What you need to know
Mushrooms are the ultimate in sustainable food sources with many health benefits. Learning how to grow mushrooms is not hard. You can easily grow mushrooms at home- they grow quickly and efficiently, converting plant matter into delicious edible mushrooms with few inputs or environmental impact. And yet mushrooms remain one of the most overlooked crops for home gardeners. With a little information on how to grow mushrooms at home, you can be well on your way to growing your own mushrooms in no time!
Ready-to-fruit mushroom kits are available in our online store if you want to grow delicious mushrooms with guaranteed success and no tools needed except a sharp knife. With these kits, you can grow mushrooms in just a few days. Ready-to-fruit mushroom kits make wonderful gifts for your friends too! Buy your mushroom kits here.
The basics before you start
If you want to learn how to grow mushrooms, it is important to understand their life cycle. The mushroom life cycle begins as a spore. Individual mushroom spores are so small that you cannot see them with the naked eye. Once under ideal growing conditions, spores germinate to form white threadlike bodies called Mycelium. Mycelium appears as a network of white mold and can grow through all sorts of organic matter — compost, rotting logs, and even tree roots in the soil. Once the mycelium is in a favorable environment it forms mushrooms—the reproductive spores are formed by these mushrooms and fly off to repeat the process.
There are over 10,000 species of mushroom, but only around 2,000 are known to be edible. Of the edible varieties, only a few can be cultivated. Mushrooms are divided into three groups: saprobic, mycorrhizal, and parasitic. Saprobic mushrooms grow on dead organic matter and mushrooms of this variety are the easiest to cultivate. The most common saprobic mushrooms are oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, paddy straw, wood ear, enoki, maitake—and many others you may have seen before at the grocery store or farmers market.
Mycorrhizal mushrooms are difficult if not impossible to cultivate because they form symbiotic relationships with trees. Examples include chanterelles, morels, truffles, and porcinis. Saprobic mushrooms can form mushrooms on a growing medium like sterilized sawdust or logs, but mycorrhizal mushrooms must form near living trees because that is where they grow naturally. You cannot grow mycorrhizal mushrooms at home.
Parasitic mushrooms are not usually cultivated outside of their natural environment, though some saprobic mushrooms are considered weakly parasitic. Reishi mushrooms for example are sometimes considered parasitic but are commonly cultivated. If you want to learn more about growing your own edible mushrooms that are parasitic, read more about "cordyceps". Now that you know a bit about the life cycle of mushrooms and the different types, we can get to growing them!
Which varieties should you start with?
Of the widely cultivated varieties, oysters, shiitake, wine cap, and lion's mane are by far the easiest to grow. These mushrooms can be grown on logs, hardwood sawdust, and mulch. People often start out using store-bought "ready-to-fruit" kits that come with complete instructions for beginners.
Other mushroom species need some work if you want to cultivate them outside of their natural environment. Cultivating these varieties is not impossible but requires extensive effort and research. It would be best to wait until you have had success growing some of the varieties recommended here before tackling other species.
Many different oyster mushroom varieties will grow well on sawdust and various other substrates such as straw, coffee grounds, and cottonseed hulls. Oyster mushrooms are found worldwide and are the most popular cultivated mushroom variety because they have a strong, satisfying taste and texture—and they're easy to grow. Many people have great success when they grow oyster mushrooms at home.
Shiitake has a firmer texture and a more complex taste than oyster mushrooms. Shiitake grows on logs or sawdust and can be grown outdoors or indoors. Be patient! It will take about six months for your logs to produce mushrooms. It's important to remember that logs must stay moist at all times for mushrooms to form—the wood should never dry out completely.
Wine Cap Mushrooms
Often grown in mulch or compost piles, wine caps are a fun species to grow. The flavor of wine caps is often compared to meatier portobello mushrooms.
Above photo by Christine
Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Lion's mane is a prized mushroom. They have a meaty texture and delicate flavor that is often compared to lobster. Lion's mane mushrooms grow well on hardwood sawdust.
Fundamental steps required to make mushrooms grow
The mushroom growing process is simple. Mushrooms don't require potting soil, fertilizer, or even sunlight--all you need is a substrate material (