What Are the Best Tips for Growing Shiitake Mushrooms?

Christian Petersen

Growing shiitake mushrooms for personal use is fun and rewarding, but requires some specialized knowledge and techniques. When done correctly, these highly regarded Asian mushrooms can be grown in almost any temperate climate. Several tricks and tips used by commercial and individual growers can help maximize your chances of success and increase your yields.

Whole and sliced shiitake mushrooms.
Whole and sliced shiitake mushrooms.

The first things to consider when preparing to grow shiitake mushrooms are how many you want to grow and how quickly you want them. Many companies offer small, one use, indoor kits that will yield a few pounds of mushrooms and will then be spent. These kits are easy to use and produce mushrooms fairly quickly but are not especially cost effective. For this method, simply browse the Internet to compare prices, and choose the kit that best suits you, following the directions closely.

Birch logs may be used to grow shiitakes.
Birch logs may be used to grow shiitakes.

Most people interested in growing shiitake mushrooms for personal use, however, buy spawn for inoculating logs. Inoculating logs is more difficult and takes longer but results in multiple and much larger harvests. Growing shiitake mushrooms on logs requires some special conditions, which are not particularly difficult to create, but may not be available to everyone. Spawn for inoculating logs is relatively inexpensive, can be bought in bulk, and comes in at least two commonly available forms. The other main drawback of growing shiitake mushrooms on logs is the need for some basic tools.

To grow shiitake mushrooms on logs, you need several things, beginning with logs. Hardwood logs 3 to 6 inches in diameter and cut to manageable lengths are best. Oak, poplar, cherry, sweet gum, and other hardwoods are suitable for shiitake culture. Beech, alder, birch, and hornbeam have also been reported by growers as producing shiitake. It may be possible to use logs from other trees as well. Logs should be from live trees and should have the intact bark.

A hand drill for making holes in the log is paramount. Bits for drilling may vary, depending on the type of spawn used. Spawn is commonly available in one of two forms, plug and sawdust. Plugs are hammered into holes that have been drilled in the logs. Sawdust is packed into the holes. Both types of spawn must be sealed into the logs with parrafin or cheese wax. Spawn is available in strains that are suitable for different sub-climates, including warm, cool, and wide-range varieties and should be chosen according to local growing conditions.

Inoculated logs must incubate for several months and possibly as long as a year. During this time, the logs must be kept from drying out, though not too wet. A shaded, cool area, such as a forest floor, is good for this. After the logs have incubated, they will bear mushrooms, and again, must be kept moist, but not waterlogged. The ideal condition is for the wood to be moist but the outer bark to be dry. Moderate temperatures are best.

Those who wish to grow shiitake mushrooms should do as much research as possible. Excellent publications are available online from Oklahoma State University and the University of Missouri that contain much more detail. A book by Paul Stamets on growing mushrooms is another excellent resource.

Shiitake mushrooms can be used as a meat substitute or in addition to proteins in many Asian dishes.
Shiitake mushrooms can be used as a meat substitute or in addition to proteins in many Asian dishes.

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