Saturday, 27 August 2011

Apple Harvest Weekend

May Project Gardens apple harvest weekend took place last weekend and was a great success. On the garden site we have a very mature apple tree and she supplies us with a large bounty of fruit during the summer months. This tree is at least 20 years old and it's variety of apple has still not been confirmed. During the three days of the apple harvest weekend we collected about 80kg of apples and got approximately 30lt of juice as a result.
On the Friday we had a visit from two groups of children who loved every bit of the project. We first took them on a tour of the garden site where they saw how a variety of their favourite and not so favourite fruits and vegetables grown. During the tour they learnt about attracting diversity to the garden by creating various ecosystems. One such ecosystem was the May Pond. Identifying the creepy crawlies that make the pond their home was one of the activities we had the youngsters doing on the day and it really sparked  their enthusiasm. 

Learning about wild pond life

 After the tour which takes about 15mins it was time to get juicing. Two weeks before the apple harvest weekend we collected the fallen apples and stored them in the open on a tarpaulin sheet. There is a very interesting property the apple has which causes it to soften once it leaves the tree. This softening process causes the apple to convert it's flesh to sugars and as a result produce sweeter juice once pressed. So we had the apples sitting on the ground for a minimum of two weeks before pressing. 

Washing then select the apples

All the partially rotted fruits were removed from the pile and the remaining were washed and subjected to the crusher. One the weekend we were loaned a traditional apple crusher and press courtesy of Mr. Richard Burns Cheers Wine Making and Brewing. Crushing was the most physically demanding task of the whole juicing process.

   Crushing Apples

With the hardest work out of the way we then had to transfer the crushed material to the press. The press works by extracting the juice from the crushed apples by applying a constant pressure. Another fun fact about apples juicing is that it is not advisable to put the maximum pressure in one go as most of the juice gets trapped in the compressed mass. Instead only add pressure until the juice begins to flow out of the bottom at a steady rate, once this flow stops a bit more pressure is applied until the flow starts up again.

Transferring the crushed apples

Another fun fact about apples juicing is that it is not advisable to put the maximum pressure in one go as most of the juice gets trapped in the compressed mass. Instead only add pressure until the juice begins to flow out of the bottom at a steady rate, once this flow stops a bit more pressure is applied until the flow starts up again.

100% Pure fresh Apple Juice

 The results were amazing. "Tastes......normal" commented one of  the youngsters on trying a glass of the freshly pressed juice, another noted "You can taste the sunshine." While  the juice flowed out of the press visitors were encouraged to sample some of the produce of the project. We had plum and apple jam, blackberry and apple jam, blackberry juice, freshly harvest carrots and tomatoes, dried lemon balm and fresh mints for making teas. 

A selection of the produce grown and made on site

Fun times at May Project Gardens

Saturday brought with it rain and so we had very few visitors so we simple sheltered  under the gazebo and made rope from the leaves of a plant called New Zealand Flax, very strong material which is slow to rot.

New Zealand Flak rope

Sunday the rain clouds shifted and the sun shone once again and with it came more visitors. We had visitors from all corners of London just to share in the experience. With the adults visiting the site, the aim was to inform and inspire. On arrival we gave them a guided tour of the space explaining the concepts and functions of each element. During the tour they would ask questions voice their concerns and problems they were having in their own gardens. 

  Trying the produces

The adults too tried their hands at both crushing and pressing some of the apples and all had a fun with it.

We managed to get quite a bit of juice over the weekend, most of which was drunk on the day of juicing. We also had 17.5lt which we are now turning into apple cider. 
All in all the apple harvest weekend was a huge success. We managed to attract a wide range of individuals, form all across the city of London and raised enough funds to erect a communal structure and complete our  irrigation system. A big thank you to all those who helped make the weekend happen. I now leave you with a few more pictures of the weekend.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Mycelium Running

An Introduction to Fungi
I have just completed a mushroom inoculation course and am now trying my hand at growing mushrooms. On this course, ran by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), we learnt about the three main groups of fungi. 
  • Saprophytic Fungi - those that live on 'dead' material like soil, wood, leaves and carpet.
  • Parasitic Fungi - those that live off living material and  like trees and animals, this group of fungi slowly kill off their host.
  • Mycorrhizal Fungi - Those that grow in association with trees or plants.
The way a mushroom grows is very interesting. The first thing to note is that mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungi, mush like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree which holds the seeds of the plant which will later be dispersed and form new trees. Fungi grow from tread like branching structures called Hypha that are not normally visible as they grow underground or under the surface of the material the fungus is growing on.

