Growing Mushrooms in Logs*
Mushrooms grow on multiple substances (mediums/ substrates). I’ve seen people use logs, wood chips, grains, sterilized straw, compost/litter, etc… In this post I will be limiting my input to growing on logs, as that is where I have the most personal experience. For the last 5-6 years I have grown oyster mushrooms and shitake mushrooms, on logs, in my backyard. I have a postage stamp sized yard and one back corner is extremely shaded from a combination of the direction it faces, and my neighbor having tall trees and bushes growing along the property line. As I love gardening I set out to find plants that would grow in shade. After much research I determined no plant, I wanted to eat, would grow well in a couple of hours of dappled sun a day. However, while searching for shade loving plants, I found out you can cultivate mushrooms in your yard. So, I gave up on plants (for that part of my yard) and decided to try my hand at mushroom growing. I found Sharondale Mushroom Farm in Cismont, VA. , a few hours from me, that has classes on growing your own mushrooms (http://sharondalefarm.taithost.com/workshops/ ). For the record, one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Currently the class is $75. FYI, I have zero affiliation with this organization: I took their class and emailed 2-3 times, approximately 5-6 years ago.
As I hate posts that go on and on before getting to the meat, here is the down and dirty- details to follow:
1. Determine the kind of mushroom you want to grow, make sure it grows in logs, and you can locate spawn. Then purchase spawn.
2. Locate, source, &/or create the appropriate logs.
3. Drill your logs.
4. Inject (or insert if using plugs) spawn.
5. Seal holes (optional but I prefer, you’ll find out why below)
6. Some logs need rafted (laid at a slight angle with the bottoms touching the ground for 6-12months), some go straight to their permanent location. In either case it must be in the shade.
7. Grow and harvest your mushrooms- Rafted logs then get leaned upright and occasionally soaked to cause them to flush. Logs that are placed directly where they will be staying, fruit out as conditions dictate.
So, what kind of mushrooms do you want to grow? Four types I know that grow in logs are shitake, oyster, lion’s mane, and reishi. I’d love to grow Reishi (it’s medicinal) but never got around to it, and wanted to concentrate on food production. I know nothing about Lion’s mane so I should probably taste it before investing time and energy growing some. That left me with Shitake and Oyster’s, and I will discuss them going forward.
1. I determined I want to grow shitake and oyster mushrooms. They do grow in logs. I can get spawn from Sharondale Farms: check, check, check. Should YOU get spawn from Sharondale? Only if you have to. No I don’t have any problem with them. However, I believe you should try and find spawn as close to your local area as possible. If you can find a legitimate source, organic if you desire, closer to you, that would be my choice. If not, sure go ahead and order from Sharondale. I will state I picked up my spawn, so I know nothing of their shipping practices, except that I know they do ship. There is one extra step here; do you want saw dust spawn, or plugs (plugs are basically wooden dowels inoculated with appropriate spawn)? I like saw dust, I just feel like it should be easier for the mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments (hyphae)) to get into the log. Both work though. Also, the dust requires an injector. That said you can get a starter kit with 5 pounds of inoculated saw dust, the inoculator/ injector (“palm inoculation tool”), 2lbs of cheese wax, 3 wax daubers, and the 12mm drill bit (sized to match the inoculators, plus it’s shouldered to the appropriate depth) for $89 (http://www.sharondalefarm.com/shop/ ). Bags of spawn (w/o the kit) are $10-$45 dollars (choices include 5lb bags of spawn, plugs in various counts, plugs with wax, or inoculated fruiting blocks that don’t require logs). The 100 count of plugs is cheaper and doesn’t require the inoculators, but won’t get you nearly as many logs. So, for example- order the Shitake kit and then a bag of pearl oyster spawn and it’s $109 (plus any applicable tax and S&H, about $22 for me) and you can easily do 20 logs (probably 40 or more)- EXCEPT the wax. I found 2lbs wasn’t nearly enough for my 20 logs. I have yet to find a cheap source for bulk cheese wax. I have heard of people using bees wax though.
