Tag Archives: mushrooms

Cultivating Mushrooms

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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.

The Morel of the Story

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It’s a glorious May day. It’s cool and breezy. I woke clutching my blankets around my shoulders, as a cold breeze blew in the open window above my bed. With a sick child at home for the past few days, I felt a walk was in order to clear out my brain. And, let’s be honest, to look for morels. I knew it wasn’t likely I would find any today, but who cares? The walk is always welcome. The bonus is the mushrooms.

Today’s walk will probably be the last morel walk of the season. I did find some this year–ten to be exact–and I’m thankful for that! Apparently, it wasn’t the best year for them in these parts, due to the very bizarre spring weather we’ve had. It’s been hot and dry, not what morels enjoy, and frankly, not what I enjoy either. I’ve had my sprinkler on, and all of my shorts are in my dresser. It’s been feeling more like July, these days, and while I like July, it does have it’s place. In July.

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I am not a serious mushroom forager, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. There are tons of mushrooms on my property, and I’ve been slowly recording them. Just yesterday I found a few russula mariae in my wood chip pile. And I’ve recently done my very first spore print. I’m hooked.

But morels are different, so mysterious, so delicious. That’s why it’s called morel hunting. They seem rather like wood sprites or gnomes to me, almost mischievous. They like certain environments: dying elm tress, old apple orchards, limestone and shale. But sometimes they are found in places where you wouldn’t expect them at all. Seeing as how I’m less than a beginner, I will direct you to this post by Bill Bakaitis, who is a well known “mushroom guru” in these parts. (Leslie Land’s website is still a treasure to me. I am thankful it’s still there to mine for information despite her passing a few years ago.) Another good read is this article he wrote on eating morels you find in orchards, important because of the possibility of poisons leached into the soil of apple orchards, and thus the mushrooms that might grow beneath them.

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My walk today seemed the perfect location: a dying orchard on a southern facing slope near railroad tracks. Limestone outcroppings every so often. The only thing I didn’t see was a dying elm, but I’m sure there was one somewhere there. (How do you identify a dead elm? I am still figuring out live elm. There are so few around here, and I rarely see them.) As I walked through fields of tall grass and skirted the outrageous amounts of poison ivy, I thought how foraging morels was not for the faint of heart. I walked an outline around the edges of the area, not willing to enter the true thicket of prickers and poison ivy. I really hate poison ivy. Not to mention ticks. As I dipped into canopies of leafed out elderly trees, I kept on finding places that felt a little magical, lined with ground ivy and violets. I knew the morels were out there, and it was perfectly fine that they kept on hiding.

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What’s nicest about morel hunting–well, after the finding of them, that is–is that you really have to slow down and look. And when you are slowing down to look you do see a good many things. Most of which are not morels, but that’s beside the point. You see the shiny leaves of the pin oak, and the soft undersides of the silver maple, and the white wrinkly bark of the poplars. You see the soft long grass waving in the wind, the red and shiny new leaves of the poison ivy that sends out runners everywhere. The details seem to pop out everywhere, and there you are, really looking. It’s great meditation. Indeed, if I found the morels (because I know they are out there) I might not have enjoyed such a nice calm breathing practice.

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Out of the ten morels I found, I ate only five. It felt greedy to take all ten of them. I sliced them up and sautéed them in duck fat. Once I had them on toast and the other time with scrambled eggs. Both were perfect. They are so delicious, that I think doing much else with them would be overkill. But I am willing to keep on trying. If only they would comply.

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Morels

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The other day I reluctantly went to mow the last patch of my lawn. There are some things that the warm weather brings that remind me summer is not all popsicles and beach bags. Mowing the lawn is one of them. We leave a lot to grow, and are not obsessed with the lawn, letting whatever wants to grow to do so, but you have to mow at some point unless you want a tick field surrounding your house. These are some of the other things that I do not miss in the winter: ticks (pulled a few so far), poison ivy (already got it on my eyelid and behind my ear), and stinging insects (stepped on a yellow jacket with bare feet on Monday and was out of commission for the day). I’m hoping I’m done with these noxious things for now.

So, here I go out into the back yard to mow the shadiest patch of lawn, that seems to collect little twigs and sticks making it a tough place to mow. After a few swathes through the lawn, I’m about to turn around and mow down the slope when I stopped myself and shut down the engine. There before me was a morel, just pushed out of the ground. Golden brown and honey-combed, I bent down on my knees to inspect it, all the while shouting Wow!! Look at that!! (No, I don’t play poker, and thankfully no one was around to see me freak out except the neighbor’s cat.)

I’ve looked for years for morels and never have. To find one, and a day later, another one nearby, in my own backyard was a real thrill. I didn’t pick either of them, instead created little shrines so I will remember where they are. I feel like looking for morels is like close reading. You can’t scan, you really have to look deeply. It is an art. However, sometimes you do get lucky!

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