Tag Archives: fall

Hunting Fall Oyster Mushrooms

October 7, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Fall is the season when local woodland wanderers stock cellars with oyster mushrooms. These fungi are no secret to Nebraska mushroom hunters. The white-to-tan fan-shaped, or oyster-shell shaped, mushrooms sprout from the sides of trees and logs. Given the right conditions, they will even pop through snowmelt. A single find is often bountiful; a good haul of oyster mushrooms can exceed 20 pounds. They can be dried, pickled, or canned. They pair well with nearly every dish. Oyster mushrooms make an extra-special stuffing for your Thanksgiving guests.

Chris Wright is a mycologist with special interest in oyster mushrooms. Wright has a Ph.D. in plant, soil, and microbial sciences and is the executive director of Midwest American Mycological Information. He researches how oyster mushrooms break down biopollutants.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Wright also regularly finds and eats wild oyster mushrooms. He points out three species of these mushrooms in the Midwest region: Pleurotus ostreatus (the predominant species), Pleurotus populinus (characterized by a white to pink fan), and Pleurotus pulmonarius (the so-called lung-shaped oyster). They are not difficult to identify. Wright says decurrent gills (those running down the stalk) are a distinguishing characteristic of oyster mushrooms. The fungi also have a white to lilac spore print on paper. Wright says it is difficult to mistake something poisonous for oyster mushrooms; however, there is one poisonous look-alike that mushroom hunters should be aware of—Pleurocyubella porrigens.

When asked where to find oyster mushrooms, Wright says, “Look in the woods or on your supermarket shelf.” He also says oyster mushrooms are saprotrophic—they recycle nutrients locked up in woody matter, i.e., “They are a wood rot fungus.”

Oyster mushrooms can be found on ash, aspen, cottonwood, and poplar trees. They will push through the bark of trees after a cold rain. They can sometimes be found in public parks and in neighborhoods, especially on freshly cut trees. Sustainable harvesting requires removal of only the fruiting body and allowing some mushrooms to remain for reproduction.

Wild or domestic, they’ve become a popular commodity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 2015 to 2016, the nation’s oyster mushroom production measured roughly 3,749 tons. In 2016, the total value of oyster mushroom sales surpassed $36 million. Whether you buy them or find them, Wright says they all smell “mushroomy.”

“It is a mild smell. Not a strong odor,” he says. “They will pick up the flavor of what’s cooking—garlic, etc.”

He says they have a relatively soft texture and are a nice complement to stir fry or steak. Wright thinks that wild oyster mushrooms differ from commercial mushrooms.

Wild oyster mushrooms grow in a great variety of hues, like a fall bouquet. They smell like rainfall—a trait that cannot be substituted. They are biochemically unique and may play a role in cleaning our planet. Native to the Great Plains, they are delicious and easy to find during this time of year.

Visit midwestmycology.org/Mushrooms/Species%20listed/Pleurotus%20species.html for more information. 

Disclaimer: Some varieties of wild mushrooms are poisonous, even deadly. If you choose to harvest or eat wild mushrooms, do so at your own risk.

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Come On In

November 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Pumpkinpalooza in May?

June 11, 2014 by

Time to start planning for Halloween. No, really. I mean it.

Pumpkin seeds in these climes should be in the ground by late May, which means that it is now decision time on the subject of “to pumpkin” or “not to pumpkin.”

My wife, Julie, and I had never planted pumpkins until just last year. The idea was that our preschool grandsons, Easton and Barrett, would help with the planting and nurturing of their favorite orbs. It would all culminate in a pumpkin decorating party of epic proportions. But I was more than a little reluctant. My hesitation was related to the fact that pumpkins are, as you know, a vining plant.

The widest bed in our back yard is only about eight feet across. That’s not a lot of breathing room. Taking the pumpkin plunge, I knew right from the start, had the potential to get a little hairy.

I had no idea.

Long before harvest time our backyard already looked like a scene from The Day of the Triffids, the classic British sci-fi flick where post-apocalyptic, man-eating vegetable matter threatened to devour the planet. Mowing became almost impossible because octopus-like tendrils reached into every nook and cranny of the yard. Vine vagabonds even went calling on the neighbors when they found their way through knotholes and other imperfections in our fence.

