[Editor’s Note: For easy-upload purposes, all pictures and graphs have been removed. Please see attached PDF document for full report.]
Initial Site Selection
In the evaluation of a suitable truffle orchard site several criteria are determinate. An important consideration is that the area has been free of tree roots (such as is the case for an established pasture) for a period of years so as to reduce potential competition from non-commercial wild truffle varieties as well as other wild competing fungi present in the soil growing in symbiotic relationship with tree roots. Other considerations include keeping a minimum of 25 m away from the surrounding tree line, again to help minimize potential competition from wild mycorrhizal fungi. The type of soil is another very important aspect as this will determine the potential suitability for the Burgundy truffle to grow successfully and minimize the amount of soil mitigation necessary. In our case at Timber Farms, the Sinks, the selection was narrowed down to two slightly south facing slopes. A preliminary soil test was undertaken which showed similar silt-loam soil in both locations. [Appendix B: Initial Soil Test Results] The Walnut Knoll field was selected due to the opportunity for eventual orchard expansion as well as for the utility lines running past the site with a pole located handily at one corner of the orchard that will support the electrical panel for a well.
[Editor’s Note: Fig 1: Site Options – Boyd Luck Field + Walnut Knoll Field /Fig 2: Selected Site – Walnut Knoll Field. Pictures of field from Google Maps]
[Editor’s Note: Fig 3: Selected Site (view to NW) /Fig 4: Selected Site (view to NE) Pictures of open field with treeline.]
The next step was to lay out the boundaries of the orchard within the general site area and perform more detailed soil testing so as to get an actual profile of the area to serve as the basis for the required soil amendment regime. The orchard was laid out in a 50m x 50m square along cardinal directions. Three rows of soil sampling points were arbitrarily established (north, central and south. [See diagram, Figure 5] Along each row, samples were collected every 10 m; the samples for each row were combined and mixed for analysis, providing three sets of data for each depth sampled (generally 0 – 10 cm, 10 – 20 cm and 20 – 30 cm). Soil temperature sensors were placed at each corner of the site, 8 cm deep. Rainfall data are being collected at the greenhouse, approximately 1 km SW of the orchard site.
[Editor’s Note, Fig 5: Truffle Orchard Layout. Drawing of Orchard.]
Lime Calculation and Application
Based on the results of the first comprehensive soil tests [Appendix B: Soil Test Results – 1], Dr. Bruhn recommended 0.7* US tons of lime (“white”, low Magnesium) from the Conco Quarries, Springfield (Willard, MO) Stockpile no. 4, because it’s the only source of low magnesium lime with an adequately high Fineness Factor. In addition, Dr. Bruhn recommended 9.2** US tons of the red lime from Skaggs Rock-n-Lime, Stockpile no. 3. The lime characteristics at each quarry were carefully vetted for their chemical composition prior to ordering.
* Can be rounded to 1 ton for ordering purposes.
** Can be rounded to 9 tons for ordering purposes
In addition to achieving a soil pH of 7.5 to 7.9, the objective is to approximate a Ca:Mg ratio of 40:1, which is well within the broad range reported from productive Sweden and French Burgundy truffle soils. After the application of the lime and after careful consideration of the soil profile, the team realized that more clay and/or organic matter was needed throughout the upper 30 cm (= 12 in) of the soil profile, in order to raise the cation exchange capacity to permit the soil to hold at least 3,000 ppm of Ca (the current recommendation in France). The clay content was naturally higher in the 20 – 30 cm soil level, Rather than disking, or making the plowing implement that was originally envisioned, it was decided that a mold-board plow was the ideal piece of equipment to both mix in the lime deeper into the soil for a more uniform profile while at the same time mixing the deeper clay content throughout the soil. After reviewing the soil tests results from November 9, 2011 (Appendix B – Soil Test Results – 2), it became clear that additional lime was needed due to the deep mixing of the soil. This was also seen as an advantage at this would create a deeper zone of soil with the proper soil characteristics and pH for truffle development. An additional 7 tons of white lime was applied on December 15, 2011 along with one-fourth ton of limestone gravel for slow release pH buffering. This was then seeded with rye grass as a ground cover and to add additional organic matter once plowed in.
