Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Y'all All Look Alike To Me - Mushroom Mayhem

Two-year-old Oliver leads us on a little myco-exploration this week, after two weeks of regular rain in North Georgia.  Daddy, don't we need to get this bolete, too?

First day we picked up a few unusual beauties for lunch - on the left is a pair of shaggy-stalked boletes, top right is the dark and wild bolete Strobilomyces confusus, which won't be confusing us any longer!  In the middle is a random Boletus pallidus, and at the bottom a few teaser chanterelles that never really showed up this time around.  Of all the nerve...

Jess was thrilled by her first find and identification - Lactarius indigo - which is edible and somewhat fruity, if you can get past the squid ink released by the gills of this odd little blue fungus!

My goodness!  Look what I found while you were playing pat-a-cake with your little indigo;)  There are actually about 7 more species of boletes under the burlap, which honestly, overwhelmed my diagnostic desires for the day.  But the big deal here is the pile of Amanita rubescens on the left.  I've always steered clear of Amanitas because the genus is loaded with heavyweight killers like Destroying Angels, muscarias, and death caps, but I was 100% positive on the ID of "The Blusher."  Somehow, though, that didn't diminish the feeling of eating blowfish when I popped in that first bite!  But, as you can see, I am still alive and well to tell the tale of dining on Amanitas!  Yum!

A little bolete village.  For anyone who doesn't know, boletes are the group of mushrooms with the classical toadstool shape, but instead of gills under the cap they have pores.  Sort of like a sponge underneath.  There are loads of boletes out there, and many of them are edible and even choice, like Boletus edulis, the porcini.  If I can get good at ID-ing this group of 'shrooms, I could just about live off of them; they are everywhere around us in the mountains!

This...is a real bummer.  They look like chanterelles, and in fact ARE chanterelles, but they just happen to be Cantherellus ignicolor, the only chanterelle you shouldn't eat.  They are smaller, flimsier, and more vivid orange than the edible species.

This is a bright little jewel in our forest, taught to me just this past Sunday by my buddy Chris, from Crack In The Sidewalk Farmlet in Atlanta.  It's the American Caesar's Amanita, edible and somtimes rated choice, just emerging from its "egg," which is of course a universal veil more than an egg per se.  Chris had a load of them, all bigger than this one, that he found in Grant Park at the market.

This, I'm pretty sure, is a parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota spp.) emerging in the forest.  I haven't ID'd it positively yet, so it's still there, but I intend to do that soon.  Parasols are rated as choice edibles, but Wikipedia issues a "not recommended" warning as they are similar in appearance to some pretty dangerous customers.  Identified appropriately they are highly prized, not only for their taste, but also for their size.  Specimens up to one meter tall and broad have been reported in Europe! 

I'm hoping this a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) emerging at the base of this oak tree.  Taken and eaten young, they are very firm but meaty, the taste reminding me of a sirloin steak.  Last time I had them I just chewed on them until I had extracted the delicious meaty flavor fully, then spit out the fibrous mushroom matrix.

Mushrooms aren't the only characters driven into my house by the rain.  After a day or so cooped up inside the kids were in rare form, presenting puppet shows, skits, and dances bizarre enough to bring in the touristas.  Even the neighbor's dog took refuge in our big tent for a couple of days.
I don't intend for Small Batch Garden to become a mushroom blog, but I am trying to show that, with a little patience and some good reference books, some really high quality calories can be pulled from the woods around us free of charge.  Don't eat any mushrooms that you aren't 100% sure about.  Take spore prints; key the features completely.  Angular and round pores are not the same thing, even if every other morphological trait fits a given description.  A myco-mistake can be a serious one, BUT mushrooms also offer delightful fragrances and tastes, and obviously they can be quite striking physically as well.  The nutrient profiles beg consideration for dietary inclusion, especially as meat may become more difficult to acquire in a lower energy future.  When you get involved with mushrooms you quickly realize that they don't all look alike.  Some of them are quite distinct actually, even attractive.  I see them everywhere now, and I'm curious about all of them.  Does it taste good?  Is it good medicine?  How much will the surplus fetch at the market?

