Posts tagged mushrooms

Frost warning and Houby Days morel winners

Meteorologists might call it a frost advisory, but here’s my warning: if you’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers or other plants that might be susceptible to frost, including annuals in planters, bring them inside (the ones in pots, that is) or use an old sheet or otherwise cover the others. Forecasts call for temps in Eastern Iowa to dip close to freezing both tonight (Sat., May 16) and tomorrow night (Sun., May 17.)

Now, on to more morels. Houby Days is taking place in Czech Village this weekend, a celebration of the mushroom (houby in Czech.) I heard mixed reviews about the morel crop this year, some saying they’re finding hundreds and others saying last summer’s flood messed up this season in Iowa.  Among the activities in Czech Village – on 16th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids and some events across the river, including an egg and houby breakfast – was the annual houby contest, featuring morel mushrooms. Trophies were awarded for the largest, most unusual, smallest and best display. Here are the winners:

Largest morel (10 1/2 inches) from Mike McNeal, Cedar Rapids. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Largest morel (10 1/2 inches) from Mike McNeal, Cedar Rapids. (photos/Cindy Hadish)

Skylar Strawn, 11, of Cedar Rapids, with his award winning smallest mushroom, (in the plastic bag, attached to the larger one) which he estimated at 1/2-centimeter.

Skylar Strawn, 11, of Cedar Rapids, with his award winning smallest mushroom, (in the plastic bag, attached to the larger one) which he estimated at 1/2-centimeter.

Butch and Toni Velky of Swisher, with most unusual winner - 6 mushrooms growing together - which they dubbed "Bohemie Six-Pack"

Butch and Toni Velky of Swisher, with most unusual winner - 6 mushrooms growing together - which they dubbed "Bohemie Six-Pack"

Tom Slade, Solon, and Tyson Gosnell, Shellsburg, carry away their best display award winner, which included at least 250 morels. The two revealed where they found them: "In the woods."

Tom Slade, Solon, and Tyson Gosnell, Shellsburg, carry away their best display award winner, which included at least 250 morels. The two revealed where they found them: "In the woods."

There was no award for cutest display, but Debbie Eickstaedt and Theresa Shaver of Cedar Rapids undoubtedly would have won with this fawn.

There was no award for cutest display, but Debbie Eickstaedt and Theresa Shaver of Cedar Rapids undoubtedly would have won with this fawn.

Looks like the weather was right for these morels, which are actually carved out of pine wood by Ron Takes (in tan jacket) and Tom Brislawn of Troy Mills.

Looks like the weather was right for these morels, which are actually carved out of pine wood by Ron Takes (in tan jacket) and Tom Brislawn of Troy Mills.

Finally, if you want to know even more about morels, my brother, Gregg, passed along the following link to a paper by Lois Tiffany of Iowa State University and Donald Huffman of Central College:  http://amcbt.indstate.edu/volume_27/v27-4p3-11.pdf

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Swine flu made me do it and finding more morels

     Here’s the deal – I don’t have the time, the ego or the Ashton-Kutcheresque lifestyle to be really great at Twitter.  But when one of my sources in my job as health reporter for The Gazette – the Iowa Department of Public Health – announced it would start Tweeting swine flu updates, I had no choice but to jump in and join. (and yes, we now call it H1N1 flu – please no calls from the pork industry – bacon’s yummy!)

    So now you can follow me on Twitter, though I cringe saying that, partly because of that ego thing, again, but mostly because I’m a very private person. I won’t be Tweeting about the great things my sons did for me on Mother’s Day or the cool “Life is Good” t-shirt my sister surprised me with (thanks Henna!) or heaven forbid, what I’m making for dinner. Unless it’s these awesome morel mushrooms my new best friend Dave gave to me.

