Southern Ontario Mushroom Adventures With Gus & Dani

Dead decaying leaves blanket a damp forest floors of Southern Ontario, and mushrooms begin to grow. This blanket of decay protects and provides nutrients to a complicated and intricate sub-terrestrial world that is home to a network of many varieties of mushroom mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus). Some mycelium colonies are small enough to fit under the lens of a microscope, while others can span thousands of acres, thus forming the world’s largest organism. Just as mycelium is one of the first stages in the cycle of producing a mushroom, or in other words, the fruiting body of the mycelium network. The mushroom is where the first chapter of my store with mycology first started some 15 years ago.  

southern ontario mushroom forager with a story...

Hi y’all, my name is Dani, I am a 1st generation Italian Canadian living in Southern Ontario. Though I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, my family in Italy has spent generations living in the mountainous regions surrounding Ascoli Piceno. Located geographically ‘behind the knee’ on the boot that is Italy, the mountains around Ascoli are known for their ideal climate to produce wild porcini, truffles and chanterelles, or galletti as my uncle would call them. The intimate relationship my family has had with these mountainsides is a part of our culture, but it wasn’t until I was in elementary school that I had my first hands-on experience with foraging. 

Even though I grew up in the suburbs of the GTA I was always drawn into the depths of the forests. At a young age I was climbing rocky hillsides, exploring creeks and wandering forests as often as my father would accommodate. It was one warm late fall in the 90s, we were wandering a local forest that we had frequented regularly for years when we came across a sight we had never seen there before. From a distance we noticed some white objects that showed with stark contrast to the backdrop of the changing fall forest. We hurried towards this anomaly with excitement and curiosity and before we knew it, we had approached a forest floor home to over a dozen enormous, smooth, porcelain white orbs. Upon closer inspection we realized these orbs were organic, a fungus of some sort, perhaps. This was before the age of smartphones, so we couldn’t immediately diagnose what we were gawking at. After we took in the magical experience the forest had provided us, I carefully examined each orb- similarly as a child would if choosing their pumpkin at a patch to carve, and respectfully took one home to show my younger sister and mother. The entire drive home we let our imagination wander as to what these orbs were. Once at home, we did some research and determined that we had found our first giant puffballs! 

Mushrooms are in her blood...

From that moment it would still be well over a decade until my interest in mycology would flourish as a young adult. The time that had passed, technology had advanced so much that I now had access to infinite amounts of information at my fingertips. With my budding passion for a study that has immeasurable amounts of learning, mycology offered so many different paths to follow, but my love for the outdoors and exploring led me to the extraordinary world of mushroom foraging. 

I would spend any spare time I had left to explore new forests with my best friend Gus, my rescue chihuahua. Sometimes we wander dozens of kilometres a week, some days bringing home a cornucopia of edibles, and others – tired legs and a serene, tranquil mind. Either one is fine by me.

foraging, not simple but worth it...

The thing with foraging though, it requires a multitude of factors to be accessible. Though mushrooms grow on every continent besides Antarctica, geographical location plays a huge factor. Even if you have access to forests, your timing must be impeccable in relation to the seasons and weather. Busy lives may not allow for free time to be spent foraging during prime conditions for a flushing forest. There were points in time where if I didn’t have time to forage, my mind was enveloped in thoughts of mushrooms and future adventures– I was addicted.  That’s when I started to explore different paths of mycology and realized foraging was a gateway into a whole other world of passions.

Besides getting outside into the soothing presence of nature, foraging appeals to me on the basis of eating local, sustainably and providing yourself with natural organic food free of GMOs and chemicals. How I could obtain this quality level of food when not accessible to the deep wilderness began to regularly cross my mind. I was familiar with the option of growing mushrooms at home and there is a passionate, supportive online community to help advise solutions to any hiccups along the way. But the sterile environment, trial and error, labour, space, and tools needed were too much of an investment for me at the time. Almost serendipitously, it wasn’t long after that my friend, Eva, came by with a Nature Lion grow-at-home mushroom kit as an unexpected gift for me from a local market.  I was absolutely thrilled to have my questions answered in the form of a block of substrate ready to fruit! My introduction to growing mushrooms couldn’t have gone any smoother; I cut open the plastic substrate bag, misted the entrance a couple times a day, and in no time, I caught sight of some immaculate and marvelous pinning oyster mushrooms! The journey from mushroom pin to harvest was just over a week and it was spectacular to watch the entire process day by day. I Invited Eva over for dinner and we shared a flavourful, fresh, home grown, organic meal together while she listened in on how exciting it was to watch the mushrooms grow throughout the week.

more and more mushroom foragers in southern ontario...

Over the last decade I have watched foraging and mycology come into the mainstream, almost growing a cult-like following. With information at your fingertips and the ability to connect and learn with, and from, like minded folk from around the world, it is easy to take a deeper dive into the community of mushroom growing. And though I still do not have the opportunity to grow mushrooms in a sterile lab setting, I have learnt that growing mushrooms is a lot easier than the average person may think. In the comfort of their own home, anyone with a countertop or a garden in which to spread wood chips can grow gourmet mushrooms that are unavailable at regular grocery stores.  Thankfully for local companies like Nature Lion, they do all the scientific leg work and have perfected production to make it easy for Canadian households anywhere to grow their own gourmet mushrooms at home. In addition the growing process educates younger generations,  creating a long lasting interest and curiosity in mycology along the way. 

I could go on for days writing in detail about the pieces mycology and mushrooms have in my life but will leave things short today. I hope this article helps to inspire you to learn more about mushrooms and that it creates a conversation about foraging or growing your food in an urban setting. I also wish that your future harvests are so large that you could share with your neighbour and then inspire them to follow suit. There is something in mushrooms and mycology for everyone!  For some daily inspiration please feel free to follow my educational, pun-filled and quirky mushroom adventures with my pooch Gus, @gus_hrooms on Instagram.

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One Response

  1. i’m often asked about various mushrooms that grow here near the Beverley Swamp alongside the Headwaters of the Bronte Creek where we have our ‘Memorial Island’ & one of our ‘Serenity Gardens’ for displaying Life enhancing Plants 🙂 Mushroom Spoors that are not negatively affected by Pine & Cedar Tree’s ?? What would be the best type of Mushroom to grow here in this Environment ?? Also does Your Mushroom Farm participate in Events of Public Interest such as Musical Extravaganza’s & other Events ??

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