Mushroom success

This spring we started another of our many experiments in different ways to raise food and make a living; this time it was raising shiitake mushrooms outdoors on logs. We harvested and prepared over 20 oak and maple logs, and spent a day inoculating these with shiitake spawn before stacking the logs within a low-lying cedar grove which we hoped would provide shade and conserve moisture.

We ended up not paying as much attention to these logs as we would have liked, and were concerned about maintenance of log moisture and signs of a competitive fungi. From our reading, we knew that it could take a full year for the first mushrooms to appear, though it was possible that a few mushrooms could show up in the fall of the first year. And that’s just what has happened. A few weeks ago, shiitakes started appearing (triggered by September rains) and we’ve enjoyed several small flushes of early mushrooms since:

Joanna has never liked mushrooms, while I love them. This was my best chance to prepare really good mushrooms in a way that might convince her otherwise; we’ve often found that we learn to like a previously scorned food when it’s sourced fresh from the farm and prepared well. I’ve gotten much more tolerant of zucchini and asparagus, while Joanna becomes ever more fond of meat.

A nice collection of truly fresh mushrooms like these, only minutes off the log, can be prepared in a variety of easy and excellent ways. Sliced or chopped and sauteed in butter, they’re just the right texture with a great flavor; the stems add great flavor to stocks and soups. We used a batch on fresh pizza where they really stood out, and also made an excellent shepherd’s pie of fresh potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, and mushrooms with a scratch-made biscuit topping. Heaven.

These logs should produce mushrooms for 3-5 years with proper maintenance. We still have a lot to learn about the details of outdoor shiitake cultivation, but it’s nice to have a literal taste of success. Having seen that we can produce something with a manageable amount of work, we’re now intending to double the number of logs next spring and work toward building up a market-worthy quantity. That would be a nice diversification of income, but at the very least it’s another source of on-farm food for a minimal investment of money, relying mostly on farm-sourced materials and labor. Just our style.

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