Recently I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Mother Earth News Fair. I saw many great presenters such has how to build your own electric car. One of the presentation I saw was about growing your own Shiitake mushrooms. This presentation was by Rusty and Clair Orner from Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School of Country Living. Below I have written up my summary of what I learned from their presentation and have included an edited video of the event. I have already started collecting and stacking my logs and look forward to starting my fungus crop in the spring.
What struck me about growing mushrooms is how remarkably easy it seems this hobby is. This is a project that will take an afternoon and within a year your logs might produce expensive and nutritious mushrooms for over 10 years. All you need to grow mushrooms are some oak branches, a drill, some spawn, and a shady spot.
In Japan Shiitakes are grown on the Shii tree. “Take” means mushroom in Japanese so Shiitake means “shii tree mushroom” so technically you will be growing “oak-takes.”
Step 1: Source your wood
As I already mentioned, the best wood to use for a Shiitake project is an Oak tree branch, however you can use any hardwood branch such as maple.
- Do not grow Shiitakes in softwoods or conifers.
- Branches should be between 3″ and 8″ in diameter
- Cut your logs into 3′ to 5′ long sections
Harvest shiitake logs in the fall after the leaves have fallen all the way up to just before spring. You want to make sure you are taking fresh logs to avoid any chance that another fungus has colonized the log. Choose only dormant logs for best results.
Step 2: Inoculate
Inoculating your logs is the hardest part of this entire process. You have 3 basic options for inoculation.
- Rusty buys all of his spores and mushrooming supplies from http://fieldforest.net. Please let them know “Rusty” sent you as a favor to him
- Rusty recommends a “wide range spore” rather than a cold or hot activated spore for best luck of success, although you might have to tailor this to your region.
- Dowel rod plugs. These are considered to be the easiest to use, however the drawback is it may take longer for your logs to bear fruit initially. To inoculate with a dowel rod plug you drill a small hole, insert the dowel and then cover with wax.
- Thimble spawn – these are the easiest and most popular. You have a small plug with a Styrofoam cover, however using Styrofoam is not the most responsible choice
- The most economical method is using sawdust spawn. You receive a bag of loose sawdust which has been inoculated. You have to drill a hole and ram some of it into the log, then cover that with wax. This is the method that makes the most sense to use. It is only a small extra effort, it saves some money, and it has quickest time to fruit.
If you are in a more dry climate, you can consider sealing one end of your log with wax. This will be considered the top end. Leave one end of the log unwaxed so that it can wick moisture from being in direct contact with the ground. Another dry weather strategy is to bury your log 1/2 way into the ground.
The recommended wax to use is bees wax or cheese wax. To apply the wax, first heat it and then dab it on, or it can be softened with an oil, such as vegetable oil.
Step 3: Stacking
In the first year, stack your logs close to or on the ground (12 to 18 months)
After the first year, you can lean your logs. The technique that Rusty from Quiet Creek Herb farm mentioned is to tie a pipe to a line of trees. Make this pipe about 3′ high and then simply lean your logs against the pipe.
That is basically it. You’re all set. You should be good to go, producing mushrooms for the next 10 or more years!
- You do not want your logs to drop below 30% moisture. If you live in a climate similar to Pennsylvania (where I live), you won’t have to worry about this as long as you have them in a nice shady spot that is not subject to direct sunlight. If you are in a much drier environment, you may have to water the log. I’m not positive you would have much luck growing shiitakes in Yuma, Arizona.
- To get your logs to fruit more quickly and reliably, you will need to “Thump” the log. This process basically involves picking the log up and then dropping it to the ground. Do this right after a rain storm for best results. In Japan, Shiitake logs are subject to earthquakes. Wide range shiitake responds to vibration by fruiting.
- Slugs: this is the main predator of your new shiitake garden. The best method to prevent slugs from eating your precious mushrooms is to simply harvest them before they are appetizing to the slug. You will want to pull the mushroom when it is 2/3 open which would be approximately 2 to 3 days after you see it appear. If you notice slugs, you can set out a bowl of beer, which they will crawl into and die.
Storing and using
- Dehydration is the preferred method of storage. The best way to dehydrate the mushrooms in on a simple screen in the sunlight. One of the main medicinal benefits of the mushroom is the vitamin D content. If you use a traditional dehydrator, then you will have about 10 international units of vitamin D per gram, however if it is sun dried, this number sky rockets to 10,000 to 20,000 international units of vitamin D – 10,000 when dried with the gills facing down and 20,000 when dried with the gills facing up.
- Dry the stems separately. These can be ground into a powder. The stems are believed to have the most medicinal properties. Dried stems can be used to thicken soups or be added to salad dressings (2 suggestions)
- Cook fresh by frying in butter or oil
- Marinate in olive oil and balsamic vinegar for 10 minutes and then grill for a nice sandwich
Here is the video to learn more about this process from the 2010 Mother Earth New’s Fair: