Tag Archive | fungi

Mushrooms: Grow your own?

a04ae0d805d61dfc083f01cf06ba6aca--science-puns-food-humorMushrooms have no chlorophyll and do not use sunlight or the process of photosynthesis to make their own food. Most of these fleshy, spore-bearing fungi are saprophytes, which means they derive their food from dead or decaying matter, but some are parasites, which feed on living hosts.

Mushrooms appear outdoors naturally from spring to late autumn, but because some of the wild ones are highly poisonous, it is essential to learn from an expert before attempting to harvest them.

Fortunately, there are a few cultivated types, such as shiitake, that do not pose the danger of wild ones and that can be started indoors from kits sold in catalogs, at garden centers, and over the Internet.

059-cartoon-mushroom-jokeCommercial button mushrooms require complete darkness, but most of the gourmet mushrooms grown indoors need some indirect light, says Paul Stamets, author of Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Regarding how much light is enough, Mr. Stamets says, “If there’s sufficient light to read the instructions on a mushroom kit, there’s enough light to grow them.”

474a524eae6c55c22fc9dbea5198a69eThe growing medium of choice is wood or straw, which must be kept evenly moist. Air temperatures typically range between 50º and 80ºF. With a bit of luck, mushrooms from kits will appear in about two weeks.

Watching the process can be a lot of fun, and most kits will yield a small crop, but growing your own is not a way to save money on mushrooms. If you plan to eat them often, you’ll still be buying most of your supply.

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Powdery Mildew

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce and St. Croix counties UW-Extension

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Powdery mildew on Begonias

Around midsummer, we start to see a whitish coating on leaves of many plants, caused by powdery mildew, a fungal disease. In the vegetable gardens, we see it on vine crops, including squash, pumpkins (Cucurbita) and cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). Landscape plants affected include bee balm (Monarda spp.), perennial Phlox and lilacs (Syringa spp.).  [Editor’s note: this year I also had in on my peonies.] Although the exact fungal disease organism that affects each plant is distinct, the fungi are closely related and appear in response to similar environmental conditions.

Most fungi like rainy, wet conditions, but powdery mildew prefers dry, humid conditions, exactly what we see in mid-summer! Luckily, on most landscape plants, powdery mildew is mostly a cosmetic issue. On vining vegetable plants, however, it can result in significant leaf loss and possibly plant death.

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Powdery mildew on squash vine

Vine crops should be treated as soon as symptoms appear to reduce spread. If you have a landscape plant that gets powdery mildew every year, you should preempt it in future years by using a fungicide before symptoms appear. Many commercial fungicides are labeled for use against powdery mildew. Caution is required when using fungicides because of the damage they can do to bees. Always read and follow label directions of the product you use.

You can also make a solution using baking soda. Spray the plants every seven to 14 days, beginning when they start leafing out. As always, its a good idea to pretest a small area to be sure your solution does not damage the plant.

  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons lightweight horticultural oil
  • 1 gallon water

To reduce problems with powdery mildew, choose resistant varieties of plants and space them far enough apart to encourage air movement, which results in lower humidity. Also, since spores can overwinter on plant debris, be sure to remove the destroy any material that falls to the ground at the end of the season.