Cultivating Mushrooms


I am a person filled with obsessions. Are you this kind of person? I’m not always swayed by things, but when they grab me I go along for the ride, hook, line and sinker. A few weeks ago I saw a post on a Facebook group I’m in regarding free shiitake mushroom plugs. I am always alert to the word “free” so of course before I thought about it, I said, “Yes, please!” And thus, my foray into cultivating mushrooms was started. I do love foraging for mushrooms, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could encourage them to grow right in my backyard?

I was talking to a friend the other day who shares this mentality: if I can grow it and I like to eat it, then why not try and grow it in my yard? Some friends enjoy growing only flowers, and I love them for it. Their devotion to visual beauty is laudable. My devotion is primarily culinary, although I do appreciate the beauty in all living things, even poison ivy, so why not have your yard do double duty? Perennial food crops are one of my favorite things: the rhubarb, strawberries and asparagus give me incredible joy. Also, the trees and the herbs that persist regardless of snow, or lack thereof, drought, rust, and disease. They are so incredibly strong. And so delicious!

When I received the mushroom plugs (small wooden plugs filled with a thread of shiitake mycelium) I realized that I might have said yes too quickly. First, I needed to find a recently downed oak log. Have you ever gone around asking your friends and neighbors for a recently downed oak log about 3 or 4 feet long, and 3 to 6 inches in diameter? People kind of look at you funny, even if they are like minded souls. It ends up, no one had a spare log lying around, so my dear and patient husband, who doesn’t share my obsessions, helped me by cutting down a limb off a young red oak that is squeezed on the edge of our road. The limb would probably be cut by the town or utility company soon enough, as it hung over the road, so I felt it was a responsible sacrifice. I duly thanked the tree.

After waiting a few days, while the plugs sat in the fridge, we drilled several million small holes into this limb using a specific drill bit. Then we hammered the plugs into the holes and sealed them with bees wax. What happens now? asked my husband. Oh, we wait for about six months and hope that conditions are right for the mycelium to fruit. He looked at me a little funny. I tried to tell him how it was worth it, that the shiitake mushrooms I buy from the store are $10 a pound! He nodded, knowing my ways.

So, now the log sits in a shady but damp spot, and we’ll see in September or October what happens! If you are interested in the details of growing shiitakes, here are some links to articles I was using as a guideline:

Fungi Perfecti

Mushroom people

There are a ton of great resources out there. You can also join your local mycological group, like the Mid-Hudson Myco Group.


Field Notes: A Cold Spring


What a whirlwind of a spring! In the beginning it was warm and beckoning, and it seemed as if every living thing was responding exuberantly, in denial of the possible brutality that springtime can sometimes offer. After a Friday with a high of eighty, when the magnolias were resplendently unfurling their dusky pink blossoms, the sabotage relentlessly began, first with dipping temperatures, then with a sprinkle of cold early morning snow. Then came the flagrant insult of six inches of deep wet snow, more than we had gotten all winter long combined. It melted off quickly enough, but the damage to early blossoms was done.

Then there was the cold—temperatures down to 17 degrees! Two nights in a row! After all that brutality, the cold continued to linger, up until even today. Last night hovered around freezing. I’m still covering my seedlings every night. Last year I complained that we never get a long spring, but be careful what you wish for, as they say. This cold spring is hanging around like a rude guest, and has everything in its thrall. Growth has been held in limbo, the leaves on all the trees just hovering before bud break. Fat cottonwood catkins tightly shut, red and green maple buds tentatively stretching, the light chartreuse of the willow leaves just pushing out.

In the face of this, it’s amazing how much survives. Gladly, even! The invasive garlic mustard, of course, not one to cower in the face of freezing temperatures. I have seen this new green growth freeze and thaw several times, and they seem happy as clams, lining the sides of the road, the edges of the forest and swamps, ready to handle anything the weather dishes it. The spicebushes are putting out their tiny pom pom flowers out, the skunk cabbage has been flourishing since February, and ramps, when you find them, elusively flutter their lovely fluid leaves. Bittercress, purple dead nettle, and dandelions proliferate. The wild places understand how spring works, even if we can’t grasp it.

In the yard, the grape hyacinths dot the lawn, staying longer than I have ever seen them in bloom, preserved by the cold. The snow peas I sowed on March 12 are still two or three inches high, weathering it all without ever being covered at night. The rhubarb is strong and crenellated on its sunny hill, so sturdy as it pushes up through the dirt. The strawberries right next door are leafing out, and there are already flowers! All of the seedlings seem to be thriving despite the cold, second leaves showing already on the radishes and spinach. It’s always amazing to see how well living things can do in the face of adversity, never worrying about the past, always present for the moment.





Buckwheat Walnut Cookies


We are experiencing a truly long and lovely spring here in the Hudson Valley of New York. In fact, I wonder if we even had a winter at all. After the last two years of brutal cold and snow, this extremely mild winter has us all feeling strangely disconnected, even vaguely apocalyptic. Nonetheless, I am still glad to see the magnolia buds opening, even if this weekend’s predicted cold snap will kill them all. Today will be almost seventy degrees, and the may flies swarming around my head this morning at forty degrees is surely a signal of that. Thankfully, they will all die in the cold snap too. A few years back we had a spring with a mean streak, and as you drove around the magnolia trees were hard to look at with their brown blossoms dead like fall leaves. This is also a tenuous time for fruit trees, for if we lose their blossoms, we lose the fruit too.

Regardless of the looming danger, the garden is alive with new details every day. The strawberries are greening up, the rhubarb is poking through the dirt, and the jostaberries are exuberantly leafing out. The seeds given to me from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden are all popping: snow peas, spinach, carrots, kale, radishes, and lettuces. I direct sowed them all in the second week of March. Spring is such an exhilarating time of year. To have that new and local green creeping back into our diets makes heavier winter fare and baked goods no longer so enticing. I’ve been especially trying not to bake too much, but I have a cookie-and-cake-craving sweet tooth that I can hold back on for only so long.

These cookies helped out by seeming to be virtuous, though I’m not sure it’s actually true. They are the type of cookie that you might take along on a long hike. They are quite hard, do not crumble at all, yet are so satisfying, both as sustenance and for that insatiable sweet tooth. I’ve only made them once, so if you try them out will you tell me what you thought? I added some dark chocolate to half the batch, and that was pretty tasty. Also, other sweet recommendations are welcome!

Buckwheat Walnut Cookies

2 cups buckwheat flour

1 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup brown rice syrup

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup coconut oil

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients–to do this you might want to heat them up so they are all liquid. I refrigerate my brown rice syrup, so it was super thick, and the coconut oil was solid, so this was necessary. Then mix the dry to the wet slowly so that it evenly distributes to a thick mixture. You may need to sprinkle a little warm water to make sure it all pulls together. Roll it all up into a log, seal with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. It will be quite hard when you remove it from the fridge. Have the oven preheated to 350. Slice discs (thinner will be harder, more cracker-ish, thicker will be still a hard cookie but more shortbread-ish) and put on a greased cookie tray or a tray with a baking liner. Bake for 15 minutes, or until just golden on the edges.