If you love to eat mushrooms, you'll be sure to appreciate the superior quality and flavor of fresh, home-grown mushrooms. If you think mushrooms are OK, but they're not on your list of favorite foods, growing your own might completely change your mind. In fact, I thought I disliked mushrooms until I ate some fresh ones (they were just simple button mushrooms but, since I was in Kennett Square, PA which is the mushroom growing capital of the USA, they were extremely fresh). They tasted completely different form the store-bought mushrooms that I was used to buying and, once I tried them, I realized that I had been missing out on some great eating!
Shiitake mushrooms are a good choice for a beginning mushroom grower because they do well in a variety of climates and can produce mushrooms without the intensive management that many other types of mushroom require. If you have some shady space in your yard to keep a stack of logs and have access to a drill, you'll be able to grow shiitake mushrooms.
How to grow your own Shiitake Mushrooms
Step 1: Find out when shiitakes should be started in your area. In most parts of the country, it is best to inoculate your logs around the time of the last hard frost of the spring. However, growers in some areas had had good success with inoculating in the fall.
Step 2: Get your hands on some good shiitake logs. Shiitake mushrooms grow on trees! They grow well on freshly cut logs of many hardwood tree species. Oak logs are most commonly used but growers have used poplar, sweet gum and other hardwood logs successfully as well.
Step 3: Inoculate and stack your logs. Once it's the right time of year and you have gotten some good logs, it's time to start your shiitakes! You'll have to buy some shiitake spawn from a reputable source to get started. Spawn is usually available mixed with sawdust or soaked into a dowel. Either way, you will need to drill holes in your logs and insert the spawn into them. The holes that you drill can be sealed with wax or foam plugs to protect the spawn from competing fungi, moisture fluctuations and other dangers. After inoculating, stack your logs in a shady area that has good air flow. They can be stacked on top of each other like Lincoln Logs or can be leaned up vertically against a taut wire, a privacy fence or anything else that will support them.
Step 4. Keep your logs at the correct moisture level and temperature. If your logs get too dry, your shiitake spawn will not be able to survive. Ditto if the logs get too moist. Luckily shiitake thrives in a pretty wide range of moisture levels (the logs should be at a moisture level between 35% and 55% for optimal growth). You will probably have to water your logs on a regular basis during the drier times of the year for optimal moisture levels to be maintained. You will also probably want to have a tarp handy so that you can cover your logs with it if they are getting rained on too much.
Step 5. Harvest Your Shiitakes. If you keep your logs moist and shaded, they will usually produce two harvests a year for you: one in fall and one in spring. Shiitake productivity is extremely variable, depending on which strain of mushroom you have, your growing conditions, etc. However, a harvest of approximately one pound of mushrooms for every linear foot of log is common.
Then, enjoy your shiitakes! Extras can be dried or frozen for later use.
Other ways to grow shiitake mushrooms
If this method of growing your own mushrooms doesn't appeal to you, there are many other methods for you to consider, including ones that involve inoculating stumps, compost or mulch piles with mushroom spawn in order to create a mushroom garden. There are even simple, pre-packaged Shiitake log kits (these make excellent gifts, by the way) that will help you grow a batch of mushrooms with very little fuss. These methods will work well for people who don't have the space or the desire to deal with heavy logs, drilling, etc. but still want the pleasure of growing their own mushrooms. However, if your priority is grow shiitakes as cost effectively as possible and get several years of harvests from one "planting", the method described in this article is a good one to use.