How to Fight Cancer, Harvest Sunlight to Produce Your Own Vitamin D, Boost Your Immune System, and More… by growing your own gourmet shiitake mushrooms!
You may have noticed from our photos that The Tyrant and I love mushrooms. That wasn’t always the case. We used to think that mushrooms were just the little white tasteless button variety that we saw in the grocery store, or perhaps the portobello mushroom, which isn’t that much of a step up from the white buttons. That all changed about 4 years ago. To read how a Clemson University mycologist (i.e. mushroom scientist) by the name of Tradd Cotter turned us on to mushrooms and our first wild mushroom foray, read our “Mushroom Tribe” post over on our company blog.
There are seemingly infinite varieties of delicious edible mushrooms that come in every imaginable size, shape, color, and flavor. Some of our favorite mushrooms range in taste from the fruity & nutty chanterelles to maple syrup flavored parasols to the savory & sublime morels. And, just to give you a proper appreciation for the size that mushrooms can grow, the largest living organism on earth, is a 4 mile wide edible honey mushroom!
Unless you live in the desert, chances are there are many edible mushroom varieties that grow wild in your yard or nearby woods. However, just as you should not get behind the wheel of a car without proper training/education, you should NEVER eat a mushroom (or anything else) that you’re not 100% sure you’ve correctly ID’d. This is a great way to die slowly and painfully.
But, instead of letting your healthy fear of mushrooms keep you off of the mushroom “road” forever, why not just learn how to drive safely and then enjoy all the places these wonderful organisms will take you? And if you’re still not convinced that you should consider getting your “driver’s license” in mushrooms, you might be further swayed by knowing that many varieties of mushrooms have incredible health benefits: they’re antiviral, antimicrobial, anticancer, antihyperglycemic, cardioprotective, and anti-inflammatory.
Want to keep reading? Good!
Many of our favorite gourmet mushrooms can’t be commercially cultivated since they are “mycorrhizal,” i.e. they form symbiotic relationships with the roots of plants, vastly expanding the reach of the root footprint to help draw in additional water and nutrients. In return, the plants provide the mushrooms with a constant source of carbohydrates via glucose and sucrose. It’s estimated that 95% of all plants are mycorrhizal. So, when you’re walking through the woods and you see mushrooms, you’re seeing a very small portion of the actual organism—the visible fruiting body—while a massively complex, interconnected web of organisms are dancing invisibly underneath your feet (similar to seeing an apple on a huge apple tree). Isn’t nature cool?
Not all mushrooms are mycorrhizal, however, and many of the best mushrooms in the world can be easily cultivated by the home gardener. At Tyrant Farms, we’re currently growing oyster, shiitake, king stropharia, chicken of the woods, and blewit mushrooms, not to mention at least 15 native edible varieties we’ve enjoyed from our lawn and/or the woods behind our home that were here long before we were.
This particular post is about a revered Asian delicacy with a wide range of medicinal properties to boot: the shiitake mushroom. We’ve had some beautiful shiitake harvests this summer and fall, and wow are they delicious. As such, we wanted to let you know how you can easily grow your own shiitakes at home AND supercharge them with Vitamin D before eating them by “harvesting the sun.”
Yes, you read that correctly, so keep reading to find out how…
DIY: How to Grow Shiitake Mushrooms
*These instructions are detailed, so they may look complicated. However, growing shiitake mushrooms is actually quite simple (think about how complicated instructions for making a pb&j sandwich look when you see them in writing).
**There’s not necessarily a “right time” of year to start growing shiitakes. We grow warm weather shiitake mushrooms at Tyrant Farms, but there are also cool weather varieties that are supposed to be fantastic. Whatever person/company you’re ordering your shiitakes from should have information telling you the ideal time of year to inoculate logs with your particular strain of shiitake mushrooms.
Things You’ll Need to Grow Your Shiitake Mushrooms:
- 100 inoculated shiitake mushroom plugs (we recommend buying these from either Tradd and Olga Cotter’s Mushroom Mountain or Paul Stamet’s Fungi Perfecti)
- Two (2) recently cut *hardwood tree sections with bark still on. These should be 4-8 inches in diameter and 3-4 feet long (*thick barked hardwoods such as oaks & poplars are ideal).
- High speed/power drill with a 5/16″ drill bit
- Rubber mallet (or hammer but mallet is better) for tapping the mushroom plugs into the holes
- Food grade wax, such as beeswax or cheese wax, for sealing your mushroom plugs in the log
- Old junk can for melting wax
- Camping stove or other heat source for melting wax in can. We just use our stove top and reheat the wax as necessary
- Small paint brush for applying wax
1. Cut Hardwood Tree Sections and Let Them Cure
Select two suitable living hardwood tree sections or tree branches that are 4-8 inches in diameter and 3-4 feet long (100 mushroom plugs will adequately inoculate two logs with these dimensions). As mentioned above oaks and other thick barked hardwoods are best. Don’t use softwood or piney trees. If you don’t have a tree that needs to be cut, you can find one from a local tree removal company or wait until you see a freshly cut log while driving around in your town.
You’ll want to let your log “cure” for 2-4 weeks in a shaded, dry environment off of the dirt or forest floor (a garage or shed floor is ideal). Healthy, living trees have anti-fungal agents in their sap, so 2 weeks allows time for these to dissipate. The reason you want them out of the elements, is to reduce/eliminate other mushrooms from colonizing your logs.
2. Order Your Shiitake Mushroom Plugs
Once you’ve got your logs curing, go ahead and order your shiitake mushroom plugs. We ordered 100 plugs our first time around. If you want to order more, just make sure you have enough logs. There are a number of places that you can order your shiitake mushroom plugs, but we’d recommend either Mushroom Mountain or Fungi Perfecti. It’s usually a good idea to let your mushroom plugs “rest” for a 1-2 weeks after they arrive in the mail since the colony has been through quite an ordeal and may need time to boost back up before going into your logs.
