Way back in January we had some folks from Limber Tree Services come in and trim the trees on the farm. They took out the white pine that was shading out a great deal of the garden area and also removed some limbs (some of which were diseased and weak) from the silver maple and the extremely tall cherry. They did an incredible and responsible job and left us with more light, two big piles of mulch and a collection of assorted logs. I originally thought the logs would be used as firewood but on another outing had the opportunity to sit in on a mushroom cultivation workshop. While sitting there I had a revelation. The logs we had were perfect for shitake mushroom cultivation and the hardwood mulch could foster a crop of wild winecap mushrooms.
What makes a log good for mushroom cultivation? It depends on the species you are trying to grow, but in the case of shitakes, a hardwood such as oak or maple is best and a late winter cutting is perfect in that the log has some time to degrade all the enzymes and chemicals that would normally prohibit the growth of mushrooms on a healthy living tree, but it still has enough moisture and nutrients available to feed the developing mycelium. The smaller logs are best - the ones with a diameter less than 14 inches and if you can see small cracks radiating from the core, your log is ready. This should all coincide with early spring, warmer temperatures and enough time for the mushroom to grow and settle in before the next winter.
Through the magic of the internet (and a reference from the workshop) I was able to order what are called mushroom spawn plugs. They are basically short wooden dowels with grooved sides and mycelium (the vegetative part of the mushroom) already growing within them. These little chunks serve as an innoculant and by drilling holes in the log and then tapping in the plugs you can give the mushroom a head start in colonizing the logs, thereby taking it over before any other fungus has a chance.
I, as well as volunteers (my parents-in-law included) finally began drilling and plugging over the weekend and we finished up a couple of days ago. Now all we have to do is keep the logs in the shade and hope for some rain now and then (that's the ray of sunshine in today's rain). We can help things along by spraying them with a hose every now and then and also by covering with a breathable tarp made from heavy burlap or some such thing. I took the quick and dirty route by not covering each individual hole with a layer of wax after the plug went in, and during the workshop it was mentioned that this is not necessary.
The winecap mushroom "growing" is almost an afterthought. The spores are in the air and supposedly all I have to do is spread out the hardwood mulch, keep it moist and wait.
The waiting is almost, almost as hard as any other type of cultivation. I have to resign myself to just letting the the fungus do its thing. Not disturbing it, not worrying about...a very difficult thing to do. We'll see.
plugs in the log. they are in a diamond pattern for maximum colonization potential
A bit about my experience with Limber Tree Service: While I was considering bids for the tree work, a friend of my husband happen to hear about the farm and suggested I use these guys. During my meeting with Erik, one of the certified arborists from the company, he was very considerate, not only of me but also of the trees' health and their future. They did not have to bring in any cherry pickers or heavy machinery, just the chipper to break down the smaller branches. On the day of the job they we there in the light rain/snow and graciously separated the mulch piles into hardwoods and softwoods and cut all the logs into people-moveable pieces. On the invoice they kept their word on the estimated price, even though I had asked them to do extra work during the day, essentially donating $500 to our project. In two words, they were professional and generous and the garden would not be the same this year without them. Thanks guys.