I’ve long believed in the adage, “You should learn something new every day.” One of the joys of this job is that it frequently puts me in touch with operators who, through their innovation, talent or simple desire to always improve, show me things I hadn’t known.
I had several of those moments during my visits in the Atlanta area earlier this month. But few were as fascinating as the mushroom “plot” I saw at Kennesaw State University (KSU).
I love mushrooms. I’ve seen them grow in the wild and I’ve been to a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania where they grow the white button mushrooms that are so prevalent in supermarkets and on chain restaurant menus.
But I’d never really given any thought to the commercial growing of exotic mushrooms such as shiitake, morel and portobello. So when I took a tour of the farm operated by Culinary and Hospitality Services (C&HS) at Kennesaw State University, I was intrigued to see the sign, heading a path that led off into the woods, advertising mushrooms.
I followed Gary Coltek, director of C&HS, Robin Taylor, Farm to Campus to Farm Manager, and Michael Blackwell, assistant farm manager, down the path to a row of logs, stacked against the horizontal trunk of a giant red oak. Popping out of the logs were shiitake mushrooms. Most were small, but there was one the size of a large portobello cap. Mike Blackwell explained the simple growing process:
“After letting the logs sit for a few weeks to make sure there are no fungicides left, you inoculate the logs [drilling holes and injecting spores into the holes using oak dowels] and wait.”
It takes several months for the spores to take hold, but once they do the mushrooms sprout rather quickly. Blackwell says that usually within two or three days the mushrooms are large enough to be harvested and used in KSU’s Dining Commons.
So now I know.