Back in winter, my friend Alex and I were planning on starting a mushroom farm on the property. Unfortunately our calls for logs (oak, birch, beech, etc.) didn’t produce any, and so the inoculation season passed us by. But all was not lost. In  2010 I bought and planted mycelium of King Stropharia.  Stropharia rugosoannulata, also known as the wine cap stropharia, “garden giant” or burgundy mushroom, never materialized in the bed where I planted it, but a couple of years ago he started making regular appearances, all over the place, also in my vegetable garden. He did so again on April 5 after it had rained for a couple of days, and I was ready!

King Stropharia is easy to identify by the wrinkled, almost gilled ring around its stem – hence “rugosoannulata,” meaning “wrinkled-ringed”.

Alex and I had planned to buy spawn, but this was better. This was not some sterile, mamby-pamby lab-grown weakling but a rugged, over-wintered, tried and tested Stropharia who was already at home in my garden! I plucked some of the mushrooms (left some in the ground too) and collected the spores from several of them. Others I fried up with some onions, salt and pepper, but not before I cut off their stem butts and planted those in between two sheets of wet cardboard.

Gorgeous mycelium!
Several stages of maturity.

DSCF7237 DSCF7242

Spore prints. I scraped these off the paper with a sharp knife, into a tiny box that now contains millions of spores. They will keep for years. I plan to make a spore slurry with them.

I put the butts in plastic boxes which I kept in my “cool closet,” where I keep all the medicinals. The mycelium grew steadily and today they are as ready as I’ll ever know they’ll be. Paul Stamets says something like: the mycelium runs and if you don’t let it, it will die. It is also overcast and threatening to rain, so the weather too said, let’s run with it!


DSCF7390 I chose a spot underneath a small oak and my largest hazel (mushrooms and hazel nuts, can you think of a better combination?), carefully scraped off and set aside the top inch of duff/soil, then lay the cardboard mycelium down. Then I replaced the soil and added a healthy cover of decomposed leaves, then watered, with rain water, of course. Let’s see what happens!

If you want to know why he’s called the “Garden Giant,” check out this mushroom, which popped up in wood chip heaven, that is, our front yard.

And this wasn’t even the largest one of the clutch. Am I concerned about fungi all over my vegetable garden? No, on the contrary, Paul Stamets has shown that  many fungi, among them King Stropharia, are great companions to plants!


Yesterday Wayland Walks, a very active offshoot of Transition Wayland, arranged a long mushroom walk with author/adventurer/mycologist Lawrence, aka Larry, Millman (picture). It was packed with discoveries, learning and humor, as Larry has a great way of sharing his knowledge and is a fountain of mushroom lore.


It had rained just before the walk so I had fresh mushrooms growing on the wood chips in my garden paths. I plucked one and brought it, and Larry identified it as…

King Stropheria, aka Winecap

Well. That’s the mycelium I purchased and then “sowed” in 2012 (blog post here) and that never materialized, where I had sowed them, at least. So I doubt this is that mycelium, but somehow that’s what was growing on these wood chips.

Larry called them “Grade B Edibles,” but he couldn’t dampen my joy. My mycology hobbyist neighbor had said not to eat them (she never eats the gilled mushrooms, as the majority aren’t edible). Larry would say: they might edible, but they might be the last thing you eat. But so these are edible.


I plucked another one this morning and made this spore print of it. Wild!


Actually Hen-Of-the-Neighborhood-Woods.


My mycologist neighbor came by today with a paper bag. In October, after a rain storm, I know exactly what’s in it: mushrooms! It was a gorgeous chicken-of-the-woods, so fresh and soft it was still almost entirely white that new creamy white (compare to last year’s). I fried it in some olive oil with onion, garlic, chick peas and half an apple that was at hand, pepper, salt and a pinch of paprika.


Bon apetit!


A couple of days ago as I was walking to the elementary school to pick up Amie I was suddenly struck by what a fine day it was. Then I stopped in my tracks – we walk to and from school through “the woods”, that’s the neighbors’  wooded backyards, so they were, literally, tracks – and laughed out loud. Another mom, just behind, caught up with me and asked with a smile what I was laughing about. My plain and simple answer was: the criteria we have for what constitutes “a good day”!

I’m not talking about the day when you bump into Bill Gates in the elevator and sell him your project, or find an agent for your novel, or win the lottery… I’m talking about an ordinary day — that day. And I found that three particular things had “made” that day:

  1. all four hens had each laid an egg after being on strike for two days, possibly freaked out by the hurricane,
  2. my neighbor had brought me a pound of wild oyster mushrooms,
  3. I had just tasted the mead and it far exceeded my expectations.