Mycelium Growth

This mass of Hypha is called the Mycelium or sometimes is referred to as Shiro. Underneath large forest the mycelium can spread vast distances gathering nutrients from nutrient rich areas and delivering them to nutrient deprived areas. Fungi have no green pigment and are therefore incapable of photosynthesising instead they derive organic material from other organisms such as soil, tress, etc.

Growing Edible Mushrooms

There are many different mycelium which will produce fruiting bodies (mushrooms) some are edible and some not so nice and others are poisonous to us humans. We decided to go for the Pleurotus Ostreatus variety common name Oyster mushrooms. Most fungi are easy to grow while others require very specific environments to thrive. Growing mushrooms  for eating normally requires acquiring some mushroom spawn. Mushroom spawns are the first growth of a fungi, they are the mycelium growth which envelops a material and begins to feed on the nutrients present in that material, spread and eventually producing fruiting bodies. Mushroom spawn are sold in the form of grain or dowels which have been colonised by the fungi required.

Dowel Spawn (L) and Grain Spawn (R)

  The two main methods used to grow mushrooms are;

Mushroom Logs - This is the process whereby logs are cut and collected from living or recently dead trees and inoculated with the spawn of the mushroom you want to grow. Holes are made at along the log (evenly spaced) and the spawns are added, the holes are then sealed using wax. Wax is used to help reduce other forms of fungi entering the holes. The logs used would mainly be determined by the amount of spawn you have, the type of mushrooms you want to grow. The larger the log the longer it will take for the mycelium to colonise. Fungi will normally only start fruiting when most of the nutrients in the material it is growing in is used up. Some fungi grow better on softwoods, other do best on hardwoods. The variety of mushrooms you want to grow will determine the type of wood you will use. For a standard piece of wood (3ft long and 4inch in diameter) the time between inoculation and fruiting can be anyway between 6 and 18 months. It is important to note that fresh logs i.e. logs taken from live trees, should not be inoculated until at least three weeks after cutting but no longer than three months after cutting. The time between cutting the log and inoculation allows the naturally released anti-fungal (wound compounds) terpenes and (poly) phenols to degrade so that they do not inhibit the colonisation of the log by the  mushroom mycelium. After three months other fungi will have already began colonizing the log and would therefore compete with the mushrooms you would like to grow.

Mushroom Logs

Fungi Substrates - Substrates are mediums used to grown mycelium. Each fungi grows differently in different substrates. Straw, wood chips, soil, leaves, compost and mulch are all types of substrates that can be used to grow mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms grow particularly well in a wood chip, straw/soil mix. This way of growing mushrooms yields a quicker return than the log inoculation process but has a shorter fruiting period.
Here at the May Project Garden site we decided to go for the second method of mushroom growing. The space we selected for growing the mushrooms was a space between a brick structure and the polytunnel. This space is not too exposed to direct sunlight and remains quite damp during the day. We first cleared the site, removing all bramble, thistle and other stubborn weeds, then laid down a layer of weed suppressing fabric. The reason we first laid the weed suppressing fabric was to stop weeds form growing in our substrate and to limit other fungi from finding there way into the substrate via the ground. 

   Cleared site

We then put down a layer of straw and then added some bark chip and mixed well. Once we were satisfied  with the proportions of straw and bark chip we saturated the mix with hot water in an attempt to kill off all existing fungi. 

Straw and Bark chip Substrate

Once cooled the grain spawns were even incorporated into the mix and covered with a very light permeable fabric. This covering will hopefully give the mycelium we wish to grow a chance to colonise the substrate by making it difficult for other spores floating around to get in, it also acts as moisture retaining barrier.

The completed Mushroom Bed

The main bit of maintenance for this system is to make sure it remains moist at all times, especially during the warmer days. The experts say it would normally take on average 4-6 month before a 2 metre square area is completely colonised and ready for fruiting. So now we wait.