Friday was a busy day in the mushroom world. Miss Mac’s class and I went on a mycelium hunt. We looked at a tiny seedling sporting mycorrhizae (symbiotic connection of mycelium to plant roots) under the microscope. We re-hydrated and agitated the stropharia bunker bags, and we watched an excerpt from Planet Earth showing Cordyceps fungi invading a bullet ant colony. We talked about fungi genetics- how it is that this same species of Cordyceps which exists today could be found in a piece of amber 105-million years old (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/tag/cordyceps/). Meanwhile the genus can produce species which each parasitize a single species of insect when that insect’s population starts to spike. We pondered the possibility that mycelial networks have sentience.
While the stropharia mycelium in the bags seemed to be colonizing, I still have some doubts as to the potency of the spawn. I hoped that after the rain we’ve had, wild Stropharia would burst forth and reveal patches of natural mycelium which can be used as spawn. After I left Saul on Friday I decided to stop by a spot in Fairmount Park where I’ve found King Stropharias (Strophariae?) before, and despite the drought, they were exploding everywhere. Some fully-flattened and sporulating fruits were easily a foot across!
I gathered up the younger ones, grabbed a few chunks of tenaciously myceliated substrate and took it home to start cardboard spawn. The idea is pretty simple, take mycelia from substrate or from stem butts (the bottom of the stem, or stipe, of the mushroom which often sports active rhizomorphic mycelia) and spread it across corrugated cardboard which has been pulled apart and soaked. Once this cardboard is colonized, we can use it to start new bunker bags of this local strain of stropharia. Keep the mycelium running.
I broiled the caps with some lemon juice, red wine, and a touch of nutmeg. For most kinds of gourmet mushrooms, I prefer the butter and garlic method, but these aren’t as rich as other mushrooms. They are delicate in flavor and are better prepared with acidic ingredients. The end result was a tangy, flavorful treat which some friends and I enjoyed immensely.
Chicken-ier news still to follow… I promise.
The name of this blog being what it is, you may assume that we’re only interested in the chicken-y qualities of certain mushrooms in the genus Laetiporus. Given how many delicious and useful mushroom species there are, we found it necessary to delve into a new fungal arena while we are scouring the land for chicken logs.
Meet Stropharia Rugoso-Annulata (the red caps pictured below to the left of the morels). These particular mushrooms found their way into my belly in the spring of 2010 before I could clone them, so we relied on fungiperfecti.com to supply us with quality spawn to start our patch.
If you haven’t read the post “Changes,” check it out for some info on what Stropharia can be used for on the farm.
On Friday, I was joined by Ms. Mac’s AP Environmental Sciences class at the site of the mushroom garden. We mixed spawn in with woodchips, sawdust, and a little straw, then filled burlap bags with the mixture to create what Paul Stamets coined “bunker bags.” Hydrating the substrate was easy. We dipped the bags into the little stream of spring water which trickles through our fungal sanctuary.
Not the most sterile of procedures, but working outdoors you have the luxury of sometimes getting by without pasteurizing substrate. Plus, since King Stropharia mycelium feeds off of microscopic critters, we may have been doing it a favor by not being particularly careful. When we have a lab at the school, we will then be able to start similar bunker bags with a cloned wild strain of the species and students will try their hands at the art of sterile tissue culturing. For now, we’re keeping our rustic-style bunker bags under a pile of leaves to protect them from the sun, hold in moisture, and generally insulate them from the elements. With the hot, dry weather we’ve been having, we’ll have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t dry out.
Stay tuned for more chicken-y blog posts.
On Friday, I met with Miss Mac’s 11th Grade AP Environmental Science Class at the location of our soon-to-be mushroom garden. I was very impressed with the kids’ enthusiasm and knowledge about fungi. Long-time teacher Paul gave me the history of the spot. It turns out this place was known for it’s natural springs and until the 1950’s people would come with jugs to fill up. Paul constructed a dam decades ago to establish a wetland there which sports a stand of young bald cypresses. A couple people, including one student, have spotted a pair of coyotes with a den along the opposite hill. Hopefully they’ll scare off any deer trying to chomp at our delectables (chicken mushrooms are a favorite amongst woodland creatures).
I also met with Ed Stainton, former president of Friends of Wissahickon, the organization responsible, for one, for maintaining over 50 miles of trails in the park (http://www.fow.org/). Ed has a means of obtaining additional logs for our garden.
We spent the remaining hour of class discussing fungus and inspecting a last-years reishi found on the way back. The classroom was impressive. Each student had a computer and could therefore fact-check me in real time. “Gilled mushrooms are agaricales, Mr. Tyler.” Point taken! Miss Mac and I are in the process of developing a curriculum on fungi for the students to begin after they return from Spring Break. I promise it will be fun.