My wife and I have been sheltering from the pandemic at our vacation place on Goose Lake, in Adams County, Wisconsin, for over a month, where our nearest neighbors are 1/2 a mile away. We feel safer here as there have been only 4 reported COVID-19 cases, though sadly 1 death.
Twenty-eight years ago, we were fortunate enough to find this idyllic spot of virgin oak forest, wetlands and farmland. For the first decade, we camped while we saved our money to build our vacation home. We have contemplated retiring here, and sheltering here is giving us a preview of what that might look like.
Since much of our land is forested, early in our tenure here, I started growing shiitake mushrooms in oak logs that I cut. I have always purchased my spore plugs from Fungi Perfecti and in rainy years, as mushrooms thrive in moist environments, we have gotten some good crops.
But since we are usually only here about twice/month on the weekends, we are not able to water the shiitake inoculated logs regularly, and our harvests are sporadic. Accordingly, I have never inoculated more than 100 spore plugs at a time, and I usually do that about every 2-3 years, since the mushrooms take 6-18 months to emerge and the logs will usually last 3-5 years.
Now that we are living here full time, it made sense to start another shiitake crop. When I went to order them from Fungi Perfecti, they were out of their 100 spore plug size and the only option was to purchase 1,000 spore plugs. While it was nice that 10x the amount was only about 2.5x the price, I had some concern about the amount of work it would take to inoculate so many spore plugs, which requires drilling holes into logs as well as cutting the logs. But since the pandemic has given most of us more time, I went ahead and placed the order.
Normally, I inoculate oak logs with the shiitake spores. But my wife, Sheryl, mentioned that she has a patient who inoculated pine, and probably because the wood is soft, the mushrooms emerged much quicker, although the logs did not last as long.
Almost 20 years ago, I planted 2,500 spruce and pine on a very scrubby old piece of farmland on our property that was probably never very good farmland. It is along the road that leads to our house. Before I planted these 2-3 year old saplings, we had problems with snow drifts over our road. Rather than put in an ugly snow fence, I thought it made more sense to plant a forest as a wind break. Of course, it added tremendous environmental benefit as well.
The trees I planted have grown incredibly fast, and I have a hard time keeping up with thinning them every year to make room for better growth. I usually cut 15-20 trees every November and give a few away to friends who want them for x-mas trees.
Normally, I let the trees I cut dry for a year, and then I haul them back to our house to cut up and use for firewood. However, with 1,000 spore plugs to inoculate, I decided to use the spruce and pine logs I cut last November. So, I loaded them up on my trailer and hauled them back to our house.
Of course, these logs needed trimming. My son Josh helped me with some of the larger logs and he used a hatchet to trim many of the branches off the logs. I used a tree loppers and chain saw to trim off the rest.
While I have owned my tree loppers for many years and they have come in handy many times, I never paid much attention to the brand name on them until I started this project on Thursday. Who could have guessed that my tree loppers’ name would be so perfect for a pandemic?
I started inoculating logs on Thursday afternoon, and I think I finished about 1/3 of the 1,000 spore plugs before dark. My arm was sore and although I knew it would be challenging to finish the rest on Friday, I got back to work that morning hoping to finish before dark that night. Of course, I hoped that I had enough cut logs, but since I have never inoculated so many shiitake spores, I would not be sure until I finished.
The last step of inoculating the logs involves sealing the spore plugs with wax. I had leftover wax from previous inoculations, so I did not buy more. Unfortunately, with about 100 spore plugs left, I ran out of wax, so I finished the rest by melting Sabbath candles, which seems to work well enough.
It turns out that I was one log short of enough for all those spore plugs, so I used a recently cut oak log, that I was drying for fire wood to finish off the rest. As I got to the very last spore plug, both of the batteries on my portable drill were dead after numerous rechargings over the previous 2 days. Fortunately, I keep the old plug-in drill that my father bought for me just before I got married nearly 40 years ago, for back up, and I grabbed it to drill the last hole.
Here is the finished product with my shadow looming over the logs. If all goes well, we will have so many shiitake mushrooms this fall that we will have to dry many of them. If I have enough, maybe I will start a side business and sell some!
We all have our own ways of coping with this pandemic. None of us have ever experienced anything like this and some days are harder than others. For me, I have to find ways of staying productive and despite the muscle aches, the last two days have fulfilled that need for me.
There are many reasons why I like Fungi Perfecti. One quirky reason is that when they send you spore plugs, they include these stickers.
Most of us do not feel very beautiful during a pandemic. Even if we are healthy, many of us are letting our wardrobe and grooming slide into pajama casual. But deep down inside, every one of us is still beautiful. Keep reminding yourself of that when you are coping with the many challenges this pandemic brings with it. With the support of our friends, families and neighbors, and of course, health care providers and grocery store employees, we will get through this.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.