Friday, February 27, 2015

New Okuda Log Inoculation Tools Make Your Spring Log Inoculation Faster and Easier! 
by Joe

Field and Forest Products is pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with Okuda Shiitake of Japan to distribute their sawdust spawn inoculation tools in the United States and Canada. Japan has been a leader in log based Shiitake cultivation since the 1940's and have applied their well-known quality precision machining to shiitake inoculation tools. While these tools cost a good deal more than our Wisconsin made palm and thumb style tools, the savings come to you with automation of the inoculation process. They deliver spawn fast, accurately, and three of the tools eliminate an extra step and the cost of wax application should you choose to use the foam capping version. When considering buying these tools, time as money might well be included into your cost-benefit calculations as well as getting inoculation done in a timely manner, taking advantage of prime log moisture content, and enabling faster spawn run.

During this past fall's inoculation, we were able to field test Okuda's inoculation line with the exception of the fully automatic inoculation machine.  We found all the tools to be of excellent craftsmanship, as well as easy to use and maintain. Like anything new, these tools do have a learning curve, but are easily mastered. I'll give you a run down of each one. FAQs are at the end of the blog!

Inoculation stick; the ultimate "dual tool" 

Okuda's Inoculation Stick is a compact (15 cm or just shy of 6 inches) stainless steel, hand held sawdust spawn inoculation tool. Its compact size enables the user to inoculate with one hand. Using the palm of the hand to exert downward pressure on the tool, sawdust spawn is forced into the inoculation site. This tool makes inoculating crooked or twisty logs easy to do as it frees your other hand to hold the log steady.
The spring gauge on the inoculation stick is such that only minimal pressure is needed to press down on the tool. A replacement spring comes with the tool and is easy to replace. The tool is very easy to clean and being stainless steel, cleans up to a like-new sparkle after each use. If I was looking for a tool that would last a lifetime and was planning on doing 100 or so logs a year, this would be the tool I'd buy. The inoculation sites can be sealed either with a foam cap or melted wax.

   Our Thumb-Style and Palm-Style Inoculators, manufactured here locally, can be operated efficiently using thumb or palm (respectively), but not both (our Dual Tool Inoculator could be operated either way, but unfortunately, it is no longer available). These tools are a good value at a fraction of the cost, but the hands fatigue more quickly with the these tools and they require more frequent cleaning.

The Palm-Style Inoculator requires two hands to operate.

The Thumb-Style Inoculator requires only one hand to operate.
As cultivators know, inoculation and waxing large numbers of logs is a labor intensive, time consuming process. If there was one tool that would do both of these operations in one pass wouldn't that be the ticket? Well there are actually two! The first one is the Okuda Hand Inoculator. This tool is manually loaded like a regular hand held inoculation tool but by pressing the handle downward, the inoculation site is filled and capped with a foam cap in a single motion. The number of logs inoculated per hour is limited only by how fast the operator can refill the tool. Easy to operate and maintain, this would be a great tool for farms inoculating hundreds to thousands of logs.

The Okuda Hand Inoculator can fill and seal with the twitch of a finger.
The second tool that fills and seals in one pass is Okuda's Pegasus Semi-Automatic Log Inoculation Tool. This air-driven tool delivers spawn and a foam cap as fast as the operator can move the tool down the log. Once mastered, this tool can inoculate and seal 60-70 holes per minute. Yes, at times there can be clogging in the spawn delivery line, but it is easily remedied. The key to smooth operation of this tool is using sawdust spawn that has the right particle size which breaks easily into individual particles. To ensure this, we use a kitchen food processor to process the sawdust into a uniform consistency. For farms doing thousands of logs a season, this tool coupled with a high speed drill, will knock the task down to a manageable size in no time flat. The Pegasus does require a 2 HP or larger air compressor to run the machine efficiently.

