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!





Thursday, November 2, 2017

Double Pleasure, Miso Soup with Nameko Mushrooms

by Mary Ellen Kozak

My early memory of Miso Soup brings me to Madison, Wisconsin where I attended University. It was 1980, it was November, dark and cold. I have one very clear, happy memory though, and it was walking over unshoveled ice and snow into a little restaurant on my way home via State Street. It was a tiny place called "Living Waters", and all things on the menu were macrobiotic (aka the Pursuit of Hippiness). My sister who was in graduate school and following the Macrobiotic Diet at the time, would meet me there. So would my future husband, Joe, who proudly followed a different kind of "macro" diet. We would sit in the warm glow of the yellow painted walls on some wooden benches. The place was always empty but warm, and the food was welcoming and nourishing. The Miso Soup was hot and was served with a thick piece of sprouted wheat toast slathered in a corn oil concoction. Joe would disappear for a moment and return to our table with a greasy paper bag, out from which would slide a glistening gyro from the Greek place next door. With his back to the ordering counter he would feast, fingers glistening with cucumber sauce and meat fat. Hence was coined the secret code for the meeting place: "Troubled Waters". Whenever I think of Miso Soup I remember this time; the cold, the studying, but mostly those happy moments spent with a bowl of soup, family, and a few good laughs. Yin Yang. Double pleasure indeed.


Remembering Troubled Waters Miso Soup

Decades later, after eating Miso Soup in Japan and trying to make the authentic version here at home, I've settled on the simplest of all versions which is reminiscent of my first "Troubled Waters" bowl. It is made with a quick make-ahead vegetable broth and stored in the refrigerator. If you have on hand tubs of blanched or lightly steamed fresh vegetables, cubed tofu and a container of miso paste, you can make this soup in a few minutes. Having Nameko available to include in the soup is simply a gift. Only those who are fortunate enough to get Nameko really fresh can experience the pleasure of this very special addition.

If you've never had Miso Soup, the earthy taste of just miso can be unfamiliar with its almost yeasty tang. Hang on though, it is the addition of bright fresh vegetables and the other little nuggets of interest to the palate that are key to loving this soup. You can make this with whatever you have on hand or as the season dictates. Shiitake mushrooms are delightful in Miso Soup. Carrot strips, snow peas, Asian greens or spinach, nuggets of cooked, chewy short grain brown rice or clear glass noodles; all create a feeling of well-being and interest when a steaming bowl of this soup is presented to the lucky diner. Nameko mushrooms simmer for just a short time in the broth before serving so that the mushrooms maintain their glassy claret color and fruity taste. Best of all the texture is silky on the tongue, but crunchy between the teeth. The mushrooms are like little amber jewels bobbing in a rich translucent broth. You can even make this soup with a cup of hot water and one tablespoon of miso paste, and pour over your add-ins (warm them up first though). Just make sure you do not boil once you've added the miso paste. I find the miso-based broth is a little too strongly "miso," so I prefer to cut back the miso paste to 2 tsp. per cup and substitute the water with the flavorful broth, below.


Cold weather loving Nameko. Harvest early for use in Miso Soup!

Broth:
1 bunch of scallions, chopped, use all parts
1 chopped carrot
1 4-inch piece of dried kombu (strip of kelp found in the Asian section at most large grocery stores)
1/4 c soy sauce
2 T mirin or rice wine
8 c cold water
1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients, bring to a near boil and lower the heat for about 30 minutes. Adjust broth with more salt at the end of the cook time, but go lightly, as the miso you'll be adding is also salty. Strain and keep the broth refrigerated, about 1 week. Let the kombu dry out after you use it, as you can reuse it another time or two.

The Soup:
Vegetables: prepare vegetables ahead; shredded carrot, torn greens, blanched filet beans; tiny cubes of cooked winter squash; whatever vegetable is in season and can be blanched or steamed to maintain color and crunch.

Miso paste: 2-3 tsp per cup of broth (many varieties available, start with the mild white miso if you are new to the flavor and go from there. Kept in the refrigerator, the paste will keep for a long time).

