HARVEY - If neighbors ask you why several logs are arranged in tepee fashion in a shady spot in your background, tell them you're not building a camp fire, you're building sustainability.
Well, that might be too heavy-handed an explanation, but it's not too far from the truth if you're growing mushrooms on the logs to put food on the table.
The husband-and-wife team of Matt Manders and Lynette Potvin run Superior Skills, LLC, based in the Houghton area, which offers workshops that emphasize self-reliance skills.
Matt Manders of Superior Skills, LLC demonstrates how to make a shiitake mushroom log during a recent workshop in Harvey. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)
Last Sunday at the Cherry Creek Farm, they conducted several workshops that focused on growing shiitake mushrooms on logs.
"We're trying to give the best advice for things we're familiar with, but we subscribe by 'eat whole local foods, a variety of things,' so that fits into that," Manders said.
Participants "inoculated" pre-cut sugar maple logs - which had alternately spaced holes already drilled into them - with mushroom spawn.
The goal is to get the mycelium (the root system of the mushroom) to colonize the log so the more complete the inoculation, the more likely it will take in the log and produce mushrooms, Manders said.
"There are different strains of shiitake mushrooms that you can use," Manders said, "and this one's called a 'wide range.' What that means is that it'll produce under a wide range of weather conditions."
(The mushroom spores used at the workshop were obtained from FieldAndForest.net, he said.)
The spawn-substrate mixture is filled to the top of the holes, which then are sealed with hot wax. Also, should a strange fungus emerge from a log, Manders cautioned against eating it.
In that vein, Manders said people should be careful when looking for mushrooms in the wild.
"The point I'm trying to make is you shouldn't eat a mushroom you can't identify," Manders said, "and shiitake mushrooms are tasty and safe to eat."
These particular mushrooms, he explained, are from Asia, but are not invasive.
"The mushroom produces spores that can colonize other wood, but most people cultivate them, like we're doing here," Manders said.
Spring is the best time to start a shiitake mushroom log, he noted, considering it's the best time to cut logs because the majority of nutrients in the tree and the moisture content are high.
"Usually it takes a about a year from inoculation, so next spring you should expect some production," Manders said. "Some folks have gotten it that first fall, and some folks, it takes a couple of years."
Logs should be kept in a shady environment, he said, and soaked every couple of weeks. Also, the logs should be kept off the ground or put in a tepee fashion, for example, so other mushrooms can't colonize them.
Even if the logs produce year after year, they have a limited life span. Shiitakes are wood-decay mushrooms, Potvin pointed out.
"And so that's the reason why your logs can last only a certain amount of time," Potvin said, "because the spawn is continually taking that resource from the plant. It's degrading the cellulose, or whatever the composition of the wood is, and so after a while food runs out, and the fungus dies or the log will rot away."
The life expectancy of a mushroom-producing log, she said, typically is five to 10 years.
Even though the logs won't last forever, some people believe growing local food is worth it.
Connie Middleton of Marquette, who moved from a farm in Gaylord, was one of the Sunday workshop participants.
"I just really feel that food can heal you if you're eating the right stuff," Middleton said.
Middleton said she likes to know what she's eating, and that it's not processed food.
Maintaining shiitake mushroom logs fits into this philosophy.
"You can do it anywhere," Middleton said. "You don't need an 80-acre farm."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.