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Friday, November 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Conditions just right for mushrooms

After record heavy October 2016 rainfall, a variety of mushroom and fungi  sprouted up on Lela and Jim Yates property near Cheney, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
After record heavy October 2016 rainfall, a variety of mushroom and fungi sprouted up on Lela and Jim Yates property near Cheney, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

So I went to the dentist last week for a checkup. We’ve been going to the same place for a long time so it’s like visiting friends you only see twice a year. The staff members always have gardening questions that I answer. What else are you going to do with the cleaning tools hanging over your mouth?

Anyway, this visit’s question was about some mushrooms my hygienist and her neighbor have been finding in their yards this fall. She wanted to know if they are poisonous and how to get rid of them. She described the cap being dark tan; the bottom was a mustardy color with little pores instead of gills. I knew immediately it was a boletus, a very common mushroom found in lawns and fir and hemlock forests.

Are they edible? Probably, although I don’t pass final judgment unless I can see it. There are a couple of boletus that are poisonous. If they are edible, they are great sautéed in butter with some onion. I spent the rest of my time in the chair trying to figure out how to get her to take me to her house. Unfortunately, she said they’d been there about a week, which would make them too old to pick.

It’s been a banner year for mushroom hunting in the region. The cooler summer and August rains kicked the season off early in September. Wild mushrooms flourished even more as the weather stayed cool and wet. Several friends said they’d been finding all kinds of mushrooms in the Douglas fir forests on Mount Spokane, around Priest Lake and into North Idaho. Mushrooming was so good this year that one of our local grocery stores was even offering wild chanterelles for sale last week.

Should you get rid of them? No. You can get rid of the caps by simply raking or mowing them. Keeping them from coming back again is not practical or advisable and here’s why. The mushrooms we see popping up in our lawns are the fruiting body of fungal masses of tiny, white threads that live in the soil. Called mycelia, they are an important component of soil biology and their presence is indicative of healthy soil. The mycelia help break down organic matter like old leaves into nutrients that plants can use. For this reason, we should encourage them.

Preserving fungi in the soil has led to a completely new way of thinking about gardening over the past 10 years. Rather than tilling our gardens every spring, the new method calls for not tilling gardens so that the soil structure built by the mycelia stays intact. Instead, the garden should be covered with mulch and small spaces cleared for seeding and planting. When a crop is harvested, a cover crop of buckwheat should be planted to cover the bare soil. In the fall, the mulch and cover crops are chopped up and left. In the spring, the new crops are again planted through the mulch.

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