3. Drill Holes In Your Shiitake Mushroom Logs
Once your logs have cured and your shiitake mushroom plugs have rested, use a power drill with a 5/16″ drill bit attachment to drill offsetting, parallel rows of holes in each log. Each hole should be about 1 1/4″ deep and no more than 3-4 inches apart. Your rows of holes should form a diamond pattern all across the surface of your logs. Ideally you should have 50 holes per log.
4. Insert Your Shiitake Mushroom Plugs Into Logs
Wash your hands, and in a shaded area, separate your plugs into two piles of 50 plugs and put your logs on newspaper or plastic if you don’t want melted wax on the floor/ground. Insert your shiitake plugs into each hole, and tap them in with your rubber mallet or hammer. Make sure each plug is well set into the hole so that the surface of the plug is at or below the surface level of the log. Don’t leave any drilled holes empty—if needed fill any empty holes with wax.
5. Melt and Apply Wax to Your Shiitake Logs
On a stove top, grill, or camp stove, heat your wax until fully melted. Using a paint brush, seal each cut end of the log completely with melted wax. Next seal each hole thoroughly with wax so that each shiitake plug has its own tight little “house,” safe from other competing fungi that might come knocking.
6. Incubate Your Shiitake Logs for 6-12 Months
Place your logs in a shady, moist location off of the ground but within reach of a garden hose. You don’t want too much sunlight to hit the logs, and you don’t want the logs touching the ground, which encourages other competing fungi to come aboard. An old palette, bricks, or concrete blocks are good for this purpose. Ideally, you can also cover your logs with a breathable cloth (such as a shade cloth or weed blocker) to help keep out sun while allowing moisture to come through (don’t use plastic since this will make your logs mold!).
Once you have your logs stored, you’ll need to plan to water them regularly. If you live in a moist climate like we do, you can water your shiitake logs once per week for about 10 minutes during a dry week in which it doesn’t rain (if you get a good soaking rain, don’t worry about watering them). If you live in a dry/arid climate, you should plan to water your logs twice per week for 10+ minutes each time. Don’t water your logs if the outside temps are below freezing as this can cause your logs to split or loose their bark. To help remember to do water your shiitake logs, we recommend setting up a recurring calendar event with an alert so that your technology can help you take care of your biology.
7. When Ready, “Initiate” Your Shiitake Logs
Under ideal conditions, your shiitake logs will be ready to fruit after 6 months, but it’s recommended that you wait at least 9-12 months before “initiating” them (i.e. “forcing them to fruit”) to ensure that the colony is really strong. Your logs will do a pretty good job of telling you when they’re ready: keep an eye on the cut ends of the logs that you sealed with wax, and if the surface area looks dark and mottled, then you know the colony has taken over the log and is ready to fruit. Sometimes, under ideal conditions, your logs will go ahead and fruit on their own without your help.
Once you’ve determined that your shiitake logs are ready to be initiated, you’ll need to submerge them in water for 24 hours. You can use a bathtub, a pail, a contractor bag, a natural (clean) body of water, or whatever else you can come up with that’s big enough. Ideally, you can use non-chlorinated water (rain, spring, boiled tap water, creek, etc), but we’ve found that water straight out of the hose will work ok if that’s your only option.
After 24 hours of soaking, place your logs back in a shady area and in an upright, vertical position. You’ll see “primordia” (baby mushrooms) form sometime between 2-14 days. Make sure the logs stay moist during this waiting period by watering them 1-2 times per day for about 5 minutes each time. Soon, your whole log will be covered with beautiful shiitake mushrooms! There’s not a “right” size to eat them—you can pick them when they’re small or let them get huge (we like the big ones and find them to be tender and flavorful).
8. Harvest Sun to Boost Vitamin D, Then Cook & Eat Your Shiitake Mushrooms!
We learned an incredibly cool, simple technique courtesy of famed mycologist Paul Stamets that literally allows you to harvest sunlight to produce Vitamin D (Vitamin D2 to be exact, not Vitamin D3 which is produced from animals and used in most D vitamin supplements). As Stamets says, “Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that boosts the immune system and plays vital roles in human metabolism,” i.e. it’s incredibly good for you and you need it regularly to stay healthy, especially in the northern hemisphere or during the fall, winter, and spring months when there is less sunlight, preventing your body from producing its own Vitamin D.
Once you’ve harvested your shiitake mushrooms, put them in a sunny location gill side up for 24-48 hours. This has been proven to drastically boost the shiitake’s natural Vitamin D2 levels from around 100 IU/100 grams to nearly 46,000 IU/100 grams! That’s not just incredible, that’s Awe Natural™! Isn’t nature amazing?
There are infinite numbers of ways to cook the delicious and versatile shiitake mushroom, and we’ll post some of our favorite Tyrant Farms recipes soon. In the meantime, just do a quick google search to find one that appeals to you or you can try this easy shiitake mushroom green bean stir fry recipe courtesy of Jaden Hair over at Steamy Kitchen. If you have too many shiitkae mushrooms to eat, don’t worry. Dry them and put them in an airtight container. Yes, the elevated Vitamin D levels will last for over one year!
We hope this post will inspire you to grow and enjoy your own shiitake mushrooms year round!
Warning: Don’t ever eat anything that you can’t identify with 100% certainty. Also, it’s estimated that 1-2% of the population may experience an allergic reaction to mushrooms due to their bodies inability to digest them (they don’t have the necessary enzymes). So, the first time you eat a shiitake or any other mushroom, just have a small amount, wait 48 hours, and if you haven’t experienced an allergic reaction, it’s probably safe to assume that your body is perfectly capable of digesting them.