Growing gourmet or medicinal mushrooms (specialty forest mushrooms) as a component of a Forest Farming system can be a satisfying and profitable venture if your forest site has the appropriate conditions and you have the appropriate resources, including a market, to make a go of it. This module should help you determine if “specialty forest mushrooms” are a good option for forest farming under your particular circumstances. You should consider carefully both the pros and the cons of SFM production before you begin. This module will provide a discussion of the critical issues, a video illustrating the the log inoculation process, and other How-to resources for shiitake mushroom production, as well as a step by step guide (including video) for growing Shiitake mushrooms, and links to other resources about shiitake and other specialty forest mushroom production.
Pros and Cons of Growing Mushrooms
Is there a place for specialty forest mushroom production as part of your forest farm? Before deciding consider the following advantages and down-sides of growing mushrooms.
The Advantages (Pros)
- Outdoor log-cultivated mushroom are generally considered to be of higher quality and consequently worth 2 to 8 times more money than mushrooms of the same species grown indoors on “artificial substrates” (e.g. pressed sawdust) For example, Shiitake at local big chain supermarket in Ithaca, NY sell for about $5.00 to $7.00 per pound. Log-grown shiitake sell for $16.00 per pound at the local farmers market.
- Mushrooms are increasingly popular not only for gourmet cooking, but also for their health-promoting (medicinal) value. Log-grown shiitake mushroom are nearly twice as high in health-promoting polysaccharides than shiitake grown indoors on artificial substrate (Brauer, et al., 2002).
- Capital investment is much less for outdoor log (or stump, or woodchip) –cultivated mushrooms than for indoor year-round production which requires investment in a climate controlled building.
- Forest stand improvement involves tree thinning and other activities that generate wood that is not suitable for timber. Logs used for Shiitake mushroom production are worth at least five times more than the same log sold as firewood.
- Once a log has been producing mushrooms it may continue to do so for several years in a row.
The Down-Side (Cons)
- Outdoor mushroom cultivation is periodically labor intensive (hard work) during log cutting and inoculation, and later during fruiting.
- After logs begin fruiting daily harvest may be necessary.
- Unless you can get your product to market quickly, refrigerated storage is required.
- Forest cultivated mushroom production is seasonal (unlike year round indoor production).
- Logs must be inoculated soon after cutting from live trees. You can’t use dried logs for anything but “firewood”.
What do you need to consider for growing specialty forest mushrooms? Below is a list of the most important considerations for growing any species of specialty forest mushrooms.
- Fungal species (what kind of mushroom) and strain
- Wood or other organic substrate (what kind of tree)
- Environmental conditions, particularly shade and possibly a source of water for occasional irrigation.
- Relatively flat land