Make Mushrooms out of Lemonade

If you’ve heard the expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” then you will understand that I am of course speaking metaphorically. Nature gave the East Coast a whopping crop of lemons last October, in the form of hurricane Sandy, followed closely by a heavy snowstorm. As I stepped around the piles of wood and tangled branches cluttering up the sidewalks, I realized this could be a wonderful opportunity: I could give these trees another useful life, I could inoculate them with mushroom spawn.


As with most projects it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. Oak is the best kind of wood to use for many of the tree growing mushrooms, but most of the downed trees in my neighborhood were Honey Locust or Bradford Pear. Still, I dragged a few limbs home, only to realize that I needed thicker branches. The thicker, the better, for several reasons: first, growing fungi need moisture, and the thicker logs will not dry out as easily. You can remedy this by watering your logs regularly, but the 3/4″ plugs needs to go into the outer sap wood (the lighter ring right underneath the bark). The fungus won’t grow as well in the inner heart wood.

mushroomplugTo make a long story short, a very kind arborist at the Botanic Garden provided me with a half dozen huge oak logs, and a very kind neighbor and fellow mycological enthusiast helped me lug them home. Then I ordered spawn from Fungi Perfecti and proceeded to drill hundreds of small holes in all my logs, plug them with the little wooden plugs with the delicate fuzzy white growth I’d gotten in the mail, then seal them with a few drops from a beeswax candle.

Some logs I just left outside all winter, but I kept two of them in the shower to escape the cold. I just put them out a few days ago, now that the danger of a hard frost seems past. I’ll have to wait to discover which logs do better — this is a long term project, it will be a year, maybe two, before I see any results.

In the meantime I will do my utmost best to train my kids to eat and enjoy mushrooms — but I’m afraid that may prove much more difficult than growing these finicky fungi.


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