Growing Shiitake Mushrooms: The Ultimate Guide

Growing Shiitake Mushrooms: The Ultimate Guide

Are you looking for the ultimate guide to growing Shiitake mushrooms? If so, you've come to the right place! In this blog post, we will provide you with all the information you need to get started growing your own Shiitake mushrooms. We will cover everything from where to buy Shiitake mushroom spores, what types of substrates to use, and how to keep your Shiitake mushroom crop healthy and productive. With the right guidance and some patience, you can be well on your way to harvesting your own Shiitake mushrooms in no time!



Why Should You Grow Shiitake Mushrooms


Shiitake mushrooms are not only delicious but also great for your health. They contain compounds that support heart health, boost your immune system, and may even help fight cancer and tumors. Additionally, they are low in sodium and calories, but high in fiber, B vitamins, and some minerals.

Growing shiitake mushrooms is like the gift that keeps on giving. On average, they produce 3 to 5 flushes of fresh mushrooms when grown on sawdust or grain, while on logs, they can provide you with fresh mushrooms every 5 weeks for 4 to 6 years.


Although growing shiitake mushrooms requires upfront time and monetary investment, the amount of mushrooms you'll be harvesting will more than pay for itself, especially when considering the cost of buying them from the supermarket.

Furthermore, harvesting mushrooms at home provides the freshest possible product, and growing your own mushrooms is an excellent learning experience for kids to learn about nature, as well as a great hobby.


Step 1: Growing Shiitake Mushrooms At Home


Choosing the right substrate is crucial to growing shiitake mushrooms. The substrate is the growing medium that serves as the initial food source for the mushrooms. Unlike oyster mushrooms that can grow on a variety of substrates, shiitakes need a wood-based medium, preferably made of deciduous hardwoods such as oak, maple, beech, or ironwood.

When selecting logs, choose freshly cut ones, about 3 to 6 inches in diameter and 3 to 4 feet long. Avoid those covered in moss or lichen, or showing any signs of mold or fungi. If you opt for sawdust or pellets, it's easier to source but requires containers or growing bags to hold the substrate.

To start growing shiitake mushrooms, you'll need spawn, which is a live mycelium culture similar to seeds used to grow fruits and vegetables. Shiitake strains are mostly similar in color, shape, and size, but they differ in the conditions they prefer. Wide range strains are the best option for beginners and are used for year-round commercial cultivation.

Shiitake spawn comes in different forms, such as wooden dowels or plug spawn, which are ideal for hobbyist growers, or sawdust spawn, preferred by more experienced growers. Another option is to purchase pre-inoculated logs or kits that require minimal effort.

Before you can begin growing shiitake mushrooms, you need to choose the right substrate, select the best spawn, and prepare the growing medium.


Once you have everything in place, you're ready to start growing delicious shiitake mushrooms at home.



Step 2: Preparing Your Substrate


If you plan to grow shiitake mushrooms, it's important to note that not all substrates require sterilization before use.

Sawdust pellets, for example, are already pasteurized during production, so all you need to do is soak them for half an hour and break them into sawdust.

Fresh logs also don't require pasteurization, but if you're using straw or fresh sawdust, it's recommended that you pasteurize your substrate. This can be done by soaking it in hot water (149-176°F or 65-80°C) for 1-2 hours or by using a high-pH lime bath for 12-18 hours.

Commercial shiitake growers often enrich their substrate with nitrogen supplements during preparation, but this isn't necessary for hobbyist growers.


However, if you're using straw or grain as your substrate, which provides less nutrients than wood-based substrates, you may want to consider adding supplements to support mycelium growth.



Step 3: Inoculating Your Logs


To inoculate your logs with shiitake spawn for outdoor cultivation, it is best to wait until spring when the risk of frost has passed. Use a power drill to bore holes in the log that are slightly larger than the spawn you intend to use. A 12 mm drill bit is typically used for sawdust spawn, while plug spawn requires a 12 mm drill bit.


Make sure you wear protective ear and eye gear. Drill holes every six inches along the length of the log, about an inch deep.


After completing one row, rotate the log and drill another row a few inches apart. It is advisable to alternate the holes in a checkerboard pattern, leaving room between each plug.


Keep drilling rows of holes until you cover the entire circumference of the log. If you use spawn dowels, simply insert them into the drilled holes and hammer them flush with the log.


It takes approximately 50 plugs to fill a 3-foot log. If you use sawdust spawn, put some of it in your inoculation tool and then force it into the holes in the log. Once the holes are filled with spawn, seal them with wax.

If you're growing shiitake mushrooms indoors, clean all surfaces you'll be working on and wash your hands thoroughly with soap before starting.


Outdoors, maintaining cleanliness is more challenging. It's best to begin your shiitake substrate in bags to prevent contamination and maintain the correct moisture level.


