Mycelia Magic

It happened again folks; our wonderful blond morels have graced the farm, and on Easter Sunday! Fertility is afoot at Leafhopper Farm. One of my tenants, Kat, spotted some points popping out of the tree nursery cardboard mulch and assumed I had inoculated the space. She asked when I was going to harvest the mushrooms and I was curious, because I’d not planned any inoculations in the nursery. Kat led me to the spot and sure enough, huge morel mushrooms were popping up everywhere. It was a feast!

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When I harvest mushrooms, I’m always careful to leave the “roots” (mycelia) in the ground by cutting the stem (stipe) close to the soil. By leaving the mycelia in the ground, I encourage more fruiting in future. It’s important to leave some of the patch undisturbed to encourage more production and a stronger mycelia net in the soil.

Many mushrooms need dead wood to grow. This winter we had a lot of trees come down in the heavy snow, so freshly fallen logs are in supply at the farm. Bernard and I took alders apart this last weekend for inoculation. I’ve written about this process before and will share it again to encourage everyone in cultivating mushrooms. It’s easiest to purchase plug spawn, that is, mycelia growing on wooden dowels which you then hammer into drilled holes on a log. For details, visit Fungi Perfecti website or seek “log inoculation” on youtube.

My alder wood supports many verities of mushroom, but I chose blue oysters because they are easy and already native to this area. I will also use turkey tail on other logs later this month. Here to you see a picture of inoculated logs staked in a configuration to encourage airflow and moisture retention. The pile will later be covered with shade cloth and occasionally  watered with the hose to keep things wet and dark in the pile. This environment encouraged the spawn to grow in the dead wood, eventually fruiting out the yummy mushrooms we love to eat so much.

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The spawn we’re using comes from Washington. It’s important to know what wood to use with each type of mushroom culture, as each variety favors some tree species much more than others. Alder is a sort of across the board wood for our native species. More exotic species like Shiitake can grow on them too, but Lion’s Mane needs a harder wood, like maple or oak. Plugging spawn in wood may sound easy, and it is, if you take the time to make sure you’re using the right formula for your desired mushroom strain.

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It can take a few years for your inoculated logs to fruit out, so this project is a long term waiting game. There are also a lot of ways to store your logs, depending on regional weather and mushroom species. Again, read up on the variety of spawn you’ve selected. None of my plugged logs from past experiments have flushed out yet, but that does not mean I’ve failed, it just means wait it out and plug other logs in the mean time for more mushrooms. In the case of the morels, I didn’t have to do anything, or maybe I did. Morels love cottonwood trees and form a symbiotic relationship with them. Most cardboard is made from cottonwood pulp, and it’s spread out all over my land as a mulch cover. Twice now, morels have popped up within a year of my mulching. I think this is how the morels keep showing up on the farm without my intentional inoculating.

Mushrooms are magical, in that you never know when and where they can show up. I encourage everyone to keep their eyes open and look for mushrooms; they could be anywhere.

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