I spent most of this bright, sunny but windy spring day at a shiitake mushroom workshop offered by New Grass Gardens.
NGG was founded by Matt and Hana, two contemporaries of my daughter and also friends of mine. Hana’s back in Boone finishing school, but Matt and other pals are running NGG, selling sustainably farmed produce to individuals, families and restaurants in the Triangle. Today’s workshop was at the largest of New Grass Garden’s several local, urban garden plots.
I now understand why shiitakes cost more than many other types of mushrooms! What a fascinating process.
Most of the logs we inoculated today were from sweet gums (the tree everyone loves to hate, thanks to the sticky ball droppings) that were cut about a month ago, to allow the antimicrobial properties to dissipate. Matt explained that it’s important to hold off inoculation until consistent freezing temperatures are past so that the sugars in the logs are available to the mushrooms-to-be.
First we drilled evenly spaced holes in each log using a specially made bit that created the exact-right size pockets for inoculate. Next, we filled each hole with shiitake “spawn” — mycelium mixed with sawdust from Mushroom Mountain in S.C. — using plungers that were like gigantic hypodermic needles.
The next step was to cover the inoculated holes and ends of the logs with melted cheese wax. That’s so that non-shiitake related molds and other bad stuff will keep out and let the mushroom spawn get to work inside the log.
Now we just have to keep our logs in a shady place throughout the summer. Mine’s on my little back patio.
Once the big heat is over and the autumn rains come — likely September — I’ll “fruit” the log by soaking it for 12 hours in cold water. I will probably have to buy a baby pool to do this. Even though my log was one of the smaller ones, I don’t have anything large enough to soak it in. We were also warned that if we use City of Raleigh water (that would be me), we’ll have to let the water sit out for about 24 hours before soaking so the chlorine and other added chemicals will dissipate.
Finally I’ll lean my log upright against my outside condo wall and wait for delicious mushrooms to start magically appearing after about a week.
Matt said that the first go-round we can expect shiitakes to bloom just from the inoculated hole areas. But during subsequent fruitings we’re likely to see them sprout all over the log. If we’re lucky, our logs will produce for about three years. After that the logs will probably be totally rotted and unable sustain further growth. (We can fruit them in spring and fall, or just fall.)
Okay, enough science for today! Now it’s time to be patient while the spawn does its thing. Tune back in next fall for a shiitake harvest update! In the meantime, below are a couple of photos of the lovely spring produce well underway at New Grass Gardens. NGG produce is now available 7 days a week at Nofo in Five Points.