Lessons from My First Mushroom Workshop

Final haul from the workshop. Shiitake inoculated log, bag of Oysters in straw, and a pine sproutling I found growing in a bank.
Final haul from the workshop. Shiitake inoculated log, bag of Oysters in straw, and a pine sproutling I found growing in a bank.

Bringing home the basics

On Saturday I ran down to Durham for a mushroom workshop—my first!—organized by the folks at Bountiful Backyards, a sustainable landscaping firm serving the Triangle. Our family probably eats more mushrooms than most, so figuring out how to grow some meaty fungi at home has been on my radar for awhile.

The workshop was just two hours long, but here’s a few quick bits that I learned:

“This is my log. There are many like it, but this log is mine.” At least, it was. This wood was too tough for the drills and bits we had, so we picked a log with tighter bark and all was well.
“This is my log. There are many like it, but this log is mine.” At least, it was. This wood was too tough for the drills and bits we had, so we picked a log with tighter bark and all was well.
Shiitake-innoculated log. Last step from this point is to seal with wax.
Shiitake-innoculated log. Last step from this point is to seal with wax.
  • The mushrooms need to be grown on fresh cut logs, no older 6 months. We have lots of stacked firewood and I was definitely curious about this.
  • You can experiment with different types of wood, but “nothing will grow on Black Walnut” (Another of my questions!)
  • The logs need to be kept up off the ground so as to avoid competition with any pre-existing terrestrial fungi. I’ll need to elevate them on other logs or blocks, which I’ve seen before at a friend’s place where she’s stacked her shiitake logs like little Lincoln Logs™.
  • We drill holes in the logs, stuff mushroom spore in the holes and then seal the holes with a light layer of wax. Essentially, we’re giving the shiitake a head start in breaking down the log, free of any other fungi competitors. Within a few months, the shiitake should send out their mycelium (fibrous, mushroom strands like roots) and overtake the whole log, making it spongy as time goes by.
  • Water the logs with rain water if at all possible; city water is sometimes treated with a fungicide.
  • Shiitake mushrooms don’t like competition. The ones we inoculated our logs with should fruit around March.
  • Oyster mushrooms, by contrast, aren’t particular—we’re growing these on straw. They’ll be ready to fruit in just 3 weeks, and the fruits ready to harvest 2 weeks after that!
  • Shade is AOK for mushrooms; in fact, they’re an ideal forest crop. I’ll set up the shiitakes in the side yard alley which is pretty shady. The oysters will grow in a bag with straw, under the cupboard, in the shade, sitting on a slightly dampened cloth. In 3 weeks when the whole bag of straw is covered over in white mycelia, I can expose them to sunlight which will encourage fruiting.
  • Our instructors were Dr Rytas Vilgalys and Khalid Hameed, both from Duke University Mycology Lab. Dr Vilgalys has a whole lab named after him!

I’ll post pics once I have our ‘shrooms in place here, and keep you posted when it’s time to fruit!

Gardening is Good,
~Ben

No handouts were offered at the event, but this catalogue was recommended by Rytas because it contains a lot of useful information. I requested the free catalogue here.
No handouts were offered at the event, but this catalogue was recommended by Rytas because it contains a lot of useful information. I requested the free catalogue here.
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