Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Full Circle Systems Ponder

As Michael Pollan says, gardening is a good time to think. It doesn't require your full attention, and it would be hard to hurt yourself seriously most of the time. And as one who, like Michael Pollan, tends to be a systems thinker, I was starting to feel a pang of guilt about turning pecan limbs into shiitake mushrooms. Anyone who has grown shiitake on logs knows that you have to take living wood, rest it for 3-4 weeks to allow the tree's natural anti-fungal compounds to break down, then innoculate it with the chosen spore. And here I was, standing on the lowered tailgate of my pickup, pole saw in hand, cutting this long straight pecan limb, that might have provided nuts for decades to come (though it had very little "fruitwood" when I cut it), in order to feed it to shiitake mushrooms that might last for 6 or 7 years tops. The energetics equation was upside down. In effect I was shifting my system from lower-energy perennial structures to relatively higher-energy "annual" ones. Well, maybe not annual, but less perennial anyway.
And I got hung up on this. For a minute anyway.

But then, the real systems thinker in me came to, and I felt a sudden rush of relief. Because in an energy descent context, we south Georgians have a vast surplus of pecans. We are one of only a few major pecan-producing regions in the U.S., that supply the rest of the continent with pecans. Pecans we won't be able to continue shipping away for too much longer. What to do with all those nuts? Well, we won't starve to death, that's for sure. Might be bored senseless of pecan this and pecan that, but it's a good solid menu item, survival-wise. But there will be no market value left in pecans eventually. Take a continent-sized pecan market, collapse it down to a sub-state region, and see where pecan futures head. For our region it will probably be the same for blueberries, cotton, peanuts, and peaches too. Not to mention that the two annual crops in that list will probably fall victim to energy descent even within the region ultimately. They're just too energy-intensive, and I don't see anyone volunteering to start picking cotton by hand again.

Fortunately, we can all grow a few peanuts at home if we want to, and we have enough clothing to blanket the Earth in multiple layers hanging in the closets and clothes shops of Tift County already. The term "seasonal fashion" might take a beating, but we have clothes. All the same though, I'm planting some flax this season, and probably picking up a few sheep. I wonder if we can turn slash pine fiber into cloth?

I saw a great bumper sticker last weekend at the Southeast Lawn and Garden Expo that read: "Spinning because knitting isn't weird enough." She and I are friends now. Actually she bought a shiitake mushroom log from me too! I had a demo booth going, plugging sweetgum logs with shiitake spawn, and selling them for $25 a pop. Sold out completely to a surprisingly fascinated crowd, was interviewed on camera for the regional nightly news, and have 5 more workshops lined up for this year already. Including the Georgia Master Gardeners state convention in Macon in October. I've been thinking about becoming a certified Master Gardener for a year or two now, and here I am teaching a class at their state convention! I love it.
Which takes me full circle back to the cutting of those pecan logs for future shiitake stuffing workshops, and the realization that it was OK to do so in light of current energetics trends. And not only that, but building a proper multi-storied food forest under the pecan canopy will require removing some of the lower limbs to let in more light. The food forest will yield more, and more diverse, calories per acre than the pecans alone, not to mention bear less ubiquitous crops for this region. I turned some of my mushroom earnings into persimmons and plums for the advancement of that plan.

It's time for a monthly photo update from Small Batch (which is now Tonic Permaculture btw, since we are anything but small these days). My next post will have pictures of our new Bourbon Red tom turkey, our dozen baby chicks that just arrived, a much improved garden and orchard, projects around the house, and a slow food group update.

See you again soon.


  1. Nice job Tripp! You've been inspiring me on CFN for a while now - it's good to see the fruits of your labors. I'm still looking for that little property to start a permaculture garden, I feel I'm getting close. Looking forward to your next post. Madcat out.

  2. Andrew, the madcat, where you goin' with that shotgun?

    If you're the Andrew I'm thinking of, I've been enjoying your comments for a while now too! I like your philosophy. Thanks for the props, and best of luck with the garden search! It's definitely great to be home at last.

  3. Thanks for posting about the pecans. I have a pecan tree that hasn't produced in the last two summers because of the drought down here. I never considered that with the millions of pecan trees all around this part of Texas that worrying about my one tree might be a waste of time. I am now going to put that effort into my Pomegranates.

  4. Christian, effort well spent I think. Pomegranates are occupying some of my headspace at the moment too. I have a big nursery order on the way, and ended up cancelling the pom varieties I ordered from them because we have plenty of proven varieties for this region, and none of my potentials were on that list. I'll get them locally instead; in fact, I already have a meat rabbit barter lined up with a local pomegranate man when my kits are ready.

    I know what you mean though, there's a certain comfort in having everything you can grow onsite. It's that community building process inherent in letting someone else provide part of my sustenance that I have the hardest time with, and that's something you seem to be much better at.

    Cheers, mate, and good to see you around.

  5. Hey Tripp, would you be able to sell your shiitake logs on Etsy? Would they be able to withstand shipping?

    Could they survive in Zone 5b?

    And, is there any risk of other types of mushrooms growing on the log (ie, poisonous varieties?)


  6. Andrea, sorry, I missed this comment on the older thread somehow. Your climate is no problem. They might not fruit in the dead of winter at your place, but then, they don't fruit in the dead of summer here. There are different varieties for fruiting in different seasons too. They could certainly withstand shipping, and if you want to pay for one, I'll figure out a way to get it to you. But it'd just about be easier to cut a few yourself and buy a small bag of plug spawn. Of course, that assumes you have a chainsaw, a drill with the proper bit and stop, and a hammer. The mushroom suppliers will sell you a speed bit and stop. If you know someone with a chainsaw you could probably barter some of the future product for logs. But if you want me to send you one (or more) I'll do it. Don't really want to make a business out of it though.

    Log harvesting season is over here in South Georgia, all the sap has risen and even the pecans are budding out, but you probably still have time in your climate zone to harvest wood.

    As far as other mushrooms go, you could always get another species, but it is typically limited to a small damaged corner of the log. Mostly wood conks, and easy to distinguish from shiitake. Shiitake are very distinct. You wouldn't confuse them with anything else, and the other colonizer wouldn't affect the shiitake.

    Hope that helps.

  7. I do appreciate that, Brenda Sweet Tea Rose! Good to see you guys last night...