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!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Old Time Jam

      Here are some sample recordings from the last old time jam at my house (hidden below the fold because the music plays automatically and I didn't want to get anybody in trouble at work).  The recordings can sound a little rough at some parts, but that's part of the essence of old time music.  I need to get better at recording, but I had fun with this side project anyway. While listening to the recording to separate the tracks, I noticed that there was a lot of laughter.  So even if we don't sound like a professional band (which we are not), we all had a lot of fun.  A little homemade mead, a few instruments and some friends makes for a great time.  I also realize that lately mosts of my posts have been about the banjo.  I don't think this is a bad thing, but I'll post about some other topics eventually.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Banjo Special - Prairie Home Companion

Photo from A Prairie Home Companion's photo archives.  

      Prairie Home Companion did a special on banjos last weekend.  If you haven't heard it, check it out.  Banjos appear on the show pretty frequently, but this whole episode was dedicated to this quintessential American instrument.  If you don't want to listen to the whole show, I have posted some highlights.

Here is a parody of a catchy tune called "The Fox."  It makes me think of Fantastic Mr. Fox and includes clawhammer and three-finger style banjo.

Here is an old song called "Down the Road," played in clawhammer style.

This is an awesome version of one of my favorites, "Soldier's Joy."  It definitely puts my version to shame.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More on the Mountain Banjo

Made from hide and wood, the mountain banjo changes with the barometer, and because the ingredients were once alive it is always in some stage of degeneration, rotting in the picker's arms.  There is a shuffle and ache in the sound worthy of the weak and vulnerable and broken...  Unlike a store-bought banjo, the homegrown version has a life of its own and is perpetually dying.

- Steven Harvey, Bound for Shady Grove 

      In an earlier post I wrote about my homemade mountain banjo.  It just wouldn't be right if I didn't at least mention Frank Proffitt.  So, here is my version of one of his songs.  I played it on my mountain banjo*, which is similar to the banjos he made and played.  The song is called "Rove Riley." I first heard it played by Frank Lindamood one day after work when I used to be at the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab.  Frank Lindamood was a carpenter there, and if I was lucky I could catch him playing the banjo in the wood shop before he left.  The aroma of pine and wood shavings on the floor really contributed to the overall experience.  Both Franks have influenced my playing.  In fact, Lindamood first introduced me to old time music and also referred me to some of the early Frank Proffitt recordings.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kelp Horn

      Here is a primitive horn I made out of bull whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana).  I didn't cure the kelp.  I just picked it up off the beach, chopped off both ends, and used it as a horn.  using a larger piece of kelp not shown in this video, I was able to get four different notes.  I consider that pretty good considering I have never played a horn or brass instrument.  Apparently, some people even make vuvuzelas out of the bull whip kelp.  If you are interested in other uses for the kelp, check out this website.  I tried to dry mine to make it last, but it just started to rot.  It is now composting in Portland, Oregon.  My favorite thing about the kelp horn was the response it got from a bearded man who was the epitome of an old seafaring man.  As I walked through a rock tunnel blasting the horn, I heard him ask, "Are there orcs coming?  I normally carry an elvish blade to warn me, but I forgot mine."  Later, as I was blasting it off on a rock with waves crashing all around, he suggested I stop.  "There are many sea beasts out there, and one could easily mistake that for a mating cry," he warned.  I doubted the existence of sea beasts, but I still wasn't going to hang out and test his theory.  As I was leaving the beach, he tipped his hat and thanked me and my brothers, who were also wielding horns, for the "seaweed symphony".  It's always nice to meet other people who have a sense of humor, an appreciation for Tolkein's works, and a sense of adventure.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oyster Mushrooms

A cluster of oyster mushrooms.  They were found on quaking aspen in WY and are probably the aspen oyster mushroom (Pleurotus populinus) instead of the true oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), but the photo does a good job of illustrating the growth form of oyster mushrooms.
      Two weeks ago, I was out in Oregon visiting my brother.  As we collected conifer boughs for a Christmas wreath, we noticed some edible* oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on old alders.  Some of the mushrooms were even poking through snow!  I was inspired to search for some "oysters" of my own once I returned to Alabama.  The Wednesday and Thursday brought some rain to the area, and it hasn't been too cold, so I thought there might be some around.  After dropping off my rent check at my landlord's, I figured I might as well take a quick walk down the wooded bike path that intersects his street.  The harvest was not great, but I did find one cluster of oyster mushrooms suggesting that there could be more around.