2. You can TRY growing in just about any wood. I’ve been told 3-8” is good, and easier to handle (I’m kind of a brute and like throwing around large objects though). The North Carolina Forestry Library indicates that “high wood density, high ratio of sapwood to heartwood, and strong but not too thick bark” (http://ncforestry.info/ncces/woodland_owner_notes/20/ ) is better for Shitakes. Soft wood is better for Oysters, according to ashvillefungi.com “Tulip Poplar, Maple, Willow, Paulownia, and Tree of Heaven are some of the most successful tree species to inoculate with oyster mushroom spawn” (https://www.ashevillefungi.com/blogs/news/inoculating-logs-by-mushroom-species ). That said, I needed to get some logs, and I knew someone that needed a red oak taken down. I was told white oak is better, but use what you have, and I did. I also used 6-10” logs. We’ll talk about moisture later, but it seems to me that a larger log can hold moisture better (volume to surface area ratio, just like the reason children dehydrate faster than adults). I’m convinced that’s why my logs lasted over 5 years when most literature states 3 years.
The log length is up to you also. If you are going to hang it in your kitchen then 10-12” might work, but we’re talking about growing in your yard. Keep in mind if you are growing shitakes you will need to soak them, so they must be a length that fits into whatever you will soak them in (I used a kiddie pool). Mine were 30”-48” long.
3. Drill your logs. I set mine up on saw horses, but make sure they don’t roll (I clamped large C-clamps at the downhill end to stop them from rolling). Your hole diameter and depth will be based on your plugs or inoculator. The Sharondale kit comes with a 12mm bit to match the inoculator (no guessing, that is why I recommend this as a way to start). Most will require holes ½” to 2” deep (plugs longer than saw dust, and based on the plug length). You do this in a “diamond pattern” but I think saying it that way confuses many people. Just drill holes 6” apart in a row. Move over 3-4” and do another row, BUT THIS TIME, drill your holes in between the holes in the last row (offset). This is what creates the diamond pattern everyone mentions. Just keep turning your log and drilling the next row offset. To me this and waxing are the two most tedious parts. The good news is, there isn’t much work left after those steps are completed. A little work up front, and you get years of mushrooms.
Anyway, I used a drill bit (the special bit wasn’t a part of the kit when I bought mine years ago). Once I determined my depth I wrapped electrical tape around my bit as a guide (drilling deeper will just waste spawn). After I drilled two logs I would inoculate. Drilling, inoculating, and sealing get mixed together when doing multiple logs. But I didn’t want to leave my logs with holes to start drying out. Honestly, you can probably drill all your logs, then inoculate and wax.
4. & 5. Fill the holes either using your palm inoculator (I put a separate amount of spawn in a separate plastic container for immediate use, so I could keep the main bag in a cool moist place). You just push the inoculator into the spawn, a few times, to fill its tube. Place the end of the inoculators tube just into the hole. Then push the plunger, on the back, with the palm of your other hand. Or, push in your plugs (some people utilize a rubber mallet, if needed, to help get them in place). I would do 3 rows on each log, then seal with wax (I put the wax in a small pot on an outdoor burner, used for a turkey fryer, to melt it). To seal, I learned to do the row facing upward, then have my partner turn the log so the other spawn filled holes faced up. I tried waxing them at the slight angle, but noted lots of wax running down. Then turn again to the 3rd row you filled. Once done with both logs (if you are set up for two at a time) they were turned to the next three empty rows for inoculating.
Some people don’t wax, but you risk the saw dust falling out and worse, drying out (that kills it). With plugs it is more of a choice, but again, the idea is they need to be moist, and the wax seals in the moisture. Ashvillefungi.com says to soak the plugged logs right away, for 12-24 hours, unless they are less than 10 days old (ie. were alive and cut less than 10 days ago).
6. Here I found conflicting info. I’ll tell you what I did that worked:
Shitakes- Raft: I placed one log I didn’t inoculate in a cool, moist, shadowed area (no direct sun and very little dappled sun if any). I laid the inoculated shitake logs with one end on the first log and the other in contact with moist ground. They were left like this until the following early spring, at which time I soaked them, and leaned them against a north facing (no sun) side of the house. Then they started producing.
Oysters- In that shady part of my yard, under several large trees, I have ornamental grass clusters (planted by the previous owner). I pulled back the edge of the grasses near the walkways and placed the logs there. I arranged the ends of the grasses to partly cover the logs. They are left there in contact with the moist ground. They started producing late the following spring.
7. Shitakes*- I usually got 2 flushes in the spring and 2-3 in the fall. You soak your logs (most sources state 12-24hrs but I usually did 24-48 hours). Note: I am on city water, so after filling the kiddie pool, I’d wait a day to make sure any chlorine was out (I waited this long as it was not in sunlight, but in a shady area). If you do this make sure your (or other) children do not have access to drown in the water. Also, I once had a chipmunk drown in there, but since they break my driveway, sidewalks, drop my runoff lines from my down spouts, and tunnel under my foundation, I was more worried it would contaminate my mushrooms than about the nasty critter- sorry hippies).
