The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Wine Cap Mushroom Cultivation: Wood Chips, Garden Beds, Recipes, and More June 9, 2019

How many times have you seen your neighbors getting tree work done or had tree work done yourself? The landscape company often comes with the big wood chipper and truck and then, after cutting up the wood, hauls that beautiful pile of chips off to some unknown location. Last year, our electric company came through and was doing tree work along our driveway and road to prune and cut trees too close to the power lines. We asked them to dump the wood chips on our property, and they were happy to do so. A lot of times, companies have to pay or go far out of their way to dump wood chips, and they see them as a “waste”; they will almost always dump them for free if you ask!  But a pile of wood chips are harldy a waste–they can offer you multiple yields over a period of years.  In today’s post, we’ll look at mushrooms from a permaculture and druidic perspective and see one way we can use them to both understand nature’s alchemy as well as cultivate home-grown food, focusing on using fresh wood chip piles.

 

Wine cap mushrooms on wood chips

Wine cap mushrooms on wood chips

About Mushrooms

Mushrooms are amazing: they are in a kingdom by themselves (fungi) and are in a kingdom all to themselves.  They do not contain chlorophyll, so they are unlike plants. They are saprophytes, breaking down organic matter (usually wood) and feeding on the nutrients contained within. In this way, they work as part of nature’s system of decomposition, breaking down the old so that the new can begin again. Their “bodies” consist of fungal hyphae (which are white or tan lines or threads that run through soil, wood, etc). The threads are also called mycelium. They also consist of the fruit, which is what we call a mushroom. The fruit of the mushroom is actually its reproductive system, which is what the mushroom itself sends up to reproduce (via spores, in most species).

 

I think we can learn a lot from the mushroom  kingdom, both from a permaculture perspective as well as a spiritual/druidic perspective.  On the permaculture side, the mushrooms remind us that nothing is waste: they can break down not only wood but also many of our own human wastes: cardboard, newspaper, office paper, and coffee grounds.  Amazingly, they can also be used to pull toxins and do “mycoremediation” to help damaged sites heal.  this includes pulling toxins and pollution from soil as well as pulling toxins and oils in water contaimination.  Mushrooms are truely amazing!  On the spiritual side, the mushroom is one of the great alchemists of nature: taking waste (dross) and turning it into soil which can then can nourish plants–soil is what the entire ecosystem is based upon!

 

The mushroom we are talking about today is the Wine Cap mushroom, also known as King Stropharia (stropharia rugoso-annulata), sometimes also called “Composter mushrooms” or “Garden giants.” You can purchase these online from a variety of mushroom companies; my spawn came from Tradd Cotter’s Mushroom Mountain. I’ve had the pleasure of taking multiple workshops from Tradd at our local Mother Earth News Fair, and I like his company and ethics a lot!  The nice thing about these mushrooms in particuar is that they are versitile and easy to keep cultivating. Once you have some mycelium, its possible to keep spreading these mushrooms as long as they have something to eat.  So if you have your own chipper, a ready supply of leaves or other compost waste, these mushrooms will keep on going!  So let’s talk about a few ways you can work with Wine caps.

 

Wine cap mushroom

Wine cap mushroom

Wood Chips

The techniques that I am sharing today only work on a fresh woodchip pile (less than a few weeks old). If you try this with an older wood chip pile, or in a pile that has been dead wood recently chipped, it is likely that other species of mushrooms have already colonized your pile.  What this means, then, is that when you try to colonize your pile with your own mushroom spawn, there may be considerable competititon and you may not get the mushrooms you hope to get (You also need to be *very* careful about ID in this case).

 

As I mentioned in the introduction, wood chips are fairly easy to obtain in many parts of the US, at least.  You might be able to get them from local muncipalities, and certainly, from local private tree services.  Most of them are all too happy to drop off piles of mulch to you so they don’t have to drive far to dump them and/or pay to have them dumped.  You may also be doing some of your own brush clearing; again, any fresh woodchips will do for this process.

