Fall is Mushroom Season: Grow Your Own Shiitakes

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Fall temperatures and rain bring out the mushrooms. This article discusses how shiitakes grow wild in Asia and how they're cultivated on hardwood logs. Shiitakes are known and prized for their health benefits as well as their flavor and texture. People can grow their own with a mushroom log kit.

Autumn temperatures, fall rains and waning daylight create the perfect climate for throwing mushrooms into reproductive high gear. During fall, it seems like mushrooms pop out overnight, but they've been growing and gathering energy to form fruiting bodies for months and, in some cases, for a year or more.

"This is the natural season for shiitakes," according to Sondra Williams, "The Mushroom Lady" of Lost Creek Mushroom Farm, http://www.shiitakemushroomlog.com , who grows the gourmet mushrooms on logs. "They grow naturally on oaks and on the 'shii' tree in Japan and China, a hardwood like the American birch. That's where the name comes from - 'shii' meaning the tree and 'take' - meaning the fruiting body of the mushroom.

Shiitake is a decomposing fungus. Spores from shiitakes growing elsewhere in the forest, even miles away, may be blowing into small crevices in the bark for years. When the branch or the tree dies, its resistant immune system also dies, so the mushroom spores can burrow into the wood and grow. Eventually the limb falls and the mushrooms are easy pickings.

Log-grown shiitakes can sell for over $80 a pound in the Orient, Williams explained. They are prized for their flavor, meaty texture, and their ability to absorb the flavors of the foods and spices they're cooked with. Shiitakes are high in protein, low in fat and contain natural immune-system boosters, anti-viral, and anti-fungal compounds.

Most grocery-store shiitakes in the US are cultivated on sterilized sawdust or in grains. Sawdust-grown shiitakes sell for about $3.50 a pound in Japan, because they don't have the same health and healing properties as log-grown shiitakes," Williams said.

"Shiitakes are not native to the US and have to be cultivated," she added, "Fall is the perfect time to start growing them with a mushroom log kit, making it possible to harvest fresh shiitakes for the holidays."

Lost Creek Mushroom Farm mushroom logs are made from hardwoods such as oak, sweet gum, hickory, and fruit trees. The logs are cut in winter when the sap is down and then inoculated with shiitake spawn, manufactured by mycologists. The spores are put into a mixture of oak sawdust and grains, and kept warm in a sterile environment. Williams described the spawn as "looking like large-curd cottage cheese, only drier.”

A grower will drill 50 to 70 holes in a log and then inject the spawn into the holes with a tool that has a tube with a plunger on the top. “We dip the tube into a bucket of spawn, push the plunger, and then seal the hole with hot cheese wax. That sterilizes the hole at the surface and protects the spawn until it can spread through the log.”

It can take from eight to fifteen months for the shiitake to colonize the entire log and be ready to produce mushrooms.

For their log kits, Williams and her husband Doug, train their logs to respond to watering every two weeks and to “fruit” or produce shiitakes every two months. They’ll grow indoors like plants or outside in shade.

“Since their natural fruiting times are fall and spring with rains and a 20-degree temperature change between day and night, we humans can “force fruit” a log by “shocking” it with cold water. It’ll fruit in 6-10 days.”

Log kits range in price from $27.50 for a 10” log to $48.50 for a 20” log with its own soaking tray. Two-log kits will produce shiitakes every month by alternating the fruiting log. The Ma and Pa kit with two 10-inch logs sells for $47.50 “Double-log kits offer a savings,” Williams said. Prices include shipping.

Kits include the ready-to-fruit hardwood log or logs, instructions, and recipes and are guaranteed to grow shiitakes.

Products, recipes and information about shiitake logs are on the web at http://www.shiitakemushroomlog.com. To order or request a free brochure by phone, call 1-800-792-0053. Lost Creek Mushroom Farm log kits are also available at Amazon.com.

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Sandra Williams
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