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Creating the Backyard Homestead: Repairing The Soil

The Soil One of the first challenges a modern homesteader is faced with is poor soil. In rare instances, soil may not be your immediate issue, but you should be looking downstream to make sure this does not become a future concern. This challenge is easily overcome in the short term, but without sustainable systems and a balance of plant life, this can become a continuing problem. To address the poor soil issue and to become a more resilient homesteader, it is essential that we deal with those things that affect soil quality and provide long terms solutions to maintaining and improving soil fertility. Composting One of the easiest things we can start doing to build rich soil is to begin composting. Compost is easily made from table scraps, cut vegetation such as weeds and grass clippings, and other debris such as paper, cardboard, sawdust, coffee grinds, and lots of other household wastes. I won’t go into the details of how to compost, but it is important that you start transitioning as much of your household waste into enriched usable compost for your garden beds. We are currently composting about 40% of our household trash, which is 100% of our food scraps and about 20% of our other waste. I am hopeful that we will be able to compost 100% of our paper trash as well, so the only thing we are paying for removal will be our plastics, metals, and sewage. Water Management The next thing we can do to enrich our soil is to increase the moisture levels. Our soil is very dry and clay colored, which is pretty common in the eastern range of Colorado. The soil consists of some decomposed granite, but mostly clay and dirt, which is a term I use to describe dead soil. There is little to no moisture in the soil and any moisture put into the soil quickly dissipates. This is usually due to the lack of biological material in the soil. Biological material becomes depleted through farming, and over grazing. Farming, or more accurately plowing, turns over the soil, causing the under soil to become exposed. The UV light from the sun kills all the micro-organisms that have surfaced, reducing the fertility. Repeating this process each season further depletes these micro-organisms, which, in turn, further reduces the amount of nutrients that can be retained within the soil. Let’s think of the soil as a lake that is teaming with all sorts of micro-organisms, and if we want bigger organism in this lake, then we need to identify and correct the problem at the smallest level to have the greatest impact over the long term. If we can provide an environment within the soil directly conducive to maintaining and growing these micro-organisms, then we can begin to build fertility back in to the soil, and have our soil produce fruit and vegetables for us. How do we get fertility back into our soil? Let’s continue and examine the water situation and determine if there is enough rainfall, and at those specific times needed by the plants and trees we intend to grow. It is not our intent to just turn on a garden hose and water the garden if we go a week or more without any rainfall. That puts us at a deficit, as we have to pay for those utilities. We may also decide to implement a gray water solution to be able to provide for our water demand in times of drought. We should address this issue through known techniques for water retainment, and maximize our retainment strategies for snow and rainfall, to either store that water or divert and spread that drainage over the backyard.  Notice the water movement, sun direction, and drip-line irrigation systems along with water storage barrels and pond, and hugel beds/enriched soil areas The Landscape There are several techniques that we can use to provide moisture and fertility back into our soil. Let’s start analyzing the possibilities and determine which work best in our situation. Our backyard has a standard down slope away from the house, which is approximately a decline of 1 foot per every 15-20 feet, but, over time, a channel has formed from the gutter downspouts and created a valley where most of the water travels. Unless we plan to plant our entire garden into these valleys then we need to start spreading the water across other areas of the backyard. Water Storage To determine the amount of rainwater, you can use a simple calculation found at: http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu/calculators/. This will give you a reasonable estimate for your storage solution. There is a really nice spreadsheet you can use at the above link to calculate your total annual rainfall catchment system. We then will include a pond at the end of the swale system to retain any run off that may be leaving our property. This will serve us in watering our vegetation, and perhaps a place to grow fish and experiment with some aquaponics. Aside from providing a rain water or gray water storage system, we need to look at how we can provide water across the whole area. The options I’m considering are: a drip-line irrigation system; several soaker hoses; mini or micro swales; hugel beds; or a combination of some or all these. Drip-Line Irrigation This system will require the purchasing of tubing and hoses that connect together and are placed in the garden beds. This system is a good way to regulate the water for a specific area and to move water to areas that may be difficult to irrigate by other means. These system can also be put on a timer and can be controlled for plants with specific watering needs. These systems are relatively low-tech and are easily set up by the typical homeowner. The materials are relatively inexpensive compared to a full on sprinkler system, but can incur additional cost if you intend to put the system on some type of environmental control system to control watering. These systems are extremely useful for greenhouses, perhaps cold beds, and raised garden beds. Soaker Hoses These are typically for smaller watering requirements, such as a tree or small stand of trees, that you intend to continually water throughout the day. Though these can be more effective if placed on a timer and are set to water periodically. These connect directly to a typical garden hose and are used to saturate an area. Swales Swales can be constructed to slow the water as it moves over the land after the rains.  