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How to Inoculate a Log with Mushroom Plugs in 5 Simple Steps

Article and Photography by Jasmine A Koster

Oyster mushrooms, while a delicious and healthy culinary ingredient, can be spendy at the grocery store. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to grow, and because of the relationship between mushrooms and decay in the environment, can be a powerful ally to your garden’s abundant growth—no matter the scale.

Gabriel Gaul led a workshop at the Fourth Annual Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence on inoculating logs with oyster mushroom mycelium. I was thrilled for this workshop – the mycelium buzzed with electricity in my hands as I gazed in wonderment; the drill proved to be a competent ally; and I learned a practical skill for mycoremediation of  landscapes, building soil, and producing food at the same time. Want to do it yourself? Follow these simple instructions, with slight adaptations depending on your needs and supplies available.

What you Need:

  • Alder, maple, or birch log(s), excess branches removed
  • Surface to protect soil from spills
  • Drill or palm inoculator
  • Protective eyewear
  • Metal coffee can
  • Bee’s Wax or Non GMO Soy Wax
  • Brush
  • Oyster Mycelium Plugs
  • A couple of helpers

Instructions:

1) It’s possible to do this step yourself if you don’t have anyone to help, but it takes a bit more multitasking to do so. If you have a few people to help you, have one of them heat the wax in the coffee can over a protective surface. It’s important to keep an eye on it, and stir regularly.

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2) Drill holes with spacing of about two inches, with rows also spaced two inches. Aim for a diamond shape and drill slightly deeper than the length of your plugs.

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3) Using a rubber mallet, gently but firmly hammer the plugs into the holes. If you have a couple people on hand, one person can drill, while another person plugs.

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4) As each log is successfully plugged, hand it over to another person to paint the wax over the holes to seal. Don’t forget to seal the ends of the logs with wax, too. Sealing the ends protects the mycelium from other fungi getting into the open wounds and colonizing the log before the oysters can secure their stronghold over it.

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5) Now, wait for them to fruit, and then harvest. Depending on the season, the size of each log, how much moisture you have, and how fresh or decayed they are when you start, you could see mushrooms fruiting anywhere from within just a couple month’s time to up to five years. This is why we aimed for logs that were cut 6 months ago and were on the small side.

Some ideas for placement of your freshly inoculated logs:

Toss them in the woods willy nilly and let the mycelium gobble up all that dry, fallen wood that was previously just waiting to start a forest fire. Add some mulch (yard waste, cardboard, sawdust, non-invasive compost without seeds) to the forest, especially if it’s a monoculture and lacks in the debris these hungry mycelium process in high volume.

Ensure there is sufficient moisture in the environment (your garden, food forest, or forest) if it doesn’t rain frequently. Keep in mind that if you water, the mulch you’ve added will retain and store much of the water so you can space out your waterings and conserve water.

Stand them upright in your permaculture garden, partially buried, surrounded by wood chips, straw, cardboard, sticks and other logs that will become food for your hungry mushrooms.

Bury them in a mixture of soil, compost, wood chips, sticks, and other logs. Leave the ends poking out slightly. You’ll have created a hugelkulture.

If you can climate control your basement (high humidity, low light, cool temperature), enjoy oyster mushrooms throughout the winter time by growing them indoors.