Garden Experiment 2: Wine Cap Mushroom Cultivation

Perhaps buoyed by the unexpected success of my previous garden experiment, I’ve started another. This time, I’m trying to cultivate the wine cap (aka Stropharia) mushrooms in my garden. The wine caps are about the simplest of any to grow, which seems like a good fit for me since I’ve only had mixed success with growing shitakes in the past.

There are a handful of sites providing instructions on how to grow wine caps (links provided below), all of which were so short that I felt they were leaving out important information. But they weren’t leaving information out—it’s just that simple. I got my spawn from Field and Forest Products, a company out of northern Wisconsin.

Mushroom spawn, via the internet and mail.

The mushroom grows well in part sun to light shade, so I picked an area in prairie garden underneath a red maple tree. This area is full sun this time of year (i.e., before the leaves come out) but then is lightly shaded during the summer. Possibly because of the shade, few plants seem to creep into this area and it stays pretty clean with only mulch and minimal weeding. It’s also not far out the back door of our house, which makes it a good place to grow edibles.

Clean garden area on the edge of our yard.

I raked up the mulch, moving it just slightly to try to smother out some grass on our septic lawn. (I try to kill the lawn whenever I can.) Then I covered the area with about 1 inch of straw. Based on the instructions, it would have been better if I would have used hardwood sawdust or fine wood chips for the base, or if I would have soaked the straw for a few days first. But between spending time at the cottage and work travel, my time to work on this is limited and I decided to go for it anyway just using dry straw.

Spreading straw, a base layer about 1-inch deep.

Since I didn’t pre-soak my straw, I gave it a good spray with the hose to get some moisture close to the soil. I crumbled up the sawdust spawn and spread that over the straw, and then covered that with the remaining straw so that it was a few inches deep. Then I set up a sprinkler and gave the whole area a good long soak.

New mushroom bed, ready to go.

I kept the sprinkler in place so that I can water the area again if we don’t get rain for a while. But otherwise, I just have to wait and see what happens. Stay tuned!

Instructions

Here are instructions on “planting” wine cap spawn from:

Early Spring: Wild Leeks (and Recipe Roundup)

Foraging is something I’ve said that I want to do more of this year. I keep waiting and waiting, but it’s still early spring. Even a week ago we had enough snow to cover the ground.

The forest is just starting to wake up for spring. And, in this case, waking up seems to be more like the prolonged lingering one does on a weekend morning when you really don’t want to get out of bed. The earth is sleeping in, and won’t wake up and get going until it has to.

This makes me extra grateful for leeks (aka ramps, aka Allium tricoccum). The leeks started to emerge a few weeks ago, just after the silver maple began to bud out and the geese started to come back. Now the leeks have grown to their full height and are found in large patches in the woods near our property.

Oodles of leeks in the woods.

I’ve been going out to collect leeks in the woods. I don’t collect the ones nearest to us; instead, I make sure to go a little farther into the woods and find areas where they are especially dense.

Often I’ll just use a scissors to cut of the green leaves, removing a handful here and there to thin out the patches. I figure that this only temporarily sets back the plants and doesn’t disturb the soil. Most the time the leaves are enough anyway, adding just a bit of onion-garlic taste to a dish.

One day I went out with a digging fork to dig up entire plants, and I suspect that I’ll do this more in later spring as the leaves start to decline and the bulbs grow. The digging fork is preferable to a shovel, as it helps lift and break apart the soil so that it is easier to grab individual plants without breaking them. Just like when I cut the tops off, I only disturb a small number of plants in any one place. I dig up a forkful on one location and then move several feet away to a new place to minimize disturbance on the site.

Digging leeks with a fork.

There are still seeds on many of the leek plants left over from last year. I’ve been gathering some of these and placing them in the hole as I replace the disturbed soil. If the seeds are still viable, hopefully they’ll grow new plants for next year. When I cut the roots off of the plants to cook them, I dig a hole in the right type of soil and bury them close to the cottage, hoping some of those might manage to grow into new plants as well. And perhaps I’ll gather some seeds and plant those as well.

Seeds on a leek plant.

