I buy the Shiitakes every year from the students, eating some fresh and drying the rest. This year I decided to find out more about how the students raised the mushrooms. I had not a clue as to the process.
THE SHIITAKE LOG GARDEN
In a small woodland patch on the Berea College campus are stacked logs that produce the fabulous Shiitakes. It is an area that has little sunlight which helps retain the moisture creating an ideal environment.
I was able to talk to Sean Clark, staff member of the Berea College Agricultural Department. He gave me a short albeit informative lesson in how they go about mushroom gardening.
He stated that it is an ongoing process. White oak logs are gathered in January when the Berea College woodland properties are culled. It is important that the logs are dormant.
The logs are inoculated and then produce for about five years. As logs are retired from the garden others are stacked into the area. The usual number of logs in the garden numbers between 400 to 500. This number reflects that the Berea College students in the Ag Department are learning the ways to produce a commercial cash crop. A homeowner would not have this large of an inventory for sure
To step back a bit. Before the logs are stacked and after they have been gathered in January they undergo first, inoculation, then, an "incubation" period. I call it incubation although Sean did not. In my mind it was the best way to understand the pre-stacking process.
Inoculation is done sometime in January. The inoculation is done with a fungal and sawdust mix. Several chain saw cuts are made in the logs and filled with a this mass which is called a spawn. Then the saw cuts are wrapped in duct tape.
This spawn will eventually produce the fruit that grows on the logs -- which is the mushrooms.
Next the inoculated logs are placed under open metal grid tables in the college greenhouse. On top of the table are other plantings of the Ag Department that require regular watering every day. As the students water the plants on the tables water seeps down through the metal grids and moistens the logs below. The logs begin to fruit six to eighteen months after inoculation. The logs are moved out to the log garden in the spring.
At the Berea Farmers Market one can buy inoculated logs from some vendors to try their hand at raising their own mushrooms. I would imagine that other farmer's markets would offer inoculated logs.
Shiitake mushrooms exposed to brief sunlight contain high amounts of vitamin D. Mushrooms are the only vegan source of vitamin D. They are also powerful antioxidants.
For those that would like to try their hand at producing mushrooms at home you might want to pick up from your local library, Mushroom Cultivation: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Stamets and Chilton.
SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS TUMBLED IN A MASS REVEALING THEIR LIGHT UNDERSIDES
PHOTO: BEREA COLLEGE STUDENT, FRANCES BUERKENS