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Reishi : The Fungus of Youth

With an intriguing shape like a provocative sculpture, the delightfully colorful reishi mushroom has been a revered health tonic in Asia since the days when Samurai roamed the countryside. In Japan, it’s called mannentake. The Chinese call it “Ling Zhi” or “the mushroom of immortality”, and it was once considered a plant from the gods.

Cheaper than a facelift and with none of the polished corporate marketing of Botox, the reishi mushroom is still the go-to youth tonic in Asian countries. If only Ponce De Leon had known about it, he could have avoided all those hungry alligators and hostile natives, and just brewed some reishi tea.

And unlike the mythical fountain of youth, recent medical science has indicated that the primary active ingredient in the reshi mushroom  - water-soluble polysaccharides  - can actually help regulate the immune system and internal organ function. Reishi mushrooms are grown primarily for medicinal use, and are easily dried for use in teas and tinctures. Cinnamon sticks and ginger are sometimes brewed along with the tea to help soften the bitter flavor.

Often taken as a daily tonic, reishi tea has been used to treat anxiety, high blood pressure, hepatitis, bronchitis, insomnia, and asthma.

The other active ingredient in reishi mushrooms -  triterpenes , or  ganoderic acids  - are bitter in taste, and can help inhibit histamine release, and alleviate many allergy symptoms. Triterpenes have also been shown to improve oxygen utilization and liver function.

Ready to watch those crows feet slip away like a geisha in the night, or  live long enough to see daily shuttles to  Mars? Like shiitake and oyster mushrooms, reishi can be easily cultivated outdoors on hardwood logs, or indoors using sterilized sawdust substrate.


It’s native to southern climates and grows especially well outdoors in the Southern US. Depending on light, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels during fruiting reishi will take one of two forms -  a seashell like shape that forms when light levels, airflow and humidity are high, or a branched shape that resembles a set of antlers that forms in lower levels of light and airflow.



5 Spicy Greens that'll keep it Interesting

Let’s face it – you’re a fine cook, but no one would accuse your salads of having too much flavor. In fact, they’re about as daring as a trip to the library. Bored croutons tumble over predictable blends of romaine and iceberg , placing the  burden of excitement on a slice or two of red onion.  But it’s a new year, and one of your resolutions was to take it up a notch, and spice things up a little. You already got the nose ring. Now it’s time to add a little kick to those salads with these naturally spicy greens that are easy to grow, and never boring.

Take one bite, and it’s easy to see why the British call this spicy powerhouse ‘Rocket’. The smoky, spicy flavor adds unmistakable depth and flavor to salads, and has become a staple green that can really send a salad into orbit. In the garden, it’s more tenacious than a Mexican drug cartel, and doesn’t need much more than a sunny location and moderately rich soil to thrive.


Like things fast? You’ll love growing cress. It won’t get you to work in 6 minutes like that Ducati, but in as little as a few weeks, it’s ready to add zing to salads, soups and even smoothies. Packed with vitamins, it sprouts quickly, and is easy to grow - even indoors on a window sill.




Mustard Greens
The spicy kick of mustard varieties ranges from the ‘call the fire department’ burn of the old time favorite ’ Giant Southern Curled’ cultivar to the more subtle ‘Ruby Streaks’. Just a few leaves will turn a ho-hum salad into a conversation piece, or try preparing mustard greens as an unforgettable side dish. Like other greens, mustard greens thrive in cool weather, and the outer leaves can be continuously harvested.



Mizuna & Mibuna
Disturbing game shows. Pac Man. Mizuna and Mibuna. Japan has given the world so much, and these two spicy Japanese cousins have been used for centuries to add visual interest and a spicy cabbage flavor to salads. Mizuna has spiky, serrated leaves while Mibuna’s foliage is longer and more rounded. Both are cold hardy and easy to grow in spring and fall, but beware nighttime raids from snails who will zero in on these plants like a sake fueled kamikaze.



Almost as versatile as a Swiss army knife, but much more tasty, the nasturtium is easy to grow and adds a fun pop of color to any organic garden.  The leaves add a peppery flavor to salads and sandwiches, and the flowers make a memorable garnish. The tiny fruits can even be pickled and used like capers in salads, and as if that wasn’t enough, nasturtiums pull double duty as a companion plant that helps deter squash bugs, whitefly, and cabbage worms. Talk about talent!



After a few harsh cold snaps, your garden looks emptier than the bread aisle on a snow day, and only the heartiest leafy greens like kale, collards, chard, and tatsoi remain. Yes, you heard right - tatsoi. While it doesn’t get headlines like kale or collards, tatsoi is also extremely cold hardy, and unlike kale, its thick dark green leaves add rich, spicy flavor to salads and can even be used as a substitute for spinach.



