Got Mushrooms?

I once knew a stoner who was quite into mushrooms. Not shiitakes or portobellos, mind you. He swore by the psychedelic kind. He was so into them, in fact, that he taught himself how to grow them, and he did so with great success. That got me thinking: If a guy who's tripping most of the time can do it, I probably can, too. So this year I'll be starting my very own mushroom garden -- only I'm going to stick with one of the humdrum, legal varieties.

I grabbed a copy of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World to get the bigger picture, and I never realized how much good fungi do for the environment -- let alone for my cooking. Apparently there are a few good types of gourmet mushrooms for beginners like me to try. Personally, I have my heart set on shiitakes. When a friend of mine bought his house, he discovered it came with a whole rack of oak logs which had been inoculated with shiitake mushroom spores. He's had those logs for years, he's done absolutely nothing with them, and they still produce scads of delectable shiitakes. (That's got to be a good sign, right?) Eventually his shiitake spores will peter out, but maybe by that time my own shiitake logs will be going strong.

Now I'm used to being patient in the garden, but I'm going to have to be extra patient when it comes to growing mushrooms, since their life cycles are quite different from those of photosynthesizing, green plants. Turns out, establishing my own set of inoculated logs can take a year or more. (And, yes, there are quickie mushroom-growing kits I could buy, but I've always enjoyed working from scratch.)

Because logs I find on the forest floor will already have assorted mushroom spores living in them, I'm going to want to use green, hardwood logs instead. I can cut some from a dormant oak, poplar, beech, or birch tree this winter, and I'll want to leave the bark intact. After drilling a series of holes in the logs, I'll fill them back in with shiitake spore inoculum and keep the logs in a shady spot. By fall or, perhaps, the next spring, I should be knee-deep in shiitakes. We'll see...