CTG Week 16 August 17th to August 23rd: How to Grow your Own Shiitake Mushrooms

This week at the teaching garden we were lucky enough to have a wonderful presentation by Derek Proulx.  Derek shared with all the gardeners some wonderful tips for home grown shiitake mushrooms, take a look at the following post to learn some tips for growing your own shiitakes.

Admiring the Sunset
Admiring the Sunset

A Shiitake is an edible mushroom, native to East Asia. They are delicious when eaten, but they also have a long history of being used in traditional medicines and some studies have even found the fungi to hold anti-tumor properties. The shiitakes you’ll find at the local supermarket are typically grown in sawdust, but the more traditional method is to grow them in logs. Log grown varieties are a delicacy that have a superior flavor and a higher nutrient content than their sawdust grown counterpart, selling for upwards of $40 per pound in Japan. I imagine there probably aren’t very many of you spending that kind of money on mushrooms, log grown or not, so why not give growing your own a try? It’s easier than you might think.

Derek Preparing for His Talk about shiitakes
Derek Preparing for His Talk about shiitakes

We established you need a log to grow your shiitakes on, but you don’t want to choose just any log. The wood you choose to grow your Shiitakes can have a big effect on the taste and productivity of the mushroom. Oak has developed a reputation as the gold standard here in the northeast, but many growers have found that other species like sugar maple, and beech are very effective as well.

You may not want to run out and cut down the nearest tree just yet. A study by researchers at Cornell University showed that spring is the ideal time period to cut and ‘inoculate’ logs. It is recommended that you fell your trees in the early spring before the trees leaf out, and inoculate the log within one day to 3 weeks after the tree has been cut. Take care to keep your logs clean and free of debris, while making sure the bark remains intact. If necessary you may also cut trees during the winter months and store the logs before inoculation in the spring.

Log Grown Shiitakes

Logs should typically be 4 to 6 inches in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet in length, allowing you to handle the logs easily. Length is less important than diameter but if you do need to go with a fatter log you may want to cut yours a little shorter to make it manageable to carry.

Once your log is ready, follow the steps below:

  1. Drill holes in your log. You will need to drill a series of holes in each log, 7/16” diameter and 1.25” deep, which is the dimension of the inoculator tool used to plug the holes with spawn.
  2. Inoculate the logs with spawn: Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus which consists of a network of fine white filaments. An inoculator tool is specifically designed to inject spawn into the hole. After the holes are drilled, place the spawn plug into the holes, making sure they are flush with the surface of the log, thus bringing the shiitake mycelium in contact with its new food source. Once inoculated, the log becomes known as a bolt.
  3. Waxing the bolts. Applying a coat of food grade wax to the plug holes reduces contamination from competing fungus, and helps seal in moisture so that the spawn does not dry out. Completely seal each hole using wax that is very hot (lightly smoking) when applied in order to ensure an airtight, flexible seal.
  4. Incubating the bolts: Once inoculated, the bolts are set to incubate in a “laying yard”, preferably an area of 80% shade for optimal results.   Your laying yard should be beneath a canopy of some sort. The best environment is in a coniferous forest, but a man-made solution will work well too. The incubation period or “spawn run”, during which the fungus colonize the wood, is typically between 8 to 18 months.
  5. Shocking the bolt: Mycelium growing inside the log form colonies that will become shiitake mushrooms. Shocking the bolt triggers mushroom production. The right time to start shocking your log depends on the mushroom strain and log species. When mycelium growth (white moldy looking discoloration) is visible on most of the bolt end, it should be ready to fruit. Submerge the logs in cold water for 24 hours. A 100 gallon cattle trough or big tub works best because you can control the water temperature, but utilizing a nearby pond or stream works well also. You should see mushroom growth 3 to 5 days after shocking.
  6. Grow & harvest your mushrooms: You want to harvest shiitakes when the mushrooms are not fully opened, before the edges curl up, at which point you have let them go to long.   After fruiting, logs need to be rested for 6 to 8 weeks before begining their next growth cycle. A bolt will normally continue to produce a crop for 3 to 5 years after your first harvest.
Beautiful Sunflower
Beautiful Sunflower

For more information check out the link below that will direct you to a great resource that was produced by the UVM Extension Service, “Best Management Practices for Log Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States”.


We hope we have encouraged you to try growing you own flavorful, nutrient rich, and affordable shiitake mushrooms. We know you will enjoy the experience.

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