Questions from Readers

Questions from readers: Mushroom Patches… are they safe?

Question from Schagné in Australia:

I enjoy this site a lot as I am in the process of learning about edible forest gardening in order to plant my own.

I love mushrooms. My problem is that we have many local mushrooms that are quite toxic (e.g. the death cap), and I am not well versed in mushroomery.

If I make such a wonderful patch for my shaggy caps, won’t it be invaded by something else which a novice like me might pick and eat? I would love dearly to have my own safe patch of mushrooms. Do please tell me that the edible mushrooms repel invaders.


My Answer:

This is a great question, and there are a few ways to answer this…

Here is the quick answer:
Yes, it is possible that poisonous mushrooms could invade your mushroom patch. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Mushrooms are a wonderful addition to a Forest Garden and, in my opinion, an essential element in a Permaculture design.

Here is the more involved answer:
Let’s back up a bit. While it is possible for poisonous mushrooms to invade your patch, the real fear is of a person mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom. There are a large number of reasons why this is very unlikely to happen… unless the person growing the mushrooms is reckless and, well, just plain stupid (to be blunt).

Let me elaborate.

First, we should all be able to list and identify the poisonous mushrooms that grow in our area. We should be able to do this even if we do not eat mushrooms. What if your kid or a neighbor’s kid or your dog started to eat a mushroom growing in your yard or garden or while on a walk? If you could quickly identify that it was not one of the deadly mushrooms (which are far fewer than most people think) in your area, would you be even a little relieved? If you saw that it was one of the deadly mushrooms, then early intervention at a hospital is critical to prevent injury or death. Also, this doesn’t apply just to mushrooms, but to all deadly species of plant and animal in the area you live. You live in Australia. I think most Australians are much better able to identify venomous snakes than Americans are, because there are so many deadly snakes in Australia. It is foolish not to know what can kill you in your own backyard!

Second, you should know what the mushroom species that you are growing looks like. Again, this is not hard to learn. In fact, most people who attempt to grow mushrooms know exactly what their species of mushroom looks like. If you plan of growing Shaggy Mane mushrooms, for instance, you likely already know what a Shaggy Mane mushroom looks like. If you do not, the internet is full of photos of all different species of mushroom, from immature button to mature specimen. If you are growing a mushroom species for the first time, and you have never wild harvested them or bought them from a farmers market or grocer before, then get a good guide book (or study photos on the internet) and learn what they look like. You can even do spore prints to verify identification. This is easy, and any good guide book will explain how to do it. If you really want to get into the scientific side of things, you could even identify the spore characteristics via microscope. But remember that this should be fun!

Third, the habitat that you create for your edible mushroom patch is different than many poisonous mushrooms natural habitat. Yes, some of the poisonous mushrooms (like the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) mentioned above… you can see photos of it in this article, just scroll down to mushroom #17) may pop up in a garden. But they are really easy to identify… and so different than almost any mushroom you would grow in a mushroom patch!

Fourth, if the mushroom bed is built the correct way (which is not difficult… please see my two articles on building mushroom patches of King Stropharia (pictured above) and Shaggy Manes), then for at least the first few seasons, the predominate fungal species will be the one you purposely “planted” there. And, while the “good” mushrooms don’t exactly repel the “bad” ones, if you keep providing the organic matter they need, your good mushrooms will keep outcompeting other fungal species.

Fifth, while most of the species we would grow in patches are pretty easy to identify, a person may still be nervous about proper identification. Immature mushrooms can sometimes look very different than the mature specimen. So what do we do? Well… we let it grow! A mushroom patch will not just produce a single mushroom. Let the first ones pop up and mature into the classic, easily identifiable specimen. Then you will see for yourself what that species looks like from start to finish. You will quickly build confidence. You will then easily be able to identify the immature specimens, which are often the most tasty ones!

Sixth, there is a proper way to eat mushrooms that you harvest yourself when you are still worried about its identification… even after you have positively identified it and eliminated the possibility of it being poisonous… Harvest one mushroom. Cook it. Try a very small piece of it. Then don’t eat any more for a day, a full 24 hours. If you have no negative reactions, then try a larger serving the next night. If you still have no negative reaction in the next 24 hours, then you are good to go. Just remember that even commercially sold and highly edible mushrooms can cause some gastrointestinal upset in some people or if you eat way too much of them.

I hope this alleviates some of the fears of growing your own mushrooms. If you still have a hang up about all this, you can always grow your mushrooms indoors. While I think this is way too much work if you have land available outside, and you are not raising mushrooms commercially, this is a viable alternative.

Best of luck, and please send me photos of your mushroom patches!




