Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mushrooms Await!

Once again, if I weren't in Japan I'd be attending this little shindig. So, instead I (PopcornHomestead, PH) talked with Matt Demmon (MD) of Little House Farm about mushrooming and what got him interested in fungi. Read on!

Backyard Mushrooming
Saturday, April 18th
1pm - 4pm
Little House Farm
$40 for the class; $60 to take a log home
Limited to the first 8 people
Call Matt at 734-255-2783 or email at mdemmon(at) to register
(Herbal tea and a tasty, healthy snack included!)

PH: How long have you been growing your own mushrooms?
MD: Six years.

PH: How did you get started? Did someone teach you or you just forged ahead on your own?
MD: I worked for a local landscaping company owned by Mike Levine and Erica Kempter that also has a shiitake growing operating in Mike's backyard. I helped them inoculate logs for two years, and then I read a bunch of books and started off on my own.

PH: Why did you get started?
MD: Once I had eaten homegrown shiitakes, I was hooked. I also think fungi are really fascinating, understudied and underutilized by humans. I'd like to know more about them, and I think they can help us alot - with healthy food, medicine, creating great soil, and helping other plants we grow through mycorrhizal associations.

PH: Do you have a favorite mushroom to grow?
MD: Well, I thought it was shiitakes, which is probably still my favorite, but I soon realized that it is growing them in your own backyard and on logs that makes mushrooms so good. Oyster mushrooms that are grown on logs are firmer, more flavorful, and have less water content than what you'd buy in the store. Mass-cultivated mushrooms are generally grown on sawdust or straw or some sort of bullk substrate, which is easier to handle in large operations and faster, but with less tasty results.

PH: How long have you been teaching other people (formally and informally) about growing mushrooms?
MD: I taught one class last spring, and I've been explaining it to my friends for several years. I have 3 classes and a free demonstration lined up this year. There's alot of interest in it, and not many people who know much about it and are willing to teach a class!

PH: What do you like about growing your own mushrooms?
MD: Just like gardening, you get delicious healthy food which is often less expensive than what you can buy. I also love using under-utilized wood species which might get chipped or just left because they're not good for firewood or lumber. I'm also just fascinated by fungi in general, and really excited about growing them in situations like a vegetable garden, where you might be able to get a crop of mushrooms in the same space without decreasing your vegetable harvest and possibly even increasing it.

PH: What are some techniques and methods you will be discussing during the class?
MD: The main technique is growing mushrooms on logs. There are several ways you can inoculate the logs, but the one I concentrate on is drilling holes in the logs and inserting dowel spawn, which are are impregnated with mushroom mycelium. We'll also be creating a bed using sawdust spawn mixed with wood chips and a little earth for another species of mushroom that prefers to grow in the ground. I'll also talk about totem inoculation, and growing mushrooms on strawbales and compost or manure.

PH: Do different mushrooms require different techniques and methods? Can you give me a couple examples?
MD: Yes! In a natural setting or an outdoor growing method, shiitakes only grow on logs, and it is best to use dowel spawn. Oyster mushrooms are very cosmopolitan and can grow on logs, wood chips, straw, and even coffee grounds inoculated with a variety of methods. Wine Caps prefer to grow in a shady moist bed on the ground and need fresh wood chips mixed into the soil. Inky caps grow best in compost or manure beds on the ground.

PH: How long does it take before you have mushrooms you can eat?
MD: The shortest time I've gotten mushrooms was 4 months for oysters and wine caps started in the spring. Shiitakes usually take 12-18 months. A log can last anywhere from 3-10 years, depending on the type of wood and species of mushroom. A bed of wine caps can last probably forever, as long as you feed it fresh wood chips every year. So it is a long-term investment, but you can results pretty quickly.

PH: Do you have to protect mushrooms from any kind of predator. Rabbits eat lettuce, but does anyone come along to forage your mushrooms?
MD: I haven't had too many problems. Squirrels seem to like some mushrooms, but if you keep an eye on them and harvest at the right point, it's fine. They seem to prefer mature or over-mature mushrooms. Insects are the main problem, just like if you don't harvest your tomatoes at the proper time, you'll find a big soggy insect laden monster!

PH: Is it a special kind of log for inserting the dowels? What's a dowel, by the way?
MD: Not a special log, but some mushrooms will only grow on certain types of trees. The only requirements are that the log is more than 3 inches in diameter, is freshly cut from a living tree, and is a manageable size for you. Holes are drilled into the log in a pattern, and the dowels (little wooden pegs) are pounded in.

PH: Can you grow mushrooms only during a certain time of year? Is Spring best or are there fall mushrooms to be started, too?
MD: Outdoors, in a northern climate like ours, spring and fall are the best time to start most mushrooms, although you can start some in the summer. It's too cold in winter for most of them to grow at all. Indoors, you can start and fruit mushrooms year round. And outdoors, most mushrooms fruit in the fall in our climate, but there are species that fruit from spring to late fall, as long as the weather is right. Humidity and temperature are the key!

PH: What sort of atmosphere do mushrooms require? Should you have a shady spot in your backyard or is a musty basement good?
MD: I've never tried growing mushrooms in a basement, but it would probably be a good environment for mushrooms. Most of them require humidity and moderate temperatures to fruit. Some need some light to form as well, or may be oddly deformed if in the dark, so you may need to supplement your basement with light. Each species has it's own needs for temperature, humidity, light, and some may need cold resting periods simulating winter. 

PH: Do the mushrooms you'll be teaching folks to grow exist in the wild in Michigan?
MD: Oyster mushrooms and wine caps do grow wild in Michigan; however, these are cultivated strains. I would like to grow more 'local genotype' mushrooms, but the spawning process requires technical knowledge and special equipment. there are some local Michigan companies starting to grow their own spawn, and I would like to work with some of them to get some more local genotypes and species that are not commonly available. There's alot of different kinds of mushrooms out there, and growing mushrooms for food is really in it's infancy.

PH: I could ask a million more questions, but I should probably stop. Anything I haven't asked that you want to tell me?
MD: Growing your own mushrooms is really fun and different! And shiitakes are really SOOOOO good and good for you.

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