I first encountered shiitake mushrooms at my brother’s wedding in 1983. Although he and his bride lived in the San Francisco area, the wedding was in Detroit, her home town.
At the time, Rob was the chef at the Bay’s top French restaurant, Narsai’s. Of course, he created the menu for the event and did everything but cook it himself (we told him to back-off, reminding him that he was the groom). One of the items he insisted upon was shiitake mushrooms. He had to have them flown in from California.
Now we can get shiitake mushrooms in our local supermarkets or at area farmers’ markets (check out Mainly Mushrooms). But what if I could grow them myself? How cool would that be?
You may know Alex McCracken from the former Turnip Truck Gardens, a gardening and landscaping business, specializing in organic and sustainable gardening methods. For ten years, Alex helped homeowners throughout Bucks plant organic gardens and permaculture landscaping. He also spent 1 ½ years starting Jose Garces’ Ottsville farm, which now supplies Garces’ restaurant empire with fresh, local produce. He’s currently working for Zone 7, the New Jersey-based food distributor of local produce and products.
So how do you grow shiitake mushrooms? First, says Alex, you’ve got to find a good log. It has to be from a healthy tree so that it has plenty of nutrients and moisture for the mushroom’s mycelium—the spores that eventually produce mushrooms—to grow. It also should be 4 – 10 inches in diameter and 3 feet or more in length.
The next step is to drill holes in the log and insert special wooden dowels that are “seeded” with the mycelium. The mycelium then take it from there. Over the next six months, they break down and consume the wood inside the log. During this time, Alex explains, you can just leave the log on the ground in a shady and moist area, watering when necessary. After six months, it’s time to stand the log up, leaning against a tree or wall, and watch the mushrooms start to pop out of the log. This is called the “fruiting” stage and only happens after the mycelium have finished their job inside the log.
A shiitake mushroom log will produce fruit for five years, with 2 – 3 flushes of mushrooms per year. With shiitake mushrooms selling for an average of $9.99 lb. or more, that’s a great deal.