January 20th, 2021

Fondness for fungi

By Woodard, Dale on October 8, 2020.

Adriana Navarro Borrell and husband Chase Morrell with some of their mushroom logs. Photo submitted

Dale Woodard

Lethbridge Herald

It began with a stop at a shop that sprouted into a full-blown hobby.

What was planted five years ago for Adriana Navarro Borrell and husband Chase Morrell has now taken over their southside backyard with a stunning display of mushrooms.

It all got started about five years ago with a trip down east.

“We went to Montreal, the MycoBoutique, a little tiny store in Montreal,” said Adriana. “They had all these amazing cultures and kinds of things. So we got excited and we bought a small kit. We started small with a kit and later on we got going.”

Now, their backyard boasts an impressive array of mushroom varieties including oyster, shiitake and wine caps, a new addition this year.

Given the biologist background the two boast, their backyard agriculture is in good hands.

“It’s a work in progress for us,” said Adriana, who teaches in the Agriculture Sciences program at Lethbridge College while Chase works for the City as a lab technician and an operator at the wastewater treatment plant. “When we bought this house five years ago we wanted a house that had space for a garden and had trees, too. So we ended up with a house with a big backyard. Then we started creating space for our mushroom project and now we’ve created another space for the wine cap mushrooms. But we have flowers and garden space.

“We are very self-sufficient with the way we produce food. We love producing our food and all of those things. We have the compost area as well and it’s another full corner we’ve developed to have a big pile of compost every year.”

Chase said when the couple bought their house, there was just a lawn in the backyard.

Quickly, the transformation began.

“One year we decided to dig out some of the grass,” said Chase. “So we dug out the grass and planted a garden and the next year we decided we needed more space. So we dug out more grass and put in more garden. Then this year we needed more garden. Every year we keep digging out more and more grass. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have a yard.”

The yard’s lawn square footage may be dwindling, but the yields off the mushroom logs continue to flourish.

But like conversion of the yard, growing mushrooms can also be a work in progress.

“It can require a lot of waiting,” said Chase. “So our biggest productions are on the logs. You’ll set up logs and then it needs to colonize for about a year and then the next year you’ll have your mushrooms growing from it. So if you made mistakes in the first year, you’ll wait a whole other year to find out it’s not going to work. I think we’re about five years in at this point and we’re starting to get some of our best yields right now.”

Chase said they start their mushrooms in the spring and let them colonize over the summer.

“You might get some harvest at the end of summer, but it’s most likely the next year you’re going to see your bigger harvest.”

That looked to be the case for Adriana and Chase until just recently when a hearty harvest hit.

“All summer and into the fall I’ve been looking at the log and there was just nothing,” said Chase. “I started thinking something was wrong. Just last week it started happening. (Last Tuesday), was the first harvest and the first day there was one pound of oyster mushrooms. I think we’ll have another pound and they’re still coming. I didn’t think it was going to happen at all. But it’s probably going to be our best year.”

The wine caps are the newest mushroom addition to Adriana and Chase’s backyard.

“Coming up soon it should start pruning and if not, then in the spring next year hopefully,” said Chase, adding they bought two new species to work with this winter for next spring.

“It’s yellow oyster, which is more of a tropical oyster, and a lion’s mane. That one has the taste of lobster.”

When the mushrooms are harvested, Adriana and Chase have some tasty recipes lined up.

“We’ll chop it up and make a pasta sauce out of the oysters and probably some pizzas,” said Adriana. “If they keep coming and we can’t keep up to the production we’ll start giving them away or drying them.”

One of Adriana’s prized recipes is a creamy mushroom pasta recipe.

“They’re so meaty tasting that it’s like having a really nice seafood pasta. It has that chewy texture of shrimp or calamari.”

The mushroom maintenance doesn’t end with a fall harvest.

“We bury them under the snow in the winter,” said Adriana. “You don’t want them exposed to minus-20 weather. We usually cover them with lots of snow.”

With their backyard garden in full bloom, Adriana and Chase are keeping their options open for the future.

“We always say about maybe moving on to an acreage and growing crops and building a greenhouse and growing mushrooms and becoming a small farmer,” said Adriana.

“If we start mastering all of the growth parameters of all these different species of mushroom we could turn it into something,” added Chase. “But right now we just do it for fun and if it turns into something in the future, great. If it doesn’t, we’re still enjoying ourselves.

“It’s an endless cycle of fun for us.”

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