Agriculture

Shizuoka, Shiitake Farm; 静岡、しいたけ農園

Shiitake (Lentinula Edodes): Shiitake are the sexual reproduction fruiting bodies of the Lentinula Edodes fungus. Although it is usually found packaged in its dry form in Western countries, fresh Shiitake are a common sight in Japan. We know a lot about the different ways we can cook Shiitake, but what about its cultivation process? What does it grow on? When and where is it harvested? A Shiitake farmer in Shizuoka answers all these questions for us and takes us on a tour of his Shiitake farm.

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This is a photograph of fresh Shiitake that commonly found in supermarkets in Japan.

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Sawtooth Oak, Serrata Beech, Japanese Beech (Quercus acutissima, Quercus serrata, or Fagus crenata): Inoculating fresh tree logs with the Shiitake fungus is a common Shiitake cultivation method in Japan and it is believed to produce better tasting mushrooms than sawdust medium. Like all funghi, the Shiitake fungus can only grow on a limited number of tree species. The Shiitake fungus breaks down cellulose in wood and then consumes the product, glucose, as an energy source. Sawtooth Oak, Serrata Beech, and Japanese Beech are the most common trees used for Shiitake cultivation in Japan. This photograph is a tree stump; Shiitake farmers find it more economical and time efficient to use small logs and branches that continually grow from trunks than using new trees that are planted from seeds.

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Inoculating the logs: The farmers begin the inoculation process once logs have been harvested from the forest. This is done by drilling holes in the log and inoculating them with spawn (mix of the desired Shiitake fungus strain, sawdust, grains and other nutrients). This is a photograph of a pile of young logs just before drilling.  Although there is only one mushroom harvest per year, logs can be used for three consecutive years, i.e. three harvests.

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Sealing the inoculation: Sealing the inoculation prevents contamination and stops other fungus entering the log. The first photograph is of a pot of hardened wax used for sealing and the second photograph shows the inoculated wood after holes have been sealed with wax – the spaced out polka-dot pattern is to ensure that funghi have adequate space to grow and  do not compete with neighbouring mycelium networks for resources.

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Mycelium growth: The logs are then left out in the open near the forest for over half a year until the mushrooms, the sexual reproduction fruiting bodies of funghi, emerge in either spring or fall.  Farmers have to take care to keep the logs moist and cool. During this time, the mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus, grows and branches in and around the wood – much like roots in soil. This is a photograph of first year logs, post inoculation and pre fruiting – the white polka dot-like patterns are the mycelium branching networks.

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Harvesting Shiitake mushrooms: The mushrooms emerge when the Shiitake fungus starts to fruit. The farmers usually bring the logs back indoors to the laying yard at this stage to prevent animals or other pests from eating or damaging the mushrooms. This photograph is of a Shiitake mushroom that is ready to be harvested.

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Approaching the end of its life cycle: Logs can be used for three harvest cycles, i.e. three years. The fungus would have exhausted available cellulose in the wood by this time. You can see that the appearance of the logs differ significantly from the fresh logs (prior to inoculation). While it is expected that yield from the first cycle is the highest and dips in the second year, it surprisingly rebounds in the third year – this is because the bark deteriorates by the third year and becomes newly available to the fungus as a source of energy. These photographs are of logs at the end of year 3. You’ll notice the logs are blackened and other fungus have also invaded the wood.

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Decayed wood: The logs are stacked and left to rot for a bit before casting them on the forest floor to decompose. The last photograph shows the extent of wood degradation caused by the Shiitake fungus – it becomes fibrous in texture and is so soft that it can easily be pulled apart by a pinch of the fingers.

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Current uses of waste wood: There are currently two ways to utilise the waste wood, including: using it as a fuel source for greenhouses and selling it to beetle enthusiasts or breeders as beetle feed – any leftover wood is disposed in the forest, where it takes c. 1 year to decompose completely. This is a photograph of the cedar forests in Shizuoka on a slightly misty day.

-end-

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