Homestead Junction

Mushrooms, Mushrooms Everywhere! October 21, 2015 06:00 1 Comment

Walking around the city, we've been noticing a bunch of mushrooms popping up this fall. Wanting to learn a bit more about them, we asked local expert mycologist Paul Kroeger to take us on a mushroom tour of the neighbourhood. Paul agreed and took us along some city blocks surrounding our store in East Van. We went from Strathcona and walking toward Chinatown by cutting through Strathcona gardens.

Paul Kroeger - Vancouver Mycologist
Paul Kroeger, Vancouver Mycologist

Walking past MacLean Park, it was quite interesting and not surprising to hear that some of the trees that line the city have been imported from pretty far away. For those who know a bit about fungi, you might realize when transplanting trees, the tree is not the only thing you'll be taking with you. This is because there are fungi (among other organisms) that live symbiotically with trees and plants, passing them water and nutrients and receiving plant sugars in return. Pretty much every tree and plant that has been studied have either or both mycorrhizal and endophytic fungi living either at their roots ("myco" stemming from the latin word mykēs meaning fungus - and rhiza, meaning rhizome or root), or within the plant itself (endo meaning within, and phyte as in plant). Knowing this, you might not be surprised that 45 years ago (this is about the time when scientists finally took fungi out of the plant kingdom and gave them their own kingdom fungi), when the city brought in hornbeam trees from California - the trees didn't come on their own.

We learned that Hornbeam trees - Carpinus betulus - have a symbiotic relationship with a mycorrhizal fungi called Amanita phalloides otherwise known as the death cap. Since 2004, folks have been seeing these deadly poisonous fungi pop up around Vancouver. Paul noted that it's most probable that the fungi have been living at the roots of these hornbeam trees since their move here, but we've only started seeing the mushrooms come up recently because they can only fruit when their tree hits full maturity. We checked under the hornbeam trees that line MacLean Park, but there were no death caps fruiting yet. Nonetheless, this was definitely a good lesson that even though there are very few deadly poisonous mushroom species in North America, they are around and they can also look like other yummy mushrooms. So, it is really important to know your mushrooms before eating them!

Hornbeam Tree by MacLean ParkMature Hornbeam trees line MacLean Park in Strathcona

 Our walk took us on a journey learning about mushroom identification, and several common species growing locally. Paul spoke of a few identifying features to look for in a mushroom, including whether or not they have gills, the shape of their caps and stems, how delicate they are, and what they smell like. 

Mushroom GillsThis little gilled one smells a lot like salmon!

 If you're around Strathcona a bit, particularly in the areas along Princess and Adanac, you might have seen mushrooms like this one growing wildly in groups along boulevards or in lawns:

Brown russula growing on Prior and Heatly

Mushrooms of the same family can have totally different traits while still looking incredibly similar. Boletes for example can have either pores, tubes, or gills under their caps!

The blue spots on this bolete are impressions marks and age spots

Often times, characteristics can even be masked or unveiled with age. It's really common to miss hiding stems or veils on young mushrooms. Older mushrooms can also change drastically from their younger selves. For example, as inky caps get older, they start to dissolve and drip into black ink. For this reason, it's really great practice to get to know mushrooms at all stages of their fruiting lives.

New and Old If you can believe it, these two mushrooms are the same species!

Some delicious edible mushrooms can grow in suitable spots in your garden. This shaggy parasol is super good to eat, and also likes to grow from compost! An important point to note is that the shaggy parasol has a doppelganger called Chlorophyllum molybdites responsible for the most mushroom poisonings in North America! In this case, a simple way to double check if you have the right mushroom is by doing a spore print. Leave the mushroom cap gills facing down on a white piece of paper over the course of several hours. If the spore print comes out white, you are good to go. If they are green, you can appreciate the mushroom's prettiness but don't eat it - it's poisonous!

Shaggy Parasol
Shaggy Parasol hiding in Strathcona Community Gardens

A few feet away from the Shaggy Parasol growing from soil was this little deadly lepiota. Again, it is a good reminder to know your mushroom species, and be very careful of what you are picking because you don't want to end up eating a poisonous mushroom by mistake!

