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Archive for May, 2013

Old inoculated log

A 5 year old shiitake mushroom log.

Perennial cultivation of gourmet mushrooms on logs can yield harvests for ten or more years from the same log with slightly more than a novice amount of labor and know-how. Nearly any clean-ish shady place is suitable for log cultivation. Sheltered backyards, cellars, cemented areas like air-shafts between buildings- not to mention all the shady stumps since Sandy- are all good mushroom habitat conditions common to Brooklyn. If there’s a shady spot near you somewhere, you can probably grow a log mushroom garden there.

A rik of logs like this can be inoculated with 1000 plugs of spawn.

A ‘rick’ of logs like this can be inoculated with 1000 plugs of spawn.

Spawn
A good first step is to choose what kind of mushroom you want to grow and start shopping for mushroom spawn. Don’t buy anything until you’re ready to host an inoculation party (described below), but browse for research to find the right mushroom for you. Look for “plug spawn” sold as little wooden dowels already inoculated with mushroom mycelium. Plug spawn can be purchased at prices comparable to what you would expect to pay for house plants. A $20 investment can fetch 100 plugs, enough spawn to inoculate a single 8 ft. log; where as a 4×4 cubic stack of logs can be inoculated with 1000 plugs for around $40 – $80. I recommend these online retailers:
Fungi.com  – Washington, an organic family business operated by Paul Stamets.
FieldForest.net  – Wisconsin, diverse selections with good prices.
WylieMycologicals.ca  – Ontario, organic commercial and small gardener support.
MushroomShack.com  – Ohio, one of the closest to NYC.
MushroomPeople.com  – Tennessee, a project of “The Farm”, home to famed midwife Ina May Gaskin.

This maple tree fell in a recent storm, leaving several large limbs suspended off the ground.

Ideal conditions. This maple tree fell in a recent storm, leaving several large limbs suspended off the ground.

Logs

Different fungi like to eat different kinds of trees. For example, shiitake, maitake, and oysters all do well with a variety of deciduous hardwoods like oak, maple, elm, gum, and sycamore; but chicken of the woods prefers spruce and fir. It is important to match the mushroom species with its preferred wood. So after choosing the mushrooms you want to grow, the second step is to find quality logs to grow them in. With so much windfall of healthy tree limbs these past years, there is no shortage of good salvage timber for Brooklyn mushroom gardeners to choose from. But you can’t  just grow in any old fallen log. Experienced PSFC backyard mushroom cultivators use these criteria  for choosing good wood:

  • Avoid wood with signs of mold or other fungus like these dark spots.

    Avoid wood with signs of mold or other fungus like these dark spots.

    Clean: Meaning not already inoculated with wild fungus. Logs cut from recently downed and live trees are both good choices. Avoid any timber with visible signs of mold or decay, that was in direct contact with the ground for more than a few days, or that was felled more than six months ago. Winter, the dormant season, is the best time to harvest wood for mushroom logs. Keep your cut logs off the ground and away from potential contamination by wild fungus. If you cut wood from live trees, let it rest two or more weeks for its natural anti-fungal defenses to expire before inoculation.

  • Try to keep the bark intact all the way around the entire log.

    Try to keep the bark intact all the way around the entire log.

    Intact: Bark should be continuous all the way around the log with no wounds or scratches. Intact bark helps maintain moisture inside the log which is important for keeping mushrooms happy.

  • Size: Diameters from 3 to 8
    Limbs cut from felled trees are gathered together and cut into similar lengths. Tip: make a brief notch cut into the bottom of the limb before cutting through from the top to get a clean cut without tearing any tabs of bark of the log.

    Tip: make a brief notch cut into the bottom of the limb before cutting through from the top to get a clean cut without tearing any tabs of bark off the log.

    inches across, and lengths of about 4 feet are ideal. Smaller logs are lighter, easier to handle, and will produce mushrooms sooner than larger logs. Larger logs have a longer wait before they start producing, but, once they get started, can produce for  a greater number of consecutive years.

Inoculation Party
Once you have your logs and spawn in order, you’re ready to inoculate. Invite friends to an “inoculation party” and gather these supplies:

spawn fresh from fungi.com, drill bits, camp stove, thrift store pot filled with bees wax, and hammer.

Spawn fresh in the mail, drill bits, camp stove, thrift store pot filled with bees wax, and hammer.

•    power drills, the more the merrier
•    drill bits (size specified by the spawn retailer for their plugs)
•    hammers, one for everyone attending
•    1 inch wide paint brushes
•    bees wax (2 lb. wax per 1000 plugs)
•    hot plate
•    cheap pot for melting bees-wax in

We drilled more than one thousand holes in an afternoon- pining a bit for more drills on hand and an elevated work table.

We drilled more than one thousand holes in an afternoon- pining a bit for more drills on hand and an elevated work table.

Drill one hole for every piece of plug spawn. This goes faster with more than one person drilling at the same time. Place holes roughly 3 inches apart along the entire length and circumference of your logs. It may be helpful to mark a piece of scrap wood with lines measured every 3 inches for a template. A common technique is to drill a single straight line of holes, rotate the log a partial turn to expose a fresh side, and then start the next line of holes indented a bit from the first line so that the holes form equilateral triangle patterns together.

Tapping plugs all the way in until flush with the sapwood just below the bark.

Tapping plugs all the way in until flush with the sapwood just below the bark.

Hammer the little dowels of plug spawn into their holes. Catch up on some conversation with friends while you’re taping away on the logs, and get the bee’s wax started melting. Once the holes are all filled with plug spawn, paint melted wax over the plugged holes, over any wounds in the bark, and over the logs’ ends.

All waxed up and ready to soak.

All waxed up and ready to soak.

Waxing helps preserve moisture inside and protects the wood from wild fungus.