Paul Stamets, author of "Mycelium Running," talks about mushrooms being vanguard species, colonizing and remediating compromised ecologies first, drawing in insects to eat their spore load, birds to eat the insects, seeds from bird manure sprouting in the mushroom-improved soil, ecosystems being reborn from the mire.  He speaks of spawn bunkers placed to intercept livestock run-off, scrubbing E. coli and other manure-related microbes out of the effluent, radically improving downstream water quality.  He talks about improving veggie crop vigor and yields with mushroom symbionts like Glomus endo- and ecto-mycorrhizae, and Stropharia in the corn patch.  It's an amazing and fascinating dark underground world that humans rarely venture into, but one that will play a starring role in a future centered around topsoil and watershed repair.  There are what, six kingdoms of life on Earth?  How much more enriched is the human existence that invites another 17% of the living world into its calculus? 

When life moves toward simplification, whether by hook or by crook, the time formerly spent on high energy frivolity tends to give way to something else.  That new-found time can be spent killing brain cells, or it can be spent relearning the knowledge that helped us thrive before coal and oil.  For those of mycophobic British descent, like me, a love of mushrooms is probably a brand new thing, one of the useful products of globalization, inherited from mycophilic cultures like the Italians, Germans, or Russians.  And for that I can be thankful, filed away in my bag of new tricks, as I make my way toward the hyper-local recombinant culture of a lower energy future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Talking Rock's 12-Watt Family

In the end, chop wood and carry water.  I was carting our water nearly 1/4 mile by wheel barrow, 12 gallons at a time.  Can't complain too much, I mean, it's a reasonably level stretch of road (for where we live), and it was good clean well water from the next neighbor up the road.  Beat the heck out of buying water!  Thank you, Kathy.  But it was a pretty tiring way to acquire water all the same.  Fifteen runs the first day left me aware of muscles I hadn't formerly been aware of.

New toys!  The little PV panel balanced on the log is the old 12 watt panel for the fan that we already had, but on the ground is the new 42-watt panel (good number, 42) that folds up and charges a small lithium ion battery, which can keep all of our battery operated devices charged.  Within a month the battery malfunctioned and we returned the whole setup, not to be replaced.  Back to 12 watts.  Too much hassle for what it added to the equation.  All we were doing with that extra electricity was watching more movies on the laptop anyway, and lahd, if we need to be doing that!  Would have returned the Duracell 600W power pack, too, if they'd have taken it.  This battery type can't be returned if you don't like it, though.  No big deal, really, we probably ought to keep a charged 12V deep cycle battery around anyway, just in case.  The built-in inverter comes in handy at times, too.  But honestly, the solar shower in the background has been the most useful addition of this group.  We've purchased another one actually, to keep around for hand-washing and dish-rinsing, while the other heats up for baths.

Terracing the hillside in the berry patch.  We've got a good first planting of raspberries, blueberries, grapes, and tea camellias in the ground now.  All acid-loving, shade-tolerant selections.  Like I mentioned in an earlier post, that's basically what was growing here when we arrived, minus the camellias, so it's what we're growing here.  Thyme, echinacea, and some young calendula seem to be doing OK here as well.  Not in the photo but also handling the shade are rosemary, valerian, mints, yarrow, selfheal, hyssop, rue, bee balm, lemon balm, wormwood, dog roses, and a pretty little purple aster bush my Gran gave me.