Why did this make me laugh? First because I thought: is that all it takes, food? Then I realized that all this food was rather exceptional food. That in this suburban neighborhood I was managing to cultivate out-of-the-ordinary food:  all of it home-made, home-grown, and foraged within a mile of my house (the mead is from my own honey, the mushrooms were foraged in my street). It was something I so dreamed of years ago. And now here it was, making my day, making my ordinary day!

Amie and I that day talked about how much of our food is local and what that means. We know the people and animals who grew it. Knowing them we can appreciate their labor, their love, the need for our support. We are naturally moved to gratitude. We decided we need a way of saying thanks. If you know of a poem or short message of thanksgiving (that is non-religious) to be said over our dinner everyday, please share it with us. It will help us celebrate the  extraordinary food that lifts us up out of the ordinary.

You may remember I tried to grow King Stropheria in a bed of sawdust and leaves. Unfortunately it dried out and I never got any shrooms from it. But my mushroom adventures just began anew. I learned a while ago that a neighbor is a hobby mycologist and I expressed interest. Today she came by with a chunk of hen-of-the-woods that she got from another neighbor’s yard.

Hen-of-the-woods is a porous, not a gilled mushroom

I showed her the mushroom I found a week or so ago, growing next to the coop and the wood pile. After seeing the one she gave me, my hopes that it was hen-of-the-woods were already dashed, and she confirmed this. However, she said, this is chicken-of-the-woods and also delicious! This one may be a little old (fibrous and wormy) to eat, but I am going to give it a try at dinner time. How fitting that this fungal chicken grows right next door to my avian chickens!

Lastly we admired the hundreds of Turkey Tail fruits on the logs that have yet to be cut up. These too are porous and edible, but too tough to eat. It’s even difficult to tear them off the log. Still, they’re edible and that’s good to know.

pores on the underside

In exchange for the hen-of-the-woods I gave my neighbor a jar of honey and six fresh eggs.  Thank you, Pam!


Tricolor pepper harvest

Fat buds and flowers on my two Sochi tea plants.

Mushrooms in my schroom bed, but are they the anticipated King Stropheria?


I did a quick inspection of the hive today and found an amply supply of honey, nectar, and brood in all stages of development. There were lots of newly hatched worker bees – pale, small, their wings still stuck together. A couple of hours  later I witnessed a flurry of orientation flights in front of the hive.

My only concern is that the broodnest is divided between the two boxes. Over Winter, bees eat their way up, (preferably) starting out in the bottom box and ending, by early Spring, in the top one.  I asked for advise on the forum of my beekeeper’s club and will do some research. I think the bees (should) know what they’re doing, and am averse to interfering.

I checked the mushroom bed and just under surface there is this:

Mycelium, hopefully the King Stropharia that I sowed in it. There’s a chance it isn’t, of course. The pile of leftover woodchips, which I did not inoculate, looks exactly the same! Time will tell.

strawberry bed

I was skeptical about my strawberries but (again) nature proved me wrong, or rather, made up (again) for any bungling on my part. I bought 25 crowns from Nourse Farms and planted them the day they arrived in a well-prepared bed (it was crawling with worms). The instructions were to plant the crown so half of it is in and half of it is out of the soil.

Honestly, I had no idea where that mark was, the crowns being so short, and I was in a hurry to get them in as it was getting dark and threatening rain and Amie didn’t have much patience with my gardening that particular day (when so many other plants had gone in as well). Later I forgot to water them a couple of times, since their bed is (as yet) outside the high traffic part of the garden. I checked yesterday and all the crowns have acquired new, healthy-looking leaves.

Also the currants and gooseberries are doing well, as are most of the free raspberry transplants, the kiwi vines (the male in particular) and the hazelnuts. Only my Gamma pollinator hazelnut seems dead, as well as one of the two paw paw seedlings. I still have no clue how to prune and harvest my Sochi tea plants: any ideas?

I poked around in the mushroom bed, but see no mycelium as yet.

In the veg garden the peas and favas are flowering, the overwintered pepper plants have beautiful white blooms and even a couple of tiny peppers. Also one of my tomato plants already has a little tomato.

The new hoop house plastic is arriving next week.

