Shrooms in Bloom

Almost a year ago, I took a class from the Mushroom Maestros, Patty and Ray, in which we learned all about cultivating edible mushrooms at home. The class focused on simple to grow everyday edibles including oyster mushrooms and king stropharia. It was actually the third time I had taken a workshop from them because they proved to include new info each time and I always got to go home with a kit to grow something. This workshop focused on not just the growing of the mushrooms themselves, but also on the propagation of mycelia and production of inoculation spawn.20140813-135410-50050075.jpg

The first two times, my kits proved prolific, often producing three or four full flushes of fruit before petering out. The third class took a different focus, so instead of coming home with a straw-based kit for fruiting out on (like the one pictured above), I headed home with several jars of fresh mycelial spawn and rye pucks for propagating mycelium on my own time.

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I few weeks later, when my spawn had fully grown out, it happened to rain, soaking the strawbale we were supposed to use as chicken bedding. Without much thought, I used a pick-axe to gouge a couple holes in the bale and stuffed it with oyster mushroom spawn. It being the late fall, I had assumed it would rain again, giving the mycelium the moisture it needed to run, but to my chagrin, we saw instead the driest winter California has had in over 150 years. Nothing ever came of that inoculated bale and being well into the summer I just assumed it had dried out too much for the mycelium and that other more drought tolerant molds had outcompeted it.

So, of course it was to my delighted surprise that I was greeted by a big flush of fresh oysters growing out around my corn and kale when I went to water the bed the other day! I had used the bale to create a small hugelkultur bed by digging a bale shaped hole, dropping it in, and covering it with the native clay soil and a few bags of freecycled chicken manure compost.

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I’m an enthusiast, but certainly no mycology expert so I’m only guessing here, but I think the boost of nutrients from the manure must have given the mycelium what it needed to finally fruit out. I know that many mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms like to grow off manure, but generally oysters prefer wood. One of the flushes came out around a stake that had been supporting bird netting, and I made sure to leave the moldering wood in the ground when I cut out the mushrooms. One of the others encapsulated a robust little kale plant while the some appeared to fruit simply from exposed straw.

Suffice to say I’m thrilled to have such a bounty come from what I thought was a dead end project repurposed for veggies. I’m hoping to add some wood chips or logs to this bed in the fall in order to encourage the continuation of mycelial growth in my garden.

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5 Garden Favorites

My garden is overflowing with greenery, and everything I planted this year serves a purpose. Some are food for me, some are food for my dogs and some are food for my bees. Some a pest deterrents, some are trap crops. Each one is uniquely useful, but there are definitely a couple plants that seem to be in my kitchen or on my mind almost daily.

1. Variegated Collards
20140718-140856-50936173.jpg Collards are a staple of southern cuisine and also extremely easy to grow. Most collards take 80 days to mature but the strain propogated by Fedco Seeds takes only 60, nearly three weeks less and we happen to sell them at Biofuel Oasis, where I work. It produces massive 12-18in long leaves whose waxy coating makes them both mildew and aphid resistant.

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They are juicy and tender and very flavorful but the ribs are tough and needs to be removed before cooking. I’ve been cooking these as a side  dish for almost every meal and added them to a quiche with excellent results. They add color and texture as well as a huge dose of vitamins K, A, and C and I also love dehydrating them in place of kale for chips for a crunchy snack that satisfies.

 

2. Yarrow

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Yarrow is a spectacularly undervalued herb in most gardens. It is often planted as an ornamental in its yellow or red blooming form. The colorful blooms are a beautiful contrast against its silvery green leaves, but the white variety is the most medicinally potent. For this reason, I planted two varieties, one for looks and one for use, though even the colorful variety is still an wonderful aromatic.Yarrow prefers well drained soil, and full sun, but can survive in partial shade. It handles our acidic clay soil in the East Bay quite well and can thrive in nutrient-poor conditions.

One of the most effective uses of Yarrow is for halting bleeding by applying crushed green leaves to the wound. The root is also an effective analgesic that can be chewed to alleviate toothache and reduce gum inflammation. A tea made from the leaves and/or flowers will open pores and raise body temperature and is said to air in breaking fevers. Dilute tea is also effective in regulating menses.

