Introducing: our very own Pegasus

As we mentioned back at the beginning of March, we got a grant from the Lakewinds Organic Field Fund (through the Lakewinds Food Co-op). With the funds we purchased the Okuda “Pegasus” Semi-Automatic Inoculation Tool. Sounds fancy, huh? It is actually pretty fancy!

Okuda is a Japanese company and they make these inoculator machines individually, by hand. It’s remarkably simple and complex at the same time. Last month Jeremy and I drove to Peshtigo in eastern Wisconsin to pick up the Pegasus. It was shipped to our spawn suppliers (and friends) over at Field and Forest Products. We spent a few hours looking over their Pegasus, taking it for a spin, taking videos, and asking lots of questions. We then loaded up our van with a ton of spawn (probably not literally a ton, but maybe close!) and our precious new Pegasus.

It was a couple weeks till we could really start using it because we really needed to collect the rest of the logs to inoculate before the logging site became impassable. But, Jeremy and our new employee have been inoculating for the last couple weeks. It will probably take another week or two to work out all the kinks and get the Pegasus perfectly tuned, but it’s going well so far.

Here it is in action on day 1  – new machine, and our new employee Cyle!

For you number crunchers, we inoculated 1,081 logs from November of last year through January. We started inoculations up again this month and have done 777 so far, doing 70-100 logs on each inoculation day. We’re hoping to build up to 125 logs a day as we get used to the tool.

Our goal is to finish inoculations by the end of May (if not earlier) and we have a ways to go as Jeremy has about 2,640 logs still left to do. Wish us luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Indoor fruiting chamber is under way

We were the recipients this year of a grant from the Mill City Farmers Market to help start up some indoor mushrooms. Our outdoor season is mostly over so there is finally time to start building the indoor fruiting chamber and getting mushrooms going.

Last weekend we cleared an area in the pack shed and started installing a walk-in cooler box. Instead of using it as a cooler though, we’ll be warming it up so mushrooms can grow inside. Spore the farm cat was very helpful!

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As we reached the end the last wall piece gave us a lot of trouble. Jeremy was sitting on the ground trying to get the wall to stay together. “A lap!” is what Spore thought so she attempted to sit in Jeremy’s lap while he was trying to get the wall together. So helpful!

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Mostly done! We fit in a few layers of insulation on the floor as well. We need to fix that hole in the wall and then get some shelving into the space. We need to figure out a mix of heat, humidity, and fresh air as well, but hopefully soon we’ll be growing mushrooms in here! There won’t be enough to sell to grocery stores and restaurants. Our plan is to have them available for the winter farmers markets and maybe some winter CSA shares.

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The other big news on the farm is a changing of the guard. Andy, who was with us for about a year, moved back home to Pittsburgh. We’ll miss him – and his dog Kuma! With the growing season wrapping up our temporary worker Tony also moved on to another job. A few weeks ago we welcomed Desire as our winter worker. She’ll be helping with logging and inoculations and other winter projects. We’re happy to have her onboard and we’re looking forward to winter on the farm.

Hello Almond Agaricus!

Last weekend I was looking at the Almond Agaricus bed from afar. You may remember from a couple months back when we started that bed. We dumped in compost, the spawn, and then covered it all in a layer of straw. And now the bed was covered in grass!  Darn grass.  I was worried about pulling the grass out because I didn’t know if I could step in the bed. Jeremy said that was fine, so I went to weed the mushroom bed.

Imagine my surprise when I went out to the bed and discovered a ton of mushrooms growing!

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Giant Almond Agaricus growing up from under a log.

I pulled out the trusty walkie talkie and called in.

“Does anyone have a walkie talkie on them?”

After a few moments pause, Jeremy came on, “Yeah, I’ve got one.”

“Hey, so, there are a ton of mushrooms growing out here.”

“WHAT?! Oh my word!”

Next thing I see, Jeremy and Andy are running across the lawn to see the mushrooms!  Sure enough, they are Almond Agaricus. And clearly they have been growing for a while because they are huge and way past their prime. Andy tried one on as a hat.

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We had to toss out most of these because they were too big, but there were a few that were a bit better sized – which you can purchase at the farmers market this weekend!

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There are a lot more coming on as I discovered the next day:

Okay, I made it sound like they’re growing on the logs, but they’re not. They’re just growing under the logs. They want some shade and it’s nice and shady under the logs! So we’re working on getting some shade set up for them. Go, Almond Agaricus, go!

