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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Osage Orange Tree: Useful and Historically Significant

The Osage orange tree, once a favorite of American settlers, deserves a look from modern-day homesteaders.

"Good fences make good neighbors," wrote poet Robert Frost. But what, exactly, makes a good fence?

If you've ever had the dubious pleasure of putting a fence up — of cutting, splitting and setting posts and stretching wire — you just might answer, "A fence that builds itself." And since you're fantasizing, you might add, "...and takes care of itself, too."

Well, believe it or not, there is such a fence. Chances are you've seen one while driving along rural roads and looking out over neat hedgerow-lined fields. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of this one — up until the time barbed wire became widely available and inexpensive — settlers and farmers throughout much of the eastern half of the United States planted their fences.

More often than not, the tree they used was the Osage orange tree, sometimes also called prairie hedge, hedge apple, horse apple, bowwood or yellow-wood. Most folks today, though, know it only for its distinctly ugly, almost otherworldly-looking fruit: an inedible, fleshy green orb the size of a grapefruit or large orange, with a warty, furrowed surface sparsely covered with long, coarse hairs. When you break the globe open, it exudes a bitter, milky, sticky sap that eventually turns black and that gives some people an irritating rash.

But beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, and any homesteader who places greater value on usefulness than on appearance will find much to admire in the Osage orange.

The Extraordinary Osage Orange Tree
Osage (Maclura pomifera) is the sole surviving member of the genus Maclura — of its many relatives from past geologic eras, only fossils remain. It is also, however, a member of the family Moraceae, which encompasses the mulberries and the figs, as well as a large number of tropical and semitropical trees.

When mature, the Osage orange measures from 10 to 50 feet tall and has a trunk 1 to 2 feet in diameter. Its branches form an even, round crown, unless the trees are growing closely together in a hedge and don't have room to spread naturally. Between May and July, the species sports tiny greenish flowers.

Other distinguishing characteristics of the Osage orange include deeply furrowed, braidedlooking, dark orange bark; long (3- to 5-inch), shiny, egg-shaped, dark green leaves, which are pointed at one end; and (perhaps most significantly) many sharp, steel strong thorns that make this tree a formidable barrier, to say the least.

But Osage orange's value extends well beyond its use as a living hedge.

A Tree With a Past 

When early French settlers ventured west of the Mississippi River — into what is now eastern Texas and Oklahoma and western Arkansas — they encountered the Osage Indians, who were known far and wide for making bows that were superior weapons for fighting and hunting. The unusual tree that the Osage used for making their bows was unknown to the French, who promptly dubbed it bois d'arc, or "wood of the bow." Later pioneers corrupted the name to bowdark, and eventually came to call it bowwood.

In fact, it didn't take the early pioneers long to acknowledge that Osage orange was a valuable timber resource. Because of its great strength and durability, the settlers used the newly discovered tree in nearly every application that required a tough, tenacious wood.

The hubs and rims of the wheels on farm wagons, covered wagons and chuck wagons were made from Osage. Its great strength enabled it to bear heavy loads, while its flexibility made it relatively easy to bend into the circle of a wheel rim and also gave it the capacity to absorb shock without cracking or splitting. Those properties, added to the wood's ability to resist the effects of soil and moisture, made for high-mileage wheel rims.

Unfortunately, the wood's extraordinary ability to resist rot also put the tree in great demand, causing the huge native stands of Osage orange growing in the bottomlands of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas to be harvested wholesale for use as fence posts and railroad ties. Osage orange might have ended up being a very rare sight for most Americans were it not for its suitability as a hedge. The plant met all of the qualifications: It was "horse-high, bull-strong and pig-tight." The tree was easily propagated from seed, and grew fast. In a few years, it would form a hedge almost tight enough to hold water. Any spaces between the trees would be screened by the Osage's thick, thorny branches. And since the trees propagate by sending up shoots from their roots, all the holes would eventually fill in with new trees.

If planted close together, Osages would grow only to about 20 or 30 feet, never attaining the height of most deciduous trees. Consequently, they made perfect field borders: They could contain livestock without shading crops excessively. Besides, it was a lot easier to plant trees in lines around fields and pastures than it was to erect and maintain rail or stockade fences.

