Monthly Archives: June 2013

June 29 – even more mushrooms…

Sometimes I worry a bit about my current obsession with mushrooms taking over this journal, about not focusing enough on the animal or vegetable kingdoms.  I think that with a project like this, it’s all about change and observation of change.  One’s eyes are drawn to what is different, what wasn’t there yesterday or last week or last month.  Early in the year, in the stark drab colors of winter, any bit of green stands out.  As spring picks up momentum, the plants and trees take over with bright flowers and newly-hatched leaves.  By the end of spring, things get a bit more static.  Most of the spring flowers have done their job of pollinating and showing off, now the plants and bushes are just packing on as much growth as possible during the long wet days closest to the solstice.  The leaves, having grown to full size, are now doing their work of feeding the tree that grew them.   There’s a lot of vegetative growth going on, but none of it is in that shocking “just appeared today” sort of way.

So now we’ve got mushrooms.  The next four months, July-October are the high season for mushrooms– many many species fruit between midsummer and mid-fall, and most days when I go out, I’m still seeing species that I hadn’t yet seen.  And there’s always such a thrill from finding a choice edible, even if it’s not the first of the year.  It really seems that the growth and decay of mushrooms is the most dynamic thing happening in the woods during this season, where you experience the satisfaction of walking into a familiar piece of the woods and encountering something that just wasn’t there the last time you visited.  So, mushrooms…

like this primo two-color bolete that I discovered quite close to my house on Friday evening…Image

And yet another beautiful patch of chanterelles that I spotted as I was on my way to do some recording on Saturday morning.Image

They’re as pretty as they are tasty!

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I came back in the afternoon to harvest them, then continued on for a short loop through the woods, accompanied by my younger son who is equally obsessed with finding edible mushrooms.  We didn’t spot much for a while (outside of the ubiquitous Russulas, several poisonous Amanitas, and some shrively wood clitocybes), then I came across two large “old man of the woods” specimens in quite good shape.   Having heard that they can be eaten, I collected them for future tastings (Sunday AM update:  while technically edible, they are far inferior to the other boletes and chanterelles that can also be found this time of year).  Image

Another first of the year– puffballs!  This lot had already started to change colors on the inside, but later on in the walk we encountered a solitary one on the forest floor that was pure white on the inside.Image

A cool thing about boletes is that you don’t have to identify every specimen in order to eat it.  If the pores underside aren’t orange or red and the mushroom doesn’t stain blue when you cut it open, then you know it’s not poisonous (there are boletes with one or both of these characteristics that can be eaten, but in those cases you have to be more careful in the identification).  This one was either a chestnut, admirable, or king bolete.  Whatever it was, it was plump, fleshy, free of worms, and delicious.  It was also growing along the edge of a wood-splitting yard, in extremely compacted soil that the tractor had driven over many times.  Go figure…Image

Just a little baby bolete.  I didn’t have the heart to pick it.Image

We walked by one of the spots where I harvested Reishi in the early spring.  It’s been fun watching them grow back over the spring and summer.  Now that I know where they all are growing, I can wait until the end of the fall and harvest them at their peak (leaving the mycelium intact in the stump, of course).  Image

Returning to my house, I came across a whole bunch of these worm-like fungi.  My guidebook identifies it as “white worm coral,” and it’s supposedly edible– according to Wikipedia, “Clavaria fragilis is edible, but the fruit bodies are insubstantial and fragile.[13] One field guide says “its flesh is tasteless and so delicate that it seems to dissolve in one’s mouth.”   I haven’t eaten any yet, but I might give it a try and let you know how that goes…Image

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June 28 – beetlemania and chanterelles

A typical Virginia summer day, fairly hot and sweaty but nothing too extreme.  As usual on Friday, I was taking care of the chickens, which as always involves several trips to and from the chicken yard over the course of the day.  Walking down the road, looking up at the clouds, thinking this is for sure a classic summer sky:Image

