27 May 2011

Mushroom Cloning Update

The mushroom culturing experiment is going well, though not as well as I had hoped. Still, lessons learned...

I had to chuck out three of the culture jars, as they were infected. Two of them were a sadness, because the mushroom fragments implanted in them had taken hold really well, and the mycelium was growing nicely. Alongside a green and a black mold, respectively. So out they went!

Of the remaining five jars, one has failed to do anything. No infections, but no signs of growth, either. I suspect I may have poked the bit of mushroom too deep into the agar medium. The other four have mycelium growing, with varying degrees of vigour. Obviously I will favour the most vigorous grower when it comes time (in a week or so) to expand them up into grain growing media. The mycelia are beautiful, and exactly as described in my reference. More updates as they develop...

24 May 2011

Brewery Mods - Part 1

First steps in altering to the design of the brewery...

I want to move to a system of mostly hard-pipes between the brewing vessels. I find the plastic pipes, even though of food grade, are a pain to keep sanitary. A hard-pipe system will, I feel, also make it easier to streamline my brewing days, allowing me to brew a little more hands-off than the current setup. Right now I have to hand-sparge, and, as I gain more experience, I find I am wanting longer sparges, longer recirculations, longer mashes,... well, you get the idea. It seems to me that good beer wants an unhurried approach, gentle and considerate handling. And standing holding a hose over a hurricane-strength flame is not conducive to a meditational brewing mind.

Out with the old... In with the new! New plumbing in situ.
Another long-standing source of irritation to me has been the amount of wort that the system "holds on to" and is lost to fermentation as a result. The old setup has a lot of dead space. Pipework below the vessels where liquid simply sits, and that my puny little pump cannot remove (because it cannot self-prime nor pump air.)

The deal-maker is those horrible galvanised bits of pipework I used in the original design. After more than a year of use, they're getting pretty manky inside, and, even though this is the hot-side of the brewery (meaning that sanitation is not an overwhelming concern, because the wort gets boiled for at least an hour after all the nastiness, ensuring that any nasty bugs that might be in the wort at that stage get killed) I would still like everything a bit more sanitary. And I worry about Zinc and Iron disolving into my wort.

So all that nastiness is solved by replacing the inlet side of the pump, this time using Copper fittings. (Click through the pictures for larger images and more photos.)

As an aside, I have much more significant changes in store for the brewery, including the addition of a proper sparge-arm, and plumbing so that I can recirculate the mash through the kettle, thus enabling more sophisticated multi-step mashes. It has proven to be quite a challenge to design the changes in small steps that build upon one another, hopefully without throwing away too many bits and pieces. Copper pipe and brass couplings are hellishly expensive!

I believe I have managed successfully for Step 1, at least. The first step was putting together the new inlet system so that the existing mashtun and hot-liquor tank can continue to be used unchanged.

As you can see from the photo, much less dead space below the pump. I have also shifted the pump so that it is placed much closer to the bottom of the mashtun. The limitation, here, is that the outlet of the pump has to be below the lowest water level, as the pump is prone to airlocks and is unable to expell the air by itself. Liquid must fully prime the pump otherwise it just doesn't work.

Needless to say, given my superlative plumbing skills, I had a leak on one side of the elbow... So the whole caboodle had to come off the pump again, and the cause of the trouble diagnosed. The lip of one of the pipes was ever-so-slightly buckled, so no snug fit inside the elbow. PTFE tape to the rescue. One of my Life Mottos: There are no problems that cannot be solved using sufficient Plumbing Tape.

The final picture shows the newly-plumbed pump in place between the mashtun supports. (Picture is looking straight down from above – a "brewer's eye view".) Inlet from the HLT coming in from the right, outlet to the left, and inlet from the Mashtun from "above". A safety shroud has been fitted over the electrical terminals – that little red dot on the upper-left corner of the pump. I've tested, and everything seems to be working again, just in time for a brew-day tomorrow. I'll be having a go at a Belgian Dubbel, I believe...

22 May 2011

Happy International Biodiversity Day

In which we embark on a new venture in Mycology
Shiitake mycelium, Day 2.
Funny thing is, the mainstream western press seems to have missed IBD completely. I guess the UN's announcement that today1(22 May) is International Biological Diversity Day was lost in the noise of all those species extinctions directly resulting from man-made global climate change. (Deny it all you like, the evidence is pretty compelling: we are the cause of global climate change.)

Serendipitously we started a new project last Thursday that can only help – in its own tiny way – to bolster our local ecosystems' robustness. We have started a Mushroom growing project.

Buoyed on by my success in culturing brewing yeasts (despite the significant limitiations of my "lab" setup) I decided to have a go at tissue culturing Mushrooms. The result you can see for yourself... the little grey smudge in the middle of the jar is (hopefully) the mycelium of Shiitake mushrooms-to-be. The other smaller greyish smudges towards the right of the jar are really dings in the agar medium where I cooled the knife prior to excising a tiny bit of flesh from a reasonably fresh mushroom prior to placing it on the agar substrate.

