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TDLG Fungi Workshop/foray

June 2023 – Report on the TDLG Fungi Workshop/foray presented by Alison Pouliot 
With the places confirmed, dietary requirements provided to Sally of Little Miss Merlot, and with Coastal Forest lodge ready, it was time for TDLG to head out and prepare for our big weekend of fungi workshops with Alison Pouliot.
Alison arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday and not long after Sequoia (TDLG member) appeared. Sequoia had attended last year’s workshop and clearly demonstrated her knowledge of and interest in fungi. Since then, Sequoia had assisted Alison with setting up and running various workshops. Our participants were in for a treat having two minds to ask questions of.
That afternoon/evening the two them set up a magnificent display of fungi (see photos)  A great feature of these displays is how Alison includes the habitats of the fungi.
Friday morning and the participants started to arrive, and it was looking like a beautiful day though a little windy. There was a stunning display to look at, and tea, coffee, and biscuits available for those that wanted something. Welcome, housekeeping, and introductions over and the day was about to begin.
Alison is always keen to know something of the interest and background of the participants, and the responses are usually varied, from those who already have a basic knowledge, others who are looking to revegetate their land, and this time we had a writer!
Dirt Matters’ was the topic, so Alison was soon detailing the structure of soil, mycelium (a mesh of fungal threads), and symbioses. A question on whether you could add mycelium to your soil by gathering soil from under a tree, was soon answered by ‘how big was the wheelbarrow’? 
Alison went on to expand on the mutually beneficial relationship. The mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi associates with plant roots thus greatly expanding the surface area of the root system, helping to facilitate water and nutrient uptake by the plant.  In return the plant provides sugars that it creates through photosynthesis a process that is not something the fungi is not capable of. 
The plant being assisted might be a tree! Then there is the Long-Nosed Potoroo, bandicoots, and other marsupials (if they were still with us) who turn over leaf litter and soil and scatter the fungal spores in the process. There are many other relationships, and that wheelbarrow is now very full!
Alison then explained how you can encourage fungi by not removing organic matter, (i.e., cleaning up leaf litter and fallen logs), not compacting or tilling the soil, not over watering, not using fertilizers/pesticides, but by planting pastures and crops that support mycorrhizal fungi. 
She went on to detail how fire affects fungi in different ways, and that they have varying tolerances to temperature, but scorching high intensity fires kill fungi found near the surface. 
The display was the main attraction, as Alison provided the history around fungi, their characteristics, what they are made of, how they feed, etc.  She also described the legality of foraging, cultural differences, literature, art, and the role of women in handing down knowledge of fungi.
It was an intense, fascinating, humorous morning, and the afternoon was awaiting. But first lunch, and then once well fed, everyone layered up and were eager to explore the bush. Coastal Forest Lodge is a perfect location for these sessions in that the bushland has been left to follow its own cycle and so there is an excellent variety of fungi and lichens. Certainly, when everyone returned the smiles and enthusiasm levels were high.
Saturday had an air of concern as the weather forecast seemed to indicate a cold front was going to pass over us midafternoon.
That might be an issue but before that there was the indoor morning session. For ‘Slow Mushrooming’ Alison completely  reorganised her display and reduced it to two outer row of tables containing repeated lines of fungi. In the middle were three other tables one for TOXIC, the middle INDETERMINANT, and the other for EDIBLE. It was obviously going to be a day of decisions for the participants. Alison let everyone know that the noise level was going to rise and when she was answering a question a ping on a coffee cup would signal for everyone to listen.
The session started with an outline on the legal system and its laws in connection with fungi specifically foraging.
It was then time to move on and look at a specific species and with numerous samples on the table everyone was able to take an in-depth look at the Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius deliciosus)
Alison began by outlining the need to recognize changes in morphology of a species and that exposure to weather can alter the colour and demonstrated this in showing a series of photographs of one species of fungi and its various colours.
The group then started to analyse the Saffron Milk Cap. Fungi in hand and with access to a knife they then answered a series of questions; habitat (where it is growing ) substrate (What is it growing out of ), habit (How it grows is it solitary, gregarious). It was time then to look more closely at its anatomy. Describing the cap, its underside, opening it up to see any sap, checking the stipe, before thinking about the spores and odor.
Throughout this Alison encouraged the group to feel, touch and cut open the Milk Cap and discuss their thoughts.
She reminded everyone that if you are not sure of the fungi do not cut the stipe so you can check for a bulbous base, as this can assist in identification. If you are certain though cut the stipe as it means the mycelium is retained in the soil.
Having worked through one species it was now time to investigate the others and start the process of deciding on edible or toxic. 
Much discussion, laughter and questioning and soon the middle set of tables were covered in various species of fungi.
Satisfied with their efforts it was now time for the group to be satisfied with lunch. Many positive comments and with full stomachs the group gathered for an afternoon in the bush.
Close to 4.00pm everyone started to return to the lodge just as the raindrops were beginning to fall. We had successfully completed the day before the storm and winds descended!
A final chat, a few thank you’s and everyone departed, wiser, tired, and inspired.
The storm cleared the air and Sunday was bright and sunny. Today was ‘Mushroom Rendezvous’ a foray, so everyone was well prepared to spend a couple of hours out in the bush, and Alison had Cathy as her assistant.
After getting close to various species of fungi and lichen the group returned to lunch and further conversations. Replete and full of enthusiasm, everyone departed with many expressing an interest to return in 2024.
Thank you to Alison for your enthusiasm, extensive knowledge, humour, and passion, you continue to inspire participants and open their eyes to the Kingdom of Fungi and its many benefits.
Thank you also for arranging Sequoia and Cathy’s attendance at the sessions.
We look forward to you returning on Thursday 13th – 16th June 2024
Thank you to Coastal Forest Lodge, the location is perfect due to the relationship and care Iona and family have with this land.
Thank you to Sally of Little Miss Merlot. Everyday participants waxed lyrical on the meals that were provided. Many wanting recipes, or even a cookbook!
Thank you also to TDLG Committee Members Jules and Lesley for your organization and coordination.
Thank you to the Victorian Government and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority for the 2022 Victorian Landcare grant that has allowed TDLG to complete our 2023 project ‘Part of the answer lies beneath our feet.’
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Next it is revegetation programs!
More news to come.
Best wishes
From your TDLG Committee