JEFFERSON COUNTY - Shiitake Mushroom Growing

Sustainable living, now more than ever, requires a commitment to reducing energy use. Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living in Jefferson County has long been a leader in teaching others about sustainable production, and reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Claire and Rusty Orner operate both an herb farm and a non-profit devoted to teaching children and adults about sustainable living. Installing high tunnels was an important move toward self sufficiency for them, helping them produce food for their home and their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and teach gardening classes. Harnessing solar and wind power was a natural addition, letting them reduce their power bill and teach others about the process.

Soil Food Web

Underneath the soil of the tunnels and raised beds are the real workhorses of the farm: the soil mycorrhizae. These soil fungi colonize the roots of the plants and are responsible for supplying the plants with nutrients. "We now know that we can't simply supply nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, to plants and expect that they will grow. We need the fungi in the soil to act as a conduit between nutrients including water and the plant through the root hairs of the plant," Rusty said. "It's a mutual relationship, for the plant in turn returns sugar molecules to the bacteria."

To encourage the growth of mycorrhizae, the Orners grow organically and plant the same family of plants in the same area in multiple years. "The mycorrhizae from last year's tomatoes should help my tomatoes grow this year," Rusty said.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

The Orners use various methods of enhancing soil health and reducing pests:

- Vermicomposting with red wigglers (eisenia foetida), for example, adds nutrients and helps balance soil PH;

- Bat boxes and bird habitat reduces insect damage;

- Barrier systems for plants like sand around beds to discourage slugs and row cover to repel flea beetles; and

- Plants that attract beneficial insect predators are planted near raised beds. Euonymus, Lupine, and Angelica are planted in the tunnels to attract green lacewings, beneficial wasps, and ladybugs.

For more information about Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School for Country Living, visit

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Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network


302 Armsby Building
University Park, PA 16802