Farming Shiitake Mushrooms
Growing shiitake mushrooms can provide a specialty product for small farmers and enthusiasts alike, either for alternative income or simple enjoyment.
Mushrooms are simply the fruit of a fungus. The mycelium is the vegetative part that absorbs nutrients from decomposing organic material. To properly cultivate mushrooms, you must first provide a proper substrate for the mycelia to grow and feed on. Hardwood logs are typically used, with oak logs producing the best shiitakes. However, avoid red oaks and softwoods, such as pines.
Logs should be from 3 to 8 inches in diameter and 4 feet long. Use fresh logs for your substrate to ensure they haven’t already been colonized by unwanted fungi. Logs should be cut in late fall or late winter/early spring when there is the largest amount of stored carbohydrates.
Logs should be inoculated by drilling holes and inserting mushroom spawn, which are found in either plug or sawdust form. Seal the holes with wax to maintain moisture and protect the spawn and log from contamination. You may also cover the ends of the logs.
Once the logs are inoculated, allow 6-18 months for the shiitake mycelia to colonize the log. During this incubation period, the logs should be placed in an area that will provide proper shade, moisture, and aeration, such as under a shade cloth or forest/timber plantation understory. The logs can be arranged in several different stacking patterns. Some common ones include the following:
- “Criss-Cross”: Logs are stacked in repeating layers. Each layer should be turned 90 degrees in the opposite direction of the one below it, forming “H” shapes.
- “Lean-To/Slope”: One log rests flat on the ground with others resting against it, and this pattern is repeated along a slope.
- “X Pattern”: Logs are leaned vertically along a support brace (such as a wire between two trees) to form “X” shapes
Make sure the logs do not dry out or the fungus will die.
Under the right conditions, the fungus will sprout mushrooms once the mycelium has established. Each flush will last about a week with an 8- to 12-week rest period in between. Harvests should be done daily in the afternoon.
To pick a mushroom, twist or cut it at the base, then place the mushrooms in a box and refrigerate them. Refrigerated mushrooms have a short shelf life, so if you plan on selling them make sure that you’ve already investigated markets so they can be sold immediately.
Farmer’s market, health food stores, restaurants, and festivals are all good markets for fresh, dried, or processed mushrooms. Make contracts with your buyers before you harvest, so you understand their needs, and so that you don’t have to find buyers during your harvest.
Drying shiitakes or producing shiitake dinners, sauces, and gift jars can help to reduce the risk of losing mushrooms if you don’t sell them immediately. These techniques are also value-adding strategies for increasing profits.
For more in-depth information on growing and marketing shiitakes and other mushrooms, talk with your county Extension agent or visit the Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises’ page on shiitake cultivation.
Adapted and excerpted from:
N. Strong, “Forest Farming: Shiitake Mushrooms” (734KB pdf), UF/IFAS Center for Subtropical Agroforestry (Accessed 08/2015).