Tag Archives: mushroom

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

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.



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!

Making a Reishi/Ganoderma Mushroom Double-Extract Tincture

Stump with reishi growing!

Stump with reishi growing!

Most plants are fairly easy to prepare in terms of medicine–you can either tincture them, use them fresh, or create a tea or something similar. Reishi, the most incredible healing mushroom, requires a bit more preparation than a standard tincture to extract all of the medicinal benefits.


This post will describe the method for getting the most out of the reishi mushroom commonly found on Eastern Hemlocks in forests in the midwest and eastern US.  This extraction method would work with any reishi mushroom, including those you would purchase or wildcraft.  To understand what we need to extract the mushroom’s healing properties, we have to understand where it derives its healing.


This link has a wonderful overview to the Reishi’s medicinal properties and the research that has been done (this link is on Ganoderma Lucidium, but research done on Ganoderma Tsugae suggets the same compounds are present). In a nutshell, Reishi is a mushroom that can aid in a long and healthy life for a number of reasons: it has anti-cancer/anti-tumor properties that essentially prevent the creation of cancerous cells and tag the existing cancerous cells to allow the body to combat them; it has anti-aging properties, is anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure, protects the liver, protects DNA, and so much more. Reishi basically heals through three kinds of known compounds:

Amazing reishi!  This is what I made the double-extraction from.

Amazing reishi! This is what I made the double-extraction from.

  • Polysaccharies, which are extracted by water.
  • Triterpenoids, which are extracted by glycerine or alcohol.
  • Unique antioxidant properties to the peptide protein, also extracted by alcohol (not sure about glycerine?).

So, looking at this list, we understand the nature of the problem: Reishi needs both a water and an alcohol extraction, and we also want to preserve it long term.  How do we manage that?  Using a double-extraction:


1.  If you are starting with fresh, wildharvested reishi, begin by cut your reishi into small pieces and drying it. Because the water content of the end double-extraction matters, starting with dried rather than fresh reishi allows you to easily know how much water is in the final product.  If you use fresh reishi, you won’t know the water content in the alcohol.


Obviously, if you have purchased reishi, you can skip this step, as its already dried and ready for you.  Make sure you cut it up though, if its whole.

Dried reishi in a jar

Dried reishi in a jar


2.  Tincture your reishi in high proof spirits (I use 190 proof, 95% alcohol, when I can).  The proof of the alcohol does matter (see my comments below)–get the highest you can.  Tincture your reishi for at least a month.  I usually don’t worry about ratios for this–I just fill the jar with reishi and then top it off with alcohol.  The reishi will expand, taking on the little bit of water content in the alchohol, so keep this in mind.


3.  After a month has passed, press your tincture out (there’s a LOT of alcohol held up in those mushroom bits!).  And yes, I just found this AMAZING small fruit press at a flea market that I’m using for my new tincture press!  I also have instructions on how to make a Under $30 tincture press on the blog.

Pressing the Reishi Tincture

Pressing the Reishi Tincture

Mushrooms ready to decoct!

Mushrooms pressed and ready to decoct!

4.  Now, you need to decoct (that is, make a very strong tea over a period of days) the reishi mushrooms that you just tinctured. To do this, after I press them, I add them to my crock pot with fresh spring water or distilled water and keep them on low for three days, checking the water level often.

Decoction happening!

Decoction happening!

5. I let them mixture cool, pour off most of the liquid, and then press the decoction so that I get every last drop.  This is also really important because you’ll lose a lot of the good medicine if you don’t press.  You will likely have more liquid than you need for the tincture–you can freeze this, add it to tea, etc.  Its going to be super concentrated!


6.  Finally, you need to combine your water and alcohol into one jar and complete the double-extraction.  This requires some math, but its not too hard once you wrap your head around it.  This home distillation calculator will be invaluable to you during this last step.

Mixing tincture and decoction- and using an online calculator to check my math!

Mixing tincture and decoction- and using an online calculator to check my math!

This is where the proof of the alcohol critically matters–you have to add the right amount of the reishi decoction to the reishi tincture to get 40% alcohol or above (it will be preserved at that ratio indefinitely).


The proof of the alcohol in the USA is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume.  This means that an 80 proof drink is 40% alcohol; a 100 proof spirit is 50% alcohol; a 150 is 75% alcohol, and a 190 is 95% alcohol.  Its critically important to know what the alcohol content is when you are doing the double extraction, because your goal is to end up with a 40%-50% alcohol tincture after you add your reishi decoction in water.


