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Shiitake Mushrooms as Specialty Crop

The flavorful shiitake mushroom is native to Asia where it has been harvested wild from forestlands for centuries.

Commercial production was introduced in the 1930s first by inoculating select logs, and later by growing mushrooms on sterilized sawdust, which sped up production. As its taste and nutritional value become more and more known and desired in North America, shiitake mushrooms present another possible niche farm crop to consider.

Shiitake can be sold in a variety of ways, including as fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, pre-inoculated shiitake logs or sawdust blocks for backyard or tabletop shiitake mushroom growers and of course as value-added culinary products that contain the mushrooms. Even the resulting “mushroom compost” can be a valuable product. For actual spawn production, a sterile or at least very clean laboratory-type environment is preferable.

But the purchase of spawn is relatively inexpensive. Also, in some states, a certified kitchen is required to produce and sell value-added food products such as mushroom soup, but the production needs of the other shiitake products can usually be set up on a typical working farm.

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Mushrooms May Save Bees

A decade ago, honeybee populations around the world began declining at an alarming rate. In the early years of this trend, beekeepers lost 60 percent or more of their hives to a mysterious phenomenon that came to be known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). In each of these cases, worker bees simply disappeared, and it doesn’t take long for a colony to collapse without workers to provide food and to care for the young. Although this trend seems to have leveled off somewhat in recent years, the current average rate of 30 percent annual mortality is still nearly double the average rate reported prior to 2006.

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From Coffee Grounds to Gourmet Mushrooms

oyster mushroom

Kansas State University researchers are taking used coffee grounds from a campus coffee shop and using them as compost to cultivate gourmet mushrooms at the K-State Student Farm. By composting alone, 50 pounds a week — or about 30 percent of the coffee shop’s total waste — has been diverted from landfills. “The goal of the project is to demonstrate our potential at Kansas State University to initiate a successful closed-loop recycling and composting program that diverts waste from landfills and produce a beneficial product,” Natalie Mladenov, assistant professor of civil engineering said. While developing the compost program, the researchers made an important discovery: coffee grounds make excellent compost for cultivating mushrooms, particularly gourmet mushrooms, such as oyster, shiitake and reishi. The United States gets nearly 45 percent of its mushrooms from China, and there is a need for more local suppliers of gourmet mushrooms, said Kaley Oldani, student leader for the project.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.