Mushrooms Think It’s Autumn Again

   The 15 oak logs sitting in the shade of my giant Norway spruce tree more than earned their keep last year. Seven of them got inoculated with plugs of shiitake mushroom spawn in the spring of 2013; eight of the were inoculated in the spring of 2014. With little further effort on my part, reasonably good flushes of mushrooms appeared through spring and summer, then heavy flushes through fall until the mild weather turned frosty.Indoor shiitakes
    My friends Bill and Lisa, also shiitake growers, told me a few days ago how they’re still harvesting good crops, cold weather notwithstanding. They brought one of their logs indoors, where it stands in the sink of their laundry room. Great idea!
    I don’t have a laundry room, but I do have a cool, dark, moist basement, i.e. mushroom heaven. So a few days ago I carried one of my logs down the narrow basement stairway and propped it against the wall in a dark corner near the sump pit. That nearby pit could catch excess water in case the log needed to be watered.
    No watering was needed: A few days after taking up residence in the basement, fat, juicy shiitake mushrooms exploded from the plugs up and down the log — so many that we had enough to dry for future use.
    I’ll leave the log down there to see if it flushes again. If nothing happens within a few weeks, I’ll carry it back under the spruce and replace it with another log from outside. The few weeks in the cool basement might be enough time for more mycelial growth in the log in preparation for another flush. And then, sitting for some time in cold weather beneath the spruce might be just what a shiitake log needs to shock it into another cycle of production.
    Rotating the logs between the basement and beneath the spruce could keep us in fresh mushrooms all winter long.

Winter Green

    Most years, by this time, piles of snow would make it difficult for me to get to those outdoor shiitake logs. Recent weather, and predictions for the coming months, makes me wonder if I should even keep using the word “winter.”
    I’d sacrifice fresh shiitakes for a real winter with plenty of snow. (We have enough quart jars of dried shiitakes to last well into warm weather.) It’s nice to have that white stuff to ski on. Snow even fertilizes the ground (“poor man’s manure”) as well as insulates it against cold.

Bamboo after a mild winter

    On the other hand, a mild winter has its appeal. Most winters, leaves and canes my yellow groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) are damaged — or, like last winter — killed back to the ground. The roots survive to re-sprout but the leaves turn brown and the new canes in spring are spindly. Some winters, like this winter probably, make for attractive (and useful) tall, thick canes dressed all winter long in green leaves.
    Chester blackberry is another borderline hardy plant. It’s the hardiest of the thornless blackberries yet comes through most winter with many stems dried and browned — dead, that is. In the spring after our mild winters, stems are still green, foreshadowing a good crop of blackberries in late summer.
    I’ve been waiting for a string of reliably milder winters to plant out my hardy orange plant (Citrus trifoliata). Yes, a citrus whose stems can just about survive to flower and fruit outdoors here, where winter temperatures normally plummet to minus 20°F or below. The fruit, sad to say, is only marginally palatable.
    One more plus for a mild winter is the color green. The green of plants comes from chlorophyll, which is always decomposing, so must be continuously synthesized if the plant is to remain green. Synthesis requires warmth and sunlight, both at a premium during winters here. So most winters turn lawns muddy green or brown; even the green of evergreens, such as arborvitae, turn chalky green.
    But not this winter — so far. Grass is still vibrant green, as are the arborvitaes and other evergreens.

My Favorites

    My friend Sara asked me if I had yet ordered my seeds, and if I was getting anything especially interesting. Yes and hmmm.Some of my favorite tomatoes
    As far as hmmm . . . I’ve tried a lot of very interesting plants over the years, too many of which — celtuce, garden huckleberry, vine peach, and white tomatoes, for example — were duds. So mostly, I restrain myself, devoting garden real estate to what I know either tastes or looks good, and grows well here in zone 5 or, more specifically, on my farmden. Some of my favorites include Shirofumi edamame, Blue Lake beans, Blacktail Mountain watermelon, Hakurei turnip, Sweet Italia and Italian Pepperoncini peppers, Golden Bantam sweet corn, Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored and Pink Pearl popcorn, Lemon Gem marigold, and Shirley poppy.
    I’m very finicky about what tomato varieties I plant, so won’t even mention them. Oh yes I will: Sungold, San Marzano, Paul Robeson, Brandywine, Belgian Giant, Amish Paste, Anna Russian, Valencia, Carmello, Cherokee Purple, and Nepal, to name a few.

And the Winner Is (drum roll) . . .

Thanks for all your comments, requested on last week’s post, about your soil care. Looks like you readers (or, at least, those of you who commented) are very savvy gardeners, enriching your soils with lots of organic materials.  I chose one comment randomly fro the lot, the writer of which gets a free copy of my book Grow Fruit Naturally. Congratulations Selena.

