Foraging for mushrooms this fall? Try inoculating at home instead
October 29, 2020
Most of us have probably heard of our friends or neighbors hunting for mushrooms, oftentimes combing woodlands for the elusive morel each spring. As luck would have it, fall is also a great time to find edible mushrooms growing in woodlands across Nebraska. Not all of us can make the time to join the hunt, but the good news is you can still satisfy your culinary curiosity by growing mushrooms at home.
Mushrooms are one of nature's premiere recyclers. They are technically macrofungi-a diverse group of organisms separate from plants and animals. In Nebraska, we can find fungi everywhere: soil, wood, and anywhere else there is decomposing plant matter. However, conditions must be just right for macrofungi to send up mature structures needed for reproduction. The structures that emerge are considered the "fruit" that can be harvested for fresh or dried use.
An upshot of growing your own mushrooms is it allows you to take part in all-natural recycling. The organic materials that can be used for mushroom growth are often things we discard or send to the burn pile. You can use logs, woodchips, compost, straw, and many other organic materials to grow mushrooms. We prefer to use logs, mainly because one "planting" can produce fruits for up five years or more. What you'll need to find are tree limbs or logs free from other mushrooms or signs of decay, 4-6" in diameter and about 3-5' in length. The species of tree you will use depends on what mushrooms you want to grow. In general, hardwoods are best-suited for most varieties grown at home, and logs should "rest" for at least two weeks prior to planting.
Some mushrooms, like oyster and shiitake, are choice picks for first-time growers. The conditions needed to produce fruit are easy to create (shaded and moist), and the recommended host wood (oak and cottonwood) are readily available. Additionally, many newcomers have better success with using "plug spawn." These are hardwood dowels that have been inoculated with a specific mushroom species. This helps produce consistent harvests and lowers the likelihood of other naturally-present fungi establishing on your logs.
To plant your mushrooms, begin by drilling a series of holes in cured logs. These "planting sites" are slightly larger than the size of your plug spawn, which should be gently tapped into the log with a hammer once holes are drilled. The supplier you choose will provide detailed information about spacing between holes, required depth, and number of plug spawn to plant per log. However, once the dowels are installed, each planting site should be sealed with food-grade wax. This is another level of protection against the establishment of other fungi. Keep in mind that logs should not be allowed to dry out. From the time you select your logs to planting and beyond, the better hydrated you can keep the growing site the quicker mushrooms will form.
There are a number of regional, reputable suppliers of mushroom plug spawn. Many websites feature supplemental reading material, equipment lists, and schedules for maintaining your mushroom logs year around. We would recommend inoculating 2-3 logs with just one species to get started. Once you get the hang of things, expand to several species with different fruiting times or try growing in woodchips or straw baskets.
If you want more information, we put together a video to help you get your own logs started this fall. We've also included a link about "Edible Wild Mushrooms" from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. https://nfs.unl.edu/mushrooms