Cultivating a Forest of Food

Borden family growing East Asian mushrooms in PEI

Julie and Dale Hamilton of Borden are eagerly awaiting their first crop of shiitake mushrooms. They are one step closer to their dream of creating a permaculture forest on their Augustine Cove woodlot by cultivating this Asian mushroom.

Shiitake mushrooms, or Lentinula edodes, are brown, meaty mushrooms grown in eastern Asia, particularly in Japan. “They start at about 1 ½ to 2 inches and they can be all the way to 3 inches,” Julie said. “They kind of look like a cremini mushroom. They are sort of brownish on top. They have a cracked look to the top of them. And they grow underneath like a button mushroom does. And their stocks are kind of woody so most people don’t eat the stocks, but you can put them into soup stock as an enhancer.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Haliburton Forest Staff


The Hamiltons chose shiitake mushrooms after a lot of research. “Number one, because they aren’t invasive. Lots of studies were done when they came to North America […] Small batches were brought in and tried inside with all kinds of different trees and forest floors and they discovered that, no they don’t take over,” said Julie. “If I just dropped these (logs) on the ground and left them forever, they wouldn’t continue after these mushrooms were done. They wouldn’t recolonize anything else.”

Preparing for a fall crop of mushrooms begins the spring previous, more than a year in advance. “You have to use a hardwood tree. Oak is the best and then maple is second. And we had maple growing here already,” Julie said. “(We have) about thirty log segments. They’re about four foot long, between four to six inches in diameter. So we drill holes into them, of a specific diameter, and to a specific depth.” Each log has 40-60 holes drilled in, four to six inches apart on the diagonal.

“My part in this was that I had to drill all the holes. And cutting down the trees and cutting the logs and hauling the logs. I did a lot of the manual labour,” said Dale.

“And then we put our mushroom mycelium, which has been growing in sawdust, into the holes and we cover them up with either beeswax or cheese wax. So it’s an organic food grade wax. And that’s so the moisture doesn’t escape where the hole is. You just want to keep the moisture in the logs,” Julie said.

Beeswax or cheese wax is used to seal in moisture once the mushroom mycelium has been inserted in the drilled holes//Photo Credit: Katherine Bell

Unlike other plants, mushrooms do not grow from seeds but from mycelium, fibers that grow in a web under the soil or through organic matter. When the mycelium matures, mushrooms erupt and this is called fruiting. Mycelium can be purchased or grown from spores that drop from fully-grown mushroom caps.

On the warm fall day when we toured the woodlot, many of the inoculated logs were already showing colonization by mycelium. “You can see it tracking through the bark here. The little white lines. It’s cracking free here. It’s like a vein that goes through the bark. These are still fairly new, as far as mushrooms go,” Dale said.

“When it is fully colonized, and the log has been eaten up by the mushrooms, it becomes like a compost and this will be completely white and spider webbed through.” Julie said. “[The mushrooms will grow] just out of the sides, and not necessarily where we put our mycelium.”

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that we might get mushrooms this fall,” said Julie. “Next year should be our first year fruiting, but it started out this year really awesome. It was very wet.” For optimal mushroom fruiting, “it has to be cool and damp and then suddenly a warm spell.” Each log, once colonized with shiitake mycelium, will continue to produce mushrooms for four to eight years.

“We haven’t decided yet if we are going to sell [the shiitake mushrooms] or not, or if we will just keep them for ourselves and our friends. It’s a new venture for us so we’ll have to see how it turns out,” Julie said.


Dale Hamilton demonstrates the inoculating tool used to insert shiitake mycelium into the maple logs where the mushrooms will grow. Photo Credit: Katherine Bell