But that wasn’t the least of my worries.

Almost overnight our precious—if not precocious—crop became covered in a white fungus that I soon came to know as something called powdery mildew. The interwebs told me that the only solution was to amputate with gusto. Any and all hint of the offending disease had to be removed. Rapunzel’s tresses needed a serious trim.

A post-op appraisal of my surgical handiwork revealed that only two softball-sized pumpkins remained, and now it was our duty to baby those things along so that each grandson would have their own personal share of the bounty.

The grandkids have a season pass to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and go totally gaga exploring every square inch of that sprawling wonderland. It’s not like they are in danger of suffering from any kind of pumpkin deficit disorder. The problems of two little pumpkins don’t amount to a hill of beans in Easton and Barrett’s gourd-crazed world, so why couldn’t that powdery mildew have gone two vines more and just put me out of my misery?

It was then that Julie reminded me of The Plan. The plantings were nothing but a vehicle to set up a pumpkin decorating party. None of those store-bought pretenders in our home. It was to be the most Rockwellian of scenes—the four of us laboring to schlep gargantuan, potentially record-breaking behemoths into the house as an array of googly-eyed craft supplies stood at the ready. We were to create the most breathtaking…

Check that. Instead, we ended up with a pair of rather anemic, lopsided nuggets no larger than an average cantaloupe.

But Julie was right. Our little pumpkin-decorating party was a blast and the results were perfect, in a Charlie Brown Christmas tree kind of way. The simple had triumphed over the sophisticated.
And that is why, despite all reason, we are dedicated once again to executing The Plan. Pumpkinpalooza awaits.

 

Fall in Nebraska

September 24, 2013 by

Since I’m from Texas, we are thankful to have several friends and family visit us here in Nebraska. Even though you and I know it really is “The Good Life” (wink, wink), it turns out Omaha is not everyone’s number one vacation destination.

My favorite time to have visitors in Nebraska is October. Guests get the crisp fall at the zoo, the fun pumpkin patches, and if they look around anywhere, they’ll witness Nebraska football.

No one does harvest celebration better than Omaha-area pumpkin patches. From corn mazes to hayrides to campfires, eventually you’ll get to the pumpkins. We all have our own favorite pumpkin patch cuisines. My daughter, Lucy, likes caramel apples. My son, Max, goes straight for the fresh cookies. My husband, Chris, however, usually picks barbecue. And I get succotash.

I train my visitors to do it right. Getting extra kettle corn on Monday to take with you to the zoo on Tuesday is practically a rite of passage.

Whether they have kids or not, they have to experience Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. I explain that there’s no need for a workout; we’ll be burning plenty of calories (consumed at the pumpkin patch) while walking through the zoo. I like to guide friends through the shark tunnel in the aquarium and mention that scene in one of the Jaws movies when the aquarium breaks. When we’re right in the middle, I point at the glass and ask, “Hey, is that a crack?”

The beauty of our zoo is the accessibility to the beautiful animals. The gorillas, the Desert Dome, or dining in the Lied Jungle—it’s all a unique experience. The kids like to take our family friends to the Kingdoms of the Night. They think it’s cool and spooky. And they like to show their friends how Mom freaks out in the bats section. Real funny, kids!

Still, the best part about Nebraska in the fall is football. I’ve been telling friends back in Texas (who think they are crazy for football) about Husker football, but they think it’s bigger there. So we make them come up here and see it for themselves. My friends are always surprised at the positive spirit of football, the tailgates, and warm welcome given to opposing teams’ fans. I make them watch the news the whole time they are here so that we can see how many facets of football is worked into the news: weather, traffic, recruiting, news reports, segues, etc.

Just remember, Omaha—fall is, in this writer’s opinion, the best time of the year to introduce out-of-towners to our home.

Read more of Murrell’s stories at momontherocks.com.

Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch

Photography by Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch

The Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch in Blair, Neb., is a family affair. Daughter Haley Bledsoe has designed the 10-acre corn maze (opened for the fall on Fri., Sep. 13) since its first season six years ago. “It’s hard to do,” says her mother, Maria. “I’ve tried.”

This year, the maze’s design showcases sheer complexity rather than an actual image to be seen from above. “You will absolutely get lost,” Maria assures, stating that she still can’t go through this year’s maze without getting turned around.

And that’s saying something because the Bledsoe family has been tending the maze since the beginning of summer. “We use twice the amount of seed as other mazes,” Maria explains, adding that most cornfields are planted in just one direction. “We plant in two directions for a really thick corn maze, so you can’t see your neighbor on the next row.” The field is entirely organic, and cultivating the maze involves old-school techniques.

“We map it on a grid, and then we count the rows, using stakes and chalk spray,” Maria says. No GPS here. “After the corn is two or three inches tall, we mow the paths with a riding mower.” A dragger rides behind the mower, getting rid of any stalks. Continued mowing and dragging throughout the summer makes for smooth, compacted paths.

“We wanted to be known as the most manicured maze around,” Maria says. “You think of a corn maze, and you think of ruts and bumpy ground and how you can’t take your stroller over that. We wanted to do something different.”

When the corn is 13 to 14 feet tall, all seven Bledsoes take corn sickles to the maze, trimming leaves that have grown into the paths and hand-pulling any stalks that might have been missed. At least, it used to be that way. Maria says they’ve had to hire help for the last three years, what with the growing business and some of the children going to college and overseas.

But some traditions never die. Saturday nights, for example, are always haunted at Skinny Bones. Brave guests traverse the maze guided only by moonlight (“We confiscate flashlights,” Maria says), knowing costumed actors roam the maze ready to deliver a good scare. Nothing is sacred, not even the hay rides. Is it kid-friendly? “That’s up to the parent,” Maria defers. “Some kids absolutely love it.”

For parents who think their children might appreciate a tamer atmosphere, Maria suggests Friday nights. Flashlights are welcome, no scarers are present, and there’s even a children’s maze this year. It’s about a 10th the size of the original.

For a full list of attractions and pricing, visit skinnybonespumpkinpatch.com.

Preparing to Overwinter Your Herbs

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

September and October can be some of the most rewarding months for a gardener. Plants are fully grown and pumping out as many fruits as they can before the first frost. It’s like they know their time is up.

But it doesn’t have to be the end for some plants if you know how to help them out, according to Tony Cirian of Cirian’s Farmers Market on 50th and Leavenworth. Most herbs, for example, are as simple to grow indoors as they are outside. So if you’ve developed a taste for fresh basil on your tomatoes or tarragon in your scrambled eggs, don’t despair the coming winter. These tips will keep you in fresh herbs no matter the cold:

  • Let annuals go to seed. Annuals, such as basil, cilantro, chervil, borage, and dill, are going to seed by now (and probably have been ever since temperatures started soaring). Collect the seeds and plant them in pots right away. Set the pots inside under a grow lamp or in a very warm windowsill. Keep them just moist until you start to see shoots.
  • Salvage smaller mature annuals. Dill, cilantro, and chervil are too tall to transplant easily and probably don’t have many useable leaves left anyway. Cirian says that you can pot up smaller annuals such as basil and parsley (actually a biennial) if they still have leaves to harvest; they’ll last a bit longer if you bring them inside, but they will die eventually. “You might get an extra month or so out of them,” he says. But by that time, the seeds you planted will have germinated. You’ll only have a small gap, if any, without fresh herbs.

