The Bad and the Good

Winecaps, Not For Me

My successes with growing shiitake mushrooms emboldened me, this past spring, to venture further afield, to wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata). After all, it’s been billed as “prized, delicious” and “edible when young.”

Their quick production also prompted me to give them a try. As a matter of fact, my spring “planting” started bearing a couple of weeks ago. A bed can also be refreshed or a new bed can be inoculated from an old bed for repeat performances.Stropharia mushroom

Let’s go back to spring, to my planting. Wine caps grow very well in wood chip mulch, something that’s aplenty on my farmden. My berry bushes are mulched, my pear trees are mulched, as are the paths in my vegetable gardens. Why not do double duty with those mulches?

A few years ago, I attempted just that, laying a thick mulch of chips atop my asparagus bed in spring. Two problems: The thick mulch almost killed the plants, and the weather was very dry for weeks on end. Mushrooms need moisture.

This past spring, I pulled back twigs and other debris from a patch of ground beneath a Norway spruce tree and laid down a few inches of hardwood chip mulch. After sprinkling the purchased spawn over the mulch, I topped everything with another inch or two of, this time, wood shavings.

For this spring’s planting, I also decided to water, so set up a sprinkler. Rain fell pretty consistently all season long, obviating the need for further watering.

The tasting: To me, the mushrooms were tasteless. Sure, I could have sautéed them with butter and garlic; then they would have tasted like butter and garlic. (Disclaimer: Your results may differ from mine.)

My taste for wine cap mushrooms went down another notch when I more recently read a caution to eat them moderately and not more than two days in a row. My yard abounds with plenty of other good tasting, healthful food, so I’ll pass on the wine caps.

Seaberries For Me

On to more tasty items. Seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides). The harvest is in, the first harvest from my 2013 planting. I wanted them for juice and, on the recommendation of seaberry expert Jim Gilbert of, planted Titan, Leikora, and Orange Energy.

Seaberry plants are either male or female. Only female plants bear fruit; to do so, they need pollen from a nearby male, which I also planted. One male can sire up to 8 females.

Seaberry, Titan

Seaberry, Titan

In addition to yielding very healthful berries, seaberries further earn their keep as landscape plants. (I’ve seen them planted as ornamentals in New York City’s Battery Park.) The bush’s thin, olive green leaves are the perfect backdrop for the bright orange berries, clustered thickly right along the stems.

And there’s the rub. Long, sharp thorns also cluster along the stems, making harvest a potentially painful proposition.

I used the method Jim recommended for harvest, and that is to cut stems heavily laden with berries into 6 inch long pieces, put them into a covered plastic tub, and then freeze them. The frozen berries came off the stems when the tub was shaken vigorously. All I had to do then was to pick out the stems, and then winnow the leaves from the fruit in front of a fan.

The berries are now back in the freezer, to be made into juice at my leisure. That’ll involve cooking them in a little water, mashing them with a potato masher, and then straining. My previous planting yielded a delicious juice once diluted with 1/8 part water and sweetened with 1/8 part maple syrup or honey.Seaberry juice

This season’s juice should be even better because the berries taste better than the previous varieties I planted. Especially good — even straight from the bush — in the new planting is the variety Titan. Seaberry generally tastes, to me, like very rich orange juice with the addition of pineapple or passionfruit. Titan has more of a tangerine-y flavor.


Wine cap mushrooms and seaberries are both plants beloved by permaculturalists. The mushrooms for the little care they need, and their use of mulched ground. The seaberries, also for their low maintenance, their beauty, and their enrichment of the soil with nitrogen.

Seaberry bush

My seaberries are in a permaculturalesque planting, along with elderberry, highbush cranberry, nannyberry viburnum, rugose rose, Korean pine, and aronia. They’re all easy to care for. They’re all very ornamental. The only ones that taste good or yield anything are the seaberry and the rugosa roses.


 More Fruits to Plant!?

