Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mushroom Farming in the Woods

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      The weather patterns of the Lower 48 and Alaska have been inverted all year.  Last winter was absolutely balmy in places like Chicago and New York, while Alaska experienced record breaking snow.  This summer is sweltering in the Continental US, but tepid here.  In fact, the first half of July has seen the coldest average in Anchorage’s recorded history (the closest major city to us): +52 degrees.
Needless to say, gardening has been disappointing in yield, size, and speed.  On yet another cool, overcast day, I thought, “Perfect mushroom weather!”  It is cool and damp and we live amidst shady woods full of an Alice in Wonderland array of mushrooms and other fungi.  However, because I don’t feel competent to forage for edible mushrooms in the woods, (and dare I say it – I don’t actually like them) I bought mushroom plugs to plant now and harvest next year for my husband.    Today was the day to start.
The entire vocabulary for mushroom farming is different from other gardening and frankly, somewhere between gross and disturbing.  Instead of buying seeds, one buys “plug spawn.” Rather than plant them, one “inoculates” a log or stump.  Instead of growing, one “incubates.”  The longer one waits to “force fruit”, the higher the “colonization.”  Doesn’t this sound like something in a Bio-Hazard laboratory?  Didn’t I see this in The Andromeda Strain? Still, boredom and yet another incipient rainfall can be a marvelous incentive to play outside with “plug spawn” so we gathered together the tools of the mushroom farmer and sauntered off to the birch tree base in the woods now bereft of the trunk that Bryan had dispatched earlier in the week.
See holes plugged around cut surface and ones
to be filled in front bark
See individual "dowels" before being inserted
in holes, and packaged grouping
First he drilled 1.5 inch holes about 2-4 inches apart into the cambium layer of the trunk (a ring between the bark and the hard wood).  Into each hole I stuck the plug spawn (certainly no Madison Avenue term) of shiitake mushrooms (labeled one star for ease in the mushrooming manual).  The plug is the shape and size of a .22 bullet (called a “dowel”), brown and white and somewhat fuzzy and sticky.  Tapping lightly with a hammer, I pushed it in flush with the face of the wood. If the fit was too tight, the last few taps released a pus like excretion from the dowel that fizzed upon aeration.  L-o-v-e-l-y.         
At this point, we were supposed to spoon hot wax over the exposed nub to deter parasites, but I hadn’t realized that when I bought the “all included” packet.  So we dabbed most of the plugs with non-toxic wood glue and left a lesser number uncovered for comparison.  With the number of plugs we had, we “inoculated” one stump, one cut bough, and two logs of different sizes.  If I can remember where each one is, I’ll let you know what happens to my husband next summer when he reaps the rewards of our first harvest.   


  1. Did you have any luck with your mushrooms?

  2. Sadly, no. We "innoculated" three different trees and stumps, hoping to increase our likelihood of success and not a one worked. However, now, a few years later, I plan to buy one of those kits you can grow inside, during the winter, and I have bought a few books on edible and poisonous 'shrooms. We will try again to harvest some fungus or other. How about you?