Saturday, February 18, 2006

Issue 4, February 2006

Another month of winter is behind us! It won’t be long now and the days will be long again, the snow will be gone, the grass green, the flowers blooming, the birds singing, those ornery cow moose will be calving and, of course, the first mushrooms of spring will be poking their beautiful caps up out of the duff. Winter will be just another memory.

We have already begun to plan our spring and summer forays. Of course, the first one of the year will be for Morels! If we get the right weather conditions, last summer’s fire by Skilak Lake should produce some exceptionally great picking. Burns offer the opportunity to gather a large number of morels fairly quickly. They can be easily preserved, and will supply you with mushrooms throughout the winter.

The Kenai Peninsula has a variety of habitat types. In each habitat you will find different species of fungi. So, in addition to our local forays, we would like to venture up past Cooper’s Landing, to the Seward area and possibly to Homer for hunts. Some of these require travel, and all might not be able to attend, but they would be great learning opportunities! Let us know what you think.

I contacted Pequot Press about the possibility of a discount on purchases of Orson Miller’s new field guide. They will give us the same 50% discount that we get from Ten Speed Press on Arora’s books. In addition, they are sending me an advance copy to review for them. I have been told that the focus of the guide is the Northwest and that it contains photos and descriptions of over 600 species. Another interesting aspect of this guide is that it contains a number of species that are relatively uncommon but have wide distribution. Most authors have avoided the uncommon species, leaving us scratching our heads more often than we would like to admit. As soon as I receive the book I will write a short review and will bring it to the following meeting.

The majority who responded to my query about the format for our newsletter said that they prefer to read it on line. Because of the length and pictures, some folks have difficulty receiving and opening it as an e-mail attachment. So, unless you specifically request it, the newsletter will only be posted on the website after this issue. I will send out a notice when it is on line.

If the e-mail response is any indication of the interest in our next meeting (and I am sure it is) we should have a great time. At our last meeting we discussed the possibilities of growing our own mushrooms. The majority of those present were interested. So, for our coming meeting we will be inoculating logs in hopes of successfully growing our own!

We will be plugging logs with a Pleurotus ostreatus and Hericium erinaceus. The plugs are on order and should arrive well before the meeting.

If you can bring a few Cottonwood or Aspen logs 5 to 8 inches in diameter and 24 to 32 inches long that would be a great help. (They should be cut at least 2 weeks before the meeting and not have been dead more than about 4 months.) Many of the e-mails I received were from folks who did not have access to logs, so if you are able to bring a few extras, you will make someone very happy. You will also need to bring some canning wax to seal the ends of the logs and around the plugs. (This is to keep some other fungus from getting in and taking over the log before our species have a chance to colonize.

The plugs require a 5/16 hole, so bring a drill (preferably cordless) and the appropriate bit. If you have a small tarp, that will help us keep the mess contained. I will bring the stove and Dominique is going to bring the pot for melting the wax. If the weather cooperates, we will set up outside, so wear warm clothing and prepare to have a great time!

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Mushrooms may outnumber us and out-produce us, but who has domesticated who?

Here are some interesting facts from Dr. Benjamin’s book Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas:

    There are approx. 250,000 fungal species. Of this 250,000 species:

    10,000 species are higher (fleshy) fungi - Of these 10,000 species:

    At least 2000 species are edible.
    100 species are widely picked.
    80 species are grown experimentally.
    40 species are commercially cultivated
    15-30 species are commonly eaten.
    5-6 species are grown on a large scale.

    400 to 500 species are poisonous.
    20 poisonous species are common.
    Only 6 common species are lethal.

Since we are going to be taking a stab at growing our own mushrooms, I thought it might be interesting to look at this subject on a little bit larger scale. The following is summary of a chapter I recently read in Dr. Bryce Kendrick’s book The Fifth Kingdom.

Did you know that land devoted to mushroom production has the capability of producing 1000 more protein per acre than land devoted to beef production? Producing beef is one of the least efficient uses of our land, and a luxury mankind may not be able to justify in the not to distant future.

Have you ever wondered how many pounds of mushrooms are actually grown commercially or harvested from our forests? The common button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) was first cultivated by the French in the 17th century. Who would have guessed then that such a humble beginning would spawn such a world-wide industry? Today the annual production of this species is about 1,100,000 tons! Since its domestication, the production of Pleurotus ostreatus has steadily climbed and is approximately 22,000 tons, annually. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) production is 165,000 tons annually. Annual production of the ‘winter mushroom’ (Flammulina velutipes) is about 44,000 tons. All together, there are 32 species in 16 genera that are cultivated commercially, although only 4 or 5 are grown on a large scale.