The Okuda "Pegasus" is considered semi-automatic (vs. fully automatic)
because you still have to drill holes for the spawn to be injected.
The rest is done with a simple squeeze of the finger!
To seal those sawdust spawn inoculation sites you should consider the Okuda Wax Applicator. The ladle on this tool is a heavy gauge stainless steel so it retains heat extremely well. A single filling will seal about 40 inoculation sites (compared to approximately 6-7 holes with a single dip into the wax pot with a dauber; not to mention the wasted wax dripped from pot to log). The foam applicator is replaceable and the tool comes with 196 foam applicator plugs.

If you'd like to check out a quick video we did featuring log inoculation tools side by side, click here).

 Commonly Asked Questions

A foam cap as a sealant, really? That is the question most often posed to us concerning these tools. One solution to this question is that the Pegasus model is available with a wax option. That is, the spawn is delivered pneumatically, but then the inoculation sites would have to be waxed over using the Okuda Wax Applicator or similar device as a separate operation.

What about organic certification using foam caps? In 2007, when the status of clear cheese wax was under review by the National Organic Program, I asked what we could use as an alternative sealant. Their response was: Styrofoam. I was as shocked as you probably are. We have used Styrofoam caps for decades in our operation and if you come by to visit, you will be hard pressed to find them littering our laying or fruiting yard. We are running trials this winter to see what happens to the caps when they come in contact with either Wine Cap, a Pluerotus species or native organisms that are dwelling in our vermiculture boxes. So far, Wine Cap is doing a dandy job of running over Styrofoam caps incubated indoors in filter patch bags. We will see what is left of them in a few months!

What about the cost of caps verses wax? Foam caps are more cost efficient. For instance, to inoculate and seal 350 logs with foam caps the cost per log would be $0.17. To seal with wax, the cost per log would be $0.31 per log, not including the electricity required to melt the wax and the significantly higher shipping cost for the wax.

Okay, then, are there are any other things I should be aware of? Yes. Research by Okuda indicates faster spawn recovery and spawn run in using foam caps versus wax. We set up a trial to duplicate these results on our farm at the end of February.

Why the 13.5mm drill size? We have found that this increase in drill diameter speeds up spawn run as more wood is exposed to inoculum. Another benefit is that the first flush mushrooms from the inoculation sites are larger than those from smaller diameter inoculation sites.

We will let you know what we have to say about the fully automatic tool later in the month of March. By then, we should also be able to report back on our trial regarding different spawn sealant use, spawn run rates and costs per log.

The bottom line is that we offer a wide selection of tools for a variety of price ranges and workloads. Our locally made inoculation tools are solid, well made and the most economical choice for many growers. The Okuda inoculation tools take it up another notch, are built for a lifetime and run like clockwork. Regardless of your choice, purchase of any of our tools guarantees backup support from us here at F&FP; we will continue to use all of the tools we sell and you can always expect help from us, from proper operation instruction to valuable maintenance tips.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reishi Tincture: A Cure All
by Laura

Aside from being beautiful and entertaining to grow, Reishi has great medicinal benefits.
I suppose our recent craze over Reishi as a medicinal happened by accident. Occasionally,  our Table Top Farms fruit on us before we get a chance to put them in the cooler. This happened recently with a full load (nearly 50 blocks) of Reishi. Before we knew it we were surrounded on all sides by Reishi. What to do with all these mushrooms? Why not do what so many others are doing, and make a tincture!

Reishi is difficult to market in our area, mostly because it is not a culinary edible (it is considered non edible because it is too tough, it is NOT poisonous), and when taken in tea form, can be incredibly bitter. I have tried it among countless other teas and spices, and the bitter always shines through. I found myself struggling to finish even a single cup.

Sometimes referred to as the mushroom of immortality, Reishi is most commonly used as a supplement for boosting the immune system to prevent certain viral infections. It is also being used to help with high blood pressure, heart, lung, liver, and kidney disease, and cancer just to name a few. Further research will show you that it is being used for so many more ailments. If you are interested in the details of Reishi I recommend the book Mushrooms for Health by Greg Marley

After doing some research I found that certain medicinal components of Reishi are soluble in water (i.e. by making tea), but other components are only soluble in alcohol (i.e by making a tonic) and the very best form of it would come from a double extraction tincture. With a tincture you get the best of both worlds; a liquid that ends up to be 75% water, 25% alcohol, and contains everything that is good about Reishi. Surprisingly, the tincture seems far less bitter than the tea, and is taken in relatively small doses. Therefore, is far less noticeable when added to you favorite drink (I add it to my morning, midday, and sometimes evening coffee).

