Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Answer to a Question about Mushrooms

Country Girl asked the following question about mushrooms-
We have millions of mushrooms on our land but I have yet to try (or dare) and identify them. I am curious if it is easier to learn to identify or be safe and plant your own.
Here is my take on that.First thing is you don't have to be able to identify all the mushrooms you see, only the ones that are good to eat. In any particular region of the country there are only a few and they usually have very distinct features making them pretty easy to identify. I suggest getting involved with a local mushroom club, befriending the mycologist professor at your local land grant university or finding someone nearby who knows what good edibles are native to your area.
I am fascinated by fungi and like to try to identify the ones i find. Believe me, it is not easy to do. I have 5 mushroom I.D. books but there are so many different mushrooms out there that i rarely find the ones i've collected in my books. Also there is much variability in the appearance of an individual within a species so the picture in the book may or may not resemble the specimen i happened to collect.
Some of the best edible mushrooms we are not able to cultivate, particularly the mycorrhizal species such as chanterelles (top photo). Mycorrhizal mushrooms live in symbiosis with the roots of specific tree species. The good thing about them is they grow in association with living trees so they can be found year after year in the same place. A decay mushroom such as the oyster mushroom (bottom photo) disappears once it has consumed all the carbon from the dead tree it colonizes so you have to keep hunting for new locations as the old ones disappear.
So if your goal is cultivate a crop that provides you with high quality protein and huge health benefits by all means grow your own. I highly recommend Paul Stamets book Mycelium Running as a resource for learning how to grow your own.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Investment in Mushroom Futures is Paying Off

Last fall and winter we purchased some mushroom dowel spawn from Fungi Perfecti and inoculated some sweetgum logs. Sweetgum trees are the first hardwood species to colonize abandoned fields or nowadays, abandoned building lots. They are plentiful, considered to be weed trees, not useful for firewood because the grain is very twisted making the logs hard to split. They also happen to be very appetizing to fungi, especially shitake (Lentinula edodes) and lions mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom fungi.
About a week ago we got about 2 " of rain, the first rain in a month. It was perfectly timed for mushroom stimulation along with cooler fall temperatures.
It took about 10 days for the mushrooms to appear. It was tremendously exciting to go out to the stack of logs and see those beautiful things sprouting out. Some of them were huge compared to any other shitakes i've seen. We harvested 1.5 pounds of shitakes and just 2 lions manes.
This was the first time we had eaten lions manes. What a treat that was. We sauteed them in butter with some garlic. They had the texture and flavor of lobster. Deeelllissshhhusss!
Here's a tip about shitakes we learned from Paul Stamets. Placing them in the sun, gill sides up for about 6 hours will greatly increase their vitamin D content making them even more nutritious.
Invest in mushrooms- safer than banks.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


We first started growing komatsuna greens a few years ago because they were described in the Johnny's Seed catalog as Asian summer greens. Many of the greens in the brassica family (cabbage, kale, collards, tatsoi) bolt or start flowering in the long days of summer. Komatsuna does not. In fact we have had some plants keep producing for a whole year. They will start flowering in late spring.
They grow great in the summer heat here in the south and they will withstand light freezes during our increasingly mild winters (a benefit of global warming i guess). At first we harvested them by cutting off the whole plant and letting it grow back from the middle. In the fall it took too long for them to grow back. Now we harvest the outer leaves like one does with collards, leaving the center to continue to grow. This summer, after several harvests we had a problem with bacteria getting into the cut stems and causing the plants to rot. I don't think we'll have that problem with our fall crop.
Our customers really love the flavor of these greens. Our neighbor Rodney was not familiar with them nor are many people (We do not know of anyone else who grows these). He asked if he could try a taste so we pulled off a leaf and we ate a piece of the thick fleshy stem. It was juicy, tender and delicious. Now we use the stems in place of celery (which takes too long to grow so we don't) and cook the greens as you would collards or kale. Robbyn, i think this would be a good green to add to your list of dual purpose greens. It should do well in zone 9.

Eat your vegetables, especially greens, you can't eat too many!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Perennial Onions

Last fall a friend gave us a flat of welsh onions. I didn't know anything about them but, hey, they were free food so i planted them in the garden. They are a bunching onion. They continually divide themselves making a bunch of up to a dozen stems. In the fall and winter we cut the tops and used them like chives. I wasn't quite sure when or how they should be harvested for the onions which are not bulbs but more like spring onions. In the spring they flowered and i figured the tops would die down after that. But no, they kept on dividing! After the seeds ripened (which i collected) that stalk did die. We started pulling up some bunches through the spring. They have a mild flavor. I left the rest to grow through the summer.
A couple of weeks ago i decided to dig up the remaining bunches, divide them and plant out the divisions. Perennial onions work well as part of a permaculture. With the economy collapsing, gas (when you can get it) getting increasingly expensive and the future in doubt we want to become as self-sufficient as possible. What if we can no longer afford to buy seeds from seed companies in Maine or New Mexico. From now on we are only going to grow these onions. We planted over 100 new clumps from the divisions and potted up a bunch to sell at The Urban Gardener. In the spring we'll sow the seeds and set out some more.
For more information on welsh onions take a look the U. of Florida fact sheet.