Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Plugging along...

I love going out into the woods to look for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting is completely new to me, something Kevin, a seasoned fungophile, introduced me to last year. To me, it’s the perfect combination of all-weather hiking and a treasure hunt with a shot at an edible payoff.

The idea of cultivating mushrooms seemed like a natural extension. Though Kevin tells me I need to let go of my dream of inoculating the entire length of our 70-odd foot fence, we have enough logs to produce a bumper crop. Heck, even the student mushroom-cultivation kit I got to do with the boys is growing ‘shrooms so fast you can almost watch them getting taller.

Two weeks ago we finally got serious about plugging the logs. Kevin had already done one and told me it was a breeze: use a 5/16ths bit to drill 2-inch-deep holes less than 4 inches apart in a diamond pattern, tap in the plug (a little dowel), drive it all the way down, and fill in the hole with melted wax.

The mushroom mycelium, something like mushroom “seeds,” spreads throughout the log and eventually fruits. We’d gathered about 30 oak logs and purchased pre-colonized plug spawn---shiitake, oyster, lion’s mane, and maitake.

We figured we’d set up our operation assembly-line style, with the kids helping, and have all the logs plugged in a few hours.

We were wrong.

On the upside, plugging logs really is something the whole family can help with. Not every gardening task requires power tools, and Jasper loved drilling.

Lukas wanted to tap in every plug with his sweet, kid-size hammer.

They really did a surprising amount of work, and it was good to be outside together working on a cool project.

On the downside, even with three batteries, two electric drills, and all of us plugging away, it was frustratingly slow going. Drilling the 60 2-inch holes it took to finish just one log took a long time, and finding the right angle to hammer the plugs in was sometimes hard, resulting in very sore thumbs.

Keeping wax melted long enough to fill those holes, then keeping the log at an angle to hold the melted wax, took some doing.

For comic relief we sang “It’s Log” from Ren & Stimpy. Our Jockey oyster mascot log presiding over the work also gave us a laugh.

Now we have half a pallet of logs stuffed with mushroom mycelium and half a pallet without. Here are a few plugged:

The plugged logs will need to be kept moist for 4 to 8 months, then submerged in water to encourage fruiting. We’re working on some kind of irrigation system, hopefully including rerouting the water our sump pump releases from under the garage.

I’m still ambivalent about the amount of water supposedly required to fruit the mushrooms, and I have some reservations about whether the cost---and effort---will prove worth it. Maybe our other, simpler experiments---growing mycelium on cardboard and transferring it to straw or mulch, for example---will pay off in a big way. Heck, if they can grow on coffee grounds…

In the meantime, though, we still have the woods, and morels are starting to pop.

As for that other half pallet … anyone up for a mushroom-plugging workshop?


Kristin said...

Yes, it's a lot of work, but I'd be up for a workshop. I think it's a marvelous accomplishment and I enjoyed reading about the process. The boys are so industrious and engaged.

Denise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I like plugging logs. It's fun, kind-of. If you want to have fun, do work, be bored (Heh-heh), drip wax on your-self and, help other home-schoolers, than this is the job you want to do! Also, you might find it exciting. Well ... you MIGHT think it's exciting. It CAN be fun ... if you have:
1. people to talk to
2. friends around you to talk WITH
3. thing(s) to think about
4. some-one to help you (so you can also talk with him/her)
You can have fun no matter what you're doing TM. Doin' great D! (I think to INSPIRE your readers, you might want to make your writing).


Just Jenn said...

Hey - that's pretty cool! Man I bet they'd do great up here. Too bad I don't like to eat mushrooms. Hum. It actually looks like fun (but I'm a little nuts like that) I bet I could get my family to eat them. ;^) Where did you get the plugs from?

Denise said...

Kristin, you're on. I'll let you know when I can organize something. Just Jenn, the plugs come from Fungi Perfecti, the site/store of mycologist extraordinaire Paul Stamets. Pac Northwest is definitely the place to be to grow these without extreme water costs. And I was definitely not a big mushroom eater before, but I've found that there's such incredible variety that it's impossible to dismiss them as a kingdom. Maybe you'll find some you like!

Susan said...

This is so interesting! I never thought of growing your own mushrooms. I used to go mushroom hunting when I lived in Russia. It was my favorite thing to do. You captured it just right--hiking and treasure hunt in one.

I would love to try this (though, wow, it is a long process) but I'd be worried that since I don't know anything about mushrooms my logs would sprout something poisonous.

Esperanza said...

Did I miss the workshop? If not, YES!! I am up for it.

Denise said...

Susan, the Russians are such avid mushroom-hunters; I'd love to have been there! Of course you should never, ever eat a mushroom you can't positively identify, but you can't grow poison hemlock from carrot seeds---no worries about poisoning your family with death caps when you've used oyster spawn!

Esperanza and Kristin (and maybe Susan...?), I'll let you know when we can schedule a workshop, hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks.

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