Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to Plant a Wine Cap Straw Bed
this Fall for a Spring Harvest

by Mary Ellen

Fall fruiting from a straw Wine Cap bed
Spring and fall fruiting Wine Caps (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) claim both ends of summer as its normal fruiting time, and even fruits through the summer if there is plenty of rainfall. This past spring our Wine Cap season started at the end of April and the dark red buttons continued to push through the summer except for a few weeks in early August during our "dry" season. Most of these were harvested from straw beds we inoculated just the fall before.

Wine Caps like plenty of airflow for the spawn run phase which possibly is why it grows so well on bits and pieces of a dry matter like straw and chips instead of raw logs such as those used in shiitake cultivation. In fact, a combination of both chips and straw seems to be one of the best ways to grow them; giving a fast start with the looser straw component and longevity with the chip component. Layering the three ingredients (straw, spawn, chips) is quickly becoming our standard practice. For quickest fruiting, such as the following method given for a fall planted spring harvest, use only straw as your primary substrate.

Planning your production. For market gardeners, reliability and consistency is particularly helpful when planning a crop. Fortunately, planting a straw bed this fall (usually by garlic planting time... often mid fall) will usually yield a nice crop in spring without the worries of beds drying out or overheating as can happen with spring planted straw beds. Wine Caps are well adapted for a fall planting because of its supreme hardiness and ability to grow in cool temperatures, thus out competing other fungi common in straw in warmer temperatures.

Wood chip beds that we inoculated this spring are just starting to fruit now and should carry us through fall and all of next year as long as daytime temperatures stay 50° F or more.
This fall inoculated Wine Cap mycelium is chewing up the straw and pushing up mushrooms.
Notice the mycelial rootlets under the stem. By the end of the bed life, a nice mat of
dark organic matter remains where there once was 6-10 inches of fluffy straw.
Here's how we do it:
  • Choose your location. You can get as strategic as you want; fully shaded areas will produce 2-3 weeks later, partially shaded areas will start fruiting earlier. Avoid grassy areas unless you lay wet cardboard down over the grass first to smother the grass. Avoid full sun as some warm, dry spring days can turn the succulent red capped mushrooms to dry leathery silver caps within hours. Partial shade is usually best; full shade in the south.
  • Gather your straw. We have used bales of straw left uncovered in the field for a year but it is better to use bright, clean, dry straw (oat, wheat, rye ... NOT hay!) that has been covered during storage.
  • Purchase your spawn. While you can transfer spawn from old beds to this new bed, production is much greater if you use fresh spawn hungry for new organic matter. A 5.5 lb. bag of sawdust spawn will inoculate a small square bale (about 32 lbs.) spread out in a 7 ft. by 7 ft. area or about 50 sq ft.
  • Wet the straw before spreading it out. We like to soak the bales, preferably for 3-5 days (throw the bound bales in a tank or pack even more in loose) just prior to building the bed. We have also spread dry straw out prior to a rainy spell, waiting for natural hydration to occur. We are still trying to determine if the biological activity that occurs during a long soak is helpful in Wine Cap cultivation. We can certainly say it does not hurt. The setup of our tanks (see below) allows for a long soak. We just pull the plugs (as shown) just prior to laying out the bed.
Draining the straw filled livestock tanks a few hours before inoculating.

  • After you drain away the water from the straw, spread out the straw into a 2-inch thick layer, and sprinkle with half of the spawn. Then add 2 more inches of straw, and sprinkle on the remaining half bag of spawn. Finally, add the remaining straw and pat the bed down with a lawn rake.
  • Securely fasten an 8' x 8' ft. piece of plastic over the bed. Take the plastic off in the spring and wait for fruiting! Save the plastic sheet for a spring-made bed... make the bed in the same way, but lift the plastic sheet off in 28 days. If your prefer, use a wood chip covering. In fact this is often preferable as it allows more airflow and is eventually decomposed by the mycelium. Any wood chip will work; for now, you just need it as a "mulch" to keep the straw from drying out.
  • After you think your Wine Cap bed is done fruiting for good, throw some woodchips or sawdust on top for easy rejuvenation. A little proactivity can be easy mushrooms!

This straw bed has been inoculated for only 4 days and was covered with fresh spruce wood chips 
just after inoculation. The white threads are quickly moving Wine Cap mycelium.
If you have wood chips and not straw, you can certainly inoculate this fall but you may not get mushrooms this coming spring, rather, a nice fruiting later in the summer. We fall plant both wood chip beds, straw beds and combination beds of chips/straw/old sawdust to make sure we have Wine Cap mushrooms all season long.