Even if you plan to grow your shiitake outside on a wood chip bed, starting with sawdust in bags will produce a larger amount of robust mycelium to add to your bed, increasing the likelihood of survival and more abundant mushroom production. First, ensure your substrate is not too wet or too dry.


Do a squeeze test by slightly squeezing the sawdust or straw. A few drops of water should come out. If too much water comes out, it's too wet. If no water comes out and the substrate is not sticking together in your hand, it's too dry.


Next, mix the substrate and mushroom spawn together. It's best to do this in a large container than trying to mix it in the bag. Load the mixed substrate and spawn into grow bags and seal them with tape or a rubber band.


If you're not using grow bags with filter patches, make some tiny holes in the bag for a little air exchange.



Step 4: Incubation Process


Compared to oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms require a longer incubation period. If you're using logs, they need to incubate for 6 to 12 months in a shady location off the ground.


Use a wooden pallet or bricks to raise them up and cover them with a breathable fabric to keep them out of the sun.


Avoid covering them with plastic as it may encourage mold growth. Water your shiitake logs for about 10 minutes once a week if it hasn't rained during the week. Water them twice per week for 10 minutes each time if you live in a dry climate.

For a wood chip bed, follow the same instructions during incubation. If you're growing shiitake in bags, store them in a dark place at room temperature without the need for watering or upkeep during the mycelium growth period.


It will take two to three months for your bags to be completely colonized with white mycelium if you're growing shiitake on sawdust, grain, or straw.


However, unlike other mushrooms, white mycelium doesn't signal that your shiitake are ready to fruit.


Allow them to brown for about two more weeks until most of the white mycelium turns brownish, indicating they're ready to fruit.



Step 5: Fruiting Process


Logs typically require initiation or "shocking" to induce fruiting, though sometimes they will fruit on their own when ready. Ideally, shiitake logs should be allowed to mature for 9 to 12 months to ensure a strong mycelium colony before initiating fruiting.

To initiate fruiting, logs should be submerged in clean, non-chlorinated water for 24 hours. A natural body of water or a kid's pool can be used for this purpose. Once soaked, logs should be placed upright in a shady area to allow for proper fruiting.

Primordia, or little pins that will develop into mature mushrooms, will start to grow within 2 days to 2 weeks. During this stage, logs should be watered once or twice a day for at least 5 minutes each time to maintain moisture.

Bags can be opened once the shiitake mycelium has colonized the substrate completely. The block of spawn can be placed in a humid area with ample fresh air flow to promote mushroom growth. At this stage, shiitake mushrooms grow quickly and should be misted several times a day to keep them moist.

Each spawn block will typically produce 3 to 5 flushes of mushrooms before the mycelium weakens and becomes contaminated with mold.



Step 6: How to Harvest and Start Growing More


Harvesting shiitake mushrooms at any size is fine, although smaller mushrooms will be more tender. To avoid damaging the mycelium and affecting future flushes, it's recommended to use a knife and cut the mushrooms at the base of their stem instead of twisting them off.

Incubating shiitake logs may take a while, but it's worth it as each log can produce fresh mushrooms for 4 to 6 years before needing to be replaced. To encourage a new flush of mushrooms, soak the logs in water for 24 hours every 5 or 6 weeks.


Additionally, ensure that the logs are watered at least 2 or 3 times per week to maintain the right moisture level, but avoid watering them when temperatures drop below freezing.

Shiitake mushrooms contain vitamin D, an essential nutrient for the immune system and metabolism. To increase the vitamin D2 levels in your harvested mushrooms from around 100 International Units (IU) per 100 grams to 46,000 IU per 100 grams, place them gill side up in a sunny location for 24 to 48 hours.



How Much Do Shiitake Mushrooms Cost to Grow



600 spawn plugs or approximately 20 pounds of sawdust spawn: $100


Spring-loaded inoculator: $40


10 pounds of cheese wax: $50


1 pack of wax daubers: $5


Old deep fryer or container for melting wax: $20


Blanket or cover: $25

Total cost: around $250

(Note that this estimate assumes that you already have a drill and drill bits, as well as access to free logs.)


200 pounds of hardwood pellets: $30


Shiitake spawn: $100


Mushroom grow bags (with filter): $50


Spray bottle: $5

Total cost: about $200

Keep in mind that the cost will vary depending on the scale at which you want to grow, and remember that with logs, you could potentially have years' worth of mushrooms as a reward!



Concluding Remarks


In conclusion, growing Shiitake mushrooms can be a rewarding experience for anyone looking to cultivate their food and enjoy the many health benefits of these delicious fungi.


With the right guidance, patience, and a bit of effort, it's possible to grow fresh Shiitake mushrooms at home, which can save you money and provide you with the freshest possible product.


We covered everything from choosing the right substrate to inoculating your logs, and provided tips on how to keep your Shiitake mushroom crop healthy and productive.


Whether you're looking to pursue a new hobby or teach your kids about nature, growing Shiitake mushrooms is a great place to start.

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