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Questions from Readers: Growing a young grape vine

Question from Elizabeth in South Carolina (Zone 8).
Humid Cool Temperate Climate (hot Summers, cool to light cold Winters).

I rescued a Muscadine (not really my favorite, but it was an experiment) and I bought a black table grape suited for this area last winter. I put both in pots as I wasn’t sure where or what I was going to do with them. The black grape has taken off. It’s center is still woody with no vertical growth, but there are two lateral shoots: one about five feet the other maybe nine feet. I’ve finally figured out a spot to put them in, and now I’m stuck. A few issues:

  • pruning – I’ve read you shouldn’t prune the first year. So far so good. Do I wait until after next year to do this or after this winter?
  • height – As I planted in pots, once I place them in the ground the lateral shoots will be quite near the ground….not ideal from what I’ve read up on. Not sure what to do….
  • vertical growth – Does one of the lateral shoots become the vertical growth? What encourages it to grow vertically up the support to then allow lateral shoots to grow out? Does this make sense?


My Answer:
Pruning grapes: You are mostly right. The vast majority of growers do not prune the first year, but some growers with a lot of experience will prune their first year. I wouldn’t prune the first year. If you (or I) had that much experience, than you wouldn’t be reading this!

Height and vertical growth: Don’t worry. It’s all about training the vine as I explain in the next section.


Click on the image for a brief, illustration guide to yearly pruning of grape vines.

Training Grape Vines (a terribly brief intro in just a few sentences): You will not get any vertical growth from the stump. That woody core will stay short and lumpy forever. All the vertical growth will come from the cane you select to be your main trunk. Over time, this cane will become thick and woody itself. Side shoots (cordons) will eventually grow from it and give you the lateral growth. This training will take a few years to get into full growth and production. Here is a nice page that explains it a bit more with photos, but I will repost one image:



Grape vines growing over a pergola on a rooftop in Gaziantep, Turkey (about 100 miles from where I used to live!)

Permaculture Twist: You didn’t think I would skip this? You can plant the grape vine in a traditional Vertical Positioning System, or you can use the grape vine’s innate characteristics for you to perform additional functions than food production:

  • Grape vines are, in fact, vines. They are good climbers.
  • They grow fast and far each season.
  • They are deciduous. Leaf growth/drop can give you seasonal shade and privacy.
  • They attract good and bad insects.
  • They produce tasty fruit that people and birds enjoy. Netting may be needed.
  • They have edible leaves.
  • They have vines that should be pruned each year to maximize quality production the next year, and these vines get a bit woody.
  • Grape vines have a high need for nutrients to sustain production.
  • These are just a few characteristics off the top of my head. I am sure there are a ton more.

A rooftop in the Turkish town where I used to live. You can just see the main grape vine trunk growing up the side of the house at the closest corner to the roof.

So instead of the traditional row of vines, what about:

  • Growing grape vines along a fence to provide privacy for an outdoor living space. You will only be out there when the vine is growing anyway (seasonal… Spring through Autumn).
  • Growing grape vines over a pergola or trellis system to cover an outdoor living space. This provides seasonal shade and cooling for that space and easy harvesting of grapes. I saw this numerous times in living in Turkey. Many people had blocky, flat roofed homes. The entire roof had a trellis system. The grape vine ran from the ground, up two stories, and then spread over the entire roof for the growing season. This cooled the house, provided a comfortable and private living area on the roof, and provided food in the form of grapes and leaves, while also providing stick fuel for cooking at the end of the growing season. The trunk was two stories high and probably took a few years to develop, but so worth it! Other homes had the grape vines growing in large tubs on the roof itself.
  • My favorite technique for a few grapes vines is for people who have chickens and seasonal Japanese Beetles… pretty common in South Carolina from what I recall. Grow the grape vine over the chicken coop! The vine provides seasonal shade to cool the birds in the hot summers. This reduces heat stress which also increases health and disease/pest resistance in the birds. This reduces watering requirements for the birds. Chickens like to eat any grapes that may fall. They also enjoy the occasional grape leaf. Japanese Beetles seem to enjoy grape leaves as well. They have a “tuck and roll” technique of evading predators when they get frightened… very difficult to control in a classic row crop. But, when growing over a chicken run… just shake the vines once or twice a day, and the chickens will be singing, “It’s raining food!” This reduces (not a lot) the feed bill for the birds. It manages a grape pest with no chemicals and requires only a few seconds per day. It is also entertaining! Finally, the grape vine roots will be growing under the chicken run soil, high in nitrogen. This reduces, and possibly eliminates, the need for fertilizing the grape vines. This is an ideal Permaculture system!

Good luck! Send photos if you can!


Grape vines growing up a wall in the city of Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. I was fortunate to visit this area many times while I lived in Turkey.


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