Monthly Archives: July 2011

Mushrooms in the Garden Workshop

King stropharia mushrooms!

Do you like the idea of having gourmet mushrooms springing up among your crops in the garden? Come to a “Mushrooms in the Garden” workshop at the Ithaca Community Gardens on Sunday, August 28, as part of the Garden Education Program’s summer workshop series. The workshop is free and open to the public.

At the workshop, I will demonstrate how to inoculate a garden bed with the sun-loving king stropharia, or garden giant, mushroom. Not only are garden giants tasty, but there is also evidence that they boost soil fertility and improve the yields of some crops. Learn about other mushroom species that thrive in the garden, and discover how to develop a perennial myco-landscape in your backyard.

If you’d like to attend, meet at the Ithaca Community Gardens gazebo at 11am Sunday morning. The workshop will be approximately one hour long.

UPDATE on 8/27/11: Due to the impending rains from Hurricane Irene, the workshop has been postponed until Sunday, September 18 at 11am.

Mushroom Cultivation at the Cornell Youth Grow Summit

Ari answers a question about mushroom cultivation.

Over 35 high school students gathered outside Cornell University’s Plant Science building on a sunny late June morning for “Mushroom Cultivation for Fun and Profit,” a workshop I co-led at the 2011 Youth Grow Summit with Steve Gabriel – a Cornell Garden-Based Learning co-worker and Program Director for the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute.

Youth Grow empowers high school-aged youth to become leaders in cultivating sustainable food systems, and the Summit brings youth from rural and urban areas throughout New York together for three days of educational workshops, networking, and knowledge sharing.

The Youth Grow Summit was an inspiring event, as the participants had a genuine passion for making the world a better place by improving our food systems. I was happy to see that there was such wide interest in mushroom cultivation among the youth – several told me the day before how excited they were, and the event coordinators ultimately had to put a cap on the workshop enrollment.

Steve Gabriel and Ari Rockland-Miller presenting at the 2011 Cornell Youth Grow Summit.

Even more importantly, the participants were engaged and excited about learning. They asked thoughtful questions as Steve and I demonstrated techniques for cultivating shiitake, oyster, and king stropharia mushrooms. Conveniently, one of my favorite wild king stropharia patches was within a stone’s throw of the workshop location. I don’t usually give away my mushroom spots, but this one was well worth it for the educational value!

Once we tuned into the natural world beneath our feet, other surprises awaited us, too! When I picked up an earthworm that was wriggling amongst the woodchips, a few students screamed in repulsion. One young woman, however, was more intrigued than repulsed. She reached out to hold the worm, and once she grabbed it an onlooker became eager to join the fun. I pushed aside the top layer of woodchips and found a nice plump one for her. It was all worth it for the huge smile on her face as she marveled at the worm’s slippery texture as it squirmed around in her palm!

Steve Gabriel explains how to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds.

A workshop participant from Brooklyn holds an earthworm.

ForageCast: Week of July 18, 2011

Parched soil means few, if any, mushrooms.

After an abundant beginning to the chanterelle and black trumpet season, the recent bout of spectacular weather has sent the mushrooms back into hiding. I am still finding chanterelles and black trumpets, but, as local master forager Carl Whittaker recently remarked, there is nothing more “depressing” than sorting through vast swaths of dried up chanterelles, hoping to find a few decent specimens.

Regardless, it is hard to complain about 80-degree, sun-soaked days. And while many of the best edibles are shriveling up, there are still plenty of Russulas and Boletes painting the forest floor with their boldly colored caps.

Backpacking in the Adirondacks this weekend, I pointed out a frisbee-sized bitter bolete (Tylopilus felleus) to two of my friends. I told them it was innocuous but tongue-numbingly bitter, and apparently this was all they needed to know to dig in. They didn’t make it past the first bite, but they seemed to take some masochistic pleasure in the tingling on their tongues that lingered long after they had spit the morsel out! Needless to say, never taste a mushroom unless you are confident of its ID, and never taste a bitter bolete even if you are confident of its ID – unless you are the type of person who enjoys sucking on Sichuan peppercorns!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of July 18, 2011

 

ForageCast: Week of July 11, 2011

Lobster mushroom - fungus or crustacean?

While Ithaca’s gorges mean relief from the summer heat is never far away, sometimes I miss the crashing waves and salty smell of the ocean.  I may be hundreds of miles inland, but my thoughts drifted off to sea today when I found two mushrooms that blur the line between fungus and crustacean.

My first fishy find was a school of shrimp Russulas, also known as the shellfish-scented Russula or crab brittlegill. The name is not ironic; the mushroom reeks of shellfish, especially in older specimens. In fact, the shellfish scent is an important ID feature, since the cap color on your sylvan shrimp may be purple, red, pink, orange, yellow, brown, or olive. Even if your Russula does smell shrimpy, be careful – Russulas are notoriously difficult to ID, and for this reason the shrimp Russula does not appear in the ForageCast graphic.

Like all Russulas, the mushroom has brittle flesh that shatters into pieces when kicked or tossed. As fun as throwing Russulas against trees and watching them explode may be, their texture does not earn them points in the kitchen. This is why most Russulas are, in mycologist David Aurora’s words, “Better kicked than picked.” However, the shrimp Russula has a rich enough flavor to trump its brittle texture, and even Aurora enjoys them – especially when marinated and cooked over an open hearth.  So, I resisted the urge to kick today, instead opting for the more peaceful option of “pick.”

Once I had enough shrimp, it was on to lobster. Like its namesake, the lobster mushroom is a bottom-dweller, often hiding beneath the duff on the forest floor. Luckily, it is not very good at hiding – its flame red, warty flesh is a dead giveaway that a lobster is lurking among the leaves. This parasitic fungus is one of nature’s great alchemists, turning white, insipid Russula and white, acrid Lactarius fungi into a delicious and colorful mushroom that smells and tastes like the sea.

Go into the woods today and keep your eyes (and nostrils open) for lobster and shrimp Russula mushrooms – you too may be swept away!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of July 11, 2011

 

ForageCast: Week of July 5, 2011

Is that a giant puffball or a soccer ball lurking amongst the periwinkle?

Remember how much fun you had as a child stomping on puffballs and watching them erupt into a cloud of dusty spores? You may not have realized it at the time, but you were helping a tasty edible mushroom distribute its trillion-strong legion of spores.  

By the time you became a pawn in the puffball’s evolutionarily honed procreation scheme, it was too late for you to throw the mushroom on the grill. Whether you were stomping on one of the smaller pear-shaped or gem-studded puffballs or the aptly named giant puffball, the fungus’ solid white firm interior had already turned to a vomit-hued spore slurry. If you ever did stomp on a puffball in the right stage for eating, you were probably sorely disappointed when the mushroom broke into fleshy, earthbound chunks that resembled Styrofoam.

This pure white, undifferentiated flesh may not explode, but it does have a marshmallowy texture and scallopy flavor that shines when grilled, broiled, or deep-fried. Keep your eyes out for puffballs from now through October, but stick to the giant (anywhere from the size of your fist to the size of a small hog) ones until you have more experience under your belt. 

The blander pear-shaped and gem-studded puffballs must always be sliced open to ensure that the flesh is pure white with no outline of gills or a cap. This is vital, since they can be confused for the buttons of deadly Amanitas. The giant puffball, however, is one of the most distinctive edible mushrooms; just watch out for its notorious lookalike – the soccer ball!

Northeastern ForageCast for the week of July 5, 2011

 

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