Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Knowing and growing mushrooms

Do you ever wonder where all the fruits, veggies and exotic fruits have been grown that end up in the produce department at your local markets?

Produce of all types make up a giant and complex world of agriculture with all its far-reaching tentacles, both local and beyond, that we take for granted when strolling with a shopping cart plucking a little of this and bags of that.

Let's take the wild fungus that has been cultivated and collected for thousands of years, with a broad spectrum of delicious and rare species of mushrooms dotting the planet from continent to continent.

We see popping up in our lawns fairy-ring mushrooms from time to time, or growing at the base of oaks (armillaria mellea), called conks. The avocado trees that blanket our hills and dales also have a pathogen called phytophthora cinnamomi; I call all that the "fungus among us."

But among the wonders of the world exists a multitude of unusual fungi with all sorts of shapes, colors, forms, both edible and medicinal.

Their reproductive cycle involves spores similar to fern spores which are not grown from seeds. The study of the fungus world with all its fragile soft plants and their growth has always amazed me when I walk out in the forests or along a meandering streambed.

Mushrooms were an integral part of various cultures like the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec which used them in spiritual ceremonies.

Mushrooms have been used in traditional and folk medicines since before recorded history. The psychedelic mushroom was collected by tribes for centuries and was used in their mind-opening ceremonies as a hallucinogenic.

The Egyptian hieroglyphics depict mushrooms as a plant of mortality eaten by Pharaohs and those of high nobility.

In modern history, beneficial properties were identified and extracted from specific fungus species by Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin.

Today, scientists are avidly exploring the mycology world and starting to catch up to what traditional medicines have been telling us for thousands of years, for there is so much more to investigate and learn.

These unique plant forms also have the chemical properties of being very poisonous, so don't hunt out in the wild and pluck and eat mushrooms at random. If you don't know what you are doing, get educated on them or hunt with a specialist in wild mushrooms.

Chefs worldwide savor some of the wild-collected mushrooms like morels and truffles and will pay premium prices to obtain a handful of these wild and flavorful mushrooms to create culinary magic.

In Italy and France, some wild foragers go out in the forests along with dogs and pigs sniffing out the elusive white aromatic white truffles to be picked and whisked off to famous five-star restaurants in Rome, Paris, Milan, and New York. Those truffles can fetch thousands of dollars per single kilo.

Wild mushrooms have become a multimillion-dollar industry and they are now commercially grown in San Diego County, with one farm right here in Rainbow.

This local mushroom grower imports treated pre-made logs from China, made out of compressed sawdust and used rice hulls. The logs are inoculated with specific mushroom spores like shiitake, oyster, brown, and white button types to grow on them till maturity.

These logs are placed in big Quonset huts, greenhouse-like chambers, which are kept pitch black within a high humidity range. The key is to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the mushroom's spores germinating and growing into mature mushrooms before harvesting.

Another sizeable commercial mushroom grower is Mountain Meadow Mushrooms in Escondido which produces a broad spectrum of mushrooms available at Major Market here in Fallbrook. This company grows mushrooms on well-digested compost, using straw as the main ingredient. The straw is trucked from the Del Mar race track not far away. How good is that to hear about recycling a local resource material to grow your local foods?

When their crop of edible mushrooms has completed the harvested cycle and the compost has served its purpose, it is hauled out of the growing houses and dumped onto a large pile which is free to the general public to come and haul off and use as compost in their gardens, but you must bring your own containers and fill them yourselves.

I use this organic compost in my garden and landscape projects and find good results in blending it into the earth's soils. Occasionally mushrooms will pop up if the soil is kept moist.

With the holidays just around the corner, consider giving a pre-packaged mushroom growing kit to that person who has everything or to the kids who are being home-schooled. This unique gift could open new horizons and provide an appreciation of just how these fungi come to life and be enjoyed at the dinner table.

Our children need a more in-depth knowledge of how foods are grown. It is a proven fact that kids exposed to the outside world and how foods are produced are healthier and have a more in-depth knowledge of plants, foods, the earth, and that tasty portobello burger on the grill.

Perhaps it's a warm winter's mushroom soup, some brown caps on a skewer over the BBQ, a few sliced fresh mushrooms tossed in a wholesome salad, all are healthy ways to maintain your diet. So look a little deeper into the beautiful world of mushrooms, for you will be amazed once you discover what's out there.

I hope I have opened up a new avenue on how some of our beautiful fresh foods are grown and how lucky we are to have them to eat, enjoy, and use as medicines in this changing agricultural world.

Roger Boddaert is an ornamental landscape horticulturist, the Tree Man of Fallbrook, who can be reached for consultations, tree work, and ecology creative landscape designs at 760-728-4297.


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