My inner pun-generating machinery seems to be missing a cog, because all afternoon it's been hanging up on the near-relation of toadstool to footstool, shrooms to looms, shiitake and sciatica.
Still, it's pleasant work, planting this spring's experimental crop of shiitake mushrooms.
No plows or tractors or harvest-combines required.
Instead, the mushroom field is contained within a log of about two feet in length and six inches in diameter.
Based on research, I thought we'd start with perhaps 20 logs and a single kind of mushroom. Mr. Linton picked the variety from the dizzying array of options from Mushroompeople.com.
Background info: living wood has a degree of anti-fungal protection, which is why dead tress are the ones really covered in mushrooms.
So the first step to growing "tame" mushroom is to cut down the appropriate tree. There's a week's window as the tree's natural resistance peters out and wild mushrooms take over.
Bring on the chainsaw!
We cut down a couple of bitternut hickories, the unproductive half of an old apple-tree, and a maple, trimming the logs to an easy-to-handle length.
The different kinds of hardwood are more experimentation –– this time for flavor and for production.
Meanwhile, in the bottom of my sister's refrigerator, the mushroom spawn lurked damply.
It arrived via USPS: a shipping box containing a plastic bag of fine sawdust with some white stuff in it. It required refrigeration, and I hid it way in the back. It looked both vaguely alien and definitely like the kind of science project that deserves to be pitched from the fridge.
On planting day, I kept the bag sealed and kneaded it until the lumps of white stuff (spawn, colonizing nicely thank you very much!) broke into pieces and mixed into the substrate.
Ironically, it's important to maintain a sterile workspace when planting mushrooms. You don't want to grow the wrong kind of fungus, and you don't want bacteria to get a foothold.
To isolate the spawn from contamination, we made an outdoors working area as clean as we could. I used rubber gloves and boiling-water sterilization for the various pots and tools. The green bowl held a diluted Chlorox bleach disenfecting bath for the equipment.
Of course we had a good supply of surgical towels courtesy of our pal Andy H. Love those things!
Mr. Linton drilled a matrix of holes in the logs.
(Why yes, it was snowy that day in April. On the plus side: the punkies did not bother us.)
I used a plastic funnel and a dowel to tamp spawn mixture into the hole.
The spawn has a texture very much like raw portobello mushroom: it's spongy and resistant to being jammed into a small space. Next time, I'll squish the substrate-and-spawn bag even more aggressively before starting.
The particles need to be very fine in order to pack into the log. And air-pockets are generally bad.
A more realistic prediction is that the colony should be ready to start fruiting next summer. If the literature is correct, these logs should produce shiitake mushrooms for three to five years.
Mushroom soup, anyone?