The harvest of wild boletes (mostly Boletus edulis and Leccinum scabrum)sold in the European Market alone is over 550 tons! Other wild fungi which are commercially harvested in huge quantities are the ‘morels’, ‘chanterelles’, ‘matsutake’ and the ‘orange milk caps’ (Lactarius deliciosus). It was a surprise to me to learn that the common ‘fairy ring mushroom’ (Marasmius oreades), Coprinus comatus and Armillaria mellea were also harvested commercially.

With our growing human population and their demands upon the productive capacity of our earth, it is comforting to know that the lowly mushroom will be there for us. Can we live on a diet that is 75 to 80 percent fungi? Ask the flying squirrel or California red-backed vole. They wouldn’t have it any other way!

Kathy Wartenbee e-mailed me an article that she found on the net. (She also saved me from making a serious mistake. We had planned to order Hericium abietis and not H. erinaceus plugs from Fungi Perfecti, and would have, if she had not pointed out that H. abietis grows only on conifer. We all owe her a debt of gratitude.) The article was entitled, A Simple Method for Growing Pleurotus ostreatus. The whole article was very informative and easy to follow. I do not have the web site but it should not be difficult to locate. There is not space here to reproduce the article, but I did want to share a few paragraphs that were not only interesting, but new material to me.

“. . . To prepare the mushrooms for culture, select your sharpest knife and clean it well. Alcohol is a good disinfectant, but make sure that it has completely evaporated from the blade before you cut. Select a mushroom and rinse it in cold water. Make sure that it's free of all dirt, but take care not to bruise or tear it. Tissue injured by bruising, tearing, or dull cutting is more likely to decay.

Cut a disc from the stem (the short, tough part that was attached to the wood), making two cuts straight across, about 1/8" to 1/4" apart. Check that the disc has no insect holes, then drop it directly into the bag on top of your treated straw. Tie or seal the bag. One large oyster mushroom can supply three or four discs. (The unused portion, of course, can be cooked along with all the others you've picked.)

When you cut the discs, you might notice that the inside is a soft spongy area surrounded by a tougher outside layer. The outside layer is a compact active mycelium, a network of living mushroom cells that will rapidly grow over the substrate, using the inside stem tissue as a food reserve.

When you have sealed all your bags, put them in a somewhat cool (50-60° F), clean area. At cooler temperatures, bacteria do not grow fast enough to overwhelm a new culture. (At warmer temperatures, the tissue cells injured by the knife can decay before they heal, turning the disc into a liquid mess.) After a few days, the disc shows itself healthy by producing a whitish fuzz (mycelium), a signal that you have successfully started a culture. . .”

(The italics are mine) I had no idea that it was possible to obtain viable mycelium from a fruiting body. If this process will work with straw, it should also be successful with logs. I plan to give it a try. It would be interesting to see if it is possible to grow mushrooms using the supermarket ‘oysters’ as a source for the mycelium. If anyone has had experience using this method, I would very much like to hear about your results.

With the exception of a few Eastern cultures, mycophagy (the eating of mushrooms) is a recent development. Here are a few quotes from Western Europeans of just a few centuries ago.

Louis de Jacourt (1753) wrote, ‘But whatever dressing one gives to mushrooms, to whatever sauce our Apiciuses put them, they are really good but to be sent back to the dung heap where they were born.

‘Fungi ben mussherons . . . There be two manner of them; one manner is deedly and sleeth them that eatheth of them and be called tode stooles, and the other dooth not. They that are deedly have a grosse gleymy (slimy) moysture that is dysobedyent to nature and dygestyon and be peryllous and dredfull to eate and therefore it is good to eschew them.’ The Grete Herbal

'Few mushrooms are good to be eaten and most do suffocate and strangle the eater. Therefore I give my advice unto those that love such strange and new fangled meates to beware licking the honey among the thorns lest the sweetness of the one do not countervaile the sharpness and pricking of the other.’ Gerard Herball

Like they say, ‘Times they are a changin.’ We can be thankful that not everyone listened to the advice of those quoted above.

The next club meeting is Saturday, March 4th, at 1:00 pm, in the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building, 40601 K-Beach Road. Check out our web site at: