Seedlings, logs, and ‘shrooms – Oh my!

It is hard to believe last week we were wearing short sleeve shirts! Thankfully our spring seedlings are still safe and warm in the greenhouse. We have lots of spring starts including cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuces, onions, celery, and more! This year we will start onions from seed as well as supplement with onion slips. Our kale, onions, and celery will be incorporated into our fresh, homemade pizzas concocted by teens in our Food and Farm Teen Training Program. The pizzas will be sold through our new commercial kitchen here at Rural Resources.  Meanwhile, I (Farmer Kathleen) await drier and warmer weather so we can plant root crops and peas for spring. Eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes will all get seeded in our greenhouse this week as we prepare for summer.

Our newest garden group within our Farm and Food Teen Training Program started up in January. We have been learning about different methods of gardening, companion planting, and….inoculating mushroom logs! Mushroom log inoculation has become increasingly popular with backyard gardeners, commercial growers, homesteaders, foodies, and more! The two varieties of spawn we chose are Chicken of the Woods and Shiitake. Chicken of the Woods takes a couple years before it fruits which makes it a little unpopular, however, several growers maintain that it tastes delicious.

Shiitake mushrooms are a more common and popular choice, known for its vigor and various uses. We hope our shiitake mushrooms will fruit either later this year or early 2019. We took a vote at the beginning of the class and students were quick to express they were not fond of mushrooms. We still hope to win them over once they try them with other food. Our teen chefs will hopefully  incorporate them into the pizzas next year! We explained that growing mushrooms can be quite profitable, as many varieties will sell for several dollars a pound. Hopefully our older teens will feel adventurous enough to combine flavors and try new things when our ‘shrooms come in. During our class we got started by explaining a few key terms. Most were familiar with the word, “spawn,” especially when I mentioned the often used phrase “spawn of Satan.” But most teens learned about new terms including “bolt” and “mycelium.” A bolt refers to an inoculated log and mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus.

Following the brief explanation we got down to work! First, we used wire brushes to clean lichen and other debris off the logs. We had a mixture of white oak and red oak – any guesses on which one will perform better?

Next, we had a brief safety explanation regarding how to handle and use a drill. The youth utilized painter’s tape and taped how far down they would need to drill. Once they hit the tape they pulled the drill back out. Using rulers they measured how far apart the holes needed to be drilled. They worked with a partner so one person stabilized the log and the other person drilled the holes. Team members took turns until they finished the whole thing. Some of the logs were thinner in diameter while a few were very robust! We emphasized the importance of even distribution to get even fruiting throughout the log.

When they were done with drilling holes in rows that went completely around the log, they inserted the mushroom plugs using a hammer. It is important to make the plugs flush with the log, so some teens went back and made a little bit more room with their drills. While they started working on this section I quickly started warming up our wax.

We used a combination of wax – one was beeswax and another was a wax included in our shiitake mushroom packet. We applied the wax using paintbrushes and the teens also covered up any other gashes in the log. We did this in order to eliminate competition from other fungi. As some students were applying wax, we sent down others to start filling a trough of water. One local seed company recommended soaking the inoculated logs for 24 hours after plugging and sealing them.

After we were all finished with each individual log the students carried each log down to the trough to soak their logs. Afterwards we sat down and reviewed key points about our activity that day.

The teens really enjoyed inoculating mushroom logs and getting their hands dirty! This was also my, Farmer Kathleen’s, first time trying this as well so it was fun to prepare everything and learn alongside the teens. This activity provided an opportunity for this new group to work together and build better relationships with each other. Seeing them collaborate and cooperate well was wonderful! We are excited for the year to come. Perhaps we will create mushroom tea if we have fruiting in December. Maybe we can change their minds about mushrooms after all!

About the Author:

I am from a farming community in Indiana where my family farmed over 200 acres. As a teen, my family moved to Florida where I became heavily involved in 4-H and developed a love for service and passing knowledge onto others. I graduated and began working at the local girls club while attending college for a Business/Administration degree. I realized that teaching youth was my passion and stayed at the girls club for 12 years before moving to East Tennessee. In East Tennessee I was able to reconnect with my farming roots and began a home garden. In growing, I tapped further into my roots and began canning and freezing food for my family. Really enjoying putting to use all the long hours working on the farm in my youth and realizing how important that was for me to learn, I wanted to get back into teaching youth again! Skimming help wanted adds, led me to Rural Resources who was looking for a coordinator to run their Farm and Food Teen Training Program. All my loves in one - youth at-risk, farming, gardening, cooking, and business planning! What a wonderful life to share my passions with others, play on the farm, enjoy local home cooked food, and advance these youth to a better future! Here I have been for 6 beautiful, happy, and productive years!

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