There’s something really exciting that I’ve been waiting to share with you since April of 2012. This really exciting something has been growing, slowly, and has been hidden from sight like a shy cat crouched underneath a large musty bookcase, its whiskers enshrouded with cobwebs. Until now. Now that shy cat has emerged, is proudly strutting about the room, and is emitting a rather large hungry meow.
Last April, you see, we inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom plugs, and ever since, we have been biding our time, twiddling our thumbs, taking snack breaks, letting out sighs of impatience, shrugging our shoulders, and finally, submerging our logs in water to force-fruit them. And behold the magical reward that is growing your own mushrooms at home.
It’s a simple process, and quite cheap, given that your logs can last for several years, with two fruitings per year. The difficult aspect for most individuals is simply acquiring the logs.
Red oak is the preferred species, but is all but unavailable in the northern part of Maine where we live. Sugar maple is quite abundant, so we chose some primo maple logs to try out. Other recommended species include sweet gum, alder, ash, beech and hickory. Most of these species are also unavailable to us, so we decided to mix things up and try yellow birch, poplar, and ironwood.
If you don’t happen to have an endless supply of wood outside your back door, check with local firewood providers, to see if they would be willing to supply some longer lengths of wood to you.
After obtaining logs, plug spawn – wooden dowel bits containing your mushroom of choice – may be purchased from any number of companies online, such as Fungi Perfecti.
Detailed instructions come with your plugs, but don’t be fooled, as log inoculation is quite easy. Drill holes in the logs, hammer plugs into place, then cover with wax to keep out unwanted fungi and bacteria.
It’s that easy.
Keep the logs outside in a shaded place, with plenty of air flow. This will help keep your logs from rotting more quickly, as water cannot pool around them. Make sure they receive a good dousing of water every few weeks, whether naturally through rainfall or through a watering can.
In warmer climates, the logs may be ready to fruit within the first year of inoculation, around six months’ time. For us, it took a year. Keep an eye on your logs to watch the shiitake mycelia spreading through the wood – it will become visible on the ends of the logs with time.
After one year, our sugar maple and aspen logs look to be nicely fungified, while the ironwood has seen no change.
Don’t rush this process. Let the fungus do its thing. Talk to your logs occasionally, if you think it might help their
cognitive physical development. Perhaps bake your logs some cookies, or read to them from the ever-enjoyable Boxcar Children #15, Bicycle Mystery. Ask your logs if they understand why a Boxcar Children television program or movie hasn’t come to fruition yet. Emphasize fruition, in the hope that your logs will get the hint.
When you think the time has arrived, you will need to submerge the logs in cold water for 24 hours. If you happen to have a stream or a lake in your backyard (as in Boxcar Children #12, Houseboat Mystery), tether the logs in that. Otherwise, get crafty and figure something else out that will work for you.
Then relax… and wait.
I unintentionally let some of the mushrooms above get a bit too large, because they’re stored at my work cabin (Boxcar Children #20, The Haunted Cabin Mystery? not even close cause I don’t have phone service there, yo), and I was gone over the weekend when they were ready to pick. I believe a good rule of thumb is to pick the shiitake when the mushroom caps are around 80% unfurled.
And the final step? Cook the mushrooms up in an incredible dish. We cooked ours with onions and venison steak in a cast iron pan over a fire. That might have been the best meal of my life, no joke.
Our logs, safeguarded by the moose-filled noisy woods behind my cabin – – nearly as noisy as in Boxcar Children #27, The Camp-Out Mystery.
Keep fruiting the logs for several years, depending on the species of wood used. The harder the wood, the longer it should last without deteriorating. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because there is an abundant selection of fungi to try cultivating, with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the species.
Ancient proverb say, ‘Sit cat on log, watch mushrooms grow.’