Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Foraging: Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

I have fond memories of my Aunt (Tante) teaching me how to make hunter sauce with mushrooms (Jager Pilzsoße). She used fresh Chanterelles, but what I gleaned at the time, was the beauty behind foraging for mushrooms and the gift of learning how to cook them!

One in particular that I find quite often this time of year are:  Shaggy Mane (Corprinus comatus) also known as a Shaggy Ink Cap. One of my colleagues pointed them out to me many years ago and I am very thankful for that introduction.

This is the best way to forage. Garnering knowledge and true ID of the mushrooms before picking them.  There have been so many cases of folks eating wild mushrooms and becoming very ill. So I too will warn you - make sure your first go at identifying mushrooms is done with someone who can positively inspect them. You need vast knowledge of IDing the specimens before you ever consume them. 

I'm blessed to have a job where sometimes I just have to look down to find mushrooms. They truly "pop-up" out of no-where.  Foraging for them can come quite easily.

The best time to find Shaggy Mane's are in autumn. Especially after a wet bought and during a cool weather change.

These were in a grassy area, surrounded by trees. I usually find them in groupings. The odd one, here and there, but generally - when you see one, you see a bunch.

They stand straight up and range in sizes.

One of their identifiable features is white to brown flakey skin - eyelash flakes that curl upwards.

Another way to determine that they are the edible kind, is finding older mushrooms that bear the blackening "ink"staining at the base of the cap.  Shaggy Mane's almost look as though they are melting into tar.

Below, I have taken a sequence of photos showing the progression of inking that takes place.
 Here the cap is nearly separated from the stipe (stem). Think of an umbrella about to open.
Then the base starts to blacken at the very bottom of the cap.

The appearance of melting takes place, as the mushroom starts to deteriorate.

Oozing black ink begins to almost drip.

Shaggy Mane's have no shelf life. It's best to eat them as soon as you pick them. They don't store well.  When foraging, gently place them in a container lined with paper towel and cook within a few hours.

Plenty - just enough for a dinner is all I need.

Because these are from an urban environment, I wash them. Yes, I know, I too have read many cook books that state washing mushrooms is a no no. But these were not in the wild. I'm not going to take any risks when collecting from an urban landscape.  The key is: as soon as they are clean I dry them with paper towel. Mushrooms must be completely dry to fry well.

I prefer simple sautéing with butter and garlic.  One trick: my Tante taught me that if you want fried mushrooms with a crispy edge....NEVER let them touch each other.  Give them space in the frying pan.


Well worth the effort.

Please Note:  as you forage, DON'T take all the mushrooms. Leave several behind to start the life cycle over. Leaving some behind will allow spores to spread and inoculate the ground for next year. Mushrooms are the earth's life-giving force of decay and renewal. Depleting them for the frying pan doesn't help one bit. You deplete the natural ecosystem process and prevent ever getting a second chance to forage again.

For better ID info on Shaggy Mane mushrooms:  Mushroom Collecting Website

Hope you find some!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Why I Collect Slugs In Autumn

I always try to find alternative methods of insect control. This wet spring and early summer made for a wonderful breeding ground for slugs.  But alas, we still have way too many slug holes.

I've been having wonderful success in reducing slugs in the spring in my little garden, by collecting them in the autumn. Reducing their numbers in the fall will help reduce numbers in the spring.

As the days get shorter and the daytime temps are cooler, I found slugs congregate under stones that absorb the heat during the sunny parts of the day. I prefer using stones to orange or grapefruit peels, or even beer traps, as these can attract unwanted raccoons.

In my boyfriend's garden, I strategically placed larger stones/rocks close to plant material that slugs love.  Within hours the slugs gather beneath and even stick to the base of the stones. One other trick is to water the rocks in the evening and place some organic matter beneath. Make the stones wet enough to keep the slugs moist.

We placed some more rocks last night and today, within 5 minutes of lifting 4 stones, I found a big handful of slugs.

Great treat for the Koi who devour them feverishly.

If you don't have Koi, just place the slugs on the driveway and wait until the birds come to feed. Or just put them into a hot pail of soapy water and dispose.

Less slugs overwintering, means less eggs and less damage come spring time.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Why I Remove All Hemerocallis Leaves In Early August

I get frustrated when folks complain about how their Daylilies look once the heat of the summer roles in. Especially when they want to remove and get rid of the plant because of it's poor appearance in the late summer.

There's a way to avoid all that....

This year, the summer heat may have come later than normal, but the effects of the heat were first noticed on Hemerocallis, Daylily plants. Lush green grassy leaves adorn the plant in the early part of the summer, ushering flowers all throughout June and July. Then this happens:

As shown above, the Daylily at the top of the photo shows the grassy foliage turning yellow. I left this one alone to demonstrate the difference. The old foliage flops over and looks weak. Depending on the type of Hemerocallis you have, this usually happens after their big floral display or during a drought laden period.