Pawpaw, tastes like crème brûlée

Pawpaw, tastes like crème brûlée

   You’d think, after so many years of gardening and a love of fruits being such a important part of said gardening, that by now I would have planted every fruit I might ever have wanted to plant. Not so!
    Hard to imagine, but even here in the 21st century, new fruits are still coming down the pike. I don’t mean apples with grape flavor (marketed as grapples), a mango nectarine (actually, just a nectarine that looks vaguely like a mango), or strawmato (actually a strawberry-shaped tomato).
    There are plenty of truly new fruits, in the sense of kinds of fruits hardly known to most people, even fruit mavens. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of them. Aronia is a beautiful fruit that makes a beautiful juice, so it’s getting more press these days. I grew it and thought it tasted awful. Goji’s another one in the public’s eye for it’s many health benefits and ease of growing; it also tasted terrible and I also escorted that plant to the compost pile.
    Some lesser known kin of raspberry had greater potential. I planted arctic raspberry, which grows as a groundcover and has been used in breeding for the good flavor it imparts to its offspring. The plant never bore for me. Salmonberry and thimbleberry similarly had gustatory potential but never bore well in my garden. I’ll give these plants another try someday.
    I’m tentative about honeyberries, which are blue-fruited, edible species of honeysuckle that bear young, fruit early in the season, and weather cold to minus 40 degrees F.. The “blueberry-like fruit” is so only in being blue. I planted a couple of bushes about 20 years ago and was not impressed with their yield or flavor — but I admit to neglecting the plants. More importantly, a lot of breeding has been done to improve the plants since I put my bushes in the ground. Stay tuned for my tastebuds’ report on the flavor of recently planted Blue Mist, Blue Moon, and Blue Sea honeyberries.

Some Fruits Are So Easy — And Tasty

    Reading what I just wrote might give the impression that planting any fruit except apples, peaches, and cherries — the usual, that is — leads to either failure or tentative flavor. Again, not so!

Persimmons, nashi, figs, and grapes

Persimmons, nashi, figs, and grapes

 Uncommon fruits adaptable over large swathes of the country that are easy to grow and have excellent flavor include pawpaw, American persimmon, gooseberry, black currant, hardy kiwifruit, Nanking cherry, and alpine strawberry — all documented in detail in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. All these plants grow and bear with little or no intervention on my part (and are available from such nurseries as and

Seaberries on bush in fall

Seaberries on bush in fall

    Seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides) didn’t make it into the book, which includes only “dessert fruits,” that is, those you can enjoy by just popping them into your mouth. But I’m happy I gave these bushes some of my real estate. Juiced, diluted, and sweetened, the delectable flavor is akin to rich orange juice mixed with pineapple. What’s more, the bushes are decorative and tolerate neglect, cold, drought, and deer.

New Fruits

    This spring I’m planting a new kind of a somewhat familiar fruit, back raspberries. They’re also called blackcaps, and grow wild along woodland borders, which is where I gather my harvest. (A ripe blackcap comes off the plant with a hollow core, like a thimble, in contrast to a ripe blackberry, whose core persists.)
    Blackcaps have perennial roots but their stems are typically biennial, growing only leaves their first year, fruiting in midsummer of their second year, then dying.

Blackcaps, ripe last summer

Blackcaps, ripe last summer

    Two new blackcap varieties, Niwot ( and Ohio’s Treasure (, do this one better: They start to bear on new canes towards the end of the first season, then bear again on those same canes, now one-year-old, in midsummer of the following year. You reap two crops per year, one in midsummer and one in late summer going on into fall. Or, for easier care but only one crop per year, the whole planting is mowed to the ground each year for a late summer-fall harvest.
    These two-crop blackcaps, just like two-crop (sometimes called everbearing) red and yellow raspberries, have the added advantage of bearing their first crop the same year that they are planted. My plan is to plant in mid-April, even though right now more than a foot of snow still blankets the ground.

Vegetables Are So Easy

    Snow or no snow, I’m sowing vegetable seeds, the second wave of the season. (My seed sources are,,, and Today, the lineup includes the new varieties (for me) Tuscan Baby Leaf kale, Tiburon Ancho hot pepper, and Round of Hungary and Odessa Market sweet peppers. With encores for their good past performance are Gustas Brussels sprouts, Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, Winterbor kale, and Carmen Sweet, Sweet Italia, and Italian Peperocini sweet peppers.