Murder Most Foul

by Shirley McClelland

I have been an organic gardener for many years.  In the past I enjoyed selling produce at our local farmer’s market.


A while ago I reacted with surprise and dismay when I read an article in Horticulture magazine, “Fantastic Fungi”, by Peter Garnham. In it I learned that I have been committing microbial murder! Although I was aware that the soil life to sustain my plants depends upon bacteria, earthworms and beneficial nematodes, I never gave much thought to fungi. It turns out that fungi are the main decomposers of organic matter, thus hugely important to all of us that choose to “go organic”!  It is only after fantastic fungi have done their work can bacteria come in and break down organic material to a form that plants can use.
Here is how fungi help plants:  microscopically small filaments of fungi called hyphae travel long distances in an endless search for nutrients. These nutrients include iron, copper, phosphorus, zinc and nitrogen. Each hypha is a tube, and a bundle of them are called mycelium. When enough hyphae are brought together they become visible. Maybe you have seen their white strands in mulch or decaying leaves? A single TEASPOON of healthy soil can contain many yards of hyphae!  Plants depend on these hyphae to bring water and nutrients, often from far away, to their roots. Fungal hyphae can travel farther and faster through the soil than the plants own roots.  They nose snakelike in search of nutrients, which they pump back and either store until the plant needs them or until the fungi die and decay.  In a natural death, the hyphae continue to help as they release stored nutrients and the tunnels they carved become conduits for beneficial bacteria, water and air.
As a rule of thumb, annual plants do best in soil with a predominance of bacteria, and perennials, including shrubs and trees, strongly prefer fungi dominated soil. The first and most important step to achieve this balance is to stop behaving like a mass murderer! For me this required a radical change:  no more rototilling.  None, ever.  A single pass kills quadrillions of bacteria and chops and destroys thousands of MILES of fungal mycelia.  And no more “double digging”, which can be just as bad! I didn’t use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides which also slaughter soil life, but I was guilty of the mass destruction of fungi and bacteria through my cultivation practices.
So last year I made the change to a kinder, gentler type of gardening.  Every fall we cover the whole garden with several inches of straw and horse manure, a gift from our 12 horses.  I allow it to overwinter and in the spring I simply use a pointed hoe to make furrows for seeding, or a trowel to dig a small hole to transplant into.  Once the plants are established, it’s a simple matter to add to the mulch layer with clean straw or grass clippings.
It was easy and I think very successful. The plants were healthy, unaffected by dry spells, and it seemed there were less bugs! It was so much less work! I encourage you to try it!  The only drawback was that weeds that escaped removal were monstrous and healthy as well, but I turn a kind and blind eye to weeds, as they are often just plants in the wrong place, and many are delicious edibles as well!



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!

A Year of Mushroom(ing) Love

by Jack Sedlak

It’s not even been a year since Christine Craycroft and I became OMS members but what a year it has been!

Actually it was about August of 2013 that I met Chris while trying to become a park volunteer. During the “interview” and then months later during our courtship we both discovered our love for mushrooms. Some of the first texts we exchanged were photos of Chris’s oyster mushrooms growing on coffee grounds, and my carved-wood landscape mushrooms. We both had well over a dozen books on fungi and foraging, and as we cultivated our mushroom love we just plain became spore addicts!

Shiitake logsShitake Logs by Jack Sedlak

We eventually turned our love of mushrooms into starting a business venture. In April and May I had a tree harvest on my tree farm, and my neighbor had the same Amish logger select-cut her 5 acres. We just couldn’t resist the opportunity to use the leftover branches, so we got some books, built an inoculation table, had a few parties with friends and family, and inoculated about 600 logs and stumps with shiitake, chicken of the woods, lion’s mane and oyster spawn. Phew!

Black TrumpetsBlack Trumpets by Jack Sedlak

Little did we know that the logs would almost ‘explode’ with mushrooms upon returning from our long September camping/canoeing trip (including the ‘must-visit’ Porcupine Mountains in UP of Michigan—black trumpets so numerous in areas you almost couldn’t avoid stepping on them!). After reading up on various food regulations, (who knew that mushrooms were not automatically considered an “approved food”??), our Forest Fungi Farm was inspected and got the official blessing of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to sell cultivated mushrooms to restaurants and grocers.

