<![CDATA[Homesteading Instead - Blog]]>Wed, 17 Feb 2016 03:46:42 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[Where have I been hiding?]]>Wed, 17 Feb 2016 02:38:06 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/where-have-i-been-hiding
"Hank" at the Ridge.
I've just been "doing life" at full-steam without much time for reflection.

New domicile, new job, new certification, new everything. I went back to school for some classes. I've expanded my skill set to include Teaching English as New Language.

What hasn't changed?
I am still fermenting things. I made an excellent batch of dill pickles. Kombucha is never in short supply.
I brewed my first lager and it...is...heavenly.
I brewed my first mead (it was way too sweet).

I began working for the CNYMS (Central New York Mycological Society) on a volunteer basis.

I also successfully began growing Enokitake mycelium.
All that hasn't changed and I will share developments pictorially at a later date.

New Interests

Politics, politics, politics. I've engrossed myself in the current election cycle. A considerable amount of my time is spent trying to keep up with the latest debates.

A Balmy December Stroll

I seized upon some of the warmest temperatures ever recorded this December and visited some folks in North Carolina. It was 75 degrees in late December. The magnolias (unfortunately) were flowering, as well as the crocuses, daffodils, and even some beings from the Fungi kingdom.
That's pretty much it. The hustle in between doesn't lend itself to pretty pictures. However, better weather is around the corner! More posts will be slowly rolling out! I've great plans for the Spring. I constructed this cedar raised-garden-bed, for example. I plan to deck it out in herbs.
Many "hastas" met their demise during the making of this bed. Good riddance!
<![CDATA[Landscaping: Digest your Decor]]>Mon, 13 Jul 2015 21:49:41 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/landscaping-digest-your-decorThe Discussion
Looking for a new abode gets one thinking about landscaping and gardens fairly quickly. Naturally, I drew up plans for a jam-packed landscaping scheme, complete with every plant I wish I currently had room to grow, starting with the most expensive items regularly appearing on our grocery lists.
After toiling away for a time on the schematics and shoving in a crop for every letter in the alphabet, I presented the crowded scribbles to my beloved, only to be greeted with an expression of confusion. Where will the flowers go?

Ever the compromise-seeking individual, I launched myself into some research to find plants that marry the ideas of decor and digestibility. I found a few surprising results, which I will now share. It should be stated before we begin, that quite a few of the plants are seeds and spices, since these are fairly expensive and vital to making tasty breads and spicing up home-cooked meals.


As for its needs, it requires full-sun and plenty of water to start, but then becomes drought-tolerant and low-maintenance. I've started germinating some near the window in some shallow water, although my flax seeds and mustard seeds germinated after one day in water!


Mostly geared for the tropics, this beautiful plant can be started indoors and moved outside during the summer (not any more cumbersome than re-buying/planting annuals, such as mums). It also makes for a great houseplant and can supply you with fresh ginger all-year round.
Just buy some fresh ginger from a local grocery store, plant it and water thoroughly and soon, your ginger plant will be on its way to growing in size and height (fairly tall plant). When you want ginger, just lift the root a bit, cut some and viola! No worries, the plant will recover quickly.


Flax: good for you and indispensable to quality bread. It also happens to be easy-on-the-eyes.
Directions: Full-sun and the rest doesn't matter much. It can be grown all over the U.S., but prefers cooler temps.
The seed pods, like the mustard plant pods must be dried, threshed, and crushed... but we needed the exercise anyway.
Apparently in case of doomsday, the fibers left over from the flax can be woven into a workable thread (for more, click the hyperlink under "directions" above.
The seeds are contained within pods (left), after the flower has been pollinated.

(Black) Cumin

The secret spice behind all texmex flavors (next to oregano, but you know what that looks like already), cumin also has some interesting blossoms for the garden! Their flowers can also be pink, or white. Growing instructions here.
After drying this funky seed pod from cumin, do the same as for the flax above.

