Monthly Archives: April 2011

What a Week

Well, last week was perhaps the most unlucky week of my life, to this point. As it happens, I seem to have remained in relatively high spirits, and there is much to celebrate in spite of the misfortune. The week started with my tools getting stolen from my house. I was helping put on a fundraiser event for Student Action with Farmworkers out at the farm. My brother (with whom I live) was out of town, and Spencer (dog) was with me. So no cars, no dogs, and no people at home. Perfect opportunity. The jacklegs made off with my saws and drills, sanders, etc. Pretty much all of my power tools. But they didn’t take my bikes, nor did they enter the house. The neighbors called the cops, but the description (black male, 6 feet tall, age 25-35, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt) would have fit about 75% of my neighborhood.

The following day I was clearing some saplings at my dad’s house when my hatchet wound up in my shin… I got caught on some briers and my swing was shortened enough to land in my leg. I made it up to the house before getting woozy. I didn’t do any major damage, but blood was spewing in an awesome way. I spent a few hours in the hospital getting stitched up, but all is well. After about a week I’m walking well, and resisting the urge to take the stitches out.

Finally, Saturday night’s storms seemed to concentrate right in my neighborhood. A tornado ripped through my street, dropping 100+ year old oaks on houses and snapping pine trees left and right. I’ve never witnessed such devastation before. Power was out until yesterday, and dozens of people are totally SOL. The situation is particularly unfortunate given the demography of my neighborhood. Many of the residents are older, working class folks who’ve lived here for decades, and who had no intention to move. By chance, our house was missed. We lost a few things here and there, but nothing worthy of mention considering the surrounding damage. The garden faired similarly well. Massive branches fell all around, but the crops remained unscathed. A few trays of starts were destroyed, but nothing particularly noteworthy or valuable was lost. At the very least I was heartened by the spontaneously emergent cooperation amongst neighbors to help out. Several blocks around my house were completely impassible. By morning, I could drive out of the neighborhood in a roundabout way. There wasn’t a single standing power line that I saw in about five square blocks. I still get a little choked up driving in and out of the neighborhood, but I truly can’t complain. We were without power until yesterday, and the internet still has not come back on. Daily life seems to have returned to normal for those of us whose roofs survived. I’m humbled by t


Fungal Fervor

As some of you have probably already guessed, I have developed quite a passion for mushrooms. Cultivating, foraging, and of course eating them. After going to a series of mushroom-related workshops at the CFSA conference last year, all of which were given by Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain, I felt inspired to try my hand at cultivating these mysterious organisms.

Mushrooms, I learned, exist at the interface between the living and the dead.  Mushrooms and mycelium break down dead and dying organic matter and turn it into fertile soil, ready to support new life.  They are nature’s recyclers, and are also capable of sequestering hard metals and disarming toxins. Fungi are an essential part of the ecology of our planet, so I felt compelled to get to know them, and learn how to harness their amazing potential for the benefit of our gardens.

At one of the workshops we learned that oyster mushrooms will grow on almost anything, including spent coffee grounds and filters. Being that I think blue and purple vegetables are far superior to all others, I ordered some blue oyster spawn and started collecting coffee grounds and filters from Cafe Helios. I mixed the spawn in with the coffee grounds and scooped the mixture into recycled plastic jugs that Helios receives their dry goods in. Within days I could see the white fuzz of the mycelium starting to grow, consuming the coffee grounds. That was in mid-January, and by mid-March this is what they looked like:

Weird……I know. I watched them closely, checking their progress daily, and making sure no mold attempted to take over. After a while I was getting impatient. Everything I read said that they should have fruited 2-3weeks after I inoculated them, and by this time it had been over two months.

And then Magic happened:

All that happened over the course of 5 days. They were the first thing I looked at when I got up and the last thing I looked at before I went to bed. They were growing by the hour. As you can see their blue tint did not last, and I am not sure why. Also, two days of growth are missing from the slideshow, because I heard that morels (the most prized of all wild mushrooms) were in season.  Did I mention that I’ve got mushroom fever?

I woke up Saturday dreaming of mushrooms, so I ditched all my plans of doing taxes and cleaning house, and spent the entire weekend foraging. I was well rewarded.

While foraging, I was so focused on finding morels that I lost my dog’s leash, my hat, and my way around.  While wandering through the woods trying to figure out where I was but mostly looking for mushrooms, my dog found her leash, and then I recognized where I was again. My hat belongs to the forest now.  My husband came along for the hunt on Sunday, and I could see the glint of mushroom fervor in his eyes. That glint grew to a radiant sparkle when we had our supper of morel and pancetta pizza.

Morels are one of the easiest mushrooms to identify for beginners, and the tastiest,  but there are harmful look-alikes.  If you are interested in foraging I can’t stress enough the need to educate yourself on harmful varieties, and go with an expert for the first few forays.

Mushrooms are truly incredible organisms once you get to know them. I look forward to many delicious years of learning.

~Melissa


Shiitake Workshop Success!

We had a wonderful time on Saturday enjoying the bright change in weather, meeting new friends, and inoculating this season’s shiitake mushroom logs. We all made some new connections, and I am proud to say that twelve more people in our community can now grow their own shiitakes. Empowering and educating others to be able to do for themselves tomorrow what they could not do yesterday  is one of the foundational goals of New Grass Gardens, and one of the best ways that we feel we can support the community that supports us.

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We are planning a series of monthly workshops, so check back for more details soon.

Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday, we couldn’t have done it without you!