Our Mushroom Experiment Begins

a stack and a half of logs for mushroom cultivation

Our First Mushroom Logs

Last week, a crew hired by REMC cleared the power line right of way along the road, as well as through our woods, and along the driveway.  Unlike anywhere else I’ve lived, the crew called about two weeks prior to coming out to let me know they’d be there, and asked if I had any concerns.  I told them to leave any wood chips, and explained that we were a Certified Naturally Grownfarm, and our concerns that they be as gentle as possible in their work.  They also promised they’d be able to leave the largest stretch of right-of-way through the middle of our property in a state where I could mow it, and thus avoid any need for future visits (much of the tree-of-heaven I clearned in the fall from that area had actually re-grown from stumps from the last time this had been done).

Like everywhere I’ve been before, they were pretty brutal.  They chopped off several ancient trees along the north fence, tearing down about 280 feet of fence in the process, cut down a huge pine tree along the road that wasn’t any closer to the lines than many they left, and apparently, contrary to the legal description of our lot, the REMC right-of-way is apparently about 140 feet wide.  They leveled everything in a swath that wide, in places even wider, with a machine that looked like the illegitimate child of a root grapple and a rotary spader (which they also left parked in our yard for 5 days).  Finally, for no apparent reason, they cut down our sassafras clump.  It’s doubtful they would have ever come close to threatening the power lines.  Of course, they left most of their mess.  About the only thing they chipped was the sassafras, so i couldn’t even make root beer with it!

So, in this busiest of times of year, when we’re also needing to get the place looking great for our wedding, we have many large trees down (some so big then when I tried to drag them with the tractor to more advantageous places to cut ‘em up, I couldn’t even get them to budge!), and a fast swath through the middle of the property that looks like the remains of a clear-cut logging opperation.  Which makes sense, since that’s what it was.

So, what to do?

Well, I figured, when life gives you vast swaths of woody waste material, make mushrooms!

We already had a plan to grow mushrooms as part of the farm’s permaculture activities. It was just something that was planned to start two or three years down the road.  This year was the year to build the kiwi trellis, next year to start the kiwi vines, and maybe the mushrooms, but probably the following year to start the mushrooms.  We intend to grow them underneath the trellis that supports the kiwi vines, where it will be quite shady and difficult to grow anything else. 

This represents the type of vertical stacking of functions very common to permaculture design.  Rather than a given patch of ground having one crop and one use, one tries to have at least three layers, and three or more uses.  We’ll have kiwi vining up the trellis, providing fruit, and nesting places for birds and beneficial insects, and shelter for our great pyrenees Falkor, when he isn’t working to protect the alpacas.  Underneath the kiwi vine, we’ll have a nice shady a shady path underneath (providing travel between the barn, the alpaca pasture, and the house via the dog yard). Next to the path, still under the trellis, we’ll grow shiitake mushrooms, and perhaps some others, on partially buried vertical logs.  On the ground around the logs, we’ll grow other mushrooms in wood chips and sawdust, straw, manure/compost, etc.  When the logs are tired, they can be sterilized, and be used horizontally to grow other mushrooms, or shredded to become part of the wood chips/etc. for mushrooms. When all of the mushrooms are done, we’ll be left with mushroom compost, which is a very expensive soil amendment.  The mushroom compost can be left in place to feed the kiwi vines, or moved elsewhere on the farm where it might be helpful.  Finally, the whole thing will act as a short, but nearby and thus effective, second windbreak for the house during the winter, wile situated such that it shouldn’t reduce cooling summer breezes.  Wow, I think I even impressed myself with the plan!  Nature is amazing and always cooperative on the farm when it’s all just theory!

Anyway, turning the devastation left in the name of electrical power into something good seems of paramount importance.  Otherwise, we are left with a huge disturbance to our environment and will be taking no steps to direct nature’s response in a direction that furthers our goals.  We’ll surely just get more tree of heaven, poison ivy, and garlic mustard out of it. We’re not prepared to do much in the areas they destroyed, and, frankly, it’ll take quite a while just to make it possible to do anything productive in that swath.  But, at least we can use the trees that were cut down.

In order to grow edible mushrooms, time is of the essence.  It’s important to remove the logs from the woods and get them off the ground as soon as possible so they don’t become infested with wild mushrooms that would compete with the shiitakes.So, yesterday I yanked out a few of the trees they left laying, and cut them up into 3 foot logs.  I selected mostly cottonwood and alder, and one tree’s worth of oak, so far.  Oak is best, though we have little in what they took down, but all of these are species suited to growing shiitakes. 

In the space of 5 hours, in which I used about 1 cup of gas/oil mix for the chainsaw, and about 1/2 cup of diesel fuel for the tractor pulling logs out (and in several instances, trying to.  Many of the trees they cut down are too large, too tangled, or too far from where I can safely put the tractor to move with a tractor as small as ours), I cut and moved about 3500 pounds of logs and stacked them behind the dog yard fence.  This will be near where they will eventually go, but out of the way for trellis construction.

The 34 sections of log I moved should yield about 170 pounds of shiitake mushrooms over 3-5 years before they are too depleted for growing shiitakes.  At that point, I should be able to sterilize them and re-inoculate them to grow button mushrooms for a couple of years, then a couple of years of portobellos, after which they will no longer be logs, but small piles of mushroom compost weighing about 30 pounds total.  Of course, I hope to find enough time yet this week to pull out a few more logs.  If I don’t get to them this week, it really will be too late for growing mushrooms on them.

That’s the plan anyway.  If all goes well, we should have our first crop of shiitakes this fall!

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