Shiitake Happens

Well, actually, shiitake doesn’t happen. It’s back to the drawing board for our first experiment in mushroom growing. We ordered a kit and dutifully followed the directions, but a combination of high temperatures and too much or too little water resulted in the result you see above, what looks like a cake with a skin disease. And even if we got a crop the cost of the kit was too high to make the process economical.

The kit came pre-inoculated with spore that, given the right conditions, should have produced a block full of tasty shiitakes. Instead we got what mushroom folks call “aborts”, mushrooms that grow a bit and then stop. Aborts are potentially edible, but you need to pick them before they rot. Picking off the aborts can also prevent the rest of the growing medium from becoming infected with unwanted molds.

It’s now way too hot in our house to grow mushrooms and we’ll have to wait until next winter for any further experiments. We’re going to try some different methods and will report back on the results. Tips from readers are appreciated.

And speaking of reader tips, an anonymous commenter on our self irrigating planter post noted that indoor marijuana farmers have been experimenting with container gardening for years and that Homegrown Evolution would be wise to take a look at the kind of innovation that comes with higher (so to speak) profit margins. Good point. In trying to find better sources for information on small scale indoor mushroom growing (other than the current go-to expert who will remain nameless and who I think is a bit of a hype-meister) I kept coming across books on growing the sort of mushrooms that cause visions of plant gods and lizard people. It’s proof that good ideas often come from the combination of improvisation and subterfuge. Just take a look at prison improvised weapons and booze to see what resourceful folks with time on their hands can come up with. We certainly don’t grow anything illegal here, but we like to keep an open mind when it comes to our sources.

For those who would like to read more about growing mushrooms at home here’s one way to do it.

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  1. You would probably have better luck with oyster mushrooms. They can be grown on logs, where they are less finicky about the type of wood and temperature/ humidity than shitakes. But you can also grow them on coffee grounds, hay, or human hair soaked with crude oil (really!)- they are omnivorous.

    It would be easier to create a microclimate for a heap of substrate than a pile of logs.

  2. The above photo does not look that far from what it should actually look like. I wouldn’t give up if i were you. Soak the cake in iced water for 30 minutes, hang it up again, maintaining it moist, and i think there is still hope to get some mushrooms out of it within 2 weeks. But if heat is one of the problems, i agree – go with the oyster mushrooms. They’re much hardier.

  3. Oh, that looks way too nasty!

    I wish there was an economical way to continue to grow them. Those kits, even when they work, just provide for a few weeks.

    Now I actually miss monterey, ca with the morels out my front door, oysters behind the house and all sorts of deliciousness in the woods across the street. :;sigh::

    As a side note, those freaky mushrooms were growing all over a horse paddock next to a friend’s house on the North Shore of Hawaii. Me, being utterly clueless, suggested we harvest them and see if they were edible from the mushroom identification book. Everyone around me started laughing. I didn’t get it until explained. LOL. After that I refused to even walk through there because I might get “spores in my nose”. True story..embarrassing, but true.

  4. I feel much better knowing that I’m not the only one who’s had trouble getting mushrooms out of the shitake log kit. I was so excited when we got ours but all we managed to ever coax out of it was one giant portabello sized shitake and then a whole lot of funky colored molds after that.

  5. Hey, I agree that you shouldn’t necessarily give up, even on this ugly thing. Once we gave up on a log we’d innocculated with shiitake, and a year later we happened to walk by it, and it was covered with gorgeous mushrooms! Of course, we are in Seattle, so climate is more on our side.

  6. I thought the title said “shitcake happens”, and given the photo there was nothing to dissuade me from that notion. A closer reading revealed that you are trying to grow mushrooms. I wish you good luck. I have looked at these but I agree that the cost and effort seems to outweigh the benefits.

  7. I feel your pain. I have never purchased a Shiitake kit before, but I have had many, many failures. Black pin mold, green mold, fungus gnats carrying all sorts of contaminants,… With some perseverance you should be successful in cloning mushrooms from the supermarket. I would agree the oysters are easiest. You may be interested in following my blog. I am currently in the process of cloning king oyster mushrooms from the supermarket using hydrogen peroxide. The mycelium has colonized the cardboard and I just transferred some to my 1/2 pint jars of substrate. The address is

  8. I also bought my first shiitake kit this year. I was able to get it to flush twice. Beautiful mushrooms. Now I have a weird block of mold. Bleh

  9. After the block is spent, it will grow mold because the shiitake mycelium cannot produce antibodies to fight the mold and are spent. If you get the kit from a good source, you can sandwich the block (after removing the moldy sections) between two oak rounds or between the two halves of a split log to get it to sprout more mushrooms.

    You want to keep the temperature between 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with 80-90% humidity. The easiest way I have done this is with a clear Rubbermaid tub and misting with a spray bottle to maintain humidity (usually 2-3 times a day, make sure it is un-chlorinated water).

  10. Such a shame to grow so few mushrooms. Contact Field and Forest and buy thumb spawn to grow your own. Get some fresh oak maple chestnut beech alder logs. The right size for easy handling, 3-4 feet, 3-6″ diameter and buy the drill bit from F&F for your angle grinder. Drill holes in a diamond pattern every 4-6 inches all over the log and push in the thumb spawn. Leave horizontal and stacked in a shady place and keep damp with water in the summer. If I were you I’d bury a big plastic water trough under you log location, fill it with chips and gravel, top it with landscape fabric. Then you can fill the trough with water as a continuous source for the shiitakes. You can stack them over this while they are running (innoculating.) Then stand them at an angle on end on top of the trough area and keep them moist that way. The end grain will suck up the moisture. They will fruit twice a year with little more work than keeping the mulch in the water trough wet. Ask Field and Forest what they think of this idea for your location and what strain is best for you.

  11. Oh and by the way I like shiitakes way better dehydrated. It improves both flavor and consistency. Dry em and stick em in a jar on the shelf.

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