Our Bees Arrived Today!

Today we got our shipment of a Queen and her workers, they are installed in their new Top Bar style beehive. We’re drafting an article on this for other Alaskans interested in a natural method of beekeeping.

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Cultivation of Shiitake, Oyster and other Mushrooms in Alaska

Introduction: This brief article will provide tips on small-scale cultivation of mushrooms in Alaska.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and oyster (Pleurotus spp.) mushrooms are specialty mushrooms that are well-suited for small-scale production in Alaska. Unlike Agaricus types (common button mushroom, portabellas, and criminis), which require large, highly mechanized facilities with environmental controls, shiitake and oyster mushrooms can be log-cultivated. These and many other mushrooms may, of course, be cultivated indoors in Alaskan homes using bags of sawdust, straw, and other media.

Growers producing sawdust-grown mushrooms under controlled environmental conditions can provide a year-round supply, giving them a marketing advantage. However, log-grown mushrooms are considered superior in flavor and have a longer shelf life when compared to those grown on artificial media. Additionally, log-grown mushrooms may contain higher percentages of the medicinally active ingredients present in these species. Whether the quality factors are sufficient to outweigh the efficiency factors in the marketplace is uncertain.

Market Outlook

Specialty mushrooms, which are relatively new to the U.S., are becoming very popular as a gourmet food item. Their increasing presence (especially shiitake mushrooms) in national food market chains indicates they are becoming mainstream. Sales of shiitake mushrooms have increased steadily over the past 15 years. As consumer awareness increases through taste tests and other effective marketing strategies, an even greater demand is expected. This article will not delve into the economics of commercial mushroom production.

Production Methods

Shiitake Mushrooms are cultivated on small diameter (3 to 8 inches) hardwood logs that have been cut from decay-free, live trees with intact bark. Logs may be cut any time, however the rising sap in the late winter/early spring has a higher sugar content and will encourage a more rapid growth of the fungus. After cutting, the logs must be left in a place where air can circulate around them to allow time for the naturally-occurring fungicides to dissipate. The logs should not be left on the ground as unwanted organisms may invade the logs. This may take up to 3 weeks. Suitable logs found in Alaska are primarily Birch.

Shiitake spawn is introduced into holes drilled in the logs by inserting commercially produced spawn (either as loose sawdust, dowels, or plugs). The inoculation sites and cut ends of the logs as well as any nicks to the bark are then sealed with hot wax to protect the logs from undesirable competing fungi, molds, and pests and to retain moisture in the logs at those sites. Inoculated logs are stacked off the ground and incubated for 6 to 18 months in a moist, shady location. The moisture level of the logs must be closely monitored, and irrigation may be necessary if drought conditions develop. Once white mycelial growth from the spawn is visible at the ends of the logs, growers will know that the spawn has fully occupied the entire log. The logs can then be forced to fruit on a schedule by immersing them in water overnight or for 24 hours. It is recommended that growers wait a year from the time of inoculation before placing the logs on a production schedule. After soaking, the logs are prepared for production by placing them under a light-colored cloth cover. A building or greenhouse with humidity and temperature controls is necessary for winter production in most of Alaska. Freezing temperatures may kill the growing mushrooms.

Shiitake mushroom growing on wood.

Shiitake can also be grown on artificial logs or blocks under controlled environmental conditions. Artificial logs are composed largely of sawdust with supplements (such as millet, rice bran or wheat bran) added to this substrate. Artificial logs have the advantages of controlled productivity and efficiency over natural logs, and can be used for year-round production.

Oyster Mushrooms can similarly be grown on hardwood logs and stumps such as Birch or Alder using spawn introduced into holes drilled in logs, or by packing inoculated sawdust or wedges. Inoculated logs are then treated much the same way as the above-described methods for shiitake. Freezing weather will not harm inoculated oyster mushroom logs or stumps. Oyster mushrooms are more aggressive than shiitake and may be ready to fruit in as little as 6 months.

Oyster Mushrooms, Photograph by Aaron Sherman

In addition to log culture, oyster mushrooms can be grown on a variety of artificial substrates, such as composted straw, chopped wheat straw, and sawdust. After the substrate is pasteurized or sterilized, it is cooled and spawn is added. The mixture is placed in sealed plastic bags, bottles, trays, or beds in a controlled environment. Timing to production is similar to that of logs.

One may purchase ready-to-use kits for indoor and/or outdoor mushroom cultivation from companies such as Fungi Perfecti. This is the company from whom I bought the plugs for shiitake, blue oyster, and pearl oyster. I have been dealing with them for years and have been quite satisfied. The site also has articles, tips, videos, and more for the novice or experienced mushroom cultivator.

Pest management

Direct damage to the mushroom caps can occur as a result of feeding by slugs, snails, birds, squirrels, and other animals if the logs are left unprotected.

Harvest and storage

Mushrooms are harvested by either cutting or twisting them off at the base of the stem. They should be refrigerated immediately in corrugated cardboard containers or paper bags to retain quality and freshness. Packing boxes for fresh mushrooms should be vented to allow for air circulation. Shiitake have a longer shelf-life under refrigeration (12 to 14 days) than the more fragile oyster mushroom (5 to 7 days). Both species can be dried (air-dried or in a dehumidifier) and stored in sealed containers. Drying increases their shelf-life by at least 6 months.