Stay tuned to find out what familiar foods the following blooms yield:
<![CDATA[A Relaxed Approach]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:05:18 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/a-relaxed-approach
So, I was getting a little bit tired of keeping mushroom spawn in a "fruiting chamber" with only a few, scrawny specimens of which to speak/eat.
I took all the mushroom spawn, wrapped it in paper towels and placed it in a flower pot left it outside. I ignored it for nearly a week and tada! Blue Oyster Mushroom growth! It just needed a more natural approach.

A few days later... Not yet to be harvested, as they are not yet sticking out straight.
Finally! Two, full servings of Oyster Mushrooms!
Stir-fried them up with some chicken and a side of couscous.

I think I will stick with this very chill method.
1) Grow spawn in glass jars with daily coffee grounds. Inoculate directly with the rapidly growing mycelium of other, colonized jars.
2) When fully colonized, group together in a larger container (the separate mycelium bodies will connect together and yield a much larger fruiting body
<![CDATA[Kombucha and Mushrooms]]>Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:26:31 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/kombucha-and-mushroomsMushrooms
At the same time that many people think I'm a bit unusual for pursuing mushrooms as a hobby, I constantly see these articles about mushrooms doing some miraculous things and solving problems. Here is one example of mushrooms mitigating the need to burn our garbage.


Or, this interesting article about mushroom and their surviving in space and eating space stations.



Although my efforts at mushrooming have been crawling steadily on, my kombucha experiences have yielded nothing but rapid success.

In fact, I've reach a plateau, where I needed to move the daughter SCOBY away from the mother in what is called a SCOBY hotel.

I made two fresh batches of sugary tea for them and used the rest to make some cranberry kombucha. It will be ready in 3 days. I've sealed the fruited-kombucha because I want CO2 to build up a little inside the jar.

Once the third day has come and there is pressure in the container, I will stow the jar in the fridge, lowering the temperature and inviting the CO2 to carbonate the liquid tea.
The new, daughter SCOBY is above. She is now producing her own young.
Cranberries flavoring a "second-fermentation" kombucha in a reused honey jar.
<![CDATA[PINNING! An Update's Update]]>Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:00:38 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/pinning-an-oyster-mushroom-updateNEW:
Yeah... so I was told mushrooming would be slightly difficult and have a high learning curve. Turns out that the beginning pins stopped their growth.

I've diagnosed it as: half-gallon jars (the same used to feed and colonize spawn) can't be used to fruit mushrooms. The circulation is too poor.

I am going to squeeze the spawn "cake" out of the jars and set them up in a "fruiting chamber". The chamber will be constructed as per my book's instructions. It will require perlite and possibly a little water bubbler, like what you would have in a fish tank (the bubbles keep the air flowing and of a higher humidity).

I'll post as soon as I get it set up.
So, It is obvious now that "dunking" mushroom spawn by filling the jar with water and chilling it overnight in a fridge does induce it to "pin" or start growing mushrooms. I finally got mushroom growth after 2-3 months of tinkering. I made my own method of slowly feeding the mushroom mycelium (spawn) coffee grounds and it worked out.

