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Outdoor Production

This page offers the basic cultivation techniques and information on the economics of log grown shiitake enterprises.

 

While you might come across one of 10,000 fruiting mushrooms in the Eastern Forest, only a handful can be cultivated reliably. These are the decomposing fungi that can be grown on logs, stumps, woodchips, and in vegetable production beds.

 

Species include Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), Lions Mane (Hericium spp.), Red Wine Cap (Stropharia Rugosa-annulata), Almond Agaricus (Agaricus subrufescens), and Nameko (Pholiota nameko).

 

Mushroom Species Shiitake Oyster Lions Mane Wine Cap Almond Agaricus Nameko
Wood Species Oak, Sugar Maple, Beech, Birch, Chesnut, Sweet Gum, others Poplar, Tulip Poplar, Willow, Box Elder Beech, Sugar Maple Mixed hardwood chips Mature Compost Black Cherry, Sugar Maple
Preferred Methods Bolts Totems Totems Beds Beds Bolts

 

Each mushroom has its own preferred species of wood and method for successful cultivation. ONLY log shiitake can be reliably cultivated outdoors as a commercial crop, though other species can offer supplemental income when they fruit.

 

Reliable fruiting of other species for commercial sales is most often done in indoor cultivation systems. Read on more to meet the Mushrooms!

Shiitake on Logs

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Shiitake mushrooms are among the oldest of all agricultural crops, with cultivation dating back to several thousand years in parts of China, Korea, and Japan. They began being cultivated in North America in the 1980s and offer the most economically viable of all the outdoor methods of mushroom cultivation. Data from past research indicates that, over three seasons, a 1,000 log operation would cost $4,740 to establish and would yield 1,040 pounds of mushrooms annually and could generate $12,480 of income for the farmer each year. This rate can be perpetually sustained from year four onward and would qualify a producer for agricultural exemption in New York.

VIDEO: INOCULATION BASICS

VIDEO: INOCULATION BASICS

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Best Management Practices

for Log Grown Shiitake

(PDF Guidebook)

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Buying and Selling

Shiitake Logs

(Factsheet)

 

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Shiitake Enterprise

Budget Tool

Log Grown Shiitake Economics

Research based at Cornell University in partnership with University of Vermont, Chatham University, county cooperative extension agents, and farmers has led to a significant increase in demand and interest for forest mushrooms over the last five years. This effort was boosted by almost a decade of research by recently retired Cornell professor Dr. Ken Mudge on the specifics of shiitake and lions mane production including species selection, harvesting protocols, and management logistics that have greatly improved understanding of cultivation.

mushrooms 1.1

Figure 1.1

This base research fed into a three-year SARE sponsored project Cultivation of shiitake mushrooms as an agroforestry crop for New England where over 250 farmers were educated in the basics of cultivation and forest management. 55 completed a 5-year enterprise plan for a shiitake operation, and of these 27 were selected to inoculate 100 logs and keep data records on time, expenses, and sales of product. 15 farmers actually followed through on log inoculation and provided complete datasets. Of these, 10 of the 15 reported net profit after expenses.

 

Labor & Expenses in Shiitake Cultivation

One aspect of the study focused on the breakdown of labor (Figure 1.1), where it is notable that 53% of labor was spent felling trees for inoculating bolts, 32% for maintenance tasks and harvesting, and 15% for marketing and distribution related work. This snapshot provides some good characteristics for shiitake cultivation; much of the labor is accomplished in the colder months of the year as forest management is least cumbersome in winter months and inoculation can happen at any time after harvesting, though there is some evidence that the sooner, the better. This means that farmers can put the bulk of the work into the enterprise in a time of year where other farm activities are at a minimum.

A well-designed laying yard means that maintenance and harvesting tasks can be efficient and equate to a morning chore rather than eating up precious parcels of time during the growing season. All told, growers spend just over 1 hour per bolt throughout the entire process, a useful measure to think of when deciding on a scale of operation. Also notable is that much of this time is an upfront “investment,” as felling trees and inoculation take the majority of time. This process occurs only once in the lifetime of a log, and a good log can continue to fruit for 4 or more seasons.

mushrooms 1.2

Figure 1.2

Another dataset summarizes expenses and earnings, which were quite variable. The average cost per bolt was around $4.74, although approximately half of participant’s expenses went toward “durable goods,” equipment and supplies that are often a one-time purchase. This means that after some initial investment, the cost per log could go down as much as 50%.

