Choosing shiitake varieties and more
Blog-reader Ron pointed me toward the best shiitake-mushroom writing I've read to date...which you can download free here. Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake Cultivation in the Northeastern United States
has a dry, scientific title, but the interior is full of photos and is
quite easy to read. In fact, I highly recommend you take the time to
peruse all 57 pages if you're thinking of growing shiitakes in logs, but
I'll sum up some of the most interesting points here in case you're
short on time.
My favorite part of the
text was the copious data. The file is full of real numbers about the
best time to cut logs (winter and spring), the best number of days to
wait before inoculating (none --- although when I look at the graph
below, I wonder if a parabola wouldn't have been a better fit for the
data than a straight line?),
the best trees to inoculate (oak, sugar maple, ironwood, hop-hornbeam,
and beech), the number of flushes to expect from a log (8 from red oak, 4
to 5 from red maple, all over the course of 3 to 5 years), and much more.
Interestingly, the scientists in charge even reported on blind taste
tests, where they found that shiitakes grown on ironwood were considered
bland while those on bitternut hickories were prized by top chefs.
Equally useful was the
authors' sum-up of the differences between the three categories of
shiitakes: wide-range, warm-weather, and cold-weather strains. In the
past, I'd just assumed that these distinctions referred only to fruiting
times, but mushrooms in each category actually tend to act and taste
quite different as well. Cold-weather strains are nice for low-work
backyard producers like us since they generally start fruiting on their
own (actually preferring not to be shocked
in most cases), can be inoculated into larger logs since you won't have
to wrestle the substrate into and out of water to force fruiting, and
often have the most intense flavor in their fruits. Wide-range strains
are also a good choice for beginners because logs fruit quickly after
inoculation and recover rapidly between shock treatments. Finally,
warm-weather strains are optimal if you only have softer hardwoods like
red maples available, or if you need to make sure you'll have a
dependable harvest throughout the summer months.
Our spawn is already in
the mail as I type, so it's too late to pick out varieties with this new
information in hand. But I'm hopeful the types of shiitakes we chose
will do well on our farm. Here are the descriptions for our three new
strains (shamelessly copied from Field and Forest Products' website):
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- Snow Cap Shiitake (cold
weather) --- Produces beautiful, uniform, thick fleshed caps tufted with
white lacey ornamentation. A long natural outdoor season makes it a
favorite for those who like to visit their logs regularly. Heaviest
fruiting occurs early spring and late fall. Possibly the best winter
strain in the South.
- WW70 Shiitake (warm
weather) --- This warm/cool weather strain has characteristics close to a
CW strain. Its late summer - late fall fruiting period outdoors is one
of the longest of all our strains. It is also one of the most beautiful,
with dark caps and lots of contrasting ornamentation. Please note that
WW70™ does not respond well to force fruiting.
- Native Harvest Shiitake (wide range) ---
Naturalized on our farm several years ago, this strain has been tested
from North to South and the results are the same: a very fast, vigorous
strain with excellent quality. First found on oak, it is also a good
producer on Red Maple. Unlike other wide range species, Native Harvest™
also gives a late fall flush; an added bonus for the Thanksgiving table!
Spawn run is 6 to 12 months.