This summer’s warm and gusty breezes shook loose the detritus languishing in the rose bushes, bordering fields, and hedgerow trees. It lifted the fluffy seeds of oyster plants, Canadian thistles and dandelions, strewing them along with red rose petals, tan-colored twigs, and bits of dried fern fronds onto the dry, brittle grasses of my pathway. The grasses were now worn short by daily foot traffic to and from the ramshackle enclosure currently housing the vermiculture compost, lettuce pots and mushroom bin where I had come to do early afternoon chores. After depositing the kitchen compostables into the worm bin, I turned the mixture of rotting debris and slithering red wiggler worms with the spading fork, being careful to avoid jarring the little Pacific chorus treefrog that lived in one corner of the bin. Then I watered the lettuce pots. The lettuce growing in these pots had been resurrected from summer’s heat by planting in pure worm compost and became sweet and tasty with no hint of bitterness. I picked the largest leaves for a dinner salad before turning my attention to the mushrooms.
This was my second visit of the day to the enclosure. Already I had opened the mushroom bin a crack to allow some fresh air to flow over the spawn-strewn sacks that were beginning to set a second flush of pink oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus djamor. By now the spray bottle of water I’d positioned in the sun had warmed sufficiently to mist the emerging clusters or primordia which were maturing into the fruiting body of the love mushroom. The passionately pink mushrooms grow quickly at this stage and I’ve found paying fairly close attention to their needs as they emerge will mean greater survival rates.
Growing the salmon-colored oyster mushrooms was a new experience for us. We’ve grown the blue and white cap oyster mushrooms before which are classed as chriophilic, preferring cooler growing conditions. Michael and I attended classes in early spring a few years ago with Lowell Dietz, a local grower. He showed us how to seed the spawn, sterilize the straw, and strew the spawn throughout the straw before packing it into large, clear plastic bags and poking holes through the plastic with a sterilized screwdriver. It was through these small holes that the mushrooms would emerge.
The excitement of daily watching the fine white lines of the blue and white cap hyphae emerging from the mycelium spread out and grow through the golden straw, before finally begin exiting one of the holes and form into an edible-sized fruiting body, was quite the journey of wonder and discovery for us.
Although meatier and tougher in texture than most mushroom varieties, chriophilic oysters have a pleasant flavor which we enjoyed. Sauteed with garlic and onions in either butter or olive oil to which a dollop of pesto has been added, they gave texture and richness to our morning omelets. They are also awesomely tasty on pizzas. I like to cook them with onions and garlic slices before adding them to the pizza topping.
The oysters, diced and tossed into soups and stews, impart their inherent protein, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. One of the substances found in them is germanium which helps enhance the oxygen efficiency of the body. Oyster mushrooms, including the pinks, can aid in the removal of artery plaque, activate the immune system, produce enzymes, can assist in the treatment of cancer, and are considered anti-bacterial. They help combat anemia, high blood pressure, and aid in relieving constipation among other medicinal capabilities.
The stunning pink coloration on the pink oyster mushrooms has captivated mushroom lovers for centuries. Native to the tropics, they are considered thermo-tolerant preferring a warmer climate, and aggressively thrive with minimal care at higher humidities as would be found around the equator. They are a mushroom known for having multiple uses. Besides producing nutrition-packed edible fruiting bodies, and because they are a rapid grower, they have caught the attention of those doing environmental bioremediation work with toxic spills since they contain enzymes that break down hydrocarbons. The expired substrate, in our case the straw, also makes good cattle feed.
It was by happenstance that Michael and I got into growing the pink oysters. After the Sequim Lavender Festival in mid-July, Lowell Dietz had extra spawn-strewn sacks available on special so Michael and I decided to try our hand at growing two sacks of pink oysters. All we had to do was place them in a warm, stable environment, and make sure they didn’t get too hot or dry out.
Within a matter of days, we watched the pink primordia form and bulge out the plastic. Pink mushroom ears poked their way out through the holes punched into the bags and within a short time we harvested the first flush. A few days later, they had stopped producing and we set the bags aside to rest. Rather than having them remain indoors taking up space in our workshop, we placed them inside a large gray plastic storage bin in the outside enclosure housing my worms and pots of lettuce. Here they would be safe from marauding raccoons.
The pinks rested for about a month in the bin and I was careful to give light spritzes of water every few days judging by the water droplets inside the bag if they were too dry or too moist. One morning, I got the distinct impression they didn’t like the cool water I had been using and to let the water warm up first. After all, they were tropical in origin. Another impression I got was that they liked growing in the filtered light and fresh air I was giving them as would be found in the tropics. They didn’t like it too hot nor too bright. This I easily accomplished by adjusting the lid of the bin so there was no direct sunlight or wind affecting their growth.
