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From the woods, a mushrooming business
November 12, 2011 - cjonline.com
BALDWIN CITY — Alan Terry hikes
through the oak woods on his Oak Ridge Farm north of Baldwin City and
stops in a grove of cedar trees. Underneath the cedars is what appears
to be a graveyard for portions of oak logs.
But the opposite is true. The 18- to 20-inch oak logs are the
incubators for Terry’s crop of shiitake mushrooms.
“No one else in the area does this,” Terry said. “It’s not that easy
and not something that will make you a fortune.”
Terry worked as a scientist in England before moving to the farm in the
1980s with his wife, Mary. The couple lived in a mobile home while they
built a new house in the oak woods.
One day, Mary, who was an avid gardener, told Terry about an
advertisement claiming shiitake mushrooms could be grown on an oak log.
There were plenty of oak logs from the construction process, so they
sent off for the mushroom-growing kit — even though neither of them had
ever heard of shiitake mushrooms.
Terry said they stacked the oak logs, which had been inoculated with a
branching, threadlike fungus called mycelium, in the woods and watered
them regularly. When no mushrooms sprouted, they forgot about the logs.
“Then 11/2 years later, Mary was hanging out the laundry and saw the
logs covered with mushrooms,” Terry said. “There was more than we could
eat, so we took the surplus to The Merc.”
The Merc Community Market and Deli, known as The Merc, is a
full-service grocery store for local and organic foods in Lawrence.
Today, in the cedar grove, Terry has between 3,000 to 4,000 oak logs in
various stages of growing mushrooms. Mary died of breast cancer in
2002; Terry has remarried and is the father of a 5-year-old daughter.
Terry said the process of creating the mushroom-growing logs, which he
sells under the name Shiitake Table Top Forests, is straightforward:
Holes about one-inch deep are drilled in rows on the log. The holes are
packed with mycelium that has been grown on sawdust and sealed with hot
“This is the inoculation process,” he said.
The logs are stacked in the cedar grove, and about 11/2 years later,
the mushrooms push aside the wax and grow upward from the holes.
Terry said the mushrooms can be forced to grow by soaking the logs in
water in a stock tank overnight, restacking them and covering them with
a light plastic to increase humidity. That process will yield mushrooms
in about a week.
A knife is used to cut the mushrooms from the log, which then rests for
a couple of months before refruiting. The logs are tagged with the name
of the strain of shiitake and the date it was inoculated.
“We inoculate 500 fresh logs a year to replace the ones that are too
old to produce,” he said, adding he has a part-time employee who helps
on the farm.
Terry sells his shiitake mushrooms at local farmers markets and to The
Merc and locally owned restaurants in Lawrence. The Shiitake Table Top
Forests, which range from $19 to $23 per log, can be found at The Merc,
farmers markets and the Holiday Farmers' Market on Dec. 10 in Lawrence.