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2012 – 2015: Forest Cultivation of three Mushroom Species for the Northeast

One of the challenges for commercialization of any emerging farm commodity is the economic vulnerability associated with dependence on a single crop. Inevitably, profitability for the farmer fluctuates from yearly because of variation in supply, in consumer demand, and other marketing factors.

In the case of forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms, diversification to include several different mushroom species would stabilize the supply of forest grown mushrooms, provide farmers with a more reliable source of income, and contribute to rural economic development. Several candidate mushroom species include lion’s mane (Hericium spp.), maitake (Griffola frondosa), and winecap stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata).

None of these are produced on a commercial scale as forest farming crops, because reliable production and/or marketing strategies have not been developed. Our the past 3 years we have developed an efficient method for cultivating lion’s mane mushrooms (Grace, Mudge and Brinkman, 2011) but marketing has yet to be addressed. Both production and marketing research is needed to pave the way for reliable production and marketing of lion’s mane, stropharia, and maitake.

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2011 – 2014: Maximizing Log Based Shiitake Production by Determining Optimal Fruiting Conditions

Nicholas Laskovski, owner/founder of Dana Forest Farm and Bridgett Jamison, Graduate Student at UVM collaborated to perform on-farm research at Dana Forest Farm in Waitsfield, VT between the years of 2011 and 2014. The research goal was to (1) determine optimal fruiting times and soaking conditions for the Northeastern production of log-based shiitake mushroom cultivation (2) test alternative methods for determine log moisture content and (3) determine the viability of using a non-destructive pH indicator to estimate mycelium colonization. Ultimately, our goal was to determine conditions which would increase shiitake yields whilst determining a organized approach to better manage shiitake production.

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2012- 2014 Integrating Ducks into Log-Grown Shiitake Production for Slug Control and Added Yields

The goal of this project was to integrate ducks into a mushroom agroforestry crop to compare ecological and cultural benefits as well as another profit stream. This season has been filled with many lessons and brings into question the many challenges of researching integrated agriculture systems, specifically, bringing ducks into an agroforesty system (mushroom production) and trying to collect meaningful data. The research thus far has certainly provided some useful conclusion but has mostly served to offer more questions then answers about the realities and promising features of stacked agricultural ecosystems.

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2010 – 2012: Cultivation of Shiitake Mushrooms as an Agroforestry Crop for New England – NE SARE

Grant Link2010 Annual Report2011 Annual Report2012 Annual Report

Forest farming of shiitake mushrooms is an agroforestry practice that increases crop diversity while providing diversified income for farmers and other forest owners. Previous SARE projects involving shiitake mushroom production were farmer grants focused on a single farm, whereas this project will impact multiple farmers. Shiitake mushrooms are grown on fresh cut pole-sized logs which may be obtained from thinning as part of sustainable forest management. They begin producing mushrooms after one year and continue producing for up to 5 years. Three farmer advisers who are mushroom growers, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Cornell University’s Arnot Forest will lead education and research activities.
Key elements in workshops conducted by this project include: tree acquisition (forest management), hands-on learning of essential skills, site visits to growers and guidance in development of a 5 year enterprise plan. Farms will initiate their plan by inoculating 100 logs on their own forest , and mushroom harvest will begin one year later. The NE Forest Mushroom Cultivator’s Network will be used to foster communication among experienced and novice growers, and to disseminate research results and other information including a research-derived Best Management Practices fact publication resulting from this project.

Performance Target: Each of 20 farm woodlot owners will inoculate 100 logs in 2011 and harvest 100 pounds of shiitake mushrooms by 2012, earning $1200.

Video from UVM about the project:

2005 – 2011: Gourmet and Medicinal Mushroom Production for Forest Farming in the Northeast

This research was supported (entirely or in part) by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station federal formula funds, Project No. NYC 145487, received from Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our research project was funded by a Hatch grant (2005-2008), and from a MacIntire-Stennis grant from 2008-2011.

In our research over the past 3 years, we are attempting to answer three main questions:

  • What are the best, and what are acceptable alternative substrate tree species?
  • Do fungal strains isolated from local mushrooms outperform commercial strains isolated elsewhere?
  • Which cultivation system (logs, woodchips, totems) is most likely to succeed for any given species?

The project title, Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms for Forest Farming in the Northeast, reflects our agroforestry (forest farming) orientation, and explains why we have not concerned ourselves with the widespread commercial practice of intensive indoor mushroom cultivation on sawdust, etc.

Key questions for anyone contemplating growing specialty forest mushrooms are How When and Why to do so. The How includes several considerations including substrate trees (logs or woodchips, etc.), what kind and source of spawn to inoculate logs with, how to inoculate, and how to manage the inoculated logs before and after they begin fruiting (producing mushrooms). The When includes what time of year to commence logging, i.e. cut down live substrate trees, and then when to inoculate them. The Why has to do with what you expect to get out of mushroom growing. Hobby? Secondary income? Full time business?

There is abundant conventional wisdom in books, guides, web sites, and word of mouth about the answers to these questions, particularly for shiitake (see our Library section). It behooves us all to be open to learning from the experience of other forest mushroom growers, which who are usually the origin of what eventually becomes “conventional wisdom”. Nonetheless it is sometimes the case that conventional wisdom is not necessarily the best advice to follow under all circumstances.

In the case of mushroom cultivation, our experience has been that much of the conventional wisdom is conflicting from one source to another, and nearly all of it is anecdotal, rather than being based of controlled experimental research. That’s not necessarily the best path either. It depends on the circumstances. There is no doubt that much, but not all, of the conventional wisdom would be substantiated by appropriate experimentation, but even so, it would be helpful for novice and experienced growers to know what degree of latitude exists. For example in the Northeast oaks are generally considered the best substrate logs, but if a grower doesn’t have affordable access to oak, what other species are acceptable alternatives, and how much is sacrificed by using them?

We started our research projects to begin gathering data to answer these questions more fully.

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