Oysters*- They come up when they come up. I’ve missed several good flushes while on vacation, or just forgetting to look. It’s frustrating to go find a pile of mush where a great bunch of mushrooms was, but you missed it. Luckily that is the exception. It’s a good excuse to walk outside frequently. Also my children LOVE going to check the mushroom logs. They also love “picking” them (they hold a bowel or basket while I cut them off the logs- more on that next). Check especially during wet (or recently wet) weather, high humidity, and changes of temperature.
You can simply pull mushrooms off the logs. But, again, MOISTURE in the logs is important. Pulling them off may damage or remove the bark. Bark helps hold moisture in the log. So, I take kitchen scissors and cut them 1/8”-1/4” away from the log leaving some stem (this may be another reason my logs lasted extra long).
A couple of notes:
a) You are responsible for yourself. You are responsible for assuring that the mushrooms you choose to eat are the correct type and are safe to consume. You are responsible for assuring your mushrooms are safe to eat raw, or are properly cooked if necessary. Personally, I know what I planted (inoculated). I feel the chance of a look alike, randomly growing, where I live, in the same log I inoculated, is low. However, again, you consume at your own risk. Always know what you are eating.
b) If you don’t pick right away bugs will start using your mushrooms as a home. You will see them in the gills. They will eat holes in the gills and crawl around in there. Well, I’m not wasting mushrooms because I was 2 days late and a bug moved in. Do your own research, but I just give them a hard blow and get the bug out. I cook my mushrooms anyway, but eat bugs (or mushrooms previously housing bugs) at your own risk.
c) I have missed oyster mushrooms and they have occasionally kept growing. We once got an oyster mushroom the size of my 4 year olds torso (he was so proud). They get harder and woodier if they get too big (in the cases where they don’t just rot). I often eat food that isn’t perfect (something I think many Americans will have to get used to again soon, as food becomes scarcer, but I digress). I simply cook it longer at a lower temperature to allow for it to break down (ex. Parsnips that I continue to dig throughout the winter are cooked this way).
d) I’ve been told you can eat shitakes raw, but can get sick (stomach pain) from raw oysters (oyster mushrooms). I hear this doesn’t happen to everyone but do your own research and consume mushrooms, of any kind, cooked or raw,at your own risk.
e) It seems, these days, almost everyone is low on vitamin D. But, even shitake mushrooms grown indoors were reported to have 110iu of vitamin D. Additionally, placing them in the sun , GILLS UP, for 6 hours (or exposing to UV rays) can increase the vitamin D content to up to 46,000iu!!! (http://dietitianwithoutborders.com/why-you-should-stick-your-mushrooms-in-the-sun/ )
f) You may often get more than you can use fresh. The oyster mushrooms especially. I had about 5 oyster logs, together, frequently produce ½ a bushel or more at once . You can control the shitakes easier, by only soaking a couple of logs at a time. However, I found I didn’t have time (and my wife didn’t like the kiddie pool out, and full, for a couple of weeks at a time) for the rotation. So, I just soaked them all at once. Well, what do you do with a harvest too big to eat that night? Placing them in a paper bag in the refrigerator will make them last a little longer. Don’t wash them! Just brush them with a soft bristled brish. I ended up drying some from almost every flush. Having your own supply of fresh and dried gourmet mushrooms is an amazing feeling, but you’ll find that out for yourself soon enough.
g) Spent logs- Eventually your logs stop producing. In the case of my oyster logs they pretty much rotted to nothing. I placed them in the garden and broke, what was left of them, up with a sledge hammer. Then I turned them into the garden. My shitake logs just got too dry. I haven’t tossed them yet. I’ve seen others use them as additional boarders around raised beds. The garden bed keeps them moist, and you might get the occasional mushroom J
In conclusion, this was a fun project for my family. My children love looking for mushrooms, and helping “pick” them. They are healthy and nutritious. And, they will grow in low light conditions (can you say GSM, super volcano, nuclear winter, ionized atmosphere, etc…) including indoors. I look forward to starting another set of logs soon! Thanks for reading.
* Disclaimer: You are responsible for yourself. You are responsible for assuring that the mushrooms you choose to eat are the correct type and are safe to consume. You are responsible for assuring your mushrooms are safe to eat raw, or are properly cooked if necessary.
by Bananas, FNP-BC, RN, MSN, MCHIS
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