Friday, June 8, 2018

The ABC's of Almond Agaricus: A Warm Weather Mushroom, Superlative in Any Garden


 by Mary Ellen Kozak


Almond Agaricus (Almonds) are sweet, fragrant summer mushrooms that can be grown outdoors in the garden. A cousin to the white button mushroom, crimini and portabella, it is much easier to grow. Just like button mushrooms, it grows in compost, but does not require pasteurization, caves or grow houses. Anyone who has a garden... flower, vegetable, shade, or container, can grow this mushroom. You don't necessarily need to plant them with vegetables or flowers, but plants help create necessary shade and harness humidity for perfect mushroom development when they are planted side by side. Grown together, there is also the mutual benefit from the CO2/O2 gas generated and exchanged by both plant and fungus, and the plants appreciate the released nutrients from the compost.

Almonds can be cultivated commercially (and in larger scale) in beds within high tunnels and greenhouses or in areas outdoors where moisture can be added and monitored. It can grow in the shaded woods and sunny garden (best alongside big, leafy plants because of the added shade). Or, it can be grown "small scale" in window boxes and large potted plants, indoors or out. It can be planted May until early July in the north, earlier in the south, or whenever the last frost date is in your area. It is best to plant them so you can get at least 2-4 months of frost-free weather. Almond mycelium can actually survive some freezing weather, but developing baby mushrooms will not, so it's best to pack in as much growing season as possible.

Almonds can be grown in abundance during the warm months of summer.

Almond Cultivation in 6 Steps:

1. Gather supplies
2. Find a site for the bed
3. Build the bed
4. Inoculate
5. Mulch and maintain
6. Harvest and enjoy!


1. Supplies: 

Spawn, compost (bagged or homemade), and a watering can or hose with spray nozzle. You will also want a mulch material to help maintain adequate moisture throughout the growing medium profile. For spawn rates, see Step 4 below.


2. Site preparation and shade requirements:

Choose a location for your Almond bed. The shade requirement for Almonds are related to the ability to keep the bed moist during spawn run, and humidity to encourage large and succulent mushrooms when they fruit.  This can be done outdoors in a fully sunny garden if you can provide lots of mulch and frequent, light watering from a sprinkler or soaker hose over the Almond bed for its spawn run phase, and big leafy plants nearby to capture humidity for its fruiting stage. Chard, lettuces, zucchini, tomatoes and other large leafed vegetables are all suitable companions for Almonds. 

These Almonds are growing in a bed of leeks that are planted in a shallow trench of compost, mulched with straw. Leeks, while loving the compost, do not provide enough shade for premium yields. Tomatoes and zucchini are a better choice.

We have taken to growing all our tomatoes in a high tunnel, and it turns out to be a really good location for Almond production as well. We live north of the 45 degree parallel, so the extra heat and extended season provided by the greenhouse plus the daily attention to plants and soil alike make for a great spot to grow Almonds. We also plant beds constructed in the garden or forest, but yields are frequently lower because the bed is more likely to dry out due to our own negligence. 


3. Choose your compost and construct bed:

Almonds fungally fall at the bottom in the rot chain. While mushrooms like Shiitake and Oyster must have undecomposed lignin and cellulose found in just-cut trees and other woody substrates, Almonds like rich, decomposed plant matter, further down the decay chain. As mushroom growers, we use both spent and composted Shiitake (sawdust) blocks and myceliated, composted Oyster mushroom straw; a dual "waste" substrate. It's pretty cool that you can grow two different mushrooms from the same substrate, just utilizing the food from different levels of decay. You can also use kitchen/garden waste compost, bagged composts and worm castings. We are still working with leaf-based mulch/compost but cannot yet recommend it.

If you are using bulk or homemade compost, take the time to make sure the compost is moist enough, which is typically the biggest problem with using homemade compost. Use the "squeeze test": grab a handful and squeeze as hard as you can. One or two drops of water should want to drip away. The compost does not have to be perfectly crumbly and finished, but you should aim for it to get this way.

Composted straw, kitchen and garden refuse 

Bed construction: We have tested several bed depths and spawn rates and have determined that beds 5 inches deep inoculated at a 5% rate (5 lbs. of spawn to 100 lbs. of compost) is optimal. Make attention to bed depth your priority. Deeper beds (but not too deep for the companion plants) are easier to maintain moisture, and shallower beds are prone to excessive drying requiring more constant watering.

