Life on the homestead requires a lot of creativity and frugality. The “five R’s” seem to be constantly in play: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Repurpose, and Repair. Nothing ever goes to waste—today’s trash simply becomes tomorrow’s resources.
When buying something new is necessary, I usually try to make sure the item fits at least one of the following criteria:
- First, does the item have more than one alternative use or purpose?
- Second, does the item take up minimal space?
- Third, is the item inexpensive?
My Favorite Homesteading Tool
My absolute favorite “tool” on the homestead actually fits all three criteria: none other than the five-gallon plastic bucket. Not only do these wonder tools nest neatly into a tidy stack, they also have a seemingly unlimited number of uses.
Whether you are into homesteading, preparedness, or permaculture, five-gallon buckets are essential tools of the trade!
Getting Buckets for Free
A note about price: If purchased from a hardware store, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $five-dollars per bucket. But you can acquire them for FREE from your grocery store’s bakery department. All you have to do is ask nicely for the buckets that their icing came in. Other free sources include pickle buckets from hamburger joints, soap buckets from car washes, and lard buckets from Mexican restaurants.
Of course, be prepared to clean them!
The Bucket List
So, what exactly can you do with a five-gallon bucket once you procure it? I thought you’d never ask! Below, I showcase some general ideas that I use quite frequently. (If you’re keen on any given idea, more detailed tutorials can be found all over the Internet.)
1. Container Gardening
First and foremost, five-gallon buckets make for outstanding container gardens when you drill drainage holes in the bottom of the buckets. While some permaculturists might frown on the idea of container gardens, they are quite useful if you want to keep invasive (opportunistic) plants such as mint from taking over your garden. Additionally, in a grid-down situation, you can easily secure your food indoors overnight to protect from potential looters. That brings a whole new meaning to the words “food security!”
2. Growing Mushrooms
Another clever use for buckets is growing edible and medicinal mushrooms in them. Just drill staggering holes in the sides of the bucket, fill the bucket with free coffee grounds from the local corner coffee shop, and inoculate with the spawn of your favorite mushroom.
3. Organizing Your Tools
A five-gallon bucket also makes for a great tool bag. Either online or at your local hardware store, you can buy organizers that are specifically made for buckets and have all kinds of compartments. The outside sleeve compartments of the bucket are ideal for your smaller tools, such as screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. On the inside of the bucket, you can store your heavy-duty tools like your hammers, axes, and saws.
4. Making Wine
You can even make wine with a five-gallon bucket. Simply pour in some apple cider (sans preservatives), sugar, and yeast. Drill a hole into the lid, insert a rubber grommet, and then insert an airlock bubbler (available for a dollar at most home-brew stores). The Big Bird/Cookie Monster–style explanation is that the “yeasties” eat the sugar and essentially poop out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The airlock bubbler allows the carbon dioxide to escape, but prevents oxygen or other contaminants from entering your wine. There are a few more specific steps and ingredients that go into producing quality wine, but this is basically how wine is made! People drink alcohol in both good times and bad. Wine making can prove to be a very valuable and profitable skill in a grid-down scenario.
5. Feed the Worms
One of my favorite uses of a five-gallon bucket is as part of a vermicompost system (a.k.a. a worm bin). Red wiggler worms are voracious eaters. I feed them my shredded junk mail and food scraps. In return, they give me “black gold.”
If mushroom compost is the Cadillac of compost, worm castings are the Rolls Royce!
6. Make Compost Tea
In addition to vermicompost, compost tea happens to be the secret of success for many master gardeners. And with a five-gallon bucket, you can brew your own compost tea right at home. All you need is an air pump for aeration, some worm castings (compost), non-chlorinated water, and a few other ingredients. After two days of brewing, it is ready to spray on your crops using a pump sprayer. Your plants will grow twice as big, twice as fast!
7. Make a Mousetrap
Have a mouse problem, but don’t have the heart to set out a traditional mousetrap? Well, you can make a catch-and-release mousetrap out of a bucket and a few pieces of wood, plus peanut butter for bait. The contraption reminds me of the board game Mouse Trap that I used to play as a child!
8. Filter Water
Lastly, you can make a heavy-duty water filter from two five-gallon buckets stacked on top of each other. The top bucket has a ceramic water filter that filters out the dirty water dumped into it. The bottom bucket has a water spigot that allows you to extract the newly filtered water.
I hope you enjoyed some of the examples I’ve provided of why five-gallon buckets are the absolute best and most versatile tool for homesteading, preparedness, and permaculture. Five-gallon buckets not only serve as a container to grow your food in, they can be used in creating the fertilizer that enriches your garden. To top it off, you can use buckets to collect and ultimately store your bountiful harvests!
What about you? What’s your favorite way to use a five-gallon bucket? Leave me a note in the comments!
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Overview Mushrooms are one of the most striking and intriguing vegetation in the world – highly regarded for their nutrient composition. All mushroom varieties are characterized by beautiful forms and shapes. Though some have medicinal properties, others are poisonous and lethal. Picking of mushrooms is steadily becoming a hobby for many people, often for food … Continue reading “Edible vs Poisonous Mushrooms – What Is The Difference?”
The post How To Grow Your Own Oyster Mushrooms (For Fun Or Profit) is by
Kevin and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.
Do you want to know how to grow oyster mushrooms successfully without having to purchase a new kit each time? Perhaps you’d like to grow a variety which isn’t typically found in kits? Let’s see what you need to get started and how to do it! Most oyster mushrooms are low-calorie foods that are high … Read more
The post How To Grow Your Own Oyster Mushrooms (For Fun Or Profit) is by
Kevin and appeared first on Epic Gardening, the best urban gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aquaponic gardening blog.
