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.

packshed

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!

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Log jams

Sometimes a task is small, but the longer you wait to do it the more important it gets – or at least the more of log jam it creates. A few years ago Jeremy joined a farmer journey-person program through the Land Stewardship Project.  During one weekend, they brought up the idea of “weak links” and “log jams” – those things, little or big, that block production or slow things down.

As we settle into the new farm, there are plenty of weak links and log jams we know about and others we’ll undoubtedly discover along the way.

One small one is that the only place to wash hands was in the house, so people had to walk all the way back to the house from the pack shed or high tunnel or wherever they were. We always wear gloves when picking and sorting mushrooms, but we still want to wash our hands. Jeremy picked up a little hand washing sink last week and got it installed in the packing shed.  Yay! That will save a lot of walking.

HandWashingStation

One task that has grown larger and larger in importance over the months is electricity. Jeremy ran an extension cord out to the high tunnel and that’s all the electricity we’ve had out there for over a year. Finally this last week we got a sub-panel out there which gives us more power for running lights, drills, and, most importantly, our big 30-inch agricultural fan.  Basically a giant box fan, it  sits at the top of the high tunnel and draws the warm air out. This helps us regulate the temperature in there so it doesn’t get too hot for the mushrooms. In fact, there are so many issues around making just the right environment for happy mushrooms, I think that will have to be the subject of next week’s update.

agFan

Here’s the giant fan. Stay tuned for a video next week!

Yet another project we’re working on is how to keep the humidity at the right level. Jeremy dragged out a system he had from way back when we were in Maplewood.  It was set up for a different space and for sprinkling instead of misting, so we need a bunch of new parts. That particular solution is on hold until we get those parts. For now, Jeremy has installed some sprinklers that have a moisture senser and timers. This saves a lot of time as farm workers don’t have to go out to the hoop house a couple times a day and spray down logs by hand.

sprayingHouse

Laying out the misting system, looking for all the parts!  And below, sprinkling the logs.

 

All this time we’re saving we can put into all the other projects that still need to get done! Like: getting a computer set up in the pack shed for tracking mushroom production, getting another hand washing sink and first-aid station set up in the hoop house, lots of organization, and, most importantly, snuggling with Spore.

This last week we also said goodbye to one of our employees so we are looking for a new person. There is housing available. If you might be interested, drop us a line! More details here.

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.

layFlatHose

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!