Log Me In for Homegrown Shiitakes!

White Oak (top) and Sugar Maple (bottom) logs with Shiitake spawn drilled in I waited all year for the Fayette County Cooperative Extension evening course on Shiitake Mushroom production offered last week. I feel lucky I got to go. Some of the reasons:

  • I learned a lot in a hurry. Deborah Hill, Ph.D., Extension Professor in the University of Kentucky's Department of Forestry has made shiitake production in Kentucky a specialty. She shares her knowledge fluently with beginners who want to grow a few mushrooms, and also guides large-scale producers.
  • I lucked out by signing up for the class early, which is not how I usually behave. I registered for the course in January, just after I received the course listing in the mail. I did not know how much in demand this class and all Extension classes are this year -- sold out, with waiting lists.
  • After the wait, quick gratification! I went into the class carrying an electric drill, bit, and hammer. I came out with the same, plus a white oak log and a sugar maple log fully prepared to yield a few pounds of shiitake mushrooms over the next 3-5 years, if I keep the logs damp and shaded. The quick results don't mean quick mushrooms - but I can always use more opportunities to practice patience.
  • I finally found my perfect level of carpentry skills. Drilling, hammering, waxing logs in a room filled with people, noise, and smells of fresh wood and hot wax -- great fun, almost a cross between cooking and carpentry. Each of us in the sold-out class drilled 20+ holes per fresh, juicy log, hammered 20+ damp, shiitake-spawn-impregnated 5/16" diameter wooden dowel pieces into the prepared holes, and then slathered 400 degree F. food-grade wax on each little dowel insertion. What cheering work!

Deborah Hill details the shiitake production process in multiple publications and some helpful videos, including Growing and Marketing Shiitake Mushrooms on Natural Logs (about 11 minutes).

Here's a look at one little 5/16" hole with its 5/16" dowel spawn, not yet waxed for protection against enemy organisms.....

Dowel Spawn (Shiitake) Inserted into Log, not waxed

A waxed-over dowel insertion shows up a bit blurrily inside the red outline below.

Waxed-over shiitake spawn insertion on dowelWaxing each of the dowel pieces helps seal in the desirable shiitake spawn so it can begin using the log's plant nutrition to power filaments, called "mycelium," throughout the log. The wax seal also keeps unwelcome intruders from taking over and preventing the shiitake mycelium from producing delicious "fruits" -- mushrooms -- starting in 6 - 18 months.

Fortunately the wait from January through October for the class has slowed me down to Shiitake Time. Perhaps if I treat my logs well for another 10 months, I will be browning some homegrown Shiitakes in butter right in my own kitchen.

Three more good things to know:

  • Growing Shiitakes directly on freshly cut logs should produce mushrooms with more flavor than the commercial ones, most of which are grown on sawdust or other media.
  • Dr. Hill and the Extension Service can help people who want to grow Shiitakes for income, not just for home consumption.
  • Shiitake production can work well for small parcels of woods in Kentucky. Growers can grow delicious, potentially profitable mushrooms on the 3" - 6" diameter hardwoods that need to be cut anyway because they are crooked or crowd other, more valuable trees.

As I watched the video of a skilled grower doing high-speed drilling on logs held just right in a v-shaped sawhorse, I spent a little time calculating the amount of good solid shade in our small downtown lot. We cannot do large scale production here, but maybe we will add a few more logs. And perhaps Lexington's expanding urban community gardens will accommodate many types of edible mushrooms before long (speaking in Shiitake Time, of course).