The size will be doubling every day, so stay tuned. It looks like a very large cluster.
<![CDATA[Kombucha, AKA Mushroom Tea]]>Mon, 06 Apr 2015 14:01:48 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/kombucha-aka-mushroom-tea
I am always interested in fermenting new things. After all, I ferment things to make beer and kefir already. Why not expand the idea?
Kombucha, also called mushroom tea, actually has nothing to do with mushrooms. People saw the symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (S.C.O.B.Y.) floating on top of the fermenting tea and thought MUSHROOM!
Well, it's bacteria.
Gross? How dare you. Ok, well it's a sort of gross idea and process, but the pay-off is a naturally fizzy, 1% alcohol, vitamin-rich beverage made from tea.
Pictured above, are two separate colonies afloat in the jar. One disk, called the "mother" actually "birthed" the other. But, that's a topic for another day.
I drank the liquid straight-up after about two weeks. It yielded a pleasant, fizzy, slightly sweet/vinegary flavor. I kind of liked it. Now, I am trying a "second fermentation" for a few days to imbue some of the liquid with berries to enhance the flavor.
<![CDATA[Spring, Gardens, and Compost]]>Mon, 06 Apr 2015 13:41:40 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/spring-gardens-and-compost
As you might be able to imagine from these purple Crocuses pushing through the green-brown grass of a nearby lawn, spring is now a real idea in the minds of New Yorkers.
40-degree walks through the neighborhood seem like a dream compared to the the month of February, where the average temperature was 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the spirit of spring, I've begun to ramp up efforts at my school district to extend the joys and lessons of growing things and recycling things to the students at my school.
Garden Club met for a second time just last week and the turn-out grew. Hovering around 35 members, Garden Club managed to start some window gardens.
Students from the ages of 10-12 were exceedingly excited to learn about how to grow potato plants from a "chitting" spud (when the eyes of the potato begin to sprout) . The idea that all vegetables, spices, and fruits have corresponding plants with unique characteristics is relatively new at this age and also slightly worrying. It reminds me a bit of Brave New World, where nature is taught from a young age as something alien, removed, wild, and dangerous. I am the shepherd, thorugh whom students begin to see the natural world as something relate-able, informative, and familiar... and I'm happier for it.
I began thinking about compost a while back and how alien an idea it was for many people I knew at my work. Compost? Like in a country backyard? What about it?!  Won't that bring terrible animals? Won't it smell? Ewww! (basic visceral responses).
Well, turns out that composting is one of the easiest ways to cut your waste in half. Plus, many people pay top dollar for good compost. Especially if you cook at home, you can reduce your trips to the curb, make your garbage smell better, do something good for the environment, and help your gardens all at the same time. All it involves is hovering your lazy hand over one bin for food scraps and another bin for landfill-destined garbage.
I really got motivated and went to other facilities, where students were composting without an issue or complaint. I took pictures. I took notes. I imagined a better future.

I sat down with my superiors. I made my case. Being a realist, I made some concessions. I took a smaller role for composting in the hopes of growing the idea over time. An idea that would hopefully grow along side education funding.

A "small scale" compromise was struck and now my work has a program. I am the protagonist of the whole idea. So, I'll be constructing some compost tumblers, educating the Consumer Science , formerly "Home and Careers" peeps and students to put their food scraps to work in two brand-new school gardens via the compost tumblers.

I was encouraged by the positive reception to my ideas and look forward to seeing action in the weeks to come. I'll keep y'all updated.
<![CDATA[A New Method]]>Mon, 06 Apr 2015 00:06:37 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/a-new-methodSo, it's been a while since my last post. I've been working hard at what it is that I do. I've mostly been met with success.  I like forging solutions, rather than complaining... and I have a few solutions to share.

Firstly, I've abandoned the method of growing mushrooms known as the "PF Tek Method". The yield from the jars of spawn took eternity (2-3 months) to colonize. Plus, they produced a very small amount of spawn.
I decided, after "birthing" and unsuccessfully attempting to "fruit" these jars of Oyster Mushroom Spawn, that I would just mash their substrates together and allow them to expand into a half-gallon jar.
The method that I've been using with success is the" drink-coffee-in-the- morning-feed-the-Oyster-Mushroom-Spawn-the-grounds-at-night" method.       I'll call it the "Slow Coffee-drinker's Method". Observe my fully-colonized jars below. Within days, the new coffee grounds become overtaken with mycelium.

My new method of "inoculation". I just spoon off a portion of rapidly-growing mycelium and drop it into a jar of coffee grounds. Check out the vein of growth below.
After I fill the jars with coffee grounds and they overtake the jar, I've taken two directions in attempting to get the spawn to "fruit", or produce mushrooms.

Some people say that the jars need to be dunked in water and left overnight in the fridge (24 hours) to promote fruiting.
Some people say "don't bother".
I tend to favor peoples' ideas when they are simpler. But, I've decided to perform an experiment. I'll "dunk" one and not the other. Stay tuned for the results!
My "fruiting chamber" idea is just to partially cover the mouth of the jar with plastic and mist it daily (mushroom-kit style). I make sure that some of the jar is exposed to light, while the bulk of it isn't, as it occurs in nature.