 

Seeding Your Pile

 

To seed your pile, simply break up your mushroom spawn into smaller pieces, dig holes in your pile (a foot or less down) and add the spawn.  After the pile was dumped, in early August, a few of my druid friends and I seeded our pile in about 15 minutes.

Layers of mycelium with mushrooms growing out the top. I was removing mulch for other areas and got this amazing photo!

In addition to moisture and food, mushrooms need oxygen.  If your pile is too tightly compacted, you may only get mycelium growing on the top of the pile.  Never fear–once you remove some of the mulch for other purposes (see below), the mycelium can colonize further into the pile.

 

Fruiting

At some point, typically for Wine Caps, when the temperatures hit above 60 degrees, your pile will start to fruit.  Our pile started fruiting in April, and is still fruiting at the beginning of June.  Thus far, we’ve harvested at least 20 lbs of mushrooms from the pile.  As exciting as the huge wine cap mushrooms are, they often get buggy and full of worms.  Thus, it is best to harvest the smaller mushrooms to eat and leave the larger ones in the pile to spore and to produce food for others.

 

Spreading the Mushroom Love: Mushrooms in the Garden and More

Once you have an innoculated pile, you can use your wood chips all through your garden and as mulch.  Anywhere you do this, you are likely to get mushrooms popping up, which is an amazing food production source!  Here are some of many possibilities:

  • Mulched Mushroom Garden Paths: Add several layers of cardboard to your garden paths and then mulch with a thick layer of innoculated wood chips.  Your paths will last at least 2 years, and probably at some point, they will fruit with mushrooms.
  • Mulched Mushroom Garden Beds: All garden beds benefit from mulching. If you look at a forest, you will never see bare soil on the forest floor: it is always mulched with a rich pile of leaves, etc. This helps the forest prevent erosion and retain  nutrients. Many gardeners leave their soil bare, which allows the sunlight to quickly strip it of moisture. By adding a thick layer of mulch (straw, leaf rot, or wood mulch) you can prevent the loss of mosture, and likely, never have to water your garden again.  That’s my method: layers of mulch equals never needing to water, unless we have some kind of severe drought!  Adding your mushroom-innoculated mulch to your beds benefits the whole garden.  This page offers a lot more details on this practice, debunks myths about wood chips in the garden, and offers information on why it works.  Keep your wood chip mulch to 2-3″ deep at the most and you will have no probmes–and you will get more mushrooms. In fact, every place that we have spread this mulch has fruited at least once this spring!
  • Mulched Tree Areas: Your trees, likely, can also benefit from some innoculated mulch. I put this around my fruit trees, being careful not to mulch the trunks too closely.  This does the same thing for the trees that it does for the garden!
  • Mulched Paths: You can mulch any other paths with this approach, including forest trails and so on.  I am working on some forest trails through our wooded areas, and these mushroom mulched paths are a wonderful addition. Again, I use thick layers of newspaper or cardboard (when necessary) or simply mulch (if the forest floor is largely bare, as mature forests sometimes are).  You can further get fancy and line your mulched paths with stones. Part of why I do this is that our tick issues in Western PA have grown extremely intense; it is better for us to mulch and keep nice wide paths than to be covered in ticks (we also have guinea fowl and chickens for tick patrol, and they do a great job!)
  • Mulched Planters: You can also mulch container garden pots and planters with a light layer of this mushroom mulch.  You may not get any fruiting mushrooms (I haven’t seen any on ours yet) but you certainly will get the benefit of the water retention!

 

Wine caps growing in wood chips

Wine caps growing in wood chips

Wine Cap Cuisine

Wine caps are a mild and delicious mushroom, with a growth habit similar to a portabella.  They do not have a strong flavor, and when they cook, they produce a lot of liquid, which needs to be accounted for in any recipe.  For the best way to taste the mushroom flavor itself, you can simply fry these in some olive oil or put them on the grill brushed with olive oil.  You can also stuff them (I like to stuff them with rice, veggies and cheese) or make a simple cream of mushroom soup.  Essentially, any recipe that calls for a portabella mushroom can be instead used with a wine cap.  Here’s one such recipe I made this week

Wine Cap Mushroom Soup

  • 1 lb of wine cap mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • fresh thyme, chives, and parsley
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup sliced kale
  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the mushrooms in olive oil until they start to soften (about 5 min).  Add the wine, onions, and garlic, and simmer for an additional five minutes.  Add the broth, herbs, and salt/pepper and put a lid on your soup, allowing it to cook for 15 more minutes, until the mushrooms and onions are tender.  Remove from heat.  Add kale and heavy cream, and let the flavors meld on the stove for 10-15 min before serving.  Serve with some fresh chives on the top.

