Monday, 18 November 2013

Spent Mushroom Compost

Feed the soil and it will feed you. The substrate in our poly tunnel managed its first season producing shallots, strawberries, some tomatoes and pumpkins but is not really in good heart. The ground there was the floor of an old hay barn, so well compacted by farm machinery, strewn with bits of old peat-turf, riddled with stinging nettle roots, tussock grasses and, it turned out, many an annual weed seed, especially chickweed. The soil, where it existed, seemed to be mainly the clay subsoil, the topsoil having been scraped away and into 'the bank' (of which more in other posts). The clay had been badly poached and puddled up making the ground into a quagmire that we hoped would dry out a bit once the tunnel cover was on.

Mushroom farm tunnel.
We decided to dig the whole floor over, recovering as many bigger bits of peat turf as we could, pulling out the weeds and stones, but then to leave it to sit, chopped over while it might drain a bit. We would not, for the moment, add any fertilizer or soil improver. We thought it would go one season like this while the soil structure recovered, helped by worms and crop plant roots. This is what happened. I cleared the area at the end of the tomato season and then let the chickens in to scrape and peck through the aftermath creating a nice seedless and critter-less crumb, which they are happy to do. They especially love the chance to dust-bathe in there on rainy days.

But now we need to get the soil ready for the next season so we will add some of our well rotted calf manure, but also some spent mushroom compost. Anne has tipped us off about a mushroom farm within half an hour's drive, up beyond the town of Boyle, which runs 8 dark poly-tunnels full of mushroom beds and which clears (they use the expression "bounces") the compost from one tunnel each Monday. The inoculated compost  (in this case 'chestnut mushrooms') goes into the shelving and onto the beds in these tunnels packed into bales looking like thick grow-bags with the tops cut away.

When the crop is grown, cut over several weeks and 'spent' (cropped out) the beds can be cleared by lifting these saggy damp bales out for commercial disposal but the farm encourages gardeners and other interested parties to come and collect as much as they like. Anne and Simon bring their van (and, in fact offered us the use of same) and can fit 30 such bales into the back. We took the Fiat and managed to squeeze 8 bales into that with the seats down. We wished we still had the 2CV and its trailer. We may well get a tow bar fitted to the Fiat. The spent compost is a lovely 'clean' product which, said Liz, smells beautifully of the woods in autumn. It is also covered in tiny button mushrooms-to-be which will apparently give us a crop for a while in our own poly-tunnel. Well it's home now and spread around the tunnel here. I could probably use a couple more bales, realistically, to give good cover.

The rest of that outing was also a very successful shopping expedition. I needed a new chain saw chain and a file to sharpen the existing one(s) so East Brothers near Boyle did the honours. We needed socks, jocks, Marmite and some jeans for Liz from Tesco in Carrick. We also needed paint for Anne's glass-painting hobby from Carrick. Scenic, too, with all the lovely sunshine and autumn colours around Lough Kee. Very pleasant.

Spreading the compost around in our own tunnel.
We were amused to learn some more story on our 'failed' Hallowe'en where, you will recall, no children turned up and we are left with a bowl of un-used sweeties. The main 'Mum', Mrs McG was laughing about the adventures with me, It seems that the McG tribe set out with good intention that night but poorly off for torches, one Mum with a small torch but the other just using the light on her mobile phone. They started off going west down the lane away from us meaning to call at some of the houses down there. They actually pre-agree these with some of the old boys who live alone in these old houses and in some cases actually give the sweeties to give back to the children!

Roast pork belly with apple, chestnut, sage and onion stuffing
Returning from this western leg of their mission one of the smaller boys had tripped over and fallen on his hand, grazing the 'heel' of his hand and getting gravel in it, and worse, his older brother had then stumbled over his prone form in the dark and fallen too. The Mums had picked up the kids and wiped away tears and cleaned grazes as best they could. They were then just about to set out our way when a big loose dog bounced up the land behind them. Apparently it did not attack or harry them, it just bounced enthusiastically, but the little ones aren't very good with dogs, so there were more tears, crying of "Mummy!" and also, by then, it had started to rain, so they aborted the trip and all went home to get clean, dry and safe. Mrs McG was 'horrified' to learn that we'd been there, all waiting in vain and even writing poems to cover our absence and she joked that they'd make sure to do us first next year.

1 comment:

anne wilson said...

Glad you managed to get some bags of compost.