Within days after the warm spritzes began, primordia appeared I adjusted the positions of the bags and bin lid so the primordia got exposed to some fresh air and shade each day.The lid was never closed tightly but kept slightly ajar even at night. They rapidly grew and it wasn’t long before I was picking off light pink to flamingo pink mushroom clusters.
I’ve developed a rapport with the vermiculture compost, sensing when to turn the compost to adjust the temperature and to make sure the worms get evenly distributed and exposed to new feeds. I have grown accustomed to adjusting their diet of fats when the weather started to cool or become particularly wet, at times adding sweet foods in the form of fruit skins just before they started into their active reproductive stage, adding extra soil or coconut coir to soak up excess moisture, and shredding greenery, etc. when it seemed appropriate. I’ve been doing this for many years and sometimes, it make rational sense and other times I just go ahead with my gut instinct. One of the reasons I’m careful, is that if the conditions are not prime, the earthworms will migrate out of the bin especially if the weather is wet and they feel they can slither to richer hunting grounds. You truly want to encourage optimum growing conditions within your container. The pay off has been a rich, composted soil and prolific, well-fed worms, and this summer a happy-to-hang-around Pacific treefrog mascot. Of course, sometimes I misjudge and realize that I have more to learn.
I’m sensing I could develop a similar rapport with my mushroom growing adventure but I’m not sure I want to grow them again in this manner. We have talked, though, about strewing spawn in sawdust and seeing how that venture works.
Watching all the mushrooms grow has made me stop and ponder about how regular earthworms tunnel, enhancing the oxygen capacity and aeration of the soils, leaving behind, literally, highly nutritious soil amendments throughout the garden which they’ve extracted from the particles they’ve ingested. Mushroom mycelia and hyphae perform a similar task of ferrying nutrients and water throughout the substrate they live within and besides ferrying the worms’ soil enhancements, some actually utilize the tunneling system established by the earthworms. I find this all fascinating and am eagerly researching any similarity between the moon’s affect on both worm and mushroom activity.
What I find difficult about the Pleurotus djamor is defining its aromatics and flavor. Sometimes the sexy pink mushroom smells like the aroma you’d experience stepping into a seafood market making me wonder if Pleurotus puta would have been a better nomenclature. At other times, the mushroom smells smoky with hints of bacon. Its flavor is similar, sometimes fishy and other times smoky. Even though it has thin flesh, it is meatier and tougher than you’d expect so cooking time must be allotted to allow for it becoming tender.
In addition to enjoying them with eggs, I also like to make a smoked salmon chowder, capitalizing on the the mushroom’s inherent smoky aroma and seafood flavor. First off, to diced celery, carrots, onions, and yellow summer squash, I add fresh basil, tarragon and thyme, parsley, a couple of freshly expressed garlic cloves, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. This mixture is sauteed briefly in coconut oil in a large iron dutch oven before I use a scissors to finely cut thin slices of mushroom, adding them to absorb the flavorful mixture of veggies and herbs. You might want to cut out the meaty mushroom stipe or attachment bulge first as it is often very tough and chewy. Add some tomato sauce or salsa, shredded smoked salmon and enough water to cover. Cook until veggies and mushrooms are the consistency you prefer, adding more water or rice milk to your liking. Adjust the seasonings and serve over freshly-steamed rice to which garlic, parsley and butter have been added.
Our favorite way to enjoy the oyster and shiitake mushrooms, finding it particularly tasty with the pink oysters, is to braise them with a pig’s heart in coconut oil. I have a special one quart cast iron pot that is the perfect size for braising small organ meats such as chicken hearts and livers as well as pig hearts. After sauteing together garlic, onions and thinly sliced oyster mushrooms, I remove the veggies and brown the heart.
When it is sufficiently browned on all sides, I return the veggie mixture, add salt and pepper, dried basil, a twig of fresh thyme, tarragon and rosemary. Then I cover and braise until tender. Rarely do I remove it from the braising pan but we enjoy cutting off bits, dipping them into the surrounding warm and thick aujus, and snacking until it’s all eaten. Finger lickin’ good is a description that comes to mind.
Like I’ve already mentioned, whether we’d grow pinks or any mushrooms again is a matter of conjecture. It was by fluke we got into the adventure with the pinks, and truly, we enjoy scouting out wild mushrooms more than growing them. Traipsing along in the outdoors, following feelings of instinctual discovery is more appealing to the both of us. However, I’d certainly recommend for a beginning grower to try your hand at growing the love mushroom and see how your relationship develops with this hot pink beauty.
Until next time and our next journey, take care and safe travels. ~P