We're having a real El Nino winter out here: 50 degree days, 35 degree nights, weird cold/warm fronts, high winds and tempestuous rains when they come. Spring plants and tree budding are already active and it's got me wondering whether I should inoculate.
I have lion's mane sawdust, reishi dowels, shiitake dowels and winecap sawdust. They should keep up to 6 mos in the fridge, according to Field & Forest. I bought them thinking fall was the time to inoculate, then read some info saying wait til spring, and now am wondering what I should do: wait til spring, or move ahead with any of the above? Methods are not the concern, F&F provides great directions, but timing.
I have about 9 months worth of serious mushroom farming under my belt, so I will give you by best guess as to what will happen--Nothing. I think that the spawn will sit there in their substrate and wait. If you are lucky, the odd weather (I live half way across the country, but your weather description sounds like a replay of my last month) will prevail and the little fungi will start to do their magic. I doubt you will have any major colonization by the start of spring, the normal time for spreading all that wonderful spawn, but you will have one great big advantage--you will have done it already. And with any luck at all, the newly added fungus will just be starting to do some of its magic, meaning spread, by the time the calendar turns to the time when you are told to inoculate. With luck, this means that you will have better colonization than if you waited.
I say that this is what I think will happen. Truth is, I am making an educated guess. I highly doubt that even if winter returns in earnest that anything bad will happen--the fungus will simply stop their growth. Again, I don't know this for certain, but I am pretty certain that is what will happen in the wild anyway--growth comes in fits and starts.
As I said, I have been working on this for the last 9 months, and I have put in a lot of effort--and learned a lot along the way. I noticed that at the beginning of December, my "chip bed" still looked like a bunch of dark colored wood chips. 3 weeks later, with nearly daily temperatures getting into the 50s, rarely freezing, and rain, rain, more rain, then rain, and you get the idea, the bed has visibly decayed in just week's time. In fact, it is visibly more decayed today than it was one week ago. My point is that in the middle of winter, I plainly have fungal growth breaking down my woodchips into compost (which, by the way, is my intended goal--mushroom compost. The Wine Cap mushrooms will merely be a bonus.
If you are like me, I would recommend getting a bit of bacterial action going in your piles as well
You might want to wait for another respondent who could confirm/deny my thoughts that the spawn will be unharmed if winter temperatures come back, but even if you go crazy and just do it, I strongly suggest you lay straw or some type of "mulch" over your substrate to buffer the temperatures a bit.
It is good to know that there are others out there trying some of the same experiments I am. Let me know how your project progresses.
I thought I would share two pictures of roughly the same spot, but taken about 6 months apart. I spread the wine cap spawn about April 10. The first picture is taken about June 30. The second picture is taken about January 1. The pictures don't do justice to the amount of decomposition actually taking place. I really wish I had taken some decent pictures of the mulch bed around December 1. At about that time, the chip bed was definitely darker than in June, but the chips still looked like a bunch of individual chips, each of which was still fairly sturdy and if I pressed my finger into the surface of the bed, it resisted. One month later, the change is dramatic. We have had 3-4 weeks of relatively warm, very wet weather with hardly any sun. By about January 1, the chip bed no longer looked like a bed of chips as much as it looked like a bed of peat moss. Today, a mere week later, it is visibly more broken down than it was only 7 days ago. I am rather amazed at how well the fungi must be growing in the bed and breaking down the chips. Even the larger chips that still somewhat like a wood chip, are definitely soft, dark, and spongy.
Clearly the fungi in the chip bed is at work, doing its thing. They are doing it during the winter, the time it normally is relatively dormant. I don't know what exactly is in store for your section of the country, but can you find a long-term forecast for your area? If it shows more relatively warm weather, then maybe it is a good time to set out the spawn and let it get just a little bit established even before spring arrives in force. You will have the advantage of having the spawn in the medium, probably coming out of their hibernation, and when the weather really turns, it should be able to really "break out" more quickly than if sown at the beginning of the prime time for growth in spring. I am convinced that the fungi does not ever really turn completely dormant (maybe if it froze solid it would be different) as long as it mostly stays thawed or at the very least gets some regular time thawed. With that in mind, I would make certain that the growing medium gets a blanket of straw or some other fairly loose organic material on top to protect from harsh weather should it decide to return.
At any rate, these are just my thoughts. I have had some good success and I hope that I can share some with you.
Completely inexperienced here but I've been studying to prepare..of course I can't remember where I read it but I'll add to this post if I come across it. I read that mushrooms don't like to compete with each other in the same bed. Pretty much whichever fungi gets there first will dominate and kill the new kid. A caution is not to let wood chip piles develop wild fungi before inoculating with desirable edibles. So, even though we're having the same crazy weather here (60's in January ?!?!?!?!) I'm waiting until April for a new woodchip delivery and start with fresh.
I am kind of experimenting as I am going on myself. I have done plenty of gardening before, but this is the first time I have deliberately tried to make use of fungus (I used to think of fungus as a problem--I was wrong). Also, typically I would never think about spreading spawn in January, but this is no typical January! You are probably right about the competing fungi, but I know that I had other fungi in my bed well before inoculation--the chips just sat out too long for it to not get colonized by something. Going back to the January issue, I certainly can't blame you for not wanting to start at this terribly atypical time of year. But the experience I am gaining is that these things need time to get established and if we are reasonably assured of fair weather (sorry, no crystal ball here), it would be a wonderful span of time to get the substrate inoculated, especially as there is nothing else going on garden-related.
Any how, I hope you can get something from my post. I have another thread going on this issue here https://permies.com/t/40/82798/composting-wood-chips-chicken-litter about my ongoing project. I am hoping to keep it updated so that others, inexperienced as I was at the time, might get some help, and maybe even not get discouraged when things don't go exactly your way or take longer than expected--that's what happened for me.
Any how, good luck Susan and I hope you keep us updated.
Thanks Eric - I have, indeed, been following your compost story and will be watching your shrooms too :) I'm pretty much on the same path as you but don't have the discipline to photo and write a journal reliably :(
Thanks Eric! Although we are in different climates, you're probably right...I am usually TOO cautious, and pessimistic. Some locals have said to go ahead and hell, it's not like I'm doing a whole lot now (compared to any other time of year).
The forecasts lately have remained consistent with my original post: 50 degree days, nights close to freezing. Hellebore and other spring plants have been seen budding. My garlic is taking off everywhere. Incidentally, even where it wasn't mulched, even where the cloves were exposed they were sprouting. I planted a cover crop for a lark! it's sprouting too.
I think the materials for the winecap said to distribute the spawn in beds of clean straw...and I'd overmulch it to insulate. I had a nice pile of alder chips for mushrooms that went largely unused so some Gymnopilus luteofolium moved in.
The others need totem or dowel inoculation, and now is definitely a good time to cut maple.
Thanks to you both for giving me the courage to just go it. Even if I lose, I learn (not really losing).