This is a step by step guide to growing your own mushrooms from plug spawn, which is a small capsule that contains mycelia and will spread the mushroom’s spawn all over a food source.
For this tutorial, the mushrooms will be planted outside in a log. There are a few things you’ll need in order to do this.
- plug spawn
- an outdoor area
- cheese or wax
- electric drill, and
- a log
The first step is to get plug spawn. There is a medicinal mushroom research facility in my region, near Olympia, WA, called Fungi Perfecti. This company researches the medicinal benefits of mushroom intake and environmental uses of mushrooms, such as bioremediation of oil spills. If you watched the Leonardo di Caprio film, The 11th Hour, (about climate change), you would have seen the interview with Paul Stamets, the leading researcher at Fungi Perfecti.
You can order plug spawn from their website for about $13 for a container with around 100 dowels (or small capsules). There is no precise estimate for how many mushroom fruits each dowel will yield. But after a log is inoculated well, it will produce mushrooms for years. Each log should be plugged with around 30 – 50 dowels.
You can store your dowels in a cool, refrigerated place until you are ready to impregnate some food sources. As you can see by the picture above, I have been refrigerating my shiitake plug spawn for quite a while and the bag has begun to turn white with mycelia. (If you open the bag while its white you could have mushrooms grow right outside the bag.) But you don’t want to break up these mycelium networks once they have begun spreading. You want this to happen inside the food source (not the bag).
Since, despite being delicious, shiitake has many medicinal benefits as well, and for this guide I will assume you are cultivating, like me, shiitake spawn. Shiitake mushrooms have anti-viral properties which come from particles within the mushroom that behave very much like viruses themselves. An important compound in shiitake, called leonthionine, creates a healthier blood circulation systems, and prevents blood buildups and clots which lead to strokes, heart attacks, thrombosis, hemostasis, and platelet deficiencies. Shiitake is also anti-carcinogenic, will slow cancerous processes, and can also help prevent allergies and arthritis.
After you have the plug spawn dowels in your possession, you must either find a cut log or cut one yourself. For all mushroom types, the log should have been cut at least 1 to 3 months prior, but not too much older than that. Since the log itself is the food that will feed the mycelia, you do not want the food source to be full of runny saps and other anti-fungal juices. The more sawdusty the better, given that many mushrooms will inoculate very easily in sawdust. The more sugar content the better, so you don’t want the log to be too old. The log pieces should be 3 to 4 feet long.
The two types of logs that Fungi Perfecti recommends for shiitake spawn are alder and oak, because they have thicker barks and are hardwoods. Hardwood are less porous. I will be using a Douglas Fir log, which is a softwood – albeit more less porous than many softwoods. (This was the only thing I could scavenge.) Generally, the thicker the bark and the more cracks the better, since the mushrooms must find little cracks in the bark to burst out of when its time to shroom.
Once you have your log pieces cut, drill small holes to put your dowels into. Generally 2 inches deep, just enough to penetrate past the bark a little ways. The holes should be no less than 4 inches apart. 30 – 50 plugs per log.
After your plug spawn is placed nicely in its hole, give it a good whack with a hammer or punch it a little with the drill bit. This breaks open the dowel and makes colonization happen much faster. However, with my dowels already bursting at the seams with mycelia, I carefully pried them apart and made sure what bits and pieces of mycelia attached were left intact.
*Note* because shiitake is sensitive to anti-fungal compounds that can be found in the soils, do not let your spawn or the mushroom fruits come into contact with the soil directly.
This part is optional. To guard against adverse weather conditions or curious insects one thing you can do is plug the holes with either beeswax or cheese. The best time to plug your spawn will be in late Winter or early Spring, typically after the last hard frost. And there you have it. Wait six to nine months and your logs will begin spawning delicious shiitake outgrowths, which you can use for all sorts of recipes.
The varieties of mushrooms I am growing in my *new* backyard are shiitake, reishi and lion’s mane. I can post more pictures once they begin to spawn.