All posts by Christi Leeson

by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Preserve Manager

For 15 years Coverdale has raised livestock in our pastures & barns and grown acres of vegetables in our teaching gardens & CSA. Now we are reaching beyond the farm borders to the woodland to grow…..mushrooms!

Specifically, the delicious Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus (“sideways”) ostreatus (“oyster”) come by their name honestly as the fruiting body grows in a sideways manner from the stem and forms a shell-like cap. These common wild mushrooms can be found growing in forests throughout the world in temperate to semi tropical climates.

Oyster mushrooms are in a class of fungi known as “saprophytes.” Saprophytic fungi (shiitake, oysters, lion’s mane, wine caps) are decomposers that scavenge dead organic matter for their nourishment. In the case of oysters this material is wood. But not just any wood will do, the oyster mushroom thrives in hardwoods like Tulip Poplar and Beech.

Tulip Poplar trees are a fast growing, native, “pioneer” species that can reach the perfect size for growing oyster mushrooms within 5 years, easily. At Coverdale we have a sustainable population to harvest, making oyster mushroom the ecologically sound choice.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Back in March, Shaun Quinlan and I “planted” 38 totems of oyster mushrooms in the woodland above the Coverdale Farm Preserve pond. The substrate, or wood, must be harvested prior to budding out making March prime-time mushroom planting season! The mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, was delivered to us in blocks of saw dust where it had colonized. We selected a location deep within the woods that would provide good shade come summer and set wooden pallets down to raise our totems off the ground.


Photo by Michele Wales

Then, down to business matching two like-sized sections of 1’ tall rounds of the poplar tree to form totems.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once the matching game was completed, we sandwiched a thick layer of sawdust spawn between the two rounds of poplar. The top of the totem had a small “cookie” cut from it to afford one more layer of mycelium.


Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once all totems were planted, we covered each stack with a paper lawn bag. This will ensure the moisture level of the wood to remain high, protect the totem from competitive fungi, and ensure darkness during the incubation period known as the “spawn run.” This very important time, which can last 12 – 18 months for oyster mushrooms is the critical stretch when the mycelium begins to colonize the poplar. We will check on these totems periodically throughout the next 6 – 12 months to make certain we are maintaining the proper growing conditions for this experimental new crop.

oyster planting 17 2015

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Stay tuned for the next installment in the wood-grown mushroom trials. We highlight the bio-control we are preparing for and will be employing to combat public enemy #1 of the mushroom, the mighty slug. Any guesses?

Come visit us and join in the farm fun each and every Saturday from 9:00am – 4:00pm. Meet our awesome staff, tour the CSA fields, visit the farmyard to see our resident livestock, stop in our welcome barn to shop for farm grown vegetable plants, a dozen fresh Eggmobile eggs and pick up the new Coverdale Farm Preserve canvas grocery bag to carry your goods home. Fresh vegetables will be coming soon to the welcome barn!

By Jim White, Senior Fellow for Land and Biodiversity Management

I don’t always go out looking for wildflowers, but when I do I particularly like to look for those that bloom in early spring, often called the “spring ephemerals”. More knowledgeable botanizers may consider all wildflowers interesting and fun to search for; however, my favorites are those that bloom in early spring. They are called “ephemerals” because of their relatively short blooming periods; these plants are the first to push up through the cold forest floor and burst into bloom in March, April and early May. Well before the leaves emerge on the trees above, the woodlands in our area become dotted with these usually small and unassuming plants. Searching for spring ephemerals is half the fun, and each spring I find myself out in the otherwise bare woods looking for, admiring, and photographing these ephemeral beauties. So join me now for a virtual walk in the woods on a quest to find these forest jewels.

Round-lobed Hepatica Flint Woods Presserve 13 April 2015 Jim White

Round-lobed Hepatica by Jim White

The first bloom that we will look for is that of the Round-lobed Hepatica. In late March this unassuming plant throws up small but beautiful lavender, six to ten-“petal” (actually sepals) flowers through the blanket of last year’s tree leaves. Hepaticas are not especially common, and like many of the ephemerals they can be easily overlooked. However, if we search carefully in rich mature woodlands, we might get lucky and find one or two plants. If we do, we may well find ourselves lying on our bellies in order to get the perfect photo of these small but gorgeous flowers.

Dutchman's Britches in garden 15 April 2015 Jim White

Dutchman’s Breeches by Jim White

As the ground temperature begins to rise in early to mid-April many other wildflowers begin to bloom. Now we can search for patches of Bloodroot that often dot the woods with their delicate 2-3” long, white petals; along with the pinkish flowers of the well-named Spring Beauty; and Trout Lily with its showy, yellow, almost orchid-like flower. Dutchman’s Breeches, which gets its name from the fact that the flowers resemble the pants of a Dutchman, are also beginning to bloom (personally I have never seen the pants of a Dutchman, but I will take others’ word for it). On our walk we will also look for the delicate Cut-leaved Toothwort. If we are real lucky we might locate a patch of the uncommon Goldenseal or the delicate red flowers of Wild Columbine.

Virginia Bluebells Jim White

Virginia Bluebells by Jim White

Exploring onward, I have left the showiest of spring ephemerals for last: Virginia Bluebells. We’ll have to walk in rich floodplains like those of the Brandywine Valley to see the best patches of these relatively large spring ephemerals with their striking, blue, bell-like flowers. We’ll take our time here admiring and filling our memory cards with photos of this glorious plant.

Wood Columbine Jim White

Wild Columbine by Jim White

Now it’s time to take a break in our quest to see more kinds of spring wildflowers. Join me again in a couple of weeks for Part 2 of our search, at which time we’ll aim to catch the second wave of the spring ephemerals.