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Wilton farmers raise local mushrooms

  • Gene and Marilyn Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm grow mushrooms at their Wilton home. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Gene and Marilyn Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm grow mushrooms at their Wilton home. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Gene and Marilyn Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm grow mushrooms at their Wilton home. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Gene and Marilyn Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm grow mushrooms at their Wilton home. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Marilyn Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm examines a log that has been inoculated to grow mushrooms. The logs are kept in the woods behind the Jonas’ Wilton home.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Gene Jonas of Hungry Bear Farm grow mushrooms at their Wilton home. Staff photo by Ashley Saari



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Gene Jonas of Wilton spent the spring chopping logs. But not for a last-minute firewood supply – these logs were meant to become home to cultivated mushrooms.

Gene, who runs Hungry Bear Farm with his wife, Marilyn Jonas, does most of his growing at his plot in Mason. But while the woods that surround the Wilton property where the couple live isn’t ideal for growing vegetables, it makes for excellent mushroom conditions.

“Oak is the best for shiitake,” said Gene, looking out the kitchen window to the woods that edge his yard. 

They chose shiitake for a number of reasons, said Gene – it’s one of the easiest to grow, is fairly hearty, and more nutritious than other alternatives.

“There’s a lot of good reasons,” he said. 

Marilyn first got an interest in growing mushrooms while attending a farming convention seven years ago. She spotted a seminar on mushroom cultivation and decided to check it out. She made her first attempt that year.

“I didn’t even know if it was going to work,” said Marilyn, looking back ruefully at her first attempt, which included hand-boring all the holes, a laborious task made much easier these days by a specialized tool.

In the past seven years since Gene and Marilyn have been growing mushrooms – almost as long as they’ve been running the farm itself – Gene says he’s learned a bit about what makes the best logs for mushrooms to grow. They need to be young and healthy trees, with logs about six inches in diameter. 

Each year, Gene cuts a few more logs for inoculation, and after a log has been inoculated once, it will continue to produce mushrooms for years to come, meaning that their woods are now home to a long train of logs ready to sprout fruit, as well as a few stray piles here and there.

While Gene cuts and transports the logs, it’s Marilyn that does most of the work associated with getting the mushrooms to sprout, she said.

First, the mushrooms must be introduced to the logs, which happens in February. The Jonas’ inoculated this year’s batch last week. Every few inches, a hole is bored into the log, and a wooden dowel covered in mycelium – a fungus bacterial colony – is placed into the log and plugged with wax.

Then, the logs are left in a shaded place – in the Jonas’ case, their woods make a perfect environment – and left for a year, so that the mycelium can incubate and spread. After a year, the wood has to receive a “shock” that tells the mycelium it needs to sprout fruit. Some mushroom growers will beat the logs to simulate the tree being felled. Marilyn uses a soaking method, submerging the logs in water.

“They fruit when they’re stressed, so if you soak it in the cold water, it panics and says, ‘Time to fruit,’” said Marilyn.

Then, it’s a matter of timing.

“You want to wait for the perfect moment, when you can just see the ‘gills’,” said Marilyn, referring to the rippled underside of the shiitake. She said she checks her mushrooms with a hand mirror to make sure they’ve hit the perfect ripeness before picking them. 

“You’ll kick youself if you wait too long and they’ve flowered too much,” said Marilyn.

Each log produces a quarter to three-quarters of a pound of mushrooms, most of which go towards Hungry Bear Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, members. Some, said Marilyn, the couple keeps for themselves.

“I do a mushroom chili that’s my favorite,” she said. 

Hungry Bear Farm is accepting CSA members. Cost for the Spring CSA is $190 for 10 weeks. Summer is $480 for 16 weeks and fall is $180 for six weeks. For information about the CSA or to sign up, contact Gene Jonas at gene@hungrybearfarm.com or visit www.hungrybearfarm.com.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter@AshleySaariMLT.