Old Doors

On my garden tours, I´m collecting as well a lot of pictures of other interesting subjects, and over the years, have accumulated a colourful library of old doors, windows and curious architectural details. Finally, I came around to make some selections for a large poster:

Many old doors framed poster print

Winter Shiitake

While Shiitake logs generally seem to be frost-proof 1-2 months after inoculation, and can therefore spend the winter in the garden, it was my understanding that mushrooms will only grow in warm weather, at temperatures above 15 degrees Celsius.
The winter was long and rather cold, but when I had a random look at the Shiitake logs in the wine barrel, much to my surprise there was a mushroom on one of the birch pieces – and a nice one at that! It was February 19, every night before below freezing point, and daytime temperatures barely above.

Another birch log followed just a few days later, and at the beginning of March the old oak logs. I must have picked already two dozen mushrooms by now, all good quality and really tasty. Astonishing creatures, really.

Shiitake Mushroom Empanada

After all that Shiitake talk, here´s a quick and easy recipe. It needs the following ingredients:

400g flour
10g yeast
100 ml white wine (dry)
100 ml olive oil
100 ml milk
Half a glass of warm water
A good handful of Shiitake mushrooms
2 onions
2 zucchini

1 egg
Black ground pepper
Feta cheese

Start by preparing the dough: Stir the yeast into half a glass of warm water. Add some salt and the yeast water to the flour, knead for a moment. Slowly add the olive oil, the wine and the milk while you keep kneading until you get a dough which doesn’t stick anymore like glue to the bowl.

Keep the dough for an hour covered with a clean cloth to let it rest and rise.
In the meantime, prepare the filling: Chop the Shiitake, the onion and the zucchini in little pieces and fry them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, black paper and thyme to taste till they get softer. Put it aside.

When the dough has risen to appr. double its original size switch the oven on and let it heat up to 75 degrees Celsius. Cut the dough in two halves and knead with a rolling pin to get two sheets, each about 2 mm thick. Lay one of the sheets on the oven tray (apply some butter before or use cooking paper) and spread the Shiitake, the zucchini and as much of the Feta cheese as you like (crumble the cheese with your hands for better handling). Lay the other sheet on top and tie both sheets on the borders. Whisk an egg and spread it on top of the empanada, then put it in the oven. Keep it there for 45 minutes while increasing the temperature three times in steps of 50 degrees Celsius (the empanada is done in the moment its colour turns golden).

empanada recipe


Growing Shiitake Mushrooms On Logs

An update on the previous mushroom post .

I mentioned before that I inoculated some logs with Shiitake myself.

shiitake log

The first challenge was to find the right wood. While I have a lot around, there are some specific requirements to be met. Oak and beech are perfect woods, they also last the longest and will produce the biggest harvests over 5-7 years. Apple, maple and sweet chestnut are also suitable. I did not try hazel and alder. Logs should be 2-4 feet long and ideally have a diameter of 4-6 inches, so the fungus can occupy the log as fast as possible, which prevents infections with other (competing) fungi. The bark has to be intact. The log should not be too fresh (4 weeks+ after cutting, so the tree’s immunity mechanisms are not fully at work anymore) and not too old (less than 3 months, not dried out).
There should be also 6-10 weeks time left before major frosts.
Among the logs potentially fitting those criteria, I mostly got birch. For Shiitake supposedly not ideal, but possible.

shiitake birch logs

I drilled the holes, filled them with mycelium substrate, kept everything clean and then moist. Next summer, nothing happened. All the other logs produced lots of mushrooms, nothing on the birch. Its rings started to look whitish, which I took as a sign of the fungus spreading.
Earlier this summer, again – nothing. I kept the logs moist like the others, regardless.
Suddenly, this September, the first little Shiitake mushroom appeared on a birch log, 2 years after the inoculation.

shiitake birch log

Now there are more, and very nice ones.
So, if you try that yourself, and it looks like a failure, don’t discard the logs too early.

