Reishi partially wiped clean of spore dust When the shelf-like Reishi fruiting body matures and begins to emit spores, even though the spore-producing surface is the white underside of the shelf, for some reason the spores tend to collect on the top. Before a recent harvest I snapped some photos of one nice specimen showing a heavy coat of spore dust. 

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Back in August, in the entry called The Quest for the Monster Hericium, I wrote about all the effort it took last year to bring that huge fungus down from its perch 25 feet up a dead tree deep in our woods.
This year, when the monster returned, I did not think I could bring myself to go through all that again, but Dana Karash, a friend with real technical climbing skill, was willing to give it a try - and she did it in style! Check out the video trailer:

Dana Retrieves the Giant Hericium: Official Trailer
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At the end of September I had a phone message from someone named Madeline. She had seen my name in a local paper, the Mid-York Weekly, in some connection with mushrooms.  I hadn't seen it yet myself: a mention in the Smyrna news about my having spoken to the Morrisville Garden Club about growing mushrooms. The connections among locations and subject matter had nothing to do with anything, except my name occurred in the same sentence as the word mushroom, and my name is in the phone book, so I got the call.

 

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I recently blogged about each of these discoveries - the monster Hericium way up in the tree, and the titanic Hen. Well, they're back - simultaneously this year! 

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Reishi fruitbodies develop relatively slowly and less predictably than oyster mushrooms, which I think makes them really interesting to watch. These photographs show slightly more than a month of development.
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Three photos, one a day, show how quickly these Elm Oyster pinheads grew into real mushrooms.
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For several autumns I have enjoyed finding scattered specimens of Hericium americanum, one of the weird, excellent edible tooth fungi in the Hericium genus. Two years ago my friend and mushroom expert, Sally Reymers, spotted a big specimen way up - too far up - the trunk of a standing, dead tree. Last year it appeared again, and I decided to make a serious effort to get to it.
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Buster and I went for a walk in the woods this morning. It had rained, and I always try to get out and see what's popping up, especially after a rain. Buster's mostly interested in what animals visited recently, of course, while I tend toward the mushrooms.

 

I remembered walking much the same way almost two years ago, in October of 2009,  through the old Norway Spruce plantation along the south of the property, next to Dunham's hayfield, where the remnants of the fence row still include a few big old hardwood trees. As always I was looking for any of the great edible mushrooms that occur in this area naturally and that might be good candidates for cultivation, or just to eat.

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I noticed a week or so ago that most of the oyster mushrooms growing outside in the screenhouse fruited massively, at once. It was quite a display. If you start bulk substrate bags daily or longer intervals you expect them to fruit at similar intervals, and not in perfect synchronization like this. I figured that exposure to the natural weather cycles got them synchronized. Since they fruited together, they rested together, too, so I suddenly had no crop to harvest for several days. That worried me.

When Mushrooms Strike
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Photos taken yesterday of emerging mushrooms show how differently Reishi and Elm Oysters take shape.
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A couple of weeks ago I received an email from BTTR Co-Founder Nikhil Arora in response to my earlier
blog entry about his company's product claims. While claiming to take my "experience" seriously, as you can see for yourself,  he does not even acknowledge the central point of my piece, let alone address it.
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Our old favorite, the Elm Oyster, is back in production. They are producing some amazing results, as described below: 22 ounces just 24 days after inoculation! But that's not the most amazing result. Read on for more details.
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Hantana Pearl™ has taken the first steps toward large-quantity fresh mushroom production!

Until recently, we produced all our fresh mushrooms - for farmer's markets and restaurant customers - in small batches, mostly by hand, using Wayne's peroxide method to compensate for our less-than-sterile working environment. 

We will keep doing a certain amount of that, and of course produce our own kits, but as the demand for fresh Hantana Pearl mushrooms grows, we need a more mature, larger-scale commercial growing environment.
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BTTR Ventures, a self-styled "socially responsible" company, sells a mushroom growing kit on their web site for $19.95. They have a good story behind it. They collect coffee grounds that otherwise would have gone to waste and use them to grow oyster mushrooms. This doesn't break any new ground - people have been doing this for some time, in different ways. But they have done a great job of getting favorable press all over the place, catching the wave of interest in local food and sustainability.

Their web site is peppered with quotes from celebrities like Alice Waters and Carson Daly. At present they claim to have "diverted & transformed over 260,000lbs of coffee grounds into a rich soil for gourmet mushrooms" and "helped families grow 45,000lbs of fresh mushrooms at home." It almost sounds too good to be true. I wondered what I could learn from these bright, idealistic young guys about running a successful mushroom-growing business. I ordered one of their kits.

Their web site claims a kit will produce "Up to 1 lb per crop" of pearl oyster mushrooms, and "multiple crops (at least 2, though some customers have got up to 4)." That clearly implies you can get between one and several pounds of mushrooms from a kit. As soon as mine arrived, however, I knew I'd be exceptionally lucky to get even a single pound of oyster mushrooms out of it. 
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The kit consists of a box with a cut-out through which the mushrooms emerge. Inside the box is a 38 oz. bag of substrate, the medium the mushrooms grow in and consume, already inoculated with oyster mushroom mycelium. Over a few weeks I got three crops. The first crop weighed 4 oz., the second 1.6 oz., and the third, 0.9 oz., for a total of only 6.5 oz. Did I do something wrong?
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" Exposing susceptible individuals to strange Reishi sometimes causes them to commit art ..."
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We now have a listing in  Local Harvest, who run, they say, "America's #1 organic and local food website."

Filling out the application for the listing on-line, I found myself spontaneously composing a new description of what we do here, which I thought came out pretty well. I submitted the application, and learned that it would take some time for it to be approved. Of course, I hadn't kept a copy of what I'd written, and remembered almost none of it - so I had to wait - a couple of days, it turned out - to see it again. I'm still reasonably happy with it. Here's what it says: 

The Imaginary Farmer produces innovative mushroom growing kits and supplies, and fresh and dried mushrooms. We make our kits using locally- and regionally-produced materials. Our mushrooms include our own strains of species native to our farm and neighborhood in the Chenango River Valley of Central New York. We began marketing our first locally-native oyster mushroom strain, Hantana Pearl(TM), in early 2010.

Through our kits and educational materials and events we promote mushroom growing using highly sustainable, locally-appropriate techniques, as one part of a permaculture food production system. By promoting the growth and consumption of locally-native gourmet and medicinal mushrooms we hope to expand the range of food crops that can be sustainably and profitably grown in our region - and to share the pleasure of growing and consuming these little-known native mushrooms.

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As the New Year approaches I find myself thinking back to the time, in late 2006, when I started in earnest to learn mushroom cultivation. The idea arose when we moved back here, to my wife's family home, in Hamilton, NY. Here we have marginal, gravelly soil over uneven ground. We have an irregular handful of hayfields, suffering from neglect. We have a short growing season, and long, hard winters. We have woods. For the first few months of living here (again) I would walk around the property wondering what in the world you could grow here that would make it a sustainable, working farm.
 
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