The Castle is embarking on mushroom cultivation in it's gardens! We're using the age old technique of growing mushrooms on logs which was developed in Asia over 1000 years ago. The particular types we're trying to cultivate are the tasty Shiitake and Lions Mane which are native to China, Japan and Korea but are becoming more commonly cultivated in Europe and the USA. Growing mushrooms on logs is the most low maintenance method of cultivation and although it does require patience (and some maintenance too!) can give good yields of between 20% and a third of the dry weight of each log and is less energy intensive than other methods. We've inoculated our spawn into hard hardwood - oak for the Lions Mane as they don't do so well in paper-bark trees like birch and silver birch for the Shiitake. Because of the oak and birch's density we can expect yields for a longer period.
Now we've inoculated the logs with spawn, we'll have to wait anywhere between 9-12 months to get our first fruiting. This period before the first fruiting varies depending on the climatic conditions. We're storing the mushrooms in a custom built incubation house with opening roof slats for ventilation and letting rainwater in to water the mushrooms and a sand pit for trapping moisture in the logs. Once we see signs of mycelial rings on the ends of the logs we can 'shock' the logs which means submerging the logs in water for 24-48hrs. This process of shocking induces the logs to start fruiting and can be repeated up to 4-times per-year for 5-8 years running.
Cultivation on logs is great for many reasons. You can use shady space which is often too dark for growing plants, you can stack the logs to make use of vertical space wherever you're growing and recycle wood from tree surgeons that may otherwise go to waste. It is a method of cultivation that can be explored on a variety of levels from large scale commercial farms to small scale home growing. We got our spawn from Ann Miller in Scotland who doesn't use chemicals and produces hardy strains of spawn for cultivation. There's lots of information on the internet and in books to get started if you're interested...and if you don't have much space you can grow on other smaller materials like corn cobs, coffee ground, paper, cardboard, straw and sawdust...and if you're still unsure, come down to the Castle for our Thursday and workdays to find out more about organic urban horticulture!
Photos: Jack Cox running a workshop on mushroom cultiavation, mushroom cultivation in progress.