Shiitake logs

Last year, I had to have a dying hickory in my yard cut down. While I paid to have most of the trunk hauled off, I still have a pile of the limb wood. I had decided a while back that I would plug these logs with shiitake spawn and make shiitake logs. Its best to do the plugging after the last hard frost, so I waited until yesterday to do the work.

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I ordered my plug spawn from Fungi Perfecti, a neat company near Olympia, WA. They’ve got spawn for lots of different strains of mushrooms, but I love shiitakes and shiitakes love hardwoods. The spawn arrive in a little bag like the picture on the right. The spawn themselves are small dowels, about 1.5″ long, with a spiral groove cut into the side. You can clearly see the white mycelia from the shiitake in the groove. There is also some grain in the bag as well, which I surmise are how the dowels were inoculated.

Shiitake plug spawn

I had ordered my spawn about a month ago, so by the time I pulled the bag out, there was plenty of mycelial growth in the bag, which you can see in the picture on the left as the white matting around the dowels. According to the instructions, this is normal and probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d used the spawn more quickly. Fortunately, no mushrooms had begun to bud, so I didn’t have to pull those off.

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Designing for a Green Society

I just read this piece by Alex Steffen on the WorldChanging blog and highly recommend it. The key quote from the piece, in my opinion, is this one:

[I]f we’re going to avert ecological destruction, we need to to not only do things differently, we need to do different things.

What he’s saying here is something that I’ve pointed out to my colleagues in the innovation community: sustainability is not about making things with less stuff, or that last longer, or that aren’t toxic, or even that can be infinitely cradle-to-cradle recycled. Sustainability requires us to invent things that make it possible to live more sustainably. If the things, the stuff, that we have and use make it easier to live sustainable lives than to not do so, then we will live sustainably.

Its not an easy problem to solve, for the same reason that truly groundbreaking innovation is not easy. It is pretty straightforward to imagine a novel solution for a market that already exists. It is much harder to invent a new market. I think that the kinds of products that will help people live sustainably are products for a market that doesn’t exist yet. Our business strategists don’t know how to value them, so our market analysts can’t compute a return on investment, so no investment is made. And truthfully, our scientists and engineers don’t always have the global perspective necessary to understand what types of solutions are necessary.

The point of Steffen’s article was to underline the importance of community in making these changes in our systems. I think that it is also important to understand the systems themselves. As we grow in our understanding the network of interactions and dependencies in our economy and our society, this understanding will allow us to break out of unsustainable patterns and replace them with ones that are equally understood, but are sustainable to the best of our knowledge. And because we’ll be building from a base of understanding, we’ll be able to look at them in a rational fashion 40 years from now when we understand the ways in which the new patterns are not sustainable.

It may be that at first, these more-sustainable patterns will be obvious. Things that folks like Steffen have been telling us for years, like community gardening, reducing sprawl, and increasing bike transport. But as with everything else, the low-hanging fruits will be quickly exhausted. At that point, progress will only be made by deeper understanding. It will be interesting to see how the tools for gaining that understanding develop.

Earthworms

When I started my small garden plot last year, I was appalled at the state of the soil. Looking back at the blog post, I didn’t say much about it, but I recall loosening the soil and discovering a thin layer of topsoil over greasy red clay. I worked some leaf compost into the plot and went from there. I also noticed that in digging up the roughly 80 square feet of garden, I found only a couple of earthworms.

At the end of the growing season last year, I seeded the plot with crimson clover as a green mulch and leaf mulched the swiss chard in hopes of having some of it survive the winter. This spring, when I started planting, I noticed that the soil seemed much healthier – black and a bit deeper, and nicely crumbly. Most excitingly, when I was digging up some of that weird 6-leaved running ground cover that had crept in from the edges, I found that I couldn’t lift a spade of soil without turning up at least one earthworm. Fantastic!

Dennett and modern positivism

Philosopher Daniel Dennett contributed an essay to the John Brockman edited collection What Are You Optimistic About? about the role that modern information technology might have on the growth of rationality and consequently, an increase in secularism and atheism. The essay, like most of the essays that Brockman solicits, is thought-provoking. Alas, the first thought it provoked for me was something along the lines of, “Clearly, Dennett has no faith in humanity’s ability to be stupid with greater speed and efficiency than before!”

The existence of technology will no more prevent religious fundamentalists of either the Muslim or Christian stripe from acting irrationally, anymore than the technology of the first Industrial Revolution caused an expansion of Enlightenment rationality as the 19th century positivists believed.