shiitake mushroom plugs

Using Shiitake Mushroom Plugs for Log Inoculation & Totem Creation

Shiitake mushroom plugs are a great way to grow delicious shiitakes on logs or stumps that are readily available (and may be on your property already)

Shiitake cultivation has evolved from simple log selection methods in Japan to highly mechanized rapid-growth methods, also developed in Japan. In the beginning of shiitake cultivation freshly cut logs were placed next to logs producing shiitake mushrooms. The spores produced by the mushrooms hopefully colonized the freshly-cut logs before another mushroom colonized the wood. Over time growers developed different methods of introducing spores to freshly cut wood but consistent colonization and fruiting was not achieved until the mid 1900s.

Today we are looking at the use of shiitake mushroom plugs for log inoculation and making totems. This information will help you grow your own shiitakes at home. Before we jump into the step-by-step process for inoculating logs and totems, let’s take a look at the shiitake mushroom plugs we like to use. The Shiitake LE 46 strain is the workhorse of many shiitake log farmers. This strain has a fast spawn run and great yields. LE 46 is a beautiful mushroom that has a dark cap and some white ornamentation on the cap edges. These mushroom plugs will fruit at a wide range of temperatures and responds well to shocking. Buy shiitake mushroom plugs from us now These shiitakes are best grown in hardwood logs, like oak, sugar maple, and beech. Other logs will work but will not produce as high of yields. Use logs that are between 3” - 8” for this method of cultivation.

Below we have step-by-step processes for both log inoculation and for building inoculating your own totems

Using shiitake mushroom plugs for log inoculation:

Step 1: Cut logs and gather materials. Order your spawn here. If you are using sawdust spawn, you will also need to purchase a palm inoculation tool. If you are using plug spawn you will need a hammer. Hardwood logs that are 3’ work well. 

Step 2: Drill holes into the log for the spawn to go into. The holes should be about 1” deep and spaced 6” apart in the row. Rotate the log 2” to start the next row. Drill all the way around the surface of the log with 2” in between rows and 6” in between holes in the row. The rows can be offset creating a diamond pattern.

Step 3: Fill the holes with either plug or sawdust spawn. If using plug spawn, place each dowel on the hole and hammer until it is flush with the surface of the log. If using sawdust spawn, fill the palm inoculator with spawn to create a dowel-like structure and then hit the inoculator to place it into the hole. Be sure the hole is completely filled with sawdust spawn. Sometimes it can look like it is full but there may only a small amount of sawdust spawn inside. You can use a small stick or allen wrench to ensure the sawdust spawn is fully compacted.

Step 4: Wax over the filled holes. This ensures the sawdust spawn has a moist and safe place to grow. The bark of the log acts as an armor, keeping unwanted fungi out and moisture in. By waxing over the inoculation holes the sawdust spawn will not dry out as it grows into the log. Other fungi with spores floating around in the air will also not be able to get into the log to compete with the shiitake mycelium.

Step 5: Stack the logs in a shaded area. Conifer works best for the year-long incubation of logs. Logs that are inoculated in April will begin their fruiting period the following June. Be sure to maintain moisture around 45% during the incubation period. It is critical to water the logs every 2-3 weeks if there is no rainfall. To water, either soak for 4-5 hours (although this can be very labor intensive) or place a sprinkler on for 4-8 hours.

Growing shiitakes on totems with shiitake mushroom plugs

Here is what a totem will ideally look like:

shiitake mushroom plugs for totem creation


Totems are typically made with oak, beech or sugar maple logs that have a diameter greater than eight inches.

Here is an easy step-by-step guide to follow for developing your own totems for growing mushrooms

Step 1: Find a long that is about 3’ long with a diameter of about 8”. 

Step 2: Cut the log into three sections; one section being 1 ½’ long, another section at 1’ 4” long, and a section about 2” long. 

Step 3: Find a suitable place for cultivation. Areas that are shaded all year are recommended options. 

Step 4: Drill about 20 holes on the face of your 1 ½’ log section. 

Step 5: Hammer your shiitake mushroom plugs into the holes you just drilled. Cover the holes with beeswax, cheese wax, or soy wax.

Step 6: Place this log on the ground and put the log section that is 1’4” on top.

Step 7: Secure these two logs together with a few nails. 

Step 8: Drill about another 20 holes in the top of the log. 

Step 9: Hammer more shiitake mushroom plugs into the newly-drilled holes. Cover the holes with beeswax, cheese wax, or soy wax.

Step 10: Attach the 2” piece of wood with another few nails on top of the second log.  This totem should now resemble the initial log, but with mycelium in the middle. The mycelium will grow up and down throughout the log sections, and after a year will begin to fruit. The large diameter of the logs will take the mycelium awhile to eat through the totem, so they can continue to fruit for over 10 years!

Bonus: Another way to make a make-shift totem is by using a hardwood stump that has been freshly cut. To do this, first drill 1” deep holes on top of the stump, about 6” apart from one another. Then hammer in the shiitake mushroom plugs. Once you have the plugs in place, cover them with either beeswax, cheese wax, or soy wax. This is a great method to speed up the decomposition process of your stumps and produce pounds of fresh mushrooms right in your backyard!

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