By constructing a swale, you can channel the water and slow it down so that it has a greater chance to be absorbed by the landscape and increase the soil fertility. Swales are typically 10-12 feet wide, are a couple feet deep, and have a 3-4 ft berm on the downhill side. They are constructed on contour to allow the water to fill the swale and slowly trickle down through each swale system. Swales can be scaled down to most situations. However, I have a concern of building one that is less than 3 feet wide, as I am not certain they will be as effective at allowing a reasonable amount of absorption into the berm. Hugel Beds These are a great way to retain water in a specific area, and are great for creating a rich soil planting environment. Typically these are to be constructed on contour and are used for water retainment. The concept is that you dig down about 2 feet into the soil, then several feet wide and as long as you desire. After moving all of the soil to the side, you place hard wood into the channel you just created. Using logs, branches debris, cut wood, and other slash, until you have about 2 feet above the surface covered. Then you pile on mulch and other trimmings and clipping before returning the soil back onto the mound. You are free to mix in manure, compost and other enriched soil as you continue to build the height of the mound to approximately 6 feet tall. The concept is that the wood in the hugel bed will soak up the run off and will provide an environment that will enrich the soil as the wood slowly decomposes.  This happens in nature when a tree falls over, the ground lays claim and begins to break down the fallen trunk. We can accelerate this process by covering the wood with soil, creating a mound, and then further planting on this mound. This is made more effective when placed on contour so that, as water moves over the area, it will be retained in these hugel beds. The Plan HC: Honecrisp Apple; Frt Cocktail: Fruit Cocktail i.e. Peach, Plum, Apricot, and Nectarine; Crtl: Cortland Apple. Notice 2 Cherry trees, one on the side of the house and one on the north side of the backyard. Which systems are the best water retention, and provide the most fertility to the soil? Well, I think I may be employing each of these in some facet, though I don’t have a need to construct a 6 foot tall hugel bed or a 10 feet wide swale. I will probably be cutting these down to size and perhaps building hugel beds and swales on a much smaller scale. The biggest thing that concerns me with constructing swales is that I am removing top soil from an area, and that area is not very permitting for a path, as it may contain water during certain times, i.e. after it rains. I will probably need to experiment more with this idea, and make that determination. The next question is where do I use drip-lines, soaker hoses, hugel beds, and swales. It should be fairly easy to move the water to the outside edges with either a drip-line or soaker hose. To determine the others may be a bit more difficult, as I also have seven fruit trees to plant, so it may not be effective for me to decide where the swales, and hugel beds will need to go in until I map where the trees need to be planted. It seems that I may be grid-locked, so let me review the situation. Looking at the diagram above shows the optimal water movement across the backyard. If I plan the swales to move the water in these directions, then I should be planting my trees on the downhill side of the swale or hugel beds. I will be planting the trees in two clusters and then three single standing trees. The diagram shows the tree placement and selection, based on the sun requirements and other concerns. I want to keep the trees within the fence line so as to prevent fruit from falling in my neighbors yard. Now we need to overlay the two diagrams and determine where the swales and hugel beds need to be placed. Tree #4 will probably need to be moved to the south to be planted on the downslope of the swale cutting through that area. The hugel bed should work in place of the existing raised bed just to the right of the patio. The raised bed can then be relocated to the other side of the patio along with expanding a few more beds into that area. Placing a small pond at the end of the swale system will allow the catchment and redistribution of water throughout the entire area. Eventually, we can make the determination to keep fish or other aquatic life in that small pond, if there is to be water present year round. This will give us another opportunity to provide an enriched water source for the garden plants. Conclusions I am still undecided about the swale system, as of this writing, and will be repositioning the trees, as needed, within the vicinity of the diagram above. The water retainment system, though still a sketch, now has a plan and we can start taking necessary actions to shore-up this design. The soil should be well nourished throughout the system and some of those dry areas should be made more fertile through the use of the hugel bed, drip-lines, and swale systems. I am confident that this is a strong design and will allow us to plant more varieties into different areas. I will be working on the next article in this series so, if you have suggestions, comments, or see omissions, please feel free to include in the comments section below. This is a working plan, and though we have a direction, there is always room for improvements and considerations along the way. Thanks to all those that have expressed such a high interest in this topic, it is through your feedback that I have decided to carry on this series of articles. The post "Creating the Backyard Homestead: Repairing The Soil" appeared first on Brink of Freedom.  