Well, looky, looky.  Look who's hippy camp is now a permitted structure.  All legal like...
Oh yeah, back to the water. (Did I mention that I'm not very tech savvy?  I can't even move photos around in my blog posting!)  Anyway, my neighbor took pity on me and my wheelbarrow olympics, and let me run 500' of hose from her well to my cistern.  We gave her a little cash and some Small Batch schwag, went to Ace and bought 200' of hose to add to what we already had.  Now that hose is laying across the woods, tucked just out of sight in the edge of the woods at the neighbor's house.  Not a permanent solution, but keeps us in water for a fraction of the cost and effort we were expending before.  This tank holds 550 gallons of water, and that's been lasting us about 3-5 weeks, depending on how much rain we're getting.  Irrigation, even just around the house in the shade, drops the tank fast.  I'm thankful for all the rain we're getting right now, and I feel so bad for all those folks out west fighting those raging wildfires.

A full tank of water is a good feeling, and living out of a tank makes you respect the water more.  Since it's set up to catch rain coming off of the tent (eventually), every gallon has to be carried uphill, against gravity, and you tend to use water carried uphill more efficiently, and more than once.  Water supply secure; understanding of the value of water developing.

Everybody hangs their clothes out to dry.  That's Power Down 101.  But...

...Washing clothes by hand is another matter.  We haven't spent much on this effort yet - just a pair of washtubs and the aerating plunger thingy you see between the tubs.  It's actually pretty effective at getting the clothes clean, but man, you've got to be dedicated to doing a little daily washing if you're going to do this.  You don't want to get behind with no laundry mat to rescue you.  As it is, we're still mostly going to the laundry mat to charge the computer and blog in the A/C!  Washing all of our clothes by hand is one of those things we'll have to work up to.

Been getting some mushrooms in lately.  I plugged three hardwood stumps around the house with chicken-of-the-woods polypore - a maple, a hickory, and this little sourwood stump that caught the brunt of the leftover plugs and appears to have chicken-of-the-woods pox!

I had to take out this nice oak for the driveway, so I honored it by giving it a mycological calling that should be part of our lives for a decade or more.  For the big leaning trunk at the top left I did the wedge technique with some blue oyster mushroom innoculated sawdust spawn.  You can see the wedges running up the trunk.  In the big piece of log lying on the ground I plugged 100 lion's mane plugs, then pulled up moist leaves all around the logs and wounds.  This is near the driveway entry and I'm thinking about planting my black bamboo at the corner next to it, in hopes of having a blue oyster and white lion's mane photo against a backdrop of black bamboo to offer one day!

My style is starting to show up all over the neighborhood!  Here I'm recontouring my neighbor Kathy's sunny garden spot with my typical French intensive beds, in exchange for some veggie space out in the sun.  She's becoming a great friend already, and we've now made friends and alliances with the next two neighbors farther out, as well.  Just the nature-hating guy across the street in a plain white trailer with nothing growing in his yard, to "weed out" now!

This has been a pretty good polyculture for me for a few years now, so I feel comfortable sharing it.  Tomatoes alternated with peppers, underlayed with sweet potatoes, and a basil for each tomato.  I alternate sweet and purple.  Probably ought to give each pepper one too.  The deer don't seem to like the basil, but they have no problem eating peppers, or sweet potatoes.  Doing an evening foliar feed with some dilute urine (I go about 16:1) seems to help deter them...and light up the plant growth!  Of course the beds are on water-harvesting contour, each plant is ringed with compost under the straw, and mycorrhizal fungi were added to each planting hole.

Rosemary, hyssop, selfheal, and yarrow - four herbs that seem to do fine in the dappled shade.  You can see my homemade A-frame level for setting contours in the background.

Apple guild is coming along.  A wide variety of herbs surround 3 apple varieties, with grapes on the fence behind, and raspberries to form a hedge out front by the road.  Grow what wants to grow and things tend to be a lot easier to manage.
Well, from 12 watts to 54 and back to 12 again.  I think we prefer it that way, with just a fan to move air through our little home and workshop.  I'm not missing electricity much at all, and our business is growing every week, based to some degree on our lifestyle choices.  People like to hear these stories, and I'm happy to tell one every now and then.

From the wood,