As a result, thousands of miles of Osage hedges were planted in the Midwest, East and South, far beyond the original range of the species. The tree was hardy and adapted well to new surroundings, and today it can be found growing (mostly in hedges) from the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Although not commonly used for fencing anymore (some people claimed that, once established, the trees were hard to control and that their thorns sometimes injured livestock), the stands of Osage planted fifty to a hundred years ago remain a valuable resource. Some farmers still utilize them as natural enclosures, and many more use the trees for making exceptionally long-lasting fence posts. Crafts people — woodworkers and those who make and use natural dyes — hold the Osage orange in high esteem. And, perhaps most important, the trees serve as windbreaks and as badly needed cover for wildlife.

If Frost was right in saying that "good fences make good neighbors," then the Osage is truly remarkable, because it is both a good fence and a good neighbor, to man and beast alike.

Visit to check current availability of Osage Orange. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

3 Ways to Grow 6 Mushrooms on the Homestead

Mushroom Cultivation with Sawdust Spawn

Get your Mushroom Spawn and Supplies at  

Sawdust Spawn works well with the Log Method, Stump Method, and Totem Method (described below)
Tools of the trade: to inoculate logs with sawdust spawn using the drill method you will need at least an inoculation tool (available at our online store). The angle grinder adapter, though optional, will exponentially speed up the process by turning your higher RPM angle grinder into a drill. The drill bit with stopper is manufactured specifically for mushroom cultivation and works with the angle grinder adapter. The trio of tools will make any scale log inoculation project a breeze!
Tools of the trade: to inoculate logs with sawdust spawn using the drill method you will need at least an inoculation tool (available at our online store). The angle grinder adapter, though optional, will exponentially speed up the process by turning your higher RPM angle grinder into a drill. The drill bit with stopper is manufactured specifically for mushroom cultivation and works with the angle grinder adapter. The trio of tools will make any scale log inoculation project a breeze!

What type of wood should I use?
Excellent- Red and White Oak, Sugar Maple
Very Good- Beech, Ironwood, Musclewood
Good- Black and Yellow Birch, Hickory, Red Maple
Bad (Except for Oysters)- Soft Hardwoods like Poplar Aspen etc.
Bad- White Ash, Elm, Fruit Wood
Unsuitable- Conifers
Unknown- Other Hardwood Species (experiment!)
Should the wood be old or freshly cut?
Only freshly cut disease-free wood should be used. Old or rotting wood should be avoided as it will likely contain contaminant fungi or be too dry to support mushroom growth. After cutting the wood the sooner you can inoculate the log the better though you can wait up to 4 weeks after cutting before inoculating the log. During the winter months the inoculation window can be extended for several months by covering freshly cut wood with snow to maintain moisture until you are ready to inoculate in early spring.
When should I cut my logs?
It is best to fell your trees during the early spring or winter (the dormant season) and as close to the anticipated time of inoculation as possible. The worst time to cut your logs is during the tree’s budding-out period. When the leaves are developing the bark on the tree is particularly weak and susceptible to damage. Although considered less ideal by some growers trees can be cut during the summer months after the trees have leafed out and into early fall.
Works best with the Log Method. It will take at least 12 months of colonization before producing mushrooms and tends to fruit in the Summer through the Fall after rainfalls.
Preferred wood species are Oak, Maple, or Beech.
Grey Oyster or Italian Oyster
Works well with the Log, Stump, and Totem methods. Colonization is fast and should start producing in 4-12 months. They fruit best in the Spring and Fall and prefer softer hardwoods such as Poplar and Birch. Though they will also work on Maple or Oak. 
Golden Oyster 
Similar to the Grey Oyster. Prefers Log, Stump, and Totem methods. Colonization is fast and should start producing in 4-12 months. Golden Oyster is a tropical species and prefers to fruit in the summer months. They also prefer softer hardwoods such as Poplar and Birch.
Lions Mane 
Prefers the Totem Method, though works with Log or Stump Methods. Colonization is 12-24 months and fruits in the Fall. Prefers Maple.
Chicken of the Woods 
Chickens prefer very large Logs or Stumps. They are the slowest colonizers at 16-24 months. They can fruit through the Summer and Fall and prefer hard woods such as Oak or Maple.
Reishi likes any of the three methods. Colonizes in 12-24 months. Prefers Oak and fruits in the Summer.

