Growing Shiitake Mushrooms at Home

A delight to the palate, the home-grown, edible shiitake mushrooms can turn waste-wood into $20-per-pound produce.

| January/February 1986

Its flavor has been likened to those of lobster and filet mignon. It's low in calories, it's high in protein and B vitamins, and it reduces serum cholesterol. The shiitake, the savory Japanese forest mushroom, is a rising star of the gourmet world. And for those with the requisite time and patience, it can also be the core of a lucrative, low-labor business. 

Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) has been grown commercially in Japan for centuries and is still one of that country's major agricultural exports. But until 1972, you couldn't cultivate the mushroom in this country; live shiitake culture was banned in the United States. Because shiitake is lignicolous — which means that it lives on wood, drawing its nutrients from lignin and cellulose — there was concern that the fungus could spread beyond its areas of cultivation and attack railroad ties and wooden structures. That theory proved false, however, and now even the usually staid USDA predicts a promising future for domestic shiitake farmers.

Some experts, in fact, expect the mushroom eventually to supplant the more familiar button type at supermarkets. Small-scale growers are already finding profitable markets as more and more restaurants, co-ops, oriental food stores, and farmers' markets clamor for the delicac y —and pay anywhere from $4 to $20 (and sometimes more!) a pound.

Getting Started: Growing Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally grown outdoors on seasoned hardwood logs — preferably oak, although maple, birch, poplar, aspen, beech, and other species have also been used successfully. Shiitake spawn won't do well on live or green wood, however, nor is it likely to survive on deadfall wood, or on stock contaminated by lichens or other fungi. It's necessary, therefore, to cut logs for shiitake cultivation from freshly felled trees or just-trimmed limbs.

For the sake of manageability, the stock should measure between three and six inches in diameter. Fell the trees in late fall or winter, when they're leafless and when the wood's sugar content is highest and most beneficial to fungus growth. Then cut the logs into 40-inch lengths, being careful to keep the bark intact — the bark is a critical requirement for fruiting. It's important, too, to get the wood up off the ground immediately, to avoid contamination from other organisms. Any logs that appear to be diseased or that have fungus growing on them should be used only for firewood.

Stack the billets out of the sun and wind to cure, making sure to leave spaces between the logs for air to circulate freely. A shady spot in the woods under a stand of pines is an ideal place to season logs; or, if necessary, you can create a suitable environment by building (or planting) a windbreak and using a tarpaulin for shade. If you live in an area where there is much rainfall, you may need to keep a cover over the wood. Snow, on the other hand, does no harm to the wood.

11/29/2016 10:53:14 PM

I have pine tree wood / logs could i use them to grow these

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