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Tonight I presented our first experience inoculating logs for mushroom cultivation at the Mushroom Club of Georgia meeting. The whole process, since initial idea till now (with completed logs) is only two months (or less). We’re new to this, but we dove into it and learned a lot in the process. I put together some slides to show the process, what we did, how much time it took, and how much it cost. See slides below. Since it’s TIrza and my anniversary today, special thanks to Tirza for making it a community night!

It was great to learn from others tonight about some of the details and experience items. Great panel with lots of experience:

  • Katharine and David have been growing mushrooms for 14 years and have a wealth of local experience. They talked about there process for adding a few new logs each year to keep a steady supply, how they stack them, and getting logs off the ground (with bricks/blocks) to make them last longer. They also answered a lot of questions from the audience and let me know that I should see oysters in 3-4 months but shiitakes won’t be for a year.
  • Brandy Arts talked about the approach to fungi integration into life and gardening she learned from working with Paul Stamets. Lots of great resources in a digestible form in Mycelium Running. She proposed integrating fungi into gardening as a source of fertilizer. She says the school she teaches at (where Alon is at!) will be doing a project to use hair + mycelium to clean up oil. Send those kids to the Gulf Coast!
  • Rod Stafford geeked out on his chemistry-lab-inspired mushroom cultivation setup. He brought in petri dishes, the sterile jars filled with rye seeds and mycelium and then the bags where he grows the mushrooms. He showed pictures of a laundry basket filled with hay that was busting out oyster mushrooms! In September, he’s giving a talk about his “lab in a box” setup. Amazing patience and attention to detail he has!!

Slides from our experience:

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Since the Winter Solstice, a vision of mushroom abundance has been part of my year’s manifestation. The last few weeks have seen a lot of progress in this area and I want to catch up those following the blog and curious about growing mushrooms. First off, confessions – I’ve never cultivated mushrooms before. But they pretty much grow everywhere, and are the decomposers for the planet, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard!

Some simple steps I took over the last year were to:

  • search for species I know in the local woods (I have found oyster mushrooms at two locations in my neighborhood and turkey tails in many places).
  • Create a mushroom habitat (a wood pile that has mushroom species I like and feed…the birds like it too!).

This year was time to step it up, though. We’re currently working on two ways of doing that, the first of which is taking shape: Log-based edible mushroom cultivation.

Getting Started: Choosing Mushrooms / Spawn

About two weeks ago, I finally got around to ordering plug spawn. I’m mainly interested in the overlap of medicinal and edible properties of mushrooms. So I went to researching varieties, the logistics of growing them, and what works well locally (Atlanta, GA). After attending the Mushroom Club of GA’s meeting and interacting with members on their mailing list, I learned that a strain of shiitakes available from Mushroom People works remarkably well here (#510, wide temp range). My other preferred supplier is Paul Stamets’s company, Fungi Perfecti. Paul does an amazing amount of research and evangelism and carries the banner of “mushrooms will save the world” (check out his latest book). So buying from fungi.com means supporting a great cause, and from Mushroom People means supporting a local(sh) supplier.

My order consisted of:

  • 1,000 shiitake plugs
  • 1,000 pearl oyster plugs
  • 100 lions mane plugs
  • 100 chicken of the woods plugs
  • 100 maitake (hen of the woods) plugs

I have to admit I was really close to going for the price advantage (and becoming a reseller!) of a big bag from Mushroom Harvest. I got talked out of this for the pain of drilling 12,000 holes…

If you’re interested in a comparison of these suppliers, check out my brief recap here.

Next Steps: Medium…Logs!

Based on what I was wanting to order, I started mapping out what species I could probably obtain for growing these mushrooms. Based on those, species that worked and are common here (and/or fairly accessible to me) include:

  • oak
  • sweetgum
  • beech
  • tulip poplar
  • maple
  • american beech

A few general principles I was taking into account:

  • The logs need to be very recently cut (most people recommend no more than 3-4 weeks since cut)
  • The logs should be harvested before leaves are out on trees

This led me to get concerned – how would I have logs for mushrooms and not have to cut trees? This was my biggest personal fear / objection to mushroom cultivation. I know that mushrooms do wonders for the health of forests, but how could I justify cutting trees to grow them for personal consumption?

I began searching for ways to get logs. I had found two places where sweetgum and birch could be harvested without anyone minding. I still felt bad (though I’m not a huge fan of sweetgum, I like river birch a lot). As if in answer to that concern, I decided to check other options this morning before heading off to cut trees. I turned to Craigs List. Within half an hour, I had found 3 viable options of logs (two of which were within the perimeter) and was organizing logistics to pick them up!