Perfect for pickling! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chicken of the Woods: Tree to Table
By Natalie

Laetiporus sulphureus), also known as Sulphur Shelf, is an easily recognized polypore (it's actually one of the "foolproof four," along with the Morel, Giant Puffball, and Shaggy Mane). Its bright yellow and orange hues stand out from the dark backdrop of the tree it's inhabiting. Year after year, and often several times in a season, the Chicken returns to the same spot (here on the farm, that's usually in late June and again in August). Last year we blogged about its biology, harvesting and preparation. To read last year's blog, click here: Tree Poultry.


Chicken at the base of a tree, indicating root rot.



This year we are trialing cultivation of Chicken of the Woods outdoors,
using the same method we use for outdoor cultivation of the OTHER tree poultry, Hen of the WoodsThe pure culture spawn was added to a sterilized oak log, allowed to incubate a few months, then taken out of the bag and shallowly buried in a shady spot outdoors this summer. We do not expect any fruiting this year, but arstill watching it closely.

Orange colored L. sulphureous colonized this sterilized oak log quickly.

But enough about biology, identification, foraging and cultivation: I want to talk about something almost as exciting as finding some Chicken: discovering new ways to prepare it! 

Last year I experimented with strips of the Chicken mixed with what seemed to be excessive amounts of a balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a season concoction, sealed tightly in foil and cooked on a hot grill. Why so much liquid you may ask? I had read that the Chicken gets quite thirsty while cooking. Who doesn't? :-)

The end result was delicious. After about 20-30 minutes on the grill and flipping the foil bag often, the Chicken had soaked up all of the liquid and was moist and tasty. I was ready to experiment more, but the Chicken found on the farm was done fruiting for the year. 

So this year, I've been waiting, and this week, the Chicken made its debut again (in the wild) here on the farm. Perfect time to try a new recipe and share it with the F&FP Team. I figured if it didn't turn out well, we just wouldn't talk about it. Anywhere. And if it did, then we'd share it. Since you're reading this now, you have probably already guessed that it was a hit. Even with all thcooking, the mushrooms remained firm and toothsome. Here's the recipe, hope you enjoy it: 

Iconic "tree poultry" - Hen of the Woods (back) and Chicken of the Woods (front).

Chicken of the Woods Risotto

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. risotto rice
1 lb. Chicken of the Woods cut into 1/2 inch slices (use only the outer 3-4 inches of the specimen where it is still tender)
1 medium/large sweet onion, diced
1/2 bottle (375 mL) of dry white wine at room temp (chardonnay works well)
1 large can (49.5 oz.) chicken or vegetable broth (or homemade broth, if preferred) - heated
1 stick butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving (optional)


Chicken of the Woods strips sauteing in butter with diced sweet onion
DIRECTIONS

Clean mushrooms by brushing off any debris or rinsing them lightly if necessary. Saute onion in butter (or a mixture of olive oil and butter if you prefer) over medium heat, until the onions turn translucent and start to break down. Mix the mushroom strips into the onions. Cover and let simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The risotto is added to the mushroom and onion mixture
Now it's time to add the rice to the mixture. Mix it in well so all rice is coated with butter/oil and stir often - do not let rice brown! When rice turns translucent at its edges (but still opaque in centers) after a few minutes, stir in about a third of the wine to deglaze pan. Turn heat up to medium/medium high, and simmer until wine is completely absorbed. It can't be stressed enough that you must constantly watch and stir risotto frequently, as the rice and mushrooms will absorb liquid very quickly. Repeat two more times, until all remaining wine is absorbed. 
Risotto simmering after each addition of broth
Now you will add in a ladle or two of heated broth at a time, simmering until it is absorbed. You want to add just enough liquid to keep rice cooking. Continue to repeat this process. Around 12 minutes in, start tasting the rice to see how far along it is, and to determine how much seasoning is needed. Risotto is ready when the rice is al dente, translated "to the tooth," meaning it is tender with a small bit of firmness in the center. As far as seasoning is concerned, I used just a bit of sea salt, as the stock adds quite a bit of flavor itself. The risotto should appear thickened and creamy. It typically takes the rice about 20 minutes or less to reach this stage
The risotto is done - dig in!
Serve immediately. Some people recommend adding in a pat of butter or a dash of warmed cream to the risotto right before serving . It is often served with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese as a topping. I served it without any additions so that we could better taste the mushrooms in this dish. And if you didn't enjoy the other half of the bottle of wine while preparing this dish, share it at the table!