Chicken of the woodsChicken of the woods by Jack Sedlak

And what a fabulous year for wild mushrooming! The OMS forays exposed us to dozens of new species. In our neck of the woods we found an unbelievable specimen of Hypomyces hyalinus infecting an Amanita, photos of which elicit a jaw dropping OMG! Close to 100 pounds of Golden Chanterelles were growing in the woods around the house, well into October. A special treat was finding a 27- pound Hen of the Woods on the old oak tree at the house where Chris grew up. Between us we added 22 new species of edible mushrooms to our life list.

Funny though, as thorough as we were in our ID process, there is still the occasional doubt, as during a summer hike when we found a floodplain absolutely loaded with Friendship Mushrooms, Armillaria tabescens. We did our due diligence by making a spore print and keying them from multiple books, and with confidence cooked some up for breakfast. Pretty enjoyable too–until Chris decided to continue reading about them hours later, along with a poisonous look-alike, the Deadly Galerina. Here’s what she read from Tom Volk’s page that prompted her somewhat frantic call to me, then mine to poison control:

“Here’s the scenario: Sometimes you’re lucky (or skilled) and find lots of these edible Armillaria and Flammulina. You find so many that picking them becomes more of a chore than a pleasure. You stop paying attention to every mushroom you place in your basket. You accidentally cut off a Galerina or two or more and place them in with the edible mushrooms. You’re so tired and hungry when you get home that you just dump your mushrooms into a skillet and fry them up. You accidentally eat some Galerina. Two or three days later you die.”

Luckily, we didn’t accidentally scoop up any Galerinas along with our Armillarias, and we’re still here to write a thank you for all the helpful and warm OMS members, great pot lucks, and expectations of future forays and gatherings!

A Letter From Debra Shankland

Happy Holidays, Myco-Enthusiasts!
As mushroom fruiting slows and ultimately pauses for winter, I’m reflecting on the many discoveries and happy hunts of 2014.
Ohio Mushroom Society members enjoyed fantastic foray options in 2014, including explorations in West Branch State Park, the beautiful Hocking Hills, Lake Hope State Park and a special visit to North Chagrin Reservation near Cleveland.  We were extremely privileged to receive a free, guided tour of the totally sustainable mushroom growing operation at CWRU’s Squire ValleeVue Farm, with many, many thanks to members Mike Nagy and Karen Kelly.  You guys absolutely rock!
It was a treat to visit with long-time members and meet new friends at the recent Dick Grimm Banquet in Wooster.  We’re so fortunate to have multi-talented and dedicated mycologist, Walt Sturgeon, providing entertaining and informative programs at this event, and at forays in 2014.
I need to also recognize Jerry Pepera, who not only tracks and communicates with our >150 members, and maintains the club’s treasury, but also serves as our trusted technical advisor!  Jerry recently researched and purchased a dynamite wireless projector for the club, and then generously donated his excellent, personal laptop to OMS so that we and our guest speakers can be treated to reliable and easy-to-use equipment with excellent visual capacity.  Thank you, Jerry!
If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably “met” Dave Miller, OMS Mushroom Log editor, thru his words.  It is no small feat to put together an interesting, timely and informative member newsletter with a half dozen contributors six times each year.  This newsletter alone is a huge benefit to OMS members.  But again it’s the people that make it truly a pleasure.  People like Sharon Greenberg, who puts together and oversees cleanup of fantastic potluck buffets at our major forays with a minimum of fuss.  And people like Martha Bishop and Shirley McClelland, who use their abundant positive energies and know-how to put together and lead fun forays in fungus-rich regions.
There are many benefits received by OMS members–expert mushroom ID tips, discovering new forests, discounted membership fees to the North American Mycological Association, or learning something completely new about a mushroom that you thought you knew.  These, and your own gratitudes, are worth reviewing as membership renewal comes up in January 2015.
I’m very proud to serve on the OMS board, and I look forward to seeing you at a foray in the New Year!
Gratefully yours,
Debra Shankland