Tag Archives: growing mushrooms

Mushroom Cultivation – Inoculating Mushroom Logs – Instructions with Photos

I was excited to attend another workshop at Strawbale Studio, this one on Mushroom Cultivation lead by my good friend Paul.  I’ve blogged about starting mushroom beds before–this post will cover mushroom log inoculation, which is one of the things we covered in the workshop.

Why inoculate mushroom logs?

One of the reasons to grow mushrooms is so that you can make mushroom pizza, obviously.  This is being cooked in Strawbale Studio's outdoor oven--no electricity or fancy equipment required!

One of the reasons to grow mushrooms is so that you can make mushroom pizza, obviously. This is being cooked in Strawbale Studio’s outdoor oven–no electricity or fancy equipment required!

Fresh medicinal and gourmet mushrooms grow in a variety of circumstances–including in the wild on old, rotting logs.  We can inoculate logs directly to encourage mushroom growth and get a wonderful harvest of mushrooms (and I should add that gourmet and medicinal mushrooms are hard to find at farmer’s markets, at least in this area).  Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, such as Shiitake, Oyster, Chicken of the Woods, Reishi, and Turkey Tail, are a wonderful addition to a localvore diet, and growing them on your own property means less in terms of fossil fuel consumption.  Mushroom log inoculation has a long history (most early experiments with Shitake, for example, took place in Japan and later China), and its actually pretty simple for the average person to do.

To inoculate logs, you will need either plug spawn or sawdust spawn.  We used Shiitake plug spawn from Easygrow Mushrooms, which is a fantastic local South-East Michigan Company.

Mushroom logs as part of permaculture design. 

With the exception of plug spawn, which you do need to order (and we are lucky enough here to obtain it locally from two farmer’s markets), the rest of your materials should be tools that you likely already have and local wood. This makes mushroom growing a rather sustainable activity, and one that reduces your impact. This is especially true because many mushrooms, such as Shiitake, are shipped the whole way from China. Other mushrooms, like the most amazing Chicken of the Woods, which really does taste like chicken, are rarely if ever available commercially. So growing your own mushrooms increases your own resiliency, allows you to use wood that is already available, and reduces your own demands on the system.

The process of innoculating logs. 

I’m going to use Shiitake mushrooms as my example because that’s what we did in our workshop.

1) Obtain very fresh, hardwood logs with thick bark.  You can use fresh fallen hardwood (such as if a tree comes down after a storm). You can also cut trees yourself (of a manageable size), for shitake, a non-aromatic hardwood such as oak, cottonwood, elm or maple works well (we used oak for our logs–how druidic!). Cutting is suggested for the fall, winter or spring. Obviously, we did ours in the spring! Try not to damage your logs as you cut them much–non-wanted fungus can invade logs with lots of damage easier than those with good, thick bark.

Stacks of wood for innoculation

Stacks of wood for inoculation

2) Stack your logs off the ground.  The key here is making sure no dirt comes in contact with the log. This is critically important, as every gram of dirt contains over 12,000 types of fungus and spawn–and you want a pure log to inoculate.  We stacked ours on pallets.  If your logs do get dirty, you can slice the ends off of them.

3) Wait 1-2 weeks. There is some debate about the next part–some mushroom experts say you need to wait 1-2 weeks at this point, while others say you can inoculate almost immediately. We waited 2 weeks on our logs. The thinking behind the wait period is that trees typically have an anti-fungal properties, and if you innoculate sooner than two weeks, those properties may interfere with your mushroom logs.

4) Drill your logs.  Holes for plug spawn (which is what we were using) can be drilled with a 5/16″ bit or a special bit (which our workshop leader, Paul, had that he purchased from Easy Grow Mushrooms).  Drill holes about 1″ deep and then immediately innoculate. The holes should be drilled in a grid pattern, starting about 2″ from the edge of the log, and then going every 6″ or so with about 3″ between rows.

Paul drills logs

Paul drills logs

5) Inoculate your logs. Place the plug spawn in your log, and then use a rubber mallet to pound the plug into the log.

Placing plug spawn

Placing plug spawn

Pounding in plug spawn with mallet

Pounding in plug spawn with mallet


6) Wax your plugs and any other “injuries” on the log. Melt wax (a little crock pot is good for this) and then wax over each of the areas you plugged, making sure a good seal is obtained. This is to prevent any other fungus from getting into the plug areas. You can also wax areas you damaged (like a place where you trimmed off a smaller branch or where you damaged the bark). DO NOT wax the ends of the log.

Pot of wax

Pot of wax

Pot of wax

Waxing Log

7) Label your logs. You should get in the habit of labeling your logs with the kind and date. We labeled ours by cutting up old soda and beer cans, using the inside of the can, we used a nail to write into the can, and then stapled the metal tag to the end of the log.

Label logs

Label logs

8) Stack your mushroom logs off the ground in a shaded area. If you stack your logs on the ground, again, the dirt can contaminate them.  If you are doing a lot of logs, you can stack them in a grid pattern. If you are doing only a few, you can just stack them on bricks. Do stack it somewhere you can remember to check on it every once in a while!

You can "crib stack" logs if you have a lot of them.  These will be moved outside later.

You can “crib stack” logs if you have a lot of them. These will be moved outside later.

9) Every 6 weeks or so, soak your log (s). You don’t want your log to dry out, so while the spores are spreading, you can make sure they have enough moisture.

