Right now it's mushrooms. Not just picking wild mushrooms ... which I became interested in about 20 years ago, when we moved up to the Northwest, and during the past five years have really exercised/grown in my knowledge of how to hunt and find wild mushrooms ... but now, in terms of growing mushrooms (and no, we're not talking about the psychedelic kind, just the delicious, edible kind) here in my own home.
|Baby pearl oyster mushrooms|
(Pleurotus ostreatus) "pinning"
out of a "stressed" bag of substrate.
Also, I've ordered and started building mushroom logs in our back yard, using "spawn plugs" impregnated with the spawn (mycelium) of Pleurotus ostreatus. (Basically, you cut maple logs into three-foot lengths, four to six inches in diameter, and drill them full of small holes, then hammer these little spawn-impregnated wooden dowels down into those holes, seal them with wax, keep them off the ground but in shade and damp for about a year before the mushrooms begin to sprout out.) I have 100 spawn plugs, about 4 logs' worth, so hopefully a year from now I will be knee-deep in pearl oyster shrooms.
|These are pearl oyster "spawn logs."|
3' Maple logs with 25 spawn plugs
embedded in each (sealed with
spot of red cheese wax).
Most people don't realize that the shrooms that we eat are not the largest and most significant part of the mushroom organism. The largest part is actually the part that you can't see, what shroomologists call "substrate." Mushrooms are a fungus, of course, and like any fungus they have a very fine, hair-like root structure called "mycelium" which generally grows underground (or within the rotting bark of a tree, in the case of oyster and other shelf mushrooms). In some cases that organism can be very large, we're talking as large as football fields.
This is why you often find mushrooms growing in large "fairy rings" on lawns or in fields. The ring of mushrooms actually marks the outer edge of the single mycelium organism that connects them all.
So what, then are the mushrooms themselves? They are what shroomologists call the "fruiting bodies." They contain the seeds (spores) by which the mushrooms propagate themselves. If you take a mature mushroom (one which has opened so that the gills beneath are exposed, in the cases of those which have gills) and set it on a piece of white or black paper for (depending on the spore color; dark spores show up better on white paper, and vice versa), when you remove it you should see what is called a "spore print." You'll see that the spores have dropped like dust in a very distinct pattern corresponding to the gill pattern of the mushroom. (Spore prints are one way shroomologists positively identify various species of mushroom which may look, externally, very similar to other, possibly dangerous, species.)
Think of the mushroom, being to the organism beneath it, as the apple is to the apple tree. Fruit.
Obbviously, for our purposes, the mushroom "fruiting bodies" themselves are what it's all about. They are the part that's delicious to eat. (I don't know of anyone who actually eats the mycelium. Yuk.) And, it's something that I learned recently about how these fruiting bodies come about that has given me cause for pause.
It's stress. A mushroom organism typically won't "fruit" (shoot forth delicious shrooms) unless it is stressed somehow.
There are, of course, various things that stress a mushroom organism. In the case of oyster mushrooms, it's predominantly moisture, light, and warmth. Hence I hang my substrate bag in front of a window in my mushroom-growing room. I regulate temperature at an even 62 to 64 degrees, and try and keep humidity well above 70%, keeping my mushroom substrate bag (which is punctured with small holes so the oysters can "pin," or send out small mushroom fruit buds) suspended in a "humidity tent" above a pool of water. I also spray the substrate bag at least daily with a fine mist of water.
|More pearl oyster mushrooms pinning.|
They double in size every day and should
be ready for harvest in about a week.
The portobello substrate, on the other hand, is located in a cool, dark room in a box. The substrate is scheduled to mature about March 7, when the mycelium should be at maximum health. Then I will open the bag, and stress the organism by scratching the top surface of the substrate with a fork. I will add casing (which is a mixture of damp peat moss and calcium carbonate, with some of the scraped substrate mixed in) to the top, leave it open to air, and keep the casing damp. This combination of air, casing, and damage to the substrate is what stresses the crimini organism (Agaricus bisporus). Within a few weeks it should begin pinning (poking up through the casing), then within a month I should have mature crimini and/or portobello shrooms ready for harvest.
The mushroom logs in the back yard will take much longer to mature, between 6 months and a year, but once they mature I will stress the logs primarily by soaking them in water, in order to begin the fruiting process. (The season also contributes to this process, as warmer temperatures also stress the organism.)
Our young adults group is currently studying a fascinating book by C. S. Lewis titled "The Problem of Pain." One of Lewis' theses is that pain (stress) is a natural part of life (including the Christian life), and is designed to cause us to grow spiritually. When we are too comfortable, we do not progress in our trust in God. But, introduce a stressful event, and the pain that brings (hopefully) causes us to look God-ward, to re-evaluate our lives, to pay attention to the cause of the stress and to begin to make the adjustments necessary for a healthy and dynamic faith.
|You can learn a lot from a shroom ...|
if you'll only listen.
Easier said than done, of course. None of us wants the fork. Pain hurts, by definition. (If you are hankering for pain, then something is seriously wrong with you!) But, when we are in pain, we can draw comfort in realizing that "God is not finished with us yet," and that, according to Romans 8:28, "God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose!"