Protein add-ins: cubed tofu; either sauteed or baked until browned beforehand (or not), panko crumb coated fried shrimp, skewered and served across the top of the bowl is very special.

Pre-cooked soba, udon or glass noodles, cooked short grain brown rice, or none!

Nameko mushrooms, rinsed to get rid of any bits of bark or soil. Nameko harvested early in the fall after a cool spell can occasionally have some insect problems, especially if harvested when the caps are open. Parboiling these briefly and rinsing before adding to the soup will take care of the problem.

Assembly:
Heat a cup of broth per serving, taking a few tablespoons from it as it heats to smooth out the miso paste. When the stock is hot, add as many Nameko mushrooms as you like at this time (just a few per cup of soup is usually enough, but add more if you have them)! Simmer for at least 5-10 minutes (be careful not to boil) to cook the mushrooms through. Add the miso paste/broth mixture, and simmer for another minute or so. Add 1/2 c vegetables and tofu per cup of broth. Serve.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Lesson in Oyster Mushroom Production: Malawi, Africa

by Laura Kahles

Many of the members that were trained from Naomi Mushroom Farmers.

It has been just over two weeks since I have returned home from another successful trip to Malawi. As the oyster mushroom specialist here at Field & Forest I have been given some wonderful opportunities thanks to CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture) and the Farmer-to-Farmer Program funded by USAID. I also must note the support I have received from Joe and Mary Ellen here at F&FP! How often can one just take off of work to volunteer in Africa? I suppose this rarity is just one of the appeals of working for a mushroom spawn company run by two polish mushroomers with big hearts.

Julia is a long time mushrooms producer that I visited in a nearby village. She has been producing oyster mushrooms on a small scale for over 10 years.

For this most recent trip I was teaching a group of farmers that refers to themselves as the Naomi Mushroom Farmers in Mchinji, Malawi. I formally taught about 38 individuals, but also reached out to many others in nearby villages. This group was already producing oyster mushrooms, but needed to improve production. They were also interested in being introduced to button mushroom production. For this trip, however, the lesson in white buttons was brief. With no source of compost, and some intense heat around the corner we all agreed the focus should remain on oyster mushrooms.

Oyster mushroom bags hang in a traditional mushroom grow house. Contamination is obvious, but oyster mushrooms can still fruit with limits to yield. 

Most of what I saw in Malawi at the various farms I visited were heavily contaminated oyster bags. Inadequate pasteurization combined with overly wet substrate contributes to a majority of the contamination. Other common mistakes included, waiting to put holes in the substrate bags (this allows for fermentation, and weakening of the mycelium), low humidity, and storage of healthy bags with contaminated bags. The great news is that these farmers were willing to make the appropriate changes needed to improve conditions.

While there we planted three different varieties of oyster mushroom: Pink, Pohu, and Grey Dove. All of these are favorites of mine for growing in Malawi due to their fast colonization, and aggressiveness. I worked with these farmers for just under two weeks. Pink was the first oyster we planted, and I am happy to say that when I arrived back into the United States I had received a text message with pictures of pinning pink oyster mushrooms! Seeing these pins brings me great joy. I just wish I had still been in Malawi to share the excitement with the farmers. Maybe next time :)

The fruits of our labor growing on maize stalks (straw is not available).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Normal Looking Wine Cap Defined, Plus a Recipe for Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

by Mary Ellen Kozak


In the spring and late fall, Wine Cap mushrooms can look different than expected. Just like spring Shiitake, (Weird and Crazed Shiitake: Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect) spring grown Wine Caps can be freakish enough that people send us of photos of what they hope to be Wine Caps... but are just not quite sure.


Exposure to swings in temperature and humidity during early
mushroom development creates interesting looking Wine Caps

More than any other time of the year, the spring season gives us the most unusual looking Wine Caps. Why it happens: Most of this variability in appearance is caused by spring's wild swings in temperature, low humidity and vigorous exposure to winds (and the fact that there's limited vegetation available to shield developing mushrooms). Later in the summer, cooling evenings bring high humidity and also a pretty dramatic reduction in wind speed, which affect humidity from the knee down - creating ideal conditions for cap development.


