Shiitake Mushrooms: Non-Traditional Forest Products, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Susan Tipton-Fox and The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms

We got involved with Shiitake Mushrooms through our Agricultural Cooperative Extension Agency. This is how our farm became “The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms”.

Back in 2003, our local office started a program to help the traditional tobacco farmer transition into some other type of crop. Shiitakes were considered, and still are, a specialty crop. What they proposed for the farmer was edible and medicinal mushrooms. That way, there were two avenues a farmer could pursue with his mushrooms. You can go with “edible” and sell to farmers markets, restaurants, and health food stores. “Medicinal” you can pursue the herbal stores and sometimes you can reach out to acupuncturists office and clinics. A diversified farm would do both!

The Ag office proposed to the farmer an agreement. The Ag office would provide the farmer enough organic mushroom spore to inoculate 25 logs ( 3 to 4 feet long by 4 to 8 inches in diameter) in exchange for data collected by the farmer on how well the mushrooms produced. The farmer had to agree to keep approximately 200 to 250 logs for research. The spore was being provided by NC A & T, a college associated with our NC Agricultural Extension Agency. Dr. Omon was in charge of this program. The farmer would be given bags of spore with batch numbers only. When giving their data information, the farmer would refer to the batch number. This was, and is ongoing, research to see which strains of Shiitake do best in which areas of North Carolina.

Which Trees Can Be used for Mushroom Logs?

Most preferred is: Red and White Oaks. Sweetgum is also indicated. The reason these are preferred over others is that they will produce/last longer due to their high wood density and strong bark — you don’t want the bark to be too thick! Here at the farm we have used Maple, Beech, Ash, Cherry and Birch.

Ash takes longer to produce fruit. The others are good producers but the bark doesn’t hold up long — experiment to see what works for you and keep records (a regular calendar is great to write your notes on). Make sure the bark is in good condition whichever trees you decide to use.

When to Cut the Trees?

The trees should be cut in late fall to late winter (early spring only if sap is NOT up). Be careful not to scuff up the bark — this is very important for several reasons. Ragged bark can allow other fungi to invade the bark. Also, this will allow moisture loss and could slow down fruiting or keep it from fruiting at all.

What Size Should Mushroom Logs Be?

It is recommended to use 3 to 4 feet long and 3 to 8 inches in diameter. It depends on what size you can manage, because you will be moving the logs around — keep this in mind when deciding on size. After cutting the logs, if you are not going to use them for a few weeks, make sure they don’t dry out. Keep them out of direct sunlight, keep them watered if it is unusually dry or keep them loosely covered if it is too rainy. Make sure there is air circulation.

Choosing the Location for a Mushroom ‘Log Yard’

Find an area suitable for the production of the Shiitake. If you have an area that is naturally shaded by trees that is an ideal area for your “log yard”. If you are going to “force” fruiting, you will need access to water, so this will be a consideration when deciding where to put your logs. 80 percent shade is suggested.

When to Inoculate?

It is suggested,  here in Western North Carolina, to start in March and complete by late April. It is best to use the trees as soon as possible after cutting.  The production will be much better because moisture content is high. Have your spawn ready, if you order before you are ready to use you can keep it in the bottom of your refrigerator until ready to use.

Read Part 2 to learn information on materials needed, preparing to inoculate your logs, care of your logs, and then the harvest!

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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