Cooperative Extension

Wild, Wonderful (and Cheap!) WV Outdoor Adventures

By Chris Zeto, Extension Agent

West Virginia is widely known for its many “Wild, Wonderful” outdoor adventures. Since spring has officially sprung, it’s time to get outside and have some fun. Whether you are interested in taking a leisurely stroll through one of the many state parks or hitting some challenging off-road ATV trails, West Virginia has something for everyone. Listed below are some free or inexpensive outdoor adventures that are a must for 2016:

For more information on these and other outdoor adventures, please visit or call 1-800-CALL-WVA. Go outside and play in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

Post Harvest Techniques for the Consumer

by Robin Turner, Extension Agent

Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market or grocery store is a great way to ensure a healthy diet. But, do you ever wish you could keep those items fresh longer? Let’s look at some post-harvest storage tips to maintain a longer life for your fresh produce.

“Post-harvest” is defined as the handling of fresh produce from the point of harvest to when the product reaches the end user. Quality of fresh produce can never be regained after it is lost. Every fruit and vegetable has its own set of storage conditions that is temperature and moisture (humidity) dependent. With proper harvesting, pre-cooling and storage techniques, fresh produce can be stored to its maximum time. Following proven post-harvest techniques will slow softening (over-ripening), wilting, decay and odors.

The following chart, adapted from Storing Fresh Vegetables for Better Taste, lists appropriate storage temperatures for a variety of fruits and vegetables.


It is important to remember to refrigerate your fresh produce once it is cut or peeled for safety reasons. Produce should be stored in a moisture-resistant bag with air holes; this will prevent condensation, allow airflow and retain humidity. Remember to wash produce with clean running water before consuming, even when peeling. This will ensure that dirt from the outside does not transfer to the inside.

Birdseed Ornaments

by Nikki Erwin, SCRATCH Coordinator
Winter is a great time to teach your kids a little something about nature. These birdseed ornaments are a fun and easy kid-friendly activity that provides a great little snack for birds during the cold months of winter!
What You Will Need
  • 2 small packets of Knox gelatin
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. birdseed
  • pipe cleaner
  • mold (we used small heart shaped silicone molds)
  1. Dissolve 2 small packets of Knox in 1/2 c. of hot water (we used water that had been heated in a coffee pot).
  2. Add 1 1/2 c. birdseed and mix until the seeds are coated. If you have a lot of excess liquid, add a little more seed.
  3. Bend pipe cleaner into a circle that fits inside the mold, leave the opposite end straight.
  4. Spoon coated birdseed into mold, filling halfway. Press the birdseed down to make sure that it is well packed.
  5. Place the bent end of the pipe cleaner into the mold on top of the coated birdseed.
  6. Fill the mold the rest of the way up, pressing down on the birdseed to make sure that it is firmly packed on top as well as on the bottom.
  7.  Leave the birdseed in the mold to dry (we left them for about two hours).
  8. Pull the straight end of the pipe cleaner around and twist it, making a circle to hang the bird seed ornament.
  9. “Pop” the birdseed out of the mold; allow the ornaments to finish drying before you try and hang them (we left them overnight, just to be sure).
 You can use twine, but pipe cleaner can be twisted around tree branches, making it easier to retrieve them and dispose of them once the birds have eaten their treats! We did this activity with Pre-K to early elementary school aged children (SCRATCH) and with teenagers (Produce Pedalers). Kids of all ages enjoyed this activity!
The SCRATCH Project will be selling these ornaments at the Winter Blues Farmers Market on Thursday, February 25, starting at 4 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.

Keeping Safe in the Winter Months

By Krista Farley Raines, Regional Communications & Marketing Director, American Red Cross – West Virginia Region

Winter weather has finally arrived in the Mountain State, blanketing the region in beautiful – but potentially hazardous – snow. To help you better prepare yourself for winter emergencies, our friends from the American Red Cross West Virginia Region are guest blogging a two-part series about winter weather safety procedures for your home and your car. (Part two will post later this week.)

The American Red Cross responds to nearly 70,000 disasters every year in this country. No one hears about the vast majority of these emergencies — the home fires that affect a single family, many of whom escape with only the clothes on their backs. Heating sources are the second leading cause of home fire deaths, and fatal home fires increase during the winter months. In addition, the National Fire Protection Association states that half of all home heating fires occur in December, January and February.

Here are some ways you can stay safe during this winter season:

  1. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.
  2. Test the batteries in your smoke alarms once a month, and change them if they’re not working.
  3. Create an escape plan that includes two exits from each room and practice it until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
  4. Follow the “three feet” rule and keep children, pets and flammable items at least three feet from heating equipment. Turn off portable space heaters when you leave the room and when you go to sleep.
  5. Use gas wisely and never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home. Four percent of Americans admit to having used a gas stove to heat their home.
  6. If using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  7. Never use a generator indoors, even in a garage, carport, basement or crawlspace. Fumes from the generator can be deadly.

If you would like the Red Cross to install free smoke alarms in your home and assist in developing a fire escape plan please call 1-844-216-8286 to schedule an appointment. To learn more about winter safety, visit

Upcycling Your Pumpkins

by Jenny Totten, Extension Agent

Now that the Halloween season is over, you might have an abundance of leftover pumpkins hanging out on your porch. Don’t throw them away; reuse them! There are several potential uses for those leftover pumpkins, whether you’ve turned them into spooky jack-o-lanterns or just simply used them as part of your fall landscaping.

