Lawn and Garden

Yes, you can grow shiitake mushrooms

By Dave McGill, Forest Resource Management Specialist, WVU Extension Service

shiitake mushroom Gourmet shiitake mushrooms displayed in grocery stores do not come close to matching the fresh, succulent mushrooms you’ll harvest if you grow your own. Plus, you won’t pay the $9 to $14 per pound commercial price. Although cultivating shiitake mushrooms takes a little time and planning, they can be easily produced on a small scale for personal use, much like vegetables in a home garden.

Where to “plant”

The shiitake mushroom is the fruit of the fungus Lentinula edodes. Because this fungus consumes wood, it is “inoculated” into small logs from various trees. The oaks (white, black, scarlet, northern red, and chestnut) are the preferred trees for growing these mushrooms. Small branches that generally are not used for other commercial purposes are perfect for cultivating shiitakes.

A standard shiitake log cut from a trunk or branch is about 40 inches long and up to 6 inches in diameter. Shorter and smaller sections can be used; they are often more practical for home growers. The short logs must be cut fresh from healthy trees (shiitake fungus does not compete well with other fungi that might be in an unhealthy log). The bark must not be damaged because it helps keep essential moisture in the log.

What to “plant”

“Spawn,” the material used to “plant” the logs, is produced in laboratories and can be bought in three basic forms: sawdust, dowel, and thimble.

Sawdust spawn comes in a bag containing loose sawdust in which the shiitake fungus is growing. Dowel spawn are small solid pieces of wood that have been cultured with the fungus. Thimble spawn comes in a plastic sheet with individual thimble-shaped compressed sawdust covered with Styrofoam.

Each type of spawn has advantages and disadvantages. For example, the thimble spawn is perhaps the easiest to use, but it is the most expensive. Sawdust spawn is least expensive, but it needs to be covered with wax to keep the spawn and moisture inside the log.

How to “plant”

To inoculate the log, use a drill to create a hole into which you insert the spawn. After inoculating the logs, set them outside in the shade and leave them for five months during warm weather. At this point, small white patches of the growing fungus can be seen at the ends of the logs. This indicates that the fungus is still alive and well.

How to “force” production

After five months, the fungus is ready to “fruit.” Place the logs in cool water for 24 to 48 hours to “force” the fungus to produce mushrooms. About eight days after logs are removed from the water, small white buttons will appear; they will develop into beautiful mushrooms. This forcing process can be repeated every 8 to 10 weeks for years. Growers can plan a harvest schedule to conform to their cooking needs or sales events.

Contact 304-293-5930, or e-mail Dave McGill, for more information.