Serving suggesting: Cold, thickly sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with
olive oil and seasoned with fresh basil, cracked pepper and seas salt!


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cut Your Wood Now, Worry Later
Written by Mary Ellen

Warm winds are regularly now bringing in temperatures of 50 degrees (F) in early March here in Northern Wisconsin. It's time to face the fact that we really are not going to have a winter, after all.  And we are not alone; everyone else in the lower 48 seems to be faced with the same conclusion. With the warm wind comes confusion … and panic over log cutting times and inoculation dates.

Shiitake logs waiting to be picked up.

Conflicting information abounds about when to cut wood for Shiitake cultivation and how long you can let it sit around before it has to be inoculated. The standard advice: cut the trees when dormant, inoculate by the time hot weather arrives (or as the Japanese say, by cherry blossom time). Should be simple, right? Sure enough though, we’ve heard everything from aging the wood 6 months to getting wood inoculated within 3 days, or no later than two weeks after felling or as soon as possible after felling. And the list goes on and on. And of course there are nuances ... softer woods should be inoculated as soon as possible, as should summer cut wood. But that’s a subject for another blog post! As with life in general, there is the "Best Practices" category and then there is the "Do Our Best" category. At F&FP, we definitely find ourselves in the latter category when it comes to log inoculation. 

These logs, restacked from a forestry site, are awaiting inoculation.

Best Practices:

DO cut the trees while dormant.  This is the period where water in the inner bark is low, insuring tight bark retention for the life of the log, and the amount of carbohydrates is high.  Bud swell is a visual indication of dormancy breaking. To the unpracticed eyes, dormancy means no leaves, even itty bitty ones. In fact it means little green in the buds at all; the buds being tight.

DO let the wood age or "cure"… at least 2 weeks if possible. Though inoculating immediately after cutting the wood will not kill the spawn, it may not “invite” hyphal growth for a time period, so in essence spawn becomes a “sitting duck” for awhile. If spawn sites, sawdust spawn in particular, are not properly sealed, there is a risk of it drying out if the logs are subject to wind and warmth before growth commences. Inoculation between 2-4 weeks of felling is probably ideal but picking the "perfect time" will depend on weather, geographic location, wood species, location of the tree and location of wood ON the tree, diameter and bark thickness and where and how the wood is cured. 

DON’T let the wood dry out. How much curing time is determined by the rate of drying. Here is where you have some control … if you want to inoculate very soon after felling, stack the logs loosely with lots of air space (but still keep them out of direct sun where the bark may get excessively hot, causing some disease problems and uneven drying).On the other hand, wood cut in the dormant period can wait for months to inoculate after felling if they dry slowly, such as in cold, snow covered locations. If you are concerned that wood cut very early in the dormant season (such as fall) is too dry (after months of cool weather laying in the woods), take a moisture sample. Optimal moisture content in bed logs is 40-45 % moisture, but growth is possible from 20-47%.  

If it is going to be a month or more before you inoculate your wood from the date of felling, bulk stack the wood in a protected area away from direct sun to slow the drying and keep the bark cool. 

Do Our Best:

Bottom Line,  for best results, get your wood cut now, but don’t let the hurry of and early spring allow for poor choice of tree selection in the woods; fall is only a few months away and is also a great time for inoculation! Once you’ve procured your wood, relax and then schedule your inoculation. Have a few tarps or another porous material such as pine or cedar boughs handy to cover the logs and prepare a protected place to stack your logs while you get everything else together.

Waxing log ends and big branch wounds
People are often willing to spend the extra time and money to melt a big pot of wax and dip log ends to seal in the moisture and keep out contaminants as the wood cures. Waxing log ends might slow the drying rate and will certainly allow you to see spawn run at the log ends even under dry conditions. What keeps moisture in will also keep moisture out so if you are soaking logs to force fruit them, it is best to not wax log ends. If you have very large logs (greater than 8 inches in diameter) that will not be force fruited and will be curing for months prior to inoculation (northern states: think harvest in February and inoculation in May) waxing may be helpful but certainly not essential. If you have large cuts where branches were trimmed away (greater than 4 inches in diameter)waxing those wounds is helpful

What if you can't inoculate your logs in a timely fashionWhen is the wood too dry? Do I soak the logs in water before I inoculate?
If you know its going to be at least a month after felling the wood before inoculation, bulk stack the wood in a shaded, protected location. If weather is warm, dry and windy for several weeks, water the logs for 1-2 hours at least weekly and loosely cover. 
 You can generally gauge the curing progress of the wood by checking the cracks at the end of the logs. Cracks begin from the center of the wood and move outward; fine cracks reaching halfway from center to the the bark indicate that the  inoculation conditions are about rightIf the cracks are large (you can slide a dime into the largest cracks)consider soaking the logs 24-36 hours and letting them dry a day before inoculation.