<![CDATA[A Second Harvest: quick update.]]>Sun, 08 Mar 2015 22:53:41 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/a-second-harvest-quick-updateMarch Update!
Thanks to the folks at permies.com, I was able to solicit some solutions to my Oyster Mushroom-growing problems.
Long story short? They needed feeding. Solution? I fed them used coffee grounds and the spent brewing grains from my beer-brewing.
The update is that the mycelium is growing at an explosive rate.
Soon the new substrate will be fully colonized and the new feeding frenzy should yield a good amount of mushrooms.

Image One: Growth viewed from outside the jar. Not very pretty, I know. But, the whiter the jar, the more successful the growth. This jar is at 75% colonization. At 100%, the mycelium organism sends out its carriers for the next generation: plump Oyster Mushrooms!

Image Two: Explosive growth as seen inside the jar. I've been told this resembles an old Star Trek episode about fuzzy creatures. What do you think?
"The Trouble with Tribbles", Star Trek 1967
Image Three: A close-up of the mycelium growth, exploding across the spent brewing grains.

Feb. Update.

A while back, I posted an image of a plastic bag, awkwardly tied around my original mushroom grow kit. This evidence of my fledgling experience with mushrooms is due for an upgrade. 
After some failures, I've found an excellent method to get second and third flushes of mushrooms. Although it hasn't yielded mushrooms yet, it is looking very promising.
It's not the prettiest looking thing on the planet, but that signature bright white mycelium growth would get any knowledgeable mushroom-grower excited.

Tired of seeing my original mushroom kit not yielding results after the first harvest and slowly drying out, (with or with out a plastic bag) I had a brilliant idea. Why don't I just skip to the next step that I would use with my home-made, inoculated spawn?

Some five days after breaking the kit into three parts and dropping it in the 1/2 gallon jars with a handful of vermiculite (to maintain moisture) and two spritzes of water, I've seen the mycelium make a full recovery. I am expecting to see some pinning mushrooms any day now.

You do have to open the jars 2-3 times a day to allow for some air-exchange. Spritz when there is no evidence of condensation (high humidity) left in the jar.
<![CDATA[Bacteria, the Microbiome, and Milk Kefir]]>Sun, 08 Mar 2015 16:26:05 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/bacteria-the-microbiome-and-milk-kefirSo, there are some folks out there that are trying to work "probiotics" into their daily routine.
The basics of probiotics is this: since bacteria were discovered, the emphasis on their effects has been to identify those bacteria that do terrible things to us. Infections, sickness, and other ailments were quickly ascribed to the little, invisible bugs living EVERYWHERE and lurking especially on door handles! AHHH!
But, recently, we are just scratching the surface of how beneficial certain bacteria can be. 
We are beginning to discover that our bodies are mostly made of bacteria. Some are benign and many, many others are helpful. The bacteria that we carry with us everywhere and live inside of us make up our personal "microbiome".
This field of research is relatively new, but some leads suggest that our stringent aversion of bacteria is actually harming us and making it easier for all sorts of bodily defects to take place. These leads are being compiled into one idea, called the "hygiene hypothesis".  For more, read the excerpt below.

"The findings are the latest to support the "hygiene hypothesis," a still-evolving proposition that's been gaining momentum in recent years. The hypothesis basically suggests that people in developed countries are growing up way too clean because of a variety of trends, including the use of hand sanitizers and detergents, and spending too little time around animals.

As a result, children don't tend to be exposed to as many bacteria and other microorganisms, and maybe that deprives their immune system of the chance to be trained to recognize microbial friend from foe.

That may make the immune system more likely to misfire and overreact in a way that leads to allergies, eczema and asthma, Hesselmar says."

