Growing mushrooms is quite a different ball game than growing other vegetable plants, the fact that mushrooms are fungus, and not green plants, has a lot to do with it. Mushrooms don’t contain chlorophyll, so they don’t prepare their own food but depend on other plant material like wood, hay, straw and bark for their nutrition. Growing edible mushrooms at home can be challenging if you do everything from the start, but you don’t have to. There are mushroom starter kits available in the market that will allow you to grow mushrooms indoors with ease. With some experience you can actually start growing mushrooms on logs and sawdust on your own.
This article will give detailed instructions on how to grow mushrooms at home using three mediums – the mushroom kit, hardwood logs and sawdust. The easiest of the three and the most recommended for beginners is of course the mushroom kit.
Some basics on growing mushrooms
If you are going to become a mushroom gardener it is best to equip yourself with a few terminologies that will be used in the world of mushroom growers.
1. Mycelium or mycelia – Mushrooms as we know them are actually the fruiting bodies of the actual fungi called mycelium. They develop in thread like colonies underground and develop fruiting structures, called mushrooms, above. “Mycelia spawn” needs to be inoculated or introduced into a growing medium to start the mushroom life cycle.
2. Substrate – This is the growing medium, you can think of it as the food for mushroom fungi. The usual substrates used are hardwood logs, finely crushed wood chips, sawdust, sterilized compost, straw, hay and bark. You would have seen a lot of backyard mushrooms growing freely on such mediums.
3. Spawn – This the sterilized fungi mycelia that needs to be introduced on the substrate. You will need to purchase spawn from some mushroom growing companies if you plan on growing mushrooms on your own substrate.
That’s about all the terms you really need to be familiar with. Now we can get started with the actual task of growing mushrooms. There are three basic ways on how to grow mushrooms at home,
- Using a mushroom kit purchased from an online store or local retailers.
- On hardwood logs using mushroom spawn purchased from outside
- On wood chips and sawdust using mushroom spawn
Let’s discuss each on of them in detail.
This is the simplest and definitely the most convenient way to grow edible mushrooms at home. All you need to do is order the mushroom kit from some online store (for example mushbox.com) and follow the instructions on watering and maintaining humidity.
Mushroom kits are basically substrate with pre-inoculated spawn. All you need to do is water it regularly, may be once or twice a day as per instructions and keep it in a nice humid location. If you take care not to dry it off, you will have a flush of mushrooms within two weeks (some varieties take longer). Each kit will produce close to three or four flushes of mushroom.
Keep these pointers in mind while dealing with mushroom kits
- Buttons, Portabella, Enoki, Morels and Shiitake mushrooms are popular varieties that are available in growing kits. Be specific about the variety you would like to grow. You can buy standard or giant size in some of the varieties.
- Before ordering the mushroom kit, check up on the amount of yield estimated per kit and the number of days it will take to start yielding. Some varieties take up to 10 – 15 weeks while some start fruiting within 2 weeks.
- When the mushroom kit arrives, check up to ensure there are no strange growths or moulds on the substrate. If you find anything out of place just ask for a replacement.
- Follow the instructions, available with the kit, to the word. You will mostly need to be careful about watering. Humidity plays a critical role in the growth of mushrooms.
- The appearance of small white pinheads on top of the substrate signals the start of fruiting. You should be even more careful about maintaining the humidity of the substrate during this time.
- If there is no fruiting within the set period of time, you might want to do something drastic like place the kit in the refrigerator to force the fruiting process. Check up with the vendor if there is no yield after the said period of time elapses.
Some mushroom kits will produce close to 5 pounds of yield within a period of a few weeks. Most kits are good for three or four flushes of harvest after which you would need to dispose them off. You can leave them in the garden or in your compost pile and you might be rewarded with a bonus flush. Kits are pretty popular to grow morel mushrooms at home, just do a google search on “morel mushroom kits” to get a listing of online portals selling them.
Growing mushrooms on logs
Shiitake mushrooms do well on substrates like hardwood logs. Cottonwood, beech, birch, oaks, willows or other non-aromatic wood can be used for this purpose. Avoid the use of redwood, eucalyptus or cedar as they contain chemicals that inhibit mycelium growth. You can purchase a nice length of hardwood from any of the furniture making outlets or carpentry shops.
