Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day

Google knows how St. Patrick's Day should be celebrated. Source: google.com

      I am always amused by the Google doodles and today I was glad to see that for St. Patrick's Day Google portrayed an Irish band. This is how St. Patrick's Day should be celebrated (except with people, not shamrocks). So rather than drinking green beer, find a nice stout, Irish red, or Irish whiskey and some Irish musicians. You will have a better time. Also, check out this biology drinking song that is made to sound like an old Irish pub song. If you want to see more Google Doodles, check out the Google Doodle Museum.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Foraging - Luck, Experience and Observation

A bad picture of a good harvest of morels found near Auburn, AL.
      Last year, I blogged about finding morels, but I mentioned that I missed the main flush.  The dried up and rotten morels that I found made me aware that I had missed a good flush, but I was happy to take home the few morels that flushed later and were in good condition.  What I was even more happy about was knowing a new location for morels.  I checked back once more last season with no luck, but I still knew that next year, I could come back to the patch.  In fact, my post from last year concluded with, "Even if the season is over, I am comforted by the fact that morels can be found here, and that I have patches to search next year."  A year sure does go fast, especially when you fill your time with grad school, music, brewing and foraging.  I went back to the same patch today and was rewarded with 4 or 5 pounds of morels.  That is how foraging works.  People are often surprised by the amount of mushrooms, or any other wild edible, I can harvest in short leisurely walk.  I'm often called lucky, and some of my success is serendipitous, but my success is also a result of learning from years before, remembering (or writing down) my observations, patience, and repeating what worked while adapting what failed.  Such is the case with these morels.  Last year I was a little late, but this year I returned sooner and was rewarded.  To say that I only spent a few hours collecting these morels would be erroneous, because it would not account for the countless hours I've walked the woods looking for suitable habitat, the time I spent paying attention to the seasons, plants and weather to determine when I should go searching, and last year's effort to locate the specific patch.  So, if you ever have a "failed" day of foraging, remember that it is not really a failed trip.  Surely, at least some of the knowledge you gain from the trip will be useful.  At the very least, you will learn when and where to NOT forage for whatever it is you happen to be searching for.

*Note:  It is your responsibility to correctly identify any plant or fungi that you plan on eating.  Consult a local expert and/or an accurate field guide.  Do not eat any wild plant or fungus unless you are 100% sure of its identity.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Huge Flush of Chicken of the Woods

A nice flush of chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphereus) This particular flush had a different growth form than the mushrooms I found at a different site last year.  They were much thinner,  and had wavier margins with much less yellow (Photo by Jenna Crovo).
      Last year, I wrote about finding chicken of the woods, also known as the sulphur shelf (Laetiporus sulphereus), in the smokies.  Two weeks ago, I returned to the same area to conduct the annual fish survey, and hoped to find more.  Often times, our hopes only dissapoint us, but not this time!.  I have always said that foraging is part knowledge and part serendipity.  You must be knowledgeable about what you are searching for, because if you are searching during the wrong time, in the wrong place, or in the wrong habitat, you aren't likely to find what you seek.  However, even if you are armed with a lifetime of knowledge, you can still find things when you aren't actively searching for them.  That's why it always pays to be observant of what is around you.  Such was the case with these chicken of the woods mushrooms.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer Oyster Mushrooms

Some oyster mushrooms I found in Auburn, AL.
      In many areas of the country, it is common for the edible oyster mushroom* (Pluerotus sp.) to flush out during the summer.  Weber and Smith report that oyster mushrooms can be found during any month in the southeast, but they are most common during cooler weather.  I typically find them in the late fall and winter, so on Monday I was pleasantly surprised to find 1.25 pounds of oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) on a log that produced last winter.  In about thirty seconds, I had quickly gathered enough mushrooms for a few meals.  I guess the lesson is to always be observant because you never know what you will find.  If you do find what you suspect to be an oyster mushroom*, make sure it has decurrent and non-serate gills, and a white or lilac spore print.  So far, all the oyster mushrooms I have found in AL have had lilac spore prints.  You can read more about them at this post or here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Brighten up a Rainy Day with Some Chanterelles