Deadly LepiotaDeadly Lepiota growing Strathcona Community Gardens

Another good thing to learn when identifying fungi is what they like to grow on or with. For example, all pine trees depend on mycorrhizal fungi to survive and thrive. When they die, primary decomposers eat them and break them down. When you learn to identify trees, you can learn about the relationships they likely have with other species. Then you can make some pretty good educated guesses about what kind of mushroom is growing where, or where to look to find specific kinds of mushrooms.

 5 Needle Pine Tree By Union Market5 Needle Pine Tree by Union Market 

 Of course, deadly poisonous and edible mushrooms are not the only types of mushrooms that exist. All along Princess Ave south of Adanac we found the legendary Amanita muscaria commonly known as the Fly Agaric mushroom. This mushroom can be toxic, but has also been consumed by many cultures all over the world in ceremony as a psychoactive. In Strathcona and all over East Vancouver, this mushroom is all over the place! In David Aurora's field guide All That the Rain Promises and More... it suggests this red and white amanita to be the inspiration of Santa Claus and the flying reindeers. In Northern Europe, reindeers have grazed (and probably still do) on the hallucinogenic fly agaric. So there you have it, flying reindeers!

Fly Agaric - Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria popping up along Princess Ave.

There was a lot to learn in the few short hours we spent on this walk, huddling together to pass and sniff at different mushrooms growing in abundance in the city. More than for identification and edibility, mushrooms are short windows we can look into for a hint about the thousands of relationships that exist beneath our feet, even when it seems like we're just walking on concrete. 


by Kelsey Cham Corbett
October 21st, 2016

Mushroom Logs -The Stuffing Method (No Dowels!) October 06, 2015 06:00 1 Comment

Last week, we were honored to have mushroom cultivator, soil enthusiast, and permaculture food producer Danielle Stevenson of D.I.Y Fungi in to teach a 3 day mushroom cultivation course/workshop series. She focused on low-tech skills to grow mushrooms from easy to access materials - like grains, straw, cardboard, and household waste - to teach folks how they can grow mushrooms all year around.

Danielle's Palm Inoculator

For Sunday's outdoor mushroom cultivation workshop, we learned some low-tech skills to grow mushrooms outside. She showed us an alternative method to growing mushrooms out of logs that doesn't require dowels (log-specific mushroom plugs that can be harder to access and more expensive to purchase).   

So before I go into it, here are some things you'll need:

-Fresh hardwood logs: between 2 weeks and 3 months old and 4"-6" in diameter. If they have been felled for less than two weeks, your log may still be acting as if it were alive and push out fungi or bacteria. If it's older than 3 months, it is very likely that it is already populated with too many bacteria, fungi, and and/or mold to compete with. Different mushroom species prefer different food sources (just like people), so it's a good practice to look up which tree species work best with the mushroom you want to grow. We used oak for reishi and shiitake, plum for reishi, and cottonwood for oyster - all of which we scavenged from the windstorm last month. Alder and Maple are also really great hardwoods that works for many species. 

-Spawn: You can use several types fairly mature mushroom spawn that works with the logs you have (if it's fully eaten it's food and the spawn bag is looking pretty white with mycelium, it will be totally fine to transfer to a new substrate - aka food). Like people, fungi like diversity in their diet and don't like to eat the same thing all the time. It's good to change up its food sources. So if you have some fungi growing on and eating coffee grounds, bits of straw, sawdust - anything other than grain spawn, which will attract rats and pests (yum, it's pretty much tempeh!) - as long as you can get bits of it to fit into small pinky sized holes you're probably good to go.

-Alcohol OR Hand Sanitizer: It's really important to remember we have TONS of living organisms we can't see on our hands. These little guys can be a real burden to the fungi we want to grow for food and medicine, so it's really important we keep our hands sanitized. A cheap way to do this is to keep rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle, which you can then use for your hands, plus any other surfaces that you or your fungal friends might come into contact with. On this note, it's important to remember we also have a ton of micro-buddies living in our mouths, and so it's best to practice not to be breathing into your bags of spawn, or talking too much while handling your spawn. 

