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Shitake Mushroom Log

 On my kitchen counter, gourmet gardening!

My word!  What is it?  Looks like:  “a candle?”, “a log cake?”,  With all the holiday visitors, no one has guessed!

Well, it is a Shitake Mushroom Log!  The above picture is a mushroom log that we “started” 2 days ago,  and the mushrooms have just started to grow.

 Shitake Mushroom Lore:

Shiitakes are a decomposing fungus native to China and other parts of Asia . The Japanese syllable Shii refers to the type of host tree, no one is sure, perhaps oak or a tree in the same family as birch in America . Take means the fruit of the mushroom. Shiitakes are more like animals than plants. They have behaviors and we believe they're social. They like Syd, they dislike crabby people and negative emotional environments (as plants can wilt when their owners argue.  You can tell from the growth pictures below that we don’t argue!). They're not fond of cigarette smoke and may balk in their fruiting around smokers. Some growers swear their shiitakes like classical music and rock and roll. Shiitake logs fruit more generously when they are with another log or in a group of logs. They love the negative ions from rain (I use a spray bottle to mist them) and they respond to thunder and lightning. Some growers use flashing lights, play thunderstorm music to simulate storms and tap their logs with hammers or drop them a foot or more to simulate the fall of the log in the wild.  Since ours arrived just before Christmas, I think our blinking Christmas lights have inspired them to really “bloom”.  What do you think?


This is day 3, (and close up below it)  and notice the mushrooms growing at the base, as well as the sides and top.  It arrived with a clear plastic “hood” that we keep it covered with after misting each morning.  It grows the most at night, however, you can almost see them growing after about day 4.  There is no Right Way to grow shiitakes. Each grower had a different system, and methods of inoculation. It doesn’t seem to  make any difference – growers are getting shiitakes, on 2,000 logs or 100,000 logs, using compressor-cooled soaking tanks and fork lifts, lawn sprinklers or overhead sprayers, even garden hoses with punched-in holes. Even  home-made greenhouses, converted hog farms and chicken houses, elaborate indoor operations and thousands of logs cultivated bare naked outdoors, shaded by trees are being used.  Ours is growing on our kitchen counter.


This is day 4. DO SHIITAKES GROW WILD? Not in the US , although they will spread from our outdoor logs into firewood, but yielding only a 'shroom or two. They're native to Asia


Day 5 and see the growth!  In a natural forest, shiitake spores are released from fruiting mushrooms in spring or autumn. They float through the air, traveling long distances and settle in a silvery dust on live tree limbs and fallen limbs. The immune system of a live tree will overcome the shiitake spores, but on a dead limb, they take hold and work their way into the cambium layer. They colonize that section of wood, devouring cellulose and building a network throughout the dead part of the tree. The next year, a storm comes, breaks the limb and it crashes to the ground, startling the shiitake awake. With rain and temperatures in the 70s during the day and in the 50s at night, five or six shiitakes may "bloom" on the log. Today, as in ancient China , pickers come by the hundreds. The Chinese only eat shiitake dried. The same process is now operating in the eastern US, where Korean producers lease forested lands for shade to protect thousands of logs and harvest in spring and fall.


Day 6 and the mushrooms on the top left are almost at eating stage!  HISTORY OF SHIITAKE CULTIVATION. In the 1930s the Japanese developed a cultivation method using saw cuts, and eventually developed the methods we use now, drilling holes in cut wood, inoculating with shiitake spawn, incubating the logs until they are colonized, then harvesting during the spring and autumn rainy seasons.  

Day 7 and we will harvest 5 of these.  The mushroom omelet was the best that I remember ever tasting!  Shiitake cultivation was kept out of the US because the edible and medicinal Lentinula edodes was confused with another strain of Lentinula, a fungus that attacks railroad ties. Finally in the 1970s, it was all straightened out, and we Americans started cultivating shiitakes and growing them bigger, faster, and better.  

Better view of day 7, upper left side.  A new, faster, easier method of production involved inoculating sterilized sawdust blocks. It's popular with commercial growers because they can grow many times the amount of shiitakes in the same time it takes to grow on logs and increase their profits tenfold and more. Asian growers jumped in with both feet. But the mushrooms weren't as meaty, tasty, and as it turned out, not as supportive to optimal health. In Asia , sawdust-grown shiitakes sell for $2-$3 a pound, log-grown shiitakes for $40-80 a pound. Most Americans, and many chefs, don't know the difference until they see, handle, and taste shiitakes grown on logs.

Donko shiitakes, mushrooms that dry out faster on the surface than on the inside, have white slits, or splits, in the dark brown caps. Asians consider donko shiitake to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Early Folklore

For centuries the Chinese picked shiitakes wild and dried them. We still have about 7 lbs. of these kind of Shitake mushrooms.  The Japanese learned to cultivate them. They placed fresh mushrooms on a dead log and let it self-inoculate.  I bought 20 lbs about 20 years ago from Japan Food Company in New York , thinking I could use that much!  Never realizing how many dried Shitake it takes to make a POUND!   We heard the story that in olden days in Japan , there were shiitake wars to plunder and steal inoculated logs. We heard that it used to be the custom, when a boy child was born, to inoculate a 20-foot long log, about 4 feet in diameter. It took around 20 years for that log to colonize. So when the boy turned 21, and ready to seek his fortune in the world, his fortune awaited him in his back yard. This may be folklore, as we've found no historical proof.

 

Our Shitake log came from Norm Thompson’s catalog.  They have a website at www.normthompson.com    Then use the keyword search and input shitake.   Geri Rodin

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