Keep your sawdust spawn refrigerated until use.
Only open your spawn bag when you are ready to use it! Opening it prematurely will increase the risk of it molding.
It is not ideal to use spawn for more than one inoculation day. 

Uses 3-4' sections of log 4-6'' in diameter. The preferred method for Shiitake, Reishi, and Chicken of the Woods, but can be used with Oysters and Lion's Mane.
  1. Cut living tree trunks or large branches into 3-4' lengths.
  2. Drill holes in an equally spaced diamond pattern around the entire log. Drill holes 6'' apart, about 1'' deep, in a row running the entire length of the log. Move about 2-3'' around the log and drill another row, with the holes 3'' offset, creating a diamond pattern. Repeat, drilling a row of holes down the length of the log, around the entire log. It's okay if the rows are a little uneven. For sawdust spawn use a 7/16'' bit (12mm).
  3. Inoculate each hole. For sawdust spawn, tightly pack sawdust into the inoculation tool and inject the spawn into each 7/16'' diameter hole, completely filling the hole.
  4. Cover each hole with melted wax using a brush, wax dauber, paintbrush or rag. Eventually, after the log is colonized, wax will flake off. Beeswax or food-grade paraffin work well. Using a crockpot is a great way of keeping the wax melted while applying it to your logs.
  5. Incubate logs in a shady place, close to the forest floor but not in contact with soil or leaf litter. Lay down tracks of scrap wood that elevate the logs 1-2'' above the forest floor. Stack the logs in a layer with a little space for airflow between each log. If you have more logs, you can make multiple layers by off-setting each layer by 90°. Keep the stack lower than the average snow line, as the snow cover protects the logs from dry winter winds. Generally no special care is needed while the mycelium grows throughout the log, but watering may be needed if excessively dry weather occurs.
  6. Restack the logs into a log cabin fashion for increased air flow and ease of mushroom picking, about a year after inoculation. Log cabin stacks can be as high as 5' in wetter climates but in dry climates shorter stacks, closer to the ground, help keep logs moist. Fruiting naturally occurs after rains, and occurs in cycles. After the log has fruited once on its own, it can be stimulated to fruit by watering or soaking it in cold water for 24 hours. If it has recently fruited, forcing will probably not work.


Smaller sections of logs are stacked upright with sawdust spawn sandwiched between the sections of log. Large-diameter wood becomes easy to use and attractive to display. The preferred method for Oyster Mushrooms and Lion's Mane. No special tools are needed.
  1. Cut three sections of log for each totem: one piece only 1-3'' long, and two sections 12-18'' long.
  2. Bring your setup to your planned incubation place and create totems on site.
  3. Open a contractor-size black plastic bag, sprinkle a layer of sawdust spawn about 1'' deep in the bottom of the bag, and stand one of the 12-18'' logs upright on top of the spawn. Make another layer of sawdust spawn on top of it, and place the second 12-18'' log on top of that. Create a third layer of sawdust spawn of top of the second log and then cap the totem with the 1-3'' piece. 
  4. Wrap the plastic bag up around the inoculated totem, securing the top loosely with a strip of cloth or a rubber band, positioned in such a way that an opening allows for some air exchange but does not allow rain water to enter the bag.
  5. Incubate the covered totems for 4-12 months. When the logs are covered with a visible layer of mushroom mycelium, the plastic bag can be removed. The totem can be left intact or broken up into individual sections for fruiting.

Any size stumps can be inoculated but they should be located in a shady environment. Make sure you know what species of tree the stump came from!  
Use a 12mm bit and drill 1’’ holes all over the top, sides, and exposed roots of the stump. 
Use inoculation tool to push sawdust spawn into the holes. Brush melted paraffin or beeswax over each plugged hole. We use a crockpot to melt the wax and a paint brush to apply it!
Stumps take a while to colonize but will produce for up to a decade.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Growing Ginseng from Seed - A growing guide

Farming in the Forest.

