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It’s Log, It’s Log
Growing mushrooms in logs isn’t much harder. Order a bag of inoculated dowel pieces, drill a bunch of holes in a hardwood log, hammer them in, and seal the holes with cheese wax (the waxing is optional, but helpful). Janjigian suggests using your own wood if you prune a tree; it’s important that the wood be green (freshly cut) from healthy trees with the bark intact to protect the wood from colonization by undesirable species. The ideal size is six to eight inches in diameter and about three feet long, for easy carrying. If you don’t prune trees, he recommends talking to your landscaper, arborist, or the person you buy firewood from. These same sources can also provide free or inexpensive hardwood chips for inoculating and then using for mulch. Oak and (unsprayed) fruit wood are best; evergreens like pine and spruce are not suitable and should be avoided, and it’s a good idea not to grow mushrooms too close to your woodpile, to avoid having it colonized.
The best book for people interested in mushroom cultivation is Mycelium Running (2005, Ten-Speed Press) by Paul Stamets, who also runs www.FungiPerfecti.com, an excellent source for bags, plugs, logs, and kits for growing a wide variety of fungi. The book contains extensive information on techniques and ideas for creative incorporation of mushroom plantings into larger yards and gardens. Janjigian extols the satisfaction of being able to grow such healthy, high-price fare with so little cost and effort, and to become more familiar with the least-respected kingdom of living things. To further deepen our respect and pleasure, and get our hands on some species that are hard or impossible to cultivate, he recommends foraging. “Find a local club, meet people and learn from them,” he says, “it’s all about collecting and practicing.”
Those interested in learning to forage wild species need look no further than the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association, which offers regular walks all season long in many beautiful parts of our region, as well as an annual winter mushroom dinner for members. Association webmaster and spokesperson Elmer LeSuer is eager to spread the word, using Facebook and the group’s official site to build the community. “There’s a bounty of wonderful food that people are missing out on,” he says, noting that “one walk with an expert is enough to learn to identify the easy ones.” (This assumes, of course, that they are there for the finding, which is where the use of “hunting” as verb of choice becomes clear.)
“It can be as complicated as real science, or as simple as picking raspberries,” LeSuer continues, encouraging beginners to come along on a walk and benefit from all the combined experience of the other members. One could be easily content just to hunt easily identified varieties like black trumpets and chanterelles—which happily happen to make the best eating— or to develop an expert eye over time. Either way, he invites everyone to “come out and play with us.” Janjigian recommends Stan Tekiela’s Start Mushrooming (2003, Adventure Publications) as the best introduction to the six unmistakable edible varieties in North America, but, like LeSuer, he cautions that people should always go out first with an expert and consult more than one book to verify any identification.
A recent association outing on a perfect September day in Napanoch yielded a bounty of tasty honey mushrooms in addition to a few hen-of-the-woods (maitake) and chicken mushrooms as well as interesting inedible varieties. The group wandered through the woods for about three hours, searching, chatting, separating, reconvening around an exciting find, and filling baskets with both edibles and other specimens (baskets are important because they help spread spores). The members are friendly, welcoming, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. It’s hard to imagine a happier confluence of hiking, learning, and socializing. And where else will you get to say “Strobilomyces floccopus” in mixed company?
Some foragers contacted for this piece did not want to talk; they prefer having the woods to themselves, and expressed annoyance at being invited onto land to help educate the owners and find good patches, then never be asked back. If you have land, and want an expert to help you learn what grows there, common courtesy would suggest that you allow him or her to return from time to time; it’s a deep field, and the extra knowledge and experience you gain will be worth far more than a portion of the bounty. We owe it to ourselves to learn more about these essential, fascinating, and delicious organisms. Grow your own, or take a walk and start hunting. You’ll be glad you did.