“1. Make Sure Your Bolete Doesn’t Stain Blue When Bruised
I know, this seems mean, but once you’ve found a bolete, cut into it or crush a corner. If the flesh rapidly stains blue, you may have an inedible type. Discard it unless you are an expert.
2. Make Sure Your Bolete DOES NOT Have Bright Red Or Yellow Pores
Some of the toxic boletes have brilliant red or yellow pores on the bottom. If your mushroom looks like that, there’s a good chance it’s not an edible bolete.”
So, after a few seconds of reflection, I must say I’d eat those giant boletes so fast you’d barely have time to say “garlic butter.”
Keep Watching for New Boletes!
The great thing about these mushrooms is that they’ll come back in that same location again and again as the weather induces fruiting. I used to walk a three-acre plot in my old neighborhood in the days after a heavy rain and hunt a variety of excellent mushrooms. I found some great stuff, including this amazing Lactarius indigo:
Mushrooms are just the reproductive portion of a larger organism beneath the earth.
Boletes, like many other mushrooms, often live in symbiotic harmony with certain species of trees. In this case, the boletes are living in a patch of oaks. They provide minerals to the tree roots and the trees provide them with sugars. Then, when the rainfall and temperatures are right, they produce mushrooms above the ground like the beautiful ones in J.C.’s photos.
Mushroom hunting doesn’t have to be terrifying. If you can ID some of the simple and safe types, you’ll have plenty of gourmet food. If you want to go deeper, you can, but I stick to the really easy ones like boletes, chanterelles, puffballs and a few others.
I’ve got a great library of mushroom books that have educated and inspired my shrooming over the years.
Some have said that Florida isn’t a great place for mushroom hunting. I disagree. I’ve found some great finds… and so have others, as J.C.’s giant Florida bolete mushrooms testify. Florida’s a great state!
I mean, look at that cover! Can’t you tell he’s my kind of guy?
David Arora’s book Mushrooms Demystified is a definitive classic on mushrooms and I own that one too and highly recommend it as well.
Thanks in large part to Arora’s writing, I lost some of my fear of mushrooms and took my first baby steps into foraging a few years ago. I harvested and ate chanterelles, boletes, puffballs and “old man of the woods” mushrooms I found in my old North Florida neighborhood – and they were great! I still stay clear of gilled mushrooms, because I’m a chicken and fear making a mistake, but the others I no longer fear.
All That the Rain Promises and More, despite being a “guide to Western mushrooms,” still contains many species found across North America and beyond. Mushroom spores spread by wind all around the world and they grow where they please.
I love this guy’s writing and humor. He’s both funny and highly knowledgeable… and this book is a great one to leave on your coffee table for visitors to peruse as they wonder at your brilliant and eclectic taste in books.
As one reviewer on Amazon writes:
“This year I suddenly realized how cool mushrooms are! (Or I’m just getting old.) For the past few months, in addition to scouring EVERYWHERE within a 3 mile radius of my West Seattle home, I’ve spent countless hours (days) searching Google for identification help, which I’m sure you know causes more harm than good at times.
I ordered this along with the Audobon Field Guide and they both arrived yesterday. Within minutes of opening this book, I identified 3 of the mushrooms sitting on my kitchen counter that I’d just spent half the day trying to figure out online! Pictures are great because they’re color-accurate and show the angles I need, it’s organized in a way that’s meaningful to me as a beginner, and the descriptions gave me long-overdue insight into concepts I’ve struggled with such as taxonomy, toxicity effects, and how to tell the difference between an edible delight vs. a gut-wrenching nightmare. He even includes ridiculously simple recipes. Most importantly, as a mushroom noob, his non-condescending, light-hearted humor, and intuitive writing style gave me the confidence to feel like I can actually do this.“
Many took offense at my use of 10-10-10, which I understand. Sure, it’s not “proper fertilizing,” if you’re an organic gardener. And it’s not mainstream permaculture, either.
Here’s the problem: many people will stick to their organic guns at all costs which means they lose sight of the goal.
If you need food, which we all do, and you want it to grow in your yard, taking the EVIL CHEMICAL option is better than letting things die in the sand while sticking to your principles.
Most of the time, though, you won’t have to bust out the 10-10-10. And I’m going to take that tack today and argue that you can feed everything without going to the store for chemicals.
In the case of the South Florida garden in the video, I was visiting family and they had very little available that I could use in the short period of time I was there so I went with the “let’s save these plants before they die as stunted little things” option.
If you read yesterday’s post based on the contact I received from H. D., you saw these pictures:
Does anything stand out to you in those photos?
