Shroom bloom

We were headed up our driveway this morning when Kevin stopped the car. He started backing up, and I thought he’d forgotten something. But then he stopped again, and pointed out my window. I looked, and saw our azalea, densely packed with pinky-purple blossoms. Just yesterday it was green.

All over town, colors are popping. I recognize the daffodils and crocuses, but there’s a whole spectrum of everything from white to deep purple that I can’t begin to identify. As far as I’m concerned, though, the best thing to come out of the earth so far this season is dirty brown.

Our shiitakes are blooming!

It was almost a year ago that we drilled about a bazillion little holes in a bunch of oak logs, and filled them with wooden dowels impregnated with shiitake spore. We sealed the holes with wax, left the logs in a shady spot, and waited.

Once the dowels are in the logs, there’s nothing to do. This, for me, is part of the appeal. You can’t weed, or water, or fertilize. All you have to do is wait. The downside, of course, is that all you can do is wait. The mycelium may or may not be colonizing your log, and you’ve got nothing whatsoever to say about it. If you’ve got control issues, shiitakes aren’t for you.

I think that’s what makes it so miraculous when the little brown mushrooms poke through the tree bark. I mean, think about it. All you do is introduce a spore to a length of wood. The spore does the rest – or doesn’t, depending on its mood, various environmental variables, and, for all we know, hemlines.

As we engineer plants and animals with ever more precision, mushrooms are the last bastion of agricultural mystery. Even the varieties we have the best handle on – like shiitakes – are imperfectly understood.

In general, I’m not a big fan of mystery. I believe everything is knowable, and I’d like to know as much of it as possible. If mystery means I get a bumper crop of mushrooms without doing any work, though, I’m all for it.

18 people are having a conversation about “Shroom bloom

  1. I have to admit I'm a tad Jealous, making my own mushroom logs has been something I've been wanting to do for a couple years, but it is always one of those projects that gets put off. I remember about a year ago doing a search on youtube to see what I could find on mushroom growing… Yes I found something, you can pretty much find anything useful and useless on YouTube. My favorite was the Ozark Video Log. It is the videos with the eccentric people that are my favorites!

  2. Hey Tamar- have you seen the Paul Stamets video on the TED Awards site? He will really blow your mind on what mushrooms can do, and this thing is pretty fascinating.

  3. I am so jealous! I once grew shitakes on a log in my basement – pretty cool, but it didn't last very long and the crop was relatively small (delicious though). We never stay in one place for long enough for longer term gardening projects – I'm dreaming of settling down somewhere and being able to create a productive kitchen garden. But it's just a dream for now!!

  4. Is there something going on with the comments on your blog? The older posts seem to say there are comments at first but when the page fully loads they almost all disappear. I wondered if its a bug or a problem at my end.

  5. Hi guys. We've just switched to a new commenting system called Intense Debate. Your old comments are being imported, but with such a prolific blog (over 600 posts!) it takes a little time. You'll see them back. In the meanwhile, we've introduced this new system because it has some neat features. You can now be notified of follow up comments, you can reply by email, and rate comments. Of course, for those that prefer the old way, you can just keep doing exactly what you were doing before.

  6. Also, my name and e-mail address no longer appear on the comment form and must be reentered each time. BTW, I'm Tamar's mom, not Sarah's–known as beachnitpicker until Tamar outed me.

  7. As soon as the system in fully in place, you'll be able to log in once and the system will hold onto it for you in the future. OR… you can just post as a guest. But now, people can see not just what you've commented on this post, but if they like what you said, can see what else you've commented on.

  8. I love fungus for all the amazing things it does in association with plants, breaking down nutrients and helping plants to thrive in a symbiotic relationship. I'm glad it is its own Kingdom now, separate from plants in the Linnaean System / ICBN.

    I love eating them too, but my poor ability to identify edible mushrooms has prevented me foraging for anything other than field mushrooms. I hope to join one of those fungal foraging days which are held locally, and maybe it will increase my knowledge and my ingredients list.

  9. Rodney — I watched that video, and now we want to force our shiitakes, too. If you've ever had a mind to do mushrooms, you should. It's a big payoff for very little in the way of work or expense.

    Paula — I'm going to watch the Stamets video as soon as I get a chance. I have a couple of his books, and I've even considered making the mushroom hajj to Seattle for one of his workshops. Thanks for the reference.

    Fiona — Growing things is tough if you're nomadic. You should have goats that move with you, like the Bedouins!

    Jen — Definitely check in with your local mycological society. It's not that you learn so much about which mushrooms are which (although you do), it's that it gives you confidence to go foraging, compare your samples to pictures in books, and actually eat them.

    All — Sorry about the temporary comments glitch. It should be all better by now. Thanks, Amanda, for handling it so smoothly.

  10. Hi Tamar- I originally went to your blog to read about bees. We have been trying to keep Bees for about 5 years. I have had them freeze, swarm, bears and the latest move into a column on our back porch. We live in CO at 7300 ft in a rural area. I am perservering with the Bees and the help of members of the Pikes Peak Beekeeping Society.
    I am very curious about the mushrooms. How did you get the info to get started? Do you grow them outside year round? Thank you
    I will also read more of your gardening ideas. We compost our horse manure which is very good to enrich soil. It is necessary to compost and let it break down for at least 6 months.

  11. Cathy — Sorry to hear about your beekeeping woes! Since this is our first time, I haven't had the chance for woes, but I suspect they're in my future (we don't have bears, though …). If you're interested in mushrooms, check out Fungi Perfecti at Shiitakes are the easiest way to start (and they do stay out year-round, but you don't get mushrooms in the winter), and you can buy the spore there. You can also get books, but it's easiest to start by just Googling "mushroom cultivation." A lot of people do it, and there's lots of information out there. Good luck!

  12. Tamar, Speaking of mushrooms, I was browsing through 'know thy farmer' on the Blue Hill Farm site and ran across This guy really knows his mushrooms, check out the sites if you get a chance. He grows some of his mushrooms in maple trees.

  13. Chris — Thanks for a great reference. That guy's in Massachusetts, so he may be dealing with hardwoods and conditions similar to mine. I'll spend some time on his site.

  14. There you go, Tamar- once again, you're ahead of the curve: a great front-page article on raising mushrooms in the Home section of today's NY Times (4/15/10). Next, we'll expect you to rake up all the wood chips you must be generating and innoculate them with spores of oyster mushrooms and/or "garden giants". You need lots of shade and according to your delightful post on front yard gardening, you have that in spades! A see a true mushroom fest in your future….

    • Judy — You don’t know the half of it! I’m all over the oyster mushroom thing, and am about to embark on my second attempt to grow a crop of them in spent grain from our local brewery, Cape Cod Beer (which everyone should be drinking). Stay tuned!

      • If I could get Cape Cod Beer clear over here in Utah believe me I'd fill me up a Mug or three of it. However, its difficult enough even getting the stuff they make locally at times. Luckily I occasionally make my own.

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