Good Food Neighbors are Blogging! PASA thanks this volunteer corp of guest bloggers, who have stepped forward to share their experiences, points of view and the goings-on in their communities with the Good Food Neighborhood. We look forward to sharing their fresh perspectives in this blog.
Part I: Inoculation
By Jennifer Hine
I’m not exactly sure how the obsession began, but in the past few years I have been on a mission to live more sustainably. After completing a permaculture certificate program through the School of Living in Freeland, Maryland in 2012, I was sure I had been forever changed. My fellow permie buddies and I, all strangers when the course began, bunked at a commune every weekend that we had class. I met folks through this experience, some commune members and others just course takers like me, that are permanently ingrained in my memory, some in my heart.
When a desire for change strikes within you, try exploring how others go about everyday life. It was incredibly eye opening to share close quarters with people who otherwise would’ve meant nothing more to me than a stranger passing by on the street. I learned about passive design, what hugelkultur is and how to pronounce it, how to plant asparagus, and how to build with natural materials. I got so much out of the experience by way of the relationships I made, but one of the initial things that attracted me to the course was that mushroom inoculation was on the syllabus. I find fungus fascinating and oddly beautiful, and along with other things I consume, I’ve always wanted to know how to grow mushrooms myself.
Having so many exciting topics to cover in the course’s one year timeframe, mushroom inoculation day came and went like a breeze. Eluding a false sense of effort, the logs were pre-cut and laid out, along with all the necessary components, for us. We were instructed how to use a handheld inoculator tool, something I had never seen before. This was needed because we were using sawdust spawn, meaning that sawdust was the medium in which the spores were growing. Unfortunately, graduation from the course came before we were able to see the fruits of our labor. Since I had really hoped to delve further into the details of the process, I vowed to attempt mushroom growing on my own…somehow, someway in the near future.
Living in a small in-town apartment with no balcony or patio has proven to be a challenge to my homesteading endeavors. Even the attempt to grow herbs has proven frustrating thanks to my north facing windows. Luckily for me there’s Dad’s place, a beautiful woodland property close enough to so-called civilization to see street lights when looking out from a high point on the mountain but far enough away from it all to feel tucked into serenity, the perfect setting for my first-time mushroom experiment.
Unbeknownst to my Dad, I began researching mushrooms and home-growing practices. I stumbled upon a great company online, Field & Forest Products. Their website is thorough and they have a wide variety of offerings and also provide some educational background, making it easy for first timers. From their 2015 catalog, I selected Native Harvest Shiitakes, a variety of Lentinula edodes. For those in-the-know, Shiitakes might sound like a boring choice but I went for them because I already know I enjoy eating them and because there seemed to be the most information available on this kind to help out a newbie grower. To spice things up a bit, I also purchased Italian Oysters, Pleurotus pulmonarius. I chose to go with the no-fuss options; plugs for my spawn and a plug wax tub protectant. The plug wax is pliable in room temperature and doesn’t require being melted for it to be applied like the other options did. In hindsight, I am happy to have gone this route and also to have bought aluminum tags on which I wrote the type and inoculation date, and nailed them onto the end of my logs to easily track my experiment. It was a bit of a late night impulse buy when I purchased all of this online which included a total of 500 plugs, but go big or go home, right?
My advice to a fellow beginner: start small, but definitely do start. This novice had no idea how long it would take to drill the holes, hammer plugs, and cover them all with wax, prior to investing in such a large order. All of this comes after the most strenuous part of the cultivation process, the felling and chopping of live trees. Lucky for me, I have a willing assistant to whom this job was delegated, Dad. Because each type of mushroom has their own substrate species of choice, he reluctantly cut down two medium sized trees, a White Oak for the Shiitakes and a Tulip Poplar, preference of the Oysters. This was done near the end of March, within the required window in which the trees are in their dormant season. In return for his loss and in the name of sustainability, I replaced Dad’s trees with several red oak and white pine seedlings, free from a local Arbor Day event. Not exactly an equal trade.
The first day of the log inoculation process attracted several helpers as there just happened to be a few family members hanging around the house. I was surprised by how interested they all were in the process. It wasn’t long before my spectators took over and I was on the sidelines. Inoculating the 3 ½ foot long logs seemed to work best in an assembly line fashion; drilling the holes, hammering in the plugs, coating them with wax. After a few hours, we finished inoculating five logs with the entire 250 count pack of Shiitake plugs.
The golden rule of sustainable living should be to always invite your friends and family to partake in your homesteading adventures. This is two-fold. One, because the backbone of sustainability is the fostering of community and the wish to be able to provide more than just yourself with a bountiful harvest. Two, because it’s a lot of work. You will appreciate more helping hands, and they will appreciate sharing in the end product. And, of course, it is more fun with friends!
The following weekend, the Oysters seemed to go much more seamlessly as I had already developed a few techniques during the Shiitake inoculation. For one thing using the antiquated dinosaur of a drill that is older than me actually turned out to be much more efficient than the modern day power tool I began with. They just don’t make things like they used to, so they say.
By the end of the last session I had also trained myself to resist the urge of playing in the wax, waiting until I had hammered in a row of plugs before getting a finger full of the goop. By the end of the day, all of Dad’s tools had waxy fingerprints. Oops.
Once the inoculation was complete I felt an immediate sense of pride. I completed one thing that I had set out to do on my adventure towards a more sustainable and self-sufficient path. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started and I won’t find out for some time if it actually worked, but I surely am glad I tried. My main point being that there are no failures when it comes to this stuff, only learning experiences. Give in to the voice of curiosity inside of you!
We placed the logs in rows, grouped by mushroom type, in a shaded gully in which the rain can wash over them from time to time, keeping them hydrated and out of the direct summer sunlight. The pro’s call this a laying yard as it is the suggested position to allow the spawn run, or colonization. Following this time, we will stack them, a step for which there seems to be a thousand suggestions for online. Throughout my research I have been unable to find sources that agree on the absolute best timing for these laying and stacking periods or the optimum environmental conditions. I plan to wait a few months and then prop the logs like an A-frame, one end up on a small walking bridge that overtops the current laying yard gully. It will be trial and error, a true experiment.
Now that the inoculation is complete, I realize that the things I have learned from this process encompass much more than the act itself but rather so many traits that I need to develop in my quest for a more sustainable life. It is easy to read and follow directions to complete a task. It is another thing to cultivate a lifestyle.
It will likely be about one year until the first fruit on the logs can be harvested. This is another time period that varies due to mushroom species, spawn type, and environmental conditions. Although the long wait, the rewards will continue to be reaped from these same logs for several years to come.
And now we wait…