20140718-140444-50684714.jpg Of course Yarrow has a whole other usefulness too. It’s an excellent pollinator attractant and one bloom will often play host to numerous bees at once. The blooms are long lasting and numerous, and can provide nectar and pollen even during dry times as the plant is extremely hardy and drought tolerant. This plant is also very easy to propagate from small root segments which is exactly what I did by pulling up small shoots in neighbors’ yards to plant it in my own. I also use Yarrow in my herbal infused bee food which I make fresh every couple weeks.

 

3. Scarlet Runner Bean

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This one is pretty straight forward. Scarlet runner beans are highly productive and will continue to bloom if beans are harvested continuously. The blooms attract all manner of pollinators including honeybees, native bees, butterflies, and humming birds. Vines grow up to 20ft with bright red blooms and lush green leaves along the entire length.

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When pods are picked young, before they begin thickening, the entire pod is edible like any green bean. Later, when beans mature, they can be left on the vine or picked to dry and storage beans. At this point, the pod walls become hard,  fibrous and undigestible, but the beans are large and flavorful when cooked in soup or chili, or as a dish on their own.

According to Eric Toensmeier, author of Perennial Vegetable, runner beans can overwinter in climates that remain above 23 degrees Fahrenheit, however I don’t know anyone who has tried to do this. I plan to try it once these beans have spent themselves out by mulching them over for the winter to keep them cozy and warm.

 

4. Mullein

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Mullein has nearly three dozen names including Our Lady’s Flannel, Clown’s Lungwort, Shepherds Staff, and my favorite, Hare’s Beard. The leaves and flowers of the plant contain most of the medicinal potency, though some applications for the root are said to exist. Mullein is mainly used as an anti-spasmotic which works wonders to alleviate coughs and or gastrointestinal cramping. It is also a mild sedative, so it is best taken at bedtime, lest it leave you feeling drowsy. However, combined with catnip, mint, lemon verbena, sage, and lavender, it makes a soothing and delightful sleep tonic. The leaves and flowers can be used fresh, or hung to dry for later use.

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The plants can grow up to 3ft wide with a single flower spike up to 8ft tall, whose lemon-yellow flowers are appealing to hummingbirds and butterflies as well as honeybees. The leaves are large and velvety soft and, because they grow as weeds in many places, hikers and backpackers have often used them as trail-side toilet paper.

Mullein has a two-year growth cycle but isn’t a true perennial as it only blooms its second year, however it does reseed itself prolifically. Fear not, it is easy to weed out when it is young and is easily shaded out by faster growing plants which keeps it from being aggressively invasive. It grows best in full sun and is another plant which can thrive in nutrient-poor clay. It does however prefer moderate water, especially in its second year while blooming.

 

5. Zucchini

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Okay, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Zucchini is a big food-producer. It takes almost no effort to grow and is easy to cook in a wide variety of ways. Our plants are producing huge sweet zukes every day and we can’t keep up with harvesting them so some have gotten a bit bigger than intended. I recommend every beginning gardener plant a few because it is incredibly rewarding to produce such a bounty as one’s first experience and even as an experienced backyard farmer it is good to know you have one fool proof crop in the garden in case everything goes haywire. All they need is sun and rich soil. They don’t like their roots disturbed to place them in a area where they have plenty of room to spread.

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In my home zucchini is used in just about anything from quiches to curries, and dog-food to fritters. It freezes well for later use in zucchini bread or pasta sauce and also keeps whole for quite some time. It ripens in perfect time with grilling season and there is something almost magical about plucking a vegetable and taking to straight to the grill without ever touching a kitchen counter or pantry. Somehow home grown veggies will always taste sweeter.

 

Right now, these five are my big favorites, though there are certainly many others in the garden that I love having quick access to. I expect that there will be a whole different set of favorites as the seasons change. What are your favorite garden products?

 

 

I’ve still got it!

I know its been a long time since my last update but that doesnt mean I’ve been idle! Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been keeping busy with all manner of projects. My favorite as always is foraging. Two trips in the Oakland hills had me come home with quite a handful of Candy Caps and several pounds of Fly Agaric.