The first location I visited had downed three trees, two very large sweetgums and one mid-sized oak. I filled a Ford F-350 (rented from Home Depot) until I hit the payload limit (3,000 pounds). I managed to get a great assortment of reasonable sized logs and big stumps (for the chicken of the woods and maitake). I then visited another site where trees had been taken down at an apartment complex and an assortment of great mushroom-log sized (4-8″ diameter) logs were available. In both of these places, the logs were already cut up! All I had to do was load and haul away.

The result? I got about 80 logs worth in one day. Now it’s time to prepare for the drilling, plugging and waxing day! Two weeks till that…in the meantime, I’ll be organizing my logs, figuring out what to do with them (how to stack) and where to put them.

Keeping an Eye on the Goal

Want to check out oyster mushrooms growing? Here’s a 1 minute time lapse video:

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Saturday 23, 2010  I am out into the cold morning and off to pick up Carter.  Alon didn’t sleep well last night and I feel like I didn’t sleep at all.  No time for coffee, if this sale is anything like the Trees Atlanta sale its going to be packed when it opens at 9.  We arrive at the Food Bank and 9:10 and there are mobs of people.  Surely all these people are not here for the tree sale?  But surely the Food Bank would not schedule another event for today.  The Organizational Change Alliance has their meeting inside starting at 10 and thats enough to ask of one parking lot.

Crossing the street, it was clear that all those people were here for the tree sale.  I went straight for the persimmons and pomegranates that were my reason for coming – gone.  Sold out at 9:15. I grab a plum tree and look around raspberries – sold, blueberries- not a trace, pawpaws – gone.   I am not committing to apples or pears unless I know a lot about the variety and the root stock. I have about 1/8 of an acre for fruit trees and thats not much space if I plant full size trees.

Almost all fruit trees are made of two different trees – the root stock and the cultivar.  The root stock is chosen for its hardiness and its size.  The tree will only grow as big as the root stock allows.  Put a Macintosh apple cultivar on full size root stock you get an apple tree that will get a tree that is 20-40 feet tall.  Put the same cultivar on a semi-dwarf or dwarf root stock and you keep the tree to as small as 4-6 feet. I prefer to put in small trees and have more variety.

So I took my plum (a pollinator friend for a plum I already own) and got into the long, long line.  Waiting was no bore, because I ran into at least a dozen friends.  Even people I don’t know were coming up to me and saying hello.  ALFI wisely set up a line for ordering trees to be delivered next week.  I would have ordered 4 times more, but I am going to SOCON 10.  So I bought my plum and headed over to Cafe Campesino’s booth to get my cup of coffee.  They just opened a shop selling organic, shade-grown, fairtrade coffee in the Atlanta Curbside Market.

I spoke with Kyla after the sale.  She says that the sale was so successful ALFI will be able to hire a full time employee next year.  The difference between being an all volunteer organization and being having a single employee is a massive step for an organization.  It allows for consistancy of communication, planning, and volunteer organizing.   Orders may be up to 5 times the amount of plant material sold the day of the sale.  Amazing.

Heres what I think ALFI did right

1. Well designed invitation.  With a catchy title, neutral but attractive colors and clear information.  I saw this invite on a lot of different websites, on Facebook and in emails from several friends.

2. Fiscal sponsorship.  ALFI is not an independent organization.  It is a project with fiscal sponsorship from Georgia Organics, this means that the project operates under the umbrella of GO.  All of ALFIs money must go through GO.  GO probably takes a small percentage to cover bookkeeping and accounting expenses.  ALFI doesn’t have to set up its own legal entity.  I am a huge fan of fiscal sponsorship.  It creates synergies and helps prevent duplication of efforts.  It also slows the outrageous proliferations of nonprofit organizations occuring now.

3. Grow it Yourself.   ALFI hit the message right on.  Grow it yourself, Do it yourself, Take care of yourself. People are looking for self-reliance.  The recent turbulence in the economy and the growing instability of the globe has people seeking more control over their lives.  Whether its growing their own food, doing home improvment projects, or taking control  of their investments, people are taking charge of their lives.

4. Organization.  This event was well organized right from the start.  They had clear lists of which trees they would have.  At the event they had pre-printed order forms and booklets of information about the trees.

5. Tap into communities. ALFI got their invite and messages firmly planted into different communities. If 3 of your friends are going to the same event, you might as well go also.  They successfully tapped several functioning communities including local food fanatics, community gardeners, tree planters, and food bank supporters.

May all the baby trees be blessed with a well dug hole, regular watering, and safe passage through their first year.

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