Monday, September 7, 2009

Fun with fungi

I don’t think anyone at Ginkgo really believed it at first, but we picked our first crop of wine cap mushrooms (Stropharia rugosoannulata) on Saturday September 5. There was no sign of these on Tuesday September 1, but two days later our Thursday watering team had noticed a sizeable crop mushrooming from the bed under the plum tree where we had spread inoculated straw on June 19. Not being any kind of mushroom experts, we took care to create a spore print to confirm that we really had what we expected and weren’t going to be flooding local emergency rooms. As expected, the caps released a fine film of dark purple/brown spores.

By Saturday, we had wine caps everywhere in the straw bed, but none in the woodchip bed next to it. We had read that wine caps’ favorite food was hardwood chips, but it may be that the bed with the chips hasn’t been as damp as the straw bed, or not quite the right temperature. We decided that as this was our very first mushroom crop, we should volunteer for the role of official food tasters. OK, maybe the decision to barbecue the first week’s crop wasn’t entirely selfless. A quarter hour of rummaging through the straw produced a crop of maybe 3 pounds of mushrooms (we were so eager to clean and grill them that we never weighed them properly.) We barbecued most of the crop (sprinkled with olive oil and herbs), along with a couple of peppers and our last onion.

I think all the tasters were pretty satisfied with the flavor, and so far there have been no reports of illness.

Most of the crops we grow at Ginkgo are productive over the span of several weeks. We always have to decide what’s ripe enough to pick now, and what will last another week. With mushrooms this timescale is really compressed. It only take a couple of days for a wine cap to go from a tiny button, through the most tasty domed stage, to a mature, slightly upturned cap. Equally, it’s hard to predict how long a particular “flush” of mushrooms will last. It’s going to be a challenge to time our harvests to get fresh mushrooms to the Groceryland food pantry.

Before the mushroom harvest, we did pick our regular selection of veg and fruit, including two nicely golden pumpkins, a small flotilla of patty-pan spaceships and one of the few cabbages that made it this far.

And the tomato harvest is still strong, with 38 pounds picked this week.

Several of our fruit trees are drooping under the weight of ripening fruit. We picked a crateful of pears this week, to finish ripening off the tree. And our plums look like they'll be ready next week.

We're also enjoying the largely random selection of wildflowers that have fought their way to maturity in the new bed at the end of our patio area.