Notes from Windward: #70
Expanding the Mushroom Bed
October 5, 2010
Fall is finally here and walks around the hillside frequently are now accompanied by the sounds of oak leafs rustling with every step. While the temperatures were trying to stay summer-like through much of September, the cooler weather has arrived, with day time temperatures in the 60's and low 70's.
The mushrooms have apparently been enjoying these conditions as we have been regularly harvesting wine cap mushrooms every few days. They are a wonderful addition to soups and sauteed greens and for someone like me who has more than a modest love for soil, there comes a great joy and deep nourishment from eating food that intermingles so remarkably with that which teems beneath our feet.
Mushrooms are a rather persnickety fruit. The moisture and temperature have to be just right in order for the fungus to fruit and you have to be consistently careful of cross contamination. We have tried a few fungus experiments over the past few years, and none of them have produced as well as this bed of wine cap mushrooms.
There are many variables involved, so I cannot be certain as to what exactly we are doing right with this bed of woodchips, straw and oak logs, but it is clearly working. So I thought it would be appropriate to expand on what is working well and see what more we can learn (and of course eat) in the process. So over this weekend we built another bed, structurally similar to the one built last fall, and inoculated it with more wine cap spawn.
On Saturday when we gathered for our regular weekly chipping of material generated from thinning and limbing in the forest, we chipped up only oak that was alive when cut but that had been cut 3-4 weeks ago. We purposefully avoided chipping conifers as the high acidity and resin content of their wood does not blend well with certain varieties of mushrooms. We also didn't chip oak that was already dead when cut, as this wood frequently already has other fungi that have initiated the process of turning wood back into soil.
We built this second mushroom bed a few feet from the initial bed, and it too sits in the morning shade of a few oak trees, but gets afternoon sun. The first step involved leveling the land and because it was on a slope creating a bit of a retaining wall.
wine cap mushrooms ready for harvest
Then we trimmed and placed oak logs (cut 3-4 weeks ago), 2-4 inches in diameter as a bottom layer.
a leveled space ready for
oak logs and woodchips
On top of the logs we shoveled wood chips, which filled the spaces in between the logs as well as created a thin layer on top.
oak logs form the foundation of the mushroom bed
Then we spread spawn over this layer of wood chips and added a layer of straw.
oak wood chips piled on top of oak logs
We then added another layer of woodchips, spawn, and straw and called the bed complete.
wine cap mycelium
One final step was to thoroughly soak the bed and we will keep it watered, a few times weekly (until the fall rains start in earnest) and wait patiently. I wouldn't expect any fruit to appear until the spring at the soonest, but then again, we never do know when fungi will be struck by the urge to reproduce.
Andrew placing straw
on the mushroom bed
Adding Shitake to the Mix
With the thinning of our oak forest continuing to provide a large supply of oak woodchips, we decided to try another method for producing shiitake mushrooms. We still had some spawn left over from our efforts in the late spring to inoculate oak logs with shiitake spawn, and so we thought we would try growing shiitake using the same method as has been successful for the wine caps.
So once again, we chipped up just live oak and layered it on top of three to five inch diameter oak logs; then came a layer of spawn, followed by straw, woodchips, spawn and a final layer of straw.
It has been raining intermittently this week, enough to thoroughly soak the newly made shiitake bed, so hopefully the mycelium is taking nicely to its new and much more spacious home. We have tried shiitake woodchip beds in the past, but to date no shiitakes have fruited.
We face the opposite challenge here of many homeowners and city dwellers--we have too much space to work with. So often, when new projects are started, we try, because we have the privilege to do so, to find the ideal place for it. This often means that projects tend to be spread out.
While at first this doesn't seem like a big deal, particularly to those that enjoy meandering in the woods, we only have so much time in a day to tend to what needs tending. In the summer, this mostly translates into watering, and we have yet to move to an automatic watering system for any of our growing spaces. So everything that gets watered, gets watered by hand.
Mycelium fruits only under certain conditions and requires a baseline level of moisture (about 25%) to stay alive. Our summers are dry enough that mushroom beds or logs likely require additional moisture to stay alive through the dry months, even if fruiting will only happen in cooler spring and autumn weather.
My best guess as to why the previous shiitake experiments have to date not produced any mushrooms is because of a lack of watering. With this new bed being located within the main garden, the hope is to make it easier on ourselves to have success at these still early stages of experimenting and learning. It is when we are learning that both we and the mushroom beds stand to gain the most from a higher level of human attention and care.
Once we have gained more experience and knowledge and are ready to scale up, then it may be a more appropriate time to move to those more ideal, though more distant, locations.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70