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Choosing shiitake varieties and more

Best Management Practices for Log-Based Shiitake CultivationBlog-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 Best time to inoculate shiitake logsmore. 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):

  • 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.

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I wish they had included the data tables for the charts. The days from felling to inoculation chart has an R-squared value of 0.099, which is very low. (R-squared shows how well the line and underlying data match; closer to 1 is better.) Generally, the data appears to have huge variation in it. Unless all the test logs were felled on the same site and at the same time, it would be more informative if they controlled for other factors that might impact the logs production (possibly humidity, rainfall, etc). I attempted to recreate the chart of days from felling to inoculation. While it's impossible to get the same results when interpolate the data from a chart, I'm showing that a second order polynomial trendline is a better fit to the data and maxed out around 20 days.
Comment by Daniel Wed Feb 11 12:07:54 2015

The correlation coefficient R² is pretty low for the lineair fit. Both for a small amount of days and for a large amount of days the sample sizes seem to be a lot smaller than for those in between. That will influence the fit. Also, the smaller the sample size of a certain amount of days, the harder it is to draw valid conclusions from the data.

Given the way the data are spread out (more or less in a square with a bulge on top), it doesn't seem to me that it makes sense to put a lineair least squares fit through them.

What I would conclude from the given graph is that you can expect between 0 and 1 lb per log, almost independent of the time passed between felling and inoculation. So based on this data, other factors than the age of the log determine the the yield of a log.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Feb 11 13:19:48 2015

I think I've read the entire archive, and I recall you experimenting with a number of different mushroom varieties and methods, but I don't recall reading about any attempts to grow Chicken Of The Woods mushrooms.

Have you tried them yet? If so, what was the outcome?

They're a particular favorite of mine, but they're bloody hard to find in the stores, so I'd love to grow my own.

Comment by Dave Marshall Wed Feb 11 14:11:28 2015

This reminds me of conversations we had with our neighbor, who was, for real, a rocket scientist, having worked on the space shuttle. Mostly, after a similar type discourse, I would reply, "Huh?" 😊

Comment by deb Wed Feb 11 15:26:09 2015


I failed to mention, of course there is a book

Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel have authored a fine book about using your wooded land for more than just logging (mushroom, ramps, paw paw, nut, ferns) Steve Gabriel has a strong foundation based on permaculture.

For interested parties, there is a wealth of information on

but, even better, there is a listserv

Chock full of early email traffic on the shiitake mushroom growing / research process. Steve Gabriel hosts it and would better explain the graphs. I enjoyed reading past posts to 2010. Learn from others mistakes.

I will start with 100 Sugar Maple logs end of March here in Central NY.

Comment by Ron Wed Feb 11 15:45:42 2015

Daniel and Roland --- You made my day. :-) Eyeballing the graph, I was going to say the peak was at about 25 to 30 days.

Of course, I think their data is probably pretty weak to begin with because my understanding is that it comes from a variety of different farmers in different locations throughout the northeast growing different varieties of shiitakes on different species of trees. Phew! So many differences! Maybe they'll do a controlled experiment at a later date.

deb --- Sorry you found the geekiness less fun. :-)

Dave --- Great question! I've eaten Chicken of the Woods once, but it wasn't too fresh and the taste was only so-so, so I wasn't terribly excited about it (especially after I saw that the species wasn't on the list of easy-to-grow mushrooms). Tradd Cotter's book recommends:

  • Be sure to match up the strain of spawn you buy with the species of tree since strains seem to be species specific.
  • Consider inoculating stumps as well as, or in addition, to logs.
  • Expect to wait 1 to 2 years before fruiting.
  • "Chicken of the woods is not a high-yielding or predictable fruiter....Expect one flush per year."

Ron --- I realized partway through the article that Ken Mudge was also the author of the book I'd been drooling over, which does make me more likely to buy it. Books from Chelsea Green are always so darned expensive or I would have read it already! It's top of my splurge list though, so I'll likely read it soon. :-)

Comment by anna Wed Feb 11 16:31:23 2015