Travis Toler

Travis Toler

Creating the Backyard Homestead

Shortly after moving in to our new home in Colorado, we began several projects that would enable us to take advantage of this property and begin making it into a homestead. We were excited to be in a more rural setting, but granted this is only a step above living in a townhome under an aristocratic HOA. We moved into this house knowing that it would be a stepping stone, so we needed to start making preparations so that we can lay the foundation and gain the knowledge transitioning this home and apply that towards our dream homestead, which will be a truly unrestricted and off-grid rural property. With the falling economy, political chaos, loss of freedoms and liberties, and the million other things that keep us on the edge or fearing our government, we are preparing for whatever may happen while learning valuable skills. We are going to make the biggest impact we can in transitioning this suburban home into a homestead and help it to become a producer instead of a consumer. My goal is that we will one day return to the land and learn the lessons that our forefathers leveraged daily to carve out a living for themselves and their families; that we will be able to remove our dependencies on those entities that are determined to profit through total devastation of our land and resources; provide a map for others to follow that will restore the land, feed our families; and live a connected humble life with our environment. Current baseline design for our homestead The current area will be our backyard, which is roughly 50ft by 52ft and is protected by a 6ft privacy fence. There is a long area on the west side of our house that is currently being used for storage. The western corner is where we are composting, and across the back fence is the rabbit hutch and chicken coop. There are several big spruce trees on the back of the property, which create shade and micro-climates. The drawing depicts a baseline of the area we have and the trees we are keeping. Several trees that are not on the drawing are slated for removal, and are not shown.   Water We are planning to divert rainwater into a retention system, to allow maximum absorption by the soil and to divert run off into a small backyard pond for watering the trees, shrubs, and garden. Additionally, we are researching the best way to capture our grey water and divert this into a holding tank for later use during the dry season here in Colorado, which is typically mid to late summer and early fall.   Composting Bin #1   Soil We are currently composting with a 3 container system using 40 gallon trash cans, and we also have a compost heap stored in a bin made from recycled shipping pallets. We just started vermicomposting, and will be expanding this to produce worm castings to begin making worm juice/tea for an advanced fertilizer. We also have purchased about 50 bags of topsoil mix, and 10 bags of compost and manure to further enrich our soil.   Trees We have already purchased a few trees, but will need to design and plant accordingly, to optimize space and not shade out our garden beds and shrub rows. We already have several large pine trees, standing dead aspen, and several small aspen saplings that we will be keeping, but there are several other small aspens that we will be removing to allow for the varieties of fruit trees we want to plan.   Shrubs The edge along the fence line may prove to be the best and most efficient use of space and time to plant each of the berry shrubs. This will expand the edge and utilize these long stretches to begin to build diversity, as we can then plant herbs and perennials into these areas, as well, along with other vine/climbing plants, such as grapes, of which we have several. This area may prove useful in mushroom cultivation, and we intend to further analyze the micro-climates to make this determination.   Perennials The shrub line will provide a good area to begin diversifying annuals and perennials into the mix. Along with the edges of the garden beds and, in some cases, in the beds themselves, depending on the goal for that garden bed.   Annuals We love to grow vegetables, but are having a difficult time discerning what may do well in the short growing season here in Colorado. We have taken the initiative to begin starting some of the longer term growing seeds like sunflowers, beans, squash, peppers (multiple varieties), and tomatoes. Some seeds will need to be planted later, after the last freeze of the spring, and hopefully these will have enough time to mature before the first freeze of fall. Annuals will provide our diversification, but we are hoping perennials will provide the most return over the years to come.   Herbs The edges of the garden beds and along the shrub line, as well as in the shade of some of our larger trees, should provide an adequate micro-climate to support a wealth of herbs and other small flowering plants. I would like to also provide additional supplement for the chickens that will be free ranging throughout our backyard and some garden areas. Additionally, some herbs will simply do better indoors, so we will continue to accommodate as necessary.   