Blue Owl Hollow and Blue Owl Garden Emporium
Sit back, relax and set your mind at ease as I lead you 41 miles northeast of Columbus to Blue Owl Hollow and Garden Emporium. This integrated farm system is a combination of Blue Owl Hollow; a 130 acre tree farm where log grown mushrooms are harvested and Blue Owl Garden Emporium; a small herb, heirloom fruit and vegetable garden. Although a variety of sustainably grown crops and herbs are produced here, I am focusing this trip on the edible fungi shiitake. The growing seasons of mushrooms vary by species and my quest to understand the entire process of producing shiitakes started with an afternoon outdoors in late March, a time of year in Central Ohio too late to be considered Winter and too early to feel like Spring.
As I approached the farm I was first greeted by Hickory, an energetic pooch, followed by the proprietor of Blue Owl, Janell Baran and her husband Peter. Janell didn’t waste time getting down to explaining the growing process and putting me to work! Before the manual labor began, she took a few minutes to go into detail about mushroom growth. She stated that mushroom spores are saprophytic and naturally reside in trees. She went on to tell me that mushrooms need a substrate in order to survive and different species of mushrooms are commercially grown in different substrates, the substrate most often being what a particular species of mushroom prefers in nature. Depending on the species the substrate could be logs, sawdust, garden soil, woodchips, or even straw. Each species have a number of sexes and in order to generate a fruit producing mushroom there needs to be proper crossing. If proper crossing occurs, the mushroom spores create mycelium. This root system acts like the internet channeling its way through their substrate of choice while the spores function as seeds.
Shiitakes prefer to call the mighty oak their home. Coincidentally, many of the trees growing on the grounds of Blue Owl Hollow happen to be oak. So, after a brief explanation of mushroom sex, we were off into the woods with chainsaw in hand. After all, to grow shiitakes one needs to have oak logs. Janell carefully selected a fallen oak and cut it into perfectly portioned hosts for our mushrooms. At Blue Owl Hollow they believe in letting nature take its course and only cut fallen or abundant trees to use for their mushroom logs. We brought the freshly cut logs back up to the house where some aged logs were ready and waiting for their spores. After the logs are cut, it is important to let them age for a week or two so the natural antifungals (the tree’s natural defense against fungi) dissipate. Part of the mushroom growing process is knowing when the proper time is to inoculate without letting the logs dry out. While we were done with the chainsaw for the time being we weren’t yet done with the power tools!
One by one, the aged logs were drilled with holes, allowing the spores to get to work. Janell handed over the drill and instructed me to create a diamond pattern keeping the holes 4”-6” apart. Each log was given 40-60 new holes for the mushrooms to call home. The next step involved plugging the holes full of our mushroom spawn combined with a little snack of sawdust. Finally, we sealed the holes and the ends of the logs with a melted un-dyed wax. Janell stated that this is “to keep the moisture in and competitors out”.
Good things come to those that wait and although it takes a while for the mycelium spawn to incubate the logs and about a year for the log to start producing fruit, the end product is beautiful and delicious. The farm started inoculating mushroom logs in 2006 and didn’t start cultivating until 2007. At any given time Blue Owl Hollow targets about 120 producing logs. They even trick the logs to produce when needed for market by simulating a heavy rainfall and soaking them in large water troughs. Each log follows a production cycle, peaking and then declining in production, but producing mushrooms for 4-5 years!
Besides keeping herself busy on the farm, Janell was awarded a Farmer/Rancher grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA to work on a special side project. Through this aid of this grant, Janell was able to develop an environmentally responsible way of a controlling a fast-growing invasive tree species without using harmful herbicides. Please read more about her research using the links under References.
Blue Owl proudly sells a variety of mushrooms, herbs, and heirloom fruits and veggies at the Granville Farmer’s Market and herbs at The Greener Grocer. If you are up for the challenge, you can purchase freshly inoculated logs when available. Each log will produce 3-4 pints of fresh mushrooms and will have 2-3 fruitings over the course of a season. Blue Owl Hollow and Garden Emporium believes in selling a diverse product with minimal impact on the environment. One good trip into mushroom bliss revealed more about this healthy medicinal organism than I ever thought possible.
The Blue Owl Hollow shiitakes (pictured left) traveled 41 miles to Columbus, while the shiitakes (pictured right) traveled around 440 miles from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Shiitake mushrooms originated in China and have been grown in Asia for nearly 1,000 years! They are widely known for their amazing health benefits including reducing cholesterol, strengthening your immune system and even helping prevent cancer. In fact, these mushrooms are the Asian symbol for longevity. Because they are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber, they are a perfect diet addition to someone looking to shed a few pounds. If you have never tried these magic mushrooms have an open mind and eat up!
ReferencesBlue Owl Special Projects
Blue Owl Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Elements for Health - The Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
Grilled Shiitake Bruschetta
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large baguette, sliced ½ -inch thick (about 25 slices)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
- 2 pints (about ¾ lb.) Blue Owl shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- A few ounces of good quality Romano cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and heat grill to high
- On a baking sheet, line up baguette slices. Brush 2 tablespoons olive oil on slices and toast in oven for about 3 minutes or until light golden brown
- In a medium bowl, mix garlic, remaining olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sage, salt and pepper
- Place mushrooms on grill and brush with oil/vinegar mixture
- Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side or until just cooked through
- Remove shiitake’s from heat, finely chop
- Spoon mushroom mixture onto toasted baguette
- Shave slices of Romano cheese on top of each bruschetta piece and serve warm