Overall, tree selection, timing of cut, log storage and timing inoculation is almost just as much of an art as it is a science. Our goal at Field and Forest Products is to provide people with information so they can make the best possible decisions when it comes to growing mushrooms.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Be Thankful for All That Inspires
by Mary Ellen

Swiss chard is always the last thing from the garden that I prepare for the freezer because it stands up so well to frost that I can put off harvest for weeks and weeks and weeks. "If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done," said Rita Mae Brown. But with all things biological, timing is everything and when I finally made it out to the garden this is what I found:


Here is what is left of our garden's
gorgeous leafy "Bright Lights" chard.

We have a 6 ft. tall garden fence, but we also have a really healthy deer population. Oh well. I am pretty much over canning and freezing produce anyway.

The good thing about my garden discovery is that it took me past an old Blewit bed that I had made years ago. Sometimes I need a little inspiration when it comes to cooking. Homegrown, fresh harvested vegetables usually provide the spark needed to initiate some creativity in my kitchen. So when I spied a few late flushing Blewits on my way out of the garden, my spirits perked considerably.


Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda)
As with most cultivated fungi, there are quick and easy ways to plant and also more complex ways. And like most things in life, you usually get more the greater the effort. In our cultivation instructions for Blewit, we discuss two methods, both including layering lots of compost and lesser amounts of decomposed organic matter with spawn (the instructions are provided with orders of Blewit spawn, but also can be found on our website's Seasonal Planting Chart link under "Blewits in the Garden").

There are two things I really appreciate about Blewits. One is their lovely lilac color and fairly dense flesh. The second is their long fruiting period in the fall. The fall Blewit is Clitocybe nuda, formerly known as Lepista nuda. I don't know what the etyology of nuda is except that the earlier Blewits grown under warmer temperatures tend to have a fleshy color and appearance. Later Blewits tend to be a little more true blue. Recently, we have been cultivating another Blewit, also known as Blue Leg, whose scientific name is Clitocybe sordida. This Blewit looks very different than Clitocybe nuda and fruits quite a bit earlier, usually mid to late august. It lacks the bulbous stem and meaty cap, instead developing a thin stalk and knobby cap. It is a nice litter decomposer that can be grown later in the summer. We will be offering this species for the first time in 2016, so watch for it if you're interested in growing it!


Blue Leg or Clitocybe sordida

But for now, I have to share this delicious creation, because if you are a gardener like me, right now you probably have too much squash on hand. Here is a way to reduce your porch stash of squash by at least one!


The recipe below will help you clear a path to your kitchen door
(and fill some seats at your table)!

Inspired Blewit and Spaghetti Squash Gratin
This layered gratin is a take-off on pasta alfredo, but better and certainly more healthful. The squash is the base layer, followed by a tomato layer and then topped with a ricotta custard decorated with thick slices of roasted Blewit. Consider purchasing whole milk ricotta for this dish for even richer flavor.

Gratin just out of the oven.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wack the squash across the middle with a cleaver and scoop out the seeds.
Roast the Squash and Blewits: Place the halves cut side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake until tender, about 50-60 minutes. Meanwhile, stem the Blewits and thickly slice the caps. Brush them with olive oil and lay out on a cookie sheet and roast until they brown on the edges, about 20 minutes (you can use any mushroom, but it's a nice way to use Blewits if you only have a few). Set aside when done. When the squash is tender, let it cool a bit and scoop out its stringy flesh, separating it with a fork. Season with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.

Tomato Layer: All you need is a few cups of sauce to cover the squash once it is spread out on the bottom of the gratin pan. I used a homemade sauce with roasted vegetables, but you can use whatever sauce you like. A chunky sauce with texture works nicely.