BASICALLY, bacteria nowadays are being understood as an integral part of what makes our human bodies, and all other living things, function correctly. So you might be asking yourself, how can we get back on the right track?
Enter Kefir. [Keh-Fear]
Kefir is basically this:
  • whole, raw milk
  • added beneficial bacteria stains
  •  24 hours at room temperature.
It is an acquired taste
, like most good things worth eating, and the idea has been around for centuries.
Also, the bacteria are supposed to be good for you.
For example, some of bacteria in the mature Kefir break down lactose.
This leaves you milk that won't upset your stomach.
Below is what it looks like when it's all done!
All you do is strain out the "grains" of bacteria and save them for later in the fridge (in raw, whole milk) so you can start the process over again whenever you want.
These, tasty-looking things, are the bacteria colonies that out-compete bad bacteria in the Kefir and leave you a fizzy, tangy, safe and unique product.
Just ask a friend for some of their bacteria "grains" and dig in.
Cheers! Prost!
<![CDATA[One Potato, Two Potato, Ten Potato, More]]>Sun, 08 Mar 2015 00:34:15 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/one-potato-two-potato-ten-potato-moreMarch 8th Update!
Solid growth and the plants are nearly ready for more soil to be added.

The Humble Potato (March 1st)

It's not a fabulous sight to behold, but the potato is a self-sufficiency-expert's first love. Why? What's so great about the ugly things?
For one, they last a LONG time.
I'm not just talking the time it takes for them to be purchased from your local store, sit in a bag for a month, and resemble the picture above.
I am talking about the time from when they are fresh from the ground, stored properly, and then eaten mid-winter.
If you lager your potatoes, meaning keeping them at 45-55 degrees in a dry, dark place, they can last three+ months.
At some point, they may begin chitting, which is what has happened above.
Second, they are PROLIFIC producers.
How many potatoes can one, chitting potato produce?
Well, it varies. But you can expect your lonely potato to produce 6-9 more potatoes after the plant has been exhausted.
Third, potatoes are tasty and a good source of vitamins.
Not many people think about healthy food when they eye a potato.
How about 70% of your daily intake of  vitamin C?

In these long weeks of winter, I can help but plant these "advanced" potatoes to see what happens.
Potatoes are a plant that are more productive, if you bury them in dirt as the plant matures. I've started with about 5 inches of dirt. I'll keep updating.
These potatoes were put in the pot on Feb 22nd.
By March 1st, they were sprouting. The overgrown "eyes" that most people cut out, or use as an indicator for tossing a potato, will soon grow into stalks of leaves and begin generating potatoes anew.
<![CDATA[Healthy Campfire Food?                                               We Deserve Better Childhood Memories.]]>Mon, 02 Feb 2015 16:47:03 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/healthy-campfire-food-we-deserve-better-childhood-memoriesBehold! The mighty Marshmallow, Althaea officinalis. King of all the campfire Treats!
Not what you were expecting, right?
Exactly my point. This is the actual plant that gives marshmallows their taste.
No, not the sugary taste... the marshmallowy taste.
In this post, I take issue with Campfire Food. It's not too soon to dream of camping weather, is it?

Here are the top 5 ingredients in what make up smores:

The Marshmallows:
  1. Corn Syrup----- a sugar
  2. Sugar------------- a sugar
  3. Dextrose--------- a sugar
  4. Modified Cornstarch
  5. Water
By the way, they are dyed white... so what color are they actually?

The Chocolate:
  1. Sugar
  2. Milk
  3. Chocolate
  4. Cocoa butter
  5. Lactose (a sugar) and Milk fat
The Graham Crackers:
  1. Unbleached enriched Flour
  2. Wheat Flour
  3. Sugar
  4. Soybean and partially hydrogenated Cottonseed oil
  5. Honey
Grand Totals:
  • Sugar by one serving of each ingredient:
4.5g (one marshmallow)+24g (1 chocolate bar)+15g (1 graham cracker)=
43.5 grams of sugar.

Although, for some reason, a daily recommended amount of sugar has avoided FDA rules, it is commonly accepted that you should only consume about 20-30 grams per day. So, yes, your one smore is double your DAILY recommended intake of sugar.