American Ginseng

There are many ways to farm in the under story of your forest. Non-timber forest products or NTFPs deserve more attention especially when planning a integrated permaculture environment. So while you are managing an existing woodland or have planted a fuel-wood forest with Black Locust or other high heat content tree, consider adding some other valuable plantings along the way.  Fungi, moss, lichen, herbs, vines, shrubs, trees are some category examples.  
Here are a few specific ideas, there are lots more:
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Lupine
  • Mullein
  • Ostrich Fern (fiddle heads)
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Thimbleberry, raspberry, etc.
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cranberry
  • Goldenthread
  • St. Johnswort
  • Sweetgrass
  • Coltsfoot
  • Comfrey
  • Dandelion
  • Mushrooms
  • and Ginseng

How to grow ginseng in your woods.

I looked many places for some instruction and there is a lot of advise.  Here are a few videos that, after some significant time looking, I feel are the best.  

What is ginseng?

Where does ginseng grow?

Planting wild ginseng.

Planting Ginseng in Forests.

The lifecycle of ginseng. 

Processing Ginseng.

Ginseng Seeds by jiovi®  Link to purchase

Ginseng seeds take a few years to be ready grow the following spring.  Our seeds have been stratified.  This means they have already been conditioned for over 12 months and are ready to plant anytime before the ground freezes in your area.  Germination rates should be around 85%. Important notes: 1) We cannot ship to Canada or outside the United States as this is considered an endangered species. 2) Our seeds have not been treated with Apron XL. 
ginseng seeds  by jiovi
Clicking the photo will take you to our retail website to purchase these seeds.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rhubarb - Perennial Food, 3 Ways

Growing Rhubarb

Go ahead and get some roots and plant them.  My first rhubarb plants came from an old field in Massachusetts.  In some bygone time it was cultivated for rhubarb and had since been neglected.  I asked for permission to take some roots and those plant are still with me today.  They have traveled with me to Maine and continue to do well. 
I have found it easy to grow.  Plant it, keep it weeded at least until it is established and feed it with compost or rotted manure.  I is a heavy feeder, or likes that best.  

Cooking with Rhubarb

Sweet dishes are the most common and while strawberry is the most common addition to a rhubarb recipe, other berries can be pretty good too.  I have included a savory BBQ sauce recipe as well.  If you are not a big fan of sugary things, here is a tip for making low sugar rhubarb sauce.  Chop the rhubarb as you would for any recipe.  The smaller you chop, the quicker it cooks.  Larger pieces make for a chunkier sauce, your choice! 

Canning Notes:

Was your jars and lids in hot soapy water.  Boil for 10 minutes in water and set on a flat sheet or baking pan and put them in the oven at about 215 degrees to dry and keep sterile. Fill, wipe the lids with a damp, clean paper towel.  Then place the lids on the jars and snug the metal rings (not tight) onto the jars.  Process for 10 minutes in a water bath.  Since the lids are just snug, the small air space in the top of the jar will expand and escape under the water.  After the 10 minutes is up, remove the jars and place on the counter to cool.  The air will contract and, if the seal is good, the metal lids will "pop" down quickly creating a vacuum seal.  It's a good idea to check a canning book or website for further instruction.  Don't worry if  a good seal isn't made, just put it into the refrigerator and eat those first. 
Left to right - Rhubarb BBQ Sauce, Rhubarb Strawberry, Rhubarb Cranberry

Rhubarb Cranberry Jam or Sauce


2lb or 6cu fresh rhubarb
5cu granulated sugar
1/2lb cranberries
1/2cu water
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Makes about 5 standard size (1pt) jars 

Rhubarb does not have much pectin.  Adding some pectin according to package directions will help jell the mixture if a stiffer jam is desired. 

Prepare your jars and lids etc by sterilizing them (see above).
Wash the rhubarb and chop roughly into 2 inch pieces. Put a large, heavy, roomy pan with the sugar, cranberries and the water.
Bring VERY slowly to the boil to melt the sugar.
When it reaches the boil, turn up the heat and allow to come to a rolling boil, and boil until thickened and the setting point (see notes) is reached, which takes around 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice
Pot immediately in sterilized jars, and screw on the lids snugly while the jam is still hot.

Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Alternately, refrigerate and eat within a few weeks or freeze. 

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam/Sauce

5 one pint jars

Even though strawberries are the classic accompaniment with rhubarb, feel free to use whatever is on hand.  Try a frozen mixed berry package. So use whatever you wish.

