The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Mushroom rafts and totems

Oyster mushroomsWhen we got started with mushroom logs, we read that you need to soak your logs to tempt them to fruit.  For the last two years, I've soaked our logs in batches of three or four, sometimes getting a flush of mushrooms and sometimes not.  Tradd's talk helped me see why I was often doing more harm than good by soaking my logs, and how I can keep our mushroom logs hydrated using easier alternatives.

So what's wrong with soaking mushroom logs?  Like animals, fungi need to breath, so when you dunk your logs in the water, they have to hold their breath.  Usually, the fungi in your logs will have no trouble holding their breath for about a day (although during hot weather when the dissolved oxygen levels of the water are lower, they might have trouble), but if you forget and leave your logs soaking for two days, you'll probably Bury mushroom logskill your fungi.  The main benefit of soaking mushroom logs over some of the techniques I'll outline below is that you determine when you want your logs to fruit, but if your memory is as bad as mine, you probably shouldn't risk it.

Tradd has developed several methods for keeping your logs moist by allowing them to soak up water out of the ground.  One option is to dig a trench on the north side of a building (or under a tree's canopy), turn your logs upright, and bury about a third of the length in the ground.  If your house has gutters, you can channel the water to soak your mushrooms.  I've rearranged our best logs in this manner and will see how they do this summer.

Mushroom raft

Another option is to create rafts by burying your logs horizontally in the ground.  If you create a raft using logs that have all been inoculated with the same strain of fungus, the mycelium will run through the mulch and soil and turn your logs into one huge fungal body.  This large body will be more resilient and will be able to send up mushrooms anywhere along the raft using the energy stored within all the logs.  I used a modified version of this technique (with a layer of cardboard to kill grass and adding composted manure to feed the nearby tree) to turn the logs that I drowned and the ones that are contaminated with turkey tails into mushroom-rafts/hugelkultur-mounds/lasagna-beds in the forest garden.

Mushroom totemA last option is to create totems, which are a bit like the upright logs I mentioned earlier but are even easier to inoculate.  Cut your logs into shorter segments and stack them, layering sawdust spawn between the layers.  With no drilling or waxing, you'll still end up with the equivalent of a mushroom log, and the mycelium will join the small rounds together just like they join the logs in a raft together.

Before you get too excited about these alternative methods of mushroom hydration, I have to throw in a few words of caution.  Burying your logs partly or all the way into the soil increases your risk of contamination by wild fungi (although oyster mushrooms can probably hold their own) and also makes your logs rot a bit faster.  You also won't be able to plan your harvest dates as carefully, although in my experience, if mushroom logs aren't in the mood to fruit, just soaking them isn't going to jumpstart the process.  But if you're looking for a low-work method of growing mushrooms in your backyard, these techniques are a great way to start.

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This post is part of our Low Tech Mushroom Cultivation lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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To get your shiitake logs to fruit use some ice in your stock tank. Bringing the water temperature down to about 45 degrees for a few hours and letting the logs soak overnight is all you should need.

Great series, thanks!

Comment by mycoremediation Wed Apr 30 02:48:12 2014

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