Cooking with Leeks

I’m still gathering and playing with recipes for leeks, but here are a few that have caught my eye and my imagination:

Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder (via Health Starts in the Kitchen) — I made this simple chowder for dinner and it worked really well. Not being one to ever follow a recipe as written, I only used about half the cream and cheese that the recipe called for and instead cooked about a quarter of a cauliflower and creamed it with an immersion blender to get the thick, creamy consistency.

Ramp Pesto (via Hunter Angler Gardener Cook) — To be honest, I didn’t follow this recipe too closely at all, and I borrowed a lot of ideas from this simpler one that omits the fancy cheese and uses sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. In this case, the recipe mash-up was important because the first one described the importance of blanching the leek leaves in order to keep the pesto from turning that yucky brown color. The result from the recipe mash-up was amazing.

Here are a few others on my to-make list:

 

31 Days of Nature Challenge

Audrey over at AudreyWanders.com is instigating a nature challenge for the month of May, and you should sign up!

Here’s the description of the challenge:

31 Days of Nature is a challenge to spend every day of May 2017 outdoors. All you have to do is spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day. In order to make the 30 minutes count, you have to get your hands or feet on the earth in some way, shape, or form.

I’m going to play along, even though I’m a little nervous about being able to pull it off. I’m especially nervous about May 1, given the forecast for 40 degrees, rain, and strong wind.

May 1 forecast. 😦

I’m good at getting outside when the weather is nice and when my schedule allows, but I still wimp out a lot more than I’d like to when it’s not as easy to go out. This should be a good opportunity to see when and where I run into resistance and experiment with getting over it.

I hope you’ll do the challenge too!

Here are a few ideas for what to do this May to spend time outside:

Keep me posted—I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

It is Spring, and it is Not Spring

I’m liking paradox lately. I’ve recently finished listening to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (amazing! highly recommended!) and she talks about the paradox of creativity in that book—perhaps I’ll talk about that in a future post, but in the meantime you should really just read that book.

I’m sure that having something both be and not be drives some people crazy. Those people probably think in terms of black and white. But I rarely see things as black or white; all ideas, thoughts, actions seem to be in countless shades of gray— if I ever see anything in terms of black or white, it’s really going to be black and white.

Anyway, as I was continuing to think about this transition from winter to spring, it occurred to me that I am living in a paradox:

It is spring. And it is not spring.

It is spring because we have tapped our maple trees and started making syrup. It is spring because the snow is melting and the rivers are open, and because there are geese and swans and cranes in the sky.

But it is not spring because there is still snow, and the sap in our buckets is frozen solid. And it is not spring because we went ice fishing today, and I cannot believe that one can ice fish in any season but winter.

Heading out on the lake.

It was a great day to go out. I haven’t ice fished in almost 10 years. Sexy and I went a few times long ago, but there was always a mishap: a broken heater, forgotten bait, something. So we only went a few times and I don’t think I ever caught anything. In recent years, I help out an our local fishing derby but don’t actually fish. But I’ve been wanting to spend more time outside, and this seemed like a good way to pass the time and a time of year (winter, not winter; spring, not spring) when there isn’t much else to do.

Our neighbor showed us where to go and lent me a shack, and we caught 17 crappies.

My share of the catch.

In trying to decide what season it currently is, it would be most appropriate to say mud season. I was thrilled to learn that there is a Russian word—rasputitsa—that describes when the roads go to hell during muddy spring and fall seasons. But if there were a mud season, I’d still be trying to figure out: Is today winter, or is it mud season? When does mud season officially become spring?

This is why paradox is better: because there are no crisp edges to seasons. It is spring. And it isn’t.

 

When The Pond in Winter Turns to Spring

A few years ago, I forced myself to finally read Walden. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it in high school or college and it seemed like one of those books I was supposed to read. I bought a copy while traveling for work, probably in 2007 or 2008, read the first 10 or so pages, and set it aside for several years. Books written in the 1800s are so hard to read, being full of long, run-on sentences that contain six different ideas. While I have been told that I talk that way (putting one idea into another and and then another, working my way deeper and deeper within the same thought), I don’t like that style of writing or reading.

I finally read Walden, after years of it sitting on my bookshelf.