 

Examples of older wine caps, not as good for cuisine due to the worms. Cut the small ones instead.

Radical Mushrooms: Kitty Litter and Other Decomposition Projects

I didn’t stop with the wood chip pile with regards to how to keep working with the Wine Cap mushrooms.  I wanted to use mushrooms t help break down other “waste” products at the house.  have three cats, and they have long been using natural plant-based cat litters, usually a pine base or a wheat based litter.  I saw instructions like these, knowing that people use kitty litter (fresh) for mushroom cultivation for eating.  While I had no intention of eating mushrooms grown in used kitty litter, In this case, I was wondering if the mushrooms would work in this litter to help break it down (and thus not put it in a landfill, but return those nutrients to nature).  I first started with a regular compost pile, putting a few palattes together, which in about 1.5 years, was full of cat litter.  I put some mushroom spawn in the pile in the fall, at the same time I seeded the much larger mulch pile, but nothing happened.  I think it had too much ammonia and not enough oxygen.  I took the palatte composter apart, and instead, spread the kitty litter in a thinner area, only about 6″ deep.  I again seeded it with mushroom spawn: and this time, it worked.  I now have a kitty litter composting area.  I add litter only to one side, and allow the mushrooms to slowly break down the litter that has sat longer.  This simply stays on the edge of the woods, effectively eliminating the landfill and returning those nutrients to the earth.  I call this a mushroom win!   I will also note that I do *not* pick or eat the mushrooms in this pile, but other wildlife seems to enjoy them.

 

I hope this brief look into how to tranfsorm “waste” into resources for the druid’s garden is helpful and inspirational to you!

 

Historical Reenactment and Reskilling – Learning from our past May 27, 2013

A great deal of discussion exists within the sustainability/transition movement concerning the loss of “old” and sustainable skills and the importance of reskilling to help preserve the future and live comfortably in it.  The concept of reskilling is a simple one–you learn older skills that allow you some degree of independence and possibly supplemental income, skills such as learning home brewing, seed saving, community-building, maple syurping, weaving textiles, soapmaking, herbalism, papermaking, organic gardening, foraging, hunting, etc., with the understanding that these skills will most likely be quite useful as we enter the long descent in a post-peak oil world. (And regular blog readers will note that I devote a lot of this blog to such skills).  Much of the discussion I’ve encountered on reskilling, however, deals with where to learn skills and the lament at the general loss of most of these skills in only a few generations.

Our "camp" at the Feast of Ste. Claire.  I stayed in the tent on the far left.

Our “camp” at the Feast of Ste. Claire. I stayed in the tent on the far left.

If sustainability-focused people, those following druidry or other nature-based spiritual paths, and the like are serious about reskilling and building a more sustainable future, one of the best places to start learning these “lost” skills is with the historical reenactors. Historical reenactment, for those who are unaware, is not just about reskilling, but rather becoming a monument to living history, embodying an earlier time period, learning about the people, the ways of live, the food, the culture, and so much more.  In all of my experiences, I have not found the source of better, well-rounded knowledge about the past than in the hands of historical reenactors.

