Every year I have people coming into my office asking me to identify mushrooms to see if they are edible.
As a policy, UGA Extension Agents are prohibited from identifying wild mushrooms for consumption purposes.
Mushroom identification is extremely risky, and even lifelong professional mycologists have died eating the wrong species.
If you love mushrooms, but want to avoid the potential dangers of eating wild species, why not grow your own? Mushroom culture is fairly easy and is much safer because you know what species you are eating. It may take some of the fun out of hiking through the woods in search of wild species, but farming your own can be just as fulfilling.
Mushrooms are farmed on three different mediums: Wood, soil or manure. Different mushroom species grow better on certain growing bases. If you want to grow shiitake mushrooms for example, you will want to use wood as a growth medium. Oak is usually recommended, but sweetgum, elm and other hardwoods can also be used.
If you'd like to grow a large crop of mushrooms, use a log system. This should give plenty of mushrooms to supply your family, and plenty to give away to friends or sell at a farmers market. To start a log system, logs need to be cut in the winter before the sap starts to rise in the tree.
If the tree has already begun to bud out, you've waited too late. Use logs from trees with few broken or rotten limbs.
Because you will need to move them around easily, logs should be kept between 2 to 4 feet long. Start with between 5 and 20 logs. It is best to inoculate your logs within a month from when they are cut. Lay them on a tarp if you can't use them immediately to prevent other fungi from infecting the logs.
Mushroom inoculum, or "seed." can be ordered from several different online retailers.
Each company will have specific instructions on which growth mediums are best for their different species. Common mushrooms are shiitake, button, oyster, and many more. Use warm weather strains of starter inoculum for our area.
To inoculate your logs, drill alternating holes three-eighths of an inch deep every six inches. Insert the inoculant plugs and cap them with melted wax. Stack the logs in a log cabin-type arrangement or in a slanted V pattern. Examples of stacking patterns are available online. Label each log with the date and the species of inoculum.
Keep the logs well watered for four to five months.
During periods of low rain, this may mean watering for 10 minutes in the morning and at night. If it rains, no further irrigation is needed.
If the logs aren't kept wet enough, they won't produce or the mushrooms will crack.
To initiate a fruiting cycle, soak the logs overnight and restack them. Small "buttons" will appear in a few days.
Mushrooms will emerge from inoculated logs in spring and fall, and probably won't produce much during the summer. The best mushrooms will be produced when day temperatures reach 75 to 80 degrees with night temperatures above 60 degrees.
How many mushrooms you can produce depends on temperature, moisture and day length.
Most logs will produce mushrooms for 4 to 5 years.