Unfortunately, I missed part of his introductory talk, but did get back to the class in time to hear about how shitakes were considered extremely valuable by the ancient Japanese.
Maybe it was morels he was talking about. Certainly, when the class found out that we actually have morels right here, growing wild in my back yard, they were astounded. “You mean you’d tell people?!” one woman said, as if she might come steal them in the night.
Here’s the first ones we found.
Nathan had spotted this cluster a few days prior to the workshop. Hard to see, unless you know what you’re looking for. He said he’d never seen a morel growing in rocks and gravel like that. Then he looked up, and said, “Aha! Growing near an oak tree. That’s what morels like to do, grow under dying oak trees” (which this one is, though “not too bad yet”, he pronounced). They also like elm trees, and there was also an elm tree in their vicinity.
The day of the workshop, his four-year old daughter Lulu, equally perceptive, spotted more morels, growing under flowers, also near the oak and elm trees.
Meanwhile, he said, the main part of this workshop is to drill holes for plugs which have the spores of the mushrooms in them.
You want to get the hole exactly the same length as the plug, and fit tightly, then paint the top with wax. Do them a few inches apart all over the oak log. Make sure you pick a log that’s somewhat moist (i.e., not too long dead), and still has its bark. The mycellium grows throughout the log, spreading out from the plugs, and only then fruiting.
You can pretty much figure that one inch equals one year, i.e. if a log is five inches in diameter, then it will have five years of life growing mushrooms. You have to balance the length of time it will fruit with how much the log weighs, however, since you may have to move it around to keep it wet enough for the spores to continue to grow. Store the log in a shady spot.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the spore plugs. But here’s a finished log, with the spores plugs in and their tops waxed. Note also the venetian blind marker, telling when the log was impregnated with spores, which, by the way, take about nine months to fruit. If you want continuous mushrooms, then start logs about one month apart and label them according to date.
. . . then, per Nathan’s instructions, split them lengthwise in two, soaked them in salt water for 30 minutes, then fried them in butter and garlic (lemon juice would have been another welcome addition).
Yum! By 4 p.m. we were done. Everyone went home with a full stomach of that wonderful wild, earthy mushroom taste and a newly pregnant log.