Harvesting Forest Grown Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms growing wild in a woodlot

I like the idea of working once and reaping benefits for an extended period of time. That is why mushrooms are appealing. Whether you find them in the wild or on your property, you can expect to see them popping up again in more or less the same place year after year. Search once, reap many.

Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms present you with a similar situation when you cultivate them yourself. If you have a little bit of space in your backyard, or a small bush lot, you can inoculate some hardwood logs and expect to reap a mushroom harvest for 3-4 years.

I am not going to go into the details of hunting for and picking wild mushrooms. There are a ton of varieties and sometimes the differences between toxic and okay to eat are subtle. I will provide a couple of guides. The Canadian one is suitable for a lot of the US, from the east coast to the west. Of course, the Eastern Forests guide is as titled.

Here is a 346 page guide to the edible and poisonous mushrooms of Canada.

Here’s one for the Eastern US forests.

I had a lot more trouble finding a large, comprehensive guide to US mushrooms than Canadian. Since there are a ton of agricultural research stations, university agricultural extension services and local groups, I suggest you try a Google search with your location and “wild mushroom education” in the search field. I tried it with “ohio wild mushroom identification” and got lots of results. Try a similar search and add the words “guide” or “class.” I am sure you will find something useful and worth your time.

What I want to focus on in this post is raising edible Oyster and Lions Mane mushrooms. These are two of the easier ones to cultivate. And I want to focus on doing it out of doors using logs.

Basically you need to find the right type of logs, fresh enough cut that they are still holding ample moisture. You have to inoculate them with mushroom spawn and place them in the right locations, or so arranged that they get the right amount of shade. Depending on the weather you may need to water the logs periodically. But essentially you walk away.

You maximize harvest by creating the right kind of log environment and using the spawn efficiently. In the wild, mushroom spawn may find the right environment to reproduce or it may not. If it does, it may be in competition with the spores from some other type of fungi. If there isn’t ample shade, then as the seasons progress, it may get too much sunlight. If there is an extended dry spell, then the small struggling mushroom may just dry up and blow away. By lending a hand to Mother Nature, we help ensure survival, and many meals for the future.

Oyster mushrooms in an efficient, prolific way, from the Cornell U Cooperative Extension

One of the simplest ways to get a harvest of mushrooms is to use the Oyster mushroom Totem Method of cultivation. Click on the picture to get a concise two page explanation of the complete process.

The same method can be used for Lions Mane. Select fresh logs about 2 feet long and around a foot thick that were cut before the trees leafed out. Keep your cuts at right angles to the length because you are going to stack the pieces on top of each other.

Cut the logs in half again (about a foot long) and slice a 2″ disk from the outer end of one of them. Put a sharpie mark on the logs where the cuts are going to go so that you can put the pieces back together as exactly as possible. This will make secure stacking more likely.

Placement of log sections and spawn for Oyster Mushroom production

Put a piece of cardboard on the ground to keep the wood from being contaminated by native fungi and put some spawn on the cardboard. Now stack the longer  piece of log on the cardboard. Put more spawn on the upper end of this piece and stack the 10″ section on top of it, lining up the marks. Place more spawn on the upper surface of the second piece and then top it off with the two inch disk.

Cover the whole structure with the kind of brown paper bag used for garden waste and loosely tie it in place. The bag will waste away but you can remove it in six months or so if you wish. You want your logs to be well shaded so that your log sections don’t dry out too much. If your logs are surrounded by evergreens you can be sure they will receive shade summer and winter. All you have to do is check back in the fall or the next year and start picking. This type of setup will continue to produce for up to four years.

Shiitake mushrooms are a little more complicated, but not much. I will examine how to grow your own supply of Shiitakes in another post.

 

Survival Water Harvesting – Rainwater

In a previous post I talked about going through a very dry spring and watching the level of our dug well drop almost out of sight. We made some changes to our lifestyle. Showers had specific phases. The wet yourself down phase which was about 15 seconds of running water. The lather up phase which didn’t use any water and the rinse off phase which used about thirty seconds of water with my buzz cut, and a little longer for my wife whose hair was shoulder length.

We were getting bulk water from the local water treatment plant for a rate I was willing to pay and we were doing our laundry in town. As a final step we added a trickle tank to our water system and that made things much easier.

The stand lifts the water supply thirty inches off the ground so we have a gravity supply for our garden watering

The last thing we did was set up a rainwater harvesting system. The image a left shows one of our totes now, in the depths of winter, with the downspout removed and the tote empty. Replacing the downspout  will have to be an annual ritual until I add some additional downspout and a bypass line.  This was kind of a quick and dirty job and I learned my lessons along the way. The tote will have to be covered to prevent algae growth. I need to fabricate a dirt diverter to keep the interior of the tote a little cleaner and I am going to install a proper hose and piping system to make the garden watering process simpler and hopefully automated.

