Introduction: Growing Turkey Tail Mushrooms on Recycled Christmas Trees

About: Founder of Scully Creative Spark Coaching living in Oakland, California, I believe dwelling in possibility incubates the energy we need to grow into new action. As a coach and consultant, I apply design thinki…

We will plug furniture dowels that have mushroom mycelium growing around them into conifer or pine logs, which in a year to six months will grow mushrooms. The dowels have been inoculated with Trametes versicolor, which is commonly known as the Turkey Tail mushroom. The mycelium, which you can think of as the roots of the mushroom, will eat the logs, produce beautiful mushrooms, as seen above, and eventually fully break down the log creating a rich organic amendment to your soil. If you continue to add wood chips to the area around the log, you could get mushrooms for years to come.

By reclaiming the abundance of Christmas trees back into our gardens and filling them with mycelium rather than discarding them to landfill, we are taking a small step into remediating our environment and health. Turkey Tail mushrooms are famous for their medicinal properties and fast growing ability on wood. They are called polypores because their spores are released from tiny pores from under the mushroom as opposed to gills like Shiitake. Turkey Tail has been found to grow on conifers unlike other mushrooms, which prefer more specific pairing. So let's get started!

Note of Caution: Never eat a mushroom you cannot fully identify. Turkey Tail mushrooms are not eaten, as much as they are dried and used for tea and forrest remediation.

Step 1: Supplies Needed

Tree Trimming and Drilling

  • Safety goggles
  • Earplugs
  • Garden gloves to protect hands while handling wood
  • Reciprocating saw or hand saw for trimming branches
  • Drill and 5/16" wood bit
  • Measuring device to set drill bit depth at 1-1/4" inches
  • Drill collar to set depth of hole at 1-1/4" inches
  • Jig or friend to hold log while you drill

Inoculating Log by Hammering Plugs

  • Bag of Turkey Tail Dowels
  • Pine log 3'- 4' feet in length
  • Rubber mallet
  • Rubber gloves to protect mycelium on dowels from hand contaminants
  • Rubbing alcohol spray bottle to clean gloved hands
  • Jig or friend to hold log while you hammer

Sealing Plugs

  • Bee’s or cheese wax
  • Hot plate or heat source for melting wax
  • Pot or can with handle for melting wax
  • Trivet to place hot pot or can when not on heat source
  • Brush for wax
  • Oven mitts or potholder
  • Fire extinguisher because it is always good to be prepared in the studio
  • Cardboard or paper to protect your furniture and easy clean up

Storing Logs

  • Shaded area that you frequently walk past
  • Access to water

Step 2: Set Stop Collar at 1.25" for Plug Depth

Your drill bit needs to sink 1.25" into the log so that the plug, which measures 1.25", can be sunk into the log when you hammer it. You could easily use duct tape and mark 1.25" on your bit, but I find this makes me exert more energy than needed.

When I use a stop collar, it let's me focus my energy on drilling as opposed to making sure I pull out at the right depth. There are two ways you can make a stop collar. One expensive way is to buy a metal stop collar that fits your bit like the rings shown above and then tighten it on at the right spot using an allen wrench. The second method is to find a piece of wood that fits between the space of the desired plug depth 1.25" and where your bit meets your drill.

Sink your drill bit into your drill and tighten the chuck so the bit is snug. Measure the total length of your drill bit as it comes out of the drill. My 5/16" drill bit, as seen in the drawing above, measures 3.5" as it comes out of the drill. I subtracted the 1.25" for the dowel and found that I need to set my stop collar at 2.25" in order for the drill to drive into the log. I found a piece of wood that was almost 2.25". When I added the collar on top, it was exactly 2.25.

Step 3: Collect and Trim Limbs

The day after Christmas, begin collecting discarded trees. Cut off the branches using a hand saw or reciprocating saw, as shown here. You can use the plugging process you will learn about in this Instructable with other mushroom species and pair them with other types of wood substrate.

Different species of mushrooms like to grow on different types of substrate. Some say Turkey Tail will grow on almost anything and you might say the same for Oyster mushrooms. Radical Mycologist Peter McCoy Trained a Mushroom to Remediate Cigarette Filters

You wouldn't eat the Oyster mushrooms grown on cigarettes, but the point is that the mushrooms have the potential to remediate the proliferation of garbage in our environment into soil.

Note of Caution: Check with your local Municipality for their garbage collection policy. They may consider you collecting trees put out for them to pick up as theft. If so, ask friends to donate. Or better, have a tree trimming and plugging party and invite me. This entire process can be modified as an assembly line. Many hands make light work.

