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

Making sure your spawn is good

Shiitake plugs

To ensure a steady supply of shiitakes, you should inoculate new logs every three to five years. We inoculated logs in 2007 and 2009, but by 2013, were feeling in need of more shiitakes.

Unfortunately, the plugs we ordered that winter arrived looking like plain wooden dowels, apparently mycelium-free. I trusted the source, though, so Mark and I drilled holes, pounded the plugs in, waxed over the holes...and waited.

Unfortunately, nothing happened, and I eventually realize that I should have trusted my gut. Here's your warning: if your spawn arrives and the substrate doesn't appear to be coated with white mycelium, something might be wrong.


Fast forward ahead two years. We decided to order from a different company this time around (Field and Forest Products, whose spawn has always grown like gangbusters for us). And sure enough, the plugs arrived fuzzy with mycelium...but frozen solid!

This time, the issue was entirely my own fault. I knew the spawn was shipping, but didn't change my routine of walking Lucy out to check the mail the morning after it's delivered rather than catching it on day one. So a night in the teens meant that I brought home spawn coated with ice crystals.

I emailed the folks at Field and Forest Products, and they responded quickly and soothingly. I wasn't to worry --- as long as the spawn didn't freeze and thaw repeatedly, it would be fine.

And, yes, I trusted them. But I also recalled how much work and time we wasted on spawn that didn't do anything two years ago. So I fell back on a technique I recently learned in Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation. Tradd Cotter recommends putting questionable spawn somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight for a few days to see if the mycelium begins to grow. Sure enough, after three days on top of the fridge, our plugs were whiter than ever!

Mushroom logs

We'd planned to inoculate our logs this week, but it looks like the weather isn't going to cooperate. While I'd read previously that it's okay to inoculate logs as long as you're not going to see lows beneath about 18, Field and Forest Products has a different guideline. They said to wait until daytime highs are reliably hitting 40 Fahrenheit...which was the case last year at this time, but not so much in 2015. (Actually, with lows of -12 now forecast, we wouldn't be plugging logs this week by anyone's guidelines.)

So the spawn is now resting in the fridge, along with scionwood and maple sap. It sure is a good thing I'm the head cook, or my homesteading spillover into the kitchen might get on the kitchener's nerves....

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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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I am interested in getting started with mushrooms this year. Any advice?
Comment by Lee Tue Feb 17 14:11:52 2015

Lee --- I'll give you the advice I just read in Tradd Cotter's book for people thinking of selling mushrooms:

  • start at the hobby level with a low investment to see if you like it and what works for you.

  • focus on easy species like oysters and shiitakes

Hope that helps!

Comment by anna Tue Feb 17 14:52:10 2015
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