Plugging the gap

March 2020 Waltham Forest Echo

Author Helen Bigham

Mushrooms are one of my favourite vegetables, although technically they’re not a plant. As the Croatian proverb says: “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once.” What I don’t do is forage for them in our local woodland. Mushrooms have protected status under Epping Forest byelaws because of their key role in maintaining the sustainability of the ecosystem.

Their removal threatens the delicate balance of biodiversity – without their ability to recycle nutrients most plants would not survive. Ancient trees rely on fungi to protect their roots while animals such as deer use them as a food source. Collecting mushrooms isn’t like picking blackberries. These fruits contain seeds which animals eat and spread through their droppings, whereas mushrooms transmit their spores in the wind, so cutting down their numbers limits their chance to grow and propagate. Suntrap Forest Centre, however, has come up with a solution to give pupils the chance to have a close-up experience and learn more about this key part of the forest.

The environmental centre's head, Kerry Rolison, explains: “During our refurbishment closure we’ve made good use of some of our fallen logs that are in cool, shady spots by inserting ‘mushroom plugs’. “These are small wooden dowels that have been inoculated with mycelium of edible fungi. To harvest will typically take 12-18 months so we’re looking forward to watching mushrooms emerge from cracks and channels in the wood, ready for our reopening.” Kerry does give one word of advice; make sure you’re not using a living tree as plugs put into them won’t survive and you’d be damaging the tree.

You can alternatively visit Hornbeam Café in Bakers Arms to get your fill of delicious locally grown natural food. OrganicLea, a worker’s co-operative based in Chingford, runs a Saturday market stall outside the café. I'd encourage you to sign up for their vegetable box scheme, which has a wide range of pick up points across Waltham Forest. If you’d like to get involved, they also run horticultural volunteer inductions on the first Wednesday and third Friday each month.

Happy healthy eating!