To avoid this and you may find it odd, but I just yank out all the foliage - yes ALL.  That is what I did to the Daylily at the bottom of the photo. If you look carefully, underneath all the droopy leaves, the plant begins to send new foliage out from the roots. Leave those and pull out the old-yellow ones. If you don't see any, pull them all out.

Make sure you don't cut back the leaves, but instead, pull them out. They come free so easily. Leaving dry stalks at the base can cause rot sometimes. It's best to just yank them out.

Within two weeks, you'll see new, vibrant green foliage emerging from the roots and within 3-4 weeks, you'll have a great mound of lush growth that will extend all the way into late October.   It just extends your perennial border.  Yes, you'll have to be patient and wait few weeks with a look of bareness, but in the end it's so worth the effort.

I've had great success in even getting the re-blooming varieties to extend their bloom even further with this leaf removal.  If you've ever transplanted or divided Hemerocallis plants, you may have noticed they have large thickened roots (like a mini potato). These thickened roots store up water and nutrients. This is the plant's way to store up reserves. When the leaves are removed, the plant can regenerate from that stored energy. The renewed growth, can then start the process to replace those reserves again before the onset of winter.

All of the varieties in the picture above are Stella D'oro. A repeat bloomer. I find these among some of the most valued in mass plantings. They extend the flowering season and bear a hardiness and vigour some of the more cultivated ones do not have.

Try repeat blooming varieties like:

Stella D'oro
Red Hot Returns
Dragon's Eye
Happy Returns
Janice Brown
My Ways
Pardon Me.... there's many more, I'm certain!

When you leave sad looking Daylilies with spent flower heads and yellow foliage, it just takes the spark out of the garden in late summer. Try removing all the leaves once you see them yellowing and find out the difference it can make in your garden.

These photos were taken September 21st and the leaves and foliage will remain green until frost.

So much prettier and worth the effort!

Friday, September 15, 2017


Feeling blessed!

There's been many times I nearly quit - so here's hoping the garden continues to teach me things that I can pass along to you!

Thanks for visiting and making comments!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Jewelweed: A Natural Treatment For Insect Bites

This time of year, there isn't a day where I don't get stung or bit by some insect. Whether it be from accidentally disturbing an ant colony hill while weeding a bed, or pruning shrubs that harbour mosquitos - there's no escape.  As autumn approaches, yellow jacket wasps are in a frenzy looking for something sweet or for protein. I dread the wasp season, as I get stung quite often too.

We usually carry After-Bite with us where we work, but in one garden area, we don't need to use it. Instead, nature has provided us with a wonderful annual plant called Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). It's worked so well for me that I had to share.

I am thankful for a natural resource that enables us to find a quick solution without running to the first-aid kit.

I specifically took photos of this plant in the early hours of the morning, because the dew droplets covering the leaves is why the plant was named Jewelweed.  If the sun hits those leaves just right, you get an eye-catching shimmer.

Used medicinally by indigenous people for years, Impatiens capensis leaves contain a compound called Lawsone - which has anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory properties. Just take a few leaves in between your fingers and squish them until the "juice" exudes. Rub the juice and leafy mush onto bites and within a few minutes the sting/bite pain/itch will diminish.

It's that simple.

Further, Jewelweed can be used as a natural topical treatment for poison ivy!  Great for nature lovers, bird watchers and hunters who may come upon poison ivy in the wild. It's ideal to use when you have no lotion or ability to wash off the urushiol oil that gives us rashes.  The lawsone in the Jewelweed leaves, acts as a barrier for the skin not to absorb the urushiol oil.

Please look at the link here --->  medical info regarding Jewelweed which describes the plant's ability to treat poison ivy, when you have no soap or water around to clean your skin.

Where to find Jewelweed:  they like moist, wetland areas.  If you see Cattails, then you'll probably find Jewelweed.

They are an annual plant which self seeds readily. You never really find just one plant here and there. Instead, a mass - which makes them easy to find.

I love it when plants provide an antidote to other noxious plants.

The flowers look orange from afar, but here you can see it's a combo of red and yellow that make a clear ID.

Try it for yourself!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Mutant Rudbeckia

I like to introduce you to a two headed Black Eyed Susan.

Rudbeckias (Black Eyed Susan) are part of the Asteraceae family, typically the daisy group of plants. They are known to have these anomalies now and again.

Sometimes these rare form of flowers are created due to a disease called Aster Yellows,  some virus,  physical damage, or just a random natural mutation.

