Such was the case with my favorite project to date. Originally, it was a mushroom log, home to a lovely colony of elm oyster mushrooms (Hypsizygus ulmarius). I picked the log especially for this project because it had many branches. The crook of each branch originally held an epiphytic plant. The base around the log was originally wood chips that the mushrooms consumed. Worms were added to help the process. When the soil was far enough along, I put plants in there. Watering the plants helped me remember to water the log. Spraying the epiphytes also sprayed the log. The decomposition of the log provided a constant supply of carbon dioxide to the plants. It was a big, happy system.
But that was about 5 years ago. In that time I have eaten many pounds of mushrooms. Some of the plants died. As the soil decomposed, I had to add more. I have recombined my plants to other places. Some of the epiphytes are back in soil elsewhere. In short, the project has lived its useful life.
However, the log is still there, with plenty of wood remaining. While it hasn't produced any mushrooms in 2 or 3 years, really only the center of the log was completely rotted out. The branches are still intact. I knew the center was hollow because if I added water to the cracks in the top of the log, it eventually came out the bottom. I was thinking that there was a possibility that the fungus was still alive in there and just needed moisture to the right portions to resume production. Or, possibly it is just time for the project to be sequenced to another mushroom.
The first step that was be needed was to find a way to get water to the interior of the log. Spraying the outside or watering the plants around the log was just not enough. I needed to find a way to apply water to the center of the log. My experience with previous spent mushroom logs told me that the top inch or two of wood on the top would be hard, barely decomposed wood. But underneath that, the wood would be soft, even pliable. So I decided to dig out the top of the log and make it into a pot for a plant.
The first trick was to find the right plant. First of all, I am pretty picky when it comes to plants. I don't like plants that everyone else has. I have a strong preference for unique, weird plants. So it had to be something unusual. The hollow center of the log meant that the pot will have excellent drainage, no matter how hard I try to keep it moist. But since the purpose of the project was to moisten the center of the log, I'll need to water frequently. I needed a plant that likes moist conditions, but prefers good drainage. Sounds perfect for a tropical epiphyte. As luck would have it, I happened across a staghorn fern (Platycerium sp.) at a garden center. My baby plant is only 6" wide and 6" tall or so. But this plant is a giant. It grows on the side of trees in tropical climates, sometimes growing to five feet across or more. It has two kinds of fronds. It covers its root ball with what are called shield fronds, which are round and tough. The main plant is composed of what are called fertile fronds that grow out from the plant and resemble the shape of a stag's antlers, which is where the name comes from. It is a dramatic plant that would look fantastic growing out of the top of a log.
Interestingly enough, the interior of the log was hollow. Completely. There was a 2” or so diameter cylinder right down the center of the log that had nothing whatsoever in it. I went ahead and filled that with the wood I had removed from the log. The hole took almost all of it. Then I filled the new “pot” I had made with animal-sterilized home made compost and planted my new plant.
The next step was to put another mushroom on the log. As luck would have it, I had just harvested two Pioppino (Agrocybe aegerita) mushrooms from one of my other logs. As a white rot fungus that loves cottonwood, I thought it might be a good choice for a mushroom sequencing of the project. I cut the stem butts off of the mushrooms and planted them at the base of the compost. Then I made sure I watered the whole thing very well for the next several days.