Shiitake time!

Yes, you have to do your hammer-time dance when the shiitakes start to flush.

We grow shiitakes on oak logs back in our woods. Getting the spawn into the logs to make mushrooms grow is an arduous process that I promise to photograph at some point. Kent planted his first set of logs in 2007 and ads to his collection each year. The oak trees have to be felled at just the right time of year, the crown and all the limbs removed and the trunk cut into 4-foot sections. Larger is better, to prevent the log from drying out before the mycelium takes hold. Then you shlep the logs over to the workbench and drill a whole bunch of holes all over the trunk, insert the mushroom-spawn-sawdust into each hole, and paint over the hole with melted beeswax to keep the moisture in. Then take the innoculated logs into the woods and set them into position and WAIT. A year. Or two. The logs Kent prepared in Spring of 2009 will fruit this autumn for the first time. It makes me tired just writing all that down.

But all that effort is worth it when the logs miraculously begin to fruit. Kent’s shiitake logs seem to be really happy in the spot he picked for them, because they have fruited several times this year. The mushrooms grow in that pith between the wood and the bark. Here’s a photo where you can see the mushrooms breaking through the bark.

shiitakes

Shiitake mushrooms emerging from log (click to enlarge)

The shiitakes are so lovely when they are growing. Our logs produce a couple of different strains.

Star crinkles on shiitake

Shiitakes with smooth top

Some have star-shaped grooves on the top Some are smooth on the top with more pronounced white lacy markings around the bottom

Cooking with fresh mushrooms is such a treat. Just like anything else, freshly picked mushrooms have a terrific flavor that cannot be matched by store-bought mushrooms that were harvested god knows how long ago. So far, my favorite mushroom-enhanced culinary creations have been:

  • scrambled eggs with mushrooms and fresh peppers
  • American style cream of mushroom soup
  • French style mushroom / leek / potato soup (more butter, less flour than the recipe above)
  • Mushroom ravioli
  • Mushroom cream vol-au-vents

a teenie shiitake

Gourmet Mushrooms

winecap mushrooms growing by a blueberry bush

One of the techniques we’ve learned from studying permaculture is to try to find ways to make our farm resources serve two purposes. Here is one example. Fruit trees need lots of mulching or they do not produce much fruit. Our fruit orchard contains 30 or so different kinds of fruit trees that we mulch with a very thick apron of hardwood chips. Hardwood chips make great mulch because they break down slowly, providing good moisture retention and slow nutrient release to the fruit trees, and they are sustainably harvested from tree-pruning activities in our woods and the surrounding area.

Wood chips can also serve double duty by providing habitat for certain kinds of culinary mushrooms. Last spring we planted winecap mushrooms (sourced from Field & Forest) in a dozen or so of the woodchip aprons. I typically think mushrooms want to grow in the woods, but I guess these mulch aprons provided a similar habitat: moist and shaded. Mushrooms are fickle and you really don’t know when you plant them if you will get any harvest at all. So we were really thrilled to see winecaps emerging in mid-August. They seem to fruit whenever the weather changes (a sudden rain storm or especially cold night will bring up mushrooms). Now we will see if the presence of the mushrooms helps the fruit trees themselves get stronger.

Our wood-cultured mushrooms grow at their own pace outdoors, and we do not do anything strange or un-natural to encourage them to fruit faster. Since we provide them with a mineral-rich growing medium, they have a terrific, intense flavor. Some store-brand dried shiitake (so I hear) are grown indoors on paper, so they do not have any way to develop their flavor. I suppose they look like a mushroom but taste like paper.

Winecaps have their pros and cons. They emerge all of a sudden and grow quickly, so it’s easy to miss them. They can be past the stage where you’d want to eat them before you even notice they’re there. For this reason, I’m glad ours are planted in the orchard, which is right by the house and we walk through it every day. Other mushrooms, like shiitake, grow a little more slowly, so we can grow them back in the woods and only check on the logs a couple of times a week. Compared to shiitake, one downside of winecaps is that they do not keep well once you pick them. They need to be cooked the same day or the day after picking at the latest. Shiitake, on the other hand, will keep in the refrigerator a few days longer. Also, fewer people are familiar with winecaps, unlike shiitakes, which practically sell themselves. But the taste of the winecaps is really exquisite. Having never eaten them before this harvest, we are so pleased with the taste. And the smell of the house when mushrooms are dehydrating is like heaven.

Chicken tractors

Feeding chickens in chicken tractor

Feeding chickens in chicken tractor


Chickens like to be outdoors on pasture, eating bugs and fresh grass. They quickly pick over what they can reach, however, and need to be rotated onto fresh grass frequently so that the pasture can rejuvinate itself. The portable chicken coop is a great solution to this problem. Chickens are moved onto a fresh grazing area each day, and they apply their manure to different areas of the farm without any need for human or machine labor to spread it.

Our broiler chickens are raised in these portable pens. Each morning we move them onto a fresh plot of ground and they get very excited about having new green forage to eat. As these photos show, they come forward when the pen starts to move, as soon as they can see the yummy new grass to eat.

Moving chicken tractor Kent feeding chickens Kent feeding chickens

Our pens are built for fewer chickens and are smaller than the chicken tractors made famous by Joel Salatin. His 10×12 portable pens are typically moved by a tractor or other vehicle and house 100 birds in each tractor. Ours can be moved by one person, and have a narrower footprint so that we can move them around our orchard, where the paths are planted in clover (one of the chickens favorite treats).

Why is it called a chicken tractor?

The chickens scratch up the surface of the ground looking for bugs, and take down any plants growing there, so having the chickens on a plot of ground for the day is a little like running the tiller. In this photo,

Chicken scratch

One day of chicken damage

you can see the difference between the perimeter area that is still green grass, and the ‘tracturd’ left by chickens from the day before. The grass is effectively mowed, but will grow back.