Master Gardener Jere Brands, of Albany, raises a variety of wild mushrooms at her home. (Special photo)
In many parts of the world, fall is a mushrooming season. When we lived in Iowa, we spent many fine fall days looking for Hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa), an unmistakable, large fungus which grows at the base of oak trees. After many hours of cleaning, these giants were chopped up and combined with peppers, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf and fennel seeds, and sealed into pint jars to create Nana’s Funghi, a recipe my friend Susan inherited from her Italian grandmother.
Here in Southwest Georgia, I don’t know how to identify the wild mushrooms yet. So I decided to raise my own. Many seed catalogues offer mushroom-growing kits. Following the advice of O’Toole’s Herb Farm in Northern Florida (www.otoolesherbfarm.com), I ordered all of the items mentioned here from Field and Forest (www.fieldforest.net).
On Nov. 9, 2010, a group of Master Gardeners cooperated to inoculate 10 logs with purchased spawn plugs for shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Ever since then, these logs have lived in my shady back yard on raised shelving. Even after not being extremely careful to provide regular watering, eventually the shiitake logs started producing — almost exactly 2 years later. The oyster mushrooms have been a bit disappointing.
Two years is a long time to wait, so I also went the short-and-easy route. I ordered a shiitake mushroom “table-top farm.” When it arrived, I followed the simple instructions which are enclosed. Within a week I had a large fruiting of shiitakes, eventually totaling about 2 quarts. When the fruiting is finished, the block is dried out, and then re-hydrated, to fruit a few more times.
My tabletop farm was a block which sat on a 12” diameter-round stainless steel platter. It had a plastic humidity tent, held up by 4 bamboo skewers stuck into the corners of the block. You mist it lightly once a day. If I needed to go out of town or just wanted to show it to someone, the farm fit on the passenger seat of my vehicle.
The shiitake mushrooms are quite different from the ones you can purchase in the grocery store. The taste is the most obvious difference. Both the “table-top farm” and the logs outside have also been fascinating projects.
For readers who are interested in learning to identify the local wild mushrooms, there are a few resources. The Mushroom Club of Georgia sponsors walks and jaunts to identify mushrooms in the wild(www.gamushroomclub.org).
Jere Brands is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and a member of the SOWEGA Master Gardeners. For more information, contact Dougherty CEC James Morgan at (229) 436-7216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.