See, it's all part of a bigger permaculture-ish picture... three threads coming together...

Thread One: I've read, watched and heard quite a lot about "Hugelkultur" lately, mostly as evangelised by Paul Wheaton over at permies.com. I like the way that Sepp Holtzer, the guy who has been practising and working on this technique, refuses to get pigeonholed as "doing permaculture", thereby dodging all the Permaculture Dogma that tends to go along with Permaculture True Acolytes. I like his style so well that I think I'm going to steal it... The hugelkulture idea seems reasonable to me, especially since I daily observe decaying tree trunks and logs in the forests and plantations that surround our home, and it is blatantly obvious that the decaying wood serves as an effective water and nutrient reservoir. Then, too, I have long noticed that veggie beds that host a vigorous and healthy fungal life also host the healthiest and quickest-growing veggies.

Thread Two: Reading Paul Stamets' ideas for myco-permaculture, I've been researching mushroom varieties that would (hopefully!) work well in guilds and successions. Based on my reading in Stamet's excellent "Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms", I chose Shiitake for my first mushroom-cloning attempt. Shiitake should grow easily on the growth media most available to us – Pine logs, chips and shavings. The Shiitakes will play their part in decomposing the wood substrate, which should (if my understanding of the theory is not too broken) then be quite well suited, with the addition of compost and soil, to growing other mushroom varieties – probably Portobello (button) mushrooms, but maybe some other variety between them and the Shiitake. After that I should be able to grow veggies in the remaining bed.

Thread Three: I've been doing some work on modifying the brewery2 (described here, here, here and here), not to mention brewing up a storm. So I am ending up with lots of spent grain remains from brew sessions. A 40litre batch of beer produces around 25 or 30kg (wet weight) of bran containing some weak sugars in solution, cooked grain kernels, and a bit of starch left unmodified by the brewing process. Ideal stuff for growing mycelium! Then, too, yeast is just another fungus, and has, indeed, been used in experimental trials for sterilising/pasteurising mushroom growing media. A win all ways!


So I thought to myself, "Why wait for several years for a hugelkultur bed to gain a natural mycosystem? Why not hurry things along?" And thus was born my mycosphere garden-bed idea... (or is that a "Mike-o-sphere"?)

I plan to build some beds using pine logs, wood chips, shavings,... whatever I can lay my hands on cheap (read: free) and in abundance. These beds will be innoculated with (initially) Shiitake mycelium, and hopefully we will, in the fullness of time, harvest mushrooms. The Shiitake will be followed by further mushrooms in some sort of yet-to-be-determined sequence, thereby rendering the woody core of the bed quite well decomposed. After that I will convert the bed to conventional veggie production. The mushroom growing plays along extremely well with the brewery, and both endeavours demand a small amount of lab culturing, which has been fun to learn about. And, if the Mike-o-sphere beds work out anything like conventional Hugelkultur beds, I should be able to reduce the brittleness of our water-dependence in the garden, because, although the Offialdom Of The Kakistocracy no longer consider us to be a drought area, and. although we have experienced over 50% above average rainfall for May, we are none too convinced that the drought is truly over.

The Garden Route truly is a canary in the coalmine for global climate change...

We simply have to Adapt Or Dye.

[1] I guess the UN must have missed noticing that they were scheduling IBD day for the day after The Rapture. Oops.
[2] I'll write about the brewery redesign soon.

19 May 2011

Russian Circles

Loving a new discovery, a Chicago-based band (according to Wikipedia) called Russian Circles. Very prog-rock instrumental (no vocals) at times has me thinking of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, other times of early Pink Floyd, occasional flashes of Vangelis in grandeur, a certain amount of Prog Metal feel, but mainly a sound very much their own.

Would love to see Russian Circles live!

16 May 2011

Welcome to the reincarnated "plan be"

The plan is to be a little less absent from blogging...

I've been really unhappy with the old blogging platform for several years, now, but, in the absence of any good, automated way to convert all my old posts (and your many comments, dear readers) to the format of Blogger I've not been able to work up the psychic energy for the task of moving the data by hand. However my antipathy for Blojsom (the old blog software) grew and grew and eventually became a significant factor in me avoiding blogging altogether. And that's Not Good!

The old "plan be" blog is now officially retired. I'll keep it running until I finish migrating the old content over (which may never happen – be warned!)
So I decided to simply stop blogging on the old blog, and just get on with it, blogging on the new platform. Welcome! You've probably noticed that the blog is now under a new URL, and so are the RSS/Atom feeds. Update your bookmarks and feed-readers!

I may,... eventually,... someday... get around to handraulically moving the historical content over to here and shutting down the old blog platform, but don't put money on it happening soon.

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...