* Note - Choose the right companion plant: It's important to remember that compost is also considered a fertilizer and that too much might not be a good thing for some plants you may be considering to pair with your mushroom growing. Some of the nutrients are being used by the mushroom mycelium, so we honestly have never had too much leafy growth from our tomatoes even when planted into an extra thick compost bed. However, we are a little more reluctant to pair with plants like peppers which have a finicky reputation in regard to an overly rich soil.


4. Inoculation:

After the bed is laid out (if polyculturing, we plant our transplants first and build the bed around them), it's time to inoculate. Spawn rates: You will need about 10 lbs. compost per sq. ft. of bed space that is 5 inches deep seeded (inoculated) at a rate of 1/2 lb. spawn per sq. ft. A standard garden bed 3 ft. wide and 10 ft. long requires about 15 lbs. of Almond spawn. Open the spawn bag and break off egg-sized pieces of spawn and bury on 6-8 inch centers apart in a grid pattern, making sure spawn is covered with some compost after inoculation (take a moment to enjoy the 
signature almond-ish fragrance of the Almond spawn). Placing the spawn at different depths is also a helpful strategy.


This simple polyhouse is constructed from an "instant garage" frame and greenhouse plastic. The bed to the left has been planted and mulched with straw, the center bed is being inoculated, and the bed to the right awaits planting.

5. Mulching and spawn run

Keeping the bed moist is perhaps the biggest challenge - you will want to keep it damp to the very top of the compost. We have used straw, paper grain sacks, shredded office paper and cardboard to try to hold in moisture without excessive watering. The best so solution so far is cardboard kept moist by a soaker hose laid on top. Daily light sprinkling underneath dry cardboard or paper is almost daily work but is also quite effective. Leafy shade from the plant canopy really helps, even when the plants are young. This year we will be installing a small irrigation system which should give us effective, automatic coverage.
If you can get your cardboard to stay wet, the spawn run underneath will be excellent.
When long strands of mycelium start to knot, fruiting is at hand.

Paper seed bags weighed down with a straw mulch are pulled back to show myceliated compost two weeks after inoculation. Growth is not as strong at the very top as it is when using cardboard, but we are happy with the results.
After 2-3 weeks, watch the beds closely. The mycelium will start to knot just prior to fruiting, indicating that mushrooms are on the way. Now is the time, as an option, to apply a casing layer (preferably just before this stage, as the compost starts to show 60 percent myceliation as shown in the photo above). A casing layer is just a nutrient poor, thin layer of a water holding material that helps increase yields. Adding this layer is OPTIONAL. You will get plenty of mushrooms without it and it is an extra step. To get the most out of your planting though, application of this layer is helpful for maintaining bed moisture and reducing the need for constant watering. We make our casing out of peat moss and adjust the pH with a little hydrated lime (found at garden centers). We often skip the casing stage because fruiting happens faster than we expected and once fruiting occurs, we feel we have missed the window of opportunity, and we are happy with the yields even without it!

Casing recipe:
 3 lb. peat moss
 3 qt. water 
 1 1/2 T hydrated lime (look for types with less than 1% Mg (Magnesium) like Hi-Yield)
Mix well.

The mixture is spread out over the top of the bed, about 1/2" deep. Cover with mulch again and wait for the spawn to grow up through the extra layer, usually 7-10 additional days. Once the mycelium, showing at the top of the bed, starts to move from a feathery look to little tiny knots, you will know that you are just days from a mushroom harvest. Keep things moist!
Make sure the casing substrate is good and wet. Grab a handful and squeeze hard and look for  about 10 drips. It should be wetter than the compost!
Whoops! This bed, mulched with shredded office paper, got past us before we could case it! 

After initial knotting, real pins will start to develop which happens withing days.
Even if you are not a mushroom nerd, it is exciting!


6. Harvest:
New flushes will continue every 2-3 weeks. The first flush will produce single, large mushrooms, with later flushes producing smaller mushrooms, but many of them.
First fruitings produce a few but kingly mushrooms
Later fruitings yield mushrooms in abundance














As the mycelium sets pins, you will be able to judge how large the mushrooms will be. We let the large pins develop into a more open mushroom, like a portabella, for stuffing or grilling use. Smaller pins are harvested closer to buttons as they store longer and transport easily.


Harvesting when the mushrooms are button or cup shape makes for a good quality market mushroom.

