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Situational growing.

Awhile ago in Kennett Square, PA, I watched a game of my beleaguered Cubs once again getting out hit, out pitched and out coached. The commentators mentioned that the Cubs are clueless with respect to "situational hitting"--that is modifying their approach to hitting depending on the situation. For example, with a runner on third, one out, and the infield back, all the hitter had to do was lay down a bunt or put the ball on the ground to the infield to get the run in. Instead, he swung for the fences for the big two-run homer and struck out instead. Of course, given the Cubs average of leaving runners in scoring position, the guy died on third and that was that. Nothing more than another lost opportunity.

The next day on an area farm, I recognized that there were many lost opportunities because of not using "situational growing"--that is using cultural techniques that are not appropriate for the prevailing circumstances. One of the most common examples of poor situational growing is related to compost strength: the relative ability of a given compost to grow a high amount of quantity and/or quality of mushrooms.

To explore this phenomenon, let's start with a basic premise: the better the compost the more production/quality potential it has. Also, the greater the amount (within reason) of good quality compost, the more production/quality potential it has. Production/quality potential can be described as the quantity of mushrooms that can be extracted from a compost with minimal attention to quality; alternatively the quantity of mushrooms that can be extracted with very high attention to quality, and then any combination in between.

The cultural practices used to grow out any given compost with a defined amount of nutrition could be modified to give a desired result. For example, let's say that the quality and quantity of a compost has stabilized to give a consistent yield of 7 lb/[ft.sup.2] with 40 percent large mushrooms and near equal first and second breaks. We can say that equilibrium has been achieved to produce that quality standard at that yield, on that compost. However, what happens when the compost goes off the boil due to new season straw, formulation problems, or otherwise? The equilibrium is upset and as a result the performance standard declines. In such a situation, I would anticipate that overall, especially first break, yields would decline along with the percentage of large mushrooms.

Why? Many times I have seen crops with reduced nutrition (due to quality or quantity of nutrition) react significantly different when standard, well-defined pinset control practices are applied to them. When a crop has a lot of quality nutrition the mushrooms are hard to hold back, and they can take a lot of abuse in order to do so. However, when a crop has less nutritional strength and the same pinning practices are applied, mushrooms are less inclined to burst through and grow at will. Instead they must be coaxed to grow, and usually to less than expected weight and size. Consequently under the circumstance mentioned, any initiative to limit numbers via pinning technique or choking would have a more severe result than normal. This is a case where the situation dictates a change.

The pinning technique should be modified with a lesser level of nutrition to allow more first break mushrooms to come to fruition. Whether it is the actual flush that should be modified to put up more pins, or the period of pin development changed to allow more to come though is a more specific question. However, either is an adaptation to the situation to extract maximum productivity out of compromised compost. It would be an example of situational growing--or situational pinning--in this circumstance.

There are many, many opportunities to practice situational growing in the grand scheme of things, but also in the small scheme as well. Changing the composting turning cycle to reduce turns would be a response a situational composter might make on a series of crops with short straw. Altering the formulation to adjust for either low nitrogen or high ash poultry manure would be another. Changing watering patterns during periods of wet weather or even in the condition described above with the weaker compost, would be ways to adapt situationally to times of low evaporation; altering the sprawn rate if the spawn runs are slow; increasing supplement if the nitrogen content is low. The list can go on, and on, and on. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of mushroom growing that makes it so intriguing because there are so many adjustments to circumstances that are possible.

There are problems associated with situational growing as well. There are so, so many things that might require a situational change that first they must be noted, and second must be adjusted to properly. Incorrect adjustments to situations can cause more problems that leaving the darn thing alone. Perhaps that is why situational growing is not applied as much as it should.

The point of the story is to not grow by the cookbook; not to be so rigid in application of cultural techniques that one does not adjust for the situation or circumstances that are present. To do so can lead to untold peril and gnashing of teeth. Sort of like the Cubs who have avoided situational baseball like the plague for the last 100 years, and you can see where that has left them.

Ray Samp


Agri-Culture Consulting Services 113 Colleen Court San Marcos, Texas

"Spore Prints" is a regular column featuring conferences around the world, market situations in various countries, alternative raw materials, introduction of mushroom personalities, historical perspectives of industry trends, farm management and perosnal opinions.
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Title Annotation:Spore prints
Author:Samp, Ray
Publication:Mushroom News
Date:May 1, 2009
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