Farming the Forest at Coverdale Farm Preserve

by Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Preserve Manager

For 15 years Coverdale has raised livestock in our pastures & barns and grown acres of vegetables in our teaching gardens & CSA. Now we are reaching beyond the farm borders to the woodland to grow…..mushrooms!

Specifically, the delicious Pleurotus ostreatus. Pleurotus (“sideways”) ostreatus (“oyster”) come by their name honestly as the fruiting body grows in a sideways manner from the stem and forms a shell-like cap. These common wild mushrooms can be found growing in forests throughout the world in temperate to semi tropical climates.

Oyster mushrooms are in a class of fungi known as “saprophytes.” Saprophytic fungi (shiitake, oysters, lion’s mane, wine caps) are decomposers that scavenge dead organic matter for their nourishment. In the case of oysters this material is wood. But not just any wood will do, the oyster mushroom thrives in hardwoods like Tulip Poplar and Beech.

Tulip Poplar trees are a fast growing, native, “pioneer” species that can reach the perfect size for growing oyster mushrooms within 5 years, easily. At Coverdale we have a sustainable population to harvest, making oyster mushroom the ecologically sound choice.

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Back in March, Shaun Quinlan and I “planted” 38 totems of oyster mushrooms in the woodland above the Coverdale Farm Preserve pond. The substrate, or wood, must be harvested prior to budding out making March prime-time mushroom planting season! The mycelium, the vegetative part of fungus, was delivered to us in blocks of saw dust where it had colonized. We selected a location deep within the woods that would provide good shade come summer and set wooden pallets down to raise our totems off the ground.

Photo by Michele Wales

Then, down to business matching two like-sized sections of 1’ tall rounds of the poplar tree to form totems.

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once the matching game was completed, we sandwiched a thick layer of sawdust spawn between the two rounds of poplar. The top of the totem had a small “cookie” cut from it to afford one more layer of mycelium.

Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Once all totems were planted, we covered each stack with a paper lawn bag. This will ensure the moisture level of the wood to remain high, protect the totem from competitive fungi, and ensure darkness during the incubation period known as the “spawn run.” This very important time, which can last 12 – 18 months for oyster mushrooms is the critical stretch when the mycelium begins to colonize the poplar. We will check on these totems periodically throughout the next 6 – 12 months to make certain we are maintaining the proper growing conditions for this experimental new crop.

oyster planting 17 2015
Photo by Shaun Quinlan

Stay tuned for the next installment in the wood-grown mushroom trials. We highlight the bio-control we are preparing for and will be employing to combat public enemy #1 of the mushroom, the mighty slug. Any guesses?

Come visit us and join in the farm fun each and every Saturday from 9:00am – 4:00pm. Meet our awesome staff, tour the CSA fields, visit the farmyard to see our resident livestock, stop in our welcome barn to shop for farm grown vegetable plants, a dozen fresh Eggmobile eggs and pick up the new Coverdale Farm Preserve canvas grocery bag to carry your goods home. Fresh vegetables will be coming soon to the welcome barn!

2 thoughts on “Farming the Forest at Coverdale Farm Preserve”

  1. You have some really nice indigenous Laetiporus sulphureus (chicken of the woods) growing on oak around Coverdale. Any plans on having a crack at cultivating? I may be willing to lend a hand with any mycology projects you have.

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