Rhizomes We have selected a variety of vegetables; such as carrots, turnips, radishes, sweet potatoes, and other root crops, to plant in this layer. We intend to plant these in our raised beds and along the shrub line, as well as under the canopy, and wherever opportunity and the climate is adequate for proper growth and development. Additionally, I have a growing interest to cultivate mushrooms into this system and am hopeful to produce king straphoria, oyster, and perhaps button mushrooms.   Ponds and Water Management I am working on laying out the areas and direction for a few “micro” swales to allow the run off water maximum penetration into the soil. The pond will serve as an overflow catchment initially and then grow into a more stable environment to have fish and vegetation. I am looking at a simple backyard or garden pond in the lowest area of the yard, which is the furthest west corner by the compost bins. I have noticed this is the most fertile soil in the area, and currently supports a small natural worm population. From this pond, we should be able to supply water to the garden beds and shrub line, along with the trees. Another feature we want to include is a small hugel bed, but the area is still being negotiated. The hugel bed will help us retain run off water and build soil that will provide another garden bed for annuals and perennials. Our new chicken coop awaiting our chicks to be old enough to occupy   Livestock We currently have a breeding pair of California rabbits, and are raising baby chicks. Our rabbits are producing quite a bit of cold compost for us to use during plantings, and have put on quite a bit of weight in the few short weeks they’ve been here. We are excited to have this resource and will begin breeding around July of this year, and continue through the winter and coming years. Their intent was primarily for meat production, but we also will be selling some of the juvenile rabbits to recoup the cost of feed and ongoing breeding. The real return is in the meat, fur, and cold compost contributions to the system. Chickens will be the real bread-winner, as we are growing excited to have fresh eggs again. Additionally, chickens will provide a rich source of nitrogen that will boost our composting efforts, and should help loosen the soil, and keep pests at a minimum, as they will be allowed to free-range throughout the backyard. Currently they are 4 weeks old and are already producing quite a stink with our two small dogs that love playing mother hen to them. We have 6 black sex-linked chickens and will probably cut that back to 4 when they reach maturity and begin laying eggs. Though it might be nice to keep all of them so we can generate a surplus of eggs.   Energy The whole system is being designed so that it uses the least amount of grid tied electricity and water as possible. Though we are seeing that there may be a considerable investment to be able to harvest our grey water for use on our homestead. We will continue to research this and are looking into alternative methods, such as beginning with a composting outhouse and wash bins. We will leverage gravity to move the water through the system and, if we need to, rely on pumps or other electrical devices; we are considering installing a small solar array into the system to alleviate that overhead. This will provide a light in the chicken coop and perhaps a water pump in the pond to accommodate our winterizing efforts.   Storage We are anticipating quite a bounty from our first year’s efforts and are hopeful that we will be able to store as much of our harvest as we will need, and perhaps sell or give away our over-burden to family and friends. We are quite familiar with canning and freeze packing fruits and vegetables, but there are a couple other options we are exploring. First, vacuum sealing, and dry curing can provide a means for us store additional dried ingredients and meats. This year, we will be attempting to preserve meat by canning, which is something that we have not done before. One thing I am interested in researching is to be able to provide cold storage outside during the winter months. The challenge is that I am uncertain if I should direct my efforts to a root cellar, use the garage (where the temp is usually at or below refrigeration for most of the winter), or build a couple outdoor cold boxes to store food. Additionally, I am planning to make a few shelving units or pantries to store the dried and canned items over winter. I am hopeful that we will be able to preserve most everything we harvested, and drastically reduce our needs for purchasing fruits and vegetables over winter, and hopefully into spring.   Growing Aloe Vera   Propagation and Succession Plantings As we are headed into gardening season, I have been purchasing seeds to help us establish a baseline for perennials and annuals that we want to continually plant in our gardens and on our homestead. The idea is that, if we start with high quality seeds, root-stock, and cuttings, that we will be able to quickly establish our homestead and become prosperous. We understand that this is not an exact science and the success observed in one area will not cascade to every situation. In our efforts, we have managed to experiment with collecting seeds from store-bought fruits and vegetables. This may prove to be advantageous, and through learning which vegetables prove to be most successful will aid us in determining which ones to use in the future. This first year, we plan to propagate as many varieties as we can afford, in the hopes of recouping some of the costs associated with purchasing seeds, plants, shrubs, and trees. If this proves to be a viable option, we may continue to do this in future years to provide this service for our local friends and community. This gives us another outlet for any return of surplus that we do not plan to consume or develop for ourselves.   