10) In 9-12 months, enjoy mushrooms! Obviously, harvest is the best part.  Our logs haven’t gotten this far, but what we learned was that we should cut, rather than pull, mushrooms.  Cutting mushrooms ensures that you aren’t disrupting the mycelium (which is the body of the fungus, the mushroom itself is just the reproductive organ).  When your logs really get going, you can harvest quite a bit!

Again, grow mushrooms for the pizza...

Again, grow mushrooms for the pizza if for nothing else…


Mushroom Gardens

If there is one thing that’s pretty difficult to find locally, I’ve found it to be mushrooms.  Once when I was at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s market (which is about an hour and 15 min drive for me, so I don’t go often) one group of farmers were selling them.  But at my much smaller and local market, unfortunately, they are impossible to find.  And since I strive to eat as local and sustainable of a diet as possible, I decided to try my hand at mushroom gardening.

The Mushroom Garden

The Mushroom Garden

Growing mushrooms is a really earth-centered activity, and one that puts you in connection with a whole other domain of life–the fungal kingdom.  Mushrooms are actually the reproductive organs of a much larger plant, often characterized by white veined mycelium.  These organisms are responsible for a great deal of the life cycle of the forest; breaking down dead woods and creating rich humus for new life to spring forth.

While you can search for wild mushrooms (and I have done so), the practice is dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.  An alternative to being a wild mushroom hunter is to grow a bed of them in your property–or do both!

This post will detail my experiences in working with several mushroom kits.

Where to get a mushroom kit?

Last year, I met a few guys who were selling mushroom kits at our local Clarkston, MI Farmer’s market (their website is here).  After talking with them and learning about their dedication to permaculture and local foods, I was ready to purchase one of their kits.  They had a number of different kinds of kits; I opted to start with two indoor kits–Reishi Mushrooms (which was given to my sister) and Oyster mushrooms. These were nice for the winter months because I had fresh mushrooms growing in my bathroom where it was nice and moist due to my husband’s shower obsession (consequently, it was super-amusing when people would go into my bathroom and try to figure out what the bag of mushroom spawn sprouting oyster mushrooms in the corner was…)

Mushroom Harvest!

But today’s blog post is really about the outdoor mushroom garden endeavor–the King Stropharia mushroom garden. The Easygrow Mushroom  Composter Mushroom Kit (which grows garden giant mushrooms, also known as King Stropharia (or Stropharia Rugussa-Annulata) is what I used.  Here’s a link to this particular kit: http://easygrowmushrooms.com/composter.shtml.

They do ship out of South East Michigan.

Location, Location

To start one of these kits, you need a shady location that is not near conifers (which makes the soil too acidic), newspaper, wood chips from a hardwood or fuit tree, and straw.  The wood chips proved to be the most difficult for me, as I didn’t have my own wood chipper.  I asked around and one of my good friends and neighbors had an apple tree come down in his yard and a chipper–in exchange for an afternoon of labor, we chipped up most of the branches (consequently, if I had waited only a few more weeks, they did some trimming of trees on my road and I could have had all of those chips–so wood chips are available).  You can also often get wood chips by calling tree removal/tree trimming/landscaping services.  The key is that the wood chips are VERY fresh–you don’t want any other mycelium to get there first.

I had a perfect spot in my yard for the garden–which should be in a moist area in full shade.  I had some rock landscaping that blocks the spot from the sun in the afternoon and several large hickory trees that block the spot from the shade in the morning.  The location also gets runoff from the higher points in the yard (moss was already growing on the rock landscaping there, so that was a good sign).

Mushroom Bed

We dug out the area (about a 3′ x 10′ bed) and layered it with straw and wood chips, keeping each layer moist.  We added mushroom spawn in little chunks throughout the area.  We covered the whole thing with newspaper and paper bags, and then covered that with a tarp.  I kept watering it throughout the rest of the summer and I uncovered the tarp when it was raining.

We put the mushroom garden in in early August, and since the mushrooms take 6-8 weeks to really proliferate the straw, by the time it would have been ready to go to the next step, it was winter.  I removed the tarp, covered the whole thing with a pile of leaves to insulate it for the winter, and waited.

Fruiting the Bed & Harvesting

In the spring, I followed the kit instructions and fruited the bed with 50% dirt and 50% spagham moss in late April which was supposed to encourage mushroom growth.  I promptly forgot about checking on the mushroom garden bed for about a month.

As I went to get the mail this morning, lo and behold, there were 10-12 lovely King Stropharia mushrooms in the bed of various sizes–the largest about 7″ across (and I understand they get even bigger than that)!  The mushrooms had excellent timing too, because its too early in the season for much beyond spinach

and lettuce in the garden.

And so, I am quite pleased to see the bed producing mushrooms.  While it did require some initial up front work and two afternoons of hard labor, it was well worth it!

Eating Mushrooms

These King Stropharia mushrooms taste like a cross between portabella and an oyster mushroom in taste.  They look quite similar to a portabella except they have a wine or brownish top and purplish or gray gills.  They are delicious if you grill them with a bit of BBQ sauce (as you’ll see in the photo here!)

Mushroom Meal (with my own spinach, mushrooms, and herbal tea)

Mushroom Meal (with my own spinach, mushrooms, and herbal tea)