If you google fungiculture, you are most unlikely to be rewarded with this, the earthwoman guide to growing marvellous oyster mushrooms. You will more likely be bamboozled by hugely scientific case studies that involve sterilisation of straw bales, along with temperature and humidity controlled apparatus.
Having spent 3 years in advanced scientific endeavours, beavering away in a dark lab, meticulously recording my every move, I have to say I can no longer be fagged with real science. I prefer my experiments to be random and uncontrolled.
Besides, I also recently heard on Gardeners Question Time that oyster mushrooms were dead easy to grow and didn’t require precision cultivation techniques. I think the suggestion was that you could sprinkle spores on the compost heap and wait for the bounteous harvest to follow.
So with this in mind I created my own recipe and mixed up the non-sterilised concoction scavenged from the compost caddy and the wormery. I tossed it all in one of Lynn’s old t-shirts and now I’m hoping for the best.
I’ve popped one on the top shelf of the wormery, the other in the leaf mould bin and the final one in the edge of the big compost heap.
If you want to follow my tried and untested approach to oyster mushroom cultivation. Here’s the recipe and how-to video.
Mushrooms are tricky critters. The line between deadly poisonous and delightfully edible is a vague and fluffy one.
Take the Common or Shaggy Ink Cap as an example, classified in some quarters as an excellent edible it also takes centre stage on our poster of “Some Poisonous Fungi” and is tagged as “dangerous when consumed either 48 hours before or 48 hours after, drinking alcohol”. With a 4 day alcohol free window required, I would say that makes it permanently poisonous for me.
Mind you, it could be just what I need to keep me on the straight narrow in the sober run up to the Great North Wetsuit fitting escapade.
The Death Cap or (Amanita phalloides) is deadly poisonous, apparently responsible for 80% of all mushroom related deaths but it is damn hard to distinguish between that and the edible sister mushroom the Tawny Grisette or Amanita fulva. [Actually my book says it is responsible for 80% of deaths (full stop) and I added the mushroom related bit as I’m pretty sure mushrooms haven’t knocked heart disease and cancer off the top rungs of purgatory.]
I’ve labelled the central fungus in this collection as a death cap but have since decided it is a tawny grisette. Just as well we didn’t bring it home or I may be tempted to test out my identification skills in a dodgy roulette style.
I’m afraid my allotment mushroom logs have not sprung into glorious fungal abundance, they remain as two derelict stumps with a stippling of doweling. This colourful collection were snapped on our weekend trip around Longshaw Estate in the Peak District.
We were there in search of the much sought after chip butty of Grindleford caff fame but got rather sidetracked by the mushroomy loveliness of the landscape. We weren’t the only ones, every time I squatted down to gill level, the park warden would pop out of nowhere to bagsy my find. He was supposedly taking a couple of baby wardens on a navigational skills walk but it seemed to have morphed into a tracking skills workshop.
I’m not really complaining, admittedly I don’t like being approached from the rear, especially when I have it partially exposed and facing skywards, but he did prove to be rather useful on the mushroom identification front. I’d be able to rattle off the names of all of them if only either of us had half a memory between us. As it is, we came home with only a vague recollection of names beginning with R and have spent the last 2 days ferreting through every fungal book to hand.
Here’s what we’ve come up with, in a very unreliable fashion, starting in the centre and then going clockwise from top left:
1. Tawny Grisette (Amanita fulva) or possibly the Death Cap, tasty or deadly – you take your choices.
2 & 13. Earthball
3 & 4. Dunno
5. Beechwood Sickener (Russula mairei)
6. Green cracked russula (Russula virescens)????
7. Sulphur tuft or honey fungus, another one of those edible or not choices.
8 & 9. Shaggy Ink Cap
10. Some form of Boletus
11 & 12. Possibly another form of overblown boletus
I went to the plot this weekend with the intention of digging over acres of land ready for mammoth spud burying activities on Good Friday but the ground was too soggy for me to bother. I did a bit of shed tidying instead and laid out a load of the bargain seed potatoes that Dad and I bought from B&Q.
I had to dispose of a load of King Edwards as they were black and soggy with the blight. No wonder they appeared to be such a good bargain.
The shitake mushrooms had ballooned over the past week and had turned a touch slimey. They were splattered with mud from the rain as well so weren’t altogether appealing. Not having tasted them yet I thought I’d overcome my reticence and cook them up with a few sausages.
I didn’t really enjoy them too much. They tasted mushroomy enough but it occurred to me during the cooking process that I didn’t really have a clue what shitakes looked like. They did appear to be growing from one of the dowells that I had inserted but as they were alone it could be possible that a stray variety may have self seeded itself in the log – perhaps a highly poisonous fungus of the deadly variety?
I love mushrooms but this sort of russian roulette with the foraged specimens does really put me off my lunch. I’m not dead yet but them Amanita phalloides takes 6 days to wipe you it, I think I’m on day 3, so watch out for a long delay in blog posting.
I did a quick flit to the plot this weekend to harvest roast ingredients and to rescue the developing mushrooms.
I was surprised to find a beautiful chestnut fungus occupying the place where my foetal oyster mushroom had appeared only days before. I obviously got my logs labelled incorrectly and these were actually the shitakes.
I picked a cabbage that was frozen through to the core. I probably shouldn’t have picked it in that state, the leaves were practically transparent. It cooked up pretty well though and the flavour didn’t seem to be impaired by my impatience.
I pulled a couple of the shitakes as well but then forgot to add them to my pork chops. They are still on my work surface now so I hope they dehydrate themselves before going mouldy, so I can use them for some exotic dish that I may rustle up in the future.
I rose early enough today to make a quick detour to the plot to source a traditional array of Christmas dinner delights. The carrots may have been merely bite-sized but the parsnips have got to be world-record challengers. I got so carried away that I dug an entire bed of them. That should make for a fun festive period as no-one else seems to like parsnips. Maybe they’ll change their minds after I’ve made them endure a succession of parsnippy dishes: roast parsnip; parsnip, ginger and garlic soup; curried parsnip soup; parsnip cakes with borlotti bean and garlic sauce – need I go on?
I struggled to carry the freshly dug roots home along with enough spuds to feed 10 but it all proved worthwhile in the end. I was proud as punch to see my hard grown purple sprouts being force fed to the children amongst screams of “yuk” and “don’t make me”. I also spotted a number of semi-gnawed purple orbs being slipped to the dog under the table. I was tempted to follow suit myself actually, I’m not really keen on the purple ones, they are a bit peppery and not sprout-like enough for my liking. I’ll have a field of green ones next year though, so I hope that dog does actually like them.
It was good to note that the mushroom logs that I prepared last Christmas have actually started to show signs of activity. They don’t look exactly appetising but I think the oyster mushroom may be about to blossom.
For Christmas this year I got a couple of packs of mushroom “seed” or more accurately, packs of wooden dowells impregnated with mushroom mycelium.
I went up to Yorkshire for a few days so I split them with my Dad and we had some fun trying to bash the little plugs into some freshly cut logs. We’ve got two varieties, oyster and shitake, can’t say I’m that fond of shitake but I’m hoping to acquire a dessicator before they crop, they should be pretty useful in soups after I’ve dried them out.
Back home I sunk them in the ground just in front of the shed, where I hope they’ll get sufficient shade to be happy. They apparently crop best in October but I can’t imagine they’ll take that long to issue some fruit.
I can’t remember which is which now.
While I was visiting my parents, I also raided their established pond and nicked some weed, pond water and a water lily. I think the allotment frog population should be jolly happy with the new residence.