6 Non-Toxic Wood Preservatives 

Linseed Oil
It didn’t take early agricultural civilizations very long to find uses the flax plant. Lots of uses, actually, including food, medicine, and fiber.  The oil pressed from flax has also been used for centuries as a natural wood preservative because of its ability to penetrate deep into porous fibers, and protect wood from moisture and rot. Raw linseed oil is cold pressed from flax flower seeds, and purified and refined through the process of boiling, which eliminates protein and improves properties like drying time and finish. Pure Linseed oil is non-toxic, and safe to use as a wood preservative in organic garden structures like raised beds, greenhouses and chicken coops.


TimberPro UV
If you’re used to wood preservatives wrapped in warning labels with lots of explanation points, skulls, and crossbones, you might be skeptical when you open a bucket of Internal Wood Stabilizer. The clear, non-toxic  liquid has no odor, and with the consistency of water, it can be easily rolled or brushed onto bare wood. Timber Pro Internal Wood Stabilizer has a chemical reaction with naturally existing free alkali in wood pores. Over time it permanently hardens into silicate glass crystals that fill the pores, and help prevent water from soaking into the wood.  


Tung Oil
Gunpowder. Kung Fu. General Tso’s chicken. Much has China contributed to the world, and among these gifts we can also count Tung Oil ; a natural oil preservative that has been used to protect and seal wood for centuries. Tung trees grow primarily in the mountainous regions of China, and pure tung oil is made by cold pressing the tree’s seeds. Pure tung oil is non-toxic, and safe to use on organic garden structures that have contact with food supplies, including raised beds, chicken coops and greenhouses. Tung oil seals moisture out of wood and its elastic properties help it provide continuous protection, even as wood expands and contracts in the elements.


Eco Wood Treatment
Plenty of wood preservative products claim to be ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’, but when both LEEDS and the Green Building Council give the thumbs up, you should take a closer look. Eco Wood Treatment is a non-toxic, mineral-based powder that, when mixed with water, permanently protects wood with one application. The product penetrates deeply into wood fibers, and never cracks or peels. Eco Wood Treatment contains only organic compounds, and is safe to use on garden structures like raised beds, chicken coops and cedar greenhouses. Select from a variety of tinted colors, or even create a custom color so that new wood can be matched with an existing structure.


Lifetime Wood Treatment
It’s not often that a recipe lasts 60 years, but some are good enough to withstand the test of time. But unlike your grandmother’s beef stew, Lifetime Wood Treatment has become a favorite non-toxic wood preservative for builders and wood workers  around the planet. Like an heirloom tomato variety, this unique family recipe has been passed down through generations of woodworking craftsmen. The natural formula penetrates wood fibers, and seals out moisture, plus Lifetime Wood Treatment creates no toxic residue. It is safe to use for raised beds, chicken coops, greenhouses and other organic garden structures.


Pine Tar
Without pine tar, fleets of marauding Nordic vessels might never have ventured from the safety of harbor, leaving throngs of fur-clad warriors to instead play chess and write poetry. Pine tar has been used for hundreds of years to seal and preserve wood, and it’s still used today to seal utility poles, roofs, boats, fences,  and other outdoor structures – even below ground. Preserving your raised beds with pine tar might not have such historic implications, but it will safely extend the life of the wood without contaminating the surrounding soil with toxic chemicals. Thor would be proud, and perhaps a little curious about the shiny metal wagon parked in the driveway.


Citing Greenhouse's Superior Strength, Big Bad Wolf Declines to Huff and Puff 

Like a fairy tale chalet, the Kahn family’s greenhouse sits along a winding pathway, at the edge of a wooded forest. A thick canopy of white oak and tulip poplar branches sway overhead, and you wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Little Red Riding Hood smile politely as she passed by on her way to grandmother’s house

The Kahn’s are experienced organic gardeners. Theyy're well versed in the nuances of soil fertility and the timing required to feed a continuous supply of fresh produce from the garden to their kitchen.  Since the beginning, they have planted their gardens with organically grown heirloom seedlings, which give them a huge head start over direct seeding, but are in high demand, and not always easy to find.  

With a greenhouse, they could raise their own heirloom seedlings, instead of chasing down the limited supply of locally grown seedlings before they got snapped up by other gardeners.  

Kahn Family's Cedar Greenhouse from Microfarm Organic Gardens on Vimeo.

The Kahn’s liked the elegant simplicity of the Microfarm cedar gable greenhouse design, and we selected a sunny site just behind their organic garden.  The greenhouse measures 8’x8’ and is about 9’ tall at its peak. It’ framed with rough sawed red cedar 2x4 lumber spaced 24” on center. This stout frame, combined with the 8mil Polygal twin-wall polycarbonate glazing, far exceeds the snow, wind, and ice load capacity of comparably sized, prefabricated  greenhouse kits. A timeless, proven greenhouse design, even the big bad wolf knows better than to huff and puff against this solid structure.