So it took me forever to get around to reading Walden, and then another forever (or at least most of a winter) to actually read the entire book. It was good, but it wasn’t magnificent for me; it didn’t bowl me over the way that it apparently has for other people. [Sidenote: Instead, I’d recommend Braiding Sweetgrass which also contemplates the interaction of nature and humans; it was beautiful, and I had to read it in small, savoring bits because it was so breathtaking that I could hardly read a section without crying at something sad or beautiful or profound.]

But I liked Walden well enough and there were definitely many nice pieces of text that I underlined to save for later, and I expect that someday I will go back, reread the book, and think to myself: This book is amazing! Why didn’t I recognize this the first time I read it?!?

One thing that I like about Walden is that it is written as the year progresses, starting in the spring. Aldo Leopold starts The Sand County Almanac with the new year in January, but I think that if I ever write a book about this place, I would also be inclined to start it in the early spring because that feels like the new year to me. Because Walden starts in the spring, however, it means that the chapters describing winter felt really long and boring. There’s not a lot going on in the winter for Thoreau to observe (although he does observe more than the rest of us who tend to stay inside where its warm), and so there seem to be pages of detailed descriptions and long contemplation. During the near-final chapter The Pond in Winter, I couldn’t help but wonder: Will anything more happen before the book ends? 

Our pond in winter. Pretty boring, but at least the sun is out.

But there is one last chapter—Spring—that starts with the ice melting on Walden Pond. In the span of a few pages, the writing picks up and goes into rapid-fire descriptions of all of the changes that are happening: lake ice melting, ground thawing, a robin, geese, rain, and green grass. There is still plenty of cumbersome mid-19th century prose, but at least there is excitement—and many exclamation points!

This is how the end of Walden felt to me: There’s ice and snow. There’s still ice and snow. Let’s ponder all this ice and snow, and some Hindu gods too just because there’s nothing else to do. The ice is starting to melt now. The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da! The end.

The ice is starting to melt (in western Massachusetts earlier this week).

And, funnily enough, I got to thinking about this today, because this is how life is feeling right now. We are currently right between “The ice is starting to melt now.” and “The ice is going away.” A week ago, I was feeling anxious and frustrated, which is really just being asymptomatic of cabin fever. [Another sidenote: This is why the tag Winter Never Ends is one of the most frequently used on my blog.]

Now that the trees are tapped and the ice is starting to melt, I’m feeling a bit better. Two nights ago, we went out to do some work on our land; I heard geese, and that made me so happy. Spring is not quite here yet, but in a few days I’ll be talking like this:  The ice is going away. Hey, look at this. And this! And this! And this! And this and this! Spring! Ta-da!

Happy spring!

p.s. As I was writing this post, I recalled a post from last year called Spring Starts a New Year and I wondered if I’d already written about some of these ideas. It seemed vaguely familiar—too familiar. Yup, I covered a lot of this same (frozen) ground year at pretty much the exact same time of the year. But I decided to keep going because this version is a bit different and captures my experience this spring.

Two Big Questions on My Mind

I have a lot of questions. Many of these are of the existential what-does-it-all-mean variety that I suspect I’ll never have answers to.

But, for the purposes of this blog, I generally have two big questions that I’m trying to learn more about:

1) What are the ways that nature can enhance our health and happiness?

I think we generally have intuitive sense that nature is good for us, that it’s good to get fresh air, to go for a walk, to get a way from it all. As I dig more deeply into this subject, it’s amazing to learn just how good spending time in nature is for people and for entire communities. In many ways, it’s the perfect antidote to our many of our modern problems, including stress, busyness, and disconnection. Time with nature can reduce anxiety, improve creativity, and boost immunity to diseases like cancer. It can lead to longer lifespans and provide inspiration and a sense of belonging.

2) What are some practical ways to spend more time with nature?

With all of those benefits, it seems clear that many of us could benefit from spending more time with nature. But how to we realistically do that when we feel busy and overstretched? Where do we find time in the day to go outside when the rest of the world is increasingly inside? I struggle with this as much as anybody—even living rurally and being a moderately outdoorsy person, I still have plenty of days where I don’t spend any time outside or connected to nature. This is why I’m interested in  finding ways to experience ordinary, everyday nature as I am in planning big, wild adventures.

That’s where my mind is these days, so I hope that you’ll come back and learn more with me!