An old Croatian proverb went like this: “All mushrooms are edible, some only once.” The meaning: Yes, many mushrooms are delicious and nutritious, but many also are quite poisonous.
If you are not an experienced and competent collector and cannot positively identify look-alike species, I strongly suggest purchasing a field guide that will help you with this, and consider asking a veteran mushroom hunter to help.
Still, the world has 38,000 different species of mushrooms that hold medicinal qualities.
Researchers have found their compounds potentially effective against all sorts of maladies — from chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer. In the environmental arena, researchers are studying them for their ability to absorb toxic substances.
Many mushrooms also happen to be really delicious.
Here are just three that you are likely to find on your property and some of the information you can use to determine their use in your personal life.
1. Hiratake (Oyster Mushroom)
Where it is grown: Grows wildly in temperate and sub-tropical forests and is responsible for the decomposition of deciduous trees like the beech.
Medicinal properties: The Hiratake mushroom contains statins that are known to lower the bad type of cholesterol, LDL. The statin compounds are present in the fruited body as well as the mycelium network of the mushroom.
Cultivating: Can be done simply and inexpensively by inoculating a medium of brown rice and then harvesting the fruit bodies or mycelium. Asian countries cultivate it primarily by putting layers of hay into plastic bags, the mushroom spores being placed in between the layers.
Table fare: The oyster mushroom is a common companion in Asian and Indian dishes and makes a good addition to various soups and stews.
Weird but true: Aside from being able to decompose trees, this particular species of mushroom can purportedly decompose disposable diapers and absorb petrochemicals and PCBs.
Its usefulness in waste and toxin remediation is currently being researched by several organizations. Dried, it also makes a high R-value insulator for the homestead.
2. Chestnut Mushroom (Poplar Mushroom)
Where it is grown: This mushroom grows naturally all over the world wherever deciduous trees are found. It is particularly fond of Poplars, where it causes holes in the tree, hence the name “Poplar mushroom.”
Medicinal properties: The mushroom contains compounds that are scavengers of free radicals. There also have been studies linking the mushroom’s active compounds to a slowing down of osteoporosis advancement.
Cultivating: Inoculating hardwood chips, sawdust or hardwood logs with the spores. It is known to be one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate commercially.
Table fare: This mushroom is both meaty and delicious — raw or cooked. But as part of a genus that contains more than 100 different species, some quite poisonous, it is best left to an experienced collector who can differentiate it from its more unpleasant relatives. Having said that, it has a strong, earthy flavor and makes a tremendous contribution to the flavor of sauces, stews and casseroles.
Weird but true: The ancient Greeks collected these mushrooms and believed that they “popped” out as a result of lightning strikes. Many morel hunters hold this very same superstition.
3. Morel Mushroom
Where it is grown: It is commonly found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Pakistan and China.
Medicinal properties: Particularly high in iron and B-complex vitamins, it is a wonderful addition to the medicine cabinet. This mushroom is also known for its immune-boosting properties.
Cultivating: Although several attempts have been made to commercially grown these ghosts of the woods, none has been successful. Best case is to scatter the trimmings from wild harvested mushrooms in your nearby wooded area and hope for some volunteers. This is usually quite sporadic and takes years to establish.
Table fare: The morel is the most highly prized of all mushrooms for its deeply earthy, meaty flavor. The French cherish its flavors and feature it in many highly refined dishes. For the rest of the world, they are delicious cut in half, dredged in flour, and sautéed in butter until crispy. Delicious!
Weird but true: The morel took center stage for many mushroom conspiracy theorists. An entrepreneur and mycologist was once purported to have found a way to commercially cultivate the mushroom in large scale. Just as he was about to sell his method to a popular pizza chain (of all things), he mysteriously died, prompting many to believe that he was murdered in an attempt to keep his secret from becoming public.
What is your favorite mushroom to forage for and eat? Share your tips in the section below:
Oak is a favorite tree of survivalists. It’s strong, dense wood is favored for utility and for firewood. Acorns, though most species need to be prepared by leaching, are an important survival food. Plus the acorns, bark, roots, and leaves provide important herbal medicines. Native Americans used many species of Oak for medicine and food. Mainly the part used for medicine is the inner bark. With this being said, the acorns have been considered medicinal food as well as staple food.
By Nathaniel Whitmore, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache
Oak is a far more versatile survival example than many realize. The uses of Oak are not limited to simple acorn consumption. For example, in The Way of Herbs Michael Tierra discusses acorn porridge as a common food for the treatment of tuberculosis and other wasting diseases.
Oak & Mankind
Acorns were a principal staple of our ancestors. Talk of the Paleolithic diet has persisted long enough for real Paleolithic snacks to emerge among the over-priced, plastic-wrapped Paleo bars. Yet in spite of the increase in grain-free snacks, cookbooks, and diet practices, I have not seen any increase in acorn use. Though, a quick google search did turn up a few sites selling acorn flour.
The acorn was quite possibly one of the major foods that allowed our Paleolithic ancestors to start building agricultural society from hunting and gathering. Largely, acorns are edible, though most species need to be leached and some are so astringent and bitter that they are considered inedible.
Generally, acorns are leached of their tannic acid with cold water soaks or through slow cooking (while changing the water). Some are sweet enough to be eaten raw or with relatively little cooking. Early man learned to bury astringent acorns in bodies of water or to anchor in streams so that they could return later to the leached acorns and prepare food from them. Enough acorns and our distant ancestors managed to hunker down for a winter… and the rest is history… until current times. I don’t know how long it has been the case, but I just checked online and found a few companies selling acorn flour. For years I had been saying that I hadn’t seen any for sale or in commercial products. Until just the other day nobody ever responded saying they knew of acorns in mainstream commercial foods.