Custard Layer:
1 c ricotta cheese
1 c milk
1/4 c grated Asiago or other hard cheese
2 eggs
1/4 heaping  tsp salt and pepper
Whisk all together

Assembly:
Butter a gratin pan (I used a 2 qt. casserole dish). Lay down a layer of squash, spoon the tomato sauce over it, and then pour the ricotta custard over the top. Place the Blewit slices in a decorative fashion on top, and bake at 350°F for 40-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Was it good? I ate a half pan in one night :-) Enjoy!


Layers of squash, tomato. cheesy custard and Blewit,
paired with a green salad. You'll be very thankful.



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Road Less Traveled: 
F&FP in Africa (Part 2)
by Laura

Oysters fruiting from small thin plastic bags filled with chopped cornstalk substrate
in Malawi, Africa. These particular bags contain high bacterial contamination.

The Tisange Association in Malawi, Africa have only been growing oyster mushrooms since March of 2015. They received their initial training from another group in Malawi called Chalera. Last year, a CNFA volunteer, Matthew Cleaver, trained them in the basic principles of oyster mushroom production, mostly covering different substrate treatment methods. Matthew and I are both volunteering this year, and met upon arrival at the airport in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital).

The Chalera group dancing and singing with excitement.

One of the first things we did after settling in was visit the farm of the Chalera group. It was simply amazing! They were so happy to see Matt, they broke out into song and dance. I was told that they were singing about mushroom production. It was such a welcoming experience. Malawi is referred to as the warm heart of Africa, and I can see why! We only stayed a short while because our assignments were located elsewhere. Matt was to stay in the city working directly with the Natural Resource College (where some of the spawn is made), while I would travel 5 hours north to Mzuzu to meet the members of the Tisange Association.

The typical landscape in Mzuzu. Walls are placed around some residences and public places
for security reasons. Most of the landscape is being farmed in one way or another.

Meeting the group was peaceful. They too were welcoming (although not breaking out into song), but they were quiet toward me. I suppose they were just as curious about my knowledge in the field as I was about what concepts they had a strong grasp upon. I was traveling with a translator named Limbi. He is a local that speaks excellent English, as well as Chitumbuka (the local language).



Our first training day consisted of a lecture in the host’s home (which would also serve as our classroom each day), and then I asked them to walk me through their current process. We tried to split days up, half inside lecturing, and half outdoors doing hands on work. The group had become very discouraged by high contamination rates, and low mushroom production. I had to do my best to determine why they were experiencing such high contamination.

Corn stalks are chopped in preparation for pasteurization.
From left to right members: Love, Clement, Agery, and Khumbo.

The Tisange Group is using dried corn stalks and leaves as a primary substrate for growing oyster mushrooms. They have used dried banana leaves in the past too, but this time of year the corn material is highly available, and free to the farmers. Mushroom growing is done as a group, but each individual specializes in other various crops, including corn (maize), which almost everyone grows. Before growing mushrooms, these stalks were simply composted. The substrate is chopped and washed using soap and water. The water at this particular farm is treated by the city, and is drinkable (this is not the case in all areas in Malawi). The water does come with a high cost, and aside from the spawn is the most expensive part of each batch that is produced.


Ester just finished pre-washing the substrate. It is quite dirty.
The stalks are currently piled in the open, and are exposed to blowing dirt and debris. 
Fifteen liters of water are heated to boiling, 250g of hydrated lime is added, and dumped over the substrate which is contained within a large plastic bucket with lid. I took note immediately that the substrate was simply floating on top of the water, not being held down in anyway. Even if held down, fifteen liters is not enough water to cover the substrate. Using a compost thermometer that I brought along I measured the water temperature (something the group had never done prior). Immediately it dropped to 180 degrees (F), but within 15 minutes it had dropped to nearly 140 degrees (F) where it stayed at until the 30 minute soak was finished. Typically we recommend a longer soak between 45 minutes to an hour with a temperature that remains between 160-170 degrees (F).

Boiling water is poured over the substrate, but quickly the temperature
goes down below what is recommended for pasteurization. 
After the pasteurization process, the substrate is dumped out in order to drain and cool.
This process was being done outside with direct exposure to the elements. Depending
on how much the sun shines, this process can take nearly two hours. The group squeezes
the substrate to test for adequate moisture. If only a drop or two comes out, it is ready to inoculate. The substrate is then put into plastic tubs and brought in the house for inoculating. 
Once treated, the substrate is allowed to drain and cool in the open air. 
This farm has the basic concepts down for growing oysters on substrate, but minor adjustments must be made in order to best avoid contamination. Stay tuned for some
simple solutions I was able to offer them.