  • Fat by one serving of each ingredient:
0g for the Marshmallow (a lie because sugar immediately metabolizes into fat)
+13g for the chocolate bar
+16g for the cracker
29 grams of fat

40% of your daily fat intake and 75% of your saturated fat intake.

Where's the alternative?

Not quite as exciting as watching a sugar ball explode into flames and then be blown out, yielding a smoldering carcinogenic black blob, you can do all sorts of other things.
My wife and I are fond of parking sweet potatoes near a fire to cook.

But, as I have read from this German newspaper, there may be a fun alternative for the children and the child in all of us.
YES! STOCKBROTBACKEN!    Translated- Stick-bread-baking
I am going to look up how to do this and post the results in the spring.
Apparently, you make a special, sticky bread dough, wrap it around a stick, and bake it at the high temperatures over the fire.
Then, you crunch away at your freshly baked bread.
Look, kids! It even rises!
<![CDATA[Time to Improve: The Oyster Mushroom Spawn]]>Mon, 02 Feb 2015 16:02:56 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/time-to-improve-the-oyster-mushroom-spawn
A quick update:
I have read that the colonization process can be aided by allowing a small of amount of air exchange. For this, I've taped cotton balls to two-of-the-four inoculation sites on the lid.
I now have growth in 100% of the jars and no contamination yet. Here's hoping for a February-mushroom-fruiting.
2/7/15 UPDATE!

<![CDATA[Time to Improve: The Brew]]>Mon, 02 Feb 2015 15:56:24 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/time-to-improve-the-brew
Due to increased interest in my homebrewing products, I've doubled capacity.
Seen here, twin 5-gallon buckets bubble away like a gurgling-version of dueling banjos. Music to the brewer's ears.
What's brewing? As mentioned in previous posts, I've created my first Honey Brown Ale. Below are some pictures from the process.

New ingredients were needed. I selected a hops with a lower acidity, named "Cluster". I also needed a new yeast, called London Ale yeast. I also needed some grain, which was elaborated upon in a previous post.

The nutritious, sweet-smelling wort boils away. This brew should be carbonated and ready during the Ides of February.

The other brew I made was a classic Belgian-style Wit. It is flavored with coriander and orange peel.

Witbier is also often called white beer, due to the high content of yeast suspended in it. This renders the brew "cloudy".
<![CDATA[All-grain, or not All-grain]]>Mon, 02 Feb 2015 15:37:33 GMThttp://germanardi.weebly.com/blog/all-grain-or-not-all-grain
Looks kind of like dry oatmeal. Is it a new "cleanse diet"?

No, this is spent grain. Chocolate, Crystal, and Black all-grain malt to be precise.

I am making a Honey Brown Ale (more posts to follow).

You see, brewing can be done using dry malt in big powdery bags, or it can be made by cutting out that process and going "all grain". Many brews also mix both.
What are the benefits of all-grain, you ask?
  • Grain is cheaper.
  • Grain is tastier (so I've heard).
What is the drawback?
  • Grain needs controlled temperatures.
  • Grain produces a lot of byproduct (spent grain).
  • Grain has to be crushed open, and then "mashed" before brewing.

So, until I have the means to control my temperatures a bit more, the most I will do with grain is use it to flavor and color my brews in combination with dry malt.
If you would like to know more about grain and malts, see the site that I used for reference.

Here is an image of the color  that the three grains, mentioned above, impart to the brew. I strained this liquid from the cheese-cloth bag I made for soaking the grain. This is a small amount of the total yield.

What can be done with the spent grain?

Well, many people feed it livestock, some people bake bread with it (myself), and still others combine it with cellulose of some variety (wood chips, paper, etc) and grow mushrooms on it. Oyster mushrooms are recommended.

How can I do it myself and what is the lingo I need?

Well, Tex, you've got to crush your grain down in a malt mill.
Mix it with hot water to make it into a mash in a mash tun.
Then, you've got to sparge, or separate the grain in a process, called lautering.
See my reference under BREWING