Carved Pumpkins

A carved pumpkin may not work for a pumpkin pie, but our animal friends can still appreciate it as a seasonal – and nutritious – treat. Many area farms will take your carved pumpkins to feed their pigs. Additionally, you can chop your pumpkin into smaller pieces and feed the wildlife outside of your own windows. Squirrels, chipmunks and birds all love pumpkin.

If you have access to a compost area, you can also toss the whole pumpkin in or cut it into smaller pieces, and it will compost down with the rest of your scraps. If you have an abundance of pumpkins to compost, mix in some dry leaves or dried grass clippings to help the process along.

Full Pumpkins

If your pumpkins haven’t been carved and only used for decoration, the uses after Halloween multiply. The easiest thing to do is to simply leave the pumpkins out for the rest of the fall season! If you chose a healthy pumpkin from the get-go, it should last well into Thanksgiving week.

For a fun family activity, take the top off of the pumpkins and pull out all of the guts and seeds for a sensory play experience! Children love separating the seeds from the guts. Wash the seeds and place them on a baking sheet along with chosen spices and bake in an oven for 5 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Tasty combinations include cinnamon and sugar, garlic and sea salt, and rosemary with sea salt and pepper.

If the flesh is still intact, you can also use this in recipes calling for canned pumpkin. Simply carve the flesh off of the skin, place in a blender and puree for a preservative-free addition to your fall soups and sweets. The puree itself can also be frozen for later use.

Don’t be sad for your jack-o-lantern! With so many uses after the fall holidays have passed, you can easily make sure your pumpkins enjoy the rest of the season right along with you.

That Sounds Like Fungus! A how-to guide for growing your own mushrooms

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

By Brad Cochran, Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources,

No matter how you slice or dice them, mushrooms can be a healthy and delicious addition to your dinner menu. Whether you are a fan of button mushrooms on your pizza, oyster and shiitake in your stir-fry, or portabellas stuffed with different cheeses, they all come with their own health benefits to go along with their amazing flavor. What most people don’t realize is how easy these fungi can be to grow either inside the comfort of your own home or as part of your landscape.

Mushroom cultivation has increased leaps and bounds since the 1960s. In 1965, total worldwide mushroom production was at 350,000 metric tons (Royse, 2003). This number increased to 6.2 million metric tons in 1997, a nearly 18-fold increase in total production (Royse, 2003). These production totals have continued to increase in the years since 1997. Of the mushroom species mentioned above, the button mushroom (Agaricus spp.) is the most commonly produced worldwide, followed by the oyster (Pleurotus spp.) and then the shiitake (Lentinula edodes).

Two of the easier mushrooms to produce in West Virginia, or the Appalachian region in general, are oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on a variety of substrates, including coffee grounds, straw, shredded paper or logs. Of these different substrates, growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds is the easiest and least time consuming of the methods. The only materials you need are a five-gallon bucket with four to six holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, about half of that bucket filled with used coffee grounds, and oyster mushroom sawdust spawn. Once you have enough coffee grounds, mix the sawdust spawn and grounds together with your hands. After this is completed, cover the bucket with a clear plastic bag, punching some airflow holes into it. You will also want to spray the coffee grounds with water once a day to keep them moist. In six to eight weeks, you will be enjoying oyster mushrooms in your dinner dishes!

Producing shiitake mushrooms is a more intensive process at the beginning, but involves very little time and labor when it comes to production and harvesting. The modern method of shiitake mushroom inoculation has been used since the early 1940s and involves drilling a hole into a log and introducing the laboratory produced spawn via these holes. During the winter months, begin finding and cutting the logs for inoculation. Species to consider are white and red oak, sugar maple (cut before January), ironwood or gum. Oak is the best; oak logs have enough bark thickness to hold in moisture but not so much thickness that you cannot drill into the logs for inoculation. Next, find a location that has approximately 70 percent shade throughout the summer months.

Now that you have found your site and logs, you are ready to inoculate. Shiitake spawn comes in three forms: sawdust, dowel and thimble. If you choose dowel spawn, use a 5/16” drill bit to drill into the log about one inch deep and six inches apart. Using a rubber mallet, drive the dowels into the log and seal with beeswax or a soy-based wax, like cheese wax. If you use sawdust or thimble spawn you will want to use a 7/16” drill bit and again drill about one inch deep and four to six inches apart. The sawdust spawn will need sealed with the wax again, but the thimble spawn does not need to be sealed. Once your log has been inoculated, lean the log against a tree or fence for one summer. Then you will begin to see the mycelium on the top part of the log to tell you that the log is ready to fruit. Once this happens, submerge the log under water for about 12 hours then place the log back in its growing location. Harvesting will occur in about seven days. Then you can enjoy your delicious shiitake mushrooms. These harvests will occur during the summer months every six to eight weeks for three to four years.

For a demonstration of the inoculation process, watch our video:

The best thing about growing your own cultivated mushrooms is that you know exactly what you are getting when you make your harvests. There is no questioning whether the mushroom is poisonous or safe to eat. Cultivated mushrooms are also a great way to get your family involved in the production process. If you are growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, let the kids be responsible for watering the bucket. If you are inoculating logs, let the kids put the spawn in the logs before the adults put the hot wax in the holes. Kids love to watch the mushrooms grow when they can monitor the change in the buckets every day. It becomes a research project outside of school hours.

Mushroom production in West Virginia is currently showing a four million pound gap between mushrooms demanded and mushrooms produced (Hartz, 2012). This suggests a huge need for added mushroom production in the state and shows market potential for someone interested in commercial production. However, mushroom production just for your household alone can be a fun new project and a way to utilize shady areas of your property that don’t allow for other crops to thrive. Cultivated mushrooms are a very hands-off production crop that can make for a delicious addition to any meal.