If you are planning on buying spawn you can contact western biologicals, Canada (604-856-3339) or mushroompeople, Summertown TN (931-964-2200). Check out this webpage attra.org for more references and contacts.
The process of growing mushrooms on logs can be summarized as below
- Purchase some mushroom spawn from an online store. The spawn will come in the form of dowels and they are quite cheap. A package containing 100 dowels will cost you close to $12.
- Drill some holes into the hardwood logs which run a few inches deep.
- Place the mushroom spawn dowels into these holes and cap the hole with some wax.
- Water the log amply and keep it in a humid location.
This is all that you would need to do and then you wait for a few months or an year depending on the variety you are growing. You will need to keep the log moist during this period, dry conditions will cause the mycelium to die off.
If you provide suitable conditions, the mycelium will infiltrate the hardwood in scores. If you are wondering how to grow shiitake mushrooms indoors, all you need is a cellar or a basement to store your logs in a moist condition. It will colonize in a thread like structure by eating into the wood. Within a few months when the mycelia has infiltrated most of the substrate, it will begin fruiting. Small pinheads will begin to appear on top of the wood. You should keep the wood wet and moist during this time to help the growth.
The pinheads usually develop into full mushrooms within a couple of days or a week. You are now ready to start harvesting. Your patience will pay off greatly as this log will produce fruit for close to two to four years given the right conditions.
If you buy fresh hardwood you will not need to sterilize it but if the wood has been soiled it may be contaminated by other fungi which will compete with mycelia for growth, so the wood may require to be sterilized before being used as a substrate.
Wood chips for cultivating edible mushrooms
The King Stropharia mushroom variety is highly suited for home gardeners who want to use wood chips as substrate for outdoor cultivation. This mushroom is also known as wine caps, it grows to a good size and it has a strong meaty flavor. A great variety to grow mushrooms at home.
These mushrooms can be grown in a trench 12 to 6 inches deep and 1 inch wide. You can order a packet of mushroom spawn of this species (costs around $10) which should be sufficient for a 24 square foot trench. The spawn will come in the form of dowels.
The best time to grow these mushrooms will be spring time. This is what you need to do
- Dig up a trench 1 inch wide and 10-12 inches deep
- Lay newspapers at the bottom to a thickness of 2 inches
- Spread a layer of finely ground wood chips to a thickness of 2 inches
- Introduce close to 50% of the spawn on this layer of wood chips
- Add a layer of hay or straw on top for about a thickness of 2 inches
- Add another layer of wood chips and introduce the rest of the spawn.
- Add some bark mulch and straw on top and tamp down the layers so they make contact
- Water amply to keep the layers moist.
- You can place a log of wood on top if there is too much frost.
You should get a growth of mushrooms with four months if you ensure proper humidity.
Some popular varieties of edible mushrooms
Here is a list of some popular edible mushrooms that home users prefer growing. The selection has been made in terms of taste and ease of cultivation.
1. Oyster mushroom – They can be easily cultivated using a substrate of sawdust and dried wheat or rice grass. Can be availed in mushroom kits. These mushrooms taste a lot like oysters and hence the name. They also have a delicate texture. You can flavor your risotto, omelets or soup with these tender delicacies.
2. Enoki mushrooms – Easy to grow in regions where the temperature remains around 45-65 F. They have long edible stems and meaty caps. Owing to their crisp texture, they can be eaten raw or enjoyed with a mixed salad.
3. Shittake mushroom – They are very popular in the oriental countries and are valued for the nutritional and medicinal value. The caps grow up to 3 to 4 inches in diameter and they have a rich meaty flavor. They grow well in temperatures ranging between 55-75 F and yield close to 2 to 3 pounds per flush.
4. Buttons – They actually look like golf balls and have round, globe-like heads. They are usually white in color but there are varieties with gray or pink colored heads also. Buttons have a delicate flavor and are usually fried with batter.
Growing mushrooms at home can become a passion with many not only because of the sheer enjoyment of the process but also the rich rewards later. Mushrooms are some of the best delicacies around in the culinary world and to enjoy some home grown ones is a rich experience in itself.