I recommend using a 190 proof alcohol to decoct your reishi, because this makes the math VERY easy.  When you add a mixture of half tincture and half decoction, you end up with 40% alcohol, exactly what you want for a long-lasting tincture.


Now, not everyone has access to such a strong proof alcohol depending on the state where you live.  Most people can get 150 proof, at least, however.  If that’s the case, you just need to get to 40%, which means less water and more alcohol.  For example, an alcoholic tincture at the 150 proof (75%) means you can add 40% water to the alcohol and still end up above proof.


So once you’ve done that–congratulations!  You now have one of the most healing substances!  It tastes just like reishi mushroom!  I take mine every day :).


Reishi harvest!

Reishi harvest!

Wild Food Profile: Dryad’s Saddle Mushroom

Dryad’s Saddle, also known as Polyporus squamosus, is a delightful mushroom that you can find the spring and fall cool weather.  I first learned about this mushroom earlier this spring, and I must say, I gorged myself on it quite a bit because its easy to find, easy to spot, and relatively abundant here in South-East Michigan.  You can often see them growing on trees, even from the road as you are driving. I found another huge mushroom flush recently this fall, after we had some good rains.

The name, Dryad’s Saddle, harkens back to the dryads of Ancient Greece.  Dryads are tree spirits, usually female, with “drys” referring to “oak”, so most literally, the dryad is an oak tree spirit (although the name is more broadly used today).  Of course, you can find Dryad Saddle on trees that aren’t only oak. I rather like the name, and when I find the dryad’s saddle mushroom, I know there is a strong spirit in that tree, one that needs a saddle to ride or a nice strong mushroom to sit upon!   Pheasant’s back is another name sometimes given to this mushroom.

Dryad's saddle growing from a stump

Dryad’s saddle growing from a stump

Dryad’s Saddle is not considered a “choice” mushroom within the mushroom hunting community; I’m starting to think that people who don’t eat them have never actually tasted them, or don’t know how to harvest them properly.  I like the taste of these mushrooms a lot; the mushroom has a nice flavor reminiscent of a cross between a tangy peanut and a portabella mushroom, and if you get it when its young and tender, it doesn’t require that long of cooking.

Choice dryad's saddle

Choice dryad’s saddle – small size, all edible!

I’ve found Dryad’s Saddle mushrooms both out in the open and under full shade in the forest–always growing on hardwood logs, sometimes living trees with a dead spot, and sometimes fully dead trees or fallen trees.  As they get larger, they do start to look like a saddle, and the inside of the mushroom becomes very tough (although I bet you could still make a nice broth of it–but I haven’t tried that yet).  When they are young, you can pretty much eat the whole thing (see photo above).  When they get larger, to harvest them, you only cut off the first 1″ or so of the mushroom–cut the mushroom off in a ring around the outer edge, leaving the rest.  This is also a very sustainable method for harvesting them.

When you find one bunch of them, there are often others.  The same tree doesn’t seem to flush more than once a year–I went back to my earlier spots this fall, and they aren’t growing, but I did find many new ones in other spots nearby.  So look around, remember where you find them, and keep checking new spots to find more mushrooms.  The photo below shows the two layers the mushroom has–the top is solid and the bottom has little pores.  If you find them too late, worms will eat into them, and then you might have to cut around the worms.  The particular batch I harvested and took photos of was prime, however, and had no such insect damage!

Cut up Dryad's Saddle

Cut up Dryad’s Saddle

I do suggest once you’ve harvested them, you want to eat them within a day or two.  I cut mine into fine slices (see below) and then fry them up in some butter or olive oil and add fresh herbs.  I try to eat them within a few hours–if you wait too long, they seem to get harder and tougher.  You can use them in any dish that would ask for mushrooms–I like them by themselves or on salad or in scrambled eggs.  They are really quite delicious, and really easy to find.

Awesome salad with Dryad's Saddle Mushrooms!

Awesome salad with Dryad’s Saddle Mushrooms (and greens from my garden)!

Mushroom Gardens

If there is one thing that’s pretty difficult to find locally, I’ve found it to be mushrooms.  Once when I was at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s market (which is about an hour and 15 min drive for me, so I don’t go often) one group of farmers were selling them.  But at my much smaller and local market, unfortunately, they are impossible to find.  And since I strive to eat as local and sustainable of a diet as possible, I decided to try my hand at mushroom gardening.