Acorns are one of my favorite foods, though I often don’t get around to them. You have to find them at the right time (others are looking too and some of them, like the squirrels, take it more serious than me). Once found they still need to be processed and leached. Then cooked. They can be eaten just like that, cooked into rice, mashed into pancakes, or dried and ground into flour. The mash or flour can be used in just about anything. It is very tasty.
Acorns as Survival Food
Although many animals eat acorns as they find them, a good number of the Oaks produce acorns too bitter and astringent for humans to eat without leaching. The most efficient way to leach acorns if you are home or at a long-term camp is with cold water. You’ll want to cook them (if possible) eventually, but you can save on fuel by doing the bulk of the leaching with cold water.
Related: Tree Bark as an Emergency Food
If you want to or need to speed up the leaching of acorns, you can do so by applying heat. Just as with cold water leaching, when the water turns dark you should dump it and add clean water. You might find it best to heat up a large vessel of water so that after you dump the tannin-rich water you can add hot water. This will be quicker and will avoid any fixing of the bitterness from alternating between hot and cold.
Mushrooms that Grow with Oak
Besides the acorns as a potential staple food or nutritional side dish, Oak forests prove hospitable because of the large selection of edible mushrooms that grow with Oaks. (Of course, the warning stands that there are non-edible and fatally poisonous mushrooms that grow with them as well.) There are basically three different kinds of mushrooms: decomposers, parasites, and symbionts. The subject is complicated by the various forms within these three categories and in that many mushrooms belong to more than one of the three. Nonetheless, these basic groups are important to learning mushroom identification. Decomposers break down dead material, such as a downed Oak or one that was killed by a parasite, so they are found on such material. Parasites attack their host. In the case of Oaks, they can take a while to succumb to the parasite and in many cases can grow for years before dying from the attack. Parasites are therefore found on live, dying, and recently dead hosts. Symbiotic species grow in association with their host. In the case of mushrooms and Oaks, the fungus is attached to the tree roots underground so the mushrooms grow from the ground near the tree.
Edible species of mushrooms associated with Oak include all three of these types of mushrooms. Two of the most abundant and well-known edible species are common in the autumn on Oaks – Maitake (Grifola frondosa, Hen-of-the-Woods, Sheep’s Head, etc.) and Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria spp.). Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus spp.) is another abundant and delicious Oak parasite. These three mushrooms (two of them are identified only by genus above because there are groups of closely related species known by the same name) are prolific enough to provide surprisingly large amounts of food. Indeed, many mushroom hunters content themselves with only one of the three as a foraged ingredient for the table. But they also miss out on many of the other fungal offerings under Oak.
Mycorrhizal (symbiotic) species include delicious edibles like Boletes, Chantarelles, and Milk Mushrooms (Lactarius spp.). Chantarelles (Cantharellus spp.) are pretty well known and pretty easy to identify. Also, closely related is the Black Trumpet (Craterellus spp.). Boletes (Boletus spp. and other related genera) are perhaps more difficult to identify than Chanterelles. Although there are many species of Chanterelle, there are a few obvious species that stand out. The Boletes, however, are a very large group. Although it is not really true, some people consider all Boletes to be edible (at least those without a strong bitter or spicy flavor). Certainly, some are very prized. Lactarius is a group with many non-edible and poisonous species, and many people avoid them. However, there are some delicious species that grow with Oak, like the Voluminous Milky (L. volemus).
You might want to check out Macrofungi Associated with Oaks by Binion, Burdsall, Stephenson, Miller, Roody, and Vasilyeva. It is over 400 pages on mushrooms associated with Oaks and includes information on edibility.
Chicken-of-the-Woods (not to be confused with Hen-of-the-Woods, Grifola frondosa) is also known as Sulphur Shelf and Chicken Mushroom. I avoid the name Chicken Mushroom because it also refers to another, and Sulphur Shelf is really only good for certain varieties. It is called Chicken-of-the-Woods because it tastes like chicken and has a similar texture. I have served it to folks who thought it was chicken, though I wouldn’t have done so intentionally – as some people do react to even the thoroughly cooked mushroom (she helped herself to the pan of leftovers). As with most mushrooms, Chicken-of-the-Woods should be cooked, and with this one in particular it should be done thoroughly and with plenty of oil. It has mixed reviews, but I think it is mostly due to it being harvested past its prime (which is common) or cooked improperly (it really does suck up the oil – be libral). Many people love this mushroom, even if they generally don’t like mushrooms. Plus, it often grows in abundance. This is a very significant survival food.
Hen-of-the-Woods is another mushroom that can grow very large and in abundance. It is also known as Maitake, Sheep’s Head, Ram’s Head, and more. In this case “Hen” refers to the appearance more than the taste and texture. When found young (they can still be young and be quite large) they are quite delicious. Hen-of-the-Woods should be cooked thoroughly to avoid digestive troubles. It is revered as a medicinal as well as an edible, being used for the immune system to help with infections and cancer.
Although the modern world has largely forgot Oak as a source of food, its wood is still commonly recognized as a superior building material. Used for hardwood flooring, furniture, and more.
Read More: The Survival Staff
Oak is also still used as an ideal material for martial arts weapons like the bo staff and for the handles of nunchaku. It is very strong and makes a good choice when a superior and strong material is desired, such as for tool handles and sturdy furnature.
Oak as Fuel
Though there is significant variety among the many species of Oak, it is generally a superior firewood. It is dense and hard and has a high heating rating. It does burn a little slow, which is one of its benefits, but it also doesn’t put out light as well as some other choices of wood (Hickory, for example, is also very hard but burns bright. Lighter woods that burn quick will often put out more light.). It can easily become smoky when not dried well or not tended to in the fireplace. Of course, being dense means that it dries slow. In my mind the classic “all-nighter” is a nice, large, dry Oak log placed on a hot bed of coals.