Wine Cap - with cap color as we'd expect it to be

When you know you've inoculated Wine Cap into wood chips or straw but are questioning the identity of the emerging mushrooms in your bed, check for other identifiable structures. The cap is usually the most variable. To better identify mushrooms that do not look as you'd expect, make sure to lift up the entire mushroom, including the stem attachment to the soil, by digging deep into the wood chips, straw or soil.


Dig into the wood chips to lift up the mushroom, stem and all, for proper identification



If you are new to Wine Cap cultivation in ALL its seasons, you may find the chart below to be helpful in confirming your harvest. If you ever have any questions about Wine Cap identification, please call us, or better yet, email us a photo, and we'll be glad to help you.


One of my favorite ways to prepare Wine Caps involves harvesting the buttons early (this is especially important if you are growing them in straw beds, as they tend to quickly attract mushroom flies). These little jewels can be sliced in half or quartered and lightly braised in a savory broth with fresh asparagus spears. Both the Wine Caps and asparagus are plate-ready, crunchy fresh and perfect for a tiny desk lunch. If you'd like, you may add other seasonings such as shallot, chili or cumin seeds for a stronger flavor to amplify the delicate flavors of the mushrooms and asparagus.



Braised Wine Cap and Asparagus

Ingredients:
6-8 (or more) small spears of asparagus
1 cup of Wine Cap buttons, sliced in half or quartered
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1/2 c chicken or vegetable broth, wine or oil


Trim the straw (or wood chips) off the mushrooms and rinse them


Half or quarter the Wine Caps and trim the asparagus

Add 1 tsp of oil to a heated saute pan. Add the mushrooms and let them get caramel brown, especially on the cut edges. Add the asparagus, 1/2 c broth and put the lid on, steaming the asparagus and mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Plate and enjoy. Serves 1-2.




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Is Grain Spawn or Sawdust Spawn Better for Oyster Mushroom Production on Straw?
by Laura Kahles

From left to right: Italian, Golden and Pink Oyster mushroom growing on pasteurized straw.

I have been growing oyster mushrooms on straw for just over five years now. The opportunity to hand this task off onto other F&FP members has come up, but I just can't give it up. Why not, you might ask. My best guess...there is still so much to learn about this fascinating process. After five years, I still have unanswered questions, and more research to complete.

For anyone who is not familiar with the process, I will briefly explain. Chopped straw is pasteurized (cooked) in hot water to reduce the amount of contaminates it may contain (ie. molds, bacteria). After the straw drains and cools it is inoculated (planted) using oyster mushroom spawn (seed). After only a few short weeks beautiful oyster mushroom emerge, and can continue doing so for 2-3 months.

Here at F&FP our most popular type of spawn is called grain spawn. I use it when I can, but there are times when grain spawn becomes scarce here. The scarcity can happen for many different reasons including selling out, late grain delivery from our supplier, or equipment failures. When grain is in short supply I turn to the next best thing...sawdust spawn!

Which is better? I don't yet have a definitive answer to this question. As a professional I can see the good in both varieties. I can share with you what I do know at this point.

Grain spawn is easier to break up, and is easier to pour. A gentle massage of the bag will get the job done. If you have some pent up frustration I suggest you choose sawdust spawn. The oyster mycelium does a fine job of turning tiny sawdust particles into one solid brick that is easiest to break up with a firm fist. Do, however, be careful not to break the spawn bag.

Grain spawn breaks up easily, and adds extra nutrients.
Sawdust spawn has the advantage when it comes to spawn run time (time until full colonization). Grain particles are larger, and although they cover a larger surface area individually, there are not as many inoculation points as there are when sawdust is sprinkled throughout the straw. On average I have had mushroom pin formation two days earlier when using sawdust spawn.

Sawdust spawn is available in larger bags then grain, and it covers better allowing for more inoculation points.