Morel mushrooms from Dave (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Morel mushrooms from Dave (photo/Cindy Hadish)

So basically, I promise I won’t bore you with the mundane details of my life. On the other hand, in my job as a reporter, I do get to go to beautiful places (including many area gardens this year, I hope) and meet fascinating people (like Dr. Johan Hultin, who dug up bodies in the Alaskan permafrost to decode the origins of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic: see The Gazette this weekend.) So, if that’s the type of Tweet tidbit that’s interesting to you, look me up on Twitter.

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Finding the elusive morel mushroom

Blonde morels/ photo from Forest Mushrooms Inc.

Blonde morels/ photo from Forest Mushrooms Inc.

I can finally say I’ve found some morel mushrooms! Actually, I didn’t have to go on a mushroom hunt, as many Iowans do in the spring, though I’d love to find them that way. The ones I saw were spotted at a grocery store in Cedar Rapids. They were selling for $12.99 for a 3.5 ounce package and came from Forest Mushrooms Inc., of St. Joseph, Minn.

 Per their Web site: Established in 1985, Forest Mushrooms, Inc. is a Minnesota company engaged in the research, cultivation and distribution of edible specialty mushrooms. They particularly specialize in the production of oyster mushrooms, and more recently, in growing shiitake mushrooms.  Their production facilities are located in St. Joseph, MN, 90 miles northwest of Minneapolis. They distribute  mushroom products to wholesalers, supermarkets, restaurants and specialty shops. The majority of products are delivered to the Twin Cities area, but they also distribute locally and nationally. See: http://www.forestmushrooms.com/

 Here is more that Kevin Doyle, president of Forest Mushrooms, Inc., sent to me about his company and his insight into morels:  All morel mushrooms are wild-harvested, not cultivated.  There have been many attempts to grow morels, and some occasional successes but nobody has been able to repeat their successes, and thus there are no farms that currently grow morels, to the best of my knowledge.  This is because there is a very complicated and interesting relationship between the morel mushroom mycelium (which are the vegetative strands of the fungus that grow underground), and the root hairs of the trees that are host to them.  We think that the strands of morel mycelium help the tree to absorb nutrients from the soil, especially minerals, by carrying the minerals through the mycelium and then inserting the mycelium and the nutrients in to the tiny root hairs of the tree roots.  The mycelium is much much smaller than the root hairs, and wrap themselves around the root hairs and then penetrate into the root. In turn, the morels likely absorb some carbohydrate (sugars) from the vascular tissue of the tree roots, so they relationship is helpful to both organisms.  

 However, there are conditions, including but not limited to damage to the tree from fire, Dutch elm disease, wind damage, etc., that cause the morel mushroom mycelium to send strands of mycelium to the fungus where they then produce the specialized reproductive organ that we know as a mushroom.  That mushroom then produces spores which are dispersed by the wind and are carried away to start a new colony in another area of the forest, thus propagating the life of the morel fungus.  This is an adaptive response that has developed through evolution to help the fungus survive adverse situations or events.  The mushroom is just a specialized part of the fungus’ life cycle, but the main act occurs way underground for decades and helps to sustain the trees themselves, thus morel mushrooms and also many other types of mushroom fungus are essential to the health of a sustainableforest ecosystem.

 The morels in North America are widespread, though we in the Midwest often think of them as a local phenomenon.  In fact, the morel season begins much earlier in almost every other area of the country than it does in the upper Midwest, due to the milder climates and earlier onset of Spring in other regions.  In the Pacific Northwest the morel season begins in late March, and can actually continue right on into early August in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains.  In Minnesota, where our business is located, we are used to seeing morels during the second half of May, typically.  I would imagine in your region it is the beginning of May most commonly.

During the milder and earlier Springs we were having a few years ago, the season began a bit earlier.  The season is triggered by the combination of adequate soil moisture and enough sunny days and warm temperatures to warm up the soil adequately to spur the growth of the mushrooms.  There have been years when the moisture is there, but the temperatures are too chilly, and by the time the mushrooms come up as temperatures warm up, the grass and small plants in the forest have already sprung up and obscure the mushrooms from view, so people think there is no mushroom season, when actually we just can’t find them under the forest floor cover!

