If you have poor soil and want help from the garden store, they will test your soil sample. Then they will recommend a bunch of products and fertilizers to help you grow the plants that you want. However, these products won’t build soil. In the long term, they may degrade the soil further by continuing to unbalance it. Wine cap mushrooms are the natural alternative to this approach, but before I go on, let’s talk about soil.
What is Soil?
Soil is often called the “skin of the earth.” It is made up minerals, water, air, organisms, and the decaying matter. Soil is important to all life as it is home to many creatures like worms and foxes. Plants also live there. These plants directly or indirectly feed most organisms on earth.
Bacteria and fungi dwell in the soil and break down decaying matter and turn them into nutrients that other organisms can use. The creatures within the soil breathe and exhale carbon dioxide which cycles back to the plants.
Soil holds water that the plants and animals within it can use to live. It also filters water to keep it clean. So you can see that soil is important in so many aspects of life.
Contrast this with “dirt” that is soil that has lost its life-giving properties. This happens through erosion, pollution, loss of habitat, tilling, intensive monoculture farming, use of chemical fertilizers, not allowing the land to rest, compaction, intensive grazing, and road building. Although there is lots of dirt around, we are losing soil at an alarming rate. No soil, no life.
Wine Caps to the Rescue
So, what can YOU do to contribute to the restoration of soil? Grow wine caps. Wine caps (Stropharia raguso-annulata) are some of the easiest mushrooms to grow. They are super easy to care for and edible! So as they are creating healthy soil for you, you can eat the flowers (mushrooms).
How do they do this? Well, we start with wine cap spawn, organic mulch, and cardboard. We’re going to make spawn lasagna in the shade. You can do this in spring or fall.
First we lay down the cardboard, cover that with two inches of mulch, then spread the spawn on top. Do that again with a second layer. Now, we keep it moist long enough for the spawn to begin growing. Leave it undisturbed and wait.
Underneath the soil, the spawn will begin producing mycelia. Mycelia are microscopic threads that branch out and exchange nutrients, provide water to plants, and boost immunity of plants and animals in the soil. This is the web of life in motion. The wine caps break down the mulch and transform it into life giving things that it uses and shares with others.
All you have to do to keep this love chain going is water it, feed it (hay, wood chips, etc) and wait. Nature will do the rest.
How to Use Your Soil
Once you have living soil, you can transplant this anywhere you want to create healthy soil. Just dig out a pile of soil, wine cap mushrooms, and mycelia and put it where you want healthier soil. Fill in the hole with mulch. Feed and water the old and new areas so that both continue to create new life.
If you put it in your garden or lawn, you may get mushrooms there! Don’t worry. This is a good thing. It’s a sign of health. Just let them flourish. Or eat them. They are yummy.
Tips for Creating Healthy Soil
- Don’t till the soil. Tilling the soil is ripping into the skin of the earth. If I tore into your skin, I could do a lot of damage, right? Skin keeps good things in and bad things out. That’s its job. So don’t till the earth.
- Fertilize with manure or compost. These are all natural and have less chance of unbalancing or contaminating your soil.
- Plant herbs with deep roots, like comfrey and stinging nettle. They are great for your herbal medicine chest. Additionally their deep roots will bring up nutrients that lie deep within the soil to the surface.
- Add earthworms. Sterile soil won’t have worms. If you have put down chemical fertilizers, they may have killed your worms. Worms stay where there is food, so you may need to help them along by adding them to the soil where they will reduce compaction, aerate the soil, and provide nutrients.
- Compost your weeds, trimmings, annuals, and other “waste.” They contain nutrients you can return to the soil.
When you set out to rebuild the soil, it’s hard to know whether you are making progress or not. But when you see those beautiful, abundant wine caps popping out, it validates that the work was worthwhile. You have stopped the loss of habitat in your corner of the world and raised some food for yourself.