From this point, keep the bed reasonably moist until freeze up. Expect mushrooms every few weeks after a good rain or heavy sprinkling from your garden hose.

Keeping a good thing going:
Now that you have used all your finished compost up for the growing season, it is time to start building a new pile. Make sure to add all your trimings or old mushrooms from the Almonds as they will have important bacteria that enhance fruiting attached to the bits of soil from the "rootlets."


Mushroom roots and pieces should go in the compost pile for next years' Almond planting.

Container plantings:

Almonds can grow very well in window boxes or large plant pots filled with basic potting soil mixes, but be mindful of the exposure where the pot will rest and the plant variety. North side exposures are best because the risk of drying out is low. Simply break off tangerine sized pieces of spawn and bury it in the top half of of the container. Use a 7-10 percent inoculation rate: #3/4-1 lb. of spawn for every 10 lbs. of potting soil and a couple scoops of garden soil to add to the bacterial mix. If you are using soil-less potting soil, add 1/3 by weight compost. No special watering is necessary as containers are often watered quite regularly. Shaded containers maintain moisture the best, of course.
A northern exposure on this window box brings nice surprises. Make sure you can open your window for the harvest!
                                                             
Medicinal benefits:

One can't talk about the Almond without mentioning its contribution to the family medicine chest. This mushroom has the more than its share of names: Agaricus blazei, Agaricus brazilienses, The Royal Sun mushroom, and Almond Portabella, although Agaricus subrufescens is the oldest and least controversial, so we'll stick with that. Nevertheless, we believe the fruits of all mushroom cultivation should also be part of the family "pleasure" chest.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Red Maple: Can this native new weed of the temperate forest make for good mushroom wood?

by Lindsey Bender

Red Maple mid-season
Red Maple is a very successful native tree that appears to be on the move, increasing its predominance across the Great Lakes states and Northeast. Also known as swamp, water or soft maple, it is tolerant to both very wet and very dry sites and everything in-between. Whether the reason for the invasive quality is from decreases in fire frequency, current forestry practices or climate change, there is a worry that Red Maple is replacing regeneration of high value oaks, chestnut and sugar maple. For the mushroom grower, red maple has some great qualities. Stumps sprout in profusion, often growing straight with multiple stems and is very plentiful. It serves as a substrate for Shiitake mushrooms, but its profitability to mushroom growers has been variable at best. At F&FP we have always believed that if we can make it grow a little it can be tweaked to make it grow better. In 2015 Field & Forest Products (FFP) and Misty Dawn Farms (MDF) teamed up on a two-year research project investigating the use of Red Maple for Shiitake mushroom production. 

The short answer is Red Maple is a useful mushroom wood species if you cut in spring during sap flow, use larger diameters (5” in diameter and coarse bark) and let it age 4 weeks prior to inoculation. For more information about the study, see below.

1) Does the month in which the logs are cut make a difference on log success?

Normally we say that logs should ideally be cut during the dormant season (from approximately 1/3 leaf color change in the fall, anytime through winter up until bud swell in the spring). Logs cut during this time typically hold onto their bark longer and are less prone to contamination by other competing fungi. To test whether this is the case with Red Maple, we inoculated over 20 logs every month in a one year period with the “Night Velvet” shiitake mushroom strain and incubated them indoors at 60-70° F with 85-90% relative humidity. Mushroom production was stimulated by force fruiting logs (soaking logs in cold water for 24hrs) after 11 months incubation time, and then mushroom yield was taken for each log. We found that March logs cut during sap flow produced the highest mushroom yields and were the most successful compared to logs cut in all other months of the year. Off all the logs that fruited, larger diameter logs with thicker, coarser bark were more successful than smaller logs with smooth bark.

You can cut Red Maple when the buds are anywhere between these two stages

2) Does the amount of time between cutting Red Maple logs and inoculating influence log success? 

Typically shiitake logs are cut then allowed to sit for a minimum of two weeks prior to inoculation. 
This time allows for cellular dieback in the log and subsequent dampening of the log’s defense system against fungal invasion. Shiitake is a saprophytic fungus that invades and consumes only dead organic matter. The weedy nature of Red Maple means these logs are more prone to re-sprouting (Figure 1). This livelihood means that the log is still capable of fighting against fungal colonization and really reduces mushroom log success. To test this, we inoculated logs either 2 weeks or 4 months after cutting. We found that many of our logs inoculated after only 2 weeks rest period struggled with successful spawn run. Logs that rested four months prior to inoculating were far more successful and productive. This indicates that more than two weeks resting before inoculation is necessary.