 The morels you saw are blonde-colored morels from the western slope of

Packaged mushrooms from Forest Mushrooms, Inc.

Packaged mushrooms from Forest Mushrooms, Inc.

the Rocky Mountains in Oregon.  These are the best  morels in the country at this time, for flavor, appearance, and shelf life.  They are also similar in appearance to the mushrooms that we commonly see in the Midwest.  Later in the Spring there are several other varieties that grow in abundance in the Pacific Northwest, including “fire morels” (also called “burns”), which grow in huge numbers on the sites of last season’s forest fires.  These burn morels are smaller, not as thick, and have a conical shape.  Another morel commonly harvested commercially in the mountains is simply called a “natural” and is shaped more like a golf-ball, without the conical shape and more rounded, with a thicker shell.  (All true morels are hollow inside.)  The latest morelspecies to fruit in the Rockies is called the “grey morel” and can also grow on fire sites.  It is the largest morel in the country, grey in color, thick walled, and has a great shelf life for transport to market.  All of these morels are also dried, often on-site, or in large gas-fired driers, for preservation and enjoyment in the off-months.

 Forest Mushrooms flies in morels, as well as many other wild-harvested mushrooms, every few days all year around.  We inspect and sort them, and then market them to both the foodservice and grocery store markets.  We are licensed as “Wild Mushroom Experts” by the State of Minnesota, which is required for the commercial handling and sale of wild-harvested mushrooms.  Any establishment  in Minnesota that sells wild-harvested mushrooms of any type, including morels, to the public, needs to be able to show that they were obtained through a state-licensed Wild Mushroom Expert.

I do not know whether Iowa has any such requirement, since this varies from state to state.  But it does provide a measure of food safety and confidence for chains when they chose to carry these products.

 FYI, Forest Mushrooms, Inc. has been in operation since 1985, and we specialize in growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms (about 3000 lbs/wk,  all year aound) and in distributing all other specialty mushrooms, fresh, dried and frozen, both cultivated and wild-harvested.  We also have a full line of organic fresh mushrooms for both foodservice and grocery customers.  We do NOT sell to the public directly, but are strictly growers and wholesale suppliers.

Back to Cindy:

The annual Czech Village Houby Days celebrates the mushroom (houby is the Czech word for mushroom) and I’ve heard they might go back to using morels in their breakfast!! About half of the businesses in Czech Village have returned since the flood and more are hoping to come back in time for the celebration on May 15-17. Below is a photo of Jan Stoffer, of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, giving a tour of Czech Village to students from McKinley Middle School last month.

Jan Stoffer leads tour of Czech Village for McKinley students.

Jan Stoffer leads tour of Czech Village for McKinley students.

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What is permaculture?

Backyard Abundance and Field to Family are sponsoring a free “What is Permaculture?” event to show residents how they can use Permaculture principles to help our environment in their own backyard.

 

Two yards will be visited: one is undergoing a complete ecological landscape design makeover and the other features an established vegetable and herb garden. At each yard, experts in our community will provide an overview of how to:

  • design an environmentally friendly landscape
  • choose the correct plants
  • design a rain garden
  • install a rain barrel
  • start a new garden bed
  • create compost
  • grow mushrooms

 

Both yards and the features within them are designed based on Permaculture principles and patterns. Permaculture (permanent agriculture) provides a framework and methodology for consciously designing and maintaining urban ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable and ethical way.

 

The event is Sunday, September 7 from 1-4:00 pm. Carpools will be taken from New Pioneer Food Co-Op, 22 S. Van Buren St., Iowa City. People can also drive individually.

 

For arrival times at each yard, directions, and more information, visit the Backyard Abundance web site at http://www.BackyardAbundance.org or contact Fred Meyer at 319-358-7665.

 

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