Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Forcing mushooms


They call it 'forcing' mushrooms, but this sounds a bit strong. Coaxing, tricking, encouraging, giving opportunity ... these seem more appropriate to explain what we've been doing to our mushroom logs lately.  Normally, good soaking spring rains stimulate shitake logs to fruit and within a week of one of these rains all of our logs will be covered in mushroom buttons that soon expand to lovely brown mushroom umbrellas.  As you may have noticed, though, rains like those have been in short supply this month.  So how are we offering mushrooms for sale?  Here in comes the practice of getting mushroom logs to 'fruit' when the weather itself doesn't initiate fruit set.  Fortunately, it's pretty straight forward to imitate a good rain when it comes to shitake mushrooms.  A simple soak in a water bath for 24 hours can start them on the path to mushrooming. We've tried limited experiments of this in the past but as this spring has come at us hot and dry with no mushrooms, we decided we didn't want to watch a season of unproductive logs.  Shitake logs will last about 5 years, degrading with time whether they've fruited or not.  So we put an old broken chest freezer to use as the water bath and started somewhat daily soakings.  It's not the perfect set-up.  For one, it only holds a half dozen logs at a time at best, limiting the quantities to small pickings.  Many of the logs are too long, which means only half fit in the water and so only that half ultimately mushrooms.  Some of the logs are old enough they've lost most of their weight and therefore float, requiring that we gingerly weight them down to keep them submerged.  And some of them are old enough that the bark is brittle and knocks off easily in the communal bath.  This may indeed shorten their remaining life. Despite the extra effort, it's been with great excitement that we're harvesting a regular supply of mushrooms.  The definition of forcing is to make someone do something against his will.  In this case, the mushroom logs are likely not opposed to mushrooming, they're just needing a little help until the rain returns.

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