Milk Crate Straw Tek

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By Nan (Nanook) on Tuesday, October 23, 2001 - 06:48 pm:

Milk Crate Straw Tech.

First attempts at using straw as a substrate resulted in mostly contams and few fruit. So it was considered pitching the remaining straw supply but opted for one more go at it, as straw is such a good medium for introducing strains back into the wild.

So is borne the " Milk Crate Straw Tech. ". not going to pretend this is new information and give full credit to all those who have done the truly hard work before ,,but rather this is an adaptation to solve certain problems that were encountered.

1. Basically what needs done to get consistent straw blocks is to buy wheat straw from a given source nursery, hardware store, farm store what ever,,,and pay anywhere from 2 to 6 dollars for it. " depends on where you go " .

2. Then as is recommended in several references on the subject chop the straw into 2" to 4" lengths. started out like many others using scissors, cleavers, Ginzu knifes, paper cutters all which will work for small batches but leave some part of the body sore, blistered, or at least spasemed. Not to mention dulling any sharp edge the straw touches with any consistent use. Then tried the family lawn mower being a most commonly available tool and it does an adequate job fairly quick, but also makes quit a mess as we'll .

To get truly consistent results find someone who has an electric leaf and grass chewer to borrow or purchase,, the kind that is often found at the building supply stores " Home Depot ", or " Lowe's ".

If you have the funds and are serious about your hobby buy one of these devices there usually around $69.00 and work on the weed eater principal using a replaceable cutter line to cut up the leaves, straw, grass clippings even newspaper in a short time to a consistent size depending on how you set it.

And to those of us that are really lucky you may find a gas or electric powered tree chipper to be borrowed or bought from relatives, inlaws, or at a garage sale. These devices powered by a small horsepower gas or electric engine can chop tree limbs up to around 2" , brush, leaves, grass, straw, newspaper, cardboard and several other types of garden and cellulose waste.

These units are usually too cost prohibitive to the casual experimenter running in price from $250.00 on up to several thousand. A " nice find " if gotten used or for pennies on the dollar. Even better if one can just be borrowed when ever needed,,they can reduce a bale of straw to usable size in about 5 minutes. A REAL time saver. Onward.

3. Take this now chopped to appropriate size straw and stuff into a standard pillow case till half full then tie the top shut with cord, rope, or even a zip tie. A garment bag the type used for fine washables is also sutable to this task.

4. Locate a pot or a larger pressure cooker bottom like a 22qt. and heat on stove , hot plate, gas burner, whatever half full of water till it reaches 170 degrees F. use a candy or meat thermometer to monitor the temparture,,this part is " Important " for to exceed this temp. will sterilize the the straw instead of pasteurize it . And this will cause you a whole host of contams often something green. A very handy device to aid in temp. monitoring is a " Timex" brand digital cooking thermometer/timer which has a separate temp. probe with a two ft. cable and has a high temp alarm which is real handy for watching you don't exceed your pasteurization temp. Found in Target and other fine stores.

5. Now compress your dry straw bag and make it as small as it will compress dry and then slowly submerge it into the 170 degree water until completely covered, use a brick or other water proof heavy object to keep the straw completely under the hot water. You may at this point have to add water to get the proper level in the pot you may also need to turn up your heat source alittle to compensate for the cooler straw and the any extra water added.

The object of this is to keep the temp. between 160 deg and 170 deg. for about an hour this usually achieves a good degree of pasteurization and also forces water into the fibers of the straw.

6. After the steeping hour is up carefully pour out the excess water and the straw bag ,,,,using gloves is recommended cause this stuff is HOT.

Put the now draining straw bag in a dish strainer or wire rack or even suspend from a bunji cord outside to drain for about an hour or two,,," this is important " cause many failures have been due too to much excess water in the straw "

7. Now after the straw has drained for at least an hour or two,, over a drain with kitchen gloves on compress the hot wet straw bag a few times between the hands to squeeze out any extra water remaining.

8. Now you have the option of letting the the straw bag cool in the dish strainer or whatever which will take about 4 to 5 hours,, or if you have a couple of card tables or similar sized surface you can lay out the straw on a trash bag cut open or drop cloth or any plastic sheeting that is clean and allow the straw to cool there which should take only about 2 hours.

