We’ve learned how to make compost, and start a worm farm, now it’s time to learn how to grow your own shiitake mushrooms and avoid mistakes new mushroom growers inevitably make:
- Identify the site that will host your shiitake logs. Find a place that will retain moisture – it should be shaded (under evergreens is ideal), and it should not be too windy. I found a shaded plot on a hill under a bunch of fir trees only to later realize that this hill was one of the windiest places on the farm.
- Cut down oak trees, or find newly cut down oak trees, during the winter when the tree is dormant. The best trees are young, which have the highest amount of carbohydrates and will serve as a strong food supply for your mushrooms. Young trees with diameters of less than 8 inches will also be lighter and much easier to transport.
- Cut your logs into lengths no greater than 4 feet. The shorter you cut, the lighter your logs will be. Then use a grill brush to scrape off lichens, debris, and other growth while being careful not to rip off the bark which is needed as a protective layer of insulation and also serves as a barrier to pests and disease. Then, a week before you inoculate, soak your logs in water for up to 48 hours.
- Inoculate your logs. Using a drill with a 5/16th inch bit, drill holes every 6-8 inches in a row. For the second row, off-center the holes so that they are staggered. By now you should have already ordered shiitake mushroom dowel spawn (I recommend ordering from Field & Forest). Pound in the wooden dowels using a hammer or rubber mallet.
- Melt wax to seal inoculant. Once you are done inoculating logs, melt wax until it starts to smoke. Wax that has reached this temperature will not only seal better, but it will also ensure that it kills any harmful bacteria. Using a paint brush, cover each hole with enough wax to seal it. The wax keeps out harmful insects, bacteria, and competing fungi, and keeps in the moisture,
- Stack your logs like you would stack firewood, so there is minimal wind exposure. This will ensure that your logs stay moist. You can also water your logs or cover them with tarp. Keeping your logs very moist is extremely important for the first 3 months
- Wait! Now you can sit back and relax. It will take 12 – 18 months until your logs show traces of white mycelium growth on the cambium layers on the edges of your logs. Once you see this growth it means that the mycelium has fully colonized the log, and that your log is ready for forced fruiting.
- Force your logs to fruit or you can wait, and let nature takes its course. If left alone, natural changes in temperature will naturally force a flushing of mushrooms, most likely once in the spring and once in the fall. To force fruit your logs, you must soak your logs in water that is 20 degrees colder than the air temperature for 24 hours. Soak each log and then re-stack and you should start seeing a flush of mushrooms within two weeks. To get a continuous supply of mushrooms don’t force fruit all your logs at once.
- Let your logs rest – after force fruiting a log and harvesting mushrooms, let your logs rest at least two months before forcing another fruiting.
- Lastly, protect your logs from predators. This goes for growing anything nutritious and delicious. Insects, squirrels, and even deer will find shiitakes just as delicious as you do.
- Shiitake beckons us to be patient. It takes two years until your logs yield a maximum flush of mushrooms. Kohei Ishihara envisions networks of transformative people, organizations, and social movements that are empowered by a deep connection to land, community, and food. Kohei earned a degree in Ethnic Studies from Brown University and helped build a youth activist organization in Providence, RI. He currently works at Freedom Food Farm in Raynham.