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Learn to grow shiitake mushrooms

Participants can purchase a grower's kit at the workshop and will take home a fruiting log so they can grow their own shiitake next spring.

Joanne Lehman

Many enjoy the tradition of tramping through the woods in the spring, gathering wild mushrooms, but what if we could cultivate them? This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. While growing the prized morels probably won’t happen any time soon, there is another mushroom that is not hard to cultivate, according to Jeff Wilkinson of Lexington, Ohio.
Wilkinson has been growing shiitake mushrooms for several decades, and he will teach a class at Local Roots in Wooster on Oct. 21 from 1-3 p.m., explaining how any home gardener with a little patience can grow shiitake mushrooms.
Shiitakes (Lentinus edodes) are highly prized in Japan, where about half the world’s supply is produced. Until 1972 live shiitake culture was banned in the United States. Because the organism lives on wood, there was a concern the fungus could spread beyond cultivation areas and attack railroad ties and wooden structures. But this was proven to be false.
In 1987, a decade and a half after being introduced in the U.S., a gardener from Taiwan introduced Wilkinson to growing shiitake, and Wilkinson has been cultivating them ever since. Last year he grew and marketed nearly 400 pounds of mushrooms, selling them at farmers’ markets and to several restaurants.
According to Wilkinson, in Japan they are called the “mushroom of the shii” (oak tree). There they can be found growing wild. However, oak trees in North America will accept inoculation for growing shiitake, making it possible to grow them in our region.  
“Growing shiitake mushrooms is like growing any other perennial in your garden. There is a short period where very little is realized in terms of what you can see or pick. It will take from 10-14 months for your work to bear mushrooms,” Wilkinson said.
There are a number of steps in preparing a log to grow mushrooms. Shiitake spawn won't do well on live or green wood, so they need to be cultivated, rather than grown in deadfall wood or logs contaminated with other fungi.
To grow shiitake, it is necessary to use logs from freshly felled trees or just-trimmed limbs that haven’t been lying on the forest floor. The limbs selected are 3-6 inches in diameter and cut into 40-inch lengths. They must have intact bark and be allowed to dry for approximately a year.
According to Wilkinson, a log will produce three crops per year, one each season during spring, summer and fall. The log will produce for about four years before needing to be replaced. Mushroom growers can acquire wood from tree trimmers or land owners.
The logs must be left to cure for about a year before they are inoculated with a starter root called mycelium.
Participants in the class will be able to see Wilkinson prepare a log for growing shiitake. He will have kits available that contain all the necessary materials.
Growers drill holes in a log using a three-eighth-inch drill bit and plug the holes with pieces of dowel that have been exposed to the shiitake spawn. Then they are sealed with beeswax to keep them moist and to keep insects out.
“After plugging, locate a shady, protected area away from the sun and wind to lay your logs,” Wilkinson said. “They will need to stay here for at least one year, so pick a good spot out of the way and don’t forget them.”
Wilkinson likes to shelter his mushroom logs under evergreens. Here the plugs grow under the bark and colonize the log with shiitake spawn.
After a 10-12 month period, it is time to get the logs ready to grow mushrooms. Wilkinson described the process as follows:
“First, soak them for 24 hours in cold water and then hit them on the end real hard with a hammer several times. This is called the ‘soak and shock’ method, and it works.”
Though the log lies vertically on the ground for the first year, when it’s time to grow mushrooms, the log will be placed at a 45-degree angle against a tree trunk or similar object in the shade.
“Remember, mushrooms are 90-percent water and can dry out real fast,” Wilkinson said. He advises using burlap or landscaping cloth to retain moisture.
Shiitake mushrooms are known to have interfureon, an anti-tumor drug. In Japan they extract and sell this in gel caps. They also are high in fiber and have no cholesterol. They are an ideal meat substitute for vegetarians.
Wilkinson said he has about 1,200 logs in various stages. He hopes to have examples of the various stages of growing mushrooms and also will do a cooking demonstration at the class. Participants can purchase a grower’s kit at the workshop and will take home a fruiting log so they can grow their own shiitake next spring.
To join the mushroom-growing class, call Susan Sivey at 330-465-1820. Participants should preregister by Oct. 14. The cost is $20 and includes one inoculated log. More logs and mushroom spawn will be available for sale at the class.

Published: October 6, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171009987