Last summer, when structural problems made us reconsider our plans to renovate our underground winery building, we began exploring the possibility of using the building for growing mushrooms as a way of generating income. It’s damp, cooland dark, and the inside temperature is steady year-round. Further investigation revealed the impracticality of that idea: the temperature is a little too cool, the presence of 8 different kinds of mold makes the environment insalubrious for humans, if not for mushrooms, and the ventilation is insufficient. In addition, we learned that mushrooms grown outdoors on logs are more nutritious than mushrooms grown indoors.

Why not try growing mushrooms outdoors? Shitake mushrooms are apparently in demand, have medicinal qualities in addition to being a healthy food source, and they like to grow on oak, of which we have an abundance in our woods.

More net-surfing revealed that Cornell University Extension would be hosting a mushroom camp on April 12-13, where anyone could come and receive hands-on instruction in inoculating logs with shitake mushroom spawn. The camp was held in Cornell’s Arnot Forest, about 20 miles south of Ithaca. It is an easy 2 hour drive from Windsor, but some participants came from as far away as eastern Connecticut.

On Friday night, we had a delicious dinner of mushroom and cheese lasagna in the large, chilly hall of the lodge, followed by three talks on mushrooms and mushroom-growing, by Ken Mudge, Professor of Horticulture at Cornell, Steve Gabriel, Extension Aide and mushroom researcher, and Professor George Hudler, whose dynamic, entertaining style attracts hundreds of students to his classes on forest fungi. After the talks, a trio consisting of a banjo player, guitarist and fiddler provided after-dinner music, while the participants chatted and took turns huddling around the giant fireplace, the heat from which seemed mostly to go up the chimney.

When we signed up, we had been told that the accomodations would be rustic, and so they were. There were five or six heated cabins, nice and toasty compared to the lodge, with 4 bunk beds each, and an equal number of unheated cabins on the other side of a large field. The cabins were not gender-specific, but Sr. Sheila’s nice warm cabin ended up being ladies-only.

The only sanitary facilities were in a building across the road from the heated cabins, where the bare concrete walls and floor, old painted plywood stall-dividers and grubby sinks contrasted with the presence of hot water in the taps, wall-mounted foam soap dispensers and new, oak-framed mirrors above every sink. We were told that we could also avail ourselves of the outdoors “for number one”, and over breakfast, some of us compared notes as to how long we had been able to last during the night, before venturing out onto the cold, dank lawn next to the cabins.

Breakfast was hearty: pancakes with maple syrup produced on the property, bacon and grits with mushrooms, fruit salad, orange juice, coffee and tea, accompanied by shared stories and advice concerning bears, racoons, bee-keeping, gardening and Lyme disease.

After breakfast, we walked down a hill and over a bridge to “the goat shed,”  next to the building that houses their maple syrup operation. There, we divided into three groups that rotated through three different activities until lunch time. We learned how to inoculate logs with shitake mushroom spawn, make “totems” – vertically stacked sections of a log, for growing lion’s mane and oyster mushrooms, and prepare beds on the ground out of sawdust and wood chips for wine-cap mushrooms.

After lunch, we went to the “laying yards,” where logs are laid to rest in a damp, shady spot in the woods, while the spawn colonizes them and eventually begins to produce mushrooms. As we departed, we were given two logs to take home: the one we’d inoculated that morning and an inoculated log from last year, which should begin to produce this summer.

Should you be interested in more technical details, we’ll be happy to email you an attachment with our notes from the workshop.

Back at the monastery, Craig, who does logging in our woods, has cut down two trees, and hopes to cut another 8 or so in the next couple of days. Keith is working on our tractor, and when it is fixed, Craig will be able to haul the cut logs out of the woods and cut them into three-foot lengths for inoculation.

The next step will be an inoculation party, involving drilling holes in the logs, stuffing the holes with a mixture of mushroom spawn and sawdust, covering the holes with melted wax, and carrying the logs to the laying yard. If you would like to participate, let us know, and we’ll give you a log or two to take home!