Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa), also known as hen of the woods, huishuhua or sheep's head or ram's head mushrooms, are succulent and have culinary and medicinal uses. Maitakes aren't often found in the grocery store, but you can grow your own, indoors or outdoors. Mushrooms require precise levels of light and humidity, and maitake are one of the more fussy species.
Purchase maitake spawn. The spawn is available as liquid, grain, sawdust or wooden plugs. Use liquid spawn if you are concocting your own substrate from scratch or if you want to grow commercial quantities of maitake. Grain or sawdust spawn are best for the more casual home mushroom grower. Plugs are used for inoculating logs, usually outside.
Build a growing substrate. Maitake mushrooms grown indoors are usually grown in vented plastic or burlap bags, which are filled with a mixture of about 60 percent to 80 percent hardwood sawdust and chips, 10 percent to 20 percent grain (usually wheat bran) and about 1 percent sugar. Add small amounts of calcium, lime or gypsum to achieve a pH level of 5.5 percent to 6.6 percent. Sometimes topsoil gathered from a hardwood forest is also used. If you are using grain or sawdust spawn, you will build the rest of the growing medium around that. To grow maitake mushrooms outdoors, you will need chestnut or other hardwood logs that have been aged at least two months.
Inoculate your substrate by adding liquid, grain or sawdust spawn to the growing medium, or by drilling small holes in the log and gently hammering in the plug spawn.
Create the ideal growing conditions. Maitake mushrooms grow best where temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity levels are between 60 percent and 65 percent. Mist your maitake daily to maintain good moisture levels. Maitakes grown indoors should be in a well-ventilated room with low, indirect sunlight, although the mushroom requires no light at all until the fruiting bodies start to form. Maitake grown on logs outdoors should be placed on the floor of a hardwood forest, and they should be planted in the fall or winter for a harvest the following year.
Harvest when the fruiting bodies are large and unfurled and resemble a flower with open petals. The mushroom caps should be erect (not droopy or soft) and should smell fresh and earthy. If the mushroom smells fishy or if it has released its spores, it is no longer good to eat. Maitake mushrooms grown outside may take up to a year to mature, while indoor maitakes may be ready in three to four months, depending on growing conditions.