Figure 1. The central log has re-sprouted indicating the log is still alive and capable of fighting off shiitake invasion (shown by the lack of spawn run and mycelium on the end of the log).  

3) Is Red Maple a viable wood type for commercial shiitake production?

Many of the red maple logs inoculated only two weeks after felling were only moderately successful. Logs cut and inoculated four months later were far more productive yielding up to 2.3lbs shiitake/log. Unfortunately, disease presence was considerably higher in the Red Maple logs compared to other wood species used for shiitake cultivation (Red Oak, White Oak, Sugar Maple, Aspen) managed similarly.

Results from the red maple logs were compared to standard shiitake logs inoculated and managed under the same conditions. Average yields per log from other wood types during for the first fruiting year include Sugar Maple (0.68lbs/log), Red Oak (0.96lbs/log), White Oak (1.01lbs/log), Aspen (0.89lbs/log), and are comparable to Red Maple cut in December (0.80lbs/log) and Red Maple cut in February (1.02lbs/log) (Figure 2).   

Figure 2. Results from the ideal larger-sized red maple logs were compared to standard shiitake logs inoculated and managed under the same conditions. NOTE: These results are from the first year of fruiting only and do not necessarily represent the overall capability of each wood type over the life of the logs.  Red maple and similar softer hardwood species tend to have shorter fruiting lives than oak logs which remain the recommended log type for shiitake cultivation.  

Conclusion

By selecting for log parameters (coarse bark, >5.5”/14cm diameter), allowing sufficient rest time between felling and inoculation, and controlling for competing fungal disease, red maple logs are capable of producing yields comparable to other wood species commonly used in commercial cultivation of shiitake such as Sugar Maple and Oak species.

There are abundant advantages to being able to utilize Red Maple over standard wood species including cost per log ($2.00 versus $3.00, respectively), increased availability and abundance of Red Maple, increased speed of stand regeneration after wood harvest, faster spawn run in a softer harder, and public willingness to harvest weedy wood species.

Disadvantages – the weedy nature of Red Maple means these logs are more prone to re-sprouting (Figure 1). This livelihood means that the log is still capable of fighting against fungal colonization. To reduce these chances, we recommend letting the logs rest at least 4 weeks (optimal time still being determined) from cutting until inoculation. Secondly, because Red Maple is a softer hard wood, the average life of the log is shorter than hardwoods typically used for shiitake cultivation. Lastly, softer hardwoods like Red Maple are more prone to contamination by competing fungi. Altering log management to reduce these risks may be necessary.

We at Field and Forest Products are constantly striving to improve and clarify the standards for shiitake cultivation to improve success. To do so, we are working on a follow-up to this study examining timing of cut and optimal length of rest time to increase productivity comparing Sugar Maple and Red Maple. We also believe this data will be transferable to other invasive soft maple species such as Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). We will share those results with you in the future!

This two-year research project was funded by the North Central Region of Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program. You can read the full report here on their website:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lion's Mane, a Memorable, Medicinal Mushroom

by Laura Kahles


When people ask us what the medicinal benefits of Lion’s Mane (aka Monkey Head, Pom Pom, Hericium erinaceus) are, we typically respond, “It helps improve memory function and promotes nerve regeneration.” While true, there is more to be said about this charming character. The Chinese more commonly use this mushroom to aid in digestion and alleviate gastric ulcers. It is also filled with beneficial polysaccharides and polypeptides. These big words simply translate into “medicine” that can boost the immune system and help with the fight against certain cancers including some stomach, esophagus, and skin varieties.  Who knew that such an adorable fungus could secretly be a superhero.   

What's not to love about this photo?

I have consumed mushrooms in many forms. The most common is straight consumption of both cooked and raw mushrooms (remember bacteria and parasites often take joy rides on mushroom fruiting bodies, so eat raw mushrooms at your own risk). Working at a mushroom farm certainly gives me ample opportunity to eat a wide variety of these tasty treasures and Lion’s Mane is no different. Although I long for the rich buttery flavor of the wild Hericium, I have more access the sawdust block variety, which is also flavorful and enjoyable IF picked early. Be sure to cook Lion’s Mane on a low simmer or add it to a hearty soup or stew. This full bodied mushroom won’t leave you hungry.

