Gardening, Tips

How to grow mushrooms

By · February 8, 2017

Growing mushrooms may be different from other vegetables, but they are still easy to grow in your home.  The biggest challenge is to make sure you have the right growing conditions for the mushrooms and finding the right material to propagate the mushrooms.  Mushrooms are a tasty food that are full of vitamins and nutrients, low in calories and full of flavor.  With these tips you’ll be growing your own healthy mushrooms in no time.

How do mushrooms grow?

Mushroom are not plants, but are the fruiting bodies of fungi.  They grow in dark and damp areas on dead organic matter.  The do not use photosynthesis, like green plants, to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into food.  Instead mushrooms obtain their energy and nutrients by metabolizing the dead organic matter or sometimes by absorbing nutrients from roots of living plants.

Mushrooms do not grow from seeds, instead they grow from spores.  The spores are much too small to see with the naked eye.  The spores rely on the substrate they are on to begin germinating and for sustenance.  Substrates include materials like sawdust, woodchips, or straw.  When spores are introduced onto a substrate this is called spawn.  Mushroom spawn is the starter you’ll need to grow mushrooms.

Once the spawn is established the mushrooms begin to grow by producing mycelium which are small, white, threadlike roots or fibers that spread in search of water and food.  The mycelium grows before mushrooms grow.  Once the mycelium is well established small pinhead-sized buttons begin to emerge and eventually they’ll grow into mushrooms.  Mushrooms grow as a rounded cap with gills on the underside.  After the mushroom has matured the gills release more spores that are carried on the wind and will germinant a new mycelium.

The mushroom spawn can grow mushrooms, but you’ll get a better harvest if the spawn in applied to a growing medium.  This medium or substrate will depend on the type of mushroom you are growing and could be straw, cardboard, logs, wood chips, or compost.

Where do I grow mushrooms?

Mushrooms grow in dark, damp, and humid environments.  Most types grow best in a temperature range of 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Depending on your house, the basement may be the best choice, but you can also keep them under your sink.  Keep mushrooms away from direct heat and drafts.  Your basement may be too warm in the summer, so growing mushrooms may have to be limited to the winter.  The spot you choose should remain dark most of the time.  Mushrooms can stand some light, but prefer dark.  Some varieties of mushrooms can be grown outside, but they may take longer than those grown inside in a controlled environment.

What types of mushrooms can I grow?

More than 20,000 types of mushrooms grow in the world.  However, not all of these varieties are edible.  Many are poisonous and that is one risk to foraging for mushrooms.  One benefit to growing your own mushrooms is that you know they will be safe to eat.  The most common types of mushrooms grown at home include cremini, enoki, maitake, portobello, oyster, shiitake, and white button.  Each type of mushroom has certain requirements so be sure to be informed of these differences before you start growing.

What is the process for growing mushrooms?

There are a couple options for growing mushrooms in your home.  Consider purchasing a mushroom growing kit if this is your first time. Mushroom growing kits come with a growing medium that has already been inoculated with a specific type of mushroom spawn.  Kits are good for beginners to help them learn the process and build their confidence.

You’ll need to pay special attention to the growing medium if you don’t purchase a kit.  The type of mushroom you select will determine the substrate it needs to grow on.  Button mushrooms, for example, are one of the easiest types of mushrooms to grow.  Button mushrooms can grow on compost.  The compost can be spread on a sheet tray six inches deep.  After inoculating the compost with spawn and warming the soil to help the mycelium form you can cover the mushrooms with an inch of potting soil.  The soil should be kept moist by spraying with water and mushrooms should form within three to four weeks.  By harvesting every day you should be able to keep the mushrooms growing for up to six months.

How do I get mushroom spawn?