Later in the afternoon, I had more serious work to do– getting rid of some damn Japanese beetles!  These wretched beasts have been multiplying like crazy, eating our fruits and the leaves of the fruit trees and bushes, and have no place in  my backyard garden. Image

Here they are swarming a ripe currant– so nasty!Image

There are so many of them.  It’s time to do something about it.  Image

Several years ago, we had a massive outbreak of beetles that stripped our cherry tree to a withered brown skeleton by midsummer.  That year, my housemates and I went on an aggressive campaign of picking them off of the trees and drowning them in soapy water several times a day, every day.  I’ve been wanting to get on it while the cherry tree (below) still has some green leaves.Image

One of our newly planted persimmon trees, with cute little unripe persimmon and beetle-damaged leaves.Image

So here’s what I have been doing this past week:  I took a one-quart plastic measuring cup and filled it with an inch of water at the bottom.  The beetles, when disturbed, have a funny habit of dropping straight down before flying away.  You can put the cup below them and tap the leaf that they’re on, and they all fall into the water.  Here’s how many I was able to collect in about 15 minutes.  They’re actually kind of beautiful (but the mess they make of the fruit trees is anything but).Image

This year, instead of drowning them in soapy water, I’ve been keeping them alive in non-soapy water and walking up to Tupelo, where they have a mini-flock of 8 hens.  The hens are used to seeing me approach with the beetle cup, and when they see me, they all come running because they know I’ve got some tasty treats for them!Image

They like to pull a whole clump of beetles out of the cup with their beaks and peck and peck until they’ve got them all, then do it again.  The beetles are delicious candy for these hens!Image

Yum!Image

As I was walking back, I noticed something a little ways off through the woods.  Could it be…. it was…. chanterelles!  Oh joy the chanterelle season has begun at Twin Oaks!  Oh how my belly will celebrate the return of these tasty tasty fungal treats.Image

Look at the bottom of this chanterelle.  Such a beautiful looking–and smelling– mushroom.  I’ve heard the scent described as apricot-like.  It’s a pretty subtle odor when freshly picked.  Once you’re cooking them in a bit of butter or olive oil, the apricot scent fills the room and sets your mouth watering in anticipation of the deliciousness to come.Image

Went up to Tupelo with a cupful of beetles, returned with a cupful of chanterelles– not a bad trade if I do say so myself…Image

June 27 – A thousand words…

…the worth of a photo, as they say.  Today, I foolishly left the card of my camera in the computer, where I had been downloading images for a previous post.  So, on my daily outing when I reached to take a photo, I got the dreaded “No memory card” message.  I guess I’ll just have to describe the day with some evocative prose.

My friend Sherri is visiting from Montana, with her many children.  She was interested in seeing some Virginia nature, maybe some big ol’ east coast forests.  I had been planning on a trip to Montpelier to see the old-growth woods there.  Then I looked at the forecast–93 degrees and muggggggggy!  So I re-thought the outing, and decided it would make more sense to head to Shenandoah to spend the day splashing around in one of the many cold clear creeks that tumble out of the mountains.  On the morning of our big adventure, we awoke to an oddly persistent fog and drizzle, even up to the time when, on a hot summer day, we should start feeling the heat.  I was sure it was just a morning fluke, so we piled all of her and my kids into a big ol’ Suburban, and we set off through the gloom.  As we got a bit closer to the mountains, the temperature dropped and the sun remained resolutely hidden.  At the last moment, as we passed the intersection for Montpelier, I decided to postpone the splashin’ around in the creek until we got a better idea of whether the weather held any sunshine for us.