The Lion's Mane mushroom. This one is pink in color due to high humidity conditions in the fruiting room.

I have also had my fair share of mushroom teas, but I find they are either to flavorless or too mushroomy (yep… I just said that). If I decide to sit down to a cup of my favorite mushrooms in a drink form I like to mix them with a few of my favorite herbal buddies. Any of the various mints, chamomile, or rooibos. A squeeze of lemon or a drop of wild orange essential oil never hurts. To each their own when it comes to jazzing up fungus water! I do try to keep it healthy and natural, we are after all trying to use it as a medicine. Honey is my sweetener of choice. Make sure mushroom teas are made using a relaxing simmer, as opposed to a violent boil, which can cause damage to the valuable medicinal components.
If you are interested in getting the full benefits and flavor of your mushroom, a real shock to the palate, try juicing them! The F&FP staff did this with Lion’s Mane, and it was... well... an experience I personally will never forget. Mary Ellen did the juicing. The mushrooms (25% of the weight) along with carrots, apples and kale were put into a juicer and voila! She served them to us in cute little cups (she tricked us is what she did), and cheers, we guzzled them down. While not the most enjoyable beverage, I can rest easy knowing that the medicine lurking within the mushrooms was served to me in full effect, no damage from the heat involved with some of the other processes.
A wonderful blend of juices, including Lion's Mane

My favorite way to consume medicinal mushrooms is in a concentrated tincture form. I prefer this because it doesn’t take much effort to add it to my everyday food or beverages, and I don’t usually notice it as an ingredient. Tincturing is a straightforward process. Basically mushrooms are suspended in alcohol where they sit for several weeks. Once that process is complete the alcohol is drained and the mushrooms are reused for a 6-8 minute low simmer in water. After straining out the mushrooms the water and alcohol are combined to create an almighty elixir. For more details on this process visit my previous post, Reishi Tincture: A Cure All.  

I would love to see the Lion’s Mane continue to rise in popularity, so if you haven’t tried it out yet please consider! The health benefits alone sure have me convinced. Hold up your tiny glasses of juiced Lion’s Mane and let’s cheer to health!

Check out the bonus Lion's Mane recipe below:

Louisiana Style Vegetarian Gumbo with Lion's Mane, Okra and Zucchini
by Mary Ellen Kozak

After years of cooking Lion's Mane, I have a short list of ways to capitalize on this mushroom's list of of culinary attributes. Lion's Mane is surely one of the more unusual of the cultivated mushrooms. It has a fairly distinct and strong flavor, chewy yet soft texture, and it seems unlikely that something with a hairy texture could be so invincible in the cooking pot. Lion's Mane prepared in this medium-slow cook method is mild flavored and pliable with a slight chew, feeling solid, like a bite of shrimp. Its soft texture is downright succulent in contrast to the soft and slippery okra. This is my first go at a gumbo, which I'm learning has many styles and versions. This one is vegetarian-lite, can be loaded with healthy Lion's Mane which makes for a fabulous lunch or a light weeknight supper and you'll feel remarkable healthy after eating it.





Louisiana Style Vegetarian Gumbo

Ingredients:


1 T oil

1  onion, diced
1 c sliced bell peppers
3 large stalks of celery, sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
6 c vegetable (or chicken) broth
14 oz can whole or diced tomatoes (or pint jar of your own)
1 1/2 c  okra, (if using frozen okra, thaw slightly for easy slicing)
2 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 lb (about 3 c)  Lion's Mane, torn into bite size pieces
1 tsp file' powder (ground sassafras leaves, or sub 1/2 tsp thyme and 1/2 tsp marjoram ... but try to find the file powder!)
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of hot sauce
A few grinds of black pepperOptional: 2 tsp arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 c cold water (for a thicker gumbo)
Hot cooked rice

Method:


In a soup pot, saute the onion, garlic and mushrooms over a low-moderate heat. Add the bell pepper and celery and cook a few more minutes. Add the seasonings, tomato and zucchini and partially cover. Simmer for about 25 minutes. If you prefer a thicker stew, add the arrowroot or cornstarch and return the stew to a moderate heat for a few minutes. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve over a fluffy cooked rice.