Two things are there that I noticed immediately:
Patchy sand and pine trees.
Both are usually indicators of less-than-perfect soil for gardening and orchards. When even the weeds aren’t happy, cultivated trees and shrubs need more love than might be the case in someplace rich.
So, what’s a gal supposed to do when she has a ton of space and a wide range of species to fertilize?
Let’s jump in.
Mulch and Microbes
H. D. wrote in a follow-up email: “All of my plants are in desperate need of more love. I plan to begin fertilizing them asap.”
After watering, fertilizing is the next most important part of getting your orchard established.
My yard in North Florida was much like hers. It was a patchy, weedy, pasture-like expanse of stickers and grass. I used chemical fertilizer because I was so frustrated… and little happened. It may have been “proper fertilizing” by the modern farming book but there was something still missing.
The biggest change happened for my trees when I mulched them all heavily with the mulch from a tree company that was clearing the lines along our road.
I’m starting to see that the fungi and bacteria in the soil are at least as important as the minerals we add. A forest stays green and happy without any fertilizer being applied. All of the organic matter that is falling to the ground is utilized first by microorganisms and then reabsorbed by the roots of plants.
I would give each one of those trees a foot of mulch around them, at least up to 4′ out from the trunk of each one. A big ring.
Do this after a really good rain or after you soak the ground, then water that mulch in really well as well. Adding some handfuls of leaf mould gathered from around the base of happy trees in the nearby woods is a good idea as well. Sprinkle it around the trees, water, then mulch immediately so it doesn’t dry out. There are relationships happening between trees, fungi and bacteria that we hardly understand. Getting trees growing in pasture takes time but it’s jump-started by the invigoration of the soil around them with the type of organisms that live in harmony with trees.
Think of it like eating live foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, homemade vinegar or sauerkraut. The organisms in those foods make your gut healthy. A wide soil web makes your trees healthy and helps them “digest” the nutrients that are available.
I’m actually experimenting right now with this method of culturing microbes and will post more on it tomorrow.
I view mulch as both a covering for the ground and a fertilizer, which is why I like to mulch with materials that are organic and do not take a super-long time to break down. A mix of species, as found in tree company mulch, is great. It might have pine, oak, cabbage palms, vines, bay trees and who knows what other species. Hard and soft woods, large and small pieces, different plants with different mineral contents: this is great for nutrition, worms, fungi and your trees.
Even just letting patches of weeds and grass grow, then chopping them down and throwing them around the base of your trees is GREAT!
I grow Mexican sunflowers for this reason, letting them grow large, then cutting them down, then letting them grow back again. All the chopped pieces are thrown around my fruit trees and act as a year-round slow release fertilizer. You can see me doing this in my film Compost Everything: The Movie, in which I demonstrate and talk about many of the methods I share in my book.
Plants work hard to grab what they need from the soil. When they grow large, you can just cut them down and feed them to your trees. A perfectly mown and tended lawn isn’t good for gathering this kind of biomass, but tall weeds and forests are.
So – lesson one for getting trees going: mulch!!!
When trees and shrubs really look like they need a pick-me-up, or if you’re just getting a system started, as H. D. is, it’s time to pull out the big guns.
My favorite way to feed trees, shrubs and gardens is with a big barrel of liquid anaerobic compost fertilizer.
I put barrels near where I’d like to feed plants and let them sit out in the field, topping off with water and new ingredients as needed.
Manure, compost, urine, fish, seaweed and Epsom salts make for incredible fertilizing power. Make it and pour it around your trees, right into the mulch, then see what happens.
Some Final Thoughts on Proper Fertilizing
Though you may feed your trees and green them up, there’s always the possibility that there are still some micronutrients missing. This concept was really driven home in my mind when I read Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer’s book The Intelligent Gardener.
Before reading it, I never thought all that hard about the many minerals our plants need and how they relate to our own health. I scattered as many different sources of fertilty around my gardens from kelp meal to eggshells, stew bones to weed tea… but Solomon and Reinheimer literally turned it into a science.
They advocate fertilizing to specific ratios as based on complete soil tests, which if you’re a data geek and love that sort of thing, you may want to do.
I just keep switching all the ingredient in my compost tea barrels like an anarchist since getting that deep into numbers isn’t good for me.
Here are my final thoughts:
Mulch well; then get some rich tea going or a good organic mix of fertilizer; then hit your trees every month from February through August; then quit so they can safely enter dormancy.
For blueberries, throw on elemental sulfur and all the coffee grounds and mulch with all the rotten pine bark you can scavenge.
Don’t throw away any logs or leaves. Instead, put them around the bases of your trees to feed the fungi and good guys long-term.
