Getting Started Mushroom Spawn
Growing your own shiitake mushrooms isn't very difficult. It's low maintenance once you get it started and doesn't require a tremendous amount of space. All you need is some Logs and seed , the mushroom seed is called spawn.
Mushroom spawn is a fungus tissue needed to get your shiitake mushroom crop started. The Spawn comes in several forms, the most common being plugs that resemble dowels , it also comes mixed with sawdust and grain. I prefer the plugs , they are easier to use and there are fewer variables that can lead to contamination and failure.
Shiitake spawn comes in varying strains, warm weather strains, cold weather strains, and wide range strains. The difference between strains is relevant to their fruiting habits and when they are expected to bear. Wide range, in my experience is the best. Northern growers would want to use cold weather strains and deeper southern growers the warm weather one.
Planting the Spawn
The spawn is planted in logs. Logs or branches from any freshly cut hardwood trees will suffice. The logs should be free of disease and damage, the bark should be as intact as possible. The presence of disease suggests the presence of other fungi or bacteria which could easily contaminate the shitake.
If cutting your logs from live trees it's best to cut them in the seasons between the first frost of early fall and the last frost of early spring. Moisture content is optimal at these times. The logs can be as small as three inches round , but avoid in excess of 8 or 9 inches round. The logs should be cut into approximately 4 foot sections.
If you follow the game plan and nature cooperates , these logs, once implanted [inoculated] with spawn, should be productive for up to a decade. Although under some conditions as little as 2 - 3 years.
You should inoculate the cut logs within a week or two of cutting, so as to avoid contamination from other native fungus / mushrooms and because they are full of the nutrients which the fungus needs to to become established and spread. To inoculate the logs / plant your seed - you will need to drill holes into the logs. The holes should be deep enough to take in the spawn plug with very little head space. You don't want the plugs jutting over the logs outer surface or they will dry out.
Drill your holes about 6 inches apart in a triangular pattern, fill the drilled holes with the spawn and seal with soft beeswax or cheese wax.
The wax should be melted to a soft pliable consistency - not molten liquid , just soft and pliable - if you pour bubbling wax over the spawn , you'll kill it before it grows. Some growers use a mix of petroleum jelly with the wax which helps make it more pliable - a mixture of 1 part Petroleum Jelly to 3 parts wax is optimal. Avoid using paraffin. Paraffin, used in common candles contains toxins, this will not guarantee failure but certainly is a contributing factor.