Fungal Observations on the Homestead

by Andrea Moore

15 Years ago, I left my urban life and began cultivating a more sustainable and self-reliant way of living.  My version of this lifestyle includes living without debt, working with nature instead of trying to suppress or control it, and using permaculture and biodynamic gardening methods, as well as foraging, to provide my family with food and medicine.

Observing the rhythms of nature, conducting basic home maintenance, failures and victories in the garden, and even a short walk in the woods, will teach a person rather quickly the necessity for, and the dominance of, fungi.  That said, I will leave those topics to be explored at your own level of interest.  This article will share with you a few of my personal practices, along with observations I’ve made along the way.

Our property came with a neglected orchard.  We realized we would need to remove some trees in order to save others.  Wanting to be good stewards, we cut the tulip poplars leaving a 2’ stump.  The thought being that, insects would soon be boring into the stump and pileated woodpeckers could sit on it while feasting on the bugs and their larva.  The bonus to this method is that tulip poplar quickly colonizes with Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus complex,) and will continue fruiting for several years while breaking down the stump!  Another mushroom that regularly fruits on this decaying wood is the beautiful Winter Mushroom (Flammulina velutipes.)  As the stump is nearly used up, it is commonly covered with rosettes of Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor.)  All of this done by nature, with no interference by me!

The next tree we wanted to save was an American Plum.  The problem was an oak tree leaning over it and blocking the sun.  We really did not want to cut the oak, and ended up only removing part of it.  It did, however, provide enough wood to inoculate a new batch of shiitake logs.  There is nothing quite like the first frittata of the spring made with your own freshly fruited shiitake mushrooms, baby greens, and eggs produced by your own hens!  I look forward to this every year!

Honey Mushrooms on maple.

Honey Mushrooms on maple.

When February rolls around, it’s time to tap the maple trees.  We’ve been producing our own syrup for 10 years or so.  Last summer, though, I noticed that several maple trees had succumbed to Armillaria mellea.  Of course there were large, beautiful clusters of honey mushrooms all around the bases of these trees, but the trees themselves were dying.  I had always thought the rhizomorphs went up under the bark from root or soil level, but now I am wondering if spores introduced into the wounds of the trees when installing or removing the taps, or when plugging afterward, could actually be the culprit.  It seems as though it would at the very least make them more susceptible.  This summer I will observe whether there are as many of the untapped trees infected as ones that have been tapped.  I will also do some research into the matter.

Wine caps growing with asparagus.

Wine caps growing with asparagus.

The last thing I’d like to share is the success I’ve had improving the soil in my garden with the help of Wine Caps (Stropharia rugosa annulata.)  Every winter, I pile the garden with used bedding from my chickens and goats.  By spring it is ready to feed my plants.  This year, I added Wine Cap spawn to the mix!  Most plants thrive when their fungal partners speed up the breakdown of organic matter and mine otherwise inaccessible nutrients and moisture.  I dug a trench for a new patch of asparagus and put 1 year old roots in with lots of rotted manure and compost.  I then covered everything with wood chips and inoculated it with the Wine Cap spawn.  Last, I scattered a layer of straw on the bed.  By mid-summer, I had the most enormous 1st year asparagus ferns I had ever seen!  As the season progressed, numerous wine caps began popping up right where the stems were coming up from the ground.  I pulled the soil back and could see that the roots were completely colonized with strands of the mycelium.  A victory!!

If you are interested in learning more about how nearly every living thing is intricately connected to something else, please begin by reading “Life in the Soil” by James B. Nardi.  Happy mushrooming!

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