This is an edited extract from Folko Kullmann’s Grow Your Own Mushrooms.
Shiitake are the ideal mushrooms for beginners: they’re easy to cultivate and can be cooked in all sorts of ways. Not only are they extremely flavoursome, but they also have proven health benefits. The name “shiitake” comes from Japanese and means “mushroom [take] that grows on the Castanopsis tree [shii]”. In the wild, this species grows on the dead trunks and branches of deciduous trees in the forests of China and Japan. Shiitake is the most widely grown edible variety after the button mushroom.
The light- to dark-brown cap often bears white marks and can grow to a diameter of up to 10cm (4”). The stem is firmer and up to 8cm (3¼“) long. The gills range from hues of white to cream. The flesh is flavoursome and maintains its firm texture even when cooked.
You can cultivate shiitake on logs in the garden, on ready-made substrates indoors, or in the basement or cellar. Depending on the type of wood used outdoors, you should be able to harvest the logs for several years.
Only use logs from deciduous trees felled in the autumn or winter. Birch, poplar, willow, copper beech, hornbeam, oak and maple are ideal. The latter three last for a long time due to the hardness of their wood, and can produce yields for four to five years. Soft woods will be brittle and depleted after three years. To inoculate the logs, you should insert the grain spawn into saw-cut surfaces or cut grooves, with three cuts or grooves for every metre of log (1 cut for every foot).
Alternatively, you can beat plugs into pre-drilled holes and then seal them with wax. In this case, 25–50 plugs are required per metre (8–16 plugs per foot) of log. A relatively new invention is the special mycelium patches that you simply place on to the cut surfaces.
Mix sterilized wood shavings or sawdust from deciduous trees with grain spawn and transfer the mixture to plastic bags.
If you opt to cultivate the mushroom on logs, it will take about a year, and sometimes even two years, before you can harvest them for the first time. After that, you can harvest the log for up to five years. Shiitake logs can remain outside the whole year: simply cover over in winter. If you’re growing shiitake in a ready-made substrate, the first fruiting bodies will appear after just one or two weeks at a temperature of 10–22°C (50–72°F).
Depending on the size and volume of the growing container, you will be able to harvest them in batches over the following four to five months.
Shiitake mushroom cultures are relatively easy to control. Soak the logs in water for 24 hours before harvesting, so that the wood is properly saturated. You can do this in a water barrel, a garden pond or an old bathtub. Then pound the log on the ground three or four times, almost as if you’re trying to wake the mushrooms up. Now you just have to keep them cool so that lots of fruiting bodies form.
If grown outdoors, you can harvest the mushrooms twice a year, in spring and late summer. Cut the mushrooms carefully from their stems when the caps grow to a diameter of about 5cm (2”).
Storage and Shelf Life
The mushrooms keep in the fridge for eight to ten days at 2–7°C (36–45°F). They can be sliced and frozen.
Dig you know?
The shiitake’s distinctive taste includes umami. This is the fifth taste characteristic besides sweet, salty, bitter and sour, and is a typical feature of protein-rich foods such as meat, pulses and some mushrooms. Otherwise, it is usually only encountered if monosodium glutamate has been added to food.
Did you see Folko Kullmann’s Baked Shiitake Mushroom recipe? Have a look here.
Grow Your Own Mushrooms by Folko Kullmann is available from all good bookstores and online.
This practical book explains how to grow fungi, with easy-to-understand instructions:
- Methods and growing-media for indoors and out
- Getting your mushrooms started and caring for them
- How to harvest, store, and preserve your mushrooms all year round
- In-depth descriptions of the most popular varieties