Growing shiitake mushrooms

girl with a drill.jpg

Me, the day before Lila’s birth, preparing to drill holes for shiitake mushroom plugs. (I also lifted rocks and pushed a car that was out of gas that day; I figured that at 12 days overdue, it couldn’t hurt).

I’ve been wanting to grow my own mushrooms for a long time now, even listing them as one of my Growing Challenge edibles, but never quite got around to buying the necessary supplies. So when, at Seedy Saturday a few weekends back, I saw local mushroom company Western Biologicals (no website – call 604-856-3339 or email selling mushroom plug spawn and indoor mushroom patch kits, I knew it was time to live the dream. 

mushroom plug.jpg

This is a mushroom plug, a wooden dowel colonized by shiitake mushroom mycelium. Actual size is about 1″ long by 1/4″ diameter. For $15, I got 150 of these guys – enough to do six logs.

I chose to go the plug spawn route, in which you inoculate a log with mushroom spawn-laced wooden plugs. The other option I considered was the indoor patch kit method, in which you buy a bag of mushroom-spore infused growing medium. While that would provide almost instant-gratification, the patch kits don’t produce mushrooms for as long, and, well, I couldn’t really picture mushrooms growing in my living room. Plus I thought shiitake mushroom-covered logs might look kinda cool in the woodland garden.  

birch logs.jpgThe first and toughest part of this whole project is finding the logs you want to use. The guy from Western Biologicals recommended fresh-cut alder with a diameter of between 4-10″ and a length of no more than 4′. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many fresh-cut alders hanging around my neighbourhood. Luckily, my parents live out in the sticks, and there are plenty of government-owned lots to pilfer scrub alder from.

Once we had our logs cut, the next step was to drill holes for the plugs to nestle into. Using a 5/16″ drill bit, we drilled holes 2″ deep and no more than 4″ apart, creating a spiral pattern on each log.
inserting the plugs.jpgNext, you just pop the dowel plugs into the holes you’ve created.

hammering in the plugs.jpgGive them a gentle tap with a hammer if necessary. The plugs introduce the mushroom mycelium into the log and will, over six months to a year, colonize the wood. Once the logs are colonized, mushrooms will start to appear, popping up from cracks or channels in the wood.  

mushroom log goop.jpg
Finally, you seal the plugs with melted cheese wax or other appropriate sealent to protect against other fungi and bugs, then stack or lean the logs in a shady area, watering during dry weather. Then you wait – for as little as six months, but more likely a year – until your little fungi friends appear. Then you make omelettes. Yum.

You can order mushroom plug spawn and other mushroom growing necessities from a number of online shops. Google “mushroom plugs” or try Fungi Perfecti if you live in the US.

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