Mushroom spawn refers to a material that has been inoculated with mushroom spores to be used to propagate mushrooms.  Spores can begin to grow on many different materials, but spawn usually comes in the forms of sawdust, grain, or a plug or dowel.  Mushroom spawn can be purchased from many online retailers.  The spawn is live so you’ll need to transfer it to a substrate as soon as possible.  The type of mushroom you choose will determine the spawn form as well as the growing substrate.

Sawdust

Sawdust spawn is made from sterilized hardwood.  This type of spawn is best used to inoculate outdoor mushroom beds, logs, straw, compost, and cardboard.  Sawdust spawn can be used for many types of mushrooms including oyster, shitake, and hen-of-the-wood.  The biggest advantage of this type of spawn is that it is easy to spread which will create more inoculation points resulting in faster growth.  Sawdust, however is not a nutritious substrate for growing mushrooms alone.

Grain

Grain spawn is made from sterilized grain, usually millet or rye and sometimes corn.  This type of spawn can be used to inoculate straw or cardboard.  It can also be used to create more spawn, such as sawdust spawn.  Grain is more nutritious than sawdust making it a good substrate indoors.  Use outdoors with caution as many birds and rodents may want to eat the grain.

Plug or Dowel

Plug spawn are wooden dowels that have been inoculated.  These are good for inoculating logs or substrates made from wood fiber such as cardboard, wood chips, or paper.  Plug spawn can be used for oyster, shitake, and nameko mushrooms.

Substrate

Mushrooms such as truffle, morel, porcini, or chanterelle are known as mycorrhizal fungi.  They obtain their nutrients from the living roots of plants.  These types can be difficult to grow at home.  Mushrooms that feed on decaying matter are known as saprotrophic.  These types are the easiest to grow and will result in the highest chance of success.  To achieve the best results be sure to match the type of mushroom with the right growing substrate, or the material to which you will apply the spawn.  This is not a definitive list, just the most common.  Mushrooms can grow in all sorts of things such as coffee grounds or cardboard.

Wood log

Shiitake, oyster, lion’s mane, and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms all grow well in hardwood logs.  Hardwood logs provide much nourishment for the mushrooms and can produce harvests for years.  Wood logs are inoculated with peg or dowel spawn.

To use a hardwood log to grow mushrooms you’ll want a log that is at least 4 inches in diameter and 2 to 4 feet long.  The wood should be harvested during the dormant season and allow the wood to age for at least two weeks before using.  The log should not be dried out and should still be moist when you begin inoculation.  The log only needs to be inoculated once and will last between 4 to 6 years.

To prepare your log start by drilling holes every six inches down the length of the log.  Holes should be about one quarter of an inch deeper than the peg spawn.  Make a second row of holes two to three inches apart from the first row.  The rows should be staggered so the holes don’t line up.  Continue to drill holes until the entire top of the log is covered.

Once the holes are drilled the spawn pegs can be placed inside.  The pegs may need to be hammered down until they are flush with the top of the log.  After adding the plugs they’ll need to be sealed with cheese wax to prevent contamination.  Cheese wax is the food grade paraffin wax.  Wax should be melted on the stove at a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit and applied with a brush.

The log can be stored outdoors in the warmer months and should be move indoors during the winter.  These types of mushrooms prefer moderate temperatures and normal humidity.  The log should be placed in a shaded area, but should receive indirect light.  They benefit from the day and night cycle of light.  Be sure the log is kept in a location that will receive rain.  It should remain moist, not wet.  When they are stored inside be sure to water them occasionally.

Straw, Wood Chips, Sawdust, Compost

Straw, wood chips, sawdust, or compost are great substrate to use indoors or out.  They can be used to grow button, wine cap, almond, enoki, and shaggy mane mushrooms.  They can be grown on trays, boxes, terrariums, or on the ground.  Before inoculating the substrate material it must be sterilized.  This means it should be heated to a temperature between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is a very important step.  Sterilizing the substrate material will kill off most of the microorganisms that may otherwise be competing with the mushrooms.  Don’t heat the material over 180 degrees as you will kill off beneficial microorganisms.