Step 4: Drill Holes in Log 1.25" Depth, 4" Apart

Drill Holes 4" apart on all 4 sides of log

  • Set drill bit depth to 1.25" by following directions in Step 2. Set Stop Collar at 1.25" Inch for Plug Depth
  • Plug in your drill or use a cordless as shown in the video
  • Square your body on dry ground making sure you have good footing
  • Use your dominant hand for the trigger (writing or ball throwing hand)
  • Hold the log with your non-dominant hand and step forward with your opposite foot to gain leverage
  • Pull the trigger and move your weight onto your front leg
  • Your body weight will translate into the drill action as you guide the drill with your arm and hand
  • Let the drill do the work, not your arms or hands
  • Keep an eye on your drill to make sure you are drilling straight into the wood and not at an angle
  • Hole placement can have a zig zag effect rather than each hole being adjacent to each other

Safety Tip: Wear gloves, safety goggles and ear plugs.

Work with a friend who can hold the log for you or make a jig. This will enable you to use your non-dominant hand to hold the drill steady and keep it level to your mark. Many drills have a spot at the top where you can rest the thumb of your non-dominant hand while your fingers grasp the top of the drill. In any case, keep your non-dominant hand out of the way of the drilling action.

If you are using a drill with a cord, make sure the cord is behind you and not wrapped in between your legs

Step 5: Hammer Myceliated Plugs Into Log

  • Put on rubber, latex or styrene gloves to keep the plugs free of contaminates
  • Mist your gloved hands with alcohol/ repeat each time you put down the hammer to get more plugs
  • Open the package of myceliated dowels and take out enough to fill a row.
  • Place a plug in each hole: it is really best to have a friend help you at this stage
  • Holding a rubber mallet in your dominant hand, hammer in the plug until it is flush or won't go any deeper

Most of the plugs will hammer down flush. Some of them will be a bit above the surface. You can give them an extra whack with the mallet edge to see if they will sink a little deeper. You can also just leave them because we will be putting wax over the top of each to seal them from drying out.

Safety Tip: Keep your hands out of the striking range of the hammer. Have a friend hold the log at the opposite end to which you are hammering or construct a jig to hold the log in place. Have a friend who is wearing gloves handle the plugs while you hammer. This will reduce contamination.

Step 6: Brush Beeswax or Cheese Wax Over Plugs

Put protective paper or cardboard under your log so the wax doesn't get on your table

Heat up and melt wax. The wax, if it's hot enough, will sizzle when it makes contact with the plug

Dip your brush in the melted wax, tap it on the side of your pan and brush over plugged area

You want enough wax on your brush to cover the plug, but not so much that it messes up your work station or burns you as it drips

Some people cover the ends of the log to keep moisture in. Some people leave them open, so they can absorb water more easily. Again, experiment and document your findings

Safety Tip: Have a pot holder and fire extinguisher handy. Melt wax in an old pot or can with a handle that you are never planning to eat out of again. I like using a pot with a long handle because the metal will get too hot for you to touch with your bare hands. Keep your eye on the wax as it heats up. It melts fast and can start smoking and eventually cause a fire if you leave it

Step 7: Storing Log During Incubation

Over the course of 6-12 months, the mushroom mycelium plugged inside your log will begin to decompose the lignin in the wood by producing acids and enzymes as it digests the wood. Observe and document the changes in your log in a journal or phone. Keep the log in a place you frequently walk past. Some people suggest to water it every two weeks from the start and some say to wait 6 months to begin watering. Whichever you choose, the important thing is to make a decision, stick with it and document your findings. Watering can be done by putting one end of the log into a pot with some water and the log will suck it up. Or you can put the hose on it.

In 6-12 months you will notice that the ends of your logs have changed and there are dark black spots and on the surface you might see white pins, which mean the mycelium is running. Once this occurs, you can soak your log for 24 hours to induce fruiting. After you have induced fruiting, you can water it two times a day. If you live in a rainy climate, you can reduce watering. I like to use water from my hose that has sat overnight to off gas the chlorine.

Alternate ideas for storage: Arrange a few in your living room out of direct sunlight. Find a shady place in the garden, incorporate into your landscape or stack logs off the ground on a pallet. Arrange logs standing in a wine barrel. Bury logs and create hugelkulture. Most advice says to keep the logs off the ground because the soil may contain other fungus to compete with the fungus in your log. I say go for it and do what you want and see what happens. I cant wait to see your pictures.

Step 8: Acknlowledgements

My Turkey Tail plugs came form Fungi Perfecti

Thanks to Paul Stammets for providing a terrific Cultivation Seminar where I engaged in a weekend of hands on mushroom cultivation and got to meet a bunch of fellow geeks. I was provided with enough mushroom culture to inoculate tons of furniture dowels.

I want to acknowledge Peter McCoy of Radical Mycology. At his weekend workshop, I was provided with liquid cultures that have aided my experiments in making sculpture with mushroom mycelium.

Bay Area Mycologists at Counter Culture Lab have provided much insight into this process and all things mushroom.

Contact me if you are interested in plugging logs and helping to create installations. I look forward to seeing the work that you do. Let me know what you create.

Have Fungi!!!