 

There are tons of online instructions on how to set up a simple system like this, and lots of info for more complicated ones, so I will just let you know about my experiences and then give you some links. As I already said, a simple set of covers to block out the light would pretty much eliminate the growth of algae. Some lightweight plastic sheeting would work. Something that can be zip tied to the framework would allow removal if necessary and would be handier and last longer than plywood. Located out in the country, with my totes out of sight behind buildings, I don’t have to worry about looks too much. But if I wanted to fancy it up, I know a source of rough sawn cedar planks where I can get seconds. I also know a source of cedar slabs from a lumber sawing process that I can get for free. I would be tempted to go that way. In addition there are made for purpose covers available or it wouldn’t be hard to make your own. See the link at the end of this post for an example.

The concrete blocks on edge present the strongest surface to the 4″ x 4″ load spreaders

My garage (shown in the photo above) is relatively new and the soil around the foundation is not particularly compacted, so I took an extra step to ensure the weight of the tote wouldn’t cause any settling. You can see in the photo that I used patio stones as bases for the concrete blocks I used under my 4″ x 4″ pressure treated legs.

Placing the blocks on edge provides the strongest foundation for the load spreading blocks. I do not expect any shifting of my tote support with this arrangement.

The final height of the tote gives me an excellent flow rate, just from gravity. You can see in the first picture that it is easy to stick even a five gallon plastic pail under the nozzle. Below is a closer look at the way I constructed the tote support.

The legs go inside the 2 x 8’s and there are two additional cross beams under the tote.

 

There are plenty of different ways to get your own tote rainwater harvesting system. Here are some links to different ideas:

Large Rainwater Harvesting System

Collect Rainwater with a DIY 275-Gallon Rain Cube

Rain Harvesting Setup Completed: 2,300 Gallon Capacity

Full Bore System – Solar Powered

Tote Cover, Hand Made

Survival Water Harvesting – Trickle Tank

I never really worried about water supplies until last year. On our couple of acres in the country we have a dug well. It’s only twelve feet deep, but normally holds six feet of water. We’ve been here for four years and never had any problems, but last spring it was very dry in our part of the country.

Running water, when you need it. One of your top three survival priorities

Our well got down to about 13 inches of water. We were able to get bulk water from our local towns water treatment plant for $10.00 for 1,000 imperial gallons. That’s about 1,200 US gallons for $8.10 US. I was okay with that. We used it for the garden. We went into town for laundry. We managed okay.

We finally got some rain, but I was a little concerned about how close we came to a dry well. Of course, the problem isn’t really the well drying out, though that was always a possibility. The big concern is having a demand for water that outruns the ability of the well to replace the water flowing out of it. They do have a solution for that. You install a trickle tank. 

The image below shows you what it is, but check out the link above to get the finer details.

The trickle tank fills with a slow draw on your well and has a 150 gallon reservoir to meet your daily needs.

We could use water during the day and as soon as we used more than a few gallons, the system would start drawing water from our well at a very slow rate. The 150 Gal. tank could meet all of our shower, laundry, washing needs and it refilled at a slow enough rate it never outpaced our wells ability to refresh itself.

Of course, we do store water against power outages. I always have a couple of full 15 gallon food grade containers. And we have a hot tube outside. I know for a fact the water in it will stay at least warm for a couple of days…good for washing. And if push comes to shove, we have a little garden fish pond that holds about 1000 gallons. The veggies and flowers would just love to get a taste of that water I am sure. However I must admit that I really like the idea of of that 150 gallon trickle tank full of water that has gone through the filter and UV light. Even in a power outage, the water has already been treated.

Just to be sure I have covered off all of the obvious I will mention that you can access the water in your hot water tank, if you have no power. Best to get a short length of garden hose a few feet long. That will allow you to conveniently fill water containers even though the tank outlet is only a few inches off the floor. The tanks tend to be full while the power is on so you have a lot of head. If you have a 30 gallon tank, you will probably be able to easily get 25 or more gallons out of it.

I also try to have one or two cases of bottled water on hand. Single serving bottles of water are extremely convenient for quenching thirst, moderate hygiene maintenance requirements and are easily transported.

Next post I’ll talk a little more about the rainwater harvesting system I installed, using two 250 gallon totes. And we will look at what you can do if you have no rain gutters, or even no roof.