24 March 2010
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
At $10-$15 a pound in fancy restaurants and upscale grocery stores weve got one good reason to grow shiitake (Lentinula edodes) mushrooms in our thickly shaded yards.
And if you have the patience for a distant harvest, theres a happy use for this winters young oak and maple blow-downs. Those pricey shiitake will gladly root on their fallen limbs and logs, composting the wood as they feast on hidden carbs.
Sugar maple and white oak are rated the best hardwoods because they keep their bark for several years; red and black oaks are good too; no pines or other conifers, please.
Maximum sugars are found in 3- to 5-inch diameter sections. Cut 36-inch lengths (easy to lift) with unblemished, intact bark, thick sapwood and no heart rot just before dormancy is broken in late winter or early spring.
Choose shaded, north to east facing sites, sheltered from prevailing winds, under pine or other evergreens for year-round protection. Drape a lightweight fabric cover to maintain moisture in more exposed locations. Apply wood chip mulch around the logs to reduce soil compaction.
To follow the natural ebb and flow of precipitation and dry weather, inoculate with Cold Weather (CW) strains. Use loose sawdust spawn, which produces the best results.
Drill holes with screw-tipped auger bits with adjustable collar stops. Insert with a spring-loaded, thumb-pressure, spawn-plunging tool immediately after holes are drilled then daub with a cover of hot cheese wax. The Field & Forest Products Inc. website makes this far less complicated than it sounds with all the necessary tools.
Correct inoculation density (1-inch deep by 6 inches in rows 2 inches apart in a staggered diamond pattern) is your Integrated Pest Management (IPM) tool, as other fungi will quickly colonize in broader spaces.
Elevate your nurse logs 4 to 6 inches above the ground to suppress invading fungi. Simulate a soaking rain followed by ample ventilation to prevent mold and other fungal intruders. Repeat during dry-spells.
Commercial growers force fruiting by submerging inoculated logs for 20 hours in 50-degree F water; mushrooms emerge a few weeks later. For the first year, however, resist the temptation to force fruiting, as this slows the growth of thready white mycelia roots. Harvest your first flush the following autumn or if they are especially vigorous, whenever they appear.
Collect when caps are 60 percent uncurled. Ripe-for-picking shiitakes can happen overnight in warm weather, so check them daily. Gather in the late afternoon when theyre drier. Twist and pull the stem, never cut. Refrigerate straight away in berry cartons covered with cling wrap.
Sometimes termites, slugs, squirrels, mice, birds, and deer nibble and gnaw shiitake. Only physical barriers will keep them out. Compost the damaged parts and use the rest.
Production typically occurs from one to several times a year for up to six years, depleting sugars in older logs as undesirable fungi take over the rotting process.
Youre on your own when it comes to recipes. But I like mine sauted in an 11-inch cast iron skillet with barely a tablespoon of grape seed oil whole caps, diced stems with minced shallots (from my garden, of course). Serve with anything, even warmed strawberries, anytime.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Prune herbs (rosemary, lavender, sage) to just above woody growth. Prune Santolina gray and green by one third. Cut back damaged and scorched boxwood to just above greenwood. Remove injured tree limbs just after leaf-out, checking where recovery is unlikely.