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Archive for the ‘Fungi’ Category

Yep, another reason to hate us Californians. While the rest of the country is blanketed in snow, we’re out in the woods hunting for shrooms – golden chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, blewits, candy caps, and my all-time favorite, the black trumpet.

I joined the Mycological Society of San Francisco’s annual foray/camp in the Mendocino Woodlands last November.  I must’ve gained 5 lbs in two days.  If mushroomers didn’t get off their rears foraging fungi, we’d all have to be on crash diets during the dry season! I also spent a few hours trying to identify unknown mushrooms with J.R. Blair, a Biology lecturer at SFSU who introduced me to keying techniques a couple of years ago. But I have to confess that my belly has the upper hand which pretty much narrows the variety of mushrooms my brain pays the most attention to out in the field.

Hydnum umbilicatum or hedgehog "bellybutton" mushrooms

Hydnum umbilicatum or hedgehog "bellybutton" mushrooms

Pizza with hedgehog mushrooms

Pizza heavily laden with bellybutton mushrooms, pepperoni and bell peppers!

This January, the Bay Area Mycological Society’s All California Club Foray was in full swing at the Albion Field Station, also near Mendocino. Yes, we pigged out there, too, thanks to the superb catering from Debra Dawson, owner of Good Thyme Herb Company & Catering.  But the ‘mycogeeks’ were also busy ID’ing those LBMs (little brown mushrooms) as well as gorgeous waxy caps and slimies like the parrot mushroom below.

Beautiful fresh "parrot mushroom"

This is no LBM, but a gorgeous green, slimy parrot mushroom

The Sonoma Mycological Society also held their camp in January, but at the CYO Camp near Occidental. The venue is ideal for courses in mushroom dyeing, making your own oyster mushroom kit, drawing, identification, and listening in on various topics given by experts from the fungal world. Gary Lincoff (shown below), author of several mushroom books, including The Audubon Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, is a popular guest from the East Coast, and whom you can always count on to add a few humorous anecdotes in his mushroom lectures.

Gary Lincoff and Gymnopilus ventricosus

Gary Lincoff talks about "Big Laughing Gym" - but the West Coast variety will make you hurl, not laugh 🙂

But the best part of mushrooming isn’t about the mushrooms as much as it is about the people who love mushrooms and share their love for good food prepared with wild mushrooms. Yes, the thrill of discovering your first morel in a quiet spring forest is exhilarating. But coyly giving the general whereabouts of  that mother lode of black trumpets while sharing some of the loot over a bottle of wine is so much more fun.

Sharing appetizers at San Jose Camp near Yosemite

Sharing appetizers and morels at San Jose Camp near Yosemite

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2009 was a banner year for seed sales as individuals and families started looking at vegetable gardening as a way to manage tight budgets while improving eating habits. Now a month past winter solstice, daylight hours are getting a bit longer, and 2010 seed and garden supply catalogs are piling up on our night tables.

So for newbies and old hands at gardening edibles, what veggies or fruits look especially intriguing in those seed catalogs? Which less common plants or rare varieties (select your top 3 choices, if you can) are whetting your appetite for 2010? Take our quick survey below and we’ll publish the results in our next blog:

Plangarden 2010 Edible Garden Survey is now CLOSED … Survey Results Here

Plangarden founder, Roy Stahl, perusing Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog

Pink bananas in your edible garden?

Before you go “hog wild”, take a reality check with respect to the suitability of those new edibles to your climate, soil type, space requirements, etc.  Our “Seven Strategies To Plan Your Vegetable Garden” post might help you out.

Here’s what we’re ruminating on:

  1. Garden sorrelRumex acetosa” – apparently more popular in Europe than in the U.S.  Found this recipe for sorrel soup – it is delish!
  2. Asian cucumbersCucumis sativus“- these tasty little cukes are excellent snacks that a Persian friend introduced to us on a hike
  3. Tomatillo “Physalis ixocarpa” – we’ll be making lots of salsa out of this and will try it in stews.

But one can’t stop at three, right?  So here are other less common garden edibles we’ve attempted or thought about cultivating:  quinoa (superduper healthy grain), amaranth (beautiful red plants but they needed staking; it was like harvesting sand so a bit tricky), soybeans (don’t you just love snacking on edamame?), scorzonera/salsify (we hear it’s great in soups), and celeriac (though long days to harvest, it’s so yummy in soups and as a low-carb alternative to mashed potatoes).

Now in its own rightful kingdom and no longer classified as plants, edible fungi like oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus species) have been grown in this household. Seed companies like Territorial are getting into the recent popularity of home-cultivated mushrooms and offering cultivation kits for oyster, shiitake, and even more exotic mushrooms like lion’s mane, believed to promote healthy neurological functions!

So how about you? Will it be that rare heirloom tomato or something for “shock effect”? Let us know 🙂

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Avid gardeners like ourselves have sometimes been stumped by the conflicting information you’ll get from different gardening pros and horticulturists.  Sometimes they’ll even contradict themselves.  Or worse, you’ll set up a companion planting scheme and discover that the insect repellent properties of, e.g. garlic to repel red spider mites from tomatoes, was completely ineffective in your particular garden habitat.

So we created a survey of plant companions from four sources to ascertain which combinations they generally agree/disagree on, with the understanding that observing and documenting our own results is really what matters in the end … though may not always apply every season!

Click here for PDF version of summary tables - copyright © 2009 Plangarden

Click here for PDF version of summary tables. © 2009 Plangarden

A PDF of the tables appears on the right.  More details are in the slideshow below this post. 

