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The peepers are peeping, the red-wing blackbirds are returning, and the daffodils are beginning to blossom. These signs of spring bring lots of energy and excitement for the growing season. Spring also brings a long list of tasks — prepping beds, amending soil, starting seeds, and inoculating mushroom logs — to name just a few. This week, Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry & Agriculture teams hosted two mushroom workshops to equip folks with the skills to start, or to improve, their mushroom cultivation enterprises. On March 5th, 38 people came to the Chesterhill Produce Auction to learn about shiitake and oyster mushrooms. And on March 7th, 31 people gathered at the Morning Dew Hop Farm to learn about shiitake and lion’s mane on-farm cultivation.

Mushrooms are a fairly low-maintenance crop that pack a lot of nutrition, flavor, and medicinal benefits. Now is the season to inoculate logs for a few reasons. Logs should be cut in the dormant season before the buds begin to swell, stored for at least 10 days, inoculated with spawn, and given at least one year to sit and let the spawn colonize the log. At both workshops Tanner Filyaw, Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry Program Director, walked attendees through the entire cultivation process — from selecting trees to fruiting and harvesting.

After asking lots of eager questions, folks got to try their hand at drilling and filling logs. Everyone went home with their own inoculated log. Some participants planned to use the information to start growing mushrooms commercially, others simply for home consumption.

As one participant said about the experience, “Great introduction, I knew nothing before but now I’m confident!”

At Morning Dew Hop Farm, participants also got to see how a small, diversified farm integrates mushroom cultivation into their whole farm production. Farmer Casey Buchanan took folks on a tour of their hops, bees, and market garden, as well as shared his own experience with mushroom production. As the group walked through the woods, they discussed how to select trees for mushroom cultivation using a “worst first” criteria that helps to improve forest conditions over time. In this way, farms like Morning Dew can turn a profit on the by-products of forestry improvement practices.

Towards the end of the workshop, the large group gathered in the log yard to learn about the totem-stack and drill and fill inoculation methods and to gain some first hand inoculation experience. Folks basked in the warmth of a sunny day and enjoyed the smells of wood shavings and melted beeswax. We were delighted to see such enthusiasm and interest in mushroom cultivation.

Mushrooms are just one of the many products that can be cultivated and managed in the forest understory. Recently, Rural Action and United Plant Savers published a book entitled The Forest Farmers Handbook: A Beginners Guide to Growing and Marketing At-Risk Forest Herbs, detailing the forest farming production methods for black cohosh, bloodroot, american ginseng, ramps, and goldenseal. Buy the book online and keep your eyes out for future educational workshops, including our upcoming Ramp Cultivation workshop on April 4th.

Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.


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