Mushrooms are delicious and fascinating. For instance, mushrooms are 90% water, but they are packed full of vitamins. They don’t need sunlight to grow, and while they are growing, they double in size every 24 hours.
If you’re a mushroom fan who enjoys cultivating your own food, you’ll be excited to learn that it’s easier than you think to grow mushrooms at home. The easiest way to start growing mushrooms is with a mushroom cultivation kit. This will usually come with a substrate for growing as well as mushroom spawn. And it should come with an instruction leaflet.
What is the easiest type of mushroom to grow?
You can buy mushrooms at a grocery store, forage for wild mushrooms in the field, or you can grow your own mushrooms at home. It’s easy to buy mushrooms, but not so easy to forage unless you know how to accurately identify poisonous mushrooms.
Sustainable America, an environmental non-profit organization dedicated to making food and fuel systems more resilient and efficient, has A Quick Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home on its website. Their opinion is that while fungi (which is what a mushroom is) like morels and truffles are ideal for foraging, those that you can grow at home include common portobello, white button, and oyster mushrooms. They also mention cremini and maitake mushrooms.
Button mushrooms are easy to grow. They are low-maintenance and have a short growing cycle, which is why so many mushroom farmers grow them. Sustainable America recommends that amateur, newbie mushroom growers start off with button mushrooms.
But the fact that they are probably the cheapest commercially available mushrooms makes other, more expensive types more attractive to the home grower. The mushroom experts at the University of Florida recommend shitake and oyster mushrooms, which are both cheaper to grow at home than to buy in-store.
If you’re shopping around for mushroom growing kits, you’ll find that they are designed for different types of mushrooms. While the different mushroom species do have different growing requirements, a mushroom kit will explain how you grow mushrooms of specific types.
What conditions are needed for a mushroom to grow?
Unlike all the vegetables you have grown or are likely to grow, mushrooms don’t need light. This is because they don’t have seeds or leaves.
Rather, they grow in cool, dark, damp environments on some type of substrate. Straw and various cellulose sources are examples of substrates, but most kits supply what you need to start out.
Additionally, the humidity mushrooms need to grow should be at least 60-70%. The temperature should be between about 55 and 75°F, depending on the mushroom type.
Mushrooms also need oxygen, so the fresh air flow in your mushroom-growing environment is also important. You will need to control all these elements to cater to the particular mushroom species you choose to grow at home.
Regardless of the method used to grow your mushrooms, it’s important to maintain a clean and sterilized growing environment to prevent contamination by other microorganisms. Regular monitoring of temperature, humidity, and light is also necessary to optimize the growing conditions for your mushrooms.
Additionally, it’s important to follow specific instructions for the type of mushroom you want to grow, as different species have different requirements for optimal growth.
Once you master the basics of mushroom growing you can buy your own spawn and try other substrates like compost, shredded paper, sawdust, or coffee grounds. You can also spread your wings and add some magic with more challenging mushroom types.
Methods of Growing Mushrooms
There are several different methods of growing mushrooms at home. The North American Mycological Association (NAMA), a nonprofit organization that promotes fungi, maintains that it is much easier than most people think.
Mushroom growing kits are widely available and are undoubtedly the perfect way to start growing mushrooms.
When you use an indoor growing kit, it will come with a pre-sterilized growing medium and spores of a specific mushroom species. Kits are quick and easy to set up, and you don’t need any experience to use them.
You can also gather all the materials you need yourself to grow mushrooms indoors. If you do this, you’ll have to make your own spawn and mushroom cultures.
You’ll need to work in a sterile environment using a pressure cooker and sterilized equipment. You will also need to control temperature, humidity, light, and all the other critical factors for mushroom growth, precisely.
The other basic method of growing mushrooms is done outdoors using logs or wood chips, or even soil. Growing mushrooms outdoors involves inoculating logs or wood chips with mushroom spores, which then colonize the wood and produce fruiting bodies. If you opt for soil, it’s vital to keep the soil moist.
Whether you opt for an indoor or outdoor DIY method, you’ll need to treat your substrate. There are various ways to do this including sterilization, pasteurization, lime or peroxide baths, or cold fermentation.
You then introduce the spawn and wait for the substrate to be completely colonized by the mushroom mycelium. They call this a Spawn run.
Whichever method you use, you’ll see the first little mushrooms (primordia) appear. This process is called pinning.
At this point, you need to transfer the substrate with its primordia to an environment with the best conditions for the species you have decided to grow. Controlling these conditions will promote fruiting, as the fine root-like mycelium grows into what we love to eat.
Hopefully, the next step will be to harvest your own delicious homegrown mushrooms.
What is the most efficient way to grow mushrooms?
Of course, we all want our growing efforts to be efficient. But if you’re talking about efficient mushroom growing, you’re more likely to be talking about mushroom farming.
At the same time, we can aim to copy the steps that mushroom farmers follow for efficiency. There’s a classic book written by Paul J. Quest, Michael D. Duffy, and Daniel J. Royse that describes the Six Steps to Mushroom Farming.
Now freely available online, it’s a classic that describes the most efficient steps to growing mushrooms in six relatively simple steps. Of course, the book is aimed at a much larger scale of mushroom growing than you or I are likely to consider.
But the principles are worth learning. It takes only 14 weeks from start to finish to complete a mushroom growing cycle.
PennState Extension has published information about the second edition of this epic book. It’s fascinating to see how mushroom farming has developed.
In essence, it is accepted that the most efficient way to grow mushrooms is to follow these six steps:
- Start by making mushroom compost. Be warned, it’s complicated!
- Finish the compost to get rid of nematodes, pest fungi, and insects.
- As the mushroom matures in the compost, it spawns. If you buy a kit you won’t need to struggle through the first two steps!
- Step 4 is called casing, which involves applying a top dressing to the spawn-run compost. This is where the mushrooms will form.
- Step 5 is pinning. This is when the mushrooms start to form.
- Step 6 is cropping … when you harvest your crop.
Simple, in concept, it’s very complicated if you want to do it on a large scale.
Growing your own mushrooms is quite different from growing other food in a vegetable garden. It’s challenging, but not particularly difficult on a small scale.
The best advice we can give is for you to start growing your mushrooms in a kit. Then, if you enjoy what you are doing, you can buy more kits or branch out and get more serious.