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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Cultivating Mushrooms The Easy Way And The Hard Way

Two different approaches to cultivating mushrooms: Daniel Orr grows shiitakes on logs, and Darin Kelly expanded Good Life Farms to start a commercial operation.

Daniel Orr has had success growing his own mushrooms with this shiitake log.

[photo 1]

The Easy Way

Daniel Orr has 60 shiitake logs at his cabin in southern Indiana. “It’s quite an impressive little fence row that goes down through one of my valleys,” he says. This particular log is sprouting a couple perfect mushrooms and a couple gigantic shiitakes that will probably go straight to the compost.

You can buy a shiitake log already inoculated, or you could do what Daniel did and inoculate it yourself.

You want to use a log that has been cut fresh. Then what you do is drill holes and put in your shiitake spawn, and then it’s sealed with a vegan wax. Then you let it sit out and get wet and dry and wet and dry, and usually in about a year you get mushrooms. There are things you can do to speed up the process. You can soak the logs in water. You can also put them in a freezer to simulate the cold nights. That way you can keep your mushroom patch going year round.

This isn’t foolproof by any means. Dangerous mushrooms could attach to your log, so before you dig into this project, check out this how-to.

[photo 3]

The Hard Way

Daniel is cultivating mushrooms just for fun. He could never grow enough to supply his restaurant. That’s where Darin Kelly and Good Life Farms come in.

They’ve been supplying FARMBloomington with hydroponically-grown lettuce mix, arugula and basil for seven years. Today he’s also brought creminis, portobellos and white button mushrooms.

They expanded their operation to include mushrooms a year and a half ago, and it was tough from the very beginning. “(The mushrooms) don’t want anything to do with the hydroponics system, and the hydroponics definitely don’t want anything to do with the mushrooms. So, it’s two separate areas on the farm. Very distinctly different methods of growing,” he says.

Mushrooms are finicky. Kelly dropped a bunch of money on equipment to keep the fungi happy. “Air temperature. Air movement. They all have to be in insulated rooms. Everything needs a cooling unit,” he says. “There’s about 20 steps to the process of getting it to the point of delivering something yummy to everyone.”

[photo 4]

Good Life Farms started their hydroponics operation ten years ago. In those first days, they sold products in Terre Haute. They kept growing more and more greens, so that gave them the confidence to seek out additional customers. These days, they supply eight restaurants and a couple grocery stores around southern Indiana.

Before they took the plunge into the mushroom business, they surveyed their customers and found that, yes, there was a market for locally-grown mushrooms. “So it’s a matter of trying to get good at it, which we’re still working at,” he says.

So far so good. Since pulling their first crop in April, they’ve sold around 600 packages of mushrooms a week. That’s addition to the nearly 100,000 heads of greens that are harvested from the other part of Good Life Farms every year.

[photo 2]

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Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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