Tag Archives: Agriculture

Got Milk?

cowAs a cheese maker, a mom, a consumer and a 2015 Illinois Farm Family City Mom, I was delighted to be invited to tour the Dean Foods and one of their suppliers, Lindale Holesteins’, a local, family owned Dairy Farm.

The Lindale Farm is located about an hour and a half from my home outside Chicago.  It is amazing how quickly city life and strip malls are replaced by rolling fields and livestock.  The farm is beautiful and looks just like you wish all farms would look.  There is no sign of factory farming here.  The animals are in open air pens with plenty of room to move around and bedding deep enough to lose little boy blue.  The animals are let out to pasture twice a day, and they looked pretty content cozying up to each other.  Children and dogs are running around and most of the family is involved in the operation.  There is also a veterinarian on staff that manages the feed and health of the animals.

The actual milking takes place twice a day and it takes 3 1/2 hours each time.  That is 7 hours a day, 365 days a year.  What a responsibility!  Although they have state of the art milking equipment, it is still a hands on operation.  The cows are led into the milking parlour.  Their udders are cleaned by hand and they are then hooked up to the pump.  Once the flow subsides, the pump automatically disconnects from the udders and the cows are sent back out of the parlour. The milk is stored in tanks and never touches human hands or the air.  Once it gets to Dean’s, it will be pasteurized.

This visit to a family owned dairy farm was wonderful.  The animals are treated well and the family takes pride in providing our community clean, safe milk.

To Bee or Not to Bee

honeybeeI just finished reading The Accidental Beekeeper by Marina Marchese and I just finished having a cup of tea with honey in it.  So, of course my mind is racing.  Could I get a beehive?  Where would I put it?  Is my yard big enough?   How much honey will we get?  How many candles could we make?  When I was younger my uncle kept bees, but he had acres of land so the kids didn’t have ever get too close to the bees.  My kids would be right near the hive and so would all of my neighbors’ kids and dogs. There are probably not enough boxes of peppermint bark to give away if one of my neighbors’ kids get stung.

And yet, I cannot stop thinking about it. I have my eyes on my garage roof.  That one car garage roof has become a mansion in my mind.  I have had so many plans with what we could do with it.  A rooftop garden, a chicken coop, a playroom, a mushroom farm were among the latest.  If only my husband were an architect…oh, wait, he is.   Unfortunately, he is the kind of architect who tells me the roof as it stands cannot structurally support any of my wild ideas or apparently my body weight.  We would need to build a new structure from scratch.  And, it would cost money.  If only my kids were not going to need to go to college in the future.

I am still trying to work out where to put a beehive.  I wonder if we could build an indoor one like they have at the zoo?  It is a hive with pvc tubing to the outside for the bees to come and go.  Kind of like a dryer vent.  There is no way my husband could say no to that, right?  I mean how much damage could thousands of bees really cause if they got loose in our basement?

Mushrooms Really are Fun Guys

I2012-03-18_15-34-21_59 started growing shiitake mushrooms in a one bedroom apartment in NYC under my kitchen table in 1995.  I bought a small log that came pre- inoculated and a standard 24 inch rectangular plastic planter.  I would soak the log with non-chlorinated ice water and then stand it on end in the container under my table (in the shade) and wait a few days for mushrooms to grow.  It was weird, and fun and delicious.  Over the years I have purchased lots of mushroom kits.  You can get them online all over now.  Portobellos in a box.  White mushrooms in coffee grounds or sawdust.  Oyster mushroom kits for kids in toy stores.  Mushrooms are tasty and fast growing if you grow them in these boxed kits.  And they are a lot of fun to watch.

Now, I choose to grow shiitake mushrooms in logs.  Shiitakes are delicious and the home-grown ones are so much more flavorful than the dried or even fresh store-bought ones.  It is a long, slow, waiting process that takes a lot of patience.  But, once the logs begin fruiting, they will fruit for years to come.   First, you must have recently cut fresh wood and logs large enough in diameter that they will not easily dry out.  Four to six inches in diameter is a good size.  Next,drill holes in the log and stuff the holes with spore material.  It comes mixed with sawdust or in the form of plugs.  It is possible to purchase different strains of shiitakes.  Some will fruit in cooler weather, some in warmer weather. I like a variety so I can extend my growing season.   Once the spores are in the log, it is important to keep the birds out and the moisture in.  I typically water my logs once a week for the first month or so.  Then, I just let nature take its course and wait and wait and wait.

Mushroom logsIn 6-24 months (depending on the strain, the moisture level, the temperature and the elimination of other competing fungi) the log will start producing mushrooms.  Once a log begins fruiting, it will typically fruit a few times a year.  A good rain and the right temperature range will often trigger the logs. I typically get more fruiting in wetter weather. The weather here in Chicago has been so mild that my logs are still fruiting.  The shiitakes are so good, my 6 year old son will pick them and eat them raw right off the log.