A flurry of activity

A lot has been going on the last week or two at the farm.  We finished moving all the newly inoculated logs out of the fruiting house. They are enjoying their summer home in the sun-dappled woods.

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Even though the weather is still a little bit weird, we decided to start force-fruiting so the first batches were soaked and set up in the fruiting tunnel.  This year we’re trying something new. The extra rack above the fruiting racks is to hold the fruiting blanket, instead of having the blanket directly on the logs. The blanket keeps moisture and humidity in for the first couple days until the logs start “pinning” – that is, when the mushrooms start to grow. We can’t wait to get our first big flush of mushrooms!

We’re also experimenting with a few in-ground mushrooms this year – Almond Agaricus, Bluefoot, Blewits, and Winecaps.  We grew Winecaps at our house in Minneapolis way back in the day, but it wasn’t practical to have them at any of the locations our farm has been at over the years.  With our own property, we can do whatever we want (WHATEVER WE WANT! =) ), so we’re going to give them a try again.

We’ve eaten Almond Agaricus, which smells and tastes like almonds, but we’ve never grown it. We picked a nice sunny spot on the edge our field and Andy (farm employee), did an epic job of tilling it up, getting rid of weeds and grass. Jeremy dumped in a bunch of mushroom compost and mixed the spawn in with that and then covered the whole bed over with straw. If all goes well we should be seeing these mushrooms popping up in a month or two – in plenty of time for folks to get some at the farmers market!

The Blewits and Bluefoots (Bluefeet?) like more shade.  We picked a shady spot in the yard near the house and Andy and Ashley (our other farm employee) laid down cardboard (for weed control) and they’ve been dumping in compost, leaves, and wood chips. We’ll probably inoculate these shady patches over the weekend and cover them with straw mulch. These varieties take much longer to fruit so we probably won’t get any till next spring. We’ll all have to be patient!

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Winter Projects

Did you miss us? We have had the farmers market the last two weeks and I meant to send updates at least whenever we had a market, but things get busy for me (the farmer’s wife) during this season. Not that Jeremy hasn’t been busy – there are lots of projects going on at the farm!

First up was replacing some roof panels in the packing shed. Some of the translucent panels had been damaged by hail so every time it rained, water dripped in. Not anymore! Also, at long last, the painting is all done in the pack shed!  We are well on our way to getting this building inspected and certified as a food warehouse.

Next up was a shade structure expansion. Having inoculated almost 5,000 logs earlier this year, we are going to need more space for them. Jeremy and Andy (our newest employee), got pipe, cut it to fit, and had it all laid out on Monday.

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Monday was a blissfully warm day (at least for upper Wisconsin in December!) and then the temperature plummeted overnight and the snow arrived. It was far too cold to work outside.  It felt warm enough by Thursday (or we here in the upper Midwest just acclimate that fast) to finish putting up the pipes. Another project done!

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Yet another project on the farm is converting the old inoculation shed/storage shed into employee housing.  For those of you who have been to the farm, you may have noticed this decrepit looking shed propped up on pallets right outside the door of the house.  We plan to move it eventually, but Jeremy and Andy are getting some work done on it first.

Making sure it’s all insulated:

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Taking out the overhead door and replacing it with a window and wall:

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The electrical is done so after the wall was completed they were able to turn on a space heater and get the shed nice and toasty.  This is basically our first foray into tiny houses and we’re pretty excited about it.  Jeremy picked up a small wood stove which will be used for heating it. We do have plenty of wood around to burn!

Lastly, the first load of logs was delivered today – so inoculations for 2018 will be starting soon. No rest for mushroom farmers!

Farmer of the Month

Last Sunday we had our Open House. It was fun to show the whole operation to a few folks, including “neighbors” from down the road in Rice Lake and a friend we hadn’t seen in years. After touring around checking out all the mushrooms and fruiting areas, we cooked mushroom brats over the fire, then we had apple crisp made with apples from the big grandfather apple tree on the farm. If you missed this open house, don’t worry – we’ll have one again some day!

I somehow failed to mention (all of last month) that Jeremy was “farmer of the month” at the Farm Table in Amery, Wisconsin. The Farm Table Foundation teaches classes and workshops, partners with and supports local farmers, and has a fabulous restaurant with very tasty food in downtown Amery.

Each month they have a featured farmer and Jeremy was the farmer for September.

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All month they have a couple of special recipes made up to highlight the products from the farm they’re featuring. For Jeremy they had made up a Mushroom Ragu Crostini and a Mushroom Paperdelle. Then towards the end of the month the farmer comes to the restaurant to hang out during dinner and answer questions.

