Producing Shiitake Mushrooms

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The two most popular mushrooms in the world are the common button mushroom (Agaricus spp.) and the shiitake or black forest mushroom (Lentinus edodes), shown below. The shiitake, meaning “mushroom of the shii (oak tree)” in Japanese, is highly prized in Asia for its flavor and reputed medicinal value. It is a major agricultural commodity in Japan, where about half the world’s supply of shiitake mushrooms is produced. Formerly, the only shiitake mushrooms that could be purchased in the United States were dried and imported. Shiitake mushroom production began in this country about 25 years ago, and with it came a new demand for fresh mushrooms. This demand is increasing rapidly as consumers discover the delicious, meaty flavor of fresh shiitake mushrooms. Now that these mushrooms are commanding an average wholesale price of $5 to $9 a pound, thousands of farmers and investors across the country are interested in producing them.

For individuals interested in production on a hobby scale or for limited local sales, growing shiitake mushrooms can be quite rewarding. Commercial production, however, requires a substantial commitment of time and money. As with any agricultural commodity, profitability depends on the grower’s production and marketing skills, as well as on market supply and demand. Shiitake production is still fairly new in this country, and new strains (varieties) and methods of production are being developed. The profitability of production depends on the efficiency of the operation, the availability of substrate materials (logs or other organic material), and labor. Growers should experiment on a small scale before committing substantial resources to commercial production.

The shiitake mushroom is a wood-decay fungus grown on logs or in bags of nutrient-enriched sawdust or other organic materials. Bag culture is a highly specialized process that must be conducted in buildings with close control of temperature, light, and moisture. The risks of contamination and loss are much greater with bag culture than with log growth, particularly for inexperienced growers. This publication deals solely with outdoor production on logs and explains techniques suitable for small producers and hobbyists.

Jeanine M. Davis
Jean Harrison
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service