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Adventures in Mushroom Cultivation

…In which I travel to the hinterlands for wood chips

woodchipmushroom5The directions say I need hardwood chips, a conifer/hardwood blend is acceptable, but plain conifer just won’t do. Unfortunately, the commercially available landscaping wood chips are coniferous, and I ain’t paying barbecue chip prices to feed it to the mycelium.

I’m trying to infect/seed/inoculate these wood chips with a fungus, a block of which arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. A square box of ideal proportions, say eight by eight by eight, held a clear plastic bag filled with a mess of white mycelium which had mostly decomposed a block of wood chips. I just had to find some more wood chips to feed it, so it will reward me with several harvests of Stropharia rugosoannulata, the Wine Cap, King Stropharia, or Garden Giant (a trademark name of the Washington business that sells the fungus, Fungi Perfecti). Well that’s the plan, but I’ve failed at this before.

King Stropharia (stropharia rugosoannulata) Spawn

And it’s taking some work. I found a couple of people offering hardwood chips on Craigslist. Well, one guy just had a picture of a felled Maple tree and a pile of wood chips with the caption:

Wood Chips and Fire Wood / Best Offer

There are more than what you see in the picture. Please Call or Text

And that was the one I went with. Of course he was out Division street a ways; everybody on Craigslist is either out Division street a ways or all the fucking way out in Tualitin. Nona’s school being closed for some absurd reason, I decided to head out right away.

The Burrito is a bit of a death trap, and I’m slightly ashamed every time I bring Cute Baby somewhere in it, but the people of Craigslist don’t usually judge. Maybe that’s because I’m usually judging them.

I was judging Markov pretty hard before I even met him. Markov was smart though, remodeling a beat- up, nondescript 60’s stick house on a triple lot just outside the perimeter of neighborhoods that Portland society folk consider socially acceptable. He looked to have gotten one of the last remaining deals in town. Then again, maybe the Bratva financed this transaction.

When we pulled up to his place it was raining, and after standing on the sad little stoop rapping at the door for five minutes, I decided he wasn’t around. I texted him and he just texts back: “2 mins.” So we stand out in the rain because the cab of the Burrito is way too small to be comfortable in. I have to tell Nona not to crawl though the shrubbery a half dozen times, and shudder to think what she might get into there. Is this really the place I should find the food of my food?

Markov, when I actually met him, was friendlier than I expected. Some people have Resting Bitch Face, Markov has the opposite of that. What he doesn’t have is a loader, or any time, so I have to shovel it myself. I reflect on this directly after I pay him ten dollars for the privilege of cleaning up his lawn.

He also doesn’t have a driveway to the wood chips, which are scattered in piles of various size and composition throughout the property. In fact, he doesn’t really even have a clear path to the backyard. He removes a section of privacy fence to allow me to drive though, and I look dubiously at the narrow opening between the house and the fence.

“You can make it,” Markov says, convincing me with his perpetual grin.

To make matters worse, there’s a decent-sized hillock of mud and debris partially blocking the path just past the gate, and a stack of oriented strand board leaning haphazardly against the house right there. The Burrito is not a big truck, otherwise it would be called The Burro.

But I’ve come this far, and I’ve already given him my ten dollars. So I bundle Nona into the truck and tell her to hold on, we’re going to have some fun.

Growing Mushrooms
The Path Out

Turns out Destination A/T’s are pretty good tires, too bad they stopped making them for 14-inch rims. Now I just have to avoid getting a flat in this scrapyard of a backyard. Markov shows me a coupe of piles of wood chips, points out sprinkler head he’d rather I not hit, and asks me what I’m doing with the chips. I tell him I’m growing mushrooms, and his eyes get big and his grin falls open a little wider.

“How do you grow mushrooms?”

And I explain the process:

  • choose a shady site,
  • dig out all the organic mater to get to the clay pan of subsoil,
  • dump and rake out two inches of hardwood chips,
  • broadcast the mushroom spawn over the wood chips,
  • cover with two more inches of wood chips,
  • keep moist, and
  • harvest mushrooms sometime between four and twelve months later.

Easy! Markov likes mushrooms, but didn’t know you could grow them. I’m charmed. I hope it’s not stupid to be charmed.

I don’t have to worry for very long, because Markov is leaving.

“I can trust you?” he asks.

Oh sweet relief!

“Oh yeah, I won’t mess with anything!” I beam, like a proud little duckling. And I get to work.
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