Whether I use grain or sawdust I have gone to using a 5% inoculation rate. That is, 5% of the weight weight of the straw is the weight used in spawn. Bags of grain come in 4 lb. units and can plant about 4 sleeves (polyethylene 4 mil bags). Large bags of sawdust spawn come is 5.5 lb. bags and can plant 5 1/2 sleeves. If buying small quantities of spawn, sawdust ends up being the more economical choice. However, grain spawn requires buying a lesser amount of bags to receive our lowest price break. This makes grain spawn ideal for large scale commercial customers See the graphic below for our quantity discounting.



Now for the big question, which type of spawn produces more mushrooms? Remember earlier when I stated that I did not have all the answers...well, I don't have the answer to this just yet. I have seen some impressive numbers (in terms of yield) when using both grain spawn and sawdust spawn. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have seen low yields from both types. Most of the time my diminished yields are due to other factors including (but not limited to) dirty straw, humidifier issues, or fungus gnats (there are many joys to mushroom farming).

My goals for the future are to do more comprehensive yield comparisons, and figure out which additives (if any) can help boost yield even further for sawdust and/or grain spawn. I will be sure to post results as soon as they are available. Stay tuned!




Friday, April 21, 2017

Weird and Crazed Shiitake: 
Why Your Mushrooms Don't Look Like You'd Expect
by Mary Ellen Kozak

This spring a lot of new growers have been sending pictures of Shiitake that looks different than what they might have seen on their logs in the summer and fall, in the grocery store or on the web.



Early spring is the time of the classic "flower donko," an Asian grade of Shiitake that is ideal for drying. Due to cold nights, warm days, and large swaths of rain followed by dry spring winds, the thick cuticle of the mushroom cap stretches and cracks to make room for the swelling succulent tissue underneath and as a result of this, the mushroom gets a crazed, bumpy pattern that looks like big floral buttons.

Phoebe holding a Flower Donko Shiitake in a growing region of China where dried Shiitake are a specialty.
These mushrooms take very little time in the food dehydrator to dry and they loose very little size. The problem? If you are selling them as a fresh mushroom, they are very light weight and you have to explain to your customer that they are fairly dry in the fry pan so extra oil or liquid may be necessary to achieve the usual Shiitake texture. They are packed with nutrition and have excellent flavor though!


Any strain of Shiitake can become a flower donko if the conditions are right. Most often, cold weather Shiitake strains give us the largest percent of flower donkos because they like to fruit in the early spring. Frequently in cool, prolonged springs, the wide range and warm weather Shiitake will fruit and be subjected to the same cool, windy weather and also end up in the flower donko grade. It's all about the environment!

Spring Shiitake; Here is a box of West Wind Shiitake harvested after an early spring
warm up and and subsequent cool windy stretch of weather.

Summer Shiitake: Here is West Wind Shiitake after a forced fruiting in July.

Spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful mushrooms and they are a once-a-year seasonal item. Inoculating your logs with cold weather strains will give you the greatest percent of these jewels because they fruit when the weather provides the cold/warm/wet/dry environment. Unless you are drying them for long term storage, however, you may not want to let the mushrooms get quite so dry and cracked. We have actually spritzed boxes of these Shiitake with water and left them in the cooler with the lid on the box to let them absorb a little moisture. To avoid having to do that, read the tips in our blog post, Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake, to manage your developing Shiitake so they will become the thick, succulent spring Shiitake, just perfectly moist with a little bit of crazing on the cap for beauty.

Not your grandmother's coat button.







Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clean & Fresh, Spring Shiitake:
Tips for the Best Early Crops

by Mary Ellen Kozak

The earliest harvested Shiitake of the season are also the most appreciated. The winters are long, and local farm fresh produce in spring is scarce. And spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms you'll ever grow. There are actually a few tricks you'll need to know to make your Shiitake logs fruit early in the season upon the heels of retreating snow.

1. Inoculate some logs with Cold Weather strains, like Miss Happiness, Snow Cap, Bellwether and Jupiter. If your logs are ready and spring comes on fast, you will see mushroom pins pebbling the bark on healthy logs within a week or two of the disappearance of the last patch of snow. Life for these strains really does begin after 40!