Know the needs of your perennials. Perennials are essential additions to an herb garden, but they can vary in their care:

  • Rosemary, for example, is technically a tender perennial but isn’t usually hardy enough to endure our Zone 5 winters, according to Cirian. You can attempt to pot up the entire plant and bring it inside. Cirian does warn that the plant will get a bit woody and lanky over the winter. “It’s just not getting the sunshine and warmth to be really vibrant.”
  • Tarragon is another perennial that benefits from potting up over the winter for extra protection. It can be handy to divide a root clump, leave a few plants outdoors, and just bring one inside. (Note that Russian tarragon is unfortunately more commonly sold, though it tastes more like a weed than the licorice flavor of French tarragon.)
  • Other perennials, such as chives, common thyme (thymus vulgaris), sage, oregano, and lavender, are easily left in place throughout the winter and will come back nicely next spring. To enjoy them inside as well, root thyme, sage, oregano, and lavender cuttings in pots. Keep the cuttings moist until you see new growth. You can add chives to your winter kitchen by digging up a clump and dividing into pots.
  • Some perennial herbs can be invasive and so should only ever be grown in pots. A large pot of mint or lemon balm adds a fresh smell to your patio and can easily be moved inside before the first frost.

To make the most of your indoor herb garden, use potting soil (never garden dirt) and only water once a week. “You don’t want that root system to rot,” Cirian says. He adds that there’s not much need to fertilize over the winter, as “potting soil already has a slow-release food.” Just make sure light and warmth are in good supply, and that’s all it takes to keep yourself in fresh herbs all winter long.

 

Farmers Market in the Fall

Photography by Keith Binder

In 1994, Gene Sivard had an oversized garden with veggies to spare. The Old Market was having its first Farmers Market and was “begging for vendors.” Now, Sivard’s Gene’s Green Thumb has 14 acres, and the Old Market Farmers Market is in its 20th season.

Over the years, Sivard has seen it grow from a simple farmers market into a city bazaar of sorts. “Now you have crafts, meat, cheese, all kinds of beef jerky, bread,” he says. “It is a big event with a really big crowd.”

It’s become so popular, in fact, that Omaha Farmers Market added a second location. Now, you can visit the Old Market on Saturdays 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. from the first week in May through mid-October and then hit the newer Aksarben Village market on Sundays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m.

“Every market is different,” says Heidi Walz, operations manager for Omaha Farmers Market. “And that means that every season is different, every week is different. We’re rotating new things in each week as the season progresses.”

You can find a harvest calendar, with general times to expect local produce, under the Local Resources tab of the Market’s website (which, by the way, got a 20th anniversary redesign):
omahafarmersmarket.com.

Worthy of noting in that calendar is that the fall is still a great time to hit the market.

“…at the market, we can look at all the different offerings right there, a couple blocks from each other.” – Heidi Walz, operations manager of Omaha Farmers Market

“The produce stays strong through the end in this area,” Walz says. “So you’re still going to see tomatoes and potatoes and peppers and the greens, and more of the typical table fruits and vegetables that people think of. But the other cool thing is, being in Nebraska, we definitely have some fall crops. You’re going to see the apples, the pumpkins, and the gourds, as well as some of the decorative things, like Indian corn.”

It’s difficult for Walz to choose a favorite thing about the markets. But “I have two little boys, and to be able to go there and see all the varieties of pumpkins,” she says, is one of them.

“It’s fun to go to the pumpkin patch, and we do that. But at the market, we can look at all the different offerings right there, a couple blocks from each other. And the boys look at what is the most unique pumpkin, or the biggest pumpkin, and explore so many different options. It’s just really fun to let them come down and pick out a really unique pumpkin, like maybe a green one that’s really tall and slender,” she says. And, because the farmer is right there, “you can find out way more about your selection.”

Sivard also loves the fall markets. For the veggie lovers, Sivard recommends getting winter squash, like acorn squash, which can be stored in a cool basement and eaten all the way in January.

Even when the weather turns, you can still find treasures at the market. According to Sivard, “One season, we had six inches of snow on the ground and still had a lot of apples.”

And although Oct. 19–20 is the last weekend for the season, you can get a taste of the market in December at the WOWT and Physicians Holiday Market. The Holiday Market is hosted under two large, heated tents in Aksarben Village on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7–8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Although the Holiday Market doesn’t have produce, you will find a lot of your favorite regular-season Farmers Market vendors, as well as additional gift vendors.

“It’s just so festive and local, which is cool—to get some of your holiday shopping done in a local way. Such an awesome event.” Walz admits, “It’s one of my favorites.”

