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.
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.