-Palm Inoculator OR Nitrile Gloves (Optional): You can get a palm inoculator online for about $40-50. It essentially sucks up the sawdust spawn and then you can pop it right into the holes in the logs in a more sanitary way (rather than using your hands which is touching everything from the spawn bag to the logs themselves). However, you can also experiment with just using nitrile gloves, or really good sanitizing practices - keeping your hands really clean and avoiding touching too many surfaces.

-Drill: You want a pretty powerful drill with good battery life, or a really long extension cord. The bit size should be on the bigger size, about the size of a pinky finger (like a pinky finger, the size doesn't need to be exact). 

-Beeswax + Pot + Stove: You want to melt some beeswax to seal and protect your logs from other microorganisms that may out-compete your fungi culture. 

-Sponge, Paintbrush OR cardboard: To brush beeswax onto your log with

-Big Piece of Cardboard: For your finished log to sit on. Some mushrooms species we grow are native to this climate, like the oyster mushroom pleurotus ostreatus. But some species we want to grow for food and medicine are not from here and are don't connect well with other bacteria and fungi. So to lessen your odds of contamination, you can put your log(s) on a piece of cardboard. 

-Friends! This method is easiest to do when there are at least 3 people working together. 1 person to drill, 1 person to plug, and 1 person to follow with the beeswax.


 The Steps:

1. Drill Holes: Again, these should be about the size of your pinky, and two knuckles deep. You can wrap tape around your drill bit to mark the maximum depth you want to drill into (a drill stop).  Drill holes about 1 to 1 and a half fist distances apart all along the log on all sides of the log. The holes can be drilled in a diamond or checkered pattern.Drilling Mushroom Holes

2. Stuff Holes with Mushroom Spawn: One of the benefits of sawdust, grain, or coffee ground spawn is that they have a higher ratios of mycelium than a dowel plug which may increase your chances of success. Spray alcohol on to your palm inoculator, hands, and/or whatever makeshift items you can think of (we tried stuffing small funnels to insert into the drill holes, and then poking the spawn out with a stick. We also tried using a large modified syringe. Neither worked as well as using our hands.) Carefully stuff the holes with spawn. If you are using multiple mushroom species and/or cultures, remember to disinfect your hands and tools before moving on to a new species. Different strains of mushroom cultures will also have a tough (nearly impossible?) time growing on the same food source - even if they are the species.

Stuffing Logs with Sawdust Spawn

3. Seal with Beeswax: While your friends are drilling and stuffing, melt some beeswax in a pot. Some folks say to use a double boiler to avoid burning the wax, but you can use a single pot as long as you are mindful of the temperature. When the wax is melted, use either a sponge, paint brush, or some cardboard to seal the already stuffed holes with beeswax. This will help keep competitors out. On this note, it is also important to seal off any major exposed wounds or scrapes on your log where bark has been torn away. Dipping Into the Beeswax

4. Seal the Base of the Log with Beeswax: After all of the holes have been drilled, stuffed, and sealed, seal the end of your log by dipping it into your pot of beeswax. Only seal off one end so moisture can still get in. The unsealed end will also be an indicator of successful myceliation in the future.

4. Place your logs!

For Shiitake and Oyster Logs: The logs are best placed outside in a  shady and naturally moist location. Logs can be placed horizontally on pallets, cinder blocks or even cardboard if it's all you have, off the ground to prevent competition from soil dwelling fungi. 6-9 months after inoculation, you should see white at the ends of the logs. Once you see this, you can stack them "log cabin" style for fruiting.

Lion's Mane and Maitake: After 6-9 months, once you see white at the ends of the logs, bury about a quarter to a third way upright in the soil in a shady moist location.

For Reishi: Bury upright in sand in a black planter pot. Reishi like more heat and does well in greenhouses. Just make sure they don't dry out!

Buried Logs (done with Fungi for the People in Oregon)

(Some fungi are social and like to interact with native soil dwelling species. In some of these cases one option is to semi-bury your logs)

5. Many Days of Moisture: Just like humans, mushrooms are made up mostly of water so it's very important after inoculation to keep your logs moist! Water 2-3 times a week and do not let them dry out. It takes about 6 months to a year for mushrooms to fruit for Shiitake, Oyster and Lion's Mane, Maitake and reishi can take even longer, so it's really important not to forget about your logs during this process and make sure they maintain moisture.