Gumbo recipe adapted from www.thespruce.com



Louisiana Style Vegetarian Gumbo with Lion's Mane, Okra and Zucchini

by Mary Ellen Kozak

After years of cooking Lion's Mane, I have a short list of ways to capitalize on this mushroom's list of of culinary attributes. Lion's Mane is surely one of the more unusual of the cultivated mushrooms. It has a fairly distinct and strong flavor, chewy yet soft texture, and it seems unlikely that something with a hairy texture could be so invincible in the cooking pot. Lion's Mane prepared in this medium-slow cook method is mild flavored and pliable with a slight chew, feeling solid, like a bite of shrimp. Its soft texture is downright succulent in contrast to the soft and slippery okra. This is my first go at a gumbo, which I'm learning has many styles and versions. This one is vegetarian-lite, can be loaded with healthy Lion's Mane which makes for a fabulous lunch or a light weeknight supper and you'll feel remarkable healthy after eating it.




Louisiana Style Vegetarian Gumbo

Ingredients:

1 T oil
1  onion, diced
1 c sliced bell peppers
3 large stalks of celery, sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
6 c vegetable (or chicken) broth
14 oz can whole or diced tomatoes (or pint jar of your own)
1 1/2 c  okra, (if using frozen okra, thaw slightly for easy slicing)
2 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 lb (about 3 c)  Lion's Mane, torn into bite size pieces
1 tsp file' powder (ground sassafras leaves, or sub 1/2 tsp thyme and 1/2 tsp marjoram ... but try to find the file powder!)
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of hot sauce
A few grinds of black pepperOptional: 2 tsp arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 c cold water (for a thicker gumbo)
Hot cooked rice

Method:

In a soup pot, saute the onion, garlic and mushrooms over a low-moderate heat. Add the bell pepper and celery and cook a few more minutes. Add the seasonings, tomato and zucchini and partially cover. Simmer for about 25 minutes. If you prefer a thicker stew, add the arrowroot or cornstarch and return the stew to a moderate heat for a few minutes. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve over a fluffy cooked rice.

Gumbo recipe adapted from www.thespruce.com

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mushroom Cobbler

by Mary Ellen Kozak




This cobbler is worthy of any holiday table. There are several steps: caramelizing onions, sautéing the mushrooms, making a light béchamel, combining the cheese biscuit dough. If you are not familiar with the individual steps, they are well worth learning here as the steps can make any number of delicious mushroom-based dishes. This serves 9 with a big salad and some nice pickles, but 4 of us made a lunch of the test batch.

The caramelized onions
1 ½ lb sliced onions
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ tsp salt

The mushrooms
1 ½ -2 lb mixed mushrooms: shiitake, oyster,
lion’s mane, portabella, any combination
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ tsp salt

The béchamel
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ c. port, dry sherry, or broth
pinch of dried thyme and red pepper flakes
1 ½ T flour
1 T butter
1 ½ c warmed milk

Drop biscuit topping
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 T cold butter
½ c asiago or hard cheese, grated
1 1/3 c buttermilk

Start with the onions. By the time you’ve completed the other steps, the onions will be ready to incorporate.

Caramelize the onions: Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions, sprinkling with salt. Lower the heat and sauté frequently while the onions soften and turn color. Within 45 minutes to an hour, the onions should be totally soft, dark gold and sweet. Adjust the salt and add a grind of pepper.

Saute the mushrooms: Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter for the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and salt, reducing the heat after the mushrooms start to release liquid. Add the thyme and a dash of red pepper flakes or black pepper. Stir occasionally until mushrooms are soft and just a little liquid is left. Add the wine or broth, and sauté until a rich syrup remains. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Make the béchamel; Heat 1 T butter and add the 1 ½ T flour, cooking until bubbly. Add the 1 1/3 c. of warmed milk a little at a time, stirring after each addition to make smooth. Cook a few more minutes after the last addition until the mixture is the consistency of medium thick gravy.

Combine the mushrooms, the onions and béchamel and pour into a buttered casserole or gratin dish.

Make the biscuits: Cut the butter into the flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Stir in the grated cheese. Add the cold buttermilk and lightly combine. Drop evenly over the top of the filling; I use 1/3 c scoop which makes 9 biscuits over the top of a 9 inch square, 3 ½ inch deep gratin pan.

Bake at 400° for 25-30 min.