Winter is for Snowshoeing

Admission: I avoided snowshoeing for the longest time. It always seemed so slow and boring compared to cross country skiing. My thinking was: Why plod when you can race?!?! But I changed my tune this winter and have been snowshoeing a lot, to visit the cottage, to find chaga, to gather water (more on that in a future post).

I contributed a post to the Hike Like a Woman site that went live today (and we still have snow here!). It’s called “Winter is for Snowshoeing,” and you should read it and check out the posts by other Hike Like a Woman contributors and ambassadors. Read it now!

 

Clouds are for Everyone

Although it’s still winter, there are signs that spring is on its way. A week of unseasonably warm weather made me start a gardening project in February and we’ll be making maple syrup before too long. Like most years, I slipped into a bit of a funk starting sometime in November, which lasted into January. I think I fought it less this year, allowing myself to be lazy, to hibernate, and to explore winter in new ways—very slowly, and generally on snowshoes. By late January, I felt my energy start to go back up.

Light is a tremendous part of this. I definitely get a little bit S.A.D. in the winter with the short days. By late January, the days are lengthening so that there is some daylight left after work—enough that it’s easier to go snowshoeing or skiing, and a headlamp is optional rather than required.

But I think that the change in light conditions has as much to do with clouds as a longer day length. The clouds are much different now than during the darkest days of winter. Rather than the constant, overcast gray clouds that bring the lake-effect snow, there are more white, patchy, billowy clouds that let the sunshine be visible during the day.

I just finished reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the the Cloud Appreciation Society. It’s a great book, and I definitely recommend you check it out, as it described the major types of clouds and conditions under which they form.

One time I was in southern Illinois in the spring and participating a competition to identify trees. I had no idea what one was and so I just wrote down “the tree with pretty pink flowers.” Of course, that was not the correct answer,  and all of the foresters from southern states giggled that us northerners were so clueless to not know such an obvious tree (it was a redbud, and I’ve never forgotten it since). That pretty much sums us my relationship with clouds: I’ve known that there is a difference between the fluffy white clouds and the thick gray ones and the patchy pretty ones that look really nice at sunset—but I could never tell you what they were called (stratus? nimbus? the ones that look like animals… Der…).

But now I know the different clouds… or at least I am learning them, and have a better appreciation for them.

I went to the cottage over the week to continue my tree-cutting project. It was about 20ºF and cloudy, with a bit of lake-effect snow falling. There was a strong wind from, oddly, the southwest that was blowing right in my face as I was cutting trees. It was not the most pleasant day to be out, but I was already at the property and figured I should cut at least one or two trees down. I cut most of the smaller trees already and upgraded to a larger saw for the remaining big trees, so each tree takes longer.

I was cutting down one tree, about 14 inches in diameter. While sawing, I was thinking about how boring it was to saw this tree, about how sluggish I felt, and about how my arms got tired after a few minutes. I stopped to take a break, and looked up to see the sunlight start to peek through the clouds.

20170225_161031.jpg
Of course, pictures never look as nice as in real life.

I’ve been thinking that lake-effect snow clouds, our most common winter clouds that can cover the sky for days and days, are probably status clouds—the low-lying, formless clouds that are essentially a layer of thick fog only a few thousand feet in the sky. It was nice that the sun was visible at all, a sign that the strong winds were breaking up the cloud layer. I watched the wind move the clouds around a while, the patch of sunlight moving accordingly, and then when back to sawing. When I was ready to leave, the clouds had opened more to allow more beams of sunlight through.

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This is an exciting amount of sun in the winter sky.

The sky continued to open, and by the time I trudged back to my car, there were even patches of blue sky. The wind and warmer temperatures had changed the clouds. I’m still learning, but I think these new clouds were probably stratocumulus—large, billowly rolls of clouds that are half-way between the thick, shapeless stratus clouds and the cotton balls of white fluff that are cumulus clouds.

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Meh. Another blurry photo… Sorry about that!

During the past few years I’ve really been trying to spend more time appreciating nature (which is really where this blog comes from), and I think one of the biggest changes that I’ve made is that I’m routinely paying more attention to the sky whenever I’m outside, even at night. I spent a lot of time last fall looking at the sky and enjoying the clouds in general, and that was nice. Now I’m looking forward to looking at the clouds with a bit more knowledge, and expecting that I’ll appreciate them even more.

What do your clouds look like?