How, When, and Why of Forest Farming

Unit 4 : Mushrooms
Section: 2

Choosing a Fungal Species

Recommended Species

Our top recommendations for beginners who would like to learn how to grow specialty forest mushroom are shiitake, followed by oyster mushrooms. These two are the most reliable, predictable, and can be grown on natural substrates (wood) commonly available as byproducts of forest farming. Shiitake will take longer (6-18 months) to begin producing on a log of a given tree species but production of mushrooms is likely to last longer – 2 to 4 pounds of mushrooms from a single log over several (3-5) years is realistic with proper management. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on logs of a more limited range of tree species, especially poplar, on which they may begin fruiting with a single growing season (3-4 months. For both shiitake and oyster mushrooms there is a well developed market demand so that you can be assured of getting a reasonable financial return on the time, energy and investment that go into cultivating mushrooms in the woods.

More experienced mushroom growers, or beginners who are less risk averse than most of us, have a broader palette of mushroom species to choose from for forest production. These include Maitake (Griffola frondosa), Lion’s Mane (Hericium sp.), Reishi, and Stropharia. The first 3 can be grown on logs similar to the cultivation of shiitake and oyster mushrooms described in the next section, although cultivation of stumps is also a possibility. Stropharia on the other hand is grown on a ground bed of wood chips. All of these more exotic mushrooms usually take longer to begin fruiting than either shiitake or oyster mushrooms and are simply not as reliable. Even the experts experience failures with no readily apparent causes.

[Shiitake Mushroom Photo]
Shiitake Mushroom
Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service.


The need for further research on the production of specialty forest mushrooms, other than shiitake, before it can be considered reliable has been emphasized by Johann N. Bruhn, a leading authority on specialty forest mushroom production at the University of Missouri (Colombia). In his book, What Do We Still Need to Know About Commercial Production of Forest-Grown Specialty Fungi?, he writes, “Although a great deal has already been learned and written about the cultivation of specialty fungi we are still clearly on the steep portion of the learning curve."

It should be pointed out that although mushroom production under forest farming conditions can be a satisfying and profitable experience, most of the species mentioned above including shiitake and oyster give substantially higher yields with greater profit potential when produced “commercially” under intensive, climate controlled, indoor conditions, on artificial, sterilize or pasteurized substrates such as sawdust blocks supplemented with nutrients. For example, the standard “commercial” method for producing oyster mushrooms involves growing spawn in large plastic bags filled with pasteurized straw (Adams. 2000) under controlled environment (warm, high humidity) conditions, rather than outdoors, and hence does not qualify as a forest farming venture.

Riskier Mushroom Species

By all means, we encourage you to experiment with production of other mushroom species, perhaps even from the beginning in addition to shiitake if you are are a risk taker. Once you have learned the basic skills involved in specialty forest mushroom cultivation you may wish to try your hand a production of a number of other, potentially even more profitable than shiitake. Here is a list of possibilities and some sources of information about their cultivation under forest conditions:

Fungal SpeciesProduction SystemNotes
Oyster mushroom
(Pleurotis sp.)
Lions Mane
(Hericium sp.)
Logs or Stumps
(Griffola frondosa)
Logs or Stumps
MorelsPotentially highly lucrative but highly risky as an economic venture.
TrufflesPotentially extremely lucrative but extremely risky. Not recommended.


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