Growing Shiitake Mushrooms Can Make You Money

Growing shiitake mushrooms can be profitable and marketable for both small-scale and large-scale commercial growers. In fact, they are a crop that can be produced in a small, shady corner of your backyard!

There are several things that you have to consider if you want to try to make a profit by growing shiitakes:

  1. Do you have a good source of healthy hardwood logs? shiitakes grow best on hardwood logs from healthy, freshly cut trees that are 4-6'' in diameter. Each log will produce for roughly 3-5 years, so it is important to have a source for replacement logs as well as your "starter" logs. Ideally, you will be able to thin trees from your own woodlot to use as logs but good shiitake logs can also be purchased from timber companies, firewood vendors and other sources.
  2. Do you have a shady spot to grow your shiitakes in? Shiitakes need a protected, shady spot. They will not grow well in direct sunlight or in very windy areas. You should make sure that you have an area that has at least 60-80% canopy cover ) to put your logs in. A mixed deciduous and evergreen stand of trees will work well for this.
  3. Do you have a good source of water? Your shiitake logs will need to be thoroughly watered on a regular basis. During very dry periods, the logs may need to be sprinkled for up to 6-12 hours at a time, about once a week. Do you have a dependable source of water and a sprinkler to use for this purpose?

If you have these things, you will probably be able to grow a crop of shiitake mushrooms. Then comes the difficult part: harvesting, storing and marketing them. There are many factors to weigh when deciding how to handle and market your shiitakes:

  1. Do you have the time and manpower to monitor your shiitake logs carefully and pick the mushrooms daily when they flush (fruit)? The correct moisture level is crucial to your shiitake success, and you will have to check it regularly. Also, shiitake logs that are allowed to fruit without forcing will flush rather unpredictably. You will need to be able to monitor them to see if the are starting to produce. Once production begins, they will need to be harvested daily for up to two weeks.
  2. Do you have the management skills to force your shiitakes or will you let them flush on their own schedule? Shiitakes will naturally produce two crops a year: one in spring and one in fall. To get a premium price and become the exclusive supplier to restaurants, specialty stores, etc. you will need to produce an "off-season" and/or year-round crop. This is possible but requires very careful management of your shiitake logs moisture and temperature levels. It will also reduce the lifespan of your logs, causing you to replace them more often.
  3. Do you have the capability to store your shiitakes or will you have to sell them the day they are picked? Shiitakes have an excellent shelf life if they are stored properly (packaged in a well-ventilated box stored at 34 degrees F with high moisture levels). If you have facilities to store them, you will have more time to market them. However, if you can't store them, you will need to be able to market them almost as soon as they are harvested. That means daily deliveries, farmers markets, etc.

Just remember not to get in over your head. Even if you have an excellent production setup and great management and marketing skills, you can't go too wrong by starting with a few logs and determining whether shiitakes are the right crop for you to grow and market.

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