Extension Viewpoints: Mushrooms: an overview

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    By Ethan Proud
    PREVIEW Columnist
    Mushrooms belong to the kingdom fungi and have more in common with animals than they do plants. Plants are autotrophs, meaning that they make their own food source, while fungi and animals are heterotrophs; we need to eat another organism in order to survive. The cell walls of fungi are comprised of a protein called chitin, which is also utilized to create the exoskeletons of insects. The higher classification contains more than just mushrooms and includes mold and yeast as well.
    What is commonly referred to as the mushroom is actually only a small portion of the overall organism. Mushrooms have root-like structures called mycelium that are made up of cells called hyphae. When you are hiking and break open an old log and see the white cottony strands, you are looking at mycelium. Mycelium spread outwards searching for food, which is why circular structures of mushrooms, called fairy rings, can be found. The purpose of a mushroom is reproduction and they are analogous to the flowers of a plant.
    Mushrooms and fungi serve many environmental roles, largely by breaking down dead material, but they also aid in the uptake of nutrients by plants. The roots of plants are not that efficient at gathering nutrients from the soil and many need a mycorrhizal fungal partner. The fungi help the plant transfer nutrients in exchange for sugars. Mycorrhizae can actually link multiple plants together.
    Enterprising humans have also found many ways to use fungi in medicine, food and fermentation. Penicillin is derived from fungi, which was discovered by Alexander Fleming when he observed its antibiotic properties inhibiting bacterial growth in a petri dish.
    In the culinary world, mushrooms can be used to make oils, sauces, add texture or star in a dish. In fact, some mushrooms can be cultivated at home, while more prized varieties have to be found in the woods. Foraging for mushrooms should not be undertaken by anyone without experience, as many edible mushrooms can be mistaken for lethal species. Immature amanitas look similar to puffballs, but the former can kill you.
    To learn more about mushroom foraging, attend a local mushroom festival, like those held in South Fork and Purgatory in mid- to late August. Remember to always cook wild mushrooms prior to eating.
    You can grow culinary mushrooms at home as well, and kits can be purchased online. For beginners, there are spray and grow kits, but those wishing to branch out can inoculate logs or grow bulk using monotubs. Whenever eating a new mushroom variety, be sure to eat only a small portion as they can cause different reactions in different people.
    Ethan Proud is the Archuleta County Weed and Pest Supervisor, and enjoys foraging and growing mushrooms as a hobby.
    Upcoming events
    February: Support your local 4-H Program by purchasing soup from a 4-H member.
    Feb. 11: The 36th annual Beef Symposium will be held at the Archuleta County Extension office. The cost is $25 per person and includes lunch. Please call the Extension office at 264-5931 for more information and to register.
    Feb. 12: The Agricultural Financial Management Strategies workshop, hosted by the CSU Agriculture and Business Management Team, will cover topics such as risk management, business planning, enterprise budgeting, record keeping and more. Please go to www.2020fms.eventbrite.com to register or come into the office to pay. The cost is $15.
    CPR and first aid classes
    CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.
    We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.