Soaking shiitake logs in rain water.

Soaking shiitake logs in rain water.

Soak
To give your mushrooms a good start in a moist new home, soak the inoculated logs for 24 hours in a rain barrel. Rural cultivators recommend soaking in pond water, but rainwater is a good next-best. Chlorinated tap water is not recommended unless you let it sit out for 24 hours to off-gas beforehand.

One pallet stacked on the northern side of a concrete wall, and covered with dry boughs for extra shade.

One pallet stacked on the northern side of a concrete wall, and covered with dry boughs for extra shade.

Lay in the Garden
The last step is to lay the soaked logs together in a fully shaded location outdoors. It is common to arrange logs into a criss-crossed, log cabin-style stack. This helps maintain humidity and keeps the mass of wood off the ground. Water the logs during dry spells to maintain consistently high internal moisture levels.

For some time (between 6 months and a year) your mushrooms will grow without much visible effect. You may notice a little increase in the white mycelium growing around the plug holes.  When you see little swelling mushroom buttons, you know your log is ready to fruit.  Soak them again for a boost and watch.  They come quickly! Once you have a log that produces, it will continue to fruit for years to come.

-by Shawn Onsgard & Joey Stein, for the PSFC Brooklyn Backyard Brigade.

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Spring is in full swing, and wild harvests of morels and other wild fungi are right around the corner. If foraged fungus from Prospect Park is outside your comfort zone, there is still time left this season to start an edible mushroom garden in your home, cellar, backyard, or community garden. A wide selection of gourmet mushroom varieties from portabella to reishi (including morel) are suitable for cultivation in Brooklyn with accessible price points and learning curves. Whether you’re looking for a project easy enough for young children or something with the longevity to satisfy a learned gardener, the kingdom of fungi has something for everyone. This article surveys the techniques and mushroom species popular with home cultivators to get you started before Summer.

Indoor Kits
Indoor mushroom garden kits boast both convenience and guaranteed results. One popular product from the eco-conscious company Back to the Roots  promises a harvest of oyster mushrooms within two weeks of purchase. Simply place their tissue-paper-sized box in a dark corner of your kitchen, add water, and wait. Similarly easy and small “just add water” kits are available from online vendors in the range of $20 – $40 for: portabella, crimini, oyster, lions mane, enokitake, king stropharia, maitake, nameko, pioppino, shiitake, reishi, and others. While packaged kits can deliver delicious, fresh mushrooms with minimal effort, they rather lack in longevity. Analogous to annuals of the plant kingdom, indoor kits will fruit once or twice, but are a short-lived pleasure. If you are up for a moderate DIY project, many of the above mushroom varieties may also be grown perennially.

Log Cultivation
Perennial cultivation of gourmet mushrooms on logs can yield harvests for ten or more years from the same log with slightly more than a novice amount of labor and know-how. Nearly any clean-ish shady place is suitable for log cultivation. Sheltered backyards, cellars, cemented areas like air-shafts between buildings- not to mention all the shady stumps since Sandy- are all good mushroom habitat conditions common to Brooklyn. If there’s a shady spot near you somewhere, you can probably grow a log mushroom garden there. As long as your log isn’t already inoculated with wild fungus, and you match the type of mushroom you want to grow with one of its preferred tree species, a log garden can start producing fruit in 6 months to a year.

Straw Mulch
Soil-enriching edible mushrooms like wine cap, a.k.a. king stropharia, fruit in humid late Summer days and can be inoculated into thickly layered matts of straw mulch between the plants in a garden bed. Bales of oat or wheat straw are soaked in water for three days before mushroom spawn gets mixed in between matts of the wet straw. Spreading inoculated straw mulch between corn rows and other crops helps retain moisture in the soil, boosts soil nutrients, and yields large meaty mushrooms for the grill. The perennial longevity of this method depends in part on the mass of straw available for the fungus to eat. To keep harvests coming year after year, gardeners will have to refresh the supply of straw in their mushroom patch annually.

Composted Beds and Lawns
It is also possible to sew mushroom spawn into thick beds of moistened wood mulch and richly composted lawns. Just imagine harvesting morels from the mulched paths of your community garden, or shaggy manes from around the compost bin. Maintaining a rich amount of well composted matter and perpetually moist conditions- even in dry seasons- are key to success with mushroom beds.

Symbiosis
Truffle cultivation is practiced by the most patient of souls who inoculate the seedlings of oak and hazelnut trees as they are sprouting to life. Planting them in the earth propagates a complex multi-species symbiosis that benefits the garden, the forest, and the kitchen. Successful truffle cultivation requires a more Mediterranean climate than we experience here in Brooklyn, but ingenuous gardeners from North Carolina to Oregon have been making inroads to this new frontier of American mycology. There may be hope for a truffle orchard in the neighborhood someday, but if you have the patience for that, surely you also have what it takes to hunt the wild morel in Prospect Park.

Happy mushrooming!
-by Shawn Onsgard for the PSFC Brooklyn Backyard Brigade

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Online Retailers
Fungi.com  – Washington, an organic family business operated by Paul Stamets.
FieldForest.net  – Wisconsin, diverse selections with good prices.
WylieMycologicals.ca  – Ontario, organic commercial and small gardener support.
MushroomShack.com  – Ohio, one of the closest to NYC.
Backtotheroots.com  – Washington, sells an easy-grow oyster mushroom kit also sold locally in Brooklyn.

Resource Communities
Mushroom walks with the New York Mycological Society.
NAMYCO.org  – North American Mycological Society.
MykoWeb.com A useful information warehouse from experienced Californian mycologists.

Further Reading
Mycelium Running, by Paul Stamets
Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, by Paul Stamets
Mushroom Guide, by David Aurora

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