Growing mushrooms was recently added to my personal "bucket list." I had mentioned this new goal off-hand to friends, as a way to put my yard (which doesn't get enough sun to properly grow even grass) to produce food for my table. Much to my surprise, a local friend and farmer decided to cut down some oak trees in order to build a wood-framed stone garage — and he had extra limbs cut into short lengths perfect for mushroom inoculation. It appeared destiny had decided that I would become a participant in the ideal world Paul Stamets refers to as "Mycotopia."
Oak logs that are freshly cut during dormant, winter months make an ideal substrate for growing shiitake mushrooms. (In some translations, "Shii-take" is taken to literally mean "Oak-mushroom"). It is also one of the easier, least labor-intensive ways to get started growing mushroms: Few tools are required, and once the logs have been inoculated with the shiitake mushroom spawn you only need sufficient moisture, dappled shade and patience. All in all, our supply list was short:
- Shiitake Growing Kit from Oyster Creek Mushroom Company, complete with 300 Shiitake plugs inoculated on hardwood dowels and instructions
- 8 fresh-cut oak logs, averaging 3 feet in length with a diameter between 4 to 5 inches. (The kit contained enough dowels to prepare twice this many logs!)
- Electric Drill
- 5/16-inch auger bit (The instructions specified a woodbit, but resident handyman and GRIT magazine Editor-in-Chief, Hank Will, recommended this option instead. It worked like a dream!)
- 1-lb. box of canning wax along with a double boiler, a heat source to melt it in, and a brush to spread the wax.
- A palette to stack the inoculated logs on until they begin fruiting.
After a few (anxious and excited) days, the kit came! The next afternoon, we set about creating our mushroom logs. We started by drilling holes into the logs, each one deep enough for the inoculated hardwood dowels to fit inside with their tops flush with the surface of the log. The holes were spaced about 8 inches apart in rows spaced about 4 inches from one another.
Once the holes were drilled, we hammered in the hardwood dowels. Each dowel was sealed into the log by brushing on a layer of melted canning wax. We heated the wax in a makeshift double boiler, which consisted of placing the wax in a heatproof glass jar inside a medium saucepan filled partway with water, over a propane stove I otherwise use when I go camping.
The finished logs were stacked on a wooden palette, to discourage the logs from developing other fungi from the soil. We expect to see our firt "fruiting," mushroom growth, anywhere from 6 to 12 months from now. This fall, we plan to experiment with a forced fruiting, by soaking the logs for an extended period in a tub of water. The logs are located on the east side of our building, so they are in shade during the hot afternoon hours. A light shade cloth might be installed through the warmer and brighter summer months to cover the logs, which prefer as much sunlight as they would receive on the bottom of a forest floor. As long as the logs receive a healthy rain every couple weeks (or we douse them with the hose), the inside of the logs will stay damp enough to encourage mushroom growth.
Over the fruiting life-span of each inoculated log (3 to 4 years), we can expect up to 4 pounds of shiitake mushrooms, for a total of 36 pounds of fresh, organic mushrooms. Considering that fresh, organic shiitake mushrooms can sell for about $16 a pound, the up front cost of nearly $60 for all of our supplies is definitely a bargain — with a total of nearly $500 in savings!