This is a post about mushrooms, and there’s a lot of learning so dig in for a nice read.
Hypha are the thin threads of filament which make up the structure of mycelium. Is it still a mouth full? Well, that’s the tip of a very large iceberg called mushrooms. The toadstools we’re all used to seeing popping up out of soil are only the fruiting body of our well loved fungi. To get the fruit, you have to plant seeds and grow an organism, just like any crop, butt the soil is replaced by logs, and the seed is a mycelium colonized dowel of compressed inoculated sawdust. Still hearing a cricket in the background? Well, I recommend a few hours of reading a few extra sources to ground yourself in mycology:
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets
Paul is the best mycologist I could ever encourage you to get to know. His cutting edge studies and ground breaking work on mushrooms has changed the world. Fungi Perfecti, Stamets’ company, has products ranging from non-toxic carpenter ant deterrents to mushroom supplements which help prevent certain types of cancer. All these products are backed by intense University research funded by Paul and his patents. Trust me, a non-toxic way to keep carpenter ants out of wooden structures is a BIG money maker in The Pacific Northwest.
At Leafhopper Farm, we’re not making ant repellents, but we are growing culinary and medicinal mushrooms on log piles. We bought inoculated (meaning “sewn” with mushroom matter) sawdust to plug in our blow down red alder. These logs were cut from trees that fell in a heavy snow last winter. The wood was drilled with holes, and then those holes were plugged with the spawn (inoculated sawdust). It’s like planting mushroom seeds in the wood. They are then sealed in with a dab of soy wax to keep out other mushroom spores, which float freely in the air of our temperate rain forest.
Inoculating logs is pretty easy, but the devil is in the details, and there are a lot of those. In a breakdown:
-each mushroom type has a preferred wood it likes to grow on; note what host log you are using to help pick which spawn to use
-logs must be recently harvested, old wood will already have fungi colonizing it and mushrooms don’t like to share space, it’s a first come first served king of thing
-mushrooms are very sensitive to the environment, specifically humidity and temperature, so match the species with your growing zone, just like crops
-fungi may take years to establish, as mycelium has to successfully colonize the logs before it blooms fruit to harvest
-colonized logs need to stay wet and get “shocked” (soaked in water right before the flush) to encourage fruiting “flushing”
-fungi is fickle, and not a beginner crop for people to try on a whim, it takes patience, initial high maintenance to get spawn established in your log pile, and continued monitoring to keep the right fungus dominate in the rotting wood
At Leafhopper, we’ve been inoculating logs for three years now, and still have no solid flush. This is partially because we’ve been lazy about inoculating, and mostly because summers here have been record breaking hot and dry for the past few years, which sets back the mycelium establishing a foot hold in the logs.
This year, we made sure to use wood recently downed to prevent contamination from other spores. We also covered the piles with shade cloth, and kept the log piles wet through the summer with bucket soakings. The hypha is showing up on the log butts, which is a sign that inoculation was successful. Now we wait, and watch, and soak, and wait some more. The Pacific Northwest Mushroom Spring has started, and we hope to see fruit on our logs this fall, or next spring, depending on the extent of colonization within each log.
The benefits of establishing mushroom logs on your land are many, but here’s the short list:
-mycelium moves nutrients between plants in it’s established habitat; mushrooms strengthen ecology!
-old logs are great biomass in a garden or forest, the rotting wood will enrich soil and nurture healthier crops
-you can eat mushrooms, and the healthy crops they support in your garden
-depleted soils can build back healthy chemistry much faster using mycelium remediation; including the treatment of toxins like heavy metals, which the mushrooms will suck up, then just remove the fruiting body of the mushroom from the soil and you’ll remove the toxins
-mushrooms are self reseeding; as long as there are fresh logs added, the mycelium will grow into the new wood and continue fruiting
If you’re still reading and excited about mushroom cultivation, try these more advanced titles to support your venture:
The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Paul Stamets
Again, Paul is at the head of his field, and a great ambassador for our fungal friends. His website <Fungi.com> is a great place to find more starter info, including which spawn to purchase for your bio-region, how to do it, and other products to consider, including “grow your own” kits with simple instructions.
Leafhopper Farm will continue to feature our log piles as an inoculated system in our permaculture plan. We’re hoping to make mushrooms a “cash crop”, and offer a “you pick” harvesting set up within the next five years. Mushrooms grow in forests with no problem, in fact, most species need shade to thrive, making them a perfect gateway species for our agro-forestry plan. As our farm advances, we’ll continue to add postings on our successes and failures as we attempt to inoculate and grow these amazing fruits.