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Web search leads to Shiitake success for Goldvein family June 23, 2005 - citizenet.com
He shuffles through a pile of oak logs, searching for the perfect one.
Francis Ngoh grabs a log, drills about a dozen inch-deep holes into it, then plugs each with sterilized sawdust containing Shiitake mushroom spawn. He uses a paintbrush to seal the log with hot wax, keeping the mixture moist.
This year, Mr. Ngoh and his wife Carol expect to harvest 2,000 pounds of Shiitakes. They sell them to restaurants from Washington, Va., to Washington, D.C.
"My grandfather was a preacher and a farmer in Cameroon," Mr. Ngoh says. "I learn a lot when I was young, and always appreciated the outdoors. It's important for my kids to learn that with hard work you can receive rewards."
The Ngohs operate Rock Run Creek Farm on 39 acres near Goldvein.
Chickens, goats and sheep scurry about under the sun-drenched late morning sky. A red Mahindra 4110 tractor sits idle in the backyard. Enormous oak trees surround their modest yellow home.
"When we moved here (in 1999), the woods completely surrounded the house," Mr. Ngoh says. "I spent the first two years clearing and thinning trees. We needed to let a little sunshine in.
"We have seven different kinds of oaks here. I was always concerned about forest management and wanted a way to use the trees. I did some searching on the Internet and discovered that Shiitakes thrive among oaks. 'Shii' means oak in Japanese."
Mr. Ngoh, 50, moved to this country at age 18. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a chemical engineering degree. The past nine years, he has worked as a telecommunications manager at AT&T in Oakton.
The Ngohs also grow vegetables, herbs and fruits for 32 Hartwood and Goldvein families in conjunction with the community-supported agriculture program in Fredericksburg. Their huge garden features everything from cabbage to cauliflower.
Their farm is not certified organic, but they grow according to standards. They use no pesticides, only manure and compost.
Community-supported agriculture features a unique approach to supplying fresh produce to city dwellers. For 20 weeks, a family gets a box of vegetables, delivered each week to a designated drop-off point in downtown Fredericksburg.
For $25 a week, a family buys a share of a nearby farm's yearly harvest. The Fredericksburg CSA Project has more than 100 subscribing families and three growers, including the Ngohs.
Mr. Ngoh uses a three-stage process to grow Shiitakes.
"First, I tag the trees that I'll use. Sometimes, it's the dead of winter and I'm out there on my tractor felling trees and nearly freezing. You want to pick trees that the bark will stay intact, because mushrooms like coming back through the bark.
"Secondly, I drill holes and inoculate the logs with spawn. The spawn comes from the state of Washington and I get it by FedEx. It costs me $25 per five-pound bag and I get five bags." The final step, he says, is the incubation of the logs or so-called "fruiting" procedure. Mr. Ngoh says the earliest fruiting will occur six months after inoculation.
Mushrooms will sprout after the Shiitake fungus colonizes the log. Natural fruiting occurs under prolonged cool, moist conditions. Sometimes, Mr. Ngoh dunks the logs in huge plastic tubs of water to keep them moist.
Approximately 1,000 logs, uniformly stacked teepee style in 12 rows, form Mr. Ngoh's main area of operation under the shade of oaks, poplars and a few maples. A bedding of manure and compost forms the base of each log.
"You can get four years out of one log," he says. "I can harvest (mushrooms) three times a year, two months apart. The second year is usually the peak year.
"Shiitakes can keep up to two weeks (after harvest) refrigerated. Once they start to produce, you have to work fast. Time management is very, very important (when growing mushrooms)." Harvest usually continues from May through October or early November.
The Ngohs sell their Shiitakes for $8 to $12 a pound. They accept minimum orders of five pounds.
"We've had some restaurants ordering up to 20 pounds a week," Mrs. Ngoh says. "We deliver them in Styrofoam coolers, which keep them at about 40 degrees."
Jay Ebersole, the sous chef at The Rail Stop in The Plains, says the Ngohs produce a top-quality product.
"They're meaty and always fresh," Mr. Ebersole says. "We wanted to get local produce and found out about them when they visited the (Piedmont) Small Farm Festival last year at Archwood Green Barns."
Mr. Ebersole says he buys five to seven pounds of mushrooms each week from the Ngohs, paying $10 a pound.
Carol Ngoh says Shiitakes often have caps 5 inches in diameter.
Mr. Ngoh says a grade A Shiitake should be dark brown to tan when harvested, with a fan-shaped and wide cap.
Shiitakes provide a good source of protein, without the fat. Mr. Ngoh says they also can be used for medicinal purposes.
Mr. Ngoh says his farm remains a great place to grow Shiitakes because of thick forest and the heat and humidity Virginia offers.
The Ngohs juggle mushroom farming with raising four boys, ages 3 to 9.
"I do this (growing mushrooms) for fun, but it's hard work," says Mr. Ngoh, beaming with pride under the cover of a sweet cherry tree. "If I could (financially), this would be my full-time job."