For some reason, these are conjoined at the base of the flower.  Held taller than the other flowers, it was quite noticeable. Once the petals begin to fall, I will update and show what the seed heads look like.

Pretty cool. They remind me of a sunflower held this way.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Apiosporina morbosa - AKA Sh*t on a Stick

Please excuse the crudeness of Sh*t on a Stick, but that was the first coined term I was taught 25+ years ago. It stuck and I will never forget it. lol

It certainly depicts poop on a stick, doesn't it?  Apiosporina morbosa (even known as Dibotryon morbosum) is also called Black Knot. It is a rather noxious, pervasive fungus that attacks the prunus species of plants. Cherries, Plum, Chokecherry, Apricot, Almonds and ornamental cherry trees and shrubs fall victim to it.

This wet spring and rainy summer has made it more visible than ever. I usually see it more in the winter, when no leaves cover the knots.

Here, I found it on a Chokecherry tree. Matter of fact, I think every Chokecherry tree in the vicinity had it.

When the lesions first appear, they are much smaller. Just a callous and swelling bark - usually green-brownish-black in colour. Hardly noticeable at first, and only enveloping one side of the stem.  Each following growing season, the callous gall grows in diameter and becomes black and gnarly. Can get as long as 30cm. The knot is woody and will eventually encase the entire stem/branch. Eventually girdling the branch and causing die-back.  Once black, the infection has been around for about 2-3 years already. If there are several knotty turd like lesions on the tree, you'll definitely notice brach die back before you see the black knot.

 The Black Knot becomes active during warm, wet weather. "Ascospores" are forcibly released from the ascostromata of the fungus. On this sample, it had rained a lot overnight with strong winds. You can see the knot has white masses. Beginning a new life cycle on the blackened gall. Those white spots contain the acospores.  These spores are spread by air currents and rain splashing. 

When wet weather persists, the fungus acospores disperse and an injury or susceptible spot on the branch bark is like an open wound. The inoculum spores of the fungus invade the wound and start the whole process.  More Black Knot galls on the tree = eventual total die back = dead tree.

Treatment: Removal is key.

1) Remove during the dormant season. When the spores and tree are not active.

2) Cut back at least 10" below the knot. Better yet, if possible, remove the branch further back to a secondary stem, so that no stubby ends are left. Cut back to a collar or side shoot. Make the cuts on an angle so that no water sits on the newly cut area.

3) With EACH cut, disinfect your pruners/loppers. This prevents any contamination on newly cut ends and spreading it from host to new host.

4) Destroy the pruned branches. DO NOT COMPOST. Burn or discard in garbage. Black Knot can still release spores several months after being removed from the tree.


1) Stressed out trees are susceptible to Black Knot. Love on them a bit more. Water during drought periods. Mulch trees, accordingly.

2) Prune regularly. One of the biggest issues is overcrowded canopies. No air circulating between the branches or branches banging into each other, causes perfect conditions for the fungus to adhere and  spread throughout the tree.

3) Don't plant a Prunus species tree within a area close to a tree with Black Knot.

Here's proof:

At the base of this Chokecherry are visible signs that the tree had been suckering from the base. This is very common for older Chokecherry trees. A true sign of stress.

With TLC and extra monitoring, the Prunus species of trees can survive Black Knot.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Plant Profile: Calycanthus floridus / Carolina Allspice

There's nothing more enjoyable than spotting a beautiful, not so common shrub among the familiar.

Having visited the Toronto Botanical Gardens today, I had the privilege to take some photos of the grounds and I stumbled on one of my most favourite flowering shrubs: the Carolina Allspice.  Calycanthus floridus has such lovely, unique blooms which catch your eye and thankfully I came for a visit just when they were at their peak.

Rich, maroon red flowers that are held in tight buds to begin - reaching to at least 10 cm in diameter when fully opened. Depending on the light, sometimes the flower colours can range to dark pinks.

As the name suggests, allspice and or a strawberry like fragrance is emitted when smelling the flower and crushing the foliage.

In my experience, I've seen them grow to at least 8-10 feet tall and about the same in width. Growing both in full sun to quite a bit of shade. In shadier areas, they can get a bit leggy - stretching for what ever light they an reach.

Zone hardiness is between 5-9. Flowering time, between May-July. Yellow fall leaf colour. Great seed pods that provide winter interest and craft making opportunities. I used to play with the seeds which often smell a bit like red wine.

When we have brutal, harsh winters here in Toronto, they are known to die back some, but rebounding really well if they are situated in rich, loamy soils. In warmer climates, they can sucker and self-seed quite a bit. Easily remedied by pruning and removing the seed pods in August.

If I had the space, this would certainly be in my garden!

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