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Sunday, November 13, 2011

We inoculate 500 fresh logs a year to replace the ones that are too old to produce

From the woods, a mushrooming business
November 12, 2011 - cjonline.com

BALDWIN CITY — Alan Terry hikes through the oak woods on his Oak Ridge Farm north of Baldwin City and stops in a grove of cedar trees. Underneath the cedars is what appears to be a graveyard for portions of oak logs.

But the opposite is true. The 18- to 20-inch oak logs are the incubators for Terry's crop of shiitake mushrooms.

"No one else in the area does this," Terry said. "It's not that easy and not something that will make you a fortune."

Terry worked as a scientist in England before moving to the farm in the 1980s with his wife, Mary. The couple lived in a mobile home while they built a new house in the oak woods.

One day, Mary, who was an avid gardener, told Terry about an advertisement claiming shiitake mushrooms could be grown on an oak log. There were plenty of oak logs from the construction process, so they sent off for the mushroom-growing kit — even though neither of them had ever heard of shiitake mushrooms.

Terry said they stacked the oak logs, which had been inoculated with a branching, threadlike fungus called mycelium, in the woods and watered them regularly. When no mushrooms sprouted, they forgot about the logs.

"Then 11/2 years later, Mary was hanging out the laundry and saw the logs covered with mushrooms," Terry said. "There was more than we could eat, so we took the surplus to The Merc."

The Merc Community Market and Deli, known as The Merc, is a full-service grocery store for local and organic foods in Lawrence.

Today, in the cedar grove, Terry has between 3,000 to 4,000 oak logs in various stages of growing mushrooms. Mary died of breast cancer in 2002; Terry has remarried and is the father of a 5-year-old daughter.

Terry said the process of creating the mushroom-growing logs, which he sells under the name Shiitake Table Top Forests, is straightforward: Holes about one-inch deep are drilled in rows on the log. The holes are packed with mycelium that has been grown on sawdust and sealed with hot wax.

"This is the inoculation process," he said.

The logs are stacked in the cedar grove, and about 11/2 years later, the mushrooms push aside the wax and grow upward from the holes.

Terry said the mushrooms can be forced to grow by soaking the logs in water in a stock tank overnight, restacking them and covering them with a light plastic to increase humidity. That process will yield mushrooms in about a week.

A knife is used to cut the mushrooms from the log, which then rests for a couple of months before refruiting. The logs are tagged with the name of the strain of shiitake and the date it was inoculated.

"We inoculate 500 fresh logs a year to replace the ones that are too old to produce," he said, adding he has a part-time employee who helps on the farm.

Terry sells his shiitake mushrooms at local farmers markets and to The Merc and locally owned restaurants in Lawrence. The Shiitake Table Top Forests, which range from $19 to $23 per log, can be found at The Merc, farmers markets and the Holiday Farmers' Market on Dec. 10 in Lawrence.

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