)] for beneficial insects (Lady Bugs, Lacewings, Spiders, Parasitoid Wasp), permaculturist create an environment that will reduce pest pressure.

Builds soil – Plants serve different functions in an eco system.

  • Nitrogen fixing plants, [Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.), most vetch and pea species]partner with bacteria in the soil to produce usable nitrogen. They either die as seasons change or are chopped and dropped releasing nitrogen into the soil.
  • Dynamic accumulator plants [Comfrey (Symphytum spp.), Dandelion (Taraxacum Spp.), Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album)] pull minerals and nutrients from deep in the sub soil. When they die or are chopped and dropped, they release these minerals into the top soil.
  • Mulch is used extensively in permaculture. It breaks down over time, creating great top soil, while providing protection from UV rays which kill soil life.

Reduces irrigation – Several components of permaculture design decrease irrigation requirements.

  • Swales (Swale info) and ponds slow down the run off of rain water and allow it to soak into the ground for later use by the plants.
  • Having multiple layers of trees, plants, and ground cover reduce evaporation and keep the soil moist.
  • Increased humus (decomposed organic material) in the top soil allows the soil to hold more water.

Increases mineral content – By recycling plants from the system back into the system, a permaculturist keep the minerals on their property. After some initial mineral additions (Azomite, liquid kelp, and green sand) the high mineral content in the soil will grow nutrient dense food.

Increases food security – During a hurricane, power outage, loss of job, or any disruption in the current food distribution system, it is good to know that a good permaculture design has created abundance.

Reduces carbon footprint – It takes no fossil fuels to walk out the door, pick an herb, fruit, fungi, or vegetable for dinner. At the same time plants are capturing carbon molecules from the air and locking them into the soil.

Builds community – Neighbors will be curious about the transformation in the yard. Good food is something for which most people appreciate. That shared bond creates conversations and friendships in the community. Neighbors can swap plants, produce, seeds, and techniques. Setting up bartering networks saves everyone money. People receive quality food and services for less than they would pay to a large corporation.