You will succeed – it’s just a matter of growing trees like they grow in a forest… plus giving them a good hit of fertility so they can win their battle against the grass and the brutal Florida weather. Proper fertilizing the way nature does it – with a few tweaks – will make it happen!
I received this email last week asking for some small farm advice:
So my wife and I and the 7 soon to be 8 little ones (OK, the 13 year old isn’t that little, but she is short for her age) seem to be closing in on getting a 6 acre farmette under contract to be bought here at the end of May.
I grew up on a farm, but it was agribusiness/Monsanto model because my parents couldn’t imagine doing it any other way (though they certainly complained a lot about how they did do it). Anyway, I was wondering if you had any good gardening/mini-farming book or website recommendations?
I am eagerly looking forward to putting my little children in charge of growing wormies and harvesting “worm tea” or whatever name that was that you gave it. Not that I’ve got a problem with doing it, but the second oldest daughter (10) and the oldest son (7ish) will absolutely love doing it. Part of the whole farming idea is giving them the chance to really contribute to the family in meaningful ways that they can own and be proud of.
I know I’m in Illinois and you’re in Florida and the climates are rather different, but still, I’d love to hear any advice or recommendations you’ve got. We’ll probably have 4 of the 6 acres in pasture for a rotation of dairy cows, egg layers, broilers, and pigs eventually, but we’ll be gardening and orcharding as much of the rest as we can. Though we are planning to leave some of the big maples up to sugar.
First of all – congratulations on raising a large family! I wish more homesteaders would do the same. Now let’s jump into resources.
I’ve also heard good things about The Resilient Farm and Homestead. I own a copy but have it packed somewhere at the moment and haven’t been able to read it yet, alas. The rest of the books on my list will also help give you ideas, but some are definitely more applicable than others.
Locally, be sure to visit the county agricultural extension and pick up all the data and handouts they have available. Ask what local farmers and gardeners are growing. Also check Meetup.com for gardening and permaculture Meetup groups. Every time you see someone with a nice farm or garden, try to stop and meet them. Leave a note on their gate if they’re not home!
Six acres is a lot of space to tend. Grazing animals really help keep pastures under control, though, so that’s good.
If you have wild areas and trees (since you already have some maples, it sounds like you may have more species too), don’t cut anything down or pull anything up until you know what it is. You could have wild nuts and fruits, not to mention trees that host edible mushrooms around their roots – some of which are quite valuable.
I gathered this basket of delicious chanterelles from around the base of a local oak tree – if that land had been cleared, these wouldn’t be there!
There could be valuable native medicinal plants or edible berries you’re not aware of yet. Even after a couple of years on my single acre I was still finding useful plants here and there. Don’t be too hasty to tear anything out!
Also, if you do take down a tree – compost it. All of it. Unless you chop the wood up for your fireplace, that is.
I still regret burning multiple oak trees six years ago when we bought our old homestead. I wanted them GONE RIGHT AWAY; instead, I should have made a pile of the limbs and trunks to feed the soil, edge garden beds and harbor fungi.
Finding Your Focus
Before you jump in to a bunch of projects and burn yourself out, it’s important to figure out what you want to do. Ask questions like:
Is this going to be a profitable farm or just a hobby?
Will my children be able to make money off this farm?
Will I be willing to work like crazy outside?
Are we really good with animals? All animals?
Can I keep a large garden fed and tended?
Am I hoping to feed my family from the farm?
My own farming and homesteading is primarily focused on research, not making money or producing crops for market. I know that a lot of what I try will fail. We raised goats for a while, then decided that wasn’t for us. We tried different breeds of chickens, plus ducks and guinea fowl. We raised meat birds and learned to butcher them, then stopped. One year we tested dent and flint corns in multiple different plots. Another year we spent creating beds of sugar cane and looking for simple ways to make our own sugar. We planted trees in the food forest that were unsuited to the climate, just to see if they’d live.
If I were interested in making money rather than gathering knowledge for this site and for my books, I would go straight to gardening in double-dug beds and growing tried-and-true high value crops.
If I just wanted to feed my family, I’d concentrate on chickens, yams, sweet potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and some highly nutritious easy-to-grow greens. I wouldn’t bother with fun experiments like trying to grow coffee or grafting nectarines onto wild plums.
Other Small Farm Advice
Tip 1: Plant Edible Trees
When I get a new homestead, the first thing I’m going to do is plant fruit and nut trees. They take the longest to get going but they’re some of the very best investments you can make. You’ll have fruit for decades or even generations. Don’t wait on trees!