You can't inoculate until the straw reaches 80 to 82 degrees at it hottest point ,,,otherwise you will kill your spawn or damage it where it won't colonize as quickly as needed,,,resulting in nasty contams.

9. I have weighed the drained wet bag of straw " standard pillow case half full " and it runs between 5 and 8 pounds usually,,,at this point the straw can be split in to two separate batches or left as one large batch,,,I have not experimented with any batches over
8 lbs.

This is important information to know to determine the inoculate "spawn" amount per batch. ,,,,have had 30 consecutive successful batches colonize by adding no less than 20 % and no more than 30 % spawn by weight to a given straw batch.

So if you have a half pillow case of wet drained straw 5 to 8 lbs,, you would add 2 quarts of say rye spawn or 4 pints of birdseed or 8 1/2 pints PF. style cakes. though this may seem somewhat excessive it speeds up the colonization time and hedges the bet against contams.

10. This is where the milk crate comes in ,,,you will need a milk crate ,,,weather it's a real
one somebody swiped from the back of a store or one of the newer commercial copies ,,the important thing is that it has a perforated bottom and sides or some might consider it a waffle pattern . Put your milk crate on a table near your now cooled straw and put a 15 gal kitchen trashbag into it like your making a trash can out of it. It should fit or almost fit.

anyway put a handful or two of now cooled straw in the bottom of the trash bag lined crate enough to cover the bottom about half an inch ,,now apply a portion of your spawn so you have like 3 parts straw and 1 part spawn and break up the spawn into individual particles and mix thoroughly with the straw,,,rubbing the spawn on the straw more increases the contact points and ensures success. Keep adding straw and spawn in the 3 to 1 ratio and continue mixing until you have a completely mixed straw spawn mixture in the bag in the crate.

11. Now loosely fold the trash bag top over the straw and begin pushing the straw into the corners of the crate while also compressing it,, It is fine to apply your full weight to compressing the straw into the crate as it seems to help the more it's compressed,,,,,. you will find that this will create a straw block compressed into the crate that will be between 3 to 8 " high depending on how much straw you use in the first place.

12. Now tie the loose bag top into a simple knot while pushing excess air out and you should see the bag cling to the straw block,,if not not to worry it works eather way.

13. This next part has been done two ways with good results in eather case ,, First just let the compressed block sit for 24 hours while it collects it's energy and gears up for mass colonization,,after 24 hours take something with a point like a dull knife or ice pick screwdriver whatever and put a hole in every space through the crate into the compressed straw block,,plus put about 10 to 20 holes in the top of the bag evenly spaced. The 2nd method is put the holes in right away after the block is initially compressed,,,both ways seem to work fine .

14. Now take an empty milk crate and stack the straw block crate on top of it for optimum air flow and put in dark warm place ,,a closet a warm basement a pantry just not over like 85 degrees or there might be damage to the spawn. This method seems to work well because it provides a solid framework for the compressed block to form while colonizing plus allows a free flow of air which is all important to the use of straw as a substrate. Another handy feature is several colonizeing crates can be stacked on top of each other as long as the bottom crate is empty.

15. After about 7 days at 80 to 85 degrees inspect the straw compressed block and you will probably notice that it is or almost completely colonized.

16. Next case about 1/2" to 1" with your favorite casing mixture and don't water too much like just enough to keep the casing lightly moist not drowned other wise the contams will get a hold.

17. This method also works with straw and manure and or compost with a 50-50 mixture of pasteurize straw and manure, or worm casing, or compost, or whatever ya got.

18. This is just what a buddy i used to know did, it had worked over 30 times with very little contams,,,,most of the compressed straw blocks had been dedicated to outdoor use but several were fruited indoors being careful they didn't get water logged.

19. Another note on caseing is not to case too deep , probably not over 1" on top and perhaps 1" vermiculite on bottom kept somewhat moist,,,but not too much for this will bring stagnation and hence contams.

20. The real trick here is as with many techs is timeing makeing sure you case the straw as soon as it's fully colonized and dont expose the blocks to excessive heat like try and keep the temps around low 80's which helps compensate for any heat build up in the blocks.

May you all have many fruits. :-)