Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cultivating Mushrooms in the Adirondacks

I absolutely love mushrooms. They add real zest and excitement to all sorts of recipes. I’ve been cooking with them all of my adult life. They’re the perfect choice for hearty, intensely satisfying, really-good-for-you, low-calorie meals. Great if you’re watching your waistline!

It’s easy and fun to cultivate edible mushrooms using logs, stumps, or other mediums (i.e. straw, corn cobs), and the moist shade of your wooded property. Each mushroom variety offers its own unique, often nutty flavor. And they’re packed full of nutrients; things like B-vitamins, including riboflavin (an essential dietary nutrient which plays a major role in red blood cell formation and energy production, and strengthens the immune system), niacin (a digestive aid that can help maintain good blood circulation, healthy skin condition, and brain function), and pantothenic acid (one of the most versatile and flexible vitamins).

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin and Essex Counties invites you to attend a workshop on cultivation of shiitake and other specialty mushrooms for home or small farm-scale production on October 21.

Attendees will learn how to cultivate gourmet mushrooms at home. In fact, they’ll actually do it! The shiitake mushroom cultivation segment of this workshop will be a hands-on session in which participants will be given the opportunity to inoculate their own hardwood logs, which they’ll bring home. Each inoculated log will produce a harvest of fresh, delicious garden shiitake mushrooms for years to come.

Shiitakes are, perhaps, my favorite mushroom. They have a marvelous, robust texture; a stimulating yet mild, heady flavor (the Japanese have a word for it; umami – translation: pleasant savory taste), and they’re perfect, in many instances, as a meat substitute.

Besides being rich in B-vitamins, shiitakes are also very high in vitamin-D, which enhances metabolism and absorption of calcium and phosphorus (essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth). We receive Vitamin-D from sunlight, but in winter, it’s helpful to supplement our intake through food sources.

Note too, that lentinan, a water-soluble polysaccharide extracted from shiitake, is approved as an anti-cancer drug, in Japan.

The name. shiitaki, comes from the Japanese ‘shii’, which is the species of tree upon which they were first documented as growing, and ‘take’, which means mushroom. They’re native to East Asia and are treasured in China, Japan, and Korea. The Chinese call them Xiang-gu (Shiang-gu), fragrant mushrooms. The scientific name is Lentinula edodes.

Cornell University Emeritus Professor of Horticulture, Ken Mudge, will be our very special guest presenter for this Extension-sponsored event. Professor Mudge is co-author of the book ‘Farming the Woods’, which delves into forest ecology and how to cultivate, harvest, and market high-value non-timber forest crops in your forest. Professor Mudge describes forest farming as “an approach to forest management that combines some of the management practices of conventional forestry with those of farming or gardening (in order) to achieve an environmentally and economically sustainable land-use system.” He says that forest farming “is one of several related practices that fall under the domain of agroforestry; (which is) a multidisciplinary approach to agricultural production that achieves diverse, profitable, sustainable land use by integrating trees with non-timber forest crops.”

Almost all forest landowners view their land as a potential source of income from the sale of standing timber. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the harmful, long-term environmental and financial impacts that can come from poorly planned timber harvesting. They are also unaware of the many available income-producing opportunities that don’t compromise the quality of timber stands or put habitat, watershed, beauty, recreation, or the spiritual renewal that forests offer, at risk.

Releasing crop trees by thinning or removing low-grade and/or excess small diameter trees (culls) from timber stands has long been considered an important management practice for achieving healthy and sustainable forests and other ecosystem management objectives. But conventional hardwood markets have offered little or no economic incentive for the removal of low-quality hardwood trees. In fact, low-grade and small diameter trees are commonly left behind after a timber harvest, a practice known as high grading, which results in unproductive land, where a future return from saw timber can take a minimum of 50 – 75 years or more to realize.

On the other hand, a landowner who chooses to properly manage a timber stand by removing culls and releasing crop trees can use the removed material for shiitake mushroom production and generate ongoing profit from the sale of sustainably cultivated mushrooms. The result is short-term payback for long-term management of woodlots and private forest land.

The workshop will be held on Saturday, October 21 from 11 am to 2 pm, at the Cornell Uihlein Potato Farm; 181 Bear Cub Road; Lake Placid. Cost is $15/person; which includes handout materials an inoculated log to take home. Pre-registration is required by Oct. 18. Register online, or call (518) 483-7403. For more information contact Jessica Prosper; Agriculture Community Educator at (518) 483-7403 or email

Photo of Shiitake Mushrooms, courtesy Warren County Soil & Water.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

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