For those of you who subscribe — or have attempted to subscribe to my weekly blog, a glitch is preventing you from getting email notifications. I just found out that the glitch has been glitching since back in September. I hope to get it fixed soon. Any suggestions? (The blog is in WordPress and subscriptions are with Feedburner, whatever that means). Stay tuned. If you want to just go to my blog site, new posts come out towards the end of every week.


Have Fun, You Silly Ducks

    Wouldn’t you know it: I write about the extended dry spell one week, and the next week, which is now, the rain comes and doesn’t let up. Not that all this rain makes me regret having a drip irrigation system watering my garden. Rainfall could come screeching to a halt and send us into another dry spell.

Ducks, off to work and play

Ducks, off to work and play

     My five Indian runner ducks offer many advantages here on the farmden, not the least of which is affording me the pleasure of watching creatures that actually enjoy cool, rainy weather. The ducks also are entertaining and decorative, spend much of their days scooping insects and slugs out of the lawn and meadow and into their bills, and, especially when living on that diet of insects, slugs, and greenery, lay very tasty eggs. The downside to ducks is that they are dumb, and don’t know to stay out of the road.
    My four chickens offer many of the same advantages as the ducks, except they never seem as at peace with the world as do the ducks. Also, chickens scratch. Scratching at the bases of mulched trees and shrubs exposes roots; scratching elsewhere wrenches young transplants out of the ground.
    Chickens abhor rainy weather.

You ‘Shrooms, Also Enjoy This Weather

    Mushrooms I “planted” last spring are, like the ducks, reveling in this rainy change. “Planting” these mushrooms involved nothing more than pounding short lengths of wooden dowels, purchased with shiitake mushroom spawn growing in them, into numerous holes drilled in freshly cut pin oak logs. A cap of hot wax over each plug sealed in moisture. The 4-foot-long by 4” diameter logs lay in a shady place through summer while being colonized by thin threads of fungal hyphae growing out from the plugs.

Shiitake logs fruiting

Shiitake logs fruiting

   This spring was to be the start of a few years of “fruiting,” that is, making mushrooms, the spore bearing structures of fungi that taste so good sautéed with some onions and butter or olive oil. Dry weather of the past few weeks was slowing the mushrooms’ first appearance, so I decided to shock them. Just bouncing the end of a log against a hard surface, such as a sidewalk, sometimes wakes them up. I opted for a water shock treatment, giving the logs a 24 hour soak in a shallow kiddie pool.
    Right on schedule, within a week of being soaked, mushrooms began popping out all over the logs. With their ends levered into the horizontal openings of a metal fence gate tipped on its side against a tree, the logs and their attendant mushrooms are cantilevered out, perched above slugs and other organisms that might have enjoyed nibbling the fruits of my labor.
    The shock treatment has resulted in a mushroom tsunami. Excess go into the dehydrator, which has them crispy dry and ready for long term storage in about 4 hours. Once the tsunami ends, the fungi need to rest for a month and a half before they’re ready for another shock. Or I can do nothing, and let nature pump out mushrooms more slowly over a longer period of time. Of course, if this rain keeps up — 3 inches in the last couple of days — another tsunami might anyway be in the offing.

And I Can Plant . . . White Strawberries

    With the ground thoroughly soaked, it’s a good time to get plants in the ground . . . except in wet, clay soils. Working a wet clay ruins the almost crystalline structure that develops when it is well managed. Then, instead of the small particles aggregating together to make larger particles with larger pores in between them, letting air into the soil, the structure is reduced to only small unaggregated particles. Spaces between these small particles are so small that they draw in water by capillary action, and there’s no room available for air, which plant roots need. Good for pottery, bad for plants. Wait for any clay soil to dry a bit before digging in it, until it crumbles between your fingers with just a little pressure.
    My soil is a silt loam that’s been enriched with plenty of compost, which helps aggregation, so I can plant now, even right after rain.

'Pineapple Crush' strawberries

‘Pineapple Crush’ strawberries

    Among the plants I’ll be setting in the ground will be strawberries, right in a garden bed. Strawberries, you wonder? Big deal. But these are alpine strawberries. Okay, many people grow alpine strawberries. But these are white alpine strawberries, white, that is, even when dead ripe.
    Alpine strawberries are different from common garden strawberries in that they are a different species (Fragaria vesca), they don’t make runners, and both the plants and fruits are small, the latter about the size of a nickel. Previously, I’ve put a few in pots sitting along my front path for a nibble on the way to the door, or a few at the foot of garden beds, again, for a nibble, here while working in the garden. I want to see how the plants do under the better growing conditions of compost-enriched soil and drip irrigation right in a garden bed.
    Alpine strawberries are small but have very intense flavor, which needs to be fully developed before being picked. I especially like the white ones’ flavor, which can develop fully because, being white when ripe, they’re ignored by birds. The variety name Pineapple Crush gives a good approximation of the flavor.