Mary Ellen 's obsession with coffee is real, and now includes a splash of Reishi tincture.  
"I know in my heart of hearts that if it were not for coffee I would have to find another reason to jump out of bed in the morning. In all truth I believe that Reishi tonic could be it. 1/2 tsp of this tincture first thing in the morning gives me that slightly caffeinated zing, plus I know it is a zing with benefits! I haven't tried it as a coffee substitute yet, but admit to hoping always to have the privilege of drinking both." -- Mary Ellen (Owner of F&FP)

Back in November, Mary Ellen and I decided to make a tincture and give it to all of the employees as a Christmas gift. Certain employees, and I'm not going to name names (Joe, Jasen, Nick, Lindsey & Natalie) have not been religious in taking their Reishi. They probably will not live as long as team members Mary Ellen, Derek, and myself, but we will always remember them for their hard work and dedication to the job.

Here is the method I used for creating the tincture (several online resources were compared for what I believe to be a great recipe):

First, I chopped up a bunch of Reishi using a coffee grinder. Some of this Reishi was fresh and some was completely dried. It filled a glass gallon jar about 1/3 of the way full. You could use a food processor as well (ours just wasn't doing the trick, it kept getting jammed.). Then, I added two bottles (750ml) of 100 proof vodka. The jar ends up to be a little more than half full. I placed the jar in a cool dark place and let it sit for four weeks, shaking it up every few days. Using cheese cloth I strained out the Reishi and placed it a large stock pot (reserving the alcohol of course). The alcohol is measured and an equal amount of water is added to the stock pot (do not add the alcohol though). This amount of water must be marked somehow. Mine conveniently lined up with the bottom of a screw on the stock pot. I added a few extra cups of water and boiled it down (about an inch below my mark) I did this a total of three times, but the third time I shut off the heat when the water reached my mark. Once it cooled I strained out and discarded the Reishi, added the water to the alcohol, stirred, funneled into 4 ounce dropper bottles, and labeled. Some of the discarded Reishi was added to my worm bins, and the rest went into the outdoor compost pile. If any of you have different methods or advice on how to make a tincture with Reishi I would love to hear about it!

Adding a dose of Reishi tincture to my coffee has become part of my daily routine both at home and on the farm.
I have been taking Reishi everyday since mid-December, mostly because I became extremely sick with Mono while my tincture was brewing. The sickness wiped me out for several weeks, and as a mother of four, this just simply can't happen again! I have managed to avoid becoming sick this entire month despite sickness all around me, even in my own home. I am convinced that Reishi is helping my immune system out tremendously, and honestly, going into this I was doubtful. I am not alone in this Reishi journey, here is what Derek had to say:

Depressed from a Packers loss, no worries, Reishi is here! 
"Reishi is not the best tasting fungi, but using this method for personal consumption allowed me to get a healthy dose every day without even noticing the bitter taste. There are various medicinal benefits of this mushroom including immune boosting properties and in my particular case, coping with depression. Once I got on a regular schedule of consumption I noticed the added energy and awareness boost, and can honestly say that I have avoided many flu and virus strains that have plagued the general public. Keep in mind I didn't even waste my hard earned money getting a flu shot! But above all, I have avoided the serious depression that coincides with Green Bay Packer playoffs losses. I am an avid Packer fan and happen to get emotionally invested in my team. Previous failed attempts to reach the Super Bowl left me bed ridden for days. I did not experience this sort of depression this year and I think it is reasonable to conclude that the Reishi helped me overcome this. Get on a regular schedule of Reishi consumption and find out for yourself!"

Derek and I wrote this testimony separately, neither of us, revealing what the other wrote until the day this blog was compiled. Amazing! I too, declined my annual flu shot in order to test the power of Reishi, one amazing fungus. 
Reishi fruiting on a log in here at the farm. This guy is indoors because Reishi is not a fan of our cold climate.