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All about Fungi, with a Fun Guy

by Patrick Banks, AMI Fellow

Mushrooms have always been a somewhat of an anomaly to me. I have bought them from the grocery store, sold them at farmers markets, discovered them in the forest and have even been a part of growing them myself; however, I have known absolutely nothing about them. That all changed when Charlie Aller, former AMI fellow and mushroom extraordinaire, and his partner, Nina, taught a workshop for us Fellows up on the mountain.

Our morning started out in an outdoor classroom where we learned all about micro and macro fungi groups. There are two main micro-groups in the fungal family: Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes.

Ascomycetes are considered to be the larger of the two groups and contain over 64,000 different types of species. One of the most common ascomycetes are Morels, but this group also provides many yeasts used for baking, brewing and fermenting. The word Ascomycete is derived from the Greek word, "Ascus", which means sac, and "Myco", which means fungi. When the Ascomycetes mature and fruit, these fungi produce their spores in a sac that will either explode by build-up of internal pressure, or rupture due to a simple gust of wind.

Basidiomycete is a word also derived from the Greek language; "Basidia" means club. One of the most common mushrooms in this group is Lion’s Mane. These mushrooms produce their spores from gills underneath the mushroom that (microscopically, at least) resemble a club. When these spores are disturbed, they fall from the club and are picked up by micro-winds created by the undercurrent of the cap, carrying them far and wide.

After learning about the two micro groups of fungi, Charlie then introduced us to the world of macro-fungi. There are 5 common macro-fungi groups that most mushrooms fall under:

Saprobic: Saprobic mushrooms feed on dead plant material and include many household mushroom names such as shiitakes, buttons and portabellas.

Mycorrhizal: Mycorrhizal mushrooms hold a symbiotic relationship between mushrooms and plants. For instance, these mushrooms scavenge phosphorus from trees in exchange for photosynthetic sugars. An example of Mycorrhizal fungi are chanterelles.

Parasitic: This group of fungi forms a relationship with another organism where the mushrooms benefits at the expense of the host. The powdery mildew that effects and kills chestnut trees is an example of this.

Pathogenic: These mushrooms can cause disease in humans and other organisms. Aspergillosis is an example, and it is often discovered in soil, decaying vegetables, and in ventilation systems.

Endophytic: This category of fungi lives within the cells of plants, trees, and grasses without causing harm. Their mechanisms are relatively unknown, but are of much interest to scientists.

Following a morning full of foreign definitions and ideas, we took a much needed lunch break where delicious oyster mushrooms, provided by Charlie, were prepared to perfection. Once lunch was wrapped up, we got a little more hands-on and started to inoculate our own oak logs with shiitake inoculant.

We were lucky enough to have 3-4 foot pre-cut oak logs ready before beginning the surprisingly easy process of inoculating that follows:

  1. Drill holes a ½ inch deep around the log in a diamond pattern roughly 4 inches apart
  2. Fill hole with shitake spawn using an inoculator tool
  3. Cover spawn with your melted wax of choice
  4. Stack logs in a shady, non-windy area, using either the leaning method or Lincoln Log-style.

Once the logs are properly inoculated and stored in a shady area, the tough task begins: keeping the logs watered. Every two weeks the logs must be either watered completely with a hose, or “soaked” in standing water for up to eight hours. We will be tackling this task as our summer progresses, but unfortunately these logs won’t be fruiting until next spring. However, the lucky cohort in 2018 will hopefully be welcomed with a beautiful harvest of shiitakes!

After our logs were inoculated and properly stored, we took a hike into one of the many hollows that the mountain has to offer. During our walk, we identified various mushrooms along the way, including the great medicinal fungi, Reishi.

It was during this hike and the late night talks that followed, that I felt we really got to know Charlie. Hearing Charlie’s story of how he came to AMI, the time he spent here, and the passion he developed for mushroom cultivatation and foraging while at AMI, was truly inspiring and something I’ll never forget. He encouraged all of us to explore different avenues that we may have never considered, for who knows what’s around the corner, maybe fungi? ... Wise words from a fun guy.

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