If you are unable to purchase sterilized or pasteurized straw, wood chips or sawdust you can do it yourself.  The material should be shredded into pieces that are no bigger than 1 to 3 inches in length.  Place the material in a bag and dampen it.  Place the bag in your oven and heat to 300 degrees.  Keep it in the oven until the internal temperature of the bag reaches 170 to 180 degrees F.  You can measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer.  At this point decrease the oven temperature to 180 and leave the bag in for 3 hours.  Let it cool completely for 6 to 10 hours.

After you’ve selected a location start by spreading the substrate material about six inches thick.  Then sprinkle the mushroom spawn over the substrate.  In general mushrooms like low light, high humidity, and room temperatures.  Keep the substrate moist by misting it twice daily.  You can help trap moisture by laying wet newspapers on top.  After the mycelium begins to grow cover it with a one-inch layer of potting soil or peat moss.

Harvest

Mushrooms are ready to harvest when they begin to break through the mycelium, but before the gills release spores.  Harvest the mushroom by holding the cap and twisting.  Don’t pull as you may break the fungi growing underneath.  After you see the mycelium begin to develop you can let your mushrooms grow naturally or try to speed up the fruiting process.  Mushrooms grown on logs can be sped up by soaking the log in cold water for 24 hours.  Don’t do this more than once in an eight week period.  Non-woody mushrooms can grow quicker when exposed to light for 12 hours a day.

How to grow morel mushrooms

Morel mushrooms are a type of fungi known as mycorrhizal fungi.  These types of fungi do not obtain nutrients from decaying matter, but from the roots of living trees and plants.  Morels may be grown at home, but it may take years for a morel bed to become established and mushrooms to be produced.

The easiest way to grow morels is with purchased spawn.  The morel spawn should be inoculated on a 4-foot by 4-foot garden bed in a shady area.  Morels grow best in climates that experience a distinct change of seasons, so if you live in the tropics morel might not be the fungus for you.  The garden bed should be well draining with sandy soil with peat moss and ash worked in.  The bed should consist of 20% sand, 30% potting soil, and 50% wood chips and ash.  Spread the spawn over the mushroom bed in the fall and cover with wood chips.

How to grow oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushroom are one of the easiest mushrooms to grow.  They can easily be grown indoors without much space.  They can be grown on many different substrates including cardboard, straw, paper or coffee grounds.

Cardboard may be the most readily available substrate.  Cut the cardboard down into strips or squares so it will be easily inoculated with spawn.  The cardboard will need to be sterilized before it is used to prevent mold and other unwanted microorganisms from growing.  To sterilize, or pasteurize the cardboard place it in heatproof container and cover it with boiling water.  Cover the container and let it sit overnight.  After the cardboard has cooled, pour off as much water as possible.

The next step is to inoculate the cardboard with the oyster mushroom spawn.  It is important that your hands and equipment are clean in this step.  You don’t want to contaminate the cardboard that you just sterilized.  If the cardboard was cut into squares inoculate the squares by applying spawn to one side and layering another until they are stacked.  If the cardboard is cut into strips, place the strips and spawn into a clean plastic bag and shake to mix together.

After the cardboard has been inoculated place it in a plastic bag without holes.  Remove as much air as possible from the bag.  Place the bag in a warm place that is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  The mushrooms will colonize faster in a warmer spot.  Open the bag and check on the cardboard occasionally.  There should be moisture in the bag, but not standing water.  Drain if there is excess water.  Otherwise, the bag does not need any other maintenance.  Leave it alone for 4-8 weeks.  At this point the cardboard should be completely colonized by mycelium.  Once the mycelium has formed open the bag to expose the colony to air; this will stimulate the mushrooms to begin fruiting.  The colony will also need to set in the light and spritzed with water twice daily.  The mushrooms will be ready to harvest after a few days.  Continue to spray the colony with water and a second round of mushrooms should emerge in 2 to 3 weeks.  This may continue for 3 or 4 harvests.