So we made an hour-long detour to Montpelier, where the kids enjoyed an epic game of hide-and-seek in the formal walled garden.  A nice feature of this garden is that you can relax on a grassy slope overlooking the carefully cropped hedges and planted beds of flowers inside the wall, while looking out to the very Virginian horse pastures and wooded hills & mountains off in the distance.  The low gray sky and intermittent drizzle made me feel like I was in England, or in Maine.  It definitely felt more like a northern New England day than central Virginia.  Once the kids had managed to burn off a few thousand calories of energy, I tried leading everyone on a short walk through the nearby old-growth forest, but all the young-uns were totally amped up and screaming, and it just seemed wrong to bring such frantic screamy energy into such a peaceful place as the Montpelier woods.  Plus, my younger son was starting to pester me about when we were going to go to the mountains, so we all went back to the enormous SUV and kept on truckin’ .

It took another 45 minutes or so to get to the trailhead, and by that point the kids were literally bouncing off of eachother and the inside of the truck.  The trailhead I had chosen, Graves Mill, is an obscure one;  it had been about 12 years since I was last there, and there was no signage anywhere until the moment you reach the parking area, where a tiny country lane dead-ends at a wall of trees.  I had to stop and consult the atlas a few times to make sure I wasn’t getting us all lost.  As soon as we killed the engine, hordes of children leapt out and began chasing one another up and down the trail.  I was greatly relieved to see we were the only vehicle at the trailhead, and didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone’s “wilderness experience.”  The trail here follows the headwaters of the Rapidan River, which is more of a big creek than a river this far up.  The water was, as advertised, clear and cold, with lots of little cascades and waist-deep pools; there was a lovely spot with a gravel beach just about 100 yards in where we had a picnic while the kids climbed on the rocks, narrowly avoiding (I hope) extensive patches of poison ivy and stinging nettle.  There was still no sun and the temperature never broke 75 all day, but having come this far, nothing was  going to stop us from splashing and wading in and out of the creek, up and down little waterfalls, over and around mossy boulders.  Altogether, we never made it more than a half-mile from the van, but covering trail distance on a day like this was entirely beside the point.  It was enjoyable hiking with a friend from the western US, pointing out oak, maple, tulip, and beech trees that grow far larger than any deciduous trees in Montana, and always a treat to spend a summer day splashing and swimming, even if it felt more like early May than the end of June .  Toward the end of the afternoon, we even got a few minutes of direct sunlight.

I was, as always, hoping to encounter some fungal treasures, but wasn’t able to see much.  In contrast with the woods at Twin Oaks, which have some underbrush but you can usually see the forest floor, the forests of Shenandoah present a wall of greenery, layers of shrubs, vines, and ground cover.  In many places, it’s hard to see more than 10 feet off of the path.  I think this is even more the case where the trail follows an old road, as is the case with many of the low-elevation creekside trails I’ve been hiking lately.  There could be dozens of mushrooms within 50 feet of the trail, and you could walk right by without seeing anything but wall of green.  Our most interesting find was a pair of brownish yellowish boletes which, when broken open, immediately turned an intense shade of bright blue.

Driving home through late afternoon sunlight, the bright greens of Virginia farm and mountain, the views that were hidden by mist on our way in suddenly so vivid, I felt very pleased and satisfied with the aesthetic qualities of the state I’ve chosen to live in.  It’s more of a pastoral beauty, lacking the dramatic untouched wildernesses of New England or out west.  Still, the countryside just east of Shenandoah park sure is easy on the eyes in the slanted light of a bright summer afternoon after weeks and weeks of rain.  Not a bad day, I just wish I had thought to bring a working camera…

June 26 – oh the wind and rain

Wednesday afternoon was forecast to be all hot and muggy; I had the boys all afternoon and a free ride to Charlottesville.  So I figured it would be a good day for the “sprayground” splash park.  These water spritzing parks are fairly new to me, we certainly never had them when I was a kid, and they are just perfect for young kids on a hot summer day.