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Candy Caps are pretty self explanatory. Delicious ruddy little mushrooms that smell like butterscotch and maple and caramel and dark brown sugar. Dried, they can add a sweet nutty flavor to butter cookies, ice cream, and are amazing mixed into chevre and left to sit overnight.

Candy Cap (photo by Don Loarie)

The Fly Agaric, also known as Amanita Muscaria is renowned the world round as a poisonous mushroom. It is unmistakable with its brilliant red cap, and white speckles and stem. There is nothing quite as striking as this toadstool.

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“But it’s poisonous!” you say. “Why would you collect it?” you say. Because while it is poisonous, it is also very tasty. The toxins in this particular Amanita are water soluble and can be removed through a simple, but time consuming process. Before I explain, let me say that this is NOT TRUE of any other poisonous Amanita, and I do not recommend taking this sort of risk lightly(and no matter how careful you are, wild forage always comes with risks… like getting your sparkly hat muddy).

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Following directions from this blog by Hank Shaw, I processed my Amanitas. I started by trimming all the muddy bits off and rinsing them very well in cool water.

IMG_8018Next, the caps and stems get sliced into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed into a big pot of water.  I used a 3 gallon stock pot filled most of the way up. It seems the key to making these babies safe is to be generous with the amount of water you boil them in. I added 1/2 cup kosher salt and a few tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water and brought the whole witchy concoction up to a gentle boil. I let the pot roll for about 10-15 minutes then dumped the water. At this point the water was dark yellow and the caps had begun to lose their distinctive color. They also lost more than half their size: 6 cups down to just over 2.

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The soggy slices went back into the pot with a round of fresh water(no salt or vinegar this time) for another 15 minute boil. By this time the mushrooms have lost all but a faded caramel color and the stems go slightly grey. Unappealing as is, but fried slowly in butter they get remarkably crunchy as I have never known mushrooms to get.  They have a delightful nutty flavor almost like hazelnuts and unfortunately for you, I munched them all down before taking a good photo! I did freeze and dry some to see how these mushrooms are best stored and will get back to you on that when I decide to test them.

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If you decide to try this yourself, do the research, and proceed with caution. Amanita Muscaria are widely recognized as a poisonous mushroom and while I had a positive experience preparing them, be aware that this may not be the case for everyone. Consuming wild mushrooms is as much about the preparation as it is about the person. Everyone reacts differently, so be careful, and eat small amounts the first time to be sure you don’t react poorly.

Dyeing Fiber with Natural Materials

As a knitter, I have a great appreciation for luxury yarns, especially ones that are in some way unique. As a spinner, I have the ability to create such yarns myself and supply other knitters as well as myself with something special.

Dye-pot of Polypore and Roving

Last week I collected several pounds of Dyer’s Polypore on Mt. Tamalpais. I was able to dye close to one pound of Merino-Tencel blend and almost one pound of Faux Cashmere, a superfine nylon fiber which is as soft as the most expensive luxury fiber available but is about 1/7th of the price.

Four Dyelots from Polypore and Jack O' Lantern

Above From Right to Left: Unmordanted polypore hot dye on merino-tencel; unmordanted jack o’ lantern hot dye on merino-tencel; unmordanted polypore hot dyebath on faux cashmere; unmordanted polypore exhaust dye on faux cashmere.

Later in the week I also dyed with some pomegranate skins and fresh Tumeric from the Berkeley Bowl, my local natural food store. This produced a vibrant yellow reminiscent of sunflowers.

Dyeing with Household Items

Above from Top to Bottom: unmordanted pomegranate skin hot dye on norwegian wool; alum mordanted raw tumeric hot dye on norwegian wool; alum mordanted raw tumeric hot dye on merino-tencel; alum mordanted raw tumeric hot dye on faux cashmere

I’ll be spinning these up in the next week and posting them on etsy as the skeins are completed. The question is should I blend different dyelots of the same fiber type and make several consistent skeins or should I spin them up separately and make a unique skein for each dyelot?