Last week, I took advantage of the gorgeous fall weather, and set up some mushroom logs on our weekend homestead. We’ve been working on our cabin for over a year now, but this is our first farm-related project on the property.
Eventually, I’d like to get to a point where our 35 acres is providing many of our own food needs, plus making enough to cover expenses, and hopefully, even earn us a small income.
Down the road, I plan to plant a large orchard and to restock our pond. We’ve even talked about growing Christmas trees. There are so many possibilities, and they’re all fun to contemplate.
Setting up some mushroom logs in the woods seemed like a good first step, so I ordered everything I needed from a company called Everything Mushrooms. They’re based here locally, but they ship all over the U.S.
Here’s what I bought:
100 Shitake mushroom plugs – $12
100 Pearl Oyster mushroom plugs – $12
(1) Plug Kit (comes with 1-lb of cheese wax, a 10-cc syringe and identification tags) – $8
So, only $32 to get started as a mushroom farmer! Not bad.
Mushroom plugs are simply wooden dowels that have been inoculated with mushroom spawn. See all that white stuff all over the plugs? That’s mycelium. It’s the stuff that mushrooms grow from. If you’ve ever picked up a handful of soil and seen white threads through it, that’s the same stuff.
As you can see, the Pearl Oyster plugs that I received were absolutely covered in mycelium.
Everything Mushroom sells lots of mushroom varieties. I decided to start with these two because they’re recognizable varieties that should have good resale potential. I plan to add a few more varieties over time, to expand our growing season. Most people think of mushrooms as being in season in the spring and fall, but there are actually quite a few varieties that grow in the summer and winter months.
The Shitake mushrooms that I chose (Lentinula edodes) are a cold weather variety. They fruit when the temperatures fall between 40 and 55 degrees. The oyster mushrooms that I chose (Pleuroteus ostreatus) fruits when the temperatures are between 60-70 degrees.
All right, so now that we’ve gotten all of those explanations out of the way, let’s make some mushroom logs!
How to Make Mushroom Logs
Most mushroom varieties, including the two varieties that I chose, need to be grown on fresh wood. You can grow them on pretty much any hardwood, but oak is really the gold standard. An oak log might give you five to six years of mushrooms. I recently talked to someone who had grown Shitakes on sweet gum, and they were getting two to three years out of their logs.
Coming up with oak logs was no biggie for us; our property is covered in oaks. You want 4-6 inch-wide logs (with the bark intact), so we opted to fell two young oaks that were too close to our cabin for comfort.
Once those were down, we limbed them …
and cut them into four-foot lengths. The instructions that came with our supplies recommended two to three-foot logs. Since I knew I wanted to stack them in towers, we added an extra foot to our logs to create a space for the logs to stack.
Then, we used a chalk line to create four or five evenly-spaced rows around the circumference of each log. Larger logs got five rows. Smaller logs got four.
To create holes for the mushroom plugs to go into, we outfitted our drill with a 5/16-inch bit, and drilled two-inch deep holes along the rows, leaving four inches between each hole.
Then, I grabbed my trusty hammer, and used it to drive a plug into each hole.
Figure on getting around 45 plugs into each log.
Once the plugs were in, I used a punch to sink the plugs another quarter-inch into the logs.
I then hauled our propane camp stove over to where I was working, and melted some cheese wax over a double boiler. The plug kit I ordered came with one pound of wax. That’s supposed to be enough for 500 plugs, so I only melted half of the block.
If you’ve never melted wax before, be sure to do it over a double boiler. Wax is highly flammable, so you don’t want to place it over direct heat.
I just stuck an old camp frying pan over a pot of water. There’s no need to get fancy.
One more public service announcement, before we move on: Don’t leave melting wax unattended. Melting flammable materials is serious business.
When the wax was melted, I used the 10cc syringe that came with the kit to fill the plug holes with wax. That worked brilliantly … until it broke. I used a plastic throw-away spoon to pour wax into the remaining holes. Before I plug more logs, I plan to order a box of syringes.
Then, we found a shady spot in the woods, and stacked our mushroom logs in towers. One for oyster mushrooms, and one for Shitake mushrooms. Oyster and Shitake logs aren’t supposed to sit directly on the ground, so we set them up on rocks. (other mushroom variety do better when they’re partially buried, so you definitely want to do what’s best for your particular mushrooms).
We get a lot of rain up at our weekend homestead (the storms in our region tend to originate there), so the logs should stay plenty moist on their own, but most mushroomers recommend soaking your logs for 24 hours, if they go three weeks without rain.
Usually it takes a year for your logs to fruit for the first time, but the company we ordered from said we might get some mushrooms out of our cold weather Shitakes this year. As usual, I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I’m anxious to add on to our mushroom towers. Anyone have an oak tree that needs to come down?