Fun with fungi

Normally, I am suspicious of any enterprise whose first step is cutting down a tree. Once you break out the chainsaw, it can only mean hard work, heavy lifting, and defoliation.

Kevin deciding which oak will give its life for our mycological experiment

Defoliation, for you day-spa aficionados, is very different from exfoliation. Exfoliation removes undesirable dead skin, and I am generally in favor of it. Defoliation removes desirable live plants, and I am generally opposed to it. In this case, though, I was willing to go along because it was all in the interest of mycology. And, from mycology, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to dinner.

Kevin and I are going to try our hand at growing shiitake mushrooms. We’ve decided to do this partly because we like shiitake mushrooms and partly because it looks easy – at least once you get past the chainsaw step.

Here’s how you do it. You get a few four-foot lengths of oak tree, and you drill holes in them. You fill the holes with plugs of shiitake spore, which you buy on the Internet. You seal them with wax. You stand them in the ground and wait for your bumper crop, which comes in once or twice a year for several years. A decade, even.

We can’t do the plugging and waxing until after the danger of frost is over, but we cut down the two trees (our ambitions run to a good dozen logs’ worth) now because we need to give the wood’s natural anti-fungal compounds time to die. Those compounds are very useful to the trees in their lifetime but are the enemy of post-mortem shiitake farming.

As food cultivation goes, shiitake mushrooms are about as good as it gets. There’s no plowing or tilling or sowing. There’s no watering or weeding or fertilizing. You don’t even get your hands dirty. All you have to do is cut down the tree. And then the other tree.

5 people are having a conversation about “Fun with fungi

  1. aline akselrad says:

    Both are impressive: your undertaking and your writing about it. I hope the mushrooms grow and we shall be buying them from you for $150/mushroom.
    Long time ago there was a serial on television called “good neighbours” or something like that,describing experiences similar to yours. Maybe you will be repaid for your invested time.

  2. yea, mushroom people! i inoculated logs some 10 yrs ago all have rotted since but nary had a crop, 1 log left and had two this fall, but were rotten by the time i discovered hoo. anyway my question is did you use the logs to inoculate right after you cut them? i had used seasoned logs maybe that was my problem. i figured it didnt work so i never tried again but reading your blog makes me want to try. i still have the wax from years ago. also, do you know the name of the foray group on cape? i would be interested in meeting other mushroom people. I attend the NEMF in eastham this year but did not meet anybody from the cape. thanks glad i found u.

  3. Jane — Some of our logs were freshly cut when we inoculated them, and others were a few weeks old. Experts seem to disagree on which of those two strategies is better, but my understanding is that you can’t use old wood. On the ohter hand, mushrooms are enigmatic, so you never know.

    I haven’t gotten involved with any group on the Cape, but I keep meaning to sign up with the Boston Mycological Club. I just keep reading books.

  4. Hi Tamar, thanks for the reply..i look at my fungi perfecti catelog often trying to figure out what to order so i think i will try the shitake again. jsut need to get some fresh logs, i think that is the ticket! i bought one from julie winslow and some critter ate the plugs. last feb. i came home to a cooked lobster a friend left and then i was scanning my yard and found some shitake on that log that i thought wouldnt i had a nice lobster and shitake over ligunini that night! Reading is a good way to learn, i have a bunch of books too and settle down and learn too. hope to get more involved. that foray in eastham was crazy, they had microscopes and the lingo was above me..but cool peopel none the less. i help at the church where they had people cooking dishes with the mushrooms found and yummmm somebody found a bunch of chicken mushroom and made a stew! to die for. that foray is in new york next year
    take care, jane

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