Here are some useful terms often used in the context of CP: allelopathy and phytotoxins. Allelopathy (allelo– “one another”, and –pathy “disease or suffering” from Greek) refers to how plants find ways to stake out their territory, often by harming nearby neighbors.  They may release phytotoxins (phyto– meaning “pertaining to plants”) which essentially attempt to knock out nearby competitors.   Phytotoxins can sometimes also repel insects and other animals.  

Some notoriously allelopathic plants harmful to the vegetable garden (though may be great at deterring pests which we’ll discuss in Part IV) are the eucalyptus, black walnut, and absinthe wormwood.  Make sure you know what lies just outside your property line if you decide to grow vegetables in that area.

Limited research has gone into subsoil fungal activity and its respective role in companion plants.  Some speculate that both beneficial and harmful compounds may be transmitted through the mycelial network – though it’s impossible for everyday gardeners to ascertain “fungal contributions” to the companion plant ecosystem.

In the end, what we suggest is to “not get overwhelmed” on which combination of plants will produce the ideal garden.  Our “strategies” post offers a starting point in figuring out what to grow.  Perhaps the initial approach in using these tables would be to scan those combinations least likely to yield beneficial results (the red circles), and then move on to the good companion pairings.

Is owning a book on companion planting an absolute must for the gardener?  Personally, we feel that you can get sufficient information to jot down notes from library books or from the Web.  However, if you love to experiment and collect gardening books, then look through the book reviews on Amazon.

In our next post, we’ll cover companion planting as it relates to the contribution of flowers, herbs, and insects to your overall vegetable garden.

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Alright, so you don’t live in a Mediterranean climate, and you’re sick and tired of hearing how we’re harvesting bell peppers in Northern California 😉 .

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Day 7 of Oyster Mushroom kit

Well here’s a nice little project that you and your kids will love any time of the year: growing oyster mushrooms indoors! I was recently at a “mushroom camp” with the Sonoma Mushroom Association, and among many different lectures and activities, made my own oyster mushroom growing kit.

The instructor, Ben Schmid, pasteurized the straw (boiled to at least 180F), and excited, wide-eyed participants like myself stuffed it (using rubbing-alcohol-disinfected gloves) into clean plastic bags (about 2 gal capacity).  Finally, Ben added oyster mushroom spawn (mine were purportedly Australian Blue Oysters – but there’s nothing blue about them so perhaps I got a different oyster species) into the bags.

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

Day 23 (La Fête de la Guillotine)

It took exactly 23 days till I harvested the first bunch.  It was kept in our well-lit kitchen that averages 65F throughout the day.  Needless to say, it was a THRILL to see the first bunch grow into a dinner-sized portion.  We cut them up (leaving the pretty caps intact) and stir fried them with red bell peppers and onions.  Delicious!

Ready for stir fry!

Ready for stir fry!

You can purchase mushroom growing kits from many seed companies like Territorial or from sites like Fungi Perfecti (Paul Stamets’ company.  See his TED video on how mushrooms can save the world).

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Beautiful chanterelle specimen - uncertain if Cantharellus subalbidus

Nope, not a white chanterelle but a Clitopilus prunulus specimen! Bummer.

Winter in N. California is a great time for mushroom hunters.  We don’t eat any mushrooms we find (and don’t recommend it unless you’ve been trained in the field), but it’s always fun to find fungi on our walks and try to figure out what it is!

The one on this photo was not taken in CA but rather in Pound Ridge, NY in July ’08.  I came across the white chanterelle (Cantharellus subalbidus) in perusing David Arora’s highly recommended pocket field guide for beginning mycologists in the Western US – All That The Rain Promises and More … and can’t help wondering.  It is one of the more beautiful specimens we’ve seen in the field.

Gary Lincoff was kind enough to ID this as Clitopilus prunulus also known as the “sweetbread mushroom”.

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Inky Cap - probably Coprinus atramentarius

Inky Cap - probably Coprinus atramentarius

WARNING: Do not eat  mushrooms in the “wild” – from your garden, da woods, meadow, or any place else unless you have been educated out in the field with an expert for many years.  Due to our inexperience, we do not eat wild mushrooms.

Whew!  With that disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you about how much I love mushrooms – their appearance, the smell (of most), the way they appear suddenly out of nowhere, and of course, the delicious porcinis and morels.  We found these inky cap (coprinus sp.) beauties next to the compost – just like last year.  As they mature, the caps spread apart like an open umbrella and start disintegrating at the edges, turning inky black, spreading inward.

They’re related to the common (edible, fishy smelling) Shaggy Mane.  Coprinus, if ingested even within days of drinking alcohol, will produce alarming reactions (e.g. rapid heart beat, nausea – so bad you feel like you’re gonna die!) so it’s best to admire them and leave it at that.  Read this funny anecdote about a guy who fed Shaggy Mane to his girlfriend.

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Roy wanting to get his grubby hands on morels!

Roy wanting to get his grubby hands on morels!

Recalling the foodfest at the January Fungus Fair in Santa Cruz (think mushroom lasagna, candy cap mushroom cookies), Roy and I trekked over the Bay Bridge to the Oakland Museum.

The exhibits were excellent and educational … but where was the food?  We arrived at 2pm and the one (yes – uno) food station serving soup (just soup?!?!!) was cleaning up.  Finito.  No mas.  We were starving.  Later on we learned that the shroom foodies only hung out in Santa Cruz!

Consolation was learning a bit more about shrooms and discovering a Russula that smelled like shrimp – Russula xerampelina – apparently a choice edible according to the docent!  Then bought porcini mushroom broth cubes from Italy (a la Knorr, though noted it contains MSG) and a little $13 baggie of dried morels, enough for 2 meals of chicken/morel risotto!

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