Florida teens learned how to create their own mushroom farms using tree logs, drills and hammers by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

When Mallory Albritton signed up to make her own mushroom farm, she wasn’t expecting the process to involve tree logs, drills and hammers.

Though her family runs a large fruit farm in Sarasota, the 16-year-old had no experience growing the edible fungi that come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. But during her time at a weeklong program for the national youth development organization 4-H, Albritton learned the ins and outs of how to sprout shiitake mushrooms.

“I saw the course and thought farming is right up my alley,” she said. “It’s been interesting to learn something different.”

Wednesday, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida taught Albritton and eight of her 4-H peers how to make their own mini shiitake mushroom farms. To many of the teens’ surprise, the method involves drilling and hammering earplug-sized mushroom pegs into a tree log.

Once the peg, or mushroom spawn, is hammered down, a layer of wax is placed over the top to ensure hungry critters or invasive fungi can't interrupt the growing process.

The spores then slowly spread mycelium, a white and thread-like mass that allows vegetation, throughout the tree. Six to eight months later, the log sports a bundle of the mushroom that can be sold upward of $16 per pound.

Gardeners can get two to three years of crops on a tree that’s suitable for shiitakes, says Wendy Wilber, program coordinator of IFAS' Master Gardener Volunteer Program. Oak trees are recommended, but cherry or sweet gum work equally well.

"The more dense, the better," she said.

Jabin Williams, 16, of Jefferson County said he’d never heard of, much less eaten or attempted to grow, shiitake mushrooms.

“But I’m willing to try it,” he said.

He added that he’s interested in dabbling in agriculture for his future career, but not sure what kind as of yet.

The course leaders gave the teens, some of whom had only ever eaten canned mushrooms, the chance to try various kinds of the food at the end of the course by sauteing enoki, oyster and other mushrooms in a pan with herbs and garlic. 

The teens had the option to take their potential cash crop home to grow. The rest will be harvested for Hitchcock Field & Fork Food Pantry in Gainesville.

This story originally published to gainesvillesun.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.