Getting these mushrooms started in your garden isn’t difficult at all. You’ll need a log, a shady spot and some patience.
Foraging for mushrooms in the woods is never a good idea unless you know for sure which mushrooms are safe to eat. For those who like the taste of wild mushrooms, though, there’s a sure-fire way to make a positive identification: Grow them yourself in your own backyard or even on a porch or patio if you’re short on space.
Delicious and nutritious shiitake mushrooms are an excellent “beginner” mushroom for those who’ve never tried their hand at this type of gardening. If you can drill a hole, wield a small hammer and melt wax, you’ve got all the necessary skills to get started.
Here are the tools you’ll need and a step-by-step guide to growing and harvesting shiitake mushrooms. The glossary and instructions below have been adapted from a workshop taught in the Atlanta area by mushroom enthusiasts Howard Berk and Todd Pittard, who call themselves 2FunGuys.
First, a vocabulary to help beginners understand two key mushroom-growing terms.
Spawn is a vehicle used to transfer mushroom mycelium into a fresh substrate, or growing medium. Depending on the substrate to be inoculated, the vehicle (spawn) can be grain, sawdust, wood chips, dowels or rope.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungal organism (remember, mushrooms are a fungus). Think of a mushroom as the fruit, or the reproductive (spore-producing) part, of the organism. Another way to understand how mushrooms grow is to think of them this way: Just as you must grow a tree to produce an apple, you must grow mycelium to produce a mushroom. You won’t see mycelium in nature because it spends its life in a protected environment, in the earth, inside a log, or under some other kind of scattered leaf litter or downed branches.
Using spawn to grow mushrooms is a method of propagation that involves expanding living tissue to produce genetic clones of the original specimen.