Spring Shiitake: Tips for the Best Early Crops

The earliest harvested Shiitake of the season are also the most appreciated. The winters are long, and local farm fresh produce in spring is scarce. And spring Shiitake are some of the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms you'll ever grow. But there are a few tricks you'll need to know to make your Shiitake logs fruit early in the season upon the heels of retreating snow.

mushroom on log
logs in a stack with mushrooms growing on them
a brown shiitake mushroom with a green fern growing in front of it

1. Inoculate some logs with Cold Weather Shiitake Strains

These strains include Miss Happiness, Snow Cap, Bellwether and Jupiter. If your logs are ready and spring comes on fast, you will see mushroom pins pebbling the bark on healthy logs within a week or two of the disappearance of the last patch of snow. Life for these strains really does begin after 40! Something to keep in mind with cool weather shiitake strains is that they often have unusual appearance due to drastic humidity and temperature changes. This is called a "donko" shiitake and is completely normal.

2. Utilize Fruiting Blankets

Secure fruiting blankets, burlap or clear plastic around stacks of logs to keep humidity high with developing mushrooms. Drying wind is a big hurdle to clear in achieving great quality Shiitake in the spring. The nature of these cold weather strains is to pin in really cool weather, and because of this they develop slowly. The commonly vigorous spring wind poses a real threat in drying the caps and arresting mushroom development. Covering your logs with simple tarps will do wonders in helping the caps stay moist. Normally we do not recommended plastic coverings because they can heat the logs underneath too quickly or cause too much condensation to drip down upon developing mushrooms, but early spring is a fine time to use clear plastic sheeting. Note: In really windy spring weather, you can also wet absorbent fabric like an older, weathered fruiting blanket and secure plastic over it, creating an amazing humid fruiting chamber!


Spring Shiitake Strains:
How to Use Spring Shiitake?
Spring Shiitake often have cracked caps that look wild and wonderful. These caps are actually known in Asian cultures as a high grade of shiitake with the name "Donko". This particular version of shiitake is often dense, chewy, and extremely flavorful. They can be used for a variety of different culinary uses, but also make an excellent dried mushroom.

3. Don't soak the logs!

Don't soak the logs... but you can rain on them! If you don't have the time or blankets to cover all your log stacks but you can get a sprinkler out to them, do not hesitate to just turn it on! Caps will stay moist and pliable, growth will proceed just fine. Turn off the sprinkler when the caps start to open to let them dry off a little before harvest. The caps will be a little dark and glossy but for home use they are just fine!

Note: People do soak logs to stimulate fruiting and that is an essential technique for summer production. However, this is usually ineffective with cold weather strains. For logs inoculated with wide range or warm weather strains, temperatures need to stabilize at 70F for a few weeks before they will respond to a cold water soaking. Cold weather logs simply will not respond. Keep your soak tanks under cover until spring is here to stay.