Shiitake mushrooms are among the most popular edible mushrooms in the world. They add a deep, rich color and smoky, earthy flavor to dishes from soups to stir-fry to steaks. Originally from China, shiitakes have been cultivated for hundreds of years using hardwood logs as a growing medium. The same practice is used today to raise the delicious fungi. Given the proper equipment and growing conditions, shiitake mushrooms are relatively easy to grow. Spawn is readily available for purchase from a number of sources and can be used to inoculate hardwood logs to produce these tasty mushrooms.
Purchase shiitake spawn plugs, which will be used to start the mushrooms, from a reputable source. Obtain a hardwood log made of oak, beech, alder or chestnut in the fall, around 3 to 7 inches in diameter and about 3 to 4 feet long.
Drill a row of 1/2-inch-wide holes about 1 inch deep and about 6 inches apart down the length of the log. Drill one row of holes for every inch of diameter of the log. Insert a spawn plug into each hole and tap it gently into the hole with the hammer.
Soak the log thoroughly with water. Place the log in a cool, shady area. This can be outdoors in a wooded area, against the side of a building on the shady side, within a greenhouse or even in a cellar.
Wait for the mycelium, the growth of the mushroom that occurs within the log, to develop. This will usually take several months. Continue to water the logs occasionally, just enough to keep the wood damp.
Drop the logs or bang them with a sledgehammer, in the spring, to stimulate the emergence of fruiting bodies from the log. Fruiting bodies are the parts of the mushroom eaten.
Watch for fruiting bodies to emerge in the spring. There may be another flush of fruit in the fall. Collect the mushrooms by cutting the stem close to the log surface.