Tip 2: Garden Well in a Small Space First
Once you master a smaller garden, it’s easy to make it bigger. Tilling up an acre to start with may just end in frustration. Remember: you need to feed, water and feed everything well. You need to be able to deal with bug infestations and keep the soil in good shape. Learn on a smaller plot, then grow!
Tip 3: Secure Water Supplies
Make sure you have water stored up in multiple ways. City water and a well would be great. A tank fed by the roof is good. So are ponds. A creek is awesome. Just know that without access to water, everything else will fail. Build your gardens and animal areas around water sources first.
Tip 4: Keep the Garden Close
It’s best if you can step right out of the back door into the garden. Bonus points if you have to walk through the garden to get to your car. You’ll see problems this way. Wilting, insects, yellow leaves – issues can be dealt with right away. A garden far away will often fail unless you’re very dedicated.
Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening isn’t a rant on the end of the world or “an argument sort of book”. It’s a how-to manual on feeding yourself even if things get tough. You can use it as a crash-course in gardening, a way to get started in your backyard, or as a book or tried-and-tested ways to feed and tend your plants when everything around you is falling apart. It also covers the excellent man-powered tools we’ve tested on our own homestead.
We’re too uptight about making compost. Why do we feel like it needs to happen right now? Or this season? Or even this decade?
Nature doesn’t worry about such things. She takes her time when she feels like it.
One of the best sources of long-term soil fertility is fallen trees and branches. Fungi consume the fallen wood and turn it into rich humus and soil fertility which in turn can be utilized for the growth of new trees.
Check out this log I flipped over in the food forest:
See how that fungi is eating its way right into the wood. That’s some serious composting.
In my film Compost Everything: The Movie I show off how I turn logs into soil rather than burning them or, heaven forbid, sending them off to the county dump.
Use logs for the edges of garden beds or around your fruit trees. Drop them at the edges of paths in your food forest, like I do in mine. Then let the insects, bacteria and fungi do the rest.
You don’t have to do everything at once. Just let it roll along and next thing you know those logs and sticks will be transformed into rich soil.
Despite the perfect St. Augustine grass and complete lack of species diversity, there was no stopping these guys from showing up all around a few oaks at the edge of this gas station parking lot in Ft. Pierce.
My children actually spotted them first while we were heading home from a Thanksgiving visit to family.
I’m very proud of my young foragers. Here’s a close-up of one of these beautiful boletes:
They almost look like bread rolls rising from the soil, pushing through strands of grass and reaching for the sunlight:
If you find boletes and aren’t sure if they’re safe to eat or not, I recently made a video on identifying edible boletes:
I love how mushrooms manage to pop up in the most absurd places.
I wonder if fairies sit on these mushrooms on moonlit nights?
I was out with a couple of clients yesterday doing a horticultural analysis of a new property they’d bought, when one of the ladies picked up something and said, “what’s this?”
That is a species of Ganoderma – known in Asian medicine as a “reishi” mushroom.
They feed on decaying trees. When we looked around, we found a half-dozen or more growing near the first one around the base of a dead oak.
Here’s one we didn’t pick:
They’re really beautiful and weird.
Though they’re non-toxic, they’re not at all good as a culinary mushroom. I’ve made them into tea by chopping them into little pieces and boiling until the water turns dark. It’s a bitter, earthy brew that’s supposed to be incredibly good for your immune system. I’m probably doing it wrong, though, so don’t just take my word on the preparation method.
Also, don’t go eating any mushrooms you’re not sure about. They defend themselves really well… meaning that many will kill you.
When you see mushrooms growing in your yard… how do you respond?
I used to know a neurotic gardener who would pull up all the mushrooms that grew in her yard and throw them away.
This is… stupid. Mushrooms aren’t going to harm your lawn or your garden. In fact, they play a key role in recycling nutrients. Without fungi, fallen trees would sit around for ages without rotting into the soil.
Though I titled this post “mushrooms create soil,” it’s not quite accurate, since mushrooms are just the fruiting body of a larger fungal organism.
The mushrooms that pop up in your yard aren’t just a “here today and gone tomorrow” plant-like organism that’s popped in for a brief visit before heading off for the great compost heap in the sky. They are just the “flower,” so to speak, of a multi-threaded fungi that may have been living beneath your front yard since before you were born.
When you see mushrooms, you are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Many of the common mushrooms we see are very busy at an important task: the task of creating soil. Without fungi, we would have no forests.
These little mushrooms are chewing down this mulch into rich humus.
If see mushrooms in your yard, be glad. They’re usually breaking down material that plants can’t access and making it available to the ecosystem.
