In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
This unidentified bracket fungus is a cousin to the edible oyster mushroom, another type of bracket fungus.
My great experiment this year is going to be mushrooms. The kits are all the rage and since I just have to be in on the latest and I have a tremendous love of mushrooms of all kinds, it seems the right thing to do. Aside from the delicious flavor, mushrooms are nutritious and low in calories. They are a great source of selenium, potassium, and several B vitamins. There's even a study being done right now on using mushrooms as a natural way to lower cholesterol.
Of course, the cream of the crop is the morel. Unfortunately, the people who are developing the mushroom growing industry for the average person have not perfected methods for growing morels. It can be done, but it takes some pretty intense management of the growing medium. I'll just have to be happy secretly stealing into the woods at the right time in spring to pick wild ones.
Shitakes, Wood Mushrooms, Button Mushrooms
However, it is possible to grow shitakes, wood-mushrooms, button mushrooms, and even portabellas. Puffballs grow in my little bit of woods, so I know the conditions are pretty good for fungi. Even if you don't eat them, they are great conversation pieces and there's nothing quite as satisfying as kicking a ripe one and sending a cloud of spores into the woods.
My cool, damp woods with a fairly deep layer of organic mulch and many fallen logs seem the exact right spot. I'm going to start with oyster mushrooms, those lovely delicate mushrooms that are hard to find in the market because of their delicacy. They have a deep, mellow flavor, and according to the mushroom kits, should be fairly easy to grow.
The first thing I need to do is to pick a good strain of mushroom that does well in our area. Then I will order mushroom spawn which is a mat of young mycelium (long fibers that function like roots on plants). Starting with spores instead of mycelium takes a long time and I'm already impatient for my mushrooms to start bearing. The next step is to provide the right substrate for the spawn to attach and start growing. This substrate needs to be in a shady, cool area where I can monitor and add water if needed.
According to the kit literature, oyster mycelium colonizes newly fallen logs in nature, so the best method to start is to take newly cut logs and drill holes for spawn plugs. Oysters will evidently grow on a compost pile or rotting vegetation on the ground, but don't produce the fruiting bodies that are so tasty until the mycelium mat reaches a vertical growing surface. With a little luck and attention to the conditions, I should be eating delectable oyster mushrooms by mid-summer.
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