Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shaggy Manes in the garden

About 5 weeks ago, we decided to plant our vegetables in concert with mushrooms. We wrote about it on April 26th (see the blog). We dutifully followed the instructions from Fungi Perfecti, enriching the garden soil with steer manure, worm castings, etc. then putting down layers of alder sawdust and mushroom spawn.

Since then we’ve been wondering what to expect as far as mushroom production. The household skeptic (Glen) has been uttering dire predictions of complete failure. I say that we don’t know what is happening in the ground under our feet and it might be a year before we do know.

So it was with great pride that two mornings ago Glen went out to the garden for the daily sunrise inspection and found two mushrooms pushing out of the sawdust. Glen brought in a photo he’d taken. I felt a burst of pride in our “children” and got all excited. Then a few hours later I went out to look for myself. The mushrooms had continued to grow and develop, making them easier to identify. What we had was a species of edible Coprinus species mushroom called Shaggy Manes.

I admit it - I was disappointed. Where were the mushrooms WE planted? But this is the classic lesson for nature watchers, and one that I have to learn over and over again. It can be covered by that classic proverb: Man proposes, God disposes. I go out into the natural world all the time with my carefully wrought plans about what I am going to see. Then nothing I planned on shows up, but instead, there are other powerful things to experience and learn from. I need to let go of expectations.

And I do love Shaggy Manes. I’ve seen them rise at McClane creek, along the trail edges where all the nutrients wash down and collect. In moist, foggy fall mornings, under the shadow of the trees these mushrooms rise like ghostly battalions, foot soldiers in the battle of decay & nutrient recycling They are a powerful life force and will not be denied; we have seen them push through asphalt in their drive to fruit, produce spores and ensure the next generation.

I wrote Fungi Perfecti about what had occurred. Jim Gouin kindly wrote back and concurred that indeed these were a Coprinus species of mushroom, and that the spores of this mushroom had most likely hitched a ride in on the steer manure. He also told us that the companion mushrooms that we had “planted” in April were now active in the interface between soil and alder sawdust. He suggested we leave it alone for now, but come fall, dig down to that boundary and see the mycelium thriving.

I am looking forward to that day.


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Lure of Kale

I am very fond of kale, how it overwinters through almost anything, pushes out scores of dark tasty leaves in the lean frosty days of early spring, and infallibly follows with handfuls of succulent stems and flowers like undisciplined broccoli. When allowed to proceed to the next step, kale then bursts forth with hundreds and hundreds of bright yellow flowers and finally thousands of seed.

These yellow flowers are a bounty for any number of insects, lured by pollen and nectar and even tasty greens. On just a couple of plants in ten minutes of watching I have easily observed at least five different species of bee, as well as hover flies, jumping spiders, and cabbage butterflies, (these butterflies a mixed blessing I admit). A dedicated nature journalist could easily tally dozens of different species over the course of its six week bloom time.

The lesson of the story of course is NOT to replace our gardens with fields of kale, (or any other one plant). The point is how easy it is to increase diversity in even a small garden by letting small bits of the garden go. There is a wondrous array of plants which draw in and nurture insects if we let them. The mustard and carrot family are insect magnets. Herbs like thyme, mint, dill, and lavender attract multitudes. Let a garden get a bit “seedy” and likely it will reveal some delightful surprises.


photos by gb
kale in garden
weevils mating