Projects This is a big list, and I am hopeful that our largest projects for this year are mostly behind us. I may not have optimized the order of some of the permaculture projects that I have planned, but I am hopeful that they will work out, and not have adverse affects going into the future. To be more specific, I have been able to provide shelter for the livestock, such as a coop and hutch, and have begun composting, but have not prioritized water management. I want to incorporate swales, hugel beds, and a pond, but I’m not sure I will tackle these in the first year. We had some interior projects that required our resources, and made it difficult address this first year. Better planning and management are the priority for next year. This year also seemed to have overwhelmed us with so many things that needed to be done right away. I am hopeful that we have addressed the critical projects and will be able to see a moderate level of success this first year. With the foundation being laid, I would like to share some of our current and future projects that will help establish this homestead, and allow us to pursue and grow our personal activities/hobbies.   Composting: We have set up a compost bin made from recycled pallets, have a 3 barrel composting system, and have a 5 tray vermicomposting system, as well. Future composting plans are to build an outhouse that utilizes a composting toilet and urinal that we can use to collect and distribute nitrogen back to the system. This is not a requirement but more of a learning venture, to see how it can be done as it pertains to our future goals of living off-grid. Alternative Energy: We currently have a 45 watt system that we want to install and plans to expand this to a 200 watt system that we can channel into the house and help us reduce our utilities bill. Additionally, we want to create a mobile battery system to have in one of our vehicles for emergencies, and camping. Gardening: We have several more raised beds that we want to create, as well as designate an area and create a hugel bed into the system. We are still hashing out the overall homestead design, where to place each raised bed, the swales, water storage tanks, cold storage boxes, outhouse, pond, hugel beds, and other plantings.   Livestock: We want to begin a sprouting system that will help us to supplement feeding our rabbits and chickens. Additionally, we want to find a low-cost ground cover crop to aid in free-ranging our chickens in the colder months.   Organizing our Garage/Workshop: One of the projects we needed to get done over last winter was to install a sub panel to provide additional power for our workshop. Currently this is set up in a portion of the garage, and is now fully operational, though we need to provide additional shelving to open more space so we can actually complete projects. I would also like to create a small blacksmith shop in the backyard, but the reality is that it will need to live within my workshop until the backyard design is complete. So I will concede to creating a mobile forge and a stand for my anvil to live in the workshop, for the time being. Being a fly fishing enthusiast, I have amassed a collection of tools and materials and am wanting to create an area within the workshop for tying flies, and for storing fly tying equipment, and possibly fishing gear. We also need to finish arranging the workshop to be able to accommodate several products that we had previously been able to sell for a small profit. We need to establish several small areas for painting, sanding, finishing, and assembly. This will allow us to spin up one of our businesses and help to bring in additional income making etched glass decor, bushcraft knives, outdoor furniture, and other miscellaneous items. This project list is sure to grow as we become more productive and figure out where we can provide products or services and/or optimize our space and efficiency. It is our long-term goal to be able to establish a baseline so that, wherever we decide to buy rural property and do this on a grander scale, we will have all the essentials to improve our chances for success. Conclusion We have very much enjoyed our progress in the midst of settling into a new home, and implementing the early stages of establishing a homestead. There are many challenges ahead of us and, though we may be challenged with a small urban lot, a restrictive HOA, and teenagers and careers pulling us in every direction, we are passionate about making this attainable dream a reality. We hope that you come along for the ride and share your views, comments, suggestions and lessons with us, as we venture forward. –The Ant Homesteader   The post "Creating the Backyard Homestead" appeared first on Brink of Freedom.