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Any outdoor survival situation eventually requires some degree of hunting and gathering. Unfortunately, there are far fewer plants and animals in winter than you might find in more temperate seasons. Curiously, though, mushrooms in winter are an option — but you have to know where and when to look.
How can mushrooms grow in winter? The simple answer is that most can’t, but there are occasions when a mid-winter thaw will not only allow but encourage some mushrooms to emerge.
Two examples of edible mushrooms in winter include oyster mushrooms and wood ears. There’s also an edible winter mushroom called velvet shank that can withstand freezing and thawing throughout the winter.
Perhaps the most visible and ubiquitous mushrooms in winter are growing low to the ground on the trunks of trees. They often grow in clusters and stick out from the sides of the tree like little shelves.
This class of mushroom is commonly called “tree brackets” or as their appearance implies, “shelf mushrooms.” Mycologists refer to them as polypores. There is one polypore exception we’ll cover that can be eaten, and that’s wood ears, but it is a rare exception.
While tree brackets are easy to spot and seem to be everywhere, almost all of them are defined as inedible and most are toxic and as tough as frozen leather.
Where to Look
Mushrooms favor forested areas where the rotting cellulose of trees provides them with the nutrients to survive and grow. A few can emerge in an open field or you may have seen them in your lawn, but lurking beneath the ground is a humus of rotting vegetation that feeds many species of mushroom. These are referred to as saprophytic fungi.
Then again, some species of mushrooms are parasitic and actually grow on green trees and plants as opposed to dead and rotting ones. The tree-brackets or shelf mushrooms we just covered are an example of a class of mushrooms referred to as parasitic fungi.
There’s a third classification referred to as a symbiotic or mycorrhizal fungi. These mushrooms emerge from the roots of living plants and trees and actually help the plant or tree to draw more water or nutrients from the ground. These also can be found in an open field, lawn or wooded forest.
When to Look
Mushrooms cannot emerge from hard, frozen ground or frozen, rotting wood in winter. It takes a mid-winter thaw, usually preceded by rain or thawing snow, to motivate the mycelium or the early growth stage of a mushroom to spring to life, and with any luck (and a duration of a few days) a mushroom will emerge. The rare exception is the velvet shank which emerges and survives all year round.
What to Look For
Now comes the hard part. What have you found? There are three edible mushrooms often identified as prime species for mid-winter emergence. It’s worth noting that all three of these mushroom species are saprophytic, meaning they thrive on the rotting wood of trees, or the rotting cellulose of plants.
1. The velvet shank
The prime season for the velvet shank in many parts of North America is defined as November, December and January, although it is a year-round mushroom. The velvet shank is a very common mushroom and can actually withstand freezing and thawing. Its appearance is defined by yellow caps that are flat and about 2 to 10 centimeters in diameter. The stem is very tough and is also yellow, although it darkens towards the base, and the stem darkens to black as it matures. The velvet shank stands about 3 to 10 centimeters from the trunk or stump of the tree and has thin, yellow flesh. Horse chestnut and elms are a favored host for the velvet shank.
2. Oyster mushrooms
Prime months for oyster mushrooms include November, December, January and February, although they also can grow year-round. They first appear as grey turning to a creamy brown as they mature. The caps are shell-shaped anywhere from 4 to 20 centimeters in diameter. The oyster mushroom favors the trunks or branches of rotting, broad-leafed trees. It is also a very common mushroom. But beware. There is a similar looking mushroom called the olive oysterling that is toxic.
3. Wood ears
This mushroom has its prime season in January, but like the others is also a year-round species. After first appearing its texture is jelly-like but it hardens as it approaches maturity. It has a reddish-brown appearance and the interior of the cap is greyish-brown. It also grows on dead branches and trunks and some of the common trees it favors include sycamore and elder. It, too, is a very common mushroom found across most of North America and is one of the few tree brackets that is edible.
While there are many sources for information about mushrooms, I usually look to the U.S. Forest Service as a starting point. They have an excellent publication that you can download for free as a PDF that does a great job of identifying mushrooms in the Eastern United States. You also can visit their website at www.fs.gov.us to search for information about mushrooms across the continent.
Another good resource is The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. This is handy to take into the field with you while you’re studying mushrooms.
What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Mushrooms were among the earliest survival essentials of man. Otzi, the Ice Man, had two mushrooms with him. One, the Tinder Polypore (Fomes fomentarius), used for firestarting and the other, the Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus), was quite possibly being carried for medicinal reasons. The fire-starting and fire-carrying properties of Tinder Polypore and others like Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) have been well known since ancient times.
By Nathaniel Whitmore a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache
As punk, dried Polypores can be lit and hold the ember very well. It is for this reason that their benefits begin with the first spark of the fire, which will stay aglow easily on good punk. Tinder Polypore, Artist Conk (Ganoderma applanatum), and others have a felty interior when the hard fruiting bodies are broken open. These mushrooms are also called conks, shelf mushrooms, and bracket fungi and are perennial, developing layer upon layer, year after year. This type of mushroom is very good for tinder. The felt can be teased with your knife. There are other types of shelf mushrooms that are not perennial. Often, they will be more moist and fleshing, or otherwise maybe not the best for tinder… perhaps because of their texture. Also, there are Polypores that aren’t shelf mushrooms.
Polypores (many-pored, or many-little-holes) produce their spores in tubes that are usually under the “shelf” of the mushroom, though many species take on more of the form of the “cap & stem” mushroom. They are common, seen even in winter because of the persistence of the perennial species and of the dried remains of the tougher annual species. Even as I write this, I can count several species of Polypore on my eclectic assortment of firewood piled by the wood stove – dried, so even though the wood is punkier than desired the mushrooms will burn with it quite fine. Earlier today I noticed a Polypore I am not used to seeing on a Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), along with several other species of Polypore that I see regularly. I also saw the crumbled remains of an annual species that was edible in the fall. In fact, now that I stop to think about it, that’s a lot of Polypores for a short walk along the road and through the woods!
