Helping Ecosystems Through Mushroom Cultivation

University of New England at River Bend Farm: Projects led by undergraduate students at the University of New England continue to illustrate thoughtful practices in sustainable land management and biodiversity preservation.

By Caleb Pulliam UNE Class of 2019/ Sustainable Business Major

As students in the Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture (ENV 398) class taught by professor Tom Klak, we were all given specific projects to focus on over the course of the semester, all with the theme of sustainable land management and preserving biodiversity at River Bend Farm. The project I chose was to lead was the Shiitake Farm Project along with my fellow classmates Flynn Willsea and Kristen Heenan. With the help of John Ibsen of Quercus Woodworking (also a TES FOAMer!), supplies from North Spore Mushroom in Westbrook and all the students in ENV 398, we were able to inoculate twenty logs with shiitake mycelium. We will hopefully see fruiting bodies come spring, but more realistically next fall. 
First, we researched mushroom cultivation. The book we found very useful was Farming the Woods by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel. It gave us the science behind mushroom cultivation and the steps we needed to take in order to start our project. In order to successfully grow shiitakes, hardwood tree species are needed with high preference to Oak, Musclewood, and Maple. We didn’t have large enough Musclewoods at River Bend Farm, so we would choose primarily Red Oak and a few Sugar Maple trees.

The initial step in acquiring the logs was taking a walk around the property and identifying potential trees and branches. A key tenant of sustainable forest management is not to cut down logs solely for mushroom cultivation. We only identified trees that were ‘outliers’ in a sense; either they were in precarious locations that inhibited the growth of surrounding trees, the tree was in a dense area of same species, or the tree had a large branch that wouldn’t hurt the tree if it was removed. 

Next, we took an electric saw and prepared the logs, all of which were between four and five feet long with a diameter of five to eight inches. We stored the logs in the basement of The Ecology School until we acquired the inoculation supplies. (It’s important to not let the logs sit too long, or else competing fungi will start to colonize the logs.) After we acquired the inoculation supplies from North Spore, we were ready to begin.
In order to inoculate twenty logs, we needed a bag of spawn which is Shiitake Mycelium in sawdust, an inoculation tool to insert the mycelium sawdust mixture into the log, a drill bit, wax, and a hot pan to melt the wax. Working as a class, we made quick work of the inoculation process, thanks to John Ibsen who broke the class into three groups: one to drill the holes, one to insert the inoculate, and one to cover the holes with wax in order to trap in moisture. 

Now that the logs are filled with Shiitake mycelium, we will let them sit in the basement for a few months then transport the logs outside to the pine forest at River Bend Farm where they will be shaded and close to a water source which is the Saco River. One Key take away from the experience is, sustainable farming doesn’t have to be a large and labor-intensive experience. Shiitake farming is relatively simple, doesn’t require much land, water or fertilizers, and anyone can do it. Shiitakes are a delicious addition to several dishes and a good source of protein too. Supporting local food systems will play a major role in our future, and a simple and fun way to start is with a shiitake farm on your property.