When to Harvest Shiitake
If you're new to growing mushrooms, or anything really, there is always the question of "when is the best time to harvest?". While you can harvest shiitake at just about any stage, there are some general guidelines that are helpful to keep in mind as you begin picking your crop.
Tips for Harvest
The quickest and easiest way to tell if your shiitake are ready to pick is to simply feel underneath the cap to see if there is gill exposure. If you can feel the gills, you can pick. If you cannot feel the gills, let it grow! It only takes a second to feel under the gills before you go for the stem, and is definitely worth the extra time.
Ideal Harvest Stage
It is also important to note that mushroom gills have several stages at which they can be harvested for optimal storage. The general all-around best stage to harvest is when the gills reach an 80% openness. In the photo below you can see various stages of gill exposure. The mushroom on the left needs more time to grow, the mushroom on the right is about perfect. The shiitake on the right allows for good storage life as well as maximum yield from your logs.
While the 80% gill exposure is ideal, there are multiple other stages to harvest. If you are planning on shipping mushrooms or transporting them over a distance to a friend's house you can harvest the shiitake at slightly less gill exposure. The more the cap is curled under, the better the mushrooms will bounce around the box instead of smushing together and bruising gills.
Mature Harvest Stage
Occasionally you'll miss the opportune harvest stage and the gills will flatten out. This is a perfectly acceptable harvest stage as well as they make EXCELLENT grilling shiitake. You can even harvest and eat your shiitake if they have brown speckles on the gills. The only time you will want to discard your shiitake is if the gills have turned totally brown (pictured above right). Happy harvesting!
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Time of Harvest:
Dependent of Shiitake strain. The harvest period can be anytime from early Spring to late Fall
Time to fruiting:
9-18 months. This is again dependent on several factors, including strain and log diameter
Tan to brown capped with some degree of light colored scaling on cap, white stem and white gills
Flavor and texture:
Strong, bold, garlic flavored, meaty texture.