It is especially the Polypores that are of interest to the bushcrafter and survivalist. They are a pretty safe group for edibles. Many are not considered edible because of toughness or taste, but the majority of poisoning is relatively mild. Of course, many well-known “choice edibles” and some of the most sought after mushroom delicacies are Polypores. They have medicinal uses. Many of the most important herbal medicines come from Polypores. They can be used to start fire. Because they keep lit well and burn slow they can also be used to carry fire (potentially very useful without matches or a lighter on hand), and can also be burned for insect repellant. The dried fruit bodies, or slices of them, can be used to maintain an ember when not feeding wood to the fire. Polypores can also be used to make torches. They can be made into charcoal. They can be pounded into felt (another trait the Tinder Polypore is particularly known for). They are great for storing fish hooks. And I am sure there are countless other uses.
Mushrooms are sometimes abundant and are very important survival foods. It is an interesting thing that mycologists consider cultures to generally be either mycophobic or mycophilic – mushroom fearing or mushroom loving. Some cultures favor mushrooms that most others avoid. I have often wondered if this and the deep appreciation some cultures have for mushrooms is due to ancestors being repeatedly saved from famine by mushrooms, which has certainly happened throughout the ages.
I myself have eaten massive amounts of mushrooms, especially Polypores like Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus spp.), Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa, Maitake, Sheep’s Head, etc.), and others that grow very large and are delicious. Many times I have eaten more than one meal a day that consisted primarily of mushrooms. I have often felt very revitalized when doing so, particularly during Morel (Morchella spp.) season when eating lots of Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus), Morels, and wild vegetables. Mushrooms are very nutritious foods. Since ancient times they have been revered for their rejuvenating properties.
The all too well known problem with mushrooms as edibles is that some are deadly. Coupled with the fact that mushrooms in general are difficult to identify, eating mushrooms can clearly be risky. Do your research before starving to death so that you can be certain to take the time to seek out knowledgeable people as well as good books. There are many excellent mushroom websites.
Mushrooms can be dried. Though, it is a funny trick of nature that they tend to grow when there is more humidity and can be difficult to dry. Those in the Rocky Mountains will have a much easier time of it than I do down in the Delaware River Valley between New York and Pennsylvania. For off-grid sites, consider a solar dehydrator, such as passive solar using glass to trap heat. For sites with electricity consider one of the many commercially manufactured dehydrators, or make one with a simple heating unit such as a light bulb.
The medicinal properties of mushrooms have been getting increased attention lately, though they were well-known before the modern world. Many of the medicinal uses of mushrooms pertain to first-aid care, so this subject is well worth learning for the survivalist. If the notion of medicinal mushrooms seems strange, consider that out first antibiotic drug, penicillin, is fungal.
Indeed, primary traits among the medicinal mushrooms are antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. Polypores in particular, like Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) and Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis), are known for benefiting immunity and fighting off pathogens. They are used for lung ailments, respiratory infections, systemic infections, cancer, and even auto-immune diseases. As in the case with Otzi, ancient people all over the world have probably recognized the medicinal benefits of mushrooms. Today they remain primary ingredients in herbal medicine. Many cultures have long-held reverence for medicinal mushrooms. China, for instance, has an extensive and ancient lore surrounding Ganoderma spp., called Lingzi, which means “Longevity Mushroom” or “Spiritual Mushroom” just as the Japanese name, Reishi, does. For a well-researched reference on many species of medicinal mushrooms see The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Rogers.
While Reishi is too tough and strong tasting to be eaten (rather, it is decocted into a “tea” or broth), many medicinals are good food. Maitake (Grifola frondosa) is another name that seems to reflect a long-found reverence. In Japanese it means “Dancing Mushroom”, which some say is because it was worth so much (so revered were such medicinal mushrooms) in ancient Japan that you would dance for joy upon finding one. Or, perhaps if you were suffering from a life threatening illness that Maitake was known to cure you would have even more reason to dance. Locally, Grifola is one of the most commonly picked mushrooms, known as Sheep’s Head or Ram’s Head – largely an Appalachian name. American field guides and grocery stores (this one is also cultivated) usually call it Hen-of-the-Woods. It is so abundant in certain Oak forests that people will often eat more than their fill and still have plenty to dry, can, or freeze.
Mushrooms even have antifungal properties. If this seems strange, consider that you are protected by pathogens by your skin. Fungus has no such barrier, but must still protect itself against pathogens… including fungus! Fungus tends to prefer dark, damp, dirty areas where other fungus also likes to grow. Much of the immune-boosting potential of mushrooms is explained in this way.
Many mushrooms, especially certain Polypores and the Luminescent Panellus (Panellus stipticus) can be used to stop bleeding. The species name stipticus is from styptic, meaning that it is used to stop bleeding. And yes, the common name is because it glows in the dark- at least the North American variety.
Fire-Starting with Fungus
As already mentioned, mushrooms can be very good for “catching the spark” when starting fire with flint or maintaining the ember when starting with the bow drill and the like. A nice dry piece of Polypore can be used in the middle of your tinder bundle. Species with a felting interior, like the Tinder Polypore, can be fluffed into very nice tinder by scraping them with your knife to tease the fibers into fluff. While it can obviously be very helpful to have nice downy tinder, it is not always necessary as even chunks of dried Polypore can stay lit with just a spark.
Transferring a “coal” from bow or hand drill methods is simply done by contacting the mushroom with the ember so that it keeps lit. One might even use larger flat polypores underneath the fireboard so that the hot wood dust falls directly on the mushroom.