How to grow shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms grow best on hardwood logs.  You can provide your own log or purchase a kit that will come with a log.  Select a log that is at least 4 inches in diameter and between 2 and 4 feet in length.  The log should be harvested in the fall or dormant season.  The sugar content of the tree is high at this time which is beneficial for fungus.  The log will need to be seasoned before it is inoculated.  Leave the log out for 1 to 3 months or until the water content of the log has reduced by half.

The best way to inoculate hardwood logs is with peg spawn.  Drill holes in the top of the log one-inch deep and about 5/16” in diameter (this will vary depending on the dimensions of your plugs).  The holes should be spaced about 6 to 10 inches apart.  Start the next row 2 inches away with the holes staggered.  Continue the spacing and rows around the log.

After the holes have been drilled add the pegs.  You will want to add the spawn immediately so other microorganisms aren’t able to start growing.  The pegs or dowels should be hammered into each hole so the top is flush with the top of the log.  Seal each hole by applying a thin layer of food-grade paraffin wax.  The wax should be no hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit when applied.

After inoculation stack the log in a well-draining, shady area.  It may take 1-2 years before you are able to harvest mushrooms.  After the first harvest you can expect mushrooms every spring and fall.  While you are waiting for your first mushrooms check the log weekly for contamination.  If the logs are growing mold they are not getting enough air circulation.  You will also want to be sure the log stays moist.  If it appears to be dried out soak it in a tub or with sprinklers for 24 hours.

Frequently Asked Question

Are mushrooms vegetables?

Mushrooms are not a vegetable; they are a fungus.  They do not have chlorophyll as green plants do.  Instead of producing food from chlorophyll, water, and carbon dioxide as vegetables do fungi obtain their food from decaying organic matter, such as dead trees.

Can I grow mushrooms in coffee grounds?

Mushrooms can grow on coffee grounds, but it is best to only use the grounds as a supplement rather than a stand-alone substrate.  Coffee grounds hold a lot of moisture which can lead to contamination and mold growth.  The small size of the grounds also makes it difficult for the mycelium to spread.  A good way to use coffee grounds is to mix it with cardboard.  The coffee grounds are nutritious to fungi and the cardboard offers room for the mycelium.  Mix sterilized coffee grounds with cardboard when growing oyster mushrooms.

Can I grow mushrooms in winter?

Mushrooms are a great winter project to tackle indoors.  You can purchase a kit which can be stored next to a window and will require nothing more than a spritz of water twice a day.  You can also grow oyster mushrooms using cardboard and keep it under your kitchen sink.  Button mushrooms are another mushroom that is easy to grow indoors.  Button mushrooms can be grown on a flat of potting soil in your basement.

Can I grow mushrooms inside?

Mushrooms can easily be grown inside because the temperature and light can easily be controlled.  Some varieties of mushrooms work better than others.  Oyster mushrooms and button mushrooms are great ones to try.

Can I grow mushrooms outside?

Mushrooms can certainly be grown outside.  Outdoor mushroom patches will take longer to establish and it may be a year or more before you are able to harvest mushrooms.  Shiitake, oyster, and hen-of-the-wood can be grown in hardwood logs and morel mushrooms can be grown on the ground.

Can I grow mushrooms from spores?

Mushrooms are not vegetables; they are fungi.  They do not grow from seeds, but instead they grow from spores.  Spores are grown in the gills, or underside of the cap, of the mushroom.  The spores are too small to be seen, but can be harvested to start another mushroom colony.

The most common way to collect spores is to make a spore print.  Select an edible mushroom that is mature.  Remove the cap and place the mushroom gill side down on piece of paper.  Cover the mushroom with a glass container and leave it overnight.  In the morning remove the container and mushroom and gently sprinkle the spores over a prepared substrate.

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