Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke of mulch. Today she speaks of inoculating logs with fungus plugs.
Inoculating logs with mushrooms is like playing Wack-a-Mole, immensely satisfying on a visceral level. Also on a visceral level, like so many of perks that have to do with working to grow your own food, at the end of the day there are glorious mushrooms to eat! (Or in 9-12 months.)
The most fun thing about the process was sharing something new. Whereas the majority of my friends have grown tomatoes, harvested kale, or even made cheese – no one had ever banged a spore-infused dowel into a mushroom log. So there were a lot of questions as we waited for the portable drills to charge: What are we doing? Why are we doing this? When will there be mushrooms? I thought you promised to bring beer? etc etc
Just so we are all on the page, here is 3 minutes about mushrooms. I am not a mycologist, so this is neophyte’s attempt to explain an entire branch of terrestrial life. Fungi – mushrooms, yeast, and molds – are an entire taxonomic kingdom onto themselves (like animals, plants, amoebae, etc). Mushrooms that we see and eat are only the fruit of fungus. A fungus is a collection of weblike strands that thrive on the organic compounds in a decomposing wood, or pollutants like oil derivatives. (Last year there was a big outcry about Amazon fungi which thrive eating plastic bags in landfills.) Wood that is left to decompose on the forest floor becomes colonized with many different species of fungi. The fungal species that is able to outproduce and thereby dominate the other colonizers will be the one that eventually may fruit on that log. Fruiting happens when there is enough water in the soil (or log) to force the fruit to the surface.
However, as I am sure you remember from high school, there are many different types of mushrooms and not all of them are fit for an omelet. Therefore if you want to eat mushrooms you need to make sure that your spores are the ones that are going to dominate any other fungi that might want to start colonizing your log, which brings us back to Wack-A-Mole! (you knew we would get there eventually).
After scouring the permaculture listservs, I purchased the starter kit from Fungi Perfecti and extra plugs of shitake (as well as morel spawn and maitake from Gourmet Mushrooms). The recipe for inoculating logs is simple: drill, plug, paint, water, wait (water). When you order your own spawn they will give you very detailed instructions (what size bit to use, how close to drill the holes, whether or not they recommend you paint the holes with wax afterwards to keep the moisture in and deter bugs, etc).
Here is what I learned from the process. Make sure the logs are not more than four feet long – ours were five feet on the theory that we could bury them into the earth a foot (helping to keep them moist), but five feet logs are difficult to maneuver when your body is tired. Make sure you have either a drill that is attached to a plug, or many extra battery packs that you can recharge in the car while you drill – on average one battery pack would last us about one log (100-60 holes). If you want to go whole hog and paint wax on the holes make sure you have access to heat where the logs are – I ended up transporting the logs back and forth to our apartment.
The weekend resulted in 4 fully inoculated logs. An entire veggie drawer in the fridge is full of plugs awaiting their logs. I am still committed to growing more mushrooms – however, pushing forward before we have power on the land (or at least not during the burn ban so I could melt the wax in a fire) throws up unwelcome hurdles. More mushrooms will wait until we have the infrastructure in place to make this easier.
In the meantime, I have seen several places that sell mushroom kits where one can grow mushrooms on your kitchen counter. Back to the Roots out of California will send you one if you are not lucky enough to live in Ann Arbor, where the mushroom man comes to the Farmers Market!
Cheers to more fungus amongus!