Agroforestry incorporates trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems. The goal is to create environmental, economic and social benefits across the farm.
One of those agroforestry practices is mushroom forest farming, where landowners can generate an extra income – or extra food – through growing their own varieties of mushrooms in a forest farming practice.
Gregory Ormsby Mori, education and outreach coordinator for the Center for Agroforestry (UMCA) at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, hosts a number of forest farming workshops across the state every year. Each workshop focuses on how landowners, farmers and natural resource professionals can find opportunities to do forest farming.
“Growing edible mushrooms can be an economically viable option for small landowners and can also even fit in well with an overall forest management plan,” Ormsby Mori said.
Ormsby Mori focuses on a trio of mushrooms during his workshops – shiitake, oyster and king stropharia. There are many other lesser-known mushroom varieties that can be grown too, but the trio have proven production, viable markets and are more accessible and relatively easy to grow. The Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center (HARC), near New Franklin, has a demonstration site where these main three species, along with many other lesser-known species, such as lion’s mane, reishi, nameko and hen-of-the-woods (maitake), can be viewed.
The workshops include hands-on demonstrations, as Ormsby Mori showcases just how easy it is to learn the basic techniques for mushroom growing. There are multiple techniques to grow mushrooms, including log inoculation, totems and wood-chip beds.
“While plants obtain their energy from photosynthesis, mushrooms are different in that they obtain their food from decaying organic matter,” Ormsby Mori said. “So, we use logs or totems to grow mushrooms. They can feed off of that wood by decomposing the cellulose and lignin.”
Ormsby Mori said the perfect time to cut logs for inoculation is late winter when the tree is dormant, prior to buds swelling and before the tree begins leafing out. Generally, the cool temperatures of early spring are a good time to inoculate the logs. With high temperatures, dry weather and hot winds, the summer months can be a more difficult time to successfully inoculate.
The logs should be around three feet long and preferably with few or no branches or knots. Oaks, sugar maple and sweet gum are all good species to use for log inoculation. The logs should also be stored in a cool, shady area – making sure that the logs do not dry out.
“You want straight logs that are fresh,” Ormsby Mori said. “The wood needs to be healthy, without disease or damage.”
Holes are then drilled into the log, around an inch deep. The holes are then filled with mushroom spawn. Once the hole is filled, hot wax is used to seal the opening. Ormsby Mori said it will take up to a year for the spawn to establish itself in the logs and be ready to produce mushrooms.
“You have to monitor the light, shade and humidity after you seal the holes,” he said. “It’s very important to make sure the logs don’t dry out after inoculating.”
Medium shade is best for the logs. Logs shouldn’t be stored in a basement-like setting. There needs to be air flow and some light. Too little light can be as big of a problem as too much light. Keeping the logs closer to the ground, where there is less wind and higher humidity, can help as well.
Totems, wood chips and straw can also all be used to grow mushrooms.
“Mushrooms are just one little enterprise that farmers, ranchers and landowners can add,” Ormsby Mori said. “There is definitely a sustainable forestry aspect to this.”
Ormsby Mori hosts workshops in the Columbia area, as well as Springfield and St. Louis. There is no experience requirement, as the workshops generally feature hobbyists and farmers. Ormsby Mori will have more advanced workshops as well, which will include the economics, marketing and production of mushroom forest farming.
“Adequate planning, a market survey and a thorough analysis of whether mushroom growing is right for you and your land is essential before diving in big,” Ormsby Mori said. “For simply getting started as a hobbyist and learning how to grow mushrooms, there are many resources and growers guides available. For launching a new enterprise, seek appropriate technical guidance from your local extension agent or other experts, and do your homework before initiating a new commercial venture or introducing a new specialty crop into your farming operation.”
To learn more about growing mushrooms in a forest setting, contact Ormsby Mori at 573-882-9866 or OrmsbyG@missouri.edu.