We’ve been gardening for two years now, and if there is one thing growing our own food has taught us, it is the true beauty in patience. In a culture that is becoming more and more accustomed to instant gratification, waiting three months to reap the benefits of your work can seem like an eternity. To me, the rewards are beyond worth the wait. Recently, we have been enjoying the rewards of something we put the work in for six months ago; one of the most illustrious mushrooms of the fungi world: shiitakes. We inoculated these treasures in March and within the last few weeks (it is now September), they have begun to explode.
Shiitake mushrooms are extremely tasty and versatile. So far, we’ve made homemade shiitake mushroom sushi, ground pork and shiitake mushroom Asian dumplings, and shiitake mushrooms and eggs. And the best part about shiitake mushrooms? They are extremely easy to grow yourself.
The very first step of this process is harvesting logs. These logs will serve as both the habitat and food for your shiitake mushrooms. White oak logs are the best, but we also threw in a couple birch logs with ours, and they have worked fine. You will need to cut live trees, and your goal is to do this when the trees are the most moisture-rich and full of sugars. These sugars reside in the trees’ leaves during summer, so it’s best to harvest your logs before the sugars enter the leaves again in early spring, or after they exit the leaves into the core of the tree in late fall, before they sink down to the roots for winter hibernation. It is also important to harvest during these times because it helps to keep the bark from falling off. A tree’s bark is looser during the summer. You can cut as many logs as you want. We started with about 20.
After you cut your logs, allow them to rest for two weeks. Most trees produce a compound that is fungus-resistant, so this rest period will allow that compound to break down.
This waiting period will be the perfect time for you to order the rest of your materials. In addition to your logs, you will also need mushroom spawn, cheese wax, and metal tags (these are optional as they are really only needed if you do different strains or inoculate at different times, where they can be used to keep track of the differences in your logs).
After the two-week rest period, the next step is inoculation! Set yourself up a station with all your materials (logs, drill, mushroom spawn, melted wax and a paint brush to paint the wax on with). For each log you choose to inoculate, you will be doing all three steps at one time. We used a portable hot plate, plugged into an extension cord to keep our wax melted during the process.
The first step of the inoculation process will be drilling holes into your logs. Drill holes in all sides of the log, so that they are in somewhat of a “diamond” pattern, about three inches apart from each other in all directions (but no further).
Once you have drilled your holes into the log, it is then time to inoculate each hole. The spawn you will use for the log method should come as plastic bags full of wooden plugs that have been colonized by the mycelium. We ordered ours from http://everythingmushrooms.com/. All you have to do to inoculate your log is hammer the plugs into the holes you have drilled. In order to have the best chance of avoiding contamination (of bacteria or mold), take each plug from the bag, one at a time, and hammer it into the log immediately.
Then, immediately cover the now-plugged holes completely with the melted cheese wax. We had three people helping when we did this process, so one person could be doing each step all at the same time. You can do the process with as many or as few people as you’d like. There is truly only one person necessary to get the process done.
Store your inoculated logs in a mostly shady area, stacked on top of one another in a criss-cross fashion.
That’s pretty much it! For the next six months to a year (sometimes even a year and a half, depending on the strain), your shiitake log work is essentially done. In extremely dry periods, you will want to spray your logs down with water once a week and soak them about once a month. In moister areas, this may not always be necessary.
After that time has passed, it is finally time to get your logs to fruit. This will usually be in late spring or early fall, when temperatures are not too hot (again this depends on the strain and when you originally inoculated your logs). Some logs will begin to fruit on their own, but giving them a little extra encouragement should cause them to fruit much more heavily.
To do so, you will want to submerge your logs in the coldest water you can access for 12 to 24 hours. Once you remove them from the water, pound the “butt” of each log HARD onto the ground twice. The combination of the water and the pounding will help to shock the mushrooms, causing them to fruit.
Harvest your shiitake mushrooms when their caps are 50 to 70 percent open. If the humidity is low, you can mist the mushrooms as they’re growing.
The final step: enjoy!!! Marinate them, fry them, saute them, add them into a soup, whatever you want! You have waited six months or more for this deliciousness.