A chanterelle found in Auburn, AL.  I'm calling this one a smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus lateritius) because the ridges (technically false gills) are shallow.   This was a very mature specimen, and it these were the most distinct false gills we saw all day. We found other species too.
      When this month of rain started, I was really excited.  My garden was getting free water, lakes and ponds that needed water filled, and the dry ground readily absorbed water.  However, after a month and a half of rain, the situation didn't look so well.  My garden was suffering from overwatering and mildew, creeks were flooded, and the ground was saturated.  Many folks I knew were ready for a break.  On the other hand, Brian Folt and I were looking on the bright side.  Literally.  We went out one after noon to look for a few species of brightly colored, edible* mushrooms known as chanterelles.  I believe we found three species, but there is some confusion about this group, so I am curious what others think.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bury Me Beneath the Willow

      I did a little jamming with my friend Michael "Beard" Bracht.  He has been trying to help me learn to jam rather than just play the melody.  In this video, I play the melody and then he does some improvisation on his mandolin.  I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wild Leeks in Talladega

Broad-leafed wild leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) that my lab mate found in Talladega National Forest.

      I was doing some field work in Talladega National Forest and my lab mate spotted a patch of broad-leafed wild leeks (Allium ampeloprasum)*!  We improvised some digging sticks to harvest a few, but we were sure to leave some to repopulate the patch.  The digging sticks worked pretty well, and unlike shovels, they don't chop bulbs into pieces.  They also leave the soil behind so the habitat isn't disturbed as much as it is when using shovels.  The leeks were very strong and spicy when raw, but had a pleasant flavor when cooked.  None of the leeks had flowers yet, and they appeared to be actively growing, so they should be around for a little while.   Readers in more northern states should have plenty of time to find them.  However, before you go out harvesting leeks, learn how to identify them.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Songs From' the Trail: Rocky Top on Rocky Top

Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt's to rocky by far
That's why all those folks on Rocky Top
Drink their corn from a jar
- Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, from "Rocky Top"

      A couple of weeks ago, my uncle requested this song.  So being the logical person I am, I grabbed my homemade banjo and some hiking stuff, picked up a friend, drove to the Smokies, hiked up to Rocky Top, and then recorded this song.  Well, that is not exactly what happened, but it sounds cooler this way (real trip report coming soon).  I don't need to write much because this song is widely known, but I will say that the banjo withstood the cruelty of the trail very well, and I would recommend one as a hiking banjo with only small changes (check back later for more on that).  Now that I have actually been to Rocky Top, I keep wondering why anybody would try to grow corn up there.  Of course it won't grow!  More songs and trail reports to come as soon as I get video and pictures from Jonathan.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Old Yellow Dog

Brave boys here
Brave boys there
Brave boys here
Way down in Alabama
-Chorus from Old Yellow Dog Came Trottin' Through the Meeting House

      Here is a fun song I learned.  One of the verses is about a dog that walks through a church.  When I first moved to Alabama, my friend pointed out all the rural dogs, or "Alabama brown dogs" as she affectionately called them, that wander the country side.  Something about this song invokes an image of those dogs wandering around on a hot summer day.  I recently changed my head (from fiberskin to renaissance) and added a compensated bridge,  The banjo lost a little bit of it's mellow tone, but is a little louder.  The fifth string really pops, which I like.  It is, however, very hard to sing over.  Overall, I still think it was a good choice because it helps me fit in with string bands.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Morels Do Exist Near Auburn Alabama!

A thick-footed morel (Morchella crassipes) near Auburn, AL.  My friend Cody stumbled upon this patch.  I believe I owe him a beer.

     Contrary to what the locals have told me, morels do grow in the Auburn-Opelika area!  I'm not sure if the locals were just trying to protect their morels, or if they just didn't know what morels were, but I am sure that they are here.  I don't want to give away my exact spot, but I will tell you that they are north of the fall line.  My very fortunate friend also had black morels (Morchella angusticeps) pop up in her Auburn yard!