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Shiitake Mushrooms: Non-Traditional Forest Products, Part 2

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In Part 1 of this series, we told you how we got involved cultivating shiitake mushrooms through our Agricultural Cooperative Extension Agency. This is how our farm became "The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms". Read Part 1 for guidance on choosing the right logs and when to inoculate them. In this post, we'll show you how to get started with the inoculation and cultivating of shiitakes.

Equipment and Supplies

• Drill
• Drill bit (suggested 12 mm) — Field & Forest has these for $13.00 each
• Wax (Cheese wax suggested) — Expect to pay about $15.00 for 5 pounds. The non-paraffin is more expensive but better for organic growers.
• Inoculator (thumb-style brass) — Field & Forest has this for $33.00.
• You can use a kitchen baster brush (natural bristle with no plastic) or you can purchase wax daubers — you can get packages of four for $1.00.
• Spawn can also be purchased from Field & Forest, Fungi Perfecti, and elsewhere. If interested in the project through Cooperative Extension, contact your local extension office for more info.
• You may contact local loggers regarding logs that are too small for lumber as sometimes they sell this for firewood. If you have it available, you can cut your own.
• If you decide to soak your logs, you will need a container large enough to fit the size of log you have cut. There are livestock water troughs for larger logs and Wal-Mart has plastic "totes" that would service smaller logs and are priced reasonably.

Setup to Inoculate Mushroom Logs

I suggest to have a work area (station) for each task:

1. Find a location that will be suitable for an electric drill (if you’re in a remote area make sure you have extra batteries). Have an area where you can set up your drill to make the holes in the logs.

2. It is recommended to space the holes 6 to 8 inches apart in rows along the length with 2 to 4 in between rows. The holes should look like a staggered diamond pattern. (Closer spacings increase the rate of colonization and more rapid production but, the spawn doesn’t go as far). Use your own judgement.

3. Have an area you can put your log to inoculate with the spawn. Make sure the drilled hole is completely “full” of the spawn. Using your thumb inoculator, punch it down into the bag of spawn until the inoculator is full then, put it over the hole in the log and using your thumb press a couple of times to release the spawn into the hole.

4. Have an area for your waxing station. You can have the wax slowly melting (on low) while you are doing 1 and 2. Make sure the wax never gets too hot. Use a natural bristle brush or wax dauber to apply the wax completely covering the spawn/hole, and make sure there are no air bubbles. Go over it a couple of times if you need to. Be careful not to drop wax on your skin.


Stacking the Logs

After you have finished with your logs it is time to “stack” your logs and wait for fruiting. Fruiting time can be anywhere from 6-12 months from time of inoculation.

1. You can just “low stack” the logs which is just leaving them on the ground but, it is re-commended to lay the logs on top of a pallet or cinderblocks to keep ground fungi from
invading the logs.

2. You can stack in “crib style” stacking logs on top of each other (horizontal layers of logs laid perpendicular to each other).

3. Then, there is the “lean to” where the logs are just leaned up against a fencing, rail, or wire.

During this time make sure the bark/logs do not dry out. If it is unusually dry you can use an overhead sprinkling system, watering hose or soak in a container. If soaking in a container it is recommended to soak between 24 to 78 hours. This can also be done to “force” fruiting.

Know your water source! Very important: Do not use water from a creek, branch, or river that has horses upstream of your mushrooms. E-coli has been found in water from this type of source.


When to Harvest?

Logs can fruit anywhere from 6 to 12 months from inoculation due to moisture content in logs, strain of mushroom, air temp, humidity, rainfall and light. When you see the logs begin to fruit you can help the fruiting by watering or soaking. It can take about 3 days for the mushroom to be large enough for harvest. Look under the cap of the mushroom for bugs/snails and brush off with a “mushroom” brush or baster or plain paper towel.

Collect mushrooms in box, basket or stainless steel container. Store in refrigerator or cool area immediately to preserve freshness.

How to Treat Logs After Harvest

Put the logs in a designated area where you will know these logs have fruited. It is good to keep notes on a calendar as to when you have a fruiting so you can keep up with forcing of these logs. It is recommended only to force logs every 6 to 10 weeks. You can look on your calendar.

If these logs have not started to fruit again, you can put them in containers to soak and force another fruiting. After soaking it is recommended to “shock” the log with a rubber mallet. To do this just strike the ends of the logs several times. This helps to stimulate the mycelium.

Pest and Insects

Try to keep leaves raked away from your log stacks. This is a good hiding place for snails and other bugs that love to eat on the mushroom. You can put out snail baits (saucers of beer) for the snails to drown in. Otherwise, you have to pick most of the other bugs off the mushrooms as being picked. There are beetles that like to eat into the wax to spawn, so watch for this. Squirrels may be a problem in some places.

Most logs will produce at least two crops per year. Depending on the strain those crops may be Spring and Early Fall with some sporadic fruiting through the summer. There are other ways to produce mushrooms such as using basements, fruiting houses, etc., but that can lead to more equipment and expense for checking humidity, etc. I suggest trying a simple route with less expense and then, if you decide to go bigger search out the other methods.

Good luck in your ventures!

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Read all of Susan's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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