The carrot bed is a pain to weed and some animals (chipmunks?) have been digging for the newly seeded beans. Jacob’s Cattle seems to be their favorite, and who can blame them? I imagine the beans displayed in all their glory on their credenzas, dazzling the guests.

asparagus (Purple Passion) pushing up spears

The mints L gave me survived the transplant. I put them in the small bed next to the house that used to have the daffodil bulbs (which are all drying out so they can be stored and replanted in Fall). The bed has a couple of ornamentals (a hosta, a columbine, a couple of coneflowers) but it is Mainly Mint – ideal, since it is bordered on all sides by concrete.

I went back to L and S’s on Saturday morning to help them put in my leftover asparagus and to clear a patch for a veg bed. L is going to grow tomatoes again! She showed my her defense against cut worms. But that’s for another entry.

Amie is sick (a cold, again) and home from preschool. She’s really bummed about it because these are the last weeks of school, and after Summer she’ll be going to a new one. Luckily it is sunny and warm again, today, so we spent a lot of time outside. She is great about letting me work in the garden, though she doesn’t have much energy to help. She did supervise the seeding of the 2,5 lbs of the Winecap – Stropheria rugoso annulatasawdust spawn that arrived in the mail last week.

Oh, it smelled divine: nutty, mushroomy.

2,5 lbs of sawdust spawn inoculates a 25 square foot bed of wood chips. That made for an 8.3 by 3 foot bed on the outside of our fence, in the most shady part of the garden. It’s on the edge of our property, in an area that can do with some clearing, as you can see. It’s also along the path we created by which our the neighbors cut through to the conservation land behind us. I’ll be curious to see their reaction to the mushrooms when they pop up!

On the rich forest floor duff I spread 4-5″ of wood chips (3 large wheelbarrows) that my neighbor, the tree guy, dumped for free in our depot area. I forget now which tree it is from. I mixed this with half a barrow of sawdust (from the same tree) and half a barrow of compost. I spread all the spawn on top of that and gently raked it in. I added 1 more inch of the wood chips/sawdust/compost mix and watered it. Then I topped it off with a mulch of pine needles, to trap the humidity. I’ll have to make sure it stays moist, not wet.


I also planted 18 asparagus crowns that I had ordered from Nourse and that were sitting in the crisper in the fridge for weeks. (I’ve 6 left: where to tuck them?) The picture shows the second furrow – the first has already been topped off. Usually asparagus need a 12-18″ spacing, with 3′ in between rows, but these, Purple Passion, only need 6-8″ in between. That’s how I fit 18 into an 8′ long bed.

This gives you a good idea of where the asparagus bed is: about 6 feet away from the side of the beehive. The bees were as active as I’ve seen them in the eleven days they’ve been with us. There were lots of them flying in and out of the entrance. Some buzzed around my ears as I dug and planted, but none bothered me.


I did the 10th day hive inspection today and found what I was looking for: capped brood! Also lots of eggs, uncapped larvae, nectar and pollen, and the queen. Very exciting!

I don’t think it froze last night, but it might this night, so all the plants that were moved inside will stay inside till tomorrow.

It not being as cold and windy as predicted, I did a hive inspection at 11 am. Again there was very little activity outside the hive, but inside it was busy. I took out frame after frame in search of the queen, and found her on frame four. What a relief, because I was thinking I’d never find her in the melee of bee upon bee crawling over eachother. But as a result of that I couldn’t also discern the pattern of comb, comb filled with nectar (saw some of that), pollen (ditto) and… ah, eggs! YES, there were eggs. Eggs and a live queen: good news, the hive is on its way.

This was my first big inspection, during which I removed frames, turned them to inspect all sides, slid them back in, etc. It’s work that demands concentration and dexterity. At least once did I find myself holding a frame in such a clumsy manner that I couldn’t slide it in gently, or move my fingers. It didn’t ‘t help that my gloves are a tad too large, and neither did the fact that one bee somehow ventured up inside my trouser leg – I just shook it out, no harm done to the bee or myself.

So I could see, as I bungled along, how this will take some practice, but how beautiful the dance will be once I’ve done it a couple hundred times.

In celebration of finding the queen alive and well Amie and I went to the bookstore and gave ourselves a treat. She got a first reader version of Alice in Wonderland and I got Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running. Just leafing through the book I got excited about the Winecap Stropheria sawdust spawn, which arrived in the mail a couple of days ago. I’m reconsidering where I’ll put the bed (wood chips), since I realized that where I wanted to put it at first is smack in the middle of the future chicken yard.

About the hoop house? I want to write a post with detailed instructions, pictures, etc., so it will take me a while to get that together. Maybe this evening, after pottery, if I have the energy. Check back tomorrow!