Lake Weed Harvest
As part of the organic matter supplement to the soil, the best and most cost effective options are to use resources close at hand. What often appears to be a nuisance or “weed” can also be looked at for its positive attributes. In our case, a nearby spring-fed lake has been choking with milfoil over the last 15 years or more. We had been looking at the lakeweed as a possible oyster mushroom substrate but in
several experiments it proved too dense and too nutrient rich to use without excessive amendment. In the process, we had the dried lakeweed analyzed [Appendix C: Lakeweed Analysis] and were pleased to learn that it had collected quite a bit of calcium as a deposit from the spring water, and had a carbon to nitrogen ration of 15:1, very similar to horse manure. We quickly realized it could make an excellent fertilizer and compost while at the same time imparting a good deal of organic matter into the soil which was deficient for purposes of binding calcium needed for truffle cultivation. After several trial and error mock ups, we purchased a used 9 horsepower outboard motor for a large john boat that we had on the property. We also purchased a Jenson Lake Weed Mower, powered by a marine battery that was the most cost-effective solution to harvesting the lake weed. The first step in the process was then to “mow” an area of the lake with the underwater sickle-type cutter. David Enloe then devised a capture-plow mounted in front of the johnboat which was used to corral the cut weed to shore. We then transported the cut weed to the greenhouse which was not being used during the summer. The lakeweed was spread out on the concrete floor to dry. Similar to making hay, the weed was flipped once or twice to thoroughly dry. The dried weed is quite fractious and light weight and was easy to shred in a leaf shredder after which it has the consistency of peat moss and the smell of alfalfa. This has been bagged for later application to the truffle orchard.
Fig 12: Lake Weed Processing
Fig 13: Lake Weed Plow
Fig 14: Mowing Lakeweed with Jenson Mower
Fig 15: Used Evinrude Outboard Motor
Fig 16: Lakeweed Drying
Fig 17: Shredded Lakeweed
With the deep plowing using the moldboard plow to mix in the clay throughout the upper 30 cm, the amount of lime originally calculated was not sufficient to raise the pH to the desired range. The effect of plowing in the weed grass to add organic matter also had an effect of lowering the pH but has helped raise the organic matter somewhat. The additional lime added on December 12, 2011 should raise the pH to the required level and also buffer a greater volume of soil benefiting truffle formation. Keeping the soil at the proper pH and calcium level will be one of the most important aspects of the project. We discovered that after the third soil tests, we were still falling short of the targeted pH level we need to achieve before planting the trees and inoculating them. Johann recommended adding an additional final 5.5 T of MFA’s finely crushed white dolomitic lime to the truffle orchard, mixing it as well as possible throughout the upper 30 cm. After the orchard was bush-hogged on August 11, 2012, lime was applied and the orchard was plowed and disked on August 30, 2012 and the soil tested again on October 29, 2012. The results of this test finally resulted in the pH range targeted. Overall, we have applied approximately 22.5 T of lime to the upper 30 cm of our one-fourth ha orchard.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
As part of the Phase II grant, Johann, Nicky and I met up last Thursday in Elsberry, MO with Wayne Lovelace, owner of Forrest Keeling Nursery along with Lars Ingman, a truffle consultant from Finland who was in town with his wife, Eva, visiting Johann. We are now targeting this fall for the tree planting and are coordinating with Wayne and his staff on the exact numbers and varieties of trees which will be similar to those proposed for Phase II. Lars, Eva and Johann then came down to the farm to look at the truffle orchard and compare strategies for the planting and maintenance of the trees. The well driller is expected to get started as soon as his rig is repaired, after which we will get the well pump, etc., installed. We still need to increase the percentage of organic matter in the soil and will be working this spring and summer on this, after which we will get the planting beds made, irrigation system laid out and deer fence up all ready for planting. We plan on doing a larger educational open-house event right after the trees are planted this fall which we think will be a bigger draw than just the prepped field.
On October 29, 2011, Mary Hendrickson (sustainable Agriculture program, University of Missouri), David Emerich (Biochemistry and Bacteriology, University of Missouri), and David English (a prospective truffle grower with a farm near Herman, Missouri) came down to the farm with Dr. Johann Bruhn along with his Mizzou Advantage Undergraduate Research Team students looking at the interdisciplinary effect of truffle cultivation in the State of Missouri including the economic, eco-tourist, agricultural and agro-forestry benefits.
Fig 18: Tour of Indoor Shiitake Production
Fig 19: Tour of Outdoor Shiitake Production
Fig 20: Truffle Orchard Orientation
Fig 21: Digging up the Temperature Sensors
Fig 22: Preparing new holes
Fig 23: Placing new sensors and getting soil samples
COLUMBIA MISSOURIAN ARTICLE
On January 21, 2012, two reporters, Anna Boiko-Weyrauch and photographer Sam Gause from the Columbian-Missourian came down to the farm with Dr. Johann Bruhn to write an article on the potential and current status of growing truffles not only at Timber Farms the Sinks but also at other sites across the state. The article “Missouri Farmers lay Groundwork for Truffle Market” appeared in print on
February 9, 2012, along with an online component below:
See Appendix E for full article. [Editor’s Note: The full article has been copied and pasted at the end of this report for viewing.]