They’re not some sort of evil invader – they’re a garden helper that’s actively engaged in making your property more fertile.
Wrapping up my mushroom kick, I put together a final video on mushroom foraging, this time on five easy to ID Florida edible wild mushrooms:
The Florida edible mushrooms I believe are easiest to identify are boletes, puffballs, chanterelles, indigo milk-caps and ganodermas (or reishi). None of them are too hard to identify and their possible toxic lookalikes aren’t deadly.
Again, as I’ve said before: Don’t go hunting and eating wild mushrooms based just on my knowledge – go check out your edible Florida mushrooms with a local expert to make sure they are in fact edible. If they’re not, you could die. Badly.
Why Hunt For Edible Wild Mushrooms?
If you learn to hunt down your own wild edible mushrooms, you’ll gain a skill set that will last a lifetime. Don’t be frightened. Start with some good guide books, ask a lot of questions, interact with other folks online, be careful, learn to make spore prints… and then, eventually, you’ll be safely picking and eating some of the best food you’ve ever had.
Some of these are edible mushrooms… some or not! Learn the difference and you won’t die.
The edible Florida mushrooms I’ve discovered so far have become a regular part of my diet in season. I don’t bother with anything that is even slightly hard to ID or that has a deadly poisonous lookalike.
If they have gills (with the exception of the easy-to-spot indigo milk cap and chanterelles, which don’t really have gills but ridges), I chuck them. I know I lose a lot of good edible mushrooms that way – but I also stay safe. One day I may feel confident enough to jump in, but thus far I’m still hauling in plenty of mushrooms that are tasty AND safe.
The gilled mushrooms have some deadly members. When there are so many other edible wild mushrooms that don’t have killer cousins… why mess around?
Learning how to identify chanterelles is a great place for a new mushroom hunter to start. After puffballs, boletes, morels and the somewhat rare indigo milk-cap, chanterelles are likely the next easiest wild edible mushroom to identify.
Chanterelles are easy to spot, easy to tell apart from poisonous lookalikes and they taste delicious. Today I’m going to show you how to identify chanterelle mushrooms in the wild – and where to find them.
How To Identify Chanterelle Mushrooms
DISCLAIMER: If you kill yourself eating wild mushrooms, do NOT come and haunt me. Also, don’t sue me if you spend multiple days vomiting and bleeding from your stupid little greedy eyes. Check with an expert first and be smart. Some mushrooms are deadly poisonous.
When I first started mushroom hunting, I wasn’t sure what chanterelles were really like. I’d never handled one before or noted the way their “gills” weren’t really gills. I started with some great guide books, but I still needed some hands-on experience to identify chanterelle mushrooms with complete certainty. The folks at permies.com were a big help nailing down what I had.
My problem was that I was looking at the shape without knowing what set chanterelles apart from other similarly shaped mushrooms.
NOT chanterelle mushrooms. The gills are wrong, the texture is wrong and the growth pattern is wrong.
These, for instance, are NOT chanterelles:The giveaway is really the gills. Chanterelles don’t have sharp gills that crumble and break when you run your finger over them. They have folds, instead:
Identify chanterelles once and you’ll have it forever.
Notice how the ridges run down the stem a bit, rather than terminating with the cap. The texture of chanterelles is also firm and non-crumbly.
Here’s a video I just did on identifying chanterelle mushrooms – you’ll see what I mean:
How To Find Chanterelle Mushrooms
Chanterelle mushrooms usually pop up in summer and fall. They grow ONLY near trees, not alone in fields. They also don’t grow in big clumps or on rotting wood. You can’t really grow them at home, so if you find a patch of them, return there year after year to pick more… they’ll be back. I check every week on the patch in our neighborhood.
Note on a chanterelle lookalike: A common chanterelle lookalike is the poisonous Jack O’ Lantern mushroom. You can see that menace here. It definitely looks similar but there are a few dead giveaways. Michael Kuo relates at the link above:
“The Jack O’Lantern mushroom is sometimes confused with chanterelles–especially when it appears to be growing terrestrially rather than from wood (see the top illustration). However, chanterelles rarely grow in dense clusters, and feature false gills, while the Jack O’Lantern is usually clustered and features true gills.”
Yep. All the chanterelles I’ve found have been spaced out here and there around the base of a tree, NOT in clusters or clumps. As I related above, the “gills” are the dead giveaway on chanterelles.
Get your chanterelle ID down and you’ll be picking baskets for the table!
This time of year is a great time to find chanterelles – pick up a good mushroom guide, get out there and get looking. You might be surprised how easy and safe mushroom hunting can be.