Do you need any special equipment to grow mushroom dowels? Or are they "planted" outside?
Typically these dowels will be gently hammered into a fresh cut log that has been pre-drilled. They can be spread in a sterlie growth medium outdoors as well.
Is it too late to plant SHIITAKE dowels now. Will we be able to harvest them this year?
There is no real season for innoculating logs with dowels, but regardless of when you do it they won't fruit (make mushrooms) in the same year.
Will a “downed tree” work well to inoculate,or does the wood need to be fresh cut?
Downed trees will already have been innoculated with local strains of mycelium, which will compete with your Shiitake dowels. I could work, but it could also fail. The benefit of fresh cut logs is that there is no competition with the Shiitake for innoculation.
When planted in a log or bed, what is the sunlight /shade requirements?
No sunlight is required and, as they need to stay wet, a shaded place under a tree is preferable.
How many mushrooms will one dowel grow?
A great question! In perfect conditions, over time, a dowel would spread through the whole of the substrate and produce as many as possible. In the real world however competition for food is intense in mushroom-land, so you use several dowels to make sure the Shiitake strain remains the dominant one in the wood.
Does the type of wood matter? And are these perennials or annuals?
Shiitake requires a wood substrate (not Cedar), preferably pine or oak, but will also grow in alder. If cultivated in bags or a bed, steralized sawdust or woodchips work too.