Playing music from the 1750's

Playing music from the 1750’s

This past weekend, I did my first reenactment “camp” where I stayed with a group of friends for three days and experienced living in the 1750’s (French and Indian War era) at a local reenactment event called the Feast of Ste. Claire.  At this feast, I learned about so many different kinds of skills, including cooking over a fire using various forms of iron cookware, various crafts such as weaving and spinning, information on map-making and surveying, woodworking and bucket making, lace making, and much more.  I also learned how cold 30 degrees farenheight really is, especially if you are not quite prepared for the cold (my costume, known in the community as “garb” is still in progress and I didn’t have too many period-appropriate cold-weather clothes).  I also learned a thing or two about community building. Beyond what I learned, however, I also brought skills and information to our camp and the public who visited our camp, including information on foraging for wild ingredients and on making plant-based inks and dyes.  Furthermore, I was able to pick up two items that I have been wanting to aid in reskilling–a loom and a butter churn.  I’m going to tell some stories, mainly through pictures, of the skills, and I’ll be blogging in more depth on many of these as I learn more about them in the future.Reenactors preserve and practice a number of skills while at camp; they also prepare a great deal in advance in the way of clothing, food, and craft items.  As you walk about the event, you can see so many different skills being practiced, with people who are more than willing to teach you and share information, answering any questions that you have.

Pottery using a kick wheel

Pottery using a kick wheel

1750's military medicine demonstration

1750’s military medicine demonstration

Inkle loom weaving - this weaves long strips and straps.

Inkle loom weaving – this weaves long strips and straps.

Weaving on a peacock loom

Weaving on a peacock loom

Surveying and map-making

Surveying and map-making

Spinning

Spinning

Wood carving

Wood carving

If you’ll notice, there is an old loom and a butter churn at the bottom left of the photo above.  I ended up purchasing these for $35 from the wood carver here.  He said both were sitting in his barn for the last 50 or so years.  I’m quite excited to learn how to make butter and also use the loom–I’m sure I’ll be posting about these activities in the future!

Some of the activities that we did in our camp, and which the public was able to enter and ask questions about, were as follows:

Painting using natural inks/dyes (there I am!)

Painting using natural inks/dyes (there I am!).  Behind me, Pat works on his bow (made entirely with a hatchet).

Flint knapping and bow making (this is flint knapping)

Flint knapping (to make arrow heads) and bow making (this is flint knapping)

Spinning using drop spindles (this is my friend Debbie and I)

Spinning using drop spindles.  We demonstrated spinning as the public came into our camp and asked questions.

Cooking over the fire - we are making breakfast here, I believe.

Cooking over the fire – we are making breakfast here, I believe. All cooking takes a really long time over the fire, I’ve discovered.

Foraged tea ingredients

Foraged tea ingredients

I took some of the knowledge from my foraging classes to teach the kids how to make a locally-harvested tea out of red bud, dandelion flowers, wild violets, and pine needles.  It was quite tasty!

 

I want to conclude my post with a short discussion about the difference in politics and focus of sustainability-minded people with historical reenactors. Usually, I don’t find historical reenactors in the sustainability movement to a large extent.  The reason for this, I believe, is two-fold.  First, reenactors are a bit of a closed community, and unless you know someone, its pretty hard to “break into it” and the terminology and sheer amount of knowledge needed to participate in a meaningful way is not easy to acquire.  Second,  I’ve found that the reenactors have very different kinds of political leanings from the sustainability folks, so I can see why there isn’t a lot of crossover. To give you an example of this, while the Feast of Ste. Claire was going on, a group of anti-GMO protestors staged a rally at the edge of the park and then walked along the edge of the park with their signs.  Most reenactors were confused, at best, or opposed at worst, saying that they didn’t agree with the protestors.  I did my best to educate them about issues of seed saving and heirloom seeds, explaining about the kinds of seeds available in the 1750’s vs. now….but it was still a difficult thing because many reenactors are quite conservative.  I think this example demonstrates  the difference in political leanings and focus of the two groups. The reenactors are very concerned with preserving the past as a general operating mode while the sustainability folks (including many of the GMO protestors, who I had a chance to talk to) were focused on preserving the future.  The same skill sets apply either way, however.

 

And politics aside, this was a weekend well spent in learning a variety of new skills and also gaining the opportunity to share those skills with the public.   I would encourage others interested in reskiling to seek out these kinds of events, attend, and learn!  Not only did I learn many new skills, I came home with the butter churn and the loom, which I am very excited about!

*Thank you to my friend Debbie for taking so many great pictures and allowing me to use them here.*