I got to tag along, so I got to try the crostini. I wish I had tried the pasta dish too, because it looked amazing! It’s hard to describe what it’s like ordering a fancy dish from a fancy restaurant made with mushrooms that my husband picked and delivered himself. It’s pretty cool (but mostly it’s nice having someone else do the cooking!).

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After enjoying a taste of our mushrooms, we walked around with the Program Director, Brandie. She had put together a taste test tray of Jeremy’s log-grown shiitake and some “store-bought,” not-log-grown, crimini mushrooms.

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We walked around the restaurant handing out samples to diners to see if they could guess which was which. Well – everyone could! And everyone agreed the shiitake were better. We answered questions about our farm, growing mushrooms, inoculations, and all sorts of things.

It felt a little odd at first to walk up to people in a restaurant who were eating dinner and interrupt them. But no one seemed to mind and they were quite interested in finding out more. I really like this educational piece that the Farm Table Foundation does. It’s not just about making and serving really good local food; they really believe in educating people about food and agriculture too.

They’re probably on to a new featured farm now, but don’t let that stop you from taking a trip out there for a meal!

Who’s your farmer?

It seems like you can read all about us on the farm website, but there isn’t actually that much about US – the actual farmers. Who the heck are we? Some of you know exactly who we are (hi family!) but others of you either signed up for our newsletter at a farmers market and didn’t meet either one of us, or you’re reading this on our website and you don’t know us (and didn’t even know we had a newsletter! That’s okay, you can sign up.)

So hello there! We are Aimee and Jeremy McAdams. Jeremy is your farmer and Aimee is… your farmer’s wife, sounding board, baker, house cleaner, nagger, and general voice of reason (and the newsletter writer). We work pretty well together even though, because of this farm, we don’t get to be together very much at the moment.

I (Aimee) grew up in Oregon and I have a background in libraries. I do like to organize things! I have crazy office skillz and do well in cubicle-land (though, full disclosure, due to working in nonprofits mostly, I’ve never actually worked in a cubicle). Jeremy grew up moving all around the country and then he became an architect. After a few years of that, he became a disillusioned former-architect, but he still has a great desire (and skill) in planning and designing things. He’s the only farmer I know of who uses AutoCAD to plan out chicken coop design, calculate how many logs can fit in a high tunnel, and double-check the best log stack configuration and log moving route in a shade structure.

As skilled as we are and as dedicated as we are, farming just doesn’t pay that much. That has long been the case; many farms have someone working off-farm to make extra money. We are no different in that respect, but we are a bit different in that my job is in Minneapolis and the farm is in Wisconsin. I live in Minneapolis and head off to work every day for my full time job. Jeremy lives at the farm, farming from sun-up to sun-down. We get to visit a day or two each week when Jeremy comes in for his weekly delivery and occasionally I make it out the farm. (My visits to the farm are so infrequent because I don’t drive.) And that’s the way it has been since we bought the farm in the spring of 2016. It’s not ideal but it’s what our finances can afford at the moment.

We are hoping to change that situation in the near future with me moving out to the farm. We are both super excited about this and all that it means for the farm. Not just a cleaner kitchen and the laundry getting done – but the possibility of a big garden, help for Jeremy with all the record keeping, and hopefully opening a small farm store in the old milk house! We have tons of plans. But it’s a while yet so we’re biding our time and making everything work the best we can for now.

That’s us – in a tiny nutshell! We hope you can make it out to visit the farm someday (like at our upcoming Open House) and you can get to know us even more!

Road trip!

Last week we took advantage of the long weekend for a road trip and some work on the farm. (To be clear, Jeremy, as a farmer, NEVER has weekends; but I, the farmer’s wife, definitely have weekends.) Jeremy has been thinking about buying a fancier tool for mushroom inoculations. Field & Forest, located near Peshtigo in eastern Wisconsin, has the tool and invited us to come take it for a test drive.

We left first thing on Friday morning to drive the four and a half hours across the state. Our route took us over some tiny state roads winding through stunningly beautiful farmland and forests. We got to Field & Forest just after lunch and spent some time catching up with our friends, mentors, and mushroom spawn suppliers, Joe and Mary Ellen. Joe and Mary Ellen have been in the mushroom business for many years and are very helpful with advice and commiserating about the difficulties of a mushroom farmer’s life.

