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When I look back at a lot of the decisions we’ve made since having children, many of them come back to the home. We chose to try homebirth with our first child and it completely changed the trajectory of birth for our family. We have since had all four of our children at home and I can’t overstate how amazing that experience, and the people we’ve shared it with, have been.

When we began to really dig into how we wanted to raise our children, what roles we would play in their day-to-day lives, and what type of life we wanted to carve out for our family as a whole, homesteading came up. This coincided with a conviction to head down an agrarian path for many other reasons. The goal is that this provides a work and home life that keeps our family together and allows us to give our children what they need – our time.

As our babies turned to toddlers and I began to think about their ongoing education – because we believe learning is not confined to K-12 – homeschooling seemed an obvious fruit of this home-based life we wanted to create. And so we became homeschoolers.

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Our boys are now at an age where their education requires more and more of our attention. There are many homeschooling philosophies and if you wanted to put a label on us I suppose you could call us Classical Education Charlotte Mason Unschoolers. That is to say, perhaps we don’t fit into a neatly packaged box, or if we do it is one painted with a different color. All of this flows out of our worldview, as the education of every child springs from the influences of their parents’ values, which is to say we are trying to build their education on Christ, His Word, and His Church.

In terms of specifics, honestly, my top priority is to turn them into voracious readers. So, we work on reading and math and writing and penmanship. We are covering science and social studies and history. We also want to give our children a set of agrarian skills that we are just now learning. Shoot, my eight-year-old has far more experience milking goats than I do. My six-year-old hammers with more accuracy than I’ve ever wielded. I’m guessing they’re going to be better at just about everything than I am, which, now that I think about it, might be one of the goals.

But I didn’t sit down and teach them these things. Our neighbor brought them in to help with the goats because she and they were interested. And now they’ll be equipped milkers if we get our own milking operation up and running.

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Hammers, nails, screws, tape measures, and screw drivers are all the rage right now and Abram’s garden gate (for his own garden) just makes me smile. His garden was started one day by his own determination and if I look to the right of that garden a ways I’ll see his big brother nailing together the boys’ workshop from various bits of wood from the scrap pile.

That’s the part that comes naturally, the part that is a fruit of a lifestyle where they’re involved in doing, making, growing, and working. I also think that it is a lack of other things less mindful that facilitates this type of learning and desire to help and do.

The hard part for someone like me, who creates a cloud of chaos wherever I go, is sitting down and hammering out the other aspects of their education that we deem important. So I block off a few hours, 4-5 days a week, for those things that involve sitting, reading, writing, and exploring with them. My lack of focus and organization, coupled with the girls’ energy and needs makes this interesting.

These school hours combined with the fact that the other half of the day is dedicated to freelance work and from-scratch meals for six, means there is very little homestead involvement on my part at the moment. I plant some seeds here and there, help out when busy planting/harvesting times happen, and collect eggs from time-to-time. Mostly, though, I stand back and take pictures of Stewart and the children’s homesteading ventures as time allows.

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Right now infrastructure construction is again at the forefront of our homestead projects, putting a significant halt to fall gardens and the expanding of animal operations that we’re looking forward to. But these projects are done alongside of the children, so while it’s not food production, it’s certainly part of building a homestead which means it’s also a part of their education.

That is the long answer to the email I received this morning which nudged me into writing this post I’d been meaning to for sometime. The short answer to how we homeschool while homesteading and with small children in tow is actually pretty simple: It’s absolute chaos and not something you want advice on from me because I actually don’t homeschool while homesteading. That is, if homesteading is the act of gardening or tending to animals.

But since homesteading is an education in and of itself, and since my children have facilitated some of the most important lessons I have learned, perhaps I am the one getting the education… or maybe I’m just getting schooled. Either way, that’s the view from our “classroom”.

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It’s no secret that we’ve been trying to establish perennial food sources since we started out three years ago. Fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, herbs, and onions have all been planted and we continue to add more as resources allow.

So when I learned that mushrooms could be a part of a perennial food scape I was more than a little intrigued. I turned to Michael Judd, author of Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist with a few questions to get us started.

Q. You are a big proponent of fungi in your book, Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist. How did you start off with mushrooms and what draws you to them as a perennial food source?

I first saw stacked mushroom logs up at the Bullock’s Homestead on Orcas Island, a premiere permaculture site in Washington state. I was intrigued by the use of a shady area to grow food in and it’s minimal care approach. In five minutes I understood the process and looked up mushroom cultivation sites online for materials and found the very informative and straight shooting Field & Forest Products, who claim to be ‘proud to be part of this rotting world’. Then I just ‘plugged’ away.

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Q.Whenever I’ve come across mushroom-growing kits they are for an indoor growing situation in which you have to continually purchase the kits to produce mushrooms. But you say that mushroom growing outdoors can be an easy perennial. Can you tell us the very basics of how this works?

So, outdoor perennial mushroom growing is usually done on hard wood logs and wood chips, at least for some of my favorite characters such as shiitake, oyster and wine cap mushrooms. For inoculating logs you want to cut healthy wood (trees or limbs) when they are dormant fall through late winter, at an average diameter of 6″ by a meter long. Once cut you drill the logs every six inches all the way around and insert wooden dowels with fungi growing on them, which is then sealed in with wax. The logs are then laid somewhere moist for 6-18 months as the fungi runs through the log.

Once the fungi has colonized the log it will be begin to fruit happily when the temperature and moisture levels are right – generally this is after a warm spring or fall rain. A stout log can produce for up to eight years without any further input other than harvesting tasty mushrooms. This is a simplification of growing mushrooms on logs but my book has the process laid out step by step in easy to follow format, as well as growing mushrooms on wood chips.

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Q. Is mushroom-growing suitable for all climates or would a drier, hotter climate like ours not be conducive?

Mushrooms will thrive where there is sufficient temperature and moisture. There are tricks for dry climates such as partially burying your logs and/or using permeable covers to preserve moisture. I usually just set up a simple sprinkler around my logs and give a 5 minute dowse once or twice and week in hot, dry periods. Being mindful of exposure to wind helps keep the logs moist.

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Q. Could you give us just a couple of resources for getting started – books, sites, etc.?

Obviously my book which has simplified the outdoor mushroom cultivation process and highlights how to use fungi in the landscape to build soil fertility and clean runoff. I would also recommend looking up Field & Forest Products as their site is very informative without being overwhelming. And of course Paul Stamets’ amazing book Mycelium Running.

Thank you, Michael, for this introduction.!

Michael Judd is the founder of Ecologia Design where he designs edible and ecological landscapes that that meld form, function, and productivity seamlessly. He also founded Project Bona Fide which is a 43-acre educational farm on Isla de Ometepe in the southwest of Nicaragua. Project Bona Fide’s goal is to promote food sovereignty locally and regionally. Not just through feeding one’s self and family but nourishing the community and contributing to its local economy. He is also the author of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist which you can find on sale right now.

Have you tried your hand at growing mushrooms on your homestead?