On 1 June 2013 I inoculated a number of 4′ long by ~ 6 in. diameter Birch logs with plug spawn of shiitake, blue oyster, and pearl oyster mushrooms. The shiitake logs are overwintering indoors. Check back for a follow-up to this article!

Attracting Alaskan Bats

This article will look at ways to attract Alaskan bats.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game states that at least five species of bats are known to make their home in Alaska. The little brown bat is the most common and widespread bat in Southeast Alaska and is the only species found in Southcentral and Interior Alaska. Bats are voracious consumers of flying insects, and what better reason to attract them? A single bat can eat 1,000 or more insects during a shift, or even in one hour!

Building or installing commercially-constructed bat houses may or may not attract more bats. For example, in Southeast Alaska, the few sunny days may not be sufficient to provide the warmth that Alaskan bats require to raise their young. I have installed a commercially-constructed bat house here in South Central Alaska, but have yet to determine the occupancy by any bats. Sometimes it may take years for bats to take up residency in your bat house. However, there are other ways to attract bats.

Photo by Dennis Garrett

While Alaskan bats may or may not use the house you build or buy for them, here are a few tips that may increase your chances, and will nonetheless make a more attractive environment for them:

Bats need to drink water, so having the bat house near a pond (either man-made or natural) or stream close by is a must. Bats may travel up to 1,500 feet for water, but they may move closer to the water which won’t benefit you very much. The house must be located at least 10 feet above the ground in a sunny location. This is even more important for mother bats that are rearing young. The house needs to face south, and get at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Painting or staining the Alaskan bat house with a dark color will make it more attractive to bats. It is clearly evident in the photo that I need to get a dark stain for the weathered bat house. I have another bat house that I have not installed yet. This one is much larger, and built using plans from the internet.

Photo by Dennis Garrett

Additional considerations for attracting bats include a variety of terrain. Placing the bat house on the southern edge of a clearing, especially in proximity to wetlands, may improve the attraction to bats as this provides a variety of food sources. Mixed brush such as Alder and Willow thickets provide a safe refuge from predators such as owls. This location will also provide warmth from the sun.

A few more facts about bats: Bats will not fly into your hair, drink your blood, or give you rabies. Bats are not rodents, they are more closely related to primates. Bats are mammals that are capable of flight. The sounds bats make are beyond the range of frequencies that humans can hear. Bats are not blind. Bats are the only flying mammal. The fingers in a bat’s hand are the same as a person’s except the bat’s bones are elongated and connected by skin to form a wing. Like all mammals, bats have hair and their young are born live and feed on milk.

More information may be found at http://batcon.org/ and at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=citizenscience.bats

Free On-Farm Food Safety Workshop to be offered in Palmer on June 19

(Palmer, AK) – The Division of Agriculture will offer a free, half-day workshop on June 19 to educate produce growers about food safety practices in the field and after harvest to minimize risk of foodborne illnesses. The workshop will be held at the Plant Materials Center in Palmer.

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The On-Farm Food Safety Workshop will provide information, resources, and on-site examples for producers to learn about good agricultural and food safety practices at their farm or garden. Large and small growers, farmers’ market vendors, home gardeners, and any others interested in learning more about ways to grow, handle, and distribute fresh produce safely are encouraged to attend.

The workshop will help open new opportunities for farmers and prepare them for the requirements of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Food Modernization Act. Topics include Good Agricultural and Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) principles, GAP/GHP audits, risk analysis at growing facilities and distribution areas, creating a food safety plan with the new online tool available at http://onfarmfoodsafety.org/ and a variety of other post-harvest produce handling topics.

“Growers can make small affordable changes to help minimize risk on their farm and that is what we cover during these workshops,” said Barb Hanson, agriculture inspector for the Division of Agriculture.

CONTACT: If you are interested in attending this workshop, please contact Barb Hanson at the Division of Agriculture at barbara.hanson@alaska.gov, or by phone at 907-761-3854.

Local produce on its way to Alaska farmers markets

(Palmer, AK) – With the growing season well underway, local vegetables, fruit and other specialty crops are making their way to farmers markets throughout Alaska. The Division of Agriculture website provides a variety of resources to help identify how, when and where to find local produce.

Alaska Grown

Alaska Grown, Fresher by Far

Alaska Farmers Market List: A list of all 36 Alaska farmers markets is available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/Marketing/Fa…rkets.pdf,including their opening dates, operating schedule and contact information.

Seasonal Produce Availability Chart: Many Alaskans ask when they can buy locally-grown broccoli or if carrots are available in July. This chart was put together as an approximate tool to generalize when popular produce items will hit market. Please note that these dates are not exact and that availability depends heavily on weather conditions. This tool can be found athttp://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/Marketing/PRODCHART.jpg

Alaska Grown Sourcebook: The best way to find out about Alaska Grown crops is to talk to local farmers. Look up their businesses in the Alaska Grown Sourcebook at http://dnr.alaska.gov/ag/sourcebook/index.htm or stop by a farmers market to chat with them.

CONTACT: Taylor Berberich, 907-761-3855, taylor.berberich@alaska.gov