Travis Toler

Travis Toler

Secrets of the Morel Mushroom

A bounty of morel mushrooms With the mushroom season fast approaching, morel hunters from all over the country are watching the soil temperatures and precipitation. Usually, when soil temperatures reach around 55º F, the morels will begin to pop out of the soil. I have seen morels pop as early as March and as late as July, and sometimes a second season in August and September, though it has been my experience that the spring harvest is by far the most prosperous. Understanding the life cycle of the morel mushroom still challenges modern mycologists. This is one mushroom that has proven difficult to cultivate outside of nature. Though modern science has had limited success in their efforts, the results simply do not compare to the quality found in nature. Therefore, we, as mushroom hunters, need to be sure to protect and assure the morel populations are not depleted. We can do this by observing a few simple measures. The morel mushroom has thousands of tiny spores within the cone or head of the mushroom. These spores are carried by animals, insects, and by the wind to other areas and deposited on the ground. These spores will then grow into tomorrow’s morels. The essential item that every morel hunter should carry is a mesh bag for collecting morels. Using a mesh bag allows air to pass through the bag as you walk. The air then evaporates any moisture or condensation that has settled on the morel mushrooms, and causes a cooling effect. The next and most appropriate reason to use a mesh bag is to help the morels propagate by allowing their spores to be dispersed as you walk through the forest collecting your bounty. Use an old onion or potato bag, as long as the mesh is along the bottom and side edges to allow more spores to be dispersed. Fellow morel hunters have seen a decrease in the morel populations in some areas, compared to what they once observed in a particular area. This is believed to be caused by mushroom hunters using a plastic bag or other container that does not allow proper spore dispersal when harvesting mushrooms. Other reasons for a population decline may simply be the geography or specific minerals or nutrients for that particular area are not as conducive as they once were. Let me share a few things that may help you to become more successful when hunting these morel mushrooms. The best areas to find morels are around fallen and rotting trees. There are several trees that morels seem to be consistently found within the vicinity. In the Midwest and throughout the south, some of the best areas are close to the forest edges, in groves of elms. Morels may be found in the low areas that retain ground moisture, but that do not contain standing water. They have been found on the sides of ravines that face a southward direction within forested areas. Around birch and aspen trees are other areas that morels favor. Morels have been harvested in areas that have been burned out by wildfires or old campfires. They enjoy a light tree canopy that allows moderate light through, and can be found next to shrub rows, as well as the forest edges, and just about anywhere. I have found lots of morels along railroad tracks through the Midwest, in fact these are some of the areas I scout to see if morels are up. One thing I like to do after finding a few morels is to check the air flow patterns through the area to determine where spores may have deposited, based on the direction of air flow. Look around and identify any trees that are near or have fallen. Check to see if any other types of mushrooms are growing, and also try to note other plants or shrubbery and see if they are flowering, blossoming or their size and color. This will help you advance your knowledge in determining other areas that may yield a morel population. Using these methods, I have stumbled upon rich areas that otherwise may not have been checked. Recognition and identification is essential in collecting these treasures from the forest. To identify and harvest this mushroom is fairly easy, after you are familiar with a few characteristics of the morel mushroom. The morel has a few varieties that are most common and referred to by mushroom hunters based on their color (grays, yellows, and blacks). Each morel variety springs up within several days of each other, and offering a longer window of opportunity to harvest. Next you need to be able to distinguish the cone or cap of the morel from other mushrooms. There is only one mushroom that is remotely close to the morel in appearance, but looks more like brain matter than the waffle type pattern of the morel, and that is called the false morel, which is poisonous. The morel mushroom will always have a hollow stem that is light in color. If you have any doubt whether the mushroom is a morel, then simply throw it out. Once you have stumbled upon an area rich in morels, it’s time to get to work. When harvesting a morel mushroom, either pinch or cut the base of the mushroom, remove any soil, then place in your mesh bag. I like to try and leave any morels whose cap is smaller than my thumb, and return a few days later to harvest them, as they will usually double or triple in size. Remember to shake your mesh bag around these areas to deposit more spores. When returning to your vehicle, do not place the fresh morels into your trunk or back window. Try to keep them in a shaded but well ventilated place. This will help them remain fresh for the ride home. If you want more morel mushrooms and greater areas to hunt these elusive treasures, then I highly encourage you to use a mesh bag when collecting your morels, and sprinkle your favorite areas with the spores of your harvest. Following the advice of this article will help to ensure the future populations of these wonderful mushrooms. Morel hunting can be very rewarding and offers a good time for adults, teens, and small children alike to enjoy the outdoors. After your harvest, be sure to invite a few friends over and cook them up some fresh morels as an appetizer to your favorite meal. The following is one of my favorite recipes for enjoying fresh morel mushrooms. Remember store bought morels will need to be re-hydrated prior to preparing. Cast Iron Morels
½ pound fresh morels
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. Olive oil
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp pepper
2 eggs Mix flour, salt and pepper together. Place eggs in a separate dish and beat well (for egg wash). Melt butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Take your washed morels and add them to egg wash, then roll in seasoned flour and place in cast iron skillet. Reduce heat and repeat steps until skillet is full. Press gently to flatten morels with a fork or spatula. Turn when golden brown. Aside from morels simply sautéed or fried in butter, this recipe is most enjoyed with friends and family. WARNING! When eating any wild edible for the first time it is wise to consume a small amount to minimize any allergic reaction. Morels for consumption must be clean and free of decay. This is done by soaking in brine (salt water) for several hours and rinsing prior to preparation. For more photos of morel mushrooms please click here to visit my Flickr site. The post "Secrets of the Morel Mushroom" appeared first on Brink of Freedom.  

