Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Backyard Shiitake Mushrooms

Last fall I had the opportunity to write an article for Spezzatino Magazine (coming out Fall 2011, the piece was published in Fungi Spring 2011) on growing mushrooms in underground, abandoned spaces. White Button mushrooms were the first species to be cultivated, initially in dark, dank caves around Paris, France. Soon mushrooms were being grown all over the world in forgotten spaces: spent mines, old culverts, gutted   quarries. 

In fact, it was only last year that the last underground mushroom farm in North America failed to compete (cheap air conditioning, less technical disease management and better work environment give the above ground farms an edge). The farm was set up in a the spent entrails of an old mine in Pennsylvania for more than half a century: the tunnels sit empty again.

As I searched for other underground farms in the world, I found a farm in Australia call Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms. Dr. Arrold cultivates a wide variety of mushrooms- none of them White Button (which is one of two kinds I usually could find at Superstore until a couple years ago!). Shiitake, Swiss Brown, Enoki, Wood Ear are mostly cultivated in a re-purposed railway tunnel. 

The article was a project that ended with me continually musing to Mat about all the abandoned underground spaces in Edmonton just waiting to be reclaimed by fungi! Imagine a mushroom farm directly underneath the City Centre farmer's market? Or directly underneath Calgary's downtown there is a four-lane wide abandoned LRT tunnel; there'd never be a problem with finding a market for mushrooms with a short shelf life!

The project also made me curious: why not grow my own? So in April I ordered - what turned out to be too many- Shiitake mushroom plugs. 600 of the plugs, packed with spawn and topped with a wax seal, arrived in bubble wrap in May. If my first problem with this experiment was too many plugs, my second problem was finding logs to drill holes then 'plant' the spawn in (literally pop the plug into the drilled holed). The wood had to be freshly cut hardwood which had sat for a month or two.  It took me a month to find the proper logs (I'm clearly not in the right circles!): mountain ash from a house down the road. I'm not even sure mountain ash will work... but its what I had. 

So Mat drilled the holes and the girls and I inserted the plugs every 3 inches up and down the logs. The two sections then got tucked away behind a couple cedars where rain will still soak the logs, but where the sun has few direct lines on the moisture, shade loving spawn. I'm told that by next summer, if all goes well, I can expect the logs to flower (mushroom!) and they will do that every three months in the warm season, for four to five years!

Drilling holes 3" part in rows around the mountain ash log.

See the one plug (in front) not pushed in? Lily would come behind me and poke the plugs down, wax flush with the bark.

Soaked the log really well. For the mushrooms to grow, the log cannot dry completely.

150 potential sites for flowering mushrooms? Tucked behind our cedars. I added a sun screen, stapled on the fence to the left of the logs, to limit evening, direct sun.

It will be difficult to wait and possibly learn that I did it wrong! But perhaps you'd like to try your hand at it? I have about 450 more plugs that I can't imagine finding room in my yard, heart or stomach for. If you want some, please email. You can bring me some baking or dried fish or something as a trade(:=