Raising Shiitake Mushrooms

on May 1, 2010

When we need advice on foraging mushrooms, harvesting oysters or gathering eggs, we turn to our favorite city chick–turned farmer, Tamar Haspel. Since Jan. 2009, Tamar has eaten one thing every day that she has foraged, farmed or fished. Here’s her post on building frames for beehives. To read more, go to starvingofftheland.com

Shroom Bloom
By Tamar Haspel

We were headed up our driveway this morning when Kevin stopped the car. He started backing up, and I thought he’d forgotten something. But then he stopped again and pointed out my window. I looked and saw our azalea, densely packed with pinky-purple blossoms. Just yesterday it was green. All over town, colors are popping. I recognize the daffodils and crocuses, but there’s a whole spectrum of everything from white to deep purple that I can’t begin to identify. As far as I’m concerned, though, the best thing to come out of the earth so far this season is dirty brown.

Our shiitakes are blooming!

It was almost a year ago that we drilled about a bazillion little holes in a bunch of oak logs and filled them with wooden dowels impregnated with shiitake spore. We sealed the holes with wax, left the logs in a shady spot, and waited.

Once the dowels are in the logs, there’s nothing to do. This, for me, is part of the appeal. You can’t weed, or water or fertilize. All you have to do is wait. The downside, of course, is that all you can do is wait. The mI think that’s what makes it so miraculous when the little brown mushrooms poke through the tree bark. I mean, think about it. All you do is introduce a spore to a length of wood. The spore does the rest — or doesn’t, depending on its mood, various environmental variables, and, for all we know, hemlines.

As we engineer plants and animals with ever more precision, mushrooms are the last bastion of agricultural mystery. Even the varieties we have the best handle on — like shiitakes — are imperfectly understood.

In general, I’m not a big fan of mystery. I believe everything is knowable, and I’d like to know as much of it as possible. If mystery means I get a bumper crop of mushrooms without doing any work, though, I’m all for it.
ycelium may or may not be colonizing your log, and you’ve got nothing whatsoever to say about it. If you’ve got control issues, shiitakes aren’t for you.

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