March break starts this weekend which means going to the cottage to enjoy the last bit of snow, and cutting wood for mushroom cultivation. Before the buds start to swell on the trees, go cut one down and start your own little mushroom farm.
Hubby cutting oak logs last March.
Logs should be cut during the tree’s dormant season, between late fall and early spring, when the nutrient level in the tree is highest. They should be from live and healthy trees, a dead tree laying in the ground will already be invaded and contaminated by other funghi. Once cut, wait at least 2-3 weeks before you inoculate. A living tree will fight and reject the spawn.
Oak logs from last year, the outer lighter ring is the sapwood, high in moisture content and nutrients for growing mushrooms.
Last year, the logs were between 6-8″ in diameter and about 20″ long, making them a bit heavy to handle. This year, we’ll look for smaller trees in the 4-6″ range. Hardwood such as oak is most preferable for it’s tough bark and long-lasting hardwood core, taking longer to break down than other hardwoods. This year however, we will try beech, which grow like weeds and is very prolific at the cottage. Each log should produce a pound of mushrooms per year for five years or more, depending on the size of the log. Rule of thumb is an inch in diameter equals one year, so a 5-inch log will last 5 years before it breaks down.
To inoculated your logs, drill holes in a diamond pattern 3-4 inches apart. Each log holds about 40 plugs. The more plugs you put in, the faster the mycelium runs through, the faster you will get mushrooms. If you have a moment, watch mycologist Paul Stamet’s Ted talk on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world. Some parts gets pretty scientific, but it’s worth watching to the end.
The depth of the hole should be 1/8″ deeper than the plug so that there is an airspace.
We purchased a tray of 600 plugs, which was enough to inoculate 15 fairly large logs. There are many places to purchase plugs online. Just Google shiitake plug spawn and find one in your area. You could also purchase shiitake logs that are ready to go, which is what I did first before inoculating my own.
The shitake plug is made up of the spawn grown in sawdust. The spongy white material is the mycelium, the root network of the shiitake. Once in the log, it will take from six months to a year to colonize, before you see your first mushroom.
The plugs also have a styrofoam cap which helps to keep out unwanted organisms. Just pop the plug out of the tray and it fits perfectly in the hole.
You know it’s working when you see mycelium (white splotchy areas)
spreading it’s white network through the bark and on the ends of the log.
The logs were kept in shade all last summer. When it was very hot with little rain, they got watered to keep the logs from drying out. You want to simulate a natural moist environment where a fallen log sits under a forest canopy. So my logs sat the whole summer, beside the garage, tented with a shade cloth and I forgot about them.
Then late summer, I saw this. Mushrooms on a few logs that were already opened past their prime, but still edible and very tasty.
The rims were already rolled right back and starting to split. Having read that the first flush of mushrooms is not until the following spring, this was a real surprise.
So I immediately dragged out my big tomato pot and soaked the rest of the logs in cold water overnight.
Then gave them a few hard smacks on the ground (to shock and simulate a tree falling) and loosen the mycelium.
Then in a few days, this appeared…
Then soon, more appeared…pretty amazing. It takes a “pin” 7-10 days to mature into a full size mushroom.
After fruiting, let the log rest for 2 months before you shock it again. If I’m lucky, these logs from last spring will produce 3-4 flushes of mushrooms a year. One log produces on average, 1/2 pound of mushrooms each flush, so shocking two logs every week should keep us in mushrooms from spring until fall. Fingers crossed!