Initially, shiitake growing requires a great deal of detail and patience but in the long run when you “fruit” your log , You’re in for a treat! you’ll have an elegant addition to your favorite foods. You can try new recipes and enjoy flavor, aroma, and nutrition that far outclass ordinary white button mushrooms.
Shiitakes are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms are used nutritionally to fight cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, high blood pressure, and viruses, and to help strengthen the immune system, improve circulation, and reduce cholesterol.
Shiitakes will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. If they dry out, just soak them for 30 minutes, and they’ll bounce right back.
You can blanche or sauté shiitakes and then freeze them, and they’ll stay tasty and tender for months.
Cutting and buying logs are a vital part of shiitake growing.
Cutting Logs for Shiitake Growing
Logs should be harvested during the dormant season from live, healthy trees. Cutting your own logs is an option only if you have a chain saw and easy access to hardwood trees. Be sure you take a buddy along if you cut your own logs. If you can, cut the tree down 7 days before you plan to inoculate. Logs can then be cut to size and moved to the inoculation site immediately.
Trees left in the woods should remain uncut and untrimmed for 7 to 10 days. Then, cut them to size and inoculate within a few days. The diameter and length of the log will depend on how heavy you want your logs. A log 40 inches long, 8 inches in diameter will weigh about 60 pounds. A log 40 inches long, 4 inches in diameter will weigh about 25 pounds.
Buying logs to inoculate can be difficult because the logs must not be split or the bark damaged. They must also be of the type, length, and diameter you specify. Most log cutters will charge from $0.50 to $1.00 for a log 40 inches long and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Agree to accept and pay for only those logs meeting your specifications.
The mushrooms can be harvested at any time by cutting or twisting the stem off of the log. However, mushrooms are best if harvested shortly after the gills are exposed.
There are several tools necessary for inoculation and there are some that just make inoculation easier. Where possible, several options for equipment or supplies have been given
Equipment and supplies used for inoculation of logs: cheese wax, propane stove, wax pot, wax baster (front), foam plugs (front), propane canister (rear), inoculation tool (front) spawn (rear), high speed drill, 716 inch bit with collar stop and screw tip.
Area of Sapwood
Since shiitake mushrooms feed primarily on sapwood, trees selected for inoculation should have a large sapwood area. You can determine the area of sapwood by looking at the end of a log after the tree has been cut.
Most of the trees in a particular area will have similar sapwood to heartwood ratios. The lighter or outermost wood is the sapwood and the darker or inner wood is the heartwood . A small amount of sapwood means that the log will probably produce mushrooms for less than 2 years.
The lighter, outermost wood is the sapwood and the darker, inner wood is the heartwood.
Useful Kits in Shiitake Growing
Drill with depth stop
- 516 (dowel spawn) or 716 (sawdust spawn) inch bit
- Spawn gun (sawdust spawn) or hammer (dowel spawn)
- Wax (cheese, paraffin, bees’, candle, etc.) Option: foam plugs
- Pot or kettle for wax
- Source of heat (propane stove, electric burner, etc. if using wax)
- Metal baster for wax (plastic and glass basters are okay) Option: a natural fiber brush
- Bathroom scales (to weigh some of the logs).
How to Care for and Fruit Your Shiitake Mushroom Log
The light, temperature, and moisture level will affect how quickly the log will fruit and how many mushrooms you’ll get.
Just like people, a log produces best when it’s comfortable, well rested, and well fed!
Where to Keep Your Log:Your log likes room temperature, normal or high humidity, and a room light or shade.
It likes a natural, day-and-night cycle and indirect sunlight, like a house plant. The mycelia require light to grow, so you can place your log, as you would a low-light plant, anywhere in a room where it gets the benefit of light and dark.
Avoid a cold garage or basement. You can put it outside in the shade in spring & fall for fruiting and bring it inside in winter & summer.
You can let Nature fruit it year ’round in your garden, in the shade, with occasional watering.
Please note the mushrooms and signs of mushrooms pins, cut stems, and stem holes on your log. These signs prove that this is a viable, producing log. Once it fruits, a log MUST fruit again if it has enough internal moisture, is allowed to rest, and is shocked by a sudden, dramatic drop in temperature combined with prolonged moisture.
How to Fruit Your Log
The mycelia grow inside the log and form colonies that will become shiitake mushrooms. For the mycelia to grow, you must maintain an internal moisture level of 35-60% by soaking regularly.
If a log doesn’t have sufficient internal moisture to fruit, it will use the fruiting water to digest cellulose and grow mycelia.
You force a log to fruit by “shocking” it: Creating a sudden 20-degree drop in temperature combined with prolonged moisture.
Some logs may fruit on the first soaking, stimulated by the movement of shipping. Some logs will not fruit for 30 days after shipping because movement disrupts the mycelia.
- Start a log calendar. Mark when you’ll soak and when you’ll shock. Rotate shocking if you have more than one log.
- Examine your log. Handle it gently. Look for signs of fruiting such as mushrooms, stems, stem holes, and pins. Pins are buds. They’re all white or white with brown tips and look like “outie” belly buttons.
Mushrooms already on the log are edible if they are not dark brown on the bottom or mushy. If they are dried, you can soak them in water and use them as any other mushroom.
White fuzz on the ends or bark is shiitake mycelia. It will continue to grow and seal the ends and will not hurt fruiting.
