The Mushroom Kingdom on Oak Hill

Every morning I have the unique joy of watching the sunrise while at work. I’m not quite awake, probably didn’t go to bed early enough, and my brain isn’t running yet, but it’s worth seeing the farm at Oak Hill Café cloaked in the early morning mist. Two days of the week, I’m out in the garden from sunrise until the mist burns off and the afternoon sun starts roasting my neck. On Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, my attention turns from the garden to the garage that will eventually become the productive and innovative kitchen of Oak Hill Café. From Poinsett Highway, the structure sitting between a Persian rug gallery and a plumbing business looks like an old, white house on a hill; no hint of the blossoming garden in the back of the property or the steadily growing mushroom farm. Oak Hill’s vision is to become a leader in the farm-to-table restaurant community by keeping things truly local – not by sourcing from the next two states over but by supporting farms of Greenville – starting with the one in its backyard. Part of this will be possible because we are turning felled logs from parts of the property into a value-added product.

There’s something satisfying about drilling holes in logs at six in the morning. The loud whir of a specially-outfitted* angle grinder needing only to just touch the surface of a log before it bores a hole an inch and a half deep, the tiny semicircle woodchips flying everywhere… The tool is supposed to complete this task with minimal effort; most of the time it does. Boring holes in logs is just the beginning steps in the fascinating practice of mushroom log inoculation. Several valuable (along with more common) varieties of mushrooms can be cultivated in hardwood logs – a smallercomponent in the larger field of mushroom farming, or as I like to call it, “mushrooming.”

Pouring inoculated sawdust or woodchips out of carefully labeled mushroom spawn bags* into sanitized bowls, we use a handheld plunger* to plug up the holes with spawn and then paint over each finished hole with wax to keep out any bugs that would take advantage of a free buffet.

Untitled2Working with Aaron von Frank, one of my four supervisors and half of the leadership of Oak Hill’s farm.

Over the next 6-10 months, the mycelium (or the “below surface” growth of the fungus that we don’t see) will spread throughout the logs. When temperatures are right for each mushroom species, the fully colonized logs will start fruiting. We’ve picked varieties that have different temperature ranges for fruiting to both diversify our products and keep somewhat of a cap on the mushroom chaos that will come once they start popping out of the logs. Logs inoculated with Lion’s mane, shitake, maitake, chicken of the woods, and oyster mushrooms sit in piles waiting to be arranged into “log cabins.” Thinly sliced sections of thicker trunks have been stacks into “totems” under the shade of a large oak tree.

Untitled3Totem city: our stacks of logs with mushroom spawn in between each layer.

In some ways, mushroom farming reminds me of the startup process for Oak Hill Café – or any kind of business. You don’t truly see the fruits of your labor until much later down the road. While there are wonderful moments and rewards along the way, there’s a sense of delayed gratification that will make the moment the logs – and the restaurant – start fruiting that much better.












*These are not advertisements for specific products, the links to tools are for visual reference only.

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