Polypores are like punk, meaning that they stay lit easy. Punky wood (dry and rotten) might very well stay lit for hours from only a spark or ember, but generally wood requires sufficient heat to keep burning or it goes out. Polypores can stay lit for many hours, often slowly burning from just a small ember until all the mushroom is burned up. This has several uses. Such as in primitive times, lit Polypores can be bound in leaves and bark so that the fire could be carried to the next spot. I have also maintained embers in the firepit by setting in them a piece of Polypore during times when I did not desire to build up the fire by adding more wood. Obviously, the standard rule is to keep watch on a fire at all times, but we are talking survival here. Perhaps, you are lost in the woods with no fire-starting implements and need to spend the day hunting, fishing, or gathering mushrooms. You certainly don’t want to lose your fire, but you don’t want to build it up either right before leaving. It could be much safer to feed the embers with mushrooms than to pile on firewood.
Mushrooms don’t have the tendency to burst into flame, even though they stay lit well. In order to produce flame, hot pitch can be poured on the Polypore and then lit to produce a torch. Alternately, clumps of pitch can be set or stuck (depending on consistency) on a Polypore and then lit. The pitch will melt down into the mushroom and this makes good fuel.
Polypores can also be made into charcoal in the same manner as making char cloth. I have used the leathery Polypores, like Turkey Tail, as well as slices of thicker species like Tinder Polypore and Reishi. I usually use tins, such as old Altoids tins, to fill with the mushrooms and then place on the hot coals until smoking ceases. Then remove, let cool, and add to your tinder box for later fire-starting.
Fiber from Polypores
Tinder Polypore can be made into felt. This can be done by boiling and pounding the interior portion (which looks felty even when fresh). A friend of mine has hats made of the felt, similar to that worn by the famous mycologist Paul Stamets. I have also seen purses and other crafts from the felt. It might be a stretch to consider making an outfit out of Tinder Polypores in a survival scenario. Small pouches and such, on the other hand, could be very realistic and handy.
At the New Jersey Mycological Association’s yearly Fungus Fest they set up a paper-making station. Violet Tooth Polypores (Trichaptum biforme) and other similar mushrooms are blended in water in order to produce a fibrous mush that is strained, pressed, and dried to produce a sturdy craft paper. Violet Tooth Polypores work well for fiber extraction because they are thin, like the well-known medicinal Turkey Tail and other mushrooms that comprise the “leathery” group of Polypores.
Taking Care of Tools with Polypores
Pieces of dried Polypores can work great for storing fish hooks. I like to slice the fresh mushroom into thick strips before drying them. This makes them handy for decocting into medicine, for stashing in tinder boxes, and for piercing a selection of fish hooks into in attempt to keep a tackle box orderly. It also makes them ready for making charcoal if, for instance, they are cut so that they fit into an Altoids box or some other vessel that can be used to make charcoal. Have a line-up of fish hooks in a small rectangle of Polypore makes it easy to grab a few hooks to throw in your pocket or in your sack. If it keeps dry, you’ll even have fire-starting material with you. If it gets wet, just toss it – you have plenty more stashed away.
Apparently Birch Polypore can be used for stropping. An alternate name commonly cited for the Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) is Razor Strop. I have never tried it, but the dried fruiting bodies certainly seem to be the correct consistency (usually leather is used for stropping).
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Grow Your Own Mushrooms With These Great Kits Mushroom growing may seem complicated but complete mushroom growing kits provide full instructions and everything you will need to grow your own mushrooms – no specialist equipment is required. They are virtually fat and calorie-free and packed full of vitamins and minerals to keep you feeling on …
The idea of gardening indoors during the winter can be daunting. It’s easy to feel defeated by the low levels of sunlight and the limited amount of space. But some crops are excellent choices to grow inside during the winter, and mushrooms are one. They will happily grow in a plastic bucket, a chunk of log or a seedling flat — and they require minimal space. Plus, the naturally dark and cool winter environment suits them perfectly.
Mushrooms are little health warriors. Carb-free, gluten-free, low in calories and sodium, and nutrient-rich, they are incredibly healthy. Different varieties of mushrooms are packed with nutrients like potassium, selenium, iron, and vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). Mushrooms enhance our immune systems and lower hypertension and cholesterol. Their meat-like texture makes them ideal meat substitutes.
There’s no doubt that mushrooms are healthy, but how feasible is it to grow them in our homes? Many of us have heard stories about mushrooms being grown in places like abandoned mines. Plus, mushrooms grow from microscopic spores, instead of seeds. Still, believe it or not, mushrooms are fairly easy — and fun — to grow.
Mushroom spores need to be mixed with a nutrient-rich base like sawdust, grain or straw. This mixture will develop mycelium: thin, soft, white threads (think of mold). Once mycelium develops, it’s called “spawn.” For the best mushroom crop, spawn should be spread on a substrate (base material). Common substrates include cardboard, straw, logs, manure and grain; but other materials like coffee grounds and tea leaves can be used.
Because each variety prefers different substrates and growing conditions, getting a mushroom harvest is a bit of an art. First-time growers should consider using a kit. Kits come complete with spawn, substrate, instructions, and often additional supplies like water misters and plastic sheeting. Growing mushrooms from kits is a breeze, and it offers a terrific chance of success.
Experimenting with Spawn and Substrate
Kits are great because they give you a chance to see what’s involved in the process. But once you’ve tried a kit, it can be more fun to experiment with spawn and substrates. Start by researching different mushroom varieties and the types of substrates and growing conditions each requires. Once you decide on a mushroom variety, look online for spawn suppliers.
