Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, smoky flavor that makes mushroom dishes more exciting. When you grow you own you get the freshest mushrooms possible, and with no pesticides. Since shiitakes are relatively easy to grow, they are a good choice for the beginning home mushroom grower.
If you have a small amount of land with protection from sun and wind, you can have success growing shiitake mushrooms right in your own back yard.
About Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake are native to China and other parts of Asia; they do not grow in the wild in the U.S. Where they do grow naturally, spores release from the caps of fruiting mushrooms in spring, flow through the air, and settle on tree limbs, both live and dead. The spores eat the cellulose of the wood and grow, emerging the next year, ready to be harvested.
Growing Shiitake Mushrooms
In commercial cultivation shiitakes are typically grown on sterilized blocks of sawdust. Some say this faster method produces shiitake that are not as meaty or tasty as those grown on logs. Most home shiitake growers grow their mushrooms on logs, using any of a variety of methods.
You can purchase a kit for growing shiitake outside or even indoors, or you can grow your mushrooms from scratch using a method like the one described below. In most areas of the country inoculation is best done in the spring.
1. To start you need freshly cut hardwood logs, preferably oak, poplar, or alder. The logs should be about forty inches long and four-to-six inches in diameter. Logs need to rest for about three weeks after they are cut in order to let the natural fungicides die out, but must be used before they dry out, usually within six months of cutting.
2. Purchase mushroom spawn (the mushroom tissue used for propagation) in the form of plugs, thimbles, or sawdust. A number of online sites sell mushroom spawn, offering a variety of strains of shiitake spawn with different characteristics. You need about 25 shiitake plugs per log.
3. Drill quarter-inch holes around the circumference of your logs, starting two inches from either end, and drilling every six-to-eight inches. Drill holes about one inch deep.
4. Plug the holes with spawn.
5. Melt beeswax or use food grade paraffin wax (called cheese wax) and, using a brush or turkey baster, cover the holes with the wax to protect the spawn from contaminants.
6. Stack your logs like a tipi against a fence or freestanding, or lay them on the ground on a bed of straw. They need to be in a shady, damp place with good air circulation. If there’s not much rain you can dunk the logs in water or give them a heavy watering (four to six hours per week). Keeping the logs moist but not wet is the only tricky part of the operation, and may take trial and error to get right.
7. In six-to-twelve months, after a rainy day, shiitake will emerge from the logs, and continue to produce in spring (and maybe fall) for three to four years, until all the log’s cellulose is used up. Reports of average yield range from one pound of shiitakes for every linear foot of log to eight pounds over the lifetime of the log. If you grow more than you need you can sell them, give them away, dry them, or freeze them.
Learn More About Growing Mushrooms
The more you know about mushrooms the more success you’ll have growing them. Following are just a few of many shiitake-growing resources on the Internet:
The University of Missouri has a great PDF file about Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in an Agroforesty Practice.
Here’s another great .pdf file dedicated to Growing Shiitake Mushrooms.
Mother Earth News can tell you how to Grow Your Own Mushrooms.
For great info, read Sources of Shiitake Spawn.