The first hour at the crowded splash park passed enjoyably and relatively uneventfully.  Then the sky darkened, and weather conditions took a turn for the ominous.  By the time the western sky looked like this (below), about half the families had packed up and split.Image

A few more minutes passed, and the sky looked even more ominous.  By this point, anyone with any sense had already left the park.Image

No one left at the “sprayground” but the brave and the stupid.Image

The sky grew ever darker, the wind picked up, the trees thrashed about crazily…Image

…lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and the sky ripped open with yet another furious early summer downpour.  My word can it ever rain in Virginia!Image

By now, the park was empty save for us, another single dad with his two kids, and some teenagers smoking a joint, all of us huddled under the picnic pavilion’s ever-shrinking circle of dryness.  We had a van, but no where in particular to go, and the kids (including big “poppa” kid) were actually quite thrilled to tear around in the rain.  There’s something delightfully surreal about running around at a spray park while it’s pouring down rain.  I mean, once you’re totally soaked, you can’t get any more soaked, so you might as well run around crazy in the thunderstorm and hope you don’t get hit by lightning, right?Image

Making the most of a summer storm…..Image

June 25 – it just doesn’t get any better than this

Tuesday evening, after dinner, at the pond with the kids.  Now this is what summertime is all about!Image

June 25 – heat & bolete

So, this  past Tuesday was the hottest day we’ve had yet this year, the first day that was already kind of muggy as soon as I woke up, and got downright sweltering by midday.  I’m sure that in a month, a day like this will feel refreshing by contrast, but I haven’t quite built up my tolerance for sweaty sweaty heat yet this year.

Here’s one of the mushrooms that’s been popping up all over the place during the past few days.  I’ve seen a lot of them that are all withered and smushy and nasty, this is the first one I’ve managed to pick/photograph that was in really good shape.  I’m pretty sure it’s a Blusher mushroom, one of the very few species of edible Amanita.  Most of the websites/guides I’ve looked at say that it is edible (and some claim that it’s quite good), but all caution that you should be 100% sure it’s not a different species of Amanita, some of which are deadly poisonous.  Although I’m quite sure of the ID, I think I’ll still pass on eating it.Image

Here’s another pair, which I spotted early on Tuesday AM, before loading the tofu truck.Image

As I was leaving the warehouse to drive to C’ville, I spotted this enormous bolete on the side of the road.  Given the size, I can only imagine it was one of the prized  King Boletes, the king of mushrooms, as I don’t think any other boletes grow this big.Image

I mean, seriously, this was as big as my hand (7 inches from thumb to pinky).  Unfortunately it was riddled with bugs, and not even remotely edible in that state.  I’ve found a few king boletes around here, but none that weren’t full of bugs and worms.Image

When I got home from delivery, I had a couple hours before band practice; I thought about going for a long hike, but it was so hot that I just passed out  in a puddle of sweat.  When I woke up, I realized that I just had about 45 minutes left, so I shook myself awake and set out into the woods.  The first thing I came across was this fascinating/horrifying/beautiful/disgusting sight.  Some recently dead mammalian-type critter skull, with punk rock hair, covered with flesh-eating roach-like beetles.  Was I still asleep, having some sort of horrible nightmare?!?Image

It was so hot in the woods, I walked down to the creek and splashed through it’s knee-deep water, enjoying the contrast of bright sunshine on the ferns above and dark subterranean tree roots below.Image

Here’s the place where the two branches of the creek come together.  It’s interesting to see how the waters on the right side have pushed down all the light-colored rock and the rock on the left side is so dark.  It reminds me of the place in the Amazon where the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers come together.  Although much, much less impressive. Image

Soon enough, it was time to climb out of the creek and head up to band practice.  Along the way, I came across another large Bolete, which I’m guessing was another Boletus edulis.  Unfortunately, this one was also filled with extra protein.  I’m hoping that at some point this year, I manage to find one that I can sample, as I hear it is really one of the very tastiest mushrooms out there!Image

June 24 – a new season

My first summer day back at Twin Oaks– I had to spend the morning cooking lunch for the community, but in the afternoon I convinced the boys to come with me on a walk around the woods to see what was new over the past few days.

