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Thursday, June 30, 2016

From weeds to mushrooms

Noxious weeds are abundant, especially this time of year and especially in our region. A little earlier this spring, I decided to reduce my weeding work throughout the next couple of years by sheet mulching some new areas, and re-doing some older sheet mulches that had decomposed. After discovering morels this spring along another sheet mulched area, I've been inspired to take weed suppression to the next level, by encouraging edible mushrooms to grow wherever I smother weeds with layers of organic material.

In my rhubarb garden, I laid old cotton sheets on the ground between plants. In the early spring, it looks like they are well spaced out, but by June, rhubarb covers this whole area. Weeds tend to hide under the plants and produce seed before I realize it. Smothering the open areas solves that problem.

Over the sheets I laid comfrey leaves harvested from the companion plants to my nearby apple trees.

On top of the comfrey, I arranged pieces of bark and slab-wood from my husband's sawmill. (Slab-wood is the edge of the log that has bark on it, which is removed to make a square cant for milling.)

I worked around some native plants that I enjoy, such as lupine and wax currant. The finished product: no weeds, and the rhubarb begins to take over...

Meanwhile, in another area where I was also installing fence, I used a similar process, driving the t-posts directly into a small hole in the sheets. This made a nice seal for keeping weeds out of the base of the post.

In the fencing area, I put slab-wood over the sheets and covered the whole thing with sawdust. 

(Before)
This pom-pom shrub was surrounded by invasive St. John's Wort. I smashed the weeds down, and laid cotton sheets overtop, working around some native bunch grasses.

(After)
Next I added slab-wood and leaves from last fall. It will be interesting to compare the results with the sawdust vs. comfrey vs. leaves for mulch, in combination with the same slab-wood.

Now to the next level: encouraging edible mushrooms.

The first method I tried was drying morels on newspaper, allowing the spores to fall onto the paper. I turned the morels every now and then to maximize the amount of paper inoculated with spores and to encourage even drying.

I put the mushrooms in jars to eat later. Then I tucked the newspaper under my slab-wood sheet mulch, favoring those pieces with charcoal bark from trees that burned during last year's Nine Mile fire. Since morels flourish following fires, I figured this might potentially encourage them to grow.


The second method I tried was the slurry method. I started with a glass gallon jar of water.

I added some water with molasses and sea salt, which had been heated together in a saucepan. 

Next I added the morels...

...and let it sit for a couple of days in a cool, dark place. Then I put the slurry into zippered plastic bags, and put them in my deep freezer. Next spring, when conditions are wet, I will pour the slurry onto my sheet mulched areas and see what happens!