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What to do?

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Thu Aug 27 12:25:05 EST 1998

In article <13681-35E4CD4A-16 at newsd-152.iap.bryant.webtv.net>,
  TREEFARMER at webtv.net wrote:
> I burned Cottonwood one winter as firewood, it has the following
> advantages:
> It produces almost no heat so one doesn't have to worry about cracking
> bricks or getting the room to hot.
> It dries quickly.
> It splits easily. Dry, as I remember.
> It ignites easily, no kindling needed, almost just a match.
> No sparks but lots of flame.
> It's light in weight so anybody can carry in an armful; and you'll need
> to 'cause it burns fast.
> Since it burns fast and leaves no coals, one doesn't have to worry about
> lingering fire in the fireplace. When it's out, it's out.
> Anything left over after the season can be used as ditchfill as it won't
> last another year regardless of care.
> Ah yes, the lesser known values of Cottonwood.
As firewood, cottonwood is not too useful until it is chipped and compressed
into pellets, then burnt in a pellet stove. It does produce more ash than many
other woods, and does not produce as much heat as many other species of tree.

OTOH, it DOES degrade quickly, as mentioned above. This is an advantage when
growing mushrooms. Cut bedlogs of cottonwood (anything 3-12 inches in
diameter, and 22-42 inches long, depending on how strong you are) can be
quickly inoculated with mushrooms such as Pleurotus ostreatus or P.
columbianus (my favorite). There are several other commercial species of
Pleurotus as well.

Pleurotus is important in commerce. It produces successive "flushes" or crops
of mushrooms. Assuming a 4" diameter bedlog 22 inches long, the log should
produce 2-4 flushes of mushrooms, each producing about 3 pounds of product.
These can in turn be sold fairly easily for $1-4 per pound wholesale, or $3-8
retail. They are excellent in soups, salads (after being cooked, please!),
with meat, sauteed, on pizza, or can even be used to inoculate more logs. The
value of the wood as pulp in negligible. The value of wood as mushroom
substrate substantially more.

As Paul Stamets said during a talk to the Oregon Mycological Society several
years ago: "I am holding in my hands two blocks of sawdust. Each block is
worth about 1 cent for pulp. The mushrooms growing from one block are worth
about $10 at today's prices. Which is more valuable? One cent, ten dollars?
I'll take the $10."

It must be pointed out the sawdust being discussed was from Red alder (Alnus
rubra), and the mushrooms shown were shiitake (Lentinula edodes). However,
Pleurotus is _far more_ easy to cultivate, and produces as many as 2 pounds of
fresh weight mushrooms for every bone-dry pound of wood used for substrate.

Yes, dried cottonwood is lightweight. But it grows quickly (See post
Cottonwoods (was RE: What To Do?)), with trees reaching 65 feet during the
fourth year, according to Potlatch Corp. near Boardman, Oregon. The rapid
biomass accumulation can mean abundant chips for paper production (Potlach
Corp's major purpose). But it could also mean abundant, quickly regenerating
crops for fungi.

If pulp or lumber is all you consider trees useful for, you miss the more
economic purposes.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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