- Shock your log to trigger fruiting. With the log in the tray or other container, pour very cold non chlorinated water over the log until it floats. Soak it for 24 hours. The colder you can keep it, the more mushrooms you’ll get.
- You can put the log and tray in the freezer or fridge at night for 8-12 hours (remember – the log needs light!) or set it outside for 1-3 days in winter. Freezing won’t hurt it. Empty the water; stand the log upright in you tray or saucer.
- Increase humidity, if needed: If you have low humidity, cover it with a paper or plastic bag and leave some water in the tray.
- (If you have high humidity or see white mycelia or green mold, DO NOT USE .) Do not leave the bag on for more than 5 days. You may mist the log during pinning if you have dry air in your house.
- Watch for pins: They like more moisture and may dry out, so misting will help during pinning. If pins begin to dry out, soak the log in non-chlorinated water for 30-60 minutes and the mushrooms will keep growing.
Pinning and Fruiting
In 1-3 days, little white nubs will break through the bark. Remove the bag when the pins begin to look like mushrooms. If the pins start to dry out, soak again for 20-30 minutes or mist often.
In 3-6 days, you will have a “flush” of fresh, clean, delicious mushrooms.
If you don’t get mushrooms, don’t get discouraged. Remember that a log may not fruit after shipping.
If you don’t get mushrooms on your first shocking cycle, wait 3-4 weeks and shock it again. In dry or hot climates, soak overnight after two weeks.
If you don’t get mushrooms with the second shock, shock it every 2 weeks for 12 hours until it starts fruiting (try those 12 hrs in the fridge). If you have no mushrooms after the second round of 12 hour ice-water soaks (2 months from your original soaking)
Use a knife and make a clean cut at the bottom of the stem or twist the stem out. Pulling the mushroom off can rip the bark.
For stuffing recipes, harvest when mushrooms are 1½-2O in diameter and the edge is turned under.
For bigger mushrooms, wait until they flatten out and are 2-4O or more in diameter. They’re just as tasty and tender as the smaller ones.
Little brown spots on the gills are OK. Even if the edges turn up, the mushrooms are still good. If they dry out, soak them.
DO NOT EAT A MUSHROOM IF THE BOTTOM IS DARK BROWN AND/OR MUSHY.
Post-Harvest Cycle: Resting: Let your log rest (no forced fruiting) for 2 months in the tray, either standing up or lying down, away from drafts and vents.
Soaking: Soak your single log or Ma & Pa logs every 2 weeks. This is called the Maintenance Soak. It feeds your log so the mycelia can grow inside.
The times below are guidelines only. Too much is better than too little. Even a short soak is better than none. If you get mushrooms with every soaking or mold on the bark, cut back. DO NOT MIST except during pinning. The inside should be moist and the bark should be dry.
Normal humidity: 12 hours
Low humidity: 14-16 hours
Arid & hot climates: 16 hours or soak 8 hours every week
If you get only a few mushrooms, increase your soaking time by 2 hours. If you have a fruiting cycle where you get no mushrooms, the internal moisture level has fallen below 35% (An older log may take a break for several cycles. Keep the moisture level up, it will come back).
You can increase the maintenance soaking time by 50%-100%. Internal moisture is the single most important factor in fruiting and insufficient moisture is the single most frequent cause of failure to fruit.
Over watering can make the log lethargic, like us after a huge meal. If you soak the log too long (3 or 4 days), let it dry out for 3-4 weeks.
If you are going away – Soak your log for 24-36 hours in room-temperature water before you go. If you will be gone longer than 30 days, have someone soak it 24-36 hours every month. Your log may not fruit on schedule, but it will begin fruiting again as you resume your maintenance soaks.
If you forget to soak the log – The log will go dormant if it dries out, but in most cases will not die even after two months without water. If you missed the maintenance soak, shock the log. If the log has been 8 weeks or more without water, slowly restore the moisture level by soaking it for 8-12 hours every week for four weeks, then shock it.
You can force your log to fruit again by shocking it with the 24-hour ice-water soak.
Keep these shiitake growing guidelines in mind, and you’ll enjoy a long, fruitful relationship with your log:
Bark: The bark is like your skin – it keeps disease out and moisture in. Handle the log gently, avoid nicks and cuts. Repair wounds with cheese wax, bees’ wax, melted paraffin, or candle wax.
Light: Mushrooms will not grow in total darkness. They need day and night cycles and shade. Prolonged direct sunlight will kill the shiitake mycelia.
Movement: On some logs, movement can disrupt the mycelia and delay fruiting, other logs like to be tapped with a hammer or dropped on the end (not the bark) about a foot off the floor after soaking.
Temperature: The optimum temperature is 62-78 degrees F. The mycelia and the mushrooms will grow in hotter or cooler temperatures, but more slowly. The log will go dormant around 40 degrees F. and above 80 degrees F. Freezing won’t hurt and can even provide a strong shock. Logs love 70-degree days and 50- degree nights with rain. Set them outside.
Note: Oak logs are prohibited for shiitake growing in California because of oak wilt disease. We recommend sweet gum or black gum. These logs will produce more mushrooms faster than oak logs, but they will deteriorate faster as well. They require more careful handling, you will need to wax more often because sweet gum logs lose their bark easily.