Cultivating mushrooms on M.V.

Polly Hill’s Oliver Osnoss shows us how.


Did you know that those expensive, delectable fungi that call to you from the produce aisle in the supermarket are actually easy to grow on the Island? According to grounds horticulturist Oliver Osnoss at Polly Hill Arboretum, who will be conducting a hands-on mushroom cultivation workshop on Saturday, April 13, from 10 am to 2 pm.

Mushrooms will thrive anywhere it is wet and warm, and our climate here is particularly conducive to these conditions. “If you have a damp area with dappled shade, such as under the odd-looking tree or shrubbery in that ignored part of your property, you can put a small stack of mushroom logs there and mostly forget about them until fruiting,” Osnoss told The Times.

Osnoss will begin with a presentation on mushroom cultivation for the average homeowner. Subsequently, he will review the details of growing shiitakes from start to finish. Then you get to try your hand at inoculating the logs, which is the most time-consuming part of growing mushrooms at home. Osnoss uses locally sourced cut oak logs, drilling, inoculating, sealing, and labeling them. Best of all, after all that work, you get to bring home your log along with instructions for caring for your private crop. Having done the lion’s share of work during the workshop, Osnoss assured me, “After that, basically all there is to do is be patient and occasional watering,” he said. “Anyone who has done some gardening can grow them, and even better — it’s like gardening but without the weeding.”

According to Osnoss, shiitake mushrooms (lentinula edodes) are native to East Asia, and a lot of the techniques for cultivating them come from Japan. “I can say with certainty that we have been eating mushrooms since before the dawn of agriculture,” Osnoss explained. “Now that we have agriculture, I prefer to cultivate mushrooms on oak logs because it is easy, reliable, good for the environment, and I don’t have to worry about misidentifying a mushroom.”

Osnoss said he grows mushrooms because it’s easy and rewarding. “It’s a great feeling to have heaps of mushrooms that you grew yourself,” he said. “The quality of fresh shiitakes grown on oak logs is the best. When I see the mushrooms at the store and the price, my eyebrows go up and down.”

He continued, “People make all sorts of health claims about mushrooms, and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. I eat them because they impart an umami flavor, which is delicious in soups and breakfast sandwiches. And if umami isn’t your thing, they soak up butter really well.”

Osnoss left me with a final thought: “Growing mushrooms yourself on oak logs is a natural process that I think is good for everyone … and the planet.”


The Mushroom Cultivation workshop will be at Polly Hill Arboretum on Saturday, April 13, from 10 am to 2 pm. Pack a lunch. Price is $65 for nonmembers, and $50 for members. Call to register, 508-693-9426.