Forest farming could pay big

For gourmet mushroom fans or people looking for a relatively low-labor taste of “forest farming,” a

For gourmet mushroom fans or people looking for a relatively low-labor taste of “forest farming,” a Saturday workshop offers some tips on how to get started.

The catch is that a first harvest of popular shiitake or oyster varieties won’t be ready for a year or two, according to JJ Schell, an agriculturist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie County.

Called forest mushroom cultivation, the method uses 4-foot sections of recently cut logs to host dozens of mushroom spores that are “inoculated” into rows of drilled holes, then sealed with wax.

“Most of the labor involved is in cutting the logs, drilling and moving them,” Schell said.

After that the logs can be stacked or arranged in shady areas and then pretty much left on their own through the following winter until mushrooms start fruiting, he said.

Schell and Chenango County horticulturist Rebecca Hargrave will explain the process and offer information on getting started and marketing. The 9 a.m. to noon workshop will be in the Curtis-Mott Hall Lounge at the State University of New York at Cobleskill.

Open to anyone, the session costs $15, including handouts and materials.

Participants must register by Thursday. To register, call the extension office in Cobleskill at 234-4303 or 296-8310.

Among about a dozen or so local residents already trying their hand at forest farming of mushrooms is retired truck driver Kevin O’Shell of Sharon Springs.

“I put in shiitakes last year, but they take about two years,” he said.

With white oak logs available on his 53-acres of the part-time vegetable farm he shares with partner Patty Seelig, the cost to try tending mushrooms was modest, O’Shell said.

About 1,000 spores of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and associated materials cost about $170, he said.

Starting with 600 shiitake spores on about a dozen logs last year, he’s hoping to see his first crop late this summer.

Although mostly a hobby for home use, O’Shell said he hopes to sell some to local farmers markets and restaurants.

“We’re just getting back to basics,” he said. “With the rising cost of everything, this should help.”

A pound of gourmet mushrooms retails for about $10 to $12 per pound, according to Schell. If all goes well, one or two logs should produce that much.

To make a modest income from commercial forest-farmed mushrooms, Schell said a grower would probably need to inoculate at least 300 logs with about 40 spores each.

To avoid contamination or cross-seeding from nearby wild mushrooms, growers should keep the area around their growing logs clear of other decaying logs, leaves or other forest debris, he said.

Hardwoods such as oak are best, and each log should host three or four crops, Schell said. After that the mushrooms will have used up the wood cellulose the parasitic fungus feeds on.

“I did the shiitakes in white oak,” O’Shell said. “I lay [the logs] on the ground, drill the holes, then Patty pounds in the spores with a hammer.”

The spores, available from mail-order suppliers, resemble pellets like those for stove fuel, he said.

After the logs are inoculated with the spores, he uses a camp stove to melt paraffin to seal them in place.

After that, cultivation involves keeping the logs from drying out if rain isn’t sufficient, then waiting and hoping until the little fungi start popping out of the logs.

The mushrooms are sought after by gourmet chefs. In addition to food and flavoring, some people consider them a natural remedy to ailments, according to Schell.

Categories: Schenectady County

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