Travis Toler

Travis Toler

Morels Hiding in the Shadows

One of the most difficult things to do is attempt to find something that is trying not to be found. For years naturalists and enthusiasts alike have been gathering these wild mushrooms. They typically have a short growing season that lasts from 6 to almost 25 days, depending on their environment and the weather conditions. Their season will depend on the amount of precipitation in a particular area, as well as favorable temperatures. Typically morels will spring up about six weeks after the ground has thawed, and sometimes later depending on the amount of rainfall. The length of the morel season will directly depend on the conditions for that particular area. In higher altitudes, the season is delayed by the melt off and the lack of precipitation. These harsher environments typically have a wider daily temperature range that is not as favorable for the morel, causing smaller morel populations, and fewer areas that are suitable for growing morels. The morel is highly adapted to its environment. Conditions have to be nearly perfect for the morel to spring from the ground, and sometimes it may take five years for a particular spore to grow into a treasured morel. This is why we need to respect the morel and harvest these mushrooms in an environmentally friendly manner, so as to encourage and grow the morel population from year to year. It is said that the pattern on the head of the morel mushroom is like a snowflake, there are no two that are exactly alike. This pattern and the contrast of color on the morel make them perfectly camouflaged in their environment. They typically can blend into any forest setting in just about any season, and they are usually mistaken for tree bark, pine cones, and leaves. Generally the morel will grow in the shadows of trees, plants, and other foliage, and the shaded sides of ridges, hills, and valleys but there are always exceptions, and the morel has even been known to grow out in the open and directly under open skies as long as the conditions are favorable. The measure of success is said to be a direct result of planning, and this couldn’t be truer in hunting the morel mushroom. Spend several weekends in early spring to hike into your favorite areas and get an idea of what is happening in the forest. Make note of where any snow may still be lingering to help you identify potentially moist and shaded areas. Spend time watching the birds, squirrels, and deer. Pay close attention to where deer might be feeding and bedding in the early spring, watch for large mounds of broken acorns and nuts under trees, and observe areas where birds are very populated and active. These are all good areas to begin watching for morels in the days to come. Also pay attention to low valleys with heavy tree cover, areas around drainage or soggy meadows, the edges of fields and tree lines, any place you see moss growing in abundance, these will be good areas to keep in mind when the morel season begins. The most obvious area to look for morel mushrooms is in areas where you have seen or know others have seen morels previously. In humid areas around the country, morels will spring up anywhere and everywhere, from deep in the forests to the sidewalks of Chicago. Success depends on patience and keeping a keen eye on a leaf that doesn’t quite look right, or the piece of bark that appears out of place. The best advice is to take your time, walk slow, and keep scanning the landscape. Where to go looking for morels might not be as easy for those of us that don’t have them growing in our backyard. The first place to begin your hunt could be in your local park, state park, national park, wildlife area, national forest, or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. These are great places to begin. These areas typically have