One organism, ten logs and seven billion people

You know what’s kind of creepy?  “These are all one organism,” Lyle said, as we finished up inoculating the last of ten Shitake logs. “These are all part of one mushroom – so when one starts to bloom so will all the others.”

“Really? How can than be?” I said.  That really is amazing, I thought, and bordering on unbelievable.

We had each come home from the Mother Earth News (MEN) Fair in Puyallup, WA in early June with a small bag of little ¾ inch dowels. They were included in the huge gift bag MEN had given all the presenters, which included Lyle and me.

I spoke on the Grit Stage on Sunday from 4-5pm about Financing Our Foodshed, Growing Local Food With Slow Money, the title of my book and the challenge I have somehow, almost inadvertently, taken on in the last few years.

Lyle’s spot had been earlier in the afternoon, on the Utne stage. His topic was his new book, Small Stories Big Changes: Agents of Change of the Frontlines of Sustainablility, and as usual he drew an admiring crowd. And he shared the stage with Bryan Welch and Albert Bates, whose stories are included in his book.

There were lots of other things in the gift bag, some edible, and some too big to get in my small carry-on suitcase.  But it was this small bag of about 100 Shitake starts that captivated me the most. I do a bit of vegetable gardening tilled and planted by my husband Mark. But never mushrooms. These were all it took to make me want to try.

I decided a few years ago we needed more edibles around our house, and so I started planting – 14 apple trees, 5 more blueberry bushes, 2 dwarf almonds, a pineapple guava, and a few Persimmon trees. Now I really wanted to see if I could grow Shitakes.

Thanks to Lyle’s sons, Arlo and Zafar, there were ten logs, about 3 feet long and 5-6” in diameter waiting for me when I showed up at Lyle’s house late one Sunday morning. Lyle had already filled his logs and was happy to show me how to drill holes (we put four rows of 5 holes per log) and gently pound in these little shitake plugs. They were ringed by a soft white substance that made them seem almost like some sort of light brown candy lined with white icing.

Once each whole was filled with the Shitake ‘dowel spawn’ or ‘mycelium,’ as it is properly called, we added bit of warm wax to seal it in place.

And now we wait. “Put these logs in a place shaded place where you will see them everyday,” Lyle instructed as we carried them to the trunk of my Volkswagon Jetta, (which is fueled with biodiesel from Piedmont Biofuels where Lyle is CEO and V. P. of Stuff.)

“Otherwise you might not know when they start coming out. And keep them moist. I plan to throw a bucket of water on mine every so often.” His stack of alternating logs looked like a miniature log house, and was right outside his front door.

One organism. That means whoever sees some growth first can call the other and alert them to go check their logs. What a concept.

I spent an hour late that night on Google, trying to confirm his one organism concept. I read about “one huge fungus growing underground in Oregon that reputedly covers 2200 acres, and is thought to be the largest known single living organism in the world.”  And then, “It is part of the accepted common folklore that the largest living thing in the world is a fungus that occupies some forty acres in Michigan.”

And I did find a website that said, “Mycelium is a network of interconnected cells that form a single organism.” But I wanted more.

Which led me to numerous claims about the health benefits of shitakes and the historic and spiritual significance of mushrooms.  All compelling, and I am now even more excited for my logs to start to fruit.

I like to think we all connected, and the one organism theory is enchanting – so I’ve decided that it’s true.

This was not Lyle’s first try at growing mushrooms, but his fourth. Three times he got mushrooms, and once it was a bust.

I also choose to believe we got it right this time, and our mushroom harvest, thanks to the good people at Mother Earth News and their generous gift of shitake dowel spawns, is going to be a huge, health-giving, interconnected success.

Melted blue candle wax covering the spawns

My own little shitake log house