The fastest results I had by growing Shiitake on sawdust.

shiitake on sawdust

A pressed block gave me mushrooms regularly for 2 years. Less and less with each wave, but one can even activate it indoors. My first oak logs are going strong, and show no signs of fatigue.

shiitake oak log

Mushroom Time

Autumn is mushroom time. A wet August and September with mild temperatures are ideal, but that doesn’t happen every year. October and November can usually be relied on. And cooking is fun again, the body craves a warm meal. Mushrooms must have been the surprise eggs of the early human hunter.

mushroom t-shirt


I used to (and still do) go for lengthy walks to find them. Get up early (better before the ones in the know) and spend 3-4 hours in the forest scanning the ground. One develops a sense for mushrooms and their preferred places after a while. One might actually smell them, like a truffle dog, but it’s more likely that experience signals that a pretty birch tree with fresh moss underneath is just the place one would choose to live in if one were a mushroom. There’s also the weather component – a warm rain, and they pop, often overnight.


After such a day, I tend to dream of mushrooms. It’s like finding rare books in a library without catalogue, wandering along the shelves with the head tilted to one side, examining titles. Over a few hours it’s draining in a weird sort of way.


While good days fill the baskets quickly, more often than not there’s none, or only the grandpas, mushy and wormy inside.

Then I discovered Shiitake. Got some prepared oak logs out of curiosity, later inoculated some birch logs myself. Shiitake mushrooms like it warm and moist, they prefer higher temperatures than the local ones, so the outcome was rather uncertain.
It appeared to be well worth it.

shiitake logs

Shiitake logs fruit in waves. I found if I let them rest for a few weeks, then re-moisten them over night in the rain barrel, I can well control the fruiting and get a quite predictable harvest. Since I have several logs which can be rotated, there are always some mushrooms. Shiitake have a distinct aroma, few is needed to spice up a meal. I find it quite similar to garlic (and believe it imparts a similar odor…) They are very mushroomy, solid and chewy, and can be dried well, if there’s an oversupply. Since I can take them fresh directly from the garden, I never had a wormy one (they are also not prone to it, it seems). In fact, they are pretty creatures:

shiitake mushroom

I’ve tried several log stacking methods. Currently I keep some logs in a wine barrel from La Rioja. Without any care, there’s always a fruiting piece. The barrel keeps the logs from drying out too much in the heat of the summer, I think. And the occasional animal visitor to the garden has less access. Coming from the logs, the mushrooms are basically kitchen-ready.

wine barrel

Gardening Is A Serious Sport

Supposedly an English saying. I never heard that from the mouth of a Briton, but anyway. I think it is. Or at least can be.

Although I’m an avid cyclist and still pass the Marines pull up test, a day of gardening feels like good exercise.

I once kept a little track of it. When I inspected the plants first thing in the morning for slugs and critters and other threats, I ended up doing 50 deep squats. Walking down the main path takes 50-70 steps = 100-140 return, times 20 with the watering cans in the hand. Afterwards I carried the log splitter from the shed to the car (weight 44kg) – for nothing, because it wasn’t needed after all, so I brought it back. Reaching for that lanky tomato plant without harming it’s neighbors turned out to be a fine gymnastic move – hooold that position!
I do most of the pruning by hand with a razor-sharp Japanese saw and a number of scissors. While power tools have their place, they do not only require some preparations usually, but also are noisy. I often enough don’t feel like having even more engine roar around me.

In my childhood I knew an 80+ years old man who still went to swim training several times a week. His main transport was his bicycle (a black machine from biblical times). He cared about his garden every day literally until his last day.

Gardening as a physical activity seems to have a metabolic equivalent (MET) of 3.5-4 (one MET defined as the energy it takes to sit quietly, appr. 70-80Kcal per hour for an average adult). Of course, it makes a difference if one’s picking berries or if some serious digging in hard clay soil is the task of the day.
Now, jogging/running has a MET of 6-12, but you must be an excellent runner to hold that up over the course of 4-8 hours.
On the extreme side of gardening/landscaping, alpine farmers on steep meadows (where not much mechanization is possible) easily compete with marathon runners and triathletes on caloric expenditure.

In your private garden, you can even take it slow. Fresh air is good for bookworms, that’s my rule of thumb.

octopus head t-shirt

Octopus Head