Friday, January 6, 2012

A walk on the wild side.

Happy New Year, friends. I'm sorry to be a few days late wishing you happiness and health for 2012. As with all good intentions, sometimes they take a little while to come to fruition—especially with the kids home from school. A three hour Horse-O-Poly marathon takes precedence over planned writing time, especially when you're quite certain that in a few, quick years—the horse lover will balk at spending New Year's Day in PJs with her parents and little brother. We've got to snatch those moments now, while we can, and store the memories away for when her angst-filled teen years arrive.

Plus, I wanted my “new look” ready for the first post of 2012. Hope you like it! (Thank you to my technical support, Tyler!)

So, did you make any resolutions? I admit, I'm attempting a few changes:
  1. Bravery.
  2. Wellness.
  3. Patience. (Which I wish would hurry up and get here, already!)
Bravery might seem like a strange resolution. But I've realized lately that there are so many things I've been wanting to do—kayaking, horseback riding, growing my business, writing—that I need to force myself to get out of my comfort zone. I've been living life a little half-assed lately. It's time to shake things up, because I don't want to live with regrets.

The bravery resolution took a major hit this week, much to my chagrin—and Peter's relief.

There is, of course, a back story:

A year ago, I attended the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's annual conference, which was amazing. I enrolled in a workshop about growing mushrooms. 

Let me tell you—Tradd Cotter from Mushroom Mountain is brilliant. Part genius scientist, part environmentalist, part fabulous entertainer, part magician...who knew mushrooms could be so fascinating?

Naturally, on the adrenaline high of Tradd's presentation and armed with recently purchased shiitake plugs, I decided it was time to add mushrooms to the list of edibles we grow.

Really, how hard could it be?

Most farmers grow shiitakes on small logs, which are portable and easily submersed in water, which is part of the process to get them to fruit. However, since we had to remove a tree prior to the greenhouse installation last year, I convinced Peter that we needed to use the tree for our shiitakes. He gamely cut up the truck for me, and we moved the logs to my newly designated “shiitake garden.”

When growing mushrooms, there are a variety of methods you can use, as well as an incredible array of mushrooms you can grow. The Mushroom Mountain website rates the difficulty level for growing each variety and tells the various mediums that can be used to grow each variety. (I plan to try the coffee ground method as an experiment with the kids in my next mushroom growing attempt.)

So, we had our hardwood logs in place. I had the shiitake plugs from Mushroom Mountain in hand. (The plugs are approximately inch-long wooden pegs inoculated with shiitake spores.)

Now, it was time to plant some mushrooms.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but even though I consider myself a pretty well-rounded kind of girl...I never used a drill prior to my mushroom endeavor. I know, I know. Pitiful. 

I also learned that you can quickly burn up a drill if you aren't careful.

At no time in my drilling lesson did I learn that the drill could drill in reverse.

Drilling in reverse makes it extremely difficult and tiring to try to make holes in hardwood logs.

Fortunately, a White Knight appeared after smelling burning wood, saved the day, then laughed at me.

But I digress...

Armed with drill knowledge, I drilled lots of a staggered, diamond shaped pattern. (Make sure to choose the correct bit for the drill according to the size of the plug, and only drill to a depth the length of the plug. I used a small piece of tape to indicated on the bit where to stop drilling.)

The next step was simple—into the holes go the plugs. 

I used a mallet, hammered in the plugs, and got rid of my drilling frustrations.

The final step involved a trip to the kitchen. 

Using the double boiler method, I melted canning wax until completely liquid, poured it in a jar, and took it back to the forest. 

With a clean paintbrush, I smeared a thin layer of wax over the plugs to prevent insects from entering the holes. (It was a little chilly that day, so I had to reheat the wax a few times.)

And then we waited.

Part of the process with shiitake logs involves soaking them to stimulate fruiting. However, because our logs weren't easily portable, I set up sprinklers in late summer to provide the needed moisture.

And we waited.

Finally, finally, after giving up hope and deciding I did something wrong in the process, I found these:

Hurray! It worked!

But...wait a minute.

Those look like two different types of mushrooms.

And I don't think they look like shiitakes.

While I was hesitant to eat the mushrooms, Peter was even more cautious. I think he feared that I might be trying to poison him.

So, off to the bookstore I went...

...and came home with a most excellent field guide.

But, as fabulous as the photos and descriptions are, I just couldn't pinpoint exactly which mushrooms we had.

No worries, I thought—I'll do spore prints for each. That should tell us if they're edible.

Making a spore print is easy—if you're patient.

However, if you're like me, you will ruin the print by taking the mushroom off the paper too many times to see if the print is ready.

Put the mushroom on white paper or glass, cover it with a glass (I used a glass bowl, but I've since learned you can cut the mushroom and use a smaller section to make the print)...and leave it alone overnight. Some prints happen quickly, others take a day.

Lesson learned.

When all else fails, turn to the expert. I e-mailed photos to Mushroom Mountain and waited for their reply.

The following morning as I awaited the spore print, I watched “The Today Show” while doing seed inventory.

Interviewed on the show was Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, one of my favorite books...who almost killed himself, his wife, and other family members by cooking poisonous mushrooms. Unintentionally. Fortunately, they all lived after eating deadly webcap mushrooms. Sadly, though, Evans, his wife, and another family member experienced renal failure as a result of eating the mushrooms. Evans has undergone a kidney transplant, donated by his daughter, while the others await transplants.

Was it divine intervention? Kismet? An incredible coincidence?

I threw the mushrooms—failed spore prints and all—in the trash.

I have to admit, my heart was racing. I'm not terribly superstitious, but sometimes—things happen for a reason.

A few hours later, the nice folks at Mushroom Mountain sent a reply to my photos.

They look like oysters to me,” they said. Which are perfectly safe and delicious.

So, OK. Maybe I'm not as brave as I wish. And yes, we did miss out on eating our own, home-foraged mushrooms.

But I didn't cultivate oysters. I expected shiitakes. Where did the oysters come from?

If I'm patient and wait for shiitakes to fruit, though...will I be brave enough to eat them and serve them to the people I love without a full, fungal analysis?

I just don't know.

I do know that I'll be signing up for another workshop at Mushroom Mountain. Hopefully, I can learn more and boost my confidence—and skill--level.

Although bravery is great, no one dies from mushroom poisoning by being smart and careful.

What would you have done? Would you have gone for it and made a delicious mushroom pasta dish, or would you have tossed those 'shrooms?

Hope your New Year's resolutions are progressing better than mine!
XO ~



  1. I would have been just as cautious. I have a book but and thought I had a Shaggy Mane growing in my flower pot but wasn't brave enought to eat it.

  2. I have to agree. Err on the side of caution.

    I think its a great experience all the same and I really enjoyed reading about it.

    With Respect and Gratitude


  3. You can take them to your extension office and they will often be able to identify them for you :)