San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

PHOTO STORY: How to grow shiitake mushrooms

Originally from East Asia, shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) are delicious and healthful. They grow wild throughout the Far East, but have been cultivated in oak logs in Japan for centuries. The technique, which involves inoculating logs with the mushroom, was introduced in Costa Rica in 2009 by the Centro Nacional de Hongos de Buthan. The University of Costa Rica and the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) organized the project in communities of Cerro de la Muerte in the province of Cartago.

Studies have shown the health benefits of shiitake, including lowering cholesterol, fighting tumors, and helping the body produce interferon – a natural substance that fights cancer and stimulates the immune system. Dried shiitake contains 20 percent protein by weight, along with trace minerals and vitamin B. Shiitake are the second most consumed mushroom in the world, and the third most consumed mushroom in the U.S., after white button and Portobello mushrooms.
You can buy shiitake at the Feria Verde in San José. For more info, visit the Facebook page of Hongos de Costa Rica.

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To grow shiitake in tropical regions, a facility or barn is helpful to combat predators, plagues and drastic changes in temperature and humidity.

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Branches from alder, rainbow eucalyptus and oak trees are cut into logs about a meter in length (6-20 centimeters in diameter) and cleaned of mosses and dirt, without harming the bark.

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Within two months of cutting the logs, holes are drilled approximately 10 centimeters from each other in a diamond pattern.

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A short period of inoculation follows drilling and involves filling the holes with inoculum (also call spawn).

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Hot beeswax or paraffin is brushed over each site to seal the spawn.

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The logs are stacked for 6-12 months and monitored. For best results, they should be covered with cypress or pine branches, and the whole stack should be draped in plastic.

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More than 60 percent humidity is best for incubation. Is important that logs should never dry out; good air circulation is recommended to prevent molding.

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After shiitake has successfully colonized the wood, soak the log in a creek or water tank for 12-36 hours to initiate fruiting.

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Logs are then placed upright, at least 40 centimeters from each other, so the fruiting can begin.

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Fruiting bodies of shiitake will appear around 10 days after the soaking. The mushrooms should be harvested when a cap is three-quarters of the way open.

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