Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Growing Shiitake Mushrooms

So now you know.  And even though the HUGE majority of you guessed bees, that majority wasn't actually wrong.  Bees have been something we've been dreaming about for a few years now.  Jamey is currently in the process of building a hive just in case he hears about a swarm that needs a home.  We're hoping that in the next year or so, we'll get ourselves some bees.

 He's building a top bar hive.  Here are the top bars ready to go.

In the meantime, we decided to try our hand at shiitake mushrooms.  The inoculation or spawning of mushrooms is fairly simple, cheap, and takes a minimal time commitment.  Plus, we have a friend who has had great success with mushrooms who is coaching us along.  It seems like the perfect project for us right now when life feels very full but we're eager for a new adventure (of sorts).

 The spawn arrived in the mail and we kept them in the fridge until we were ready for them (just a couple days).

It helps that we love eating mushrooms, too, but rarely buy them because they are expensive.  We're not used to buying a lot of produce, so we get sticker shock when we see those prices. Hats off to those of you who are able to stay within your food budgets without growing a lot of your food!

Now, please understand that we have not been successful with mushrooms YET.  I'm just going to show you what we're doing and you can sit back and watch us and see if we succeed or flop.  Then you can decide if you'd like to follow suit.  I'll post our progress and label these posts so you can easily pull them up and see how we're doing.  For now, I'm just going to give you a very simple explanation of the process and show you what we've done so far.

To start the process of growing shiitake mushrooms, you need to introduce the shiitake fungus to logs (where the mushrooms will grow and be harvested from).  Spawn is the plant body of the fungus that is 'planted' in the logs.  Introducing the two is called inoculation or spawning.

That's the most complicated part of it all right there, so if you can wrap your head around that, you're good to go.

We chose to use "thimbles".  These are thimble-shaped pellets of spawn mixed in sawdust and capped with a thin white foam cap (seen above). 

The spawn must be planted in hardwood logs such as white oak (the favorite choice), other kinds of oak, sugar maple, sweet or black gum, or ironwood.  The kind folks (in the next state over) that we ordered our spawn from said chestnut was fine as well.  We asked because we have a chestnut tree we could easily cut from.

The logs need to be recently cut from healthy, disease-free trees.  You should not use deadfall or damaged trees.  Your logs should be 3 to 4 feet long and 3 to 5 inches in diameter.  Depending on where you live, there are certain times of year that are better than others for cutting, so find out what timing is best for your area if you want to give this a try as well.

Once you have your logs, drill holes into the logs to the specification of your thimbles.  Our order came with precise instructions on the size drill bit, depth of the holes, as well as the desired distance between the holes. Once the holes are ready, insert the thimbles and tap in place.  I found that a phillips head screwdriver was super handy for digging the sawdust out of the drilled holes and then using the handle to pound the thimbles in tightly.

Next, cover the holes with melted beeswax (which smelled divine, by the way).  This keeps the spawn from drying out and keeps organisms from getting in.  Our friend advised us to also put beeswax on the ends of the logs.

Next, we leaned the logs against the side of a shed in the shade.  Now, we wait for a sign that it's time to carry out the last step.  We are to watch for white, fuzzy patches that turn brown around the edges to appear on the ends of the logs OR wait for a period of about a year.

Our friend who grows them locally says she usually only has to wait a few months for the white patches to appear.  At that point, we're to simulate a rapid drop in temperate and a hard rain by submerging the warm (from the weather) logs into cold water for 24 hours.  Then, they are to be set back up in their place and mushrooms should emerge in a few days.  They should be ready to pick 4-6 days later when they are about 70% open (regardless of size).  Once picked, the logs can be induced to produce additional crops by giving them a rest period and then a re-dunking.

We ordered 150 thimbles which we "planted" in 8 logs.  The cost with shipping?  Fifteen dollars ($15) even.  Worth the risk?  I think so:-).

How many mushrooms could we get?  The instructions that came with our spawn say, "Depending on the diameter of the log, up to a dozen crops may be induced every 6-8 weeks during warm weather, over 3 or 4 years."  A dozen crops?  If it works that well for us (or even partially so), you bet I'll be experimenting with different ways to preserve them.

But what I can't wait for is to eat them- sauteed, in stir-frys, raw in salads, on pizza, grilled...however we please.

Let's just hope we have as much luck growing fungi as we do dandelions.  Well.  Maybe not quite that much luck. Pin It


  1. Chris and I are definitely going to try this, too. I read up on it a year or so ago but we're still working up our nerve. We are just now getting a decent handle on the garden. So maybe mushrooms are next! I would LOVE to have bees but being in town, Chris isn't comfortable with it. :/

  2. This is on my list to do, thanks for the post. Would love to see a follow up post when the mushrooms have begun to grow.

  3. looks like a good adventure ,we will be pulling for you in fact I have a gross statement from the Dr OZ show some people that aren't fortunate enough to grow or buy fresh-the canned yuck-the FDA allows magots in our food tomato sauce -they allow fruit fly eggs and hard candies gross>>> gross gross they are made from the butts of beavers ( actually anus juice ) OK i know some of you are really grossed out-sorry don't kill the messenger but who would have even thought to test that for this candy use as a " glue " like substance maybe my comment should come with a warning -don't ear while reading!

  4. Do you put the logs back next to the barn in the shade after you soak them? I always wanted to do this.

  5. Where did you get your thimbles from?

    1. From Paul Goland at Hardscrabble Enterprises, Inc. They don't have a website, so you need to contact them via email or phone. P.O. Box 1124 Franklin, West Virginia, 304-358-2921. Our friend gave us their order form. I talked to them on the phone and sent them a check. The thimbles came (with excellent instructions) very promptly after that.

  6. this is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time...please post pictures after they start growing !!!

  7. Very, very interesting. Can't wait to see the results. I had never considered doing this, but now I am...we eat a ton of mushrooms! And yes, they are ridiculously expensive.


  8. someone at my local farmers' market sells fresh shiitake mushrooms. He dehydrates them, too. BUT, one time I bought some - brought them home in a paper sack and put them in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and promptly forgot about them. They dehydrated all by themselves. That's what I call easy.

    they are especially yummy rehydrated in homemade chicken or beef broth.

  9. We do not grow mushrooms, however we live near a very large mushroom farm that sells approx. 4# for $1.00. I purchase in bulk and can them. Although, I do not like and do not purchase store bought canned mushrooms, these are actually pretty good and firm when they are home canned. Much much better than commercially canned mushrooms.

  10. How FUN! I hope it works for you!!


  11. This is extremely exciting! I would love to grow mushrooms, but I'm wondering if our arid climate would work for this? Please keep us posted!

  12. I hope that this endeavor is fruitful for you! We have a bag of plugs that need to be put into logs soon, too.

  13. Bees wax over the holes is a great idea and even better when covering the ends of the logs to keep organisms out.

  14. Growing mushrooms is so exciting. We grow oysters on totems in an old silo and winecaps on mulch under a big pine tree. You can check out some of my photos here. Good luck with your shiitakes!

  15. I thought you had to use oak for shiitake mushrooms. Now that I know you can use sugar maple, I think I'll give it a try. I have 9 sugar maple trees, but no oak (except one little seedling). Would you mind sharing your source for the thimbles?

  16. Nice,
    In Portugal they use this, spawn long wood


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