A week or so ago, I finally finished inoculating my very first mushroom logs. (I say finally because this was a rather long process for me – the logs were cut a couple of months ago, and then I had to drill over 400 holes in them before inoculating. That is a lot of holes to drill!) I’ve tried growing mushrooms from those cardboard box indoor mushroom kits that you can buy, but never had the best luck with them – sure, they grew some mushrooms, but not enough to make it worth the $20 or so that they cost to buy. I think the problem with those kits, for me, is that they require so much maintenance – they need to be misted a couple of times a day, and you have to remember to do this for a few weeks before they even begin to fruit, and ideally you’re keeping them in a cool, dark location (which tends to be a place that I will most likely forget about them). But I’d also heard of cultivating edible mushrooms on logs or stumps, and when my brother told me he had to cut down a big oak tree a couple of months ago I quickly did my research and decided it was a project I’d like to try.
Luckily for me, oak is one of the preferred woods on which to grow edible mushrooms, and can be used for a wide variety of these delicious fungi. So my first step was to gather some logs. I loaded up my wheelbarrow with several thick branches, about 4-6 inches in diameter and 3-5 feet in length. I brought the logs to a shady location in the yard and kept them up off the ground (to prevent, as much as possible, wild fungi from inoculating them) and allowed them to “cure” for three weeks before beginning the inoculation process. This step is apparently very important, as live and freshly cut wood contains chemical substances that prevent fungal growth – so if I were to inoculate right away, my mushroom spawn would be killed.
While waiting for my logs to cure, I ordered my plug spawn from Fungi Perfecti, a certified-organic company in Olympia, Washington, that carries mushroom spawn in various forms and varieties. (I didn’t really do much research on different companies – this was just one of the first ones that popped up when I googled “mushroom plug spawn for sale”, that carried more than just shiitake.) I decided on four varieties: Blue Oyster (guess what song was stuck in my head while I inoculated this one?), Pearl Oyster, Lion’s Mane, and Shiitake, and got 100 plugs (short wooden dowels inoculated with the fungus) of each, for $14.95 each (minus a 30% discount that I got at checkout, for some unknown reason). I figure that at this price, if I am able to harvest even a single pound of each mushroom, I’ll more than break even. My order arrived much faster than I expected (2 days using regular mail), and so I had to sit around and wait to inoculate because my logs still hadn’t sat for the requisite amount of time. The plug spawn were very neat looking: an about-quart-sized, vacuum-sealed plastic baggie for each variety, each containing a bunch of short wooden dowels all glommed together with white mycelia.
When my logs had sat for their full three weeks, I began drilling: a hole for each plug, 5/8″ in diameter and 1 1/4″ in depth (to match the plug size), no more than 4″ apart, in a triangle pattern, to ensure that the fungal mycelia will be able to easily grow over the entire log. Once the holes were drilled (and it takes a lot longer than you might think to drill 400 holes!), I hammered in all of the plugs and then sealed each hole with beeswax. (“Hooray!” I thought, when reading the instructions that came with my plugs, “I have plenty of my own home-harvested beeswax to use!” Unfortunately, though, my beeswax had somehow gotten moist in storage and developed some mold, and as I did not want to introduce competing fungus into my mushroom logs, I ended up having to melt down some beeswax candles instead.)
I tagged each log with the variety it was inoculated with and stacked the logs in a shaded area, covering them with shadecloth to help keep them cool and moist. Now begins the waiting game. The logs need to be misted occasionally (like once or twice a week), and eventually (in a few months) the fungus will completely colonize them, at which point, and under the appropriate weather conditions (and if all goes well – fingers crossed!), they should begin producing mushrooms! Om nom nom.