Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Your Backyard Woods - Alternative sources of income - Foods

The term “special forest products” describes products generated from plants or fungi that can be harvested from your backyard woods. Unlike wood products, special forest products have diverse uses and come from a large variety of sources: foods from mushrooms, nuts, fruits, and sap; medicinals from herbs and other plant parts; decoratives from stems, branches, flowers, boughs, and buds; and handicrafts from bark, burls, conks, and stems. In some areas, the special forest products are more valuable than the wood products.
Berries, wild fruits, mushrooms, nuts, and maple syrup are examples of the many food items to be found in your backyard woods. What you have and what you can grow depend on your location.
Berries and other fruits
Your family can enjoy the berries and other fruits you find or grow in your backyard woods. The most well known are probably the wild blueberry and the big huckleberry. Other popular wild berries are gooseberries, currants, strawberries, blackberries, blackcaps, and raspberries. Lesser known berries are lingonberries, juneberries, elderberries, mulberries, coralberries, salmonberries, and thimbleberries. Native wild fruits include mayhaws, pawpaws, persimmons, chokecherries, crabapples, Oregon grape, and several types of plum. Staghorn sumac, prickly pear, deerberry, passionflower, and black cherry are also used for their berries and fruit. Cultivation of berries and fruits is rewarding, because their produce can be harvested 2 to 3 years after planting.

Mushrooms—like other fungi—are saprophytes, which means that they live on dead and decaying material. When temperature, light, moisture, and nutrients are right, the microscopic mycelium (white and black strings of fungi) forms small buds that grow into the fruits we know as mushrooms. Many species of mushrooms are inedible or poisonous, so the ability to identify different types is critical to harvesting and cultivating. The most commonly collected wild mushrooms are chanterelle, morel, (black and yellow) matsutake, and boletus. Cultivated mushrooms include shiitake, chanterelle, oyster, and enoki.

Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms can be rewarding and challenging. They can be cultivated in virtually every part of the country, in small and large operations, either indoors or outdoors. The primary growing medium for shiitake is logs cut during the dormant season from living decay-free trees. This is a potential use of small trees removed around preferred trees. (See the Backyard Woods Tip Sheet on Help Your Preferred Trees Grow for more information.) White oak, maple, and sweetgum are good species, but other species will also work. Red oak and pine should be avoided. Cut logs that are 3 to 5 feet long and 3 to 6 inches in diameter, with the bark intact. Two weeks after being cut, logs are inoculated with spawn (live fungus). Spawn can be purchased as dowel plugs or sawdust blocks from spawn producers throughout the United States and Canada. Different strains are better suited for different climatic conditions. The inoculation process consists of drilling each log with 35 to 40 holes 6 inches apart in rows offset and spaced about 2 inches apart. A dowel or plug is placed in each hole and sealed with a thin coat of hot wax. The logs are then stacked in at least 60 percent shade. (A woods of mixed needleleaf and broadleaf trees is ideal.) Moisture content is critical. Logs should never dry out, but should not be so wet as to produce mold. Fruiting will usually occur in 6 to 18 months and continue for 3 to 5 years.

Acorns, beechnuts, black walnuts, hickory, pecan, and pine nuts are commonly used for food and commercial purposes. Acorns are the most abundant nut because there are more than 60 types of oak trees and all produce edible acorns. Oaks are divided into two groups: red (or black) oaks that produce nuts with a bitter taste, and white oaks that produce a considerably sweeter nut.
Beechnuts are small and triangular and are found within the small burrs that appear after the beech tree leaves begin to fall. They are best gathered from lower branches just prior to dropping, before small animals have a chance to forage.
Black walnuts are valued for both their nuts and their shells. The shell of the black walnut is used for metal cleaning and polishing, oil well drilling, paints, explosives, and cosmetic cleaners. They can be gathered and sold commercially.
The most desirable hickory nuts come from shellbark and shagbark hickory trees. Both have sweet nuts that vary in size and are encased in hard, thick husks that turn from green to brown in the fall.
Pecan is a member of the hickory family. It grows in the wild, primarily in the lower Mississippi River Valley in an area extending westward to eastern Kansas and central Texas, and eastward to western Mississippi and western Tennessee. Pecans are grown commercially throughout the southern part of the United States. Pecan trees begin to bear when they are about 10 years old.
Pine nuts are not true nuts since they lack a woody covering. The western portion of the country provides the majority of the edible pine nuts. Pine trees that bear edible fruit include the ponderosa, Coulter, sugar, and Digger pines, but the most popular is the common or Colorado pinyon and single-leaf pinyon. Seeds of these pines have the size and appearance of puffed rice. Wild pinyons do not bear full crops until they are about 75 years old.

Maple Syrup
North American maples are the only maples in the world that produce maple-flavored sap for syrup. Sugar maple is the tree most often tapped. Black maple, a close relative to sugar maple, is also a good sap source. It is also possible to make syrup from red maple, silver maple, box elder, and even white birch sap, but the sugar maple produces 50 percent more sap with higher sugar content than these trees. Therefore, it will take considerably more sap trees to produce the same amount of syrup.  Trees 10 inches in diameter and larger (measured 4.5 feet above the ground) are tapped. A tap is a hole drilled into the tree trunk into which a metal spout is driven and a bucket or plastic bag is hung to collect the sap. In an average year, each sugar maple tap yields 10 gallons of sap.
Overtapping damages a tree’s health. General guidelines recommend one tap for a tree 10-15 inches in diameter, two taps for a tree 16-20 inches, and three taps for a tree 20-25 inches. A young vigorous tree is best for tapping because it can rapidly produce new wood to cover the tap hole.
Maple tree sap is boiled until it thickens into sweet syrup. About 30 to 40 gallons of sap are needed to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.

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