By Jacob Rudolph (’00)
From shitakes to portabellas, mushrooms are a culinary delicacy enjoyed around the world. Not only are they popular with cooks, but they’re also simple to grow and harvest at home. Bob Hess (’01), owner of Everything Mushrooms in Knoxville, shares how to cultivate your very own mushrooms.
Making mushroom logs is easy and fun and, if done properly, will provide your home kitchen with fresh mushrooms for years and years. Log cultivation is not an exact science and requires patience, time, and a little luck.
- Mushroom spawn plugs
- Cheese wax
Find a Log
Logs should be four to six inches in diameter and two to three feet in length. Keep the bark intact. Always use recently harvested, disease-free hardwood. Preferred woods include—but are not limited to—white oak, red oak, poplar, and maple. Avoid evergreen hardwoods, such as live oak, and evergreen conifers, such as fir and pine.
Buy Spawn Plugs
Mushroom spawn plugs are available for purchase from a number of suppliers, including Hess’s Everything Mushrooms. The plugs are small wooden dowels colonized with mycelium, the mushroom’s root network. Available in a wide variety of species, plugs are raised in sterile, temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions to ensure their viability.
Using a 5/16-inch drill bit, drill holes two inches deep along the log. The holes should be spaced four to five inches apart. Four or five rows will be needed per log.
Insert Spawn Plugs and Cover
Hammer plugs into holes, then set one-quarter of an inch below the bark with a punch. Melt cheese wax into each hole to protect the plugs.
Care for Log
Place logs in a shaded outdoor location, where rain can be received. Avoid direct contact with soil. Occasionally soak logs during periods of prolonged drought or dryness. Mushrooms will begin to grow within one year.
Once the log starts to fruit, you may begin to harvest mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms off the log when the cap is three to four inches across. It’s important to cut them off the log rather than picking them by hand, which can reduce the chances for more mushrooms. Trim off the tough stalks before cooking and eating.
After harvesting the mushrooms, place the log back in its shaded location. After about six weeks, the log should fruit again. One log can produce up to two pounds of mushrooms over its six-year lifespan.
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