Using your own substrates is part of the fun, and it’s a money-saver. Most substrates do need to be pasteurized before use to kill off harmful bacteria and fungi, but the process is fairly simple. Common methods include baths in hot water, hydrogen peroxide or lime, and cold incubation.
Cardboard is an exception. Since most other fungi and bacteria won’t grow on cardboard, it doesn’t need to be pasteurized before use. Simply tear waste cardboard into small pieces and soak in water for at least an hour. Once it’s drained, it’s ready to use.
Cultivating mushroom spores so that you can bypass spawn suppliers is, unfortunately, labor-intensive and costly. It requires a sterile workplace, as well as a pressure cooker or autoclave. However, if you become an avid mushroom producer, you might want to look into cultivating your own spores, too.
A Step-by-Step Guide
- Buy a mushroom kit or spawn.
- If you’re not using a kit, prepare the substrate, and then inoculate it with spawn.
- Place the inoculated substrate in the best possible environment for the variety. Most mushrooms grow best if the temperature is around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but some varieties will perform better in temperatures that are slightly cooler or warmer. Some light is OK, but keep the substrate away from direct sunlight. Basements often work well for growing mushrooms, as does the space under your kitchen sink.
- Keep the inoculated substrate moist by covering it with a damp cloth or a sheet of plastic that has some holes punched in it for air circulation. Remove the covering and spritz with non-chlorinated water two to three times a day.
- Depending on the variety chosen, the quality of the spawn, and the suitability of the growing environment, tiny mushrooms may begin growing within a few days to a few weeks. This process is called “pinning.”
- Once your mushrooms begin pinning, they will mature quickly, usually within a few days.
- The method of harvesting your mushroom depends on the variety you are growing. Some should be cut at the stem; others should be broken off in clumps.
And that’s it! Who knew it could be so easy to grow mushrooms? It really isn’t all that different from growing vegetables, except you are using spawn instead of seeds, and darkness instead of light. Because they prefer cool, dark environments, and require only a little bit of space, mushrooms are the perfect indoor winter crop.
Have you ever grown mushrooms? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:
It’s eye-opening to learn about the wild things that grow in one’s backyard. It all started when I spotted some interesting looking mushrooms through the window. They were driving my husband crazy by growing on his well manicured lawn. One Saturday, I headed outside a little early to […]
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There’s more than one way to plant a bounteous vegetable crop. It’s possible to have a hearty garden even if you don’t have space in the backyard, even if you don’t have a patio or balcony for containers, and even in the dead of winter.
The approach may be different than planting seeds in the ground, but it isn’t difficult to grow vegetables in the convenience of your toasty, warm home. And, unlike growing vegetables outdoors, you’ll have total control over temperature, water and light – all without bothersome bugs and pesky weeds.
You may, however, need to provide supplemental lighting, especially if you’re growing vegetables indoors during the winter months. If the atmosphere in your home is dry, mist the plants frequently or raise the moisture level with a humidifier.
Vegetables aren’t fussy about containers. Nearly anything will suffice, as long as it has a good drainage hole in the bottom. Use a good quality potting mix. Don’t attempt to use garden soil; it won’t work.
Starter plants may be difficult to find, but if you plant seeds, the top of the refrigerator is a good place to provide a little extra warmth for germination.
Now that you know the scoop on growing vegetables indoors, here is a list of the best, indoor-friendly veggie plants.
1. Tomatoes do well indoors with plenty of light and warmth, but they need a good-sized container – preferably at least five gallons, even if you grow dwarf or patio varieties. Once the tomatoes bloom, you’ll probably have to help with pollination by giving the plants a gentle shake to release the pollen. Choose indeterminate tomatoes, which will grow and product fruit indefinitely.
2. Eggplant and peppers belong to the same plant family as tomatoes, and their growing conditions are similar. Look for dwarf varieties that take up less valuable growing space.
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3. Carrots generally need deep soil to accommodate the long roots, but you can plant dwarf or round types successfully in pots. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface of moist potting soil, and then clip the tiny seedlings to ½ inch apart soon after they germinate. Once the carrots reach 3 inches, thin them again to a distance of about an inch.
4. Radishes are easy to grow just about anywhere, and growing them indoors is no exception. Like carrots, round or dwarf varieties fit best in containers.
5. Potatoes don’t require a lot of space, but they need large, deep pots because you’ll need to add straw or compost to build up layers over the plants as they grow. You can even grow potatoes in a garbage bag with the top rolled down; then roll up the top as they grow.
6. Mushrooms are a fun indoor crop. It’s easy to get started with kits, but you can also purchase mushroom spawn and do it yourself. The growing medium depends on the type of mushroom, but you may need to stock up on straw or sawdust. (Or rotten manure if your mushrooms are in a garage).
7. Beets do fine in lower temperatures, but they need plenty of light. Don’t crowd the plants, as beets need space for the roots to develop.
8. Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that you can plant in a small pot if you’re low on space. Like beets, lettuce is a cool season vegetable that doesn’t require a lot of heat.
9. Green onions do great in a sunny window. They don’t require much growing space if you harvest them while they’re small.
What would you add to our list? Share your suggestions in the section below:
Growing Mushrooms In A Laundry Basket Grow mushrooms with a basket and some straw and have them literally coming out of your ears. Thought you might like to see a great way to grow mushrooms outdoors if you have a shady place that gets watered regularly… Great for an emergency food source or just save money at …
Poisonous Mushrooms 101 Beware of Poisonous Mushrooms… One wrong mouthful and you could die! That’s how deadly they can be. I am no expert at mushrooms and I do not pretend to be… I went hunting for some good info on this subject and I came across his article from wildernessawareness.org. It is a great article …
I have been gathering wild fruits, vegetables and other wild, edible plants for more than 40 years. Every walk I take into a field or forest presents me with new combinations and possibilities for something that can be consumed as a survival food or as part of great meal. However, I also find myself looking with alarm at many wild plants that I know to be toxic, if not deadly. This is especially true for mushrooms.