On May 12, 2012, we hosted Brandi and Tory Meyr, who are interested in the possibility of trufficulture on Tory’s family’s farm in the bootheel. They were accompanied by Dr. Johann Bruhn who would also be assisting them in establishing another Missouri Burgundy Truffle cultivation site. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Azmy Mohamed (Faculty of Forestry, University Putra, Malaysia) came down to the farm to tour the truffle orchard site with Dr. Johann Bruhn on June 16, 2012.
National Small Farm Trade Show Conference
A detailed presentation was given on Friday, November 2, 2012, to a group of 30 or more attendees of the National Small Farm Trade Show Conference in Columbia, Missouri at the NCR-SARE Farmers Forum. The presentation covered the state of the art understanding of burgundy truffle culture as well as the process and results to date of the Phase 1: Truffle Project. A video of this presentation can be viewed online through NCR-SARE’s YouTube channel. Copy the following URL and paste it into your browser to view the video:
Fig 24: Burgundy Truffle Production Presentation at the National Small Farm Trade Show Conference
Missouri Farmers Lay Groundwork for Truffle Market
By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
February 9, 2012 6:00 a.m. CST
Three farms in Missouri are breaking ground to cultivate black truffles with the help of an MU Researcher. The field doesn’t look like much yet. At the flat top of a hill there is a three-fourths acre patch of grass clumps that have been slathered with limestone powder to alter the soil. Deer have left tracks in the soft dirt. Ozark Forest Mushrooms co-owner Nicola Macpherson gets excited imagining what will come. “I just dream of having a table here,” she says. “Wouldn’t that be fun? Just to have a glass of wine and a (piece of) truffle toast?” If everything goes right, in five to six years this square of dirt will be an orchard of oak and hazelnut trees with lumpy black mushrooms growing underneath the soil at their roots. Ozark Forest Mushrooms, located near the Current River in southern Missouri, is preparing to be the first commercial truffle farm in Missouri. The farm is one of three businesses that are looking to start growing the prized fungus for the first time in the state. The cultivation efforts are a collaboration with MU plant pathologist and agro-forester, Johann Bruhn, who has been researching truffles since 1999. Bruhn is convinced he finally knows enough to help start “truffelieres,” or truffle orchards. Bruhn and his colleagues have planted a research orchard at the MU Center for Agro-forestry at New Franklin to see how the European mushrooms fare under Missouri conditions. He said he hopes the first truffles will develop as early as next year and hopes to use them to propagate more truffles. There are at least 200 different species of truffle, Bruhn said. But of the three priciest gourmet varieties, the black Burgundy truffle — named after the Burgundy region of France – is best suited for Missouri weather. Burgundy truffles (or Tuber aestivum) mature in autumn, unlike another type of gourmet black truffle, which fruits in the winter and might be damaged by frozen ground or cold weather. The truffles could fetch a nice price if the commercial operations are successful, Bruhn said. The Burgundy truffle sells for about $400 a pound, he said, or about $40 to $50 for one the size of a golf ball. With a little luck, each acre could yield 10 to 20 pounds of truffles a year, he said. In 2010, the U.S. imported more than 132,000 pounds of prepared truffles worth almost $3 million, mostly from France and Italy, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.
Andy Ayers, former chef of Riddle’s Penultimate Cafe Wine Bar in St. Louis, said truffles give food a powerful, unique flavor. “There’s nothing that tastes like truffles but truffles,” he said. Ayers said he used to cook with black truffles from Oregon. He described the flavor as “earthy” or “cave-like” yet delicate. “It’s amazing to me how pervasive and domineering the flavor can be and at the same time be so ephemeral,” he said. Pasta with cream sauce is his favorite way to cook the mushrooms, he said. If you use them properly, the taste of truffles is “not so much resting on your tongue as radiating flavor gently throughout your mouth,” Ayers said. The smell is what sets the truffle apart from other culinary delights. The fragrance, which resembles the sex hormones of male pigs, is actually a survival mechanism, Bruhn said. The fungus spores are spread by animals, so truffles have to emit an odor mighty enough to convince wild critters to unearth them, he said.
