Shiitake Mushrooms and Forest Farming
Any farmer with a woodlot and a drive to diversify should consider the not-so-lowly mushroom—right now, gourmet quality shiitakes sell for $12 to $16 a pound. Using green hardwood—often white oak, beech, sugar maple, and hornbeam, and often scrap wood not really suitable for anything else —a farmer with a solid production plan can realize anywhere from a half a pound to two pounds of mushrooms per log with two harvests a year. This kind of forest cultivation is one of several choices that come under the agroforestry umbrella, or forest farming.
Using Northeast SARE funds, Ken Mudge at Cornell and Allen Matthews at Chatham University have taught about 400 farmers how to grow these desirable fungi. Through a series of workshops, the team has offered tips on enterprise development and passed on what they are learning about best management practices for shiitake production in the Northeast. From the 400 or so farmers who came to the workshops,
The guide covers key caveats about tree selection, inoculation, and accounting for environmental factors like shade, humidity, and waxing the logs to keep out other kinds of fungi. This last step can be time-intensive, but the team predicts it will pay off, since the farmer will likely have a more productive log and more predictable yields. Most inoculated logs will get to peak production in the second or third year, but can often be harvested for five seasons. Fresh log-grown shiitakes have the best flavor and texture, but they also degrade quickly. To extend the selling season beyond the rather brief harvest season, there are options to pickle, dry, or freeze shiitakes; these preservation techniques can lead to year-round sales. In some dishes, and particularly mushroom soup, dried shiitake actually work as well, if not better, than fresh.the project leaders selected out 23 for the next phase, which involves longer-term follow-up. They gave each grower a copy of a detailed research guide, access to a grower network, and data collection tools to track their labor, expenses, and sales. The goal is to gather real-world data that will give farmers and extension staff a decision tool when considering mushrooms as a component of diversification.
To spread the word, and to give farmers a clearer idea of what’s involved, the project team has published a production guide that discusses wood selection and management, techniques to encourage fruiting like shocking the logs in cold water, moisture control, inoculation techniques, and the importance of selecting a location for the stacked bolt logs that offers the optimal temperature, dampness, and shade.
This 12-page guide is available here as a PDF file and is also available from the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
To learn more about the project itself, search the SARE reports database for LNE10-298.