Mushrooms are a somewhat unknown health food. Packed with protein, trace minerals and Vitamins B and D, Shiitake Mushrooms are one of nature’s powerhouses.
Unfortunately, they’re also quite expensive in the grocery store and can be hard to find. Should this limit our beneficial enjoyment of them? For many, the answer is yes, but it doesn’t have to be. Growing Shiitake mushrooms is something anyone can do, and with some preliminary hard work and plenty of patience, you can harvest your own Shiitake mushrooms year after year. Get ready to enjoy the delectable earthy taste of these fungi more often.
While growing Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) isn’t for everyone, those who have some space, outdoors or indoors, to place some logs, and the desire to eat homegrown and health boosting fungi, will find it rewarding to embark on this adventure. Shiitake Mushrooms are low in fat and calories and high in protein, having a protein content comparable to beans and peas. Studies have shown that these mushrooms can help reduce cholesterol. Chinese medicine included Shiitake Mushrooms for thousands of years, knowing their value in boosting health and helping build resistance to disease. Mary Lynn White at VegetableGardner.com writes, “We found out that shiitakes raised at home are superior in taste, texture, and appearance to what is commercially available.” What more incentive do you need to grow your own than that the product is a mushroom that is both healthy and delectable!
While Shiitake Mushrooms can be grown all year long depending on what strain you choose, you’ll want to set some time aside during the winter, after the trees have lost their leaves and before buds appear in the spring, to first set up your logs. You can purchase fresh logs from a supplier or cut your own. While white oak, red oak, and sweetgum are the most popular for mushroom growing, Shiitake Mushrooms will grow on almost any hardwood (American hornbeam, ironwood, laurel oak, cherry, sassafras, sycamore, tulip poplar, and hickory to name a few). White oak is considered the most disease-resistant but also takes longer for growth. If you purchase your logs, be sure to check that there are no split logs and that the bark isn’t peeling. Check the sapwood, the lighter outer layer of wood. The thicker this is, the better, as your mushrooms will feed off of the sapwood. The more there is, the longer you’ll see your logs produce. If you choose to cut your own logs, the same applies. Choose healthy trees from a good area (not rocky or extremely wet land) and check for peeling bark or splits. Cut your logs to a comfortable size for you to move them and allow them to rest for seven to 10 days.
You’ll want to have ordered your spawn (fungal spores) ahead of time so that it arrives shortly after your logs are cut. Spawn is available in a variety of strains, but they all fall into three categories, cool season strains (fruit between 41 to 68 degrees F), wide-range strains (fruit between 50 to 80 degrees F) and warm season strains (fruit between 50 to 86 degrees F). When your spawn arrives, check it to make sure it is mostly white and fluffy. Brown spawn is not ready. You can try storing brown spawn in an area that is 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to see if it will develop into white spawn in a couple days. If it doesn’t, contact the supplier and ask for some white spawn. If you receive the spawn days before you are ready to use it, you can refrigerate it, but move it to room temperature about 24 hours before you’re ready to inoculate your logs.
When inoculation day arrives, choose an area that is fully shaded. Some people inoculate outdoors while others find that working in an indoor area works well, too. The spawn will be in little dowel shapes. Drill holes periodically throughout the logs and sink the spawn into them. Tap the dowels with a hammer to ensure they are fully in, as any part that sticks out will cause the entire dowel to dry rendering it useless. Once the dowel is sunk in, brush off any sawdust and seal up the hole with melted wax. You can purchase cheese wax from your spawn supplier. Mary Lynn shared that mixing four parts paraffin with one part petroleum jelly worked admirably, as well.
Once the logs are inoculated with Shiitake Mushroom spawn, set them in a shaded location, either indoors in a basement or garage or outdoors in an area that is at least 60 to 80 percent shaded. Shiitake Mushrooms need moisture to grow, so most serious mushroom growers soak their logs. Depending on the number of logs you have, you can use a large pot, tubs or even a stock tank. Soak them overnight and then set them up the following day. Even once your logs are established, you’ll want to continue soaking them prior to the times you wish them to begin fruiting each year. If you don’t have the space or facilities to soak your logs, you can use a sprinkler to thoroughly soak them and then cover them with a tarp.
Fungus-like growth rings will appear on either end of the log within four to eight months or more; the Shiitake spawn has taken. After that, if the weather is warm and moist, pinning, the appearance of brown button growths, will begin. If cold, dry weather sets in, the mushrooms can be halted at this stage for weeks, but if conditions are right, the buttons will grow and open into delectable Shiitake Mushrooms. (Protect these from deer if you have them in your area, as deer relish these delicacies.)
For the best flavor and texture, harvest your Shiitakes before they are fully open by taking a sharp knife and cutting them off flush with the log. If you aren’t able to cook with your Shiitakes right away, you can refrigerate them in a paper bag for about two weeks. Shiitake Mushrooms also dry quite well in a dehydrator; drying intensifies and improves their flavor. Use your Shiitake Mushrooms, fresh or dried, in salads, soups, sauces, stir fries, with steak, and as a topping in pasta dishes. Your options are endless! Enjoy!