Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mark and the mushrooms

Mark is growing mushrooms on his old blue jeans and underwear in the basement…

It all started last year at Christmas, when I gave him Mycelium Running, a book about how mushrooms can save the planet. Parts of it are a little weird—the author refers to mushrooms as the “nervous system” of the planet—but much of it is really interesting. Mushrooms can rehabilitate contaminated soils, soak up heavy metals, and increase the growth of garden plants, among other things. Mark read it, a few pages at a time, for months. Every time we went for a walk, he would stop and examine various fungi, attempting to identify them and lecturing me on tidbits from the book. He ordered a mushroom kit from the author’s website and grew a batch of oyster mushrooms in the Cozy Room, which was pretty cool, but was unable to keep the spores going for another crop. The cardboard base dried out. “Maybe,” he thought, “I need another substrate that will hold water better.” About the same time, his socks started to wear out and he realized that he still had blue jeans that he had brought with him to our relationship. His plan was hatched.

First, he talked Jen, the woman who runs The Mushroomry, the local mushroom booth at the Farmer’s Market. It was slow going. He put out a feeler one week last winter about using cloth to grow mushrooms and she looked intrigued. “Tell her your plan,” I urged from behind two weeks later. He did. She was very intrigued. This fall, they discussed appropriate mushrooms (not all mushroom diets are alike) and she brought in a bag of elm mushroom spawn which he carried home from the market in his old purple backpack.

“First,” Mark announced as he gathered his materials, cutting his ancient jeans into strips, “I need to pasteurize my cloth. I have to boil it for thirty minutes. Do we have a big pot?”
“You can use the canning pot downstairs,” I told him. “It has a lid.”
“Then I need to make sure the tub is clean, so that there’s no competition from mildew to mess up the experiment.”
“Spray the tub with bleach water and let it set for a few hours so that the chlorine dissipates.”
“OK.” He was off. I went to school. When I came home, he was all set up in an old blue tub that once held his red worm composting bin. I looked in. Strips of blue jeans, a black sock, and…something white.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, just some old underwear I had hanging around. I thought I’d see how it does with mushrooms. The piece I have in the compost is finally starting to break down, so…but look, I mixed the spawn in here and laid some cloth over them. I think I’ll put it in the dining room so it stays warm.” He pushed the tub under the sideboard. After a week or so, mycelium started to appear—white threads and fuzz moving out from the center, slowly covering the cloth. Within two weeks, every piece of cloth had some on it and small bumps started to appear. Mark moved the tub into his basement office and took off the lid. The bumps grew, stretching towards the light, like pale corals, fingers of plant matter reaching upward. “It smells really good in that bin!” he told me one night, “Like mushrooms!”

“I think I have mushrooms started,” Mark announced one evening a week larer. He took a photograph and printed it out to bring to Jen the next day. When we picked up our CSA box at the market, he scooted over to The Mushroomry to announce his success.

Last Friday night, he harvested his first crop and brought it upstairs—about eight cups of mushrooms in my big old yellow bowl. I made Hungarian Mushroom soup out of them and we ate the experiment for dinner. It was tasty. We are still alive. There are still mycelium in the bin, blue jean material covered in white threads….and a compostable Burgerville cup sitting nearby. I think his next plan is to fill the cup with jean strips and spawn and sell them at the Farmer’s Market—eco-friendly mushroom kits for the Green Set…

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Turning

It is officially Fall this weekend.

The big rainstorm that everyone has been talking about for a week hit Saturday afternoon around 4:30—large raindrops, piled high clouds, seriously muddy paths. The cats glared out the windows. It rained all night and I could feel the unharvested figs—the ones that were still too green to eat as well as the very ripe but bird-munched ones high in the branches—swelling, transforming from fruit to the dreaded Fig Bombs. Mark harvested the last ripe ones yesterday morning and I made fig jam and dried a stack of six trays in the afternoon. Then, I put the trays and canner away for the winter. Unless some unexpected load of produce hits our front steps, I am done with canning and drying for the year.