Harvest Fun

August 16, 2013 by

Fun festivals don’t end when autumn rolls in—there is still plenty to do in Nebraska as the dog days of summer draw to a close and the school year begins.

Harvest festivals are a great way to celebrate the end of summer and the transition to a new season. It’s a time to enjoy the prosperous crop and an exposition for the year’s produce. Many communities statewide celebrate the harvest with their own autumn festivals.

Nebraska City’s 45th Annual Applejack Festival is one such festival. The whole family can enjoy a parade, a car show, and an arts and crafts fair from September 20-22. If activities are what you’re looking for, participate in the Fun Run/Walk, boogie at the AppleJam Carnival street dance, and stop by Kimmel Orchards or Arbor Day Farms to pick your own apples and feast on homemade apple pies and sweets.

And there’s more than just apples. You can pick your own produce at Roca Berry Farm in Roca, Neb., Martin’s Hillside Orchard in Ceresco, Neb., or Bloom Where You’re Planted Farm in Avoca, Neb. Kids will love scouring fields for pumpkins, picking raspberries, taking in the sights on hayrack rides, eating caramel apples, and exploring all kinds of farm-related activities.

After you’ve enjoyed the state’s fall harvest festivals and picked your bounty, head to one of Nebraska’s state parks for cool autumn events. Visit Mahoney State Park and gaze at the stars on August 16 and September 13, or listen to and tell great stories on September 14 at the 11th Annual Moonshell Storytelling Festival.

If adventure is what you’re looking for, head up to Ponca State Park September 21–22 for the 9th Annual Missouri River Outdoor Expo to learn about wildlife-related and outdoor recreation activities including wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, archery, shooting sports, camping, off-highway vehicle recreation, and boating recreation.

The season may change, but the fun doesn’t have to stop!

Go to VisitNebraska.com to find more festivals and events to make your autumn truly festive.

Starting a New School

Starting a new school can be both exciting and scary. From kindergarten to high school, we all want to feel accepted and fit in with our peers. Boys Town Pediatrics offers parents advice on how to help relieve some of their child’s anxieties and prepare him/her for a successful school year.

Talk with Your Child

When you are ready to tell your child about starting a new school, keep it positive. Do your homework and find out what sporting activities, clubs, or field trips are available at the new school. If your child seems nervous, talk it through. Once you know what worries your child, such as a bus ride, transitioning to classrooms, or trying out for a new team, you can offer helpful ideas and suggestions.

Time the Move

Whether you are moving to a new state or starting a new school down the street, timing can have a big impact on your child’s emotions and social behavior. Try to start the new school in fall with the new school year. Chances are your child may not be the only new student. Plus, your child will get to know the school’s routine from day one with the rest of his or her classmates, making the transition a little easier.

If you are moving to a new community, try to plan your move as early as possible, before school starts. This way, your child can adjust to the new surroundings and make a few neighborhood friends before the first day of school.

Take a Tour

Call ahead and schedule a tour of the new school. Some schools will offer an open house. This will give your child a chance to meet the teacher(s) and explore the cafeteria, gymnasium, music room, computer lab, and other areas of interest. For older children, ask to see an example of a daily class schedule and a list of extracurricular activities offered by the school.

Allow Time to Adjust

Some children can jump right into a new schedule and start making new friends right away. For others, the change is more difficult. If you feel your child is not adjusting well to the new school, you may consider talking to the school counselor. Find activities at school and outside of school that your child likes. Arrange play dates with school, church, and other friends. And most importantly, keep your communication open and allow your child to talk about his or her feelings.

Making Friends

Your child may worry about fitting in and making new friends at his new school. You can help ease the worries by:

  • Making your child realize his/her own strengths
  • Keeping a sense of humor about yourself and your shortcomings
  • Listening without criticism
  • Being kind, giving compliments, waving to a friend, and opening the door for someone
  • Showing understanding and empathy to others

During this transition period, continue to encourage your child and offer support. Over time, your child will begin to adjust to his/her surroundings and gain positive memories and new friends.