For a number of years when my sons were younger I was involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. One of the things I would do at troop campouts and jamborees is conduct field classes on foraging edible, wild plants.
This always concerned me because many young boys would quickly get the idea in their head that they could eat anything out there. As a result, I would always spend the first half of our hike identifying poisonous wild plants. I wanted to send the message that a lot of what grows in the wild knows how to defend itself, and poison is the first line of defense that many plants present.
Wild Plants Can be Poisonous
In that regard, some mushrooms top the list. So we’re going to begin with a review of the bad guys. Here’s a link to photos of the most common poisonous mushrooms. They tend to grow in the ground and often have unique characteristics in terms of coloration and shape. Unfortunately, some look common and similar to popular edible mushrooms, such as the “false-morel.”
“When it Doubt, Throw it Out”
That’s the mantra for mushroom foragers. Even experienced mushroom hunters will take a pass on a questionable mushroom. If you’re in doubt don’t even harvest it. Check it with your field guide and if you’re not sure, don’t even put it in the bucket.
This may discourage you from mushroom foraging, but don’t let it. Some edible varieties are distinctive, easy to spot and have characteristics you can easily identify. It also helps if you take your first few forays into mushroom land with a mushroom expert, but if you don’t know anyone with that experience we’ll hopefully give you some preliminary advice.
Where to Find Wild, Edible Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a fungus and as a result are ubiquitous. They’re everywhere from our backyards to fields and forests. Many grow from rotting tree stumps or composting plant concentrations. They emerge quickly, usually in the night. And they deteriorate just as quickly.
Typically if they emerge from the ground there is a composting source beneath the soil such as a rotting tree branch or a layer of compacted leaves and grasses. It’s sometimes hard to find ground mushrooms unless the ground is relatively clear of brush, grass and scrub. I’ve had great luck walking through stands of pine because the needles act as a natural mulch and the mushrooms will easily poke through the carpet of needles. I gathered close to 100 morels in a small stand of pines this way a couple of years ago. In the fall, many mushrooms emerge from the knots of tree branches that have died and are in some state of decay. That’s why you have to always remember to look up.
One thing you’ll learn quickly is that mushroom foraging is going to leave you turning your head and neck like a jet pilot. They grow on the ground, on trees and stumps at eye-level, and high in the dead branches of trees above you. Just take your time and enjoy the casual pace of your hike.
The following are five mushrooms commonly found:
These appear in early to mid-spring after the first wildflowers begin to emerge. They are considered an absolute delicacy in many parts of North America. They tend to grow in groups and can be dried for later use, or used within a few days to a week after harvest. Pay close attention to the photos in the link and take note of the photo of the false morel.
2. Golden chanterelles
Another very popular mushroom that grows across North America and appears from June to September is the chanterelle. They’re usually found in the woods, often in pine stands or under stands of oaks and maples.
There are two similar mushroom varieties that are not poisonous but toxic to some degree, so do your homework.
3. Black trumpets
Black trumpets are related to chanterelles but have a distinctive, trumpet shape. It’s the kind of mushroom you would typically avoid, but if you’ve found a true black trumpet they are very good to eat. They tend to grow out of rotting stumps
and deadfalls in deciduous forests.
4. Porcini mushrooms
Porcini tend to emerge from compost in the ground and can be found in fields and forests. Their color varies from a light red to shades of brown. Make sure you use your mushroom guide or follow the link above to correctly identify them.
5. Hen of the woods
This is considered the bonanza for any mushroom forager. They have a wonderful flavor, keep well, and grow in bunches up to 50 pounds. They appear in the fall and grow on the trunks of deadfall trees and the base of stumps. The largest bunch I ever harvested was about 20 pounds and I
quickly called it a day after that find.
When Are Mushrooms at Their Best?
The day after first emergence is the prime time to harvest mushrooms. It may be hard to know this has occurred if you’re exploring an area that’s new to you, but their color, texture and overall appearance should look fresh, yield when squeezed and have no powdery spores present. Spores are essentially mushroom seeds and if you’ve ever kicked a mushroom in a field to reveal a puff of what looks like smoke, you know what the spores look like.
Mushroom Harvesting Tools
The tools you use to harvest mushrooms can vary from gloves and a bucket to long poles made from electric conduit with a flat blade at one end to cut the stems of tree mushrooms. Here’s a checklist if you’re going out to do some serious mushroom hunting:
- 1 to 5 gallon plastic bucket
- Knife for slicing stems from the ground or deadfall trees
- 1 gallon plastic bags if you want to separate species of mushrooms
- A tree pole usually in sections and often made from thin tubes of electric conduit.
- A Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms
If you are planning to do some serious tree mushroom hunting you might consider a net as well. This can be a fishing net or butterfly net. The reason is that mushroom are delicate and if they fall onto hard ground, branches or even your hand, they can break into numerous pieces. A net gives you a fighting chance to catch it in one piece.
Cleaning and Keeping Your Wild Mushrooms
Wild mushrooms should be refrigerated in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Do not wash them before packaging them in their plastic bags. Try to use them within a few days of harvest. Before use, wash them under cold, running water. Many disagree with this washing step, but as a former chef I know it has no adverse effect. Let them drain on paper towels a bit before slicing or dicing and adding to a salad or sauté pan.
You also can dehydrate wild mushrooms and reconstitute them later. Use a standard food dehydrator and if the mushrooms are large you will want to slice them before dehydrating them. If properly dehydrated, mushrooms can be refrigerated, frozen or stored in the pantry.
What mushrooms would you add to the list? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: