This time of year I find incredibly frustrating. When you're a food grower, which innately we all are (somewhere underneath), it's right about now that there is almost nothing that can be planted. January and February are not only too cold but there's too little light and the ground is usually frozen like stone, certainly too hard to push in seeds. Even if you catch the window of opportunity, there are desperate teams of birds and mice who will swoop in and demolish them the moment your back's turned!.
I have appeased my troubled soul with a little experimental and hopefully more seasonal growing. These fine fellows are wood blewits, which I harvested last autumn first time and occasionally since. I'm not a fungi expert, and I specifically exclude them from wild food walks I do because whilst it's OK to take a risk with my own health, I really wouldn't chance that of someone else! But wood blewits are one of the easiest wild mushrooms to identify on account of their vibrant bluey purple colour. They grow commonly on forest floors amongst decaying bark, appearing around October time (though they'll fruit frequently over a long period) and if you're lucky enough to spot and harvest them, then they have a characteristic tendency to take their bodyweight in leaf litter with them! Not edible when raw, they are delicious cooked - in olive oil, with garlic, salt and pepper for me.
I had come across this article by chance some months ago, which details a method for growing shop bought mushrooms at home and I'd banked it for when life eased a little. I'd been idly looking for mushrooms in the shops with the mycelium strands at the base still attached, but without joy - I guess commercial harvesting must involve a knife sliced across the stalk leaving the base in the soil. But I did manage to forage some fairly lacklustre blewits, which I thought would be perfect for the job.
And so it began - experimental mushroom farming! I used a cheap black bucket with drainage holes at its base and filled with last year's spent compost, low in fertility and hopefully mimicking conditions on the forest floor. The little blewits were cut just above the base and the mycelium rich cluster chopped into pieces. I added these to alternate layers of compost and bark chips from my garden paths and watered them in. I've left the bucket in the cold of outside, covered for the time being so that they're dark and well labelled, because I ALWAYS forget!
And we shall see what happens! I do hope that it's successful, not just for my own satisfaction but because it means I can harvest wild mushrooms in the full knowledge of exactly what they are from just outside my back door. Delicious and sustainable is an unbeatable combination.
So for the time being, my itchy green fingers are slightly less twitchy than they were. But tomorrow might just be broad bean day... We're nearly there: a few more weeks and we'll be quaking under the pressure of the March-May seed planting frenzy! Roll on spring eh?
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.