One element that skewed the data, for instance, was that 22% of costs were for tree cutting equipment (chainsaws, safety gear, etc) which may be something a farmer already has or may not be necessary if logs are purchased from an outside source. Actual supplies essential to inoculation, harvesting, and sales are around 75%, or less of the total above.

Equally important is data where log-grown mushrooms are sold successfully, and for how much. Whereas conventional, indoor grown shiitake sells for $4 – 8, log-grown shiitake has commanded a much higher price, ranging from $10 – $16 per pound. Most mushrooms (46%) were sold to restaurants, followed by direct sales (19%), farmers markets (15%), groceries (15%), and other (5%). Most growers report that in their local markets the demand far exceeds the supply, indicating ample room to expand operations as well as support additional growers.

The bottom line of the economic analysis is that farmers can make income from shiitake cultivation. Of the 15 participants who submitted full datasets, 10 made a profit in just the second year of production. The profits ranged from $1.39 – $11.88 per log, depending on the expenditures the farmer chose to take (Figure 1.2). This means an average profit of $5/log per season, or $15 – $20 per log over its productive lifespan. Along with this data, extension specialists crafted some sample budgets for a small operation where 100 logs are inoculated each year, until a total of 500 logs is reached.

As shown in Figures 1.3 and 1.4, one could expect to produce a profit in year two, and over $4,000 in profit in year five. Total profit over the five years is estimated to be around $9,000. 500 logs is considered a small operation; most commercial growers manage between 1,000 and 3,000 logs.

It’s important to note that while we were able to establish some trends in the economics, there is high variability in the choices farmers make, how efficient they are with their time, and other constrains of location and farm particulars. Those interested in commercial shiitake cultivation should keep records on income and expenses and track their own progress in relation to the above data.

READ MORE: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2015/01/12/mushrooms/

Oyster and Lions Mane on Stumps and Totems

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Both Oyster and Lions Mane mushrooms can be easily grown on stumps or "totems", which are larger logs that stand up on their end. These are sometimes called "chainsaw inoculations" as one only needs a saw and a bag of mushroom spawn to complete the task. See the videos below to learn how!

While oysters can fruit one to three times over the growing season, lions mane typically only fruits one time per year, in the fall.

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Wine Cap in Woodchip Beds

Wine Cap mushrooms, also know as Stropharia and Garden Giant, are among the easiest beginning mushrooms to grow. All you need is a space with hardwood woodchips or straw to get started. Integrating Wine Cap into existing mulched areas of the farm or garden is ideal, whether they be with vegetables, berries, or fruit trees. They can be inoculated any time during the growing season and will fruit from 2 - 6 months after inoculation (given that the temperatures are still warm enough). They can also be successfully grown in trays or pots. Once established, a patch can last for several seasons, and can be used to start new patches.

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Almond Agaricus on Compost

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Almond Agaricus (Agaricus subrufescens) is a fragrant summer mushroom that can be grown in high quality compost. Almonds can be cultivated commercially (and in larger scale) in beds within high tunnels and greenhouses, or in areas outdoors where moisture can be added and monitored. It can grow in the shaded woods and sunny garden (best alongside big, leafy plants because of the added shade). Or, it can be grown “small scale” in window boxes or large potted plants, indoors or out. It can be planted May until early July in the North, earlier in the South, or whenever the last frost date is in your area.

READ OUR ARTICLE ON GROWING ALMOND AGARICUS:

https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2019/07/01/the-abcs-of-almond-agaricus-mushrooms/

Nameko on Logs

This mushroom generally fruits in the fall, and prefers to grow on either Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) or Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) logs inoculated in the exact same way as shiitake. (see above) The logs are then either stacked in the woods or sometimes buried in a shallow bed of woodchips, which helps retain moisture.

We don't currently have any further resources but recommend interested growers seek out more information from one of the companies selling the spawn on our suppliers page. 

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