Monday, November 17, 2014

Shiitakes for supper!

“Have you seen all the mushrooms growing?” asked my husband Ralph.

My answer was no. A flurry of recent computer-related obsessions had prevented me from paying much attention to my spouse’s mushroom-raising project. However, now that he’d mentioned it, my curiosity was piqued. Abstracting myself away from the clutch of technology, I followed my fungi-enthused partner outside.

Sure enough, just beyond the back door was a stunning crop of shiitake mushrooms sprouting from a row of spore-inoculated oak logs.

Multiple mushrooms growing on multiple logs

Although the four- to six-inch diameter by three-foot-long chunks of wood had been propped against the house for the past 19 months, they rarely produced more than the occasional mushroom. Now, however, instead of just one or two shiitakes growing out of a single length of wood, multiple mushrooms protruded from about a dozen different timbers.

A shiitake almost as big around as the log it on which it grew 

“They really like the cooler weather,” mused my husband, the amateur mycologist.

Originally from Asia where they are considered symbols of longevity because of their many health benefits, shiitakes have been cultivated by Chinese and Japanese farmers on logs for more than 6,000 years. (‘Shii’ means tree, and ‘take’ means mushroom.)

With their woodsy flavor and meaty texture, these brown-colored mushrooms are rich in protein, iron, potassium, copper, calcium, magnesium, niacin and other B vitamins. They have antiviral, anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties as well as the ability to lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure. Because of their many attributes, shiitake mushrooms are proclaimed by many to be one of the world’s healthiest foods.

A plate full of just-picked shiitakes ready to cook

It’s not surprising that my health-conscious, garden-loving spouse is drawn to these mycological storehouses of medicinal properties. Ralph has been passionate about growing shiitake mushrooms since the mid-1980 when he took a three-day mushroom-growing course with renowned mycologist Paul Stamets at his Washington state company, Fungi Perfecti.

(Below is an introduction to growing shiitake mushrooms from the Fungi Perfecti website,

Returning to our then Cape Cod home, Ralph used spores purchased from Stamets to inoculate several oak logs cut from trees on our wooded property. Within 16 months, he was able to harvest his homegrown mushrooms to add to stir-fries and other recipes. He continued to harvest the tasty and nutritional fungi on Cape Cod until our move to Florida in 1987, but he didn’t start cultivating the spore-born fruit right away. It took about 15 years before Ralph once again tried his hand at growing shiitakes. His current crop is one of his best yet.

Mushrooms growing out of logs propped up and leaning every which way

Growing shiitake mushrooms in Central Florida requires drilling 5/16-inch holes four to six inches apart in hardwood logs and filling them with spore-inoculated plugs purchased from a reputable supplier. Once the plugs are tapped into the holes with a hammer, an application of hot wax seals the opening. We used a paintbrush to apply wax melted in a thrift shop crockpot for this part of the process.

Two of the tools used to inoculate oak logs with mushroom plugs:  A thrift shop crockpot and drill with 5/16" bit

After the plugging is complete, the logs are stacked in a shady place and watered 2 to 3 times a week for 10 to 15 minutes at time. If all goes well, mushrooms will begin to appear in 6 to 8 months with the inoculated logs continuing to produce intermittently for several years. The word, “intermittently,” is key. In Ralph’s years of experience, shiitake production has been anything but reliable.

As I stood outside admiring the current crop of health-friendly shiitakes, I couldn’t help but wonder why some of the logs were producing while others were not.

“Why do you suppose that is?” I asked my knowledgeable spouse.

Ralph responded with a sigh.

“I have no idea,” he said. “It’s a mystery.”

With gardening, I suppose there’s an element of mystery no matter what crop you grow. With shiitakes, the appearance of fleshy brown mushroom caps protruding from logs is more than a welcome surprise. It signals the start of many delicious meals.

“I’m guessing mushrooms will be on the menu tonight?” I asked with a smile.

“Absolutely — tonight and tomorrow and for as long as the logs keep on producing,” Ralph replied.

Below are a few links with helpful information about growing shiitake mushrooms including sources to buy mushroom-growing products:

Fungi Perfecti is Paul Stamets' company where Ralph has always purchased any products he needs to grow mushrooms at home

Southeast Mushroom is a Florida-based supplier of mushroom spawn.

FAQ - Frequently asked question answered by the folks at Southeast Mushrooms about the cultivation of shiitakes mushrooms 

Information on mushroom growing from the University of Florida IFAS website 


  1. We are still trying to figure out the whole process. We have one flush of mushrooms and then nothing. It is my personal goal to become a successful mushroom farmer before I die.

    1. Julie - I've added a few links and a video to the article that I think you'll find helpful. When you have a chance, come back and check them out.

  2. You live an enviable and enchanted life.

    1. Nice of you to say, Millie. Sometimes it feels enchanted. Other times it just feels like so much work!