We also brought in winter grain supplies yesterday. Sunbow Farms, with Ten Rivers Food Web, organized a farmers market of beans (there weren’t many), grains, honey, onions, garlic, potatoes—all of the crops that keep. Everyone pre-ordered, then gathered at one farm to pick it all up. The lines were long, but people were cheerful. Corvallis is a fairly small community, so you always run into people you know and chat while waiting in line. Everyone has these “line friends,” people you know but don’t spend time with, except while waiting. We bought our wheat, oatmeal, onions, and garlic for the winter, as well as some flax seed and pinto beans. It was good to haul it all home, pour it into big tin cans and glass jars, and organize it all on the shelves next to the canned goods. I swept the whole basement, crushed some boxes, hauled out Mark’s old backpack that I need to take to Community Outreach, and spent a good ten minutes gloating over the tidy stores and our stack of dried firewood.

Out in the garden, the beds are slowly clearing out and the bones of the space are reappearing. The green beans are finshed for the year and the trellis moved back to the last bed. The zuchinni is pulled out, except for the most amazing Trombochino, an Italian climber, that is still producing long, pale green fruits. Tomatoes are almost done and this rain will probably finish them off. The fall greens are lush and tall with the cold frame resting on the bed, waiting for the windows to keep out the rains. I may put them on today. After Halloween, I’ll take down the front garden and start collecting leaves for winter mulch. Planting, watering, and tending are done and we are about to enter the dark, inward turning time of the year—but we are ready.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gracie the Chicken

Gracie the Chicken died last week. She was lively all summer—arguing with the Peeps and the blue jays about who controlled what turf, pushing her way up on the perch at night, running for Chicken Treat, but two weeks ago, she just started to sleep all day in the sun. Her naps grew longer and longer until Sunday, when I was able to pick her up and bring her around to Mark. She weighed nothing and did not put up any fuss, which is totally unheard of for Gracie. “She’s not doing well,” Mark observed. We patted her for a bit and I set her down in a prime sunny spot. When we came back from a walk, I went out to snug the ladies in and she was lying on the grass in the misty night, wet. We brought her inside, dried her off, and covered her with a towel, expecting her to be gone by morning. She hung in there for two days in the kitchen, just sleeping, before dying on Wednesday night.
We’ll miss Gracie. She’s been with us for five years. I got her from Rachel, who had to pass her on because, as I found out after I’d taken her into the yard, she was an escape artist. That winter and spring, I would come home from school to find notes on my door: “Chased your chicken back into the yard” or “your chicken was in the alley.” It was a neighborhood bonding experience until we closed all of the gaps in the fence that George and Myrtle had never bothered to find. Gracie never liked going into the coop at night, either. We would go out to lock the ladies in and she would be perched on the roof like a hood ornament, waiting for us to throw her in.
Gracie laid amazing eggs—deep brown, pointed, and huge—well into the winter every year. She was never broody; she rarely spread her wings and froze when threatened, which is usually instinctive for a chicken to protect its chicks. She was an independent minded chicken, an early Feminist as it were, not tied down, even in her little brain, to eggs. Once laid, she was done. She was hard to catch, to pin down, to lure into the coop.
Last summer, when The Peeps arrived, two gentle, soft Buff Orpingtons, she decided that she was no longer a chicken, but a rooster. She stopped laying. She grew very bossy and aggressive. She crowed, long and loud, on a regular basis. She took up roosting outside on the handles of the coop, bringing Herma, who is not very bright at all, along with her. She terrorized The Peeps for months. “Stewpot,” Mark muttered early in the morning, after rising to let the squawking birds out so that they would not wake up the neighborhood for the forth morning in a row.
Gracie was not an easy to chicken to have around. She was bossy, loud, and demanding. But her deep red feathers spread smoothly over her boney frame beautifully; her eggs were huge; and she was no dummy. We will miss her. And George, at eleven, still rules the roost.