They were in fact quite easy to convince– while I had been gone over the weekend, it seemed like a whole bunch of new species of mushroom have been popping up all over the farm– mostly mushrooms like Amanitas that grow on the ground, as opposed to the ones that grow on dead wood.  In fact, it’s seeming like the last 10 days of June are, for mushrooms, like the second half of April is for plants.  It seems like every time I go outside these days, I’m coming across a new type that I haven’t yet seen this year.

One of the most interesting new finds was the two-color bolete, which is described as one of the choicest edible boletes.  I cut this one in half to see if there were any bugs on the inside, and found it delightfully bug-free.  And it was tasty!Image

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Further on in the walk, we came across this flush of oysters.  The one at the bottom was the single largest oyster I’ve seen at Twin Oaks, although the ones at top were bug-free enough for good eatin’Image

I also came across a bunch of poisonous white amanitas beginning to sprout, including this alien-looking pair.  Image

This mushroom, which goes by the name of “old man of the woods” mushroom is a scaly black bolete.  My guidebook points out that “this common eastern bolete becomes unappetizing as it ages.”  While this one was young enough to be mostly bug-free, it still was pretty unappetizing.Image

We walked around the graveyard, and found a number of mushrooms, but nothing terribly notable or edible looking.  As we headed out across the field, I came across this enormous soft squishy polypore.  Nothing in the mushroom book bears the slightest resemblance to it.  It was at least 10 inches across, and spongy with retained water. Weird….Image

Here are the boys resting before heading out across the field, with a mature platterful mushroom at their feet.Image

Later in the afternoon, I went down to the pond to try to help get the pump running.  On the way, I made a pit stop at our #1 mulberry tree, which is still pumping out mulberries, despite the near-continuous harvesting that has been occurring over the past few weeks.  They are still so sweet and tasty!Image

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Along with the common orange lillies, there are several other colors of bright lily blooming all around the edge of the pond, like these dramatic red ones.Image

These pink flowers, swarming with bees and other insects, are also at the height of their bloom.Image

Lovely pond in early summer.  Some years, it’s already warmed up to the point that it’s not too refreshing during the middle of the day.  This year, we’ve had enough rain and cool enough temperatures that it’s stayed quite pleasant all day long.Image

While I was down at the pond, the weather started taking a turn for the increasingly dramatic.  The sunny sky started filling with fast-moving puffy clouds ahead of the ominous steely thunderheads that portend a summer storm.Image

It’s hard to take good photos of a stormy sky.  Before the storm hit us, we could watch it raining hard to the north and west.  There was a lot of lightning, and for a while, I stood looking like a doofus with my camera in hand pointed at the sky, shutter half-pressed, hoping to get some pulitzer-type shot of a lightning strike.  Then I figured it wasn’t likely to happen, and I should get inside before getting soaked.Image

The storm toyed with us for a while, looking like it was going to pour, and then looking like it was going to blow by, then back and forth.  When it finally hit, there was a suitably impressive amount of rain, but it wasn’t quite as violent and intense as some of the storms have been this spring.  Image

After dinner, I spent some time plucking Japanese beetles off of our backyard plants with my son, then we walked up to Tupelo to feed them to the chickens.  Then it was so much fun that we did it again.  On the way up the second time, I noticed a lump under the leaves.  I pulled it aside, and found an indigo milkcap mushroom, and then another growing just a few feet away.  These mushrooms are edible, valued less for their flavor (which I’ve heard is not among the finest) and more for their beauty and the absolute impossibility of confusing them with any other type of mushroom. Image

Ain’t that just a purty mushroom.Image

We also found a red salamander on the trail, which my son Sami picked up without hesitation, creating a “salamander room” with his hands so we could show off our find to the rest of the family.  Between the blues of the mushrooms and the red of the salamander, it was quite a colorful 10-minute walk!IMG_0790IMG_0791