The Mushroom Garden

The Mushroom Garden

Growing mushrooms is a really earth-centered activity, and one that puts you in connection with a whole other domain of life–the fungal kingdom.  Mushrooms are actually the reproductive organs of a much larger plant, often characterized by white veined mycelium.  These organisms are responsible for a great deal of the life cycle of the forest; breaking down dead woods and creating rich humus for new life to spring forth.

While you can search for wild mushrooms (and I have done so), the practice is dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.  An alternative to being a wild mushroom hunter is to grow a bed of them in your property–or do both!

This post will detail my experiences in working with several mushroom kits.

Where to get a mushroom kit?

Last year, I met a few guys who were selling mushroom kits at our local Clarkston, MI Farmer’s market (their website is here).  After talking with them and learning about their dedication to permaculture and local foods, I was ready to purchase one of their kits.  They had a number of different kinds of kits; I opted to start with two indoor kits–Reishi Mushrooms (which was given to my sister) and Oyster mushrooms. These were nice for the winter months because I had fresh mushrooms growing in my bathroom where it was nice and moist due to my husband’s shower obsession (consequently, it was super-amusing when people would go into my bathroom and try to figure out what the bag of mushroom spawn sprouting oyster mushrooms in the corner was…)

Mushroom Harvest!

But today’s blog post is really about the outdoor mushroom garden endeavor–the King Stropharia mushroom garden. The Easygrow Mushroom  Composter Mushroom Kit (which grows garden giant mushrooms, also known as King Stropharia (or Stropharia Rugussa-Annulata) is what I used.  Here’s a link to this particular kit: http://easygrowmushrooms.com/composter.shtml.

They do ship out of South East Michigan.

Location, Location

To start one of these kits, you need a shady location that is not near conifers (which makes the soil too acidic), newspaper, wood chips from a hardwood or fuit tree, and straw.  The wood chips proved to be the most difficult for me, as I didn’t have my own wood chipper.  I asked around and one of my good friends and neighbors had an apple tree come down in his yard and a chipper–in exchange for an afternoon of labor, we chipped up most of the branches (consequently, if I had waited only a few more weeks, they did some trimming of trees on my road and I could have had all of those chips–so wood chips are available).  You can also often get wood chips by calling tree removal/tree trimming/landscaping services.  The key is that the wood chips are VERY fresh–you don’t want any other mycelium to get there first.

I had a perfect spot in my yard for the garden–which should be in a moist area in full shade.  I had some rock landscaping that blocks the spot from the sun in the afternoon and several large hickory trees that block the spot from the shade in the morning.  The location also gets runoff from the higher points in the yard (moss was already growing on the rock landscaping there, so that was a good sign).

Mushroom Bed

We dug out the area (about a 3′ x 10′ bed) and layered it with straw and wood chips, keeping each layer moist.  We added mushroom spawn in little chunks throughout the area.  We covered the whole thing with newspaper and paper bags, and then covered that with a tarp.  I kept watering it throughout the rest of the summer and I uncovered the tarp when it was raining.

We put the mushroom garden in in early August, and since the mushrooms take 6-8 weeks to really proliferate the straw, by the time it would have been ready to go to the next step, it was winter.  I removed the tarp, covered the whole thing with a pile of leaves to insulate it for the winter, and waited.

Fruiting the Bed & Harvesting

In the spring, I followed the kit instructions and fruited the bed with 50% dirt and 50% spagham moss in late April which was supposed to encourage mushroom growth.  I promptly forgot about checking on the mushroom garden bed for about a month.

As I went to get the mail this morning, lo and behold, there were 10-12 lovely King Stropharia mushrooms in the bed of various sizes–the largest about 7″ across (and I understand they get even bigger than that)!  The mushrooms had excellent timing too, because its too early in the season for much beyond spinach

and lettuce in the garden.

And so, I am quite pleased to see the bed producing mushrooms.  While it did require some initial up front work and two afternoons of hard labor, it was well worth it!

Eating Mushrooms

These King Stropharia mushrooms taste like a cross between portabella and an oyster mushroom in taste.  They look quite similar to a portabella except they have a wine or brownish top and purplish or gray gills.  They are delicious if you grill them with a bit of BBQ sauce (as you’ll see in the photo here!)

Mushroom Meal (with my own spinach, mushrooms, and herbal tea)

Mushroom Meal (with my own spinach, mushrooms, and herbal tea)