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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Growing Mushrooms in Florida

Air Date: Week of

In addition to the usual cattle and chickens on their ranch in Brooksville, Florida, Rob and Debbie Morrow also grow shiitake mushrooms. Producer Bill George spent the day with the Morrows to learn the a–b-c’s of shiitake mushroom growing.


CURWOOD: In the heart of central Florida's rolling hills, it's an unusual ranch. Wind Dancer Acres has cattle and free-range chickens. But many folks know owners Rob and Debbie Morrow for the organic shiitake mushrooms they produce. The Morrows have special permission to cut down non-native laurel oak trees from a nearby state forest. The laurel oak logs are well-suited to cultivating the delicious fungus. Producer Bill George visited the Morrows to learn about growing mushrooms. The day begins in the woods, about a mile and a half from the ranch.


R. MORROW: Are we ready to tromp? (Laughs)


R. MORROW: There, that looks like a good one to start with. It's like it's about six inches in diameter at the base, fairly straight, without any branches up, at least 15 feet. And those are very small ones. We can break those off. So I'm going to crank up the chainsaw now.

(Chainsaw revs up; a tree falls)

D. MORROW: You might want to get a count here, so we get an idea of how many we have.

(Trees are loaded.)

R. MORROW: It's time to wrap it up and go back to the ranch, and do some drilling and complete the process.

(Wheels over terrain, bird song in the distance. The engine is cut; doors close)

R. MORROW: (Groans) Hold it.

(Trees are unloaded)

D. MORROW: Fourteen.

R. MORROW: We have approximately 22 acres here in central, western Florida. And we bought it in 1993 and moved out here. And then decided maybe we needed to pay for it. My wife Debbie came up with several ideas and decided that one of the things she'd like to try was shiitake mushrooms.


R. MORROW: We drill holes in the logs to insert sawdust spawn.


R. MORROW: The spawn is microscopic, mycelium if you will, and it's in a sawdust base, which makes it easier to work with. We drill the holes and inoculate the log, essentially, with that spawn.


D. MORROW: When you inoculate the log, it's very important to do two things. One, as the hole is drilled, it's three-eighths of an inch. Your inoculator is set spring-loaded, so it goes in the exact same depth. You put it over the hole, and as you put it in, it needs to be even. There needs to be no air space down where you put your spawn in. This is probably the most important part of the inoculation process, is getting the spawn in the right place.

(Pounding; other sounds)

R. MORROW: There we are.


R. MORROW: We'll just let that heat for a minute. Right now, my mother-in-law is waxing a log. And when you do that, you essentially just daub liquid wax on the holes where we have put the spawn in. This covers the spawn. It keeps the bugs out and moisture in during the first part of the growing process. The wax itself will fall off eventually, regardless of what kind you have. Probably the first time that this log flushes, which is what it's called when it fruits, at least some of the mushrooms will come through the holes where we have drilled and put the wax on top, simply because that's the weakest point in the log. But by the time they begin to flush, mycelium has grown all the way through the log, and they can literally come out anywhere on that log, including the top or the bottom of the log itself.


R. MORROW: All right, there's two more on the top. We stack these four high and five across, so there are 20 per stack. And it's crib-stacked, so that each layer is hopefully -- the one above is offset so that the water gets all the way down on all the logs. It takes anywhere from three and a half to five or six months laying, at which point you'll see a little bit of white along the end of the log, almost like someone has taken a little pinch of powdered sugar and dropped it on the log. That means that the mycelium [phonetic spelling] has grown completely through the log, and it's time to stand it up and lean it up against the barbed wire. I've never sat and watched a mushroom grow, but I do come down here sometimes when you have a big flush, a lot of logs flushing, you can harvest up to three times a day, off the same logs.

CURWOOD: Rob and Debbie Morrow grow shiitake mushrooms on their ranch in Fernando County, Florida. Our sound portrait was produced by Bill George.



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