The Shiitake Mushroom Project: 1983 - 1995
The Shiitake Mushroom:
Shiitake (shi-TAH-kee) mushrooms are native to Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. Literally, shiitake means mushrooms from the "shii" tree, a Japanese tree closely related to the oak. Asian cultures have used shiitake for more than 1,000 years. Shiitake is a highly prized mushroom because of its delicate, wild, woodsy taste. Japanese studies suggest that shiitake mushrooms are more nutritious than most mushroom species and may play a role in lowering blood cholesterol. They are such a gourmet treat that they were originally reserved for use only by emperors and were fiercely guarded by samurai. The commercial cultivation of shiitake on hardwood logs was developed in Japan following World War II. Today, shiitake are Japan's number one agricultural export with gross sales of a billion dollars per year.
Growing Shiitakes: The Forest Resource Center
Our project was originally a rural economic development project that encouraged woodland owners to better manage their forest land and, at the same time, to grow and sell a high-value product from previously unused and often neglected woodlands. Beginning in 1983, Eagle Bluff (then known as the Forest Resource Center) researched 52 different strains of shiitake mushrooms growing on more than 10,000 logs. The best strains and the most productive log species were identified. This effort established Eagle Bluff as the leading research center in the United States for shiitake mushroom cultivation on hardwood logs.
The ironwood and oak logs used for this research project are harvested from live trees while they are in their dormant stage. Holes are drilled in the logs and shiitake mycelia (root) are inserted into the holes. The holes are sealed with hot wax to protect this exposed area from contamination. Then, the logs are returned to a "laying" yard for a period of six months or more. During this time, the mushroom mycelia colonize the log and begin digesting the wood fiber. Mushrooms will begin to "fruit" from the log with colonization is complete. Outside, shiitake mushrooms fruit naturally twice each year in the spring and fall, when temperature and humidity conditions are ideal. Force-fruiting shiitake year around is possible with indoor facilities where temperature and humidity levels can be controlled. Adequate shade, moisture, and time are essential for growing shiitake mushrooms on hardwood logs. The shiitake mushroom mycelia are very effective wood decomposers, digesting a large portion of the log and producing many mushrooms before the log is spent.
The research phase of our project was completed in the mid-1990's and our focus turned to cultivating the shiitake mushroom for profit. At that time, Eagle Bluff produced approximately 100 pounds of mushrooms per week, year round. These mushrooms were then sold to restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers markets. When the decision was made to expand Eagle Bluff into a residential education facility, our focus on shiitake cultivation, research, and sales declined significantly. Today, we maintain an outdoor growing facility with 500-700 logs and utilize the mushrooms in our kitchen, education purposes, and donor recognition.
The Shiitake News: Newsletter Archive
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