easy access and accommodations such as paved trails and walks for the handicapped or special needs individuals wanting to enjoy this growing activity. In addition, access to these areas is typically free or a nominal access fee may apply. For those wanting to get away from the beaten path and seek the areas that don’t get frequented as often by the public, you might want to try private land. When hunting morels on private land, always be sure to get the permission of the land owner before entering private property. It is typically a good idea to get a permission slip signed from the land owner stating that you have their permission to collect or gather morels on their property, simply put to avoid any confusion or forgetfulness on behalf of the landowner or yourself. NEVER GO ONTO PRIVATE PROPERTY WITHOUT DIRECT PERMISSION FROM THE LANDOWNER. This would be trespassing and, depending on the land owner’s mood that day, could cost you some trouble with the local law enforcement, not to mention ruin any future opportunities for yourself or others to tap this potentially prosperous morel hunting ground. Why would they let me hunt morels on their property? Well, if you put something in it for them, such as offering to pick up any trash that you come across, or offer to share some of your findings with them, they will be more inclined to allow you access to their land. Another way is to travel around the areas you want to hunt and, if you find the owner out in the fields or mending fences, simply pull over to the side of the road, pull out some leather work gloves and offer to help them out, meanwhile strike up some casual conversation about morel mushrooms. Ask them if they have seen any, if they have ever tried them, if they would allow you to hunt morels on their property. Most landowners will remember that you took the time to help them so they will more than gladly repay you with access to their land during the morel season. This is a great tactic that needs to be exercised all year long. Utilizing this method, you will quickly be surprised by the amount of land you suddenly have access to when the morel season begins, and remember to always get your permission slip signed by the landowner. The morel season is upon you and you spend the evening preparing for the next day’s hunt. You have all the notes that you have been taking on your hikes, permission slips are signed by landowners, and all your gear is ready (Preparing For The Hunt), and one last check on the internet to see if any of your online friends have had any success. That’s right we didn’t mention this before. The internet is a great place to find other morel hunters from all over the country. If you discover any local groups in your area, you owe it to yourself to become a member and speak with other members to try and learn everything you can about the elusive morel. You will have an opportunity to hear some intriguing stories, similar to those at the bait shop, and will suddenly have access to a wealth of knowledgeable people that you can consult with at your convenience. Your local group might also host an annual foray in the spring that you could participate in. This would be a great opportunity for you to meet some interesting people who enjoy doing what you do; hunting morels. Additionally these are usually hosted in areas that are overflowing with morels, giving you the best opportunity to hone your skills. Morel hunting also serves as a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids, while enjoying the beautiful outdoors and getting some exercise. With any luck, hunting morels will leave you and your kids with memories they will cherish for years to come. The post "Morels Hiding in the Shadows" appeared first on Brink of Freedom.  

Travis Toler

Travis Toler

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