We got down to business with Joe and one of their employees showing us the machine, demonstrating how it works, and letting Jeremy take a shot at it.

 

 

There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, you can inoculate logs twice as fast as our current tool. Now that we’re up to 5,000 logs a year this tool would make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to do inoculations.

But – the BIG but – it is $8,000!! Jeremy figures it would pay for itself in the first year or so as he wouldn’t need to hire as many people to help with inoculations. But it’s a lot of cash up front and we have a lot of other expenses to think about. I think we’re going to hold off for now on getting this tool and hope that between Jeremy and his current employee (who is pretty amazing at inoculating) they can do the slower process for at least one more year.

(But if you, or someone you know, has $8,000 lying around and you want to help make this dream tool our tool, drop us a line!)

After trying out the tool we spent more time with Joe and Mary Ellen and got a tour of their farm. It was fun to catch up with them and compare notes on mushroom farming!

First thing Saturday morning we headed back home. As I mentioned last week, we had a big painting project.  We’ve got to get this monstrosity of a pack shed all painted so we can get it certified as a food warehouse.

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The eternal optimist in me thought, “oh, this will be easy! Just a quick weekend job!” Ugh. I was so wrong. It’s a fussy thing to paint just the 2x4s and beams of a building, especially when you first have to scrub off years of accumulated dust (and a little bird poop) just so the paint will stick!  This will be an ongoing project but hopefully we’ll get it done by the end of the month. The small portion we managed to clean and paint does look pretty good. Stay tuned for pictures when we get this project all wrapped up!

Spore!

One of our neighboring farms is Sleepy Root Farm. We met them last fall when they came to our first open house. (Yes, we will have another open house! Eventually!) We now have a mushroom add on with their CSA.

Last weekend Sleepy Root hosted a party on their farm for all the local farmers and farm employees to get to know each other. Two of our farm employees, Seth and Roxy, went to the party, and Jeremy followed after packing mushrooms for the CSA.  Sleepy Root had a litter of kittens that were quite popular. Seth, Roxy, and Jeremy all fell in love with one particular cutie and it was decided that we needed a farm cat!  (Well, another one. There were some last year, but they seem to have disappeared!)

So little Spore came home to the farm.

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He is, as you can see, ridiculously adorable and I warned Jeremy that no one would be able to get any work done now that he has everyone wrapped around his little paw.

 

It’s nice to have a snuggly friendly animal on the farm again.  Our flock of chickens and two ducks just aren’t that snuggly!

No more “Old Faithful”

More excitement on the farm last week: we got our new watering system installed!

Mushroom farming takes a fair amount of water. In addition to all the water for the soaking tanks (as mentioned last week), we need to water the logs occasionally to keep them from drying out and we water in the fruiting house to help keep up the humidity. Who knew mushrooms were so demanding!?

We were happy to discover that the new farm had an agricultural well, gushing around 80 gallons a minute, already installed and ready to go. Jeremy had used standard garden hoses for years on all the past farms, and the water pressure gets worse the farther the hose goes. So Jeremy went with a nice big lay-flat hose. It was 2 inches in diameter (much more capacity than your standard backyard garden hose), bright blue, and we had about 600 feet of it.  It started at the house, ran through the lawn, up onto the dirt/gravel road running through the farm, then over a rock wall, down through a field, and finally up into the woods where we were resting and fruiting logs last year. It was the only place on the farm that worked for this, so we had to stretch the hose all that way.

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The hose at the end of its journey – in the woods with the resting logs.

Unfortunately, the poor hose managed to find every last random piece of barbed wire, nail, and rusty sharp bit of old machinery, and had several losing encounters with tractor tires.  By mid-summer is more Swiss-cheese than hose. Jeremy patched it and fixed it many times, but he finally gave up. He’d no sooner patch a hole, then move the hose slightly and it would be full of holes again.

It made for a seriously wet and muddy road last year.  Also, one of the biggest geysers from the hose was in the lawn and sprayed right over the fire pit. We have a pile of wood there so it’s always ready to have a little fire – but the whole pile was wet all year, and there was often a little lake around the fire pit! The only ones who enjoyed all this water were the ducks!

For the last couple months Jeremy has been planning the new watering system. He dug a trench from the house, following the same path, but going to the new soaking tanks and fruiting house. Several stops along the way there are spigots so it will be easier in the future to water a field of veggies or fill up the water tanks for pigs. And the last spigot pours water directly into the new soaking tanks.

Sorry ducks  – no more muddy roads and boggy wet lawn!