The Quiet Creek crew has been spending every free moment in God’s creation hunting mushrooms. Our favorite finds are golden orange chanterelles, tasty black trumpets, and prolific chicken-of-the-woods. Yesterday we spied the bright red (non-edible) Russula. The crispy red caps are easy to spot; Walker and friend August refer to them as smurf houses. Neighboring the Russula was Ashton’s favorite treasure, the Indian pipe.
Scientifically, Monotropa uniflora is commonly referred to the ghost or corpse plant because of pale grey appearance and drooping flower. The American Indian used the six to eight inch flowering plants with roots to treat warts, inflamed eyes, restlessness and pain. The single flower is pollinated by bumblebees and produces thousands of microscopic seeds distinctly composed of ten cells each. The seeds are dispersed by the wind.
Since Indian pipes are non-photosynthesizing; they depend indirectly on trees and mushrooms to obtain their food. This is done in a clever, round-about, three-way love affair.
Chlorophyll-rich trees, such as oaks and maples, surrounding the Indian pipe produce sugar as they chemically interact with the sun. Some of this sugar is then traded for minerals and water from the Russula mushroom which grows near the roots of the trees. The parasitic Indian pipe then steals some of that sugar from the Russula to feed itself.
The Indian Pipes are commonly sighted in summertime forays in our western Pennsylvania deciduous forest, but globally are considered rare. Please respect the Indian pipe by leaving them intact, enjoying their delicate beauty, and understanding their parasitic relationship with forest producers and decomposers. Lee Peterson, the author of this field guide and the son of Roger Tory Peterson, shares that foraging for wild edibles will give a feel of natural cycles and the flow of energy. Searching for wild food increases our awareness of the climatic seasons and how plants store their nutrients. In spring and summer a wild crafter searches for leafy shoots for green salads and in the fall -- seeds, fruits, and nuts. The best time to harvest plant roots is after a heavy frost.
If we are willing to try something new, there are treats to be had from the wild. It is exciting to explore these free gifts from God, especially with young students. So grab a reliable field guide, step outside the (cereal) box, and discover the delectable delights for an outdoor dining experience.
Oysters! - If we were able to ask a mushroom, “What is the meaning of life?” It would surely reply, “To be or to be --decomposing.” The labor of the mushroom is enjoyed by all at Quiet Creek. It breaks down rotting biomass to produce soil and scrumptious ingredients for omelets, pizza, and stir-fry.
Throughout the year Quiet Creek students will learn to collect wild fungi: morel, sheep’s head and chicken of the woods. This past weekend, three year-olds to adults cultivated oyster mushrooms on freshly cut quaking aspen logs.
Rusty, who only appreciates wood for its burning ability, used to poo-poo the quaking aspen until he discovered it is the perfect substrate or growing medium for oyster mushrooms, one of his favorite foods. When he sautés oysters in butter and garlic, these delicacies are gobbled up by him and our boys.
Pleurotus ostreatus, commonly called the oyster, grows wild on most trees and can easily cultivated by the novice. The wild oysters can grow close to the ground, to forty feet high. This height makes harvest a bit challenging, unless you have a monkey like Ashton to climb the tree for you.
A simpler technique, for anyone anxious about scaling tall objects, is to cut logs greater than eight inch diameter into twelve inch sections. These chunks are stacked totem pole style with oyster spawn placed in between each layer. Spawn is sawdust seeded with the mushroom spore. It can be bought at mushroom supply outlets. Once the wood is stacked and dusted with spawn, a wet newspaper caps it and the whole stack is enveloped in a garbage bag for six weeks.
The oyster totem pole is then unveiled revealing its beautiful budding fruit. In that short period of time, the mycelium (mushroom roots) completely colonizes the stacked wood. When ready for a delicious meal, slice the mushroom off and begin creating a culinary treat.
Chopping large trees down, placing wedges in these freshly fallen trees and inoculating spawn into the cuts works well, if you have a forest to cultivate. Drilling quarter inch holes into logs, hammering in the spawn plugs, and painting on melted beeswax works well for smaller limbs.
If trees are difficult to come by, try growing oysters on other substrates. A cardboard box filled with straw, a bale of straw, or a bucket of coffee grounds will host the oyster.
No matter what the growing medium, the mushroom works hard to fulfill its purpose in life. We enjoy the nutritional treat it provides.