A shortcut to mushrooms

Okay, that’s a Tolkien reference that probably went right over most of you…

But anyway, to go along with our new chickens, I also decided to start a few mushroom logs. Nothing like a spinach and mushroom omelet.

Since we like our mushrooms, and they’re not especially cheap at the market, I thought, why not grow our own (that’s just the way my mind works – not everyone automatically jumps to that conclusion)? With that decision made, I picked up some shiitake and blue oyster plugs.

They’re fairly easy to grow, and the process is straightforward. First, you need logs. Common recommendations are roughly 4-6″ in diameter and 3-4′ long (they can probably be longer if you’d like, but it gets hard to carry around 8′ logs). Shiitakes like oak, but any good hardwood should work. We don’t have any oaks nearby, so I used a beech and a maple, and I’ll compare how they do. Oysters will do okay on most woods, but I found them growing wild on tulip (poplar) here, so that’s what I’m using. Don’t use pine for anything.

The logs need to be fresh (if you use something that’s been laying on the ground for a while, chances are it’s already infected with some other fungus), so you’ll probably have to fell a small tree, or find something with big limbs. We have a good supply of youngish trees, so I took a couple down. This can also be part of a good forest management program – thinning out the trees will reduce overcrowding and allow for stronger survivors.

The logs should sit for a week or so (not too long though) to allow some of the natural anti-fungal properties to dissipate. Once that’s done, you need to drill holes, probably about 5/16″ and a little over an inch deep if you’re using the standard dowel plugs. Starting about 4″ from the end of the log, make a rough diamond pattern, about 4-5″ apart. I did four holes around, and 8 or 9 rows per log, so about 35-40 plugs per log.

mushroom3

mushroom1

Next, pop the plugs in the holes. You might need to lightly hammer them in – they should be snug, and lie not quite flush to the surface.

mushroom2

Many people will tell you to put some wax over the plugs to keep them moist. I didn’t, mostly because I don’t really have the time to dab melted wax over 300 small holes right now, but I figure if mushrooms can survive around here without my help, well, then they don’t need my help. Waxed or not, you do need to be diligent about making sure they stay moist enough – if the log dries out too much, goodbye mushrooms. Obviously (or not), stack them in a shady, damp place where you’d normally find them growing. Mushrooms don’t grow in the middle of your front yard that gets 12 hours of sun a day, so don’t put your logs there. If you haven’t had much rain, put them under the sprinkler for a bit.

You won’t see anything for many months, as it takes time for the spawn to fully inoculate the logs. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few in the fall when it’s cooler and wetter, but then should get a good bunch in the spring. You can force them into fruiting on a more regular schedule – I’m not heading that direction, but you can look it up if you’re interested.

The logs should last for a good 4-5 years if they’re taken care of, so that’s a pretty good payoff for not a whole lot of work. Growing your own food can be somewhat labor-intensive (certainly more so than filling a shopping cart), so any time there’s something that’s mostly hands-off, I love it. Stay tuned to see how this fares in about six months.

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