What started as a hobby because of a fascination with exotic mushrooms and French Cuisine, has now turned into a profitable business.
The last guide on Growing Shiitake Mushrooms explains how my journey started with Shiitake Mushrooms. I loved eating mushrooms every day, and explored how to grow Shiitake mushrooms on my own homestead.
Now, though, since I have been doing this for a while and now am profiting from my one-time hobby, I'll share with you how you too can scale-up and start making a little money from your efforts.
If you are brand new to shiitake growing, then I suggest you first take a look at the Guide to Getting Shiitake Done on the homestead as an introduction to this post. There, you'll learn the basics of how to inoculate logs and maintain and fruit your logs. Also, if you just want to dabble and see if you even like growing mushrooms before you get too deep, then you may want to buy a shiitake mushroom kit or a pre-plugged log to try at home.
Then, if you are ready to take it further, deep dive into this post on how to sell shiitake mushrooms as a business.
How to Start a Shiitake Business
Starting a shiitake business is a bit more work upfront than say growing a few vegetables for the market. It can take a year or more to get your first mushroom.
Plus, although logs can yield 5 pounds or more of shiitake, they do most of it over a 2-3 year period. So, to get a decent weekly crop, you are going to need a lot of logs and a regular commitment to starting more.
Finally, just like starting any business, you'll need to do research with your local, state, and federal regulators to find out the legal requirements to sell shiitake mushrooms where you live.
If you are up for doing all that work, then let me share a few secrets about how to make some profit selling shiitake.
4 Ways to Sell Your Mushrooms
Here are some potential avenues to consider where you can sell shiitake mushrooms.
1. Farmer's Markets
Farmer's markets can be a good outlet to sell shiitake mushrooms. You can typically charge about twice as much for nicely packaged mushrooms at a market than you can for bulk packaged mushrooms to a wholesale market. Prices can range from $12 – $20 in some areas.
Unfortunately, mushrooms have been a popular farmer's market product for several years. As such, most well-established and high-earning farmer's markets often already have a saturation of mushroom sellers. Also, at newer or lower-earning markets, it can be hard to charge full price for mushrooms and there may not be enough customer interest to sell out each week.
Markets also take up a lot of time between packing up your gear, setting up your stand, staying the duration of the event, and travel to and from. Your time spent and the special equipment needed like coolers, ice packs, signage, packaging, tables, umbrellas, gas, and more can cut into the potential profit from selling shiitake.
Still, if you already have a market stall for other reasons, such as selling crafts and vegetables, then adding mushrooms can be a great way to round out your product line-up and rack up some extra profit.
2. Sell Shiitake Mushrooms to Restaurants
Selling to restaurants is also another avenue for making money on shiitakes. If you live near some upscale restaurants committed to local food purchases, then you can even make a nice business just selling to restaurants.
Be aware though, it is much easier for chefs and purchasing managers to work with big distributors who can supply all their needs in one delivery and on one invoice. So, frankly, the kind of chefs and restaurant staff willing to work with local food producers do so for ethical and community-oriented reasons.
As such, you will need to invest some time developing a relationship such as by collaborating on community events to raise awareness about local food movements. Also, knowing that it already takes chefs longer to source locally, make sure to keep your commitments.
Deliver on time each week. Make sure you can fill orders before you accept them. In other words, go the extra mile on service to ensure the long-term success of your shiitake sales.
3. Wholesale to Distributors
Those first two methods are great for people who plan to spend a lot of time to develop a shiitake business. But if you are a homesteader, just trying to make a little extra cash by scaling up what you do for home food production, there's another option.
Wholesaling to a distributor is one of the easiest ways to get your product out there without a lot of driving around to restaurants or days spent at markets. Distributors come in various forms. So you might have to do a little digging to find one near you.
– Food Hubs and Co-Ops
Big distributors such as those who work with supermarkets and chain restaurants often require larger quantities of goods than a small-scale producer can provide. However, thanks to the local food movement, there are now co-ops and food hubs that allow lots of small scale producers to aggregate their products and serve larger operations.
Check with your local agricultural or extension office to find out if there are any food hubs or co-ops offering shared selling power opportunities in your area.
– Mushroom Retailers
Sometimes other mushroom retailers have more demand for shiitake than they can reasonably supply on a regular basis. Or, sometimes mushroom retailers stick to things that can be grown quickly in substrates like straw such as oyster or lion's mane mushrooms. They may not grow shiitake on logs and might benefit from being able to add your shiitake to their line-up of faster-growing mushrooms.
By wholesaling to other local mushroom retailers who already have established clientele, you get the benefit of their network without having to do all the deliveries and relationship maintenance yourself. You will make less money per pound this way. Yet, it can still be more profitable when you factor in your time spent and other costs such as car maintenance, gas, stress, packaging, and more for markets or direct retail to restaurants.
4. Value Added Products
A final way to make money on shiitake is to produce value-added products. Dried shiitake mushrooms is hugely popular, as is shiitake powder, and shiitake seasoning mix. They all command high prices at farmer's markets and through online retailers.
There tend to be more legal hurdles for selling packaged products. You may need an inspected kitchen. There are likely labeling requirements. Plus, you'll usually be taxed at a higher rate for a prepared product than when selling a raw mushroom treated like produce.
