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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Shiitakes Are Sprouting!

Shiitakes emerging from a log plugged two years ago

Yesterday afternoon as ambled out to the turtle tank (where I  keep the snappers to “clean out” before we clean and cook them)  I was shocked to find that my shiitake logs were spouting mushrooms! I had given up on having shiitakes. Not only were they starting to pop out, there were very good numbers, and very good looking shrooms. 

I was shocked because my shiitake saga started almost two years ago to the day, when I was the guest of a father and son team who have made an art out of raising shiitake mushrooms at their homes near Tamms, Illinois. 

The Borens preparing to begin the plugging process on a fresh green log
Knowing my penchant for all things fungal, Brent Boren, along with his father Roy invited me to visit during their October mushroom log plugging activities. 

The Borens began raising shiitake mushrooms at home approximately  6-7 years ago. It’s not a business, and they don’t sell them. “We have a big enough circle of friends and family waiting for them; we really don’t have any to sell.” laughed Brent Boren.  Boren also pointed out that “selling them would turn this into work and a job and take all the fun right out of it.”  Roy Boren also took the time to explain his process for canning the excess. “If you put a mess of them in with a roast, when everything’s done and you take your first bite, you’ll want to just throw out the roast and keep the mushrooms.”  he smiled. After cooking the beautiful specimens they so kindly sent home with me that day, I have to agree. 

The tasty ready to harvest shiitakes

In the cool morning air at Roy Boren’s home nestled in a valley outside of Tamms, the gentlemen set to work, explaining each step of the process in detail. 

A batch of logs of various ages placed in the filtered shade for optimum results

Green logs of an appropriate size are used, mostly oak and gum. The elder Mr. Boren explained that while the flushes of shiitakes were larger on the sweet gum logs, they didn’t last as long as the oak. Each year they add new logs in preparation to replace spent logs the next season.  Some logs I was told will produce as longs as four years, and that equals at least eight flushing of the shiitakes. Roy Boren had me pick up different logs of varying ages so that I could feel the difference, as the logs age and the mycelium trails and mushrooms use up the logs. The older the logs become lighter and more fragile feeling, the oldest and those close to being spent feel almost crumbly.  

Drilling the holes that will hold the shiitake plugs

During the drilling and plugging process the gentlemen explained the growing cycle. They plug them in the fall and the water the logs three times a day for two weeks, after that they soak them in a trough of water for about 24 hours, then they are placed on a rack in filtered sun at the edge of the tree line and left to let mycelium trails infiltrate the log.

Sealing the plugged logs with thin coat of paraffin
Log selection is an important part of process I learned. Logs roughly 3-4 feet long and about 4 inches in diameter are selected and holes are drilled 4 inches apart, around the log and the length of it. Into these holes, dowels inoculated with the mycelium and spawn are hammered in and then the “plugs” are sealed with brushing of melted paraffin.
Plugged logs ready to go

A closer look at the plugged logs

Roy Boren carries a plugged log to my car

Usually in May the first tiny shiitakes will start peeking their heads out.  I waitied with bated breath  the spring of 2010 – and I had one tiny shiitake struggle to the surface. I was crushed and called the Borens wailing about what I could have done wrong.

Be patient they advised me. Just be patient.

The initial spring flush is small and second that follows in the early weeks of autumn is bit larger. It’s the next year that one sees the good flushes…. the large flushes of the tasty, meaty, sought after mushrooms.  Fast forward to spring of 2011 – again just a few tiny little mushrooms peeked out from the bark. They didn’t grow.

They dried  up and fell off.

Another frantic phone call to the Boren men. Again –  I was told be patient, and that I shouldn’t worry too much as their crop wasn’t as good as usual this year either. Too much strange weather activity perhaps.
My excited shriek of "Mushrooms!!!"  sent the  big grinning snapper  scurrying to  bottom the tank. Finally! Being patient has paid off, the weather and fungi gods have cooperated and this year I have that shiitake flush that I’ve been waiting on! 
One of the logs with the long awaited shiitake flush!


  1. In Japan, they soak the logs & strike them with wide hammers or mallets to loosen them up, better inoculate them and increase the yield.

  2. Thanks for sharing that tidbit Rev Fowl - I may try that method on the next batch of logs :)

  3. I don't know much about mushrooms, but find it amazing the ones you find and grow. I really need to make a trip to IL. I am tied up every weekend until the middle of November, but if you ever have a free day during the week let me know. I need to learn more about this bow fishing thing you do also:} I'll bring one or two of my crew to have play date with Willy.