Turning Firewood into Mushrooms
A few year ago, I was sucked into edible mushrooms. We went to a mushroom class given by Bill Russell. He was talking about edible mushrooms and how to identify them. He has a fantastic book called Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid Atlantic. After the class he took us on a walk to identify some mushrooms. He also brought a few helpers with him to work with the group and identify mushrooms. Most of the mushrooms I found could not be positively identified without doing spoor prints and additional testing.
I was excited by Bill Russell’s ability to find such delicious mushrooms. I figured I would go to one more of his classes and see if I could pick up some more pointers. I went through his book and took walks trying to make some identifications. I also picked up a few more books on mushroom hunting, thinking I would be better prepared for Bill’s next class.
I went to Bill Russell’s next class thinking I was a bit more educated and could look a little smarter. Well, same thing happened. I found a few mushrooms that could not be identified visually. Now I was getting disappointed, knowing I could probably kill myself or worse, my kids, from a wrong mushroom. I could identify a shaggy mane, lion’s mane mushroom, hen of the woods, or chicken of the woods, but that just wasn’t what I was looking for.
I love shiitake mushrooms best and oyster mushrooms are also tasty. I figured I needed a safer way to find these mushrooms and guarantee we wouldn’t mistake it for a poisonous mushroom. Then I started reading about this guy Paul Stamets who was a mushroom guru. He found safe, edible mushrooms, then made it possible for people like me to grow them using spawn.
I was so excited at the thought of growing my own mushrooms, so we could eat them and we wouldn’t risk dying! This was huge and exactly what I needed. That is how I started on my mushroom journey.
I like to grow shiitake mushrooms on oak logs. This is my preferred method, and I am lucky enough to have some family land full of oak. Just about every other year I cut down a couple of trees. I have a unique situation where the trees are grouped so tight that they grow long and lanky, without many branches. This makes it easier, because I get to use straight logs, without having to use crooked branches.
The ideal log for me is a 33” long and 4”-5” diameter. This is smaller than what other, bigger growers use, but I have my reasons. Most mushroom growers like to use logs up to 40”-48” long and 6″ in diameter. Even when the log is not soaked, they are heavy at that size, but after soaking they can be very heavy and awkward. Dropping them breaks up the bark over time and will do the same for your back. Larger diameter logs last longer, but I’d rather lose out on 6 months of a log than deal with that extra weight every couple of weeks.
Logs can be stacked and left in a shaded area for nature to do it’s thing. You will get one or two flushes of mushrooms a year doing it naturally. Force fruiting is a way to make that flush happen when you want it. You can have the ability to say “I need 10 lbs of mushrooms in 4 weeks” and force fruit them to get the order. It’s pretty amazing how that works (usually).
Force fruiting involves tricking the mushroom mycelium (basically mushroom roots) into thinking that it’s time to fruit. That’s accomplished by changing the temperature and humidity by soaking. The reason I like smaller logs is because a 55 gallon drum is perfect and inexpensive way to soak my mushroom logs. My 33”x (4”-5” diameter) logs fits just right. My logs aren’t very heavy to lift out of the drum and I’m able to stack them carefully without damaging the bark. It’s important to keep the bark undisturbed, because every break is a place where you lose humidity.
You can force fruit your Shiitake mushroom logs in the winter by soaking them in warm water. Then, just keep in a place where you can maintain that specific strain’s fruiting temperature. The opposite is also true in the summer, where you would soak the logs in cold water, then keep them in a place that can hold the fruiting temperature. If you do this, then in a day or two you should see the pinning (mushrooms starting to pop out of the wood). This is an exciting time, even when you been doing this for years!
When you put your logs to soak, take a mallet and carefully, but forcefully strike the end of the logs. This simulates the tree falling and tells the mycelium that it’s time to fruit. Some say it works, some say it doesn’t. I do it; why not?
Soak the logs for 24 hours, then take out and stack them. There are a few different ways to stack, it really is up to you. I’ve recently been to an Amish mushroom farm and they stack the logs leaning on a tree. It looked really nice with them leaning, like the poles on a TP. They had a chain around the top part holding them onto the tree.
I crib stack my logs and cover them with an 80% shade cloth. The logs should be stacked in an area with some airflow but not too much, or they will dry out. The logs need consistent humidity during the fruiting, but not in excess or mold can show up. Reading books specific to mushroom growing can give you more details, but I’ve found that, after reading many books on the subject, experience is the best teacher. Monitor the growth and look for mold. If you see mold starting, uncover the logs and cut back on the humidity for a day or so.
Before I started growing mushrooms, I used to cut a few cords of firewood a year to sell. I would never burn that precious green wood for firewood again. Now I make mushroom logs and sell my mushrooms for $5.00 a lb. I’d only make about $150 a cord for firewood. That same cord of wood can me 5 times that in 2 years. Then, I can use the spent logs myself as firewood.