Spring Shiitake are also very beautiful.

2. Secure fruiting blankets, burlap or clear plastic around stacks of logs to keep humidity high with developing mushrooms. Drying wind is a big hurdle to clear in achieving great quality Shiitake in the spring. The nature of these cold weather strains is to pin in really cool weather, and because of this they develop slowly. The commonly vigorous spring wind poses a real threat in drying the caps and arresting mushroom development. Covering your logs with simple tarps will do wonders in helping the caps stay moist. Normally we do not recommended plastic coverings because they can heat the logs underneath too quickly or cause too much condensation to drip down upon developing mushrooms, but early spring is a fine time to use clear plastic sheeting. Note: In really windy spring weather, you can also wet a tarp of an absorbent fabric like an older, weathered fruiting blanket and secure plastic over it, creating an amazing humid fruiting chamber!


Log stacks are covered with fruiting or frost blankets to hold humidity around developing mushrooms. Notice the sprinkler on a pole being used to keep the blankets moist.


3. Don't soak the logs... but you can rain on them! If you don't have the time or blankets to cover all your log stacks but you can get a sprinkler out to them, do not hesitate to just turn it on! Caps will stay moist and pliable, growth will proceed just fine. Turn off the sprinkler when the caps start to open to let them dry off a little before harvest. The caps will be a little dark and glossy but for home use they are just fine!

Note: People do soak logs to stimulate fruiting and that is an essential technique for summer production. However, this is usually ineffective with cold weather strains. For logs inoculated with wide range or warm weather strains, temperatures need to stabilize at 70F for a few weeks before they will respond to a cold water soaking. Cold weather logs simply will not respond. Keep your soak tanks under cover until spring is here for sure.

These logs are being sprinkled to encourage fruiting and quality
for these cold weather Shiitake strains

Spring Shiitake are dense with a beautiful landscape of brown, white and cream on the cap top from the swelling and contracting of mushroom tissue caused by fluctuating cold and warm spring temperatures. With a little extra care you can nurture these developing mushrooms to become true woodland spring beauties. Celebrate and and cook up some with a recipe of spring bok choy, below.

Bellwether, a cold weather Shiitake strain




Spring Shiitake must be celebrated, and here at F&FP, the first ones go directly into the mouth as a welcome ritual and enjoyment of the cool, garlicky flavor unique to raw Shiitake. The two methods shown below are both easy and delicious ways to prepare Shiitake with another welcome spring vegetable, Bok Choy. The recipe below is inspired by Zorba Pastor from our local Public Radio station "Zorba Pastor on your Health". This recipe is fresh and light with a mild miso flavor. An even easier recipe (and you won't believe how easy) but slightly sweet and saltier follows and especially enhances the flavor of the Shiitake (as if it needs it)!




Shiitake Mushrooms and Miso Bok Choy

 
2T toasted sesame oil
1 T miso paste (I prefer white)
1T Rice vinegar
1 T grated fresh ginger root
1 lb fresh Shiitake, stemmed and sliced
1lb Bok choy
sesame seeds, cilantro or chopped scallion for garnish
cooked brown rice or soba noodles, for serving 

Heat a large saute pan and add oil. When warm, add mushrooms and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until Shiitake soften or brown slightly, depending on your preference. Then add miso paste, vinegar, ginger. Toss and coat the mushrooms and then add the bok choy. Cover until the mix is bright green and soft, about 3 minutes. Spoon over rice or noodles and add garnish. Serve and be delighted.


Shiitake Mushrooms and Oyster Sauced Bok Choy

Shiitake
Bok Choy
High quality Oyster Sauce
Toasted sesame oil

Heat a bit of oil in a wok. Add sliced mushrooms and salt lightly. Saute a few minutes until soft or browned at edges. Add sliced bok choy, stems and leaves both. Saute a few minutes and drizzle with Oyster sauce until warmed through - do not overcook, a minute or two maximum! Plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. So easy and so delicious!