To simplify the installation process on site, our team partially assembles sections of the greenhouse in our workshop. These sections are transported to the site where the greenhouse can then be assembled in a single day.

The Kahn’s greenhouse is anchored to a sturdy base of 4”x4” cedar timbers, and the crushed gravel floor provides excellent drainage and traction.

Vent windows that automatically open and close to allow heat to escape, and help maintain an ideal grow environment inside.



Gardening in Microclimates

According to your cold hardiness zone map, your organic garden should be winding down like a theme park in October. Yet colossal rows of kale and chard continue to sway in the late autumn sunshine,   quickly bouncing back from every harvest like a scrappy featherweight boxer with something to prove.

Uptown, your little sister’s terrace garden has always struggled. It’s perched on a balcony, 36 stories up, and gets loads of direct sun, but it constantly guzzles water, and always looks tired and dried out.

At your parents’ place on the outskirts of town, barns and cornfields have yielded some ground to custom homes and sidewalks, but the pace is still slower, and at night, the sky is bursting with stars. Their sprawling ‘Victory’ style plot is straight out of a WWII propaganda poster, and while their summer garden produced jaw dropping yields, their fall plantings always seem to stall.

All three gardens are in the same USDA cold hardiness zone and well cared for, so why the different results?


A microclimate is a smaller, defined area where the weather conditions differ from the area that surrounds it. A microclimate can be cooler or warmer, wetter or drier, or more or less likely to experience frosts than the surrounding area. A microclimate can be as small as an area in front of a brick wall, or a swath of land extending several miles.

Topography and Microclimates
Variation in land topography
has a major impact on microclimates. Because cold air is heavier than warm air, it flows downhill on cold nights, pooling in low spots , much like water collects in puddles. Valleys can be 10+ degrees colder than surrounding slopes on winter nights, and are often more susceptible to frost. This might by why the folks’ victory garden stalls when nighttime temperatures start to drop. While the risk of frost from radiational cooling is lower on peaks and hilltops, exposure to high winds can dry out plants and trees, especially when the ground is frozen.

The microclimates on slopes between valleys and hilltops can also vary widely depending on their orientation. In spring, North-facing slopes receive less direct sun, and are slower to warm than south facing slopes.  And while a south facing slope may give gardener a head start on the spring season, but beware the late spring frost, which can damage plants and trees that have bloomed early.

Large bodies of water,
like the Atlantic Ocean and Great lakes help moderate air temperature of areas that extend several miles inland, and also help mitigate low temperatures in winter. These areas are less prone to late spring and early fall frosts, and even smaller lakes and ponds can have a similar, if less profound effect.

Urban Microclimates
Because paved surfaces and buildings absorb heat during the day, and radiate it back into the air at night, urban areas typically experience less extreme low temperatures in winter than surrounding areas. Depending on the site, buildings sometimes offer protection from wind and can help reduce the chance of frost , or  increase exposure to high winds that intensify as they funnel between buildings. Urban areas are sometimes a full Cold Hardiness Zone warmer than surrounding areas, and the same factors that warm the temperature in winter, also trap heat in the summer, making summer growing  conditions unsuitable for many types of plants.

Microclimates near structures
Houses, fences, walls and other structures can create multiple microclimates around your property, and  like urban microclimates, the heat that is absorbed by your house during the day radiates back out at night. Is it a coincidence that your garden thrives in a sheltered nook on the south side of the house?

The sides of your home opposite prevailing winds can provide a warmer, shaded microclimate, and remember that as wind hits your house, it picks up speed along walls and around corners. Consider this carefully when selecting plants and trees.

Fences, walls and boulders
can create small sheltered areas, where they serve as a windbreak, and can also absorb heat, and radiate it back on the plants at night. As cold air drains, or flows over the ground at night, these structures can create a puddle of cold air that can cause frost damage even when the surrounding air temperature remains above freezing.

Like buildings and walls, paved surfaces including driveways and patios can also moderate night time low temperatures by absorbing heat and radiating it at night. But remember that these areas are impervious to water, and if storm runoff channels into one place, and soggy wet spot can result. The same thing can happen where water flows out of downspouts and off rooftops.

Trees and Soil
Large trees can create their own microclimates by casting shade, and preventing rain from reaching the ground around them. Established roots can compete aggressively for water and nutrients , making it difficult to grow some varieties of plants around the base of larger trees.

Soil types can also affect microclimates. Heavy clay soils, for example, can moderate temperatures at ground level, much like impervious paved surfaces. Air filled loam soils can insulate sub soils, trapping heat underneath, and creating more risk of frost at ground level.