Shiitake is one of the more popular varieties of mushrooms out there. It is commonly used in a host of different foods, from stir-fries to soups and more. Depending on where you live, they may be readily available at the grocery store, or able to be foraged in wooded areas near your home. For some, though, growing shiitake mushrooms is the best way to make sure they have a supply of these tasty mushrooms readily available.
Benefits of Shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms aren’t just known for their umami flavor. They also provide a wealth of different health benefits. For example, they may help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. They have also been shown to reduce bodily inflammation, helping to make the immune system stronger. They may even help prevent leukemia cells from growing and enable your immune system to better fight off developing tumors.
These are just a few of the reasons why you should consider including shiitake mushrooms in your everyday diet. And one of the best ways to do that is by growing your own.
Growing Shiitake mushrooms from a kit
The simplest way to go about growing shiitake mushrooms is with a kit. A kit contains everything you need to get your mushrooms started– all you have to do is maintain them. Typically, they will include a log or another base that has already been inoculated with shiitake plugs. Sometimes they also include a tent to help maintain humidity levels, as moisture is integral to the mushroom’s growth.
All you need to do is place the shiitake log in the proper environment. Shiitake mushrooms prefer colder temperatures, although they can survive anywhere between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They need a few hours of light per day and lots of moisture. Plan on spraying your log down daily– perhaps even more, if you live in a drier climate.
If this is your first time growing any type of mushroom, a kit is probably your safest bet. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the growing process and allows you to learn a bit about growing mushrooms– think of it like using training wheels when you first learn to ride a bike.
There are a few kits, in particular, that are great for beginners:
This kit contains an inoculated log, a humidity sleeve, and detailed instructions on how to grow your shiitake mushrooms. The log is small enough that it can easily be placed just about anywhere around your home and it is capable of producing one pound of mushrooms spread out over four different crops.
Root Mushroom Farms sells several different high-quality mushroom kits, including this shiitake one. The kit includes a spray bottle, humidity tent, inoculated log, and growing instructions. You don’t need anything else to grow your own mushrooms. Upon receipt, you simply soak the log for a couple of hours and then place it in a temperate location around your house.
Growing Shiitake mushrooms without a kit
If you’re an experienced mushroom grower– or you’re just looking for a challenge– you can also try growing shiitake mushrooms without the use of a kit. In this case, you will need a few supplies. Usually, this type of growing is done outdoors, although you could certainly try it inside with the right lighting and temperature.
Supplies you will need
Shiitake mushrooms are generally found on trees in nature, and you want to replicate that as best as you can. The easiest way to do this is by growing your shiitakes on logs. Oak trees work best– cut a couple of logs that are three inches or so in diameter and 40-inches long. The wood should be free from any mosses or other fungal growth. After cutting your logs, lean them against a flat surface and allow them to season for three weeks or so.
Inoculated plug & wax
In order to grow shiitake mushrooms on your log, you are going to need to inoculate the log with shiitake spores. This is done using plugs, which are essentially just a base, such as sawdust, that contain shiitake spores. It’s not always easy to inoculate a plug yourself, which is why it’s generally recommended to purchase your plugs. 2funguys sells their Shiitake Plug Spawn Starter Kit, which contains enough inoculated plugs for two logs, as well as wax for protecting the plugs and a dauber tool for applying the wax. It is an excellent value compared to purchasing each component separately.
Drill and bit
To get the plugs inside the log, you will need to drill several holes. You can use any drill for this– you just need a 5/16” drill bit.
The process – 7 steps from start to harvest
Step one: cut your log
The very first thing you need to do is cut your log. As mentioned earlier, oak wood works best for this. If you don’t have access to oak, however, you can also get by with poplar or beech wood. Cut the logs so that they are around three inches in diameter (you can go a bit larger, but no more than six inches) and 40-inches long. Set the wood upright against the side of your house to season. Do not leave the wood flat on the ground, as that may invite unwanted insects and moisture.
Step two: drill your holes
Once your logs have been fully seasoned, you can drill your holes. Take your drill and make around 50 small holes in each log.
Step three: plug the holes
After drilling holes in the logs, take your plugs and insert them inside. If you are having trouble getting the plugs to fully enter the holes, you can tap them gently with a mallet or hammer.
Step four: protect plugs with wax
With the plugs securely inside the holes, melt down your wax and use the dauber tool or your finger to dab a small amount over each hole. The wax helps seal the plug in place, protecting it from insects and other potential threats.
Step five: water and maintain your log
Now that your log is fully inoculated, place the logs in a heavily shaded location. Try and avoid placing the logs directly on the ground, too. You can lay out a tarp or place them on bricks or another hard surface. Watering frequency will vary depending on your climate. If you live somewhere with frequent rainfall, you may not need to worry about watering your mushrooms at all. In a drier climate, however, water your shiitake mushrooms at least twice per week and make sure they receive a thorough soaking each time.
Step six: initiate the mushrooms
The initiation process can begin anywhere from six to twelve months after the logs have been inoculated. Essentially, you are forcing the mushrooms to bear fruit. This process is not always necessary– sometimes shiitakes will fruit on their own. If it’s been several months and the ends of the log are looking darker, however, your shiitakes may need a little help.
To initiate shiitakes, submerge the log in water for a solid 24 hours. After that time, remove the log from the water and place them back in their original spot. This time, however, make sure the log is upright. Give the log a good soaking twice per day. Sometime in the next two weeks, you will see shiitake mushrooms beginning to form.
Step seven: harvest
Allow the baby shiitake mushrooms a few days to grow full-sized. At that point, you can pull or cut them from the log. Before eating, place the shiitake mushrooms in direct sunlight for 48 hours. After that, you can either eat the fresh mushrooms or dry them out and store them for later.
Shiitake mushrooms are a healthy and tasty addition to any meal. Growing your own can be a process, but it is well worth the effort.