6. Grow Mushrooms! If all goes well, watch your mushrooms fruit! If you can see mycelium (that white stuff growing in a net-like pattern) growing at the end of your log, and the timing is right according to the mushroom (blue oyster is winter fruiting for example), but still no signs of fruiting mushrooms, soak your logs! You can force fruit logs by completely soaking them in water for 12-24 hours every five weeks. Your logs should produce for about 1 year per inch in diameter (so about 4-6 years). Shiitake and oyster will fruit multiple times a year, and Lion's Mane about once a year. 

Enjoy y'all! And thanks Danielle for the tips! 


by Kelsey Cham Corbett
October 6th, 2016


Mushroom Cultivation - a Workshop in Photos and Its Aftermath March 21, 2013 15:24 1 Comment

It's often difficult to express to people just how great Scott's workshops are, so I made a point of taking some photos this time around.  I didn't get photos of everything, but this should give an idea of what kind of fun we got up to.  And if you make it to the end, you'll find sequential photos of oyster mushroom mycelium devouring straw and coffee grounds.

 2013-03-09 15.49.57
we had a pretty good group for a crummy day

 Getting ready.  You can see most of the elements of the workshop here: straw on the left, wood chips center bottom, a bag of soon-to-be inoculated coffee grounds and spawn bags just in front of the wood chips, alder logs in the lower right corner, and of course the delightful attendees!

 2013-03-09 16.07.11
Media for inoculation

 Cotton pillowcases packed with straw, waiting to get soaked in almost-boiling water for an hour each.  Some of these logs have already been inoculated with shiitake dowel spawn; you can see the telltale dots of green seal'n'heal covering the holes.

 2013-03-09 16.05.44
Scott dispensing a nugget of fungal wisdom

 Scott poses with the steel drum he uses to soak the straw bags.  It takes a good propane burner to heat the water to just under boiling - hot enough to sanitize the straw and soften it a bit to prepare it for inoculation. 

 2013-03-09 16.57.26
This is the same oyster mushroom kit we sell at Homesteader's, about to be repurposed as an inoculant.  Many of you have asked if it's possible to propagate these kits to grow on a larger quantity of substrate, and to date my best answer has been a hesitant "I think so."  Well, now I can emphatically state YES.

 Once the pillowcase of straw has cooled enough to handle, we alternated stuffing a handful of straw and a handful of kit material (inoculated red alder sawdust) into a bag.  Packing the straw loosely at first allows the sawdust and straw to mix more evenly.  Note the gloves - we sprayed down with denatured alcohol to keep the process clean.

 2013-03-09 17.37.35
a prepared straw grow bag

 Only once the bag is mostly full is it time to really pack it down, then burp out most of the air and securely close the top.  If you had to set the bag down while packing it, spray it with alcohol to clean it, then air dry before punching 20-30 holes in the sides of the bag.  These will provide air flow to the growing mycelium and allow the mushrooms to fruit.

 2013-03-21 14.28.04
note the moisture inside

 Finally, place this bag into a larger bag to keep it clean and humid.  The top of the larger bag can drape loosely to allow air flow while retaining moisture.   This photo was taken about 10 days after the workshop - note the thick white patch of mycelium in the bottom right beginning to colonize the straw.  Ultimately the goal is to get mushrooms to grow right here in the bag.

 2013-03-18 16.07.19
dowel plug spawn


I forgot to take photos during the log inoculation, but gist was: start with fresh hardwood logs, clean off anything already growing on them, drill 21/64 diameter holes just deep enough for the dowel plugs, press the plugs in with minimal force (they should go in at least 1/4 of the way just by pressing by hand, otherwise the hole is too tight) then seal the plugs and any other breaks in the bark with seal-n-heal or beeswax.  We drilled holes spaced 3" apart in rows - one row for each inch of log diameter.

