My mom sent us a Shiitake Mushroom Patch from Fungi Perfecti for xmas.
This mushroom kit fit in well with my current sprout growing kick. Its pretty easy to take care of, just needs to be sprayed twice a day and put under a humidity tent (plastic bag with holes in it).
The first mushrooms took about a week to appear, then rapidly grew to quite large size. Below you can see how big they were just before we cut them.
As Millie is pointing out below, the first flush on the block produced relatively few, but quite large mushrooms. After harvesting, we dried it out, and are currently coaxing it to its second flush.
Becky cooked these in a stir fry with sprouted black turtle beans and watercress, which was delicious!
Given the success of this mushroom kit, I started looking into whether we could make our own mushroom blocks out of sawdust or something. The answer is yes, but its more complicated than I had anticipated. These bagged blocks are actually how many farmed Shiitakes are grown. They are made from hardwood sawdust, wheat bran, and gypsum. The tricky part is sterilizing the blocks, which is best done in a pressure cooker or autoclave. They are then innoculated with spawn, which is a form of the fungus at a particular point in its lifecycle. It is possible to make spawn yourself, starting from a culture sample from the inside of a mushroom, but this is best done with access to biotech type equipment like a HEPA laminar flow hood, agar culturing tools, aseptic transfer setup, etc. Anyway, it started to sound a bit complicated to get into right now.
On the other hand I read a cool post about growing oyster mushrooms on old newspapers in a plastic shopping sack. I'd like to try that out sometime. Not sure if I like oyster mushrooms as much as I like Shiitakes.
Another way of cultivating Shiitakes is on hardwood logs. This used to be the norm for farmed mushrooms before the bag method came along, and looks to be pretty straightforward. The logs are innoculated with plugs of spawn and sealed in to prevent other organisms competing with the desired strain. The logs take 1-2 years to get going, and put out less mushrooms per kg of growth media, but its easy to scale and the logs can last up to 7 years. My mom and stepdad are prepping some mushroom logs at their place in Oregon. Someday I would like to have a big stack of mushroom logs in our yard in a shady place that is not much use for growing other things.
Here are the girls pretending the harvested Shiitakes are fairy umbrellas...