The upside is that you don't have to worry about your shiitakes going bad. Raw shiitakes only last a few weeks even when well-stored at about 40ºF in a moderate humidity space. By making dried products, you can store your shiitake much longer and reduce product loss. You can even use shiitakes that are less attractive in appearance in powders.
You can also focus your sales efforts on holidays when people are apt to spend more on luxury items instead of going to market every single week. If you don't like to leave your house, try internet sales too. Just make sure you have the appropriate legal rights to sell shiitake mushrooms across state or country lines before you commit felony crimes!
How to Effectively Grow Shiitake for Profit
Now, if you are ready to start growing shiitake for profit using the ideas above, or any others you may have, then there are a few things to consider when moving from homestead production to professional distribution.
Step 1: Cut Costs
For home production, using pre-made shiitake plugs is an inexpensive way to get started and have a successful first crop. If you'll be inoculating hundreds of logs every year for production, though, you may want to make a few upgrades to your processes.
First of all, switch to sawdust spawn for inoculation. It's much less costly and easier to use if you have the right tools. You will need an inoculation tool to use it. But that one time investment will pay for itself in the first year.
Step 2: Add Efficiency
You'll also want to make sure you have the right tools for inoculating all those logs. Make yourself an inoculation table with wheels that allow you to rotate the logs 360 degrees without moving them. Also, upgrade to an angle grinder with a drill bit attachment for faster spawn-hole drilling.
When you use these specialized tools you can inoculate an entire log in just a couple minutes while standing comfortably at a table built for your height.
Step 3: Organize Your Production Line
When you get into production levels of growing shiitake, you need a fairly large “laying yard” (the official term for where you keep your logs). Your laying yard can be in the edge of the woods, the north side of your house, under shelter or shade cloth, or even indoors. Wherever you set it up though, make sure it is well-organized.
Generally, you should organize your logs by when they are most likely to produce. Different strains suited to cold-weather, warm-weather, and wide-ranging will have different fruit times.
– Cold Weather Strains
Cold weather strains don't respond well to force-fruiting. So put those in a location where you can easily check for pining during the colder months. You'll want to stand them up once you see that pining so you can get an easy harvest.
– Wide-Ranging Strains
Wide-ranging strains are the easiest and most reliable to force fruit from about 50-75ºF. These are often a mainstay for people trying to fruit on a schedule and get fast shiitake production. These usually need the largest area in a shiitake laying yard and should be positioned closest to your soaking station.
You can soak and force fruit your wide-ranging logs about every 8 weeks. By dividing your wide-ranging logs into 8 weekly fruiting increments in your laying yard, you can work your way through the yard one week's worth of logs at a time. Then, when you get to the end of the line, start over at the beginning!
– Warm Weather Strains
Warm weather strains are similar to wide-ranging, except that they do well even when the temperatures hit 80ºF. These also tend to be the higher quality caps in terms of appearance and can often command higher dollar values for their beautiful appearance.
You can work these in with your wide-ranging in the laying yard. Or, you can reserve these for special production such as summer holiday markets when you really want to show off. You can also use these exclusively for fruiting in warm weather.
What About Growing Shiitake Indoors?
Growing shiitake indoors is becoming more popular. People are using polytunnels and greenhouse for productions. Some people even use workshops, basements, and sheds.
When you grow indoors, you have more control over temperatures and can get year-round production. However, you have to do more work to water your logs and provide the equivalent of dappled sunlight for log colonization and maintenance.
Misting systems and electric daylights may be needed for indoor production. Keep in mind that logs need to be watered so drainage will also be key.
In our temperate climate, we find it easiest to colonize our logs outdoors in wooded areas. However, when the logs start pinning, we get the most beautiful shiitake caps if we stand the logs up under shelter. This protects the caps from excessive rain and also minimize risks for insect damage.
How to Keep it Going
To successfully grow and sell shiitake mushrooms for profit is kind of a hybrid between growing a garden and growing an orchard. You only have to do your planting once per year, but then you can get a harvest for several years once your logs start producing.
To get a whole bunch of logs at once, coordinate with tree trimming services and loggers to source truckloads of logs at a time. As long as your logs are cut from trees felled in cool weather, and you inoculate them before it warms up, your risks for having competing fungi colonize your logs are minimal.
– The Life Of Your Logs
Your logs will take about 6-18 months to colonize depending on the shiitake strain used and your conditions. After that, force fruited logs tend to do their heaviest production during the first 2 years of use.
Non-force fruited logs last longer. Depending on log size, they can last 3-5 years and continue to fruit seasonally.
– Annual Inoculation
For continued production, inoculate logs with force-fruited strains, such as warm and wide-ranging annually. Then, round out your seasonal coverage by inoculating cold weather strain logs every other year.
Move your old logs to your orchard or shady planting areas to decompose and enrich the soil while also offering occasional shiitake crops until they fully decompose.
If you want to sell shiitake mushrooms and make money, then it will take a little more planning and work up front, and will require access to a reasonable market for your sales.
Still, it can be a great way to make a little income from a product you already grow for your own use, even if you are a mushroom fanatic and love to eat mushrooms daily!