This recipe was adapted from "The New Vegetarian Epicure" 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Timing of Log Cut for Optimum Shiitake Production

by Joe Krawczyk

Last month a feller/buncher showed up on our property to begin the harvest of our oak woodlot. The plans made to cut the trees had been in the back of my mind for a over a decade, but was spurred on now by the introduction of Oak Wilt into the stand of the nearly century old Pin Oak trees. The Oak Wilt fungus travels along the wood vessels, tree top to roots and back, and moves from tree to tree via roots grafted (remember it's cousin, Dutch Elm Disease?), eventually infecting much of the stand. Pockets of trees are often dead within a growing season. So, the time is right to salvage what we can of the wood before infection and also release the suppressed pine, oak (and likely red maple and buckthorn) seedlings, eager for light on the forest floor. Plus, the cut will actually pay off this fall in terms of abundant tops to harvest shiitake logs cut away from the saw logs going to the sawmill. The timing of the harvest could not have been better.



This twist of fate, and happily somewhat good planning, has resulted in the trees being felled at the optimum time for harvest. By now (November) we will be done considering raking leaves and the lawn and garden equipment should stowed for the winter, plus the color change coincides perfectly with what we know of good timing to harvest logs for mushroom cultivation.

Pin Oak logs, many of them old friends, harvested before succumbing 
to Oak Wilt, as shown at the pocket of standing trees, left.

Planning your harvest to coincide with inoculating mushroom logs

Cutting in fall: The optimum time to cut mushroom wood in the fall is when the forest canopy color has changed by one third. This indicates that the trees are dormant and the stored carbohydrates in the sapwood are at their highest levels. An added benefit to this is also that the cells have not completely hardened off and if a fall inoculation is done, shiitake will be able to easily colonize this wood.

If loggers are conscientious, oak tops are in great shape for cutting into shiitake logs.

Cutting in winter until spring bud swell: This is not to say that wood cannot be cut during the rest of  the dormant season. We are not all such good planners ;^ and sometimes nature makes the plan for us (Hurricane Maria for example), while other projects pop-up which take precedence over cutting shiitake logs.  Still, while acceptable mushroom logs can be made from logs felled almost any time of the year, with a few important exceptions with soft hardwoods, the best mushroom logs should be cut while dormant to take advantage of all those sugars stored for winter. In oak, the wood cells will become harder later in the dormant season, say towards spring bud break, making colonization by the mushroom fungus just a little slower. This overall is not a hindrance to colonization of the wood by shiitake, but evidence points to early dormancy (fall cut) to be superior, especially when paired with using heated and humidified indoor incubation methods in cold climates over the winter, or for outdoor incubation in the south.

Log storage and aging; judging how long wood can sit before inoculation 

Let’s assume you can cut logs now but your schedule will prevent you from inoculating until spring of the following year. The good news is that the logs can be overwintered as long as they are protected from direct sunlight and excessive wind. This allows you to take advantage of the benefits of fall cut dormant wood. When it is time to inoculate in the spring and you worry that the logs might be too dry, the logs can be soaked in water for a day or so before they are inoculated. The idea is to maintain 35-45% moisture content while making sure the wood cell "vitality" has declined. Over the years, we have heard rumors of a mysterious antifungal compound that is found in freshly cut logs that will prevent and/or kill shiitake spawn. This mysterious compound, in a round-about way, is water. Shiitake is a saprophytic fungus, i.e., it will not colonize living wood. So for it to begin the decay cycle, the host cells must be dead. This is accomplished by allowing the wood, after cutting, to go through a slight drying phase. Measuring this phase is difficult as this will vary from location to location, by tree species and log diameter. In some regions of Japan where rainfall exceeds 60 inches/year, six to eight weeks drying is a normal. In drier climes, this time would be considerably shorter. There is no hard and fast rule. We often hear “two weeks max” and though this may be true under certain conditions (trees cut during the growing season) and some very arid parts of the country, it certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule for the eastern U.S.  The best way is to watch your wood once cut, taking note especially of the condition of the log ends. Slight cracks radiating out from the center indicate a wood ready for inoculation; deeper cracks (wide enough to allow a dime in) indicate the log should be inoculated asap or soaked in water before inoculation.

Freshly cut limb wood from oak harvest. Note the fabulous sapwood.

If you do cut wood in the fall for storage until a spring inoculation, do keep the wood protected and covered if it is exposed to wind and sun. We store the logs in a large, dense (deadstacked) pile on the north and shaded east side of a building and cover the exposed parts. After you've collected the wood though, don't forget to bring in the rototiller :/

Good thing I wrote this post... so busy in the woods I nearly forgot about yard clean-up!