Because rhubarb doesn’t have much pectin, add commercial pectin or apple juice to help set the jam. 

3 pounds or 8 cups rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups packed berries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water or apple juice
5 1/2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
pinch of salt

1. In a large pot, mix the rhubarb, berries, and the water or apple juice. Cook, covered, stirring frequently over moderate heat, until the rhubarb is cooked through and thoroughly tender. It should take about 20 minutes.

Put a small plate in the freezer.

2. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and salt, and cook, uncovered, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the surface, until the jam is thick and passes the wrinkle test.

To do so, place a small spoonful of the jam on the frozen plate. Return it to the freezer and check it a few minutes later; if the jam wrinkles when nudged, it’s done. You can also use a candy thermometer; jam jells at approximately 220F.

3. Ladle the jam into clean jars, cover, and store in the refrigerator or process as above. 

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

4 c. chopped rhubarb
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 c. water
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. honey
3 Tb. Dijon mustard
2 Tb. cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2-1 tsp. hot pepper sauce or red chili flakes (or to taste) Careful not to over do the heat. 
Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring often (especially towards the end of cooking), until the rhubarb is tender.
Blend until smooth using an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender or food processor to blend).
Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for about a week or freeze for longer storage.
Makes about 6 cups

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Edible Plants: Elderberry

Blanche always does a great job explaining her subjects.  Here she is on elderberries.  There is one comment I would like to add. My experience is elderberries do not like wet feet.  Very damp is ok, but not in standing.
jiovi permaculture nursery

Friday, April 22, 2016

Turkey Tail Mushrooms, The Hidden Health Benefits

The Hidden Health Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Kaitlin Krull

Origin and information
Trametes versicolor, or the Turkey Tail mushroom, is a woodland fungus that gets its common name because its colorful, fanned top looks more or less like a turkey’s tail. The Turkey Tail is one of the most common woodland fungi, found predominantly in forests and wooded areas throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Usually found on dead trees, logs, and stumps, this mushroom helps to decompose wood and bring nutrients back to the earth.

In addition to its environmental properties, there are several significant health benefits for people who are brave enough to safely consume Turkey Tail mushrooms. With medical origins in both Chinese and Japanese herbalist practices, this fungus can be brewed as a tea and consumed other ways in order to combat a host of ailments, including chronic pain and other recurring illnesses, including cancer.

Top medical uses for Turkey Tail mushrooms
Although the use of natural ingredients such as mushrooms is not currently FDA approved, Turkey Tail mushrooms are increasingly used to fight off illnesses by those interested in Eastern medicine and other unconventional health practices. At Modernize, we were intrigued by their growing popularity and wanted to find out more. Here are just a few of the many current medicinal uses for Turkey Tail mushrooms.

The primary and most popular use of Turkey Tail mushrooms is for cancer patients, specifically those undergoing chemotherapy. Many patients agree that consuming this fungus not only alleviates the negative side effects of chemotherapy, but also increases the efficacy of chemotherapy for a variety of types of cancer. This is because of the presence of the polysaccharide K, commonly referred to as PSK, in Turkey Tail mushrooms. This carbohydrate is thought to lessen pain and boost the immune system. Although not yet approved by the American FDA (although clinical trials began in 2012), the use of PSK has been endorsed by the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry for over 30 years for this particular reason.

In addition to boosting the immune system during chemotherapy and alleviating pain in cancer patients, it is thought that Turkey Tail mushrooms may also be able to fight off viral liver diseases such as Hepatitis B and other viral illnesses. This is because, at the cellular level, Turkey Tail mushrooms contain strong anti-viral properties. When ingested, the cells from the fungi attack the viral cells in patients’ bodies and may even prevent the development of cancerous cells.

Although much more research needs to be done in order to clarify the specific medicinal properties of Turkey Tail mushrooms, it is widely accepted that these fungi strengthen immunity and help promote healthy living. For this reason, health food stores and other retailers currently sell Turkey Tail capsules that can be taken as daily supplements. Claiming to promote positive liver function and boost the immune system, these kinds of products are the modern equivalent to a hot, brewed mug of Turkey Tails. Whether or not you believe the hidden health benefits of Turkey Tail mushrooms, their popularity has grown exponentially over the last several hundred years and thousands of people support their healthy claims.