Missouri’s First Commercial Truffelieres
Nicola Macpherson jets among the rows of oak logs in the greenhouse at Ozark Forest Mushrooms. The stems of fuzzy brown shiitake mushrooms snap between her fingers. “They look like velvet when you pick them,” Macpherson said. The 450-acre, 20-year-old Ozark Forest Mushrooms produces an average of 100 pounds of shiitake and 150 pounds of light yellow and gray oyster mushrooms a week in the winter. Ten years ago, a chef friend of Macpherson’s brought her an Italian company’s brochure for truffle products and suggested she get into the business. Since then, her business has, well, mushroomed. Macpherson buys truffles and truffle products, such as truffle shavings, oil and juice, from Italy and sells them to upscale restaurants and country clubs in St. Louis, she said. She makes her own truffle butter from canned truffles; a small tin goes for $5. Now, Bruhn is working with Macpherson and her business partner and husband, Dan Hellmuth, to raise an orchard of oak and hazelnut trees that will foster their own black truffles. Growing truffles is a tricky process. Truffles need trees to grow — they form a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship. The fungus’ structure attaches to the tips of shallow tree roots in the first foot of soil below the surface. The fungus provides the tree with nutrients from the soil, such as phosphorous and iron, and the tree feeds the fungus carbohydrates. Truffles are detail oriented. For example, the Burgundy truffle will hook up with some tree species more easily than with others; the soil has to be just so sweet with a pH of between 7.5 and 8. The baby truffles need moisture to survive the summer but not too much, Bruhn said. If everything goes right, Burgundy truffles can fruit as early as four to five years after the orchard is planted — otherwise it could take up to a decade to know if something went wrong, Bruhn said. After the first crop, orchards can produce the truffles every year for a century between September and December, he said. Missouri has an active community of mushroom-enthusiasts, but truffle cultivation is “a bit beyond our means for most members,” Missouri Mycological Society Executive Secretary Patrick Harvey said. “We’re mostly amateurs,” Harvey said. “Besides that, many amateur mycologists in the state prefer to hunt wild mushrooms for the experience, rather than grow their own,” said Stan Hudson, foray coordinator for the Mid-Missouri Chapter of the Missouri Mycological Society. “It’s kind of my stress relief, getting out and looking for mushrooms,” Hudson said. Down in the Ozarks, Macpherson said she might sell whatever truffles her farm produces to her clients in St. Louis or use them in her truffle butter. But she said she will wait and see how things grow. As the owner of Eat Here St. Louis, chef Ayers works with gourmets across St. Louis to deliver locally grown food. He said he is interested in Missouri-grown black truffles. “I would certainly try them, and I would sell them, and if I had a restaurant, I would serve them,” he said. Chef Gerard Craft of the St. Louis gourmet restaurant Niche said his business doesn’t normally use truffles a ton in part because they are so expensive and hard to get. Also, using foreign fungi doesn’t fit in with the restaurant’s image of “taking humble Midwest ingredients and elevating them” Craft said. Missouri-grown truffles, however, are something he would use. “To be able to get that locally and cultivated, most likely more affordably, would be fantastic,” he said. At least two farms other than Ozark Forest Mushrooms trying to grow truffles also want to offer customers the experience of truffle hunting and tasting. Bruhn sees the potential for an agro-tourism renaissance. At Ozark Forest Mushrooms, visitors rent out a lakeside farmhouse near a pine grove of shiitake-sprouting logs. In the future, Macpherson hopes to host gourmet dinners with local chefs who will prepare a banquet for paying guests using the farm’s ingredients. Persimmon Hill Farm near Branson also plans to break ground on a truffle orchard next year. The owner, Earnie Bohner, said 90 percent of his business comes from visitors who come to pick berries, tour the shiitake farm and eat homemade blueberry pancakes and muffins on the farmhouse porch. A truffle orchard would extend the farm’s profitable season into the fall, he said. “The interest factor is high,” Bohner said. “It’s going to be really fun for people, ‘What are truffles? How do you grow them?'” They hope to train their two Labrador retrievers, Jake and Carolina, to sniff out truffles so they can help visitors with their hunts. Tourism is not a primary concern for The Farm at Sugar Creek, which will break ground on a truffelieres in the spring or summer this year, owner David English said. He is a marketing consultant in St. Louis but wanted to turn his family’s 200 acre farm southwest of Hermann into a profitable enterprise. “I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of doing something, especially here in Missouri for Missouri, that maybe would set a precedent,” he said. “I can’t imagine any more precedent setting than a truffelieres in Missouri.” English said he is really excited about the prospect of a homegrown truffle industry in Missouri and thinks it will be positive for the state. At Ozark Forest Mushrooms, the soil pH of the future truffle orchard is being adjusted with lime, and depending on the result, could be ready to host trees by fall. The couple has already invested a lot of time, energy and at least $7,500, along with support from a grant, they said. “It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means,” Hellmuth said. Hellmuth said if the truffieres works, cultivation could help boost the economy in the Ozark region. He said it’s a new agricultural product that would bring income, as well as “another reason to come down and spend money” in the Ozarks. “I’m confident it has the potential,” he said.