 2013-03-21 13.59.50
oyster spawn valiantly attacking coffee grounds

 These are coffee grounds we inoculated during the workshop using some of Scott's millet spawn.  These came from a nearby Starbucks - many coffee shops are happy to provide coffee grounds free of charge in whatever quantity you're willing to take.  All that white is mycelium, and the mass of coffee grounds has taken on the spongy texture typical of an oyster mushroom mycelium mass.  There's not much here- probably only a few cups of coffee grounds and not enough to get it to fruit directly - so the plan is to use this to inoculate a larger batch of coffee grounds.  Perhaps sometime I'll stop by a coffee shop to beg some off them, but for now I'm collecting the grounds from my morning coffee in the freezer. I didn't get any photos of the wood chips we inoculated, but I'll keep an eye on them and throw up some pics if they start doing anything impressive.  The idea here is similar to the coffee shown above: start with a small mass of wood chips, colonize them thoroughly with oyster mushroom mycelium, then use them to inoculate a larger bed in an outdoor trench.


Got a few photos of the activity of the various mushroom growth media in the weeks following the workshop. First, the straw! You'll recall this straw was steeped in near-boiling water for an hour, then drained and mixed up with sawdust spawn from a mushroom kit.

 2013-03-21 14.28.04
starting to grow! (look carefully)

 This photo, taken ten days or so after the workshop, shows the mycelium starting to colonize the straw. See that patch of white in the lower corner of the bag? That's mycelium!

 2013-04-11 14.49.03
fully colonized straw

 A few weeks later, the mycelium has fully colonized the straw. In the photo it's hard to distinguish from condensation, but if you stop by the store I'll be happy to show you in person! Now the idea is that oyster mushrooms will pop right out of this bag. I'll keep an eye on it and try to get some pictures when there's some action! Wood Chips Spawn Everybody took home a small amount of wood chips inoculated with oyster mushroom spawn grown on millet. Mine didn't take very well - I'd had to run inside during that part of the workshop, so I don't know if the wood chips I got were prepared correctly. Anyway, they still just look like wood chips after a couple weeks, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

 2013-03-24 13.11.26
mixed hardwood chips, well soaked

 Here are the leftover wood chips from the workshop. It's probably five gallons worth. I understand these chips to be mixed hardwood, bark and all, from a local arborist.

 2013-03-24 13.12.04
a spent oyster mushroom kit

 This is one of Scott's oyster mushroom kits that's already produced a flush of mushrooms. The mycelium in here is still very much alive, so we're using it for an inoculant.

 2013-03-24 13.12.29
adding the kit, er I mean spawn

 Breaking up the sawdust. It comes in a block in the kit, so we break it up by palpating the bag. It's OK to stick your hand in, but wash your hands well beforehand or use gloves to minimize contamination.

 2013-03-24 13.13.17
more spawn

 Here's all the sawdust spawn and mycelium from the bag, broken up. It's probably a 1:10 ratio of spawn to wood chips.

 2013-03-24 13.14.56
all mixed up

 The wood chips and sawdust spawn all mixed together! This photo was taken about a week after inoculation. The mycelium has just started to colonize the wood chips. This plastic tote has lots of extra room and a lid that snaps on but isn't air tight- perfect for the mycelium that needs moisture kept in but a little air flow.

 2013-04-11 14.48.46
white mycelium! good news!

 After about a month, the wood chips are well colonized! These are probably ready to move to an outdoor chip bed. Sorry for the photo quality!

Coffee Grounds

 2013-03-26 10.41.00
filter coffee savings from the freezer

 We left off above with the small bag of Starbucks espresso grounds well colonized. The next step is to inoculate a larger batch of coffee to try to get enough mycelium growing to actually produce some mushrooms. This is a bag with about a gallon of grounds used to make drip coffee, filters and all. It took me about a month to save these in my freezer.

 2013-03-28 17.32.22
slow growth after the second inoculation

 I broke off about half the "starter" bag and mixed it up with the grounds I'd frozen. This is about a week an a half in. The colonization was much slower than the first step. The photo doesn't show it well, but I think the problem was contamination - it looked like there might be some mold growing in competition with the oyster mycelium.

 2013-04-11 14.48.22

 A week or two later, the oyster mycelium has triumphed! It's eaten whatever other microbes were present on the frozen coffee and has fully colonized the bag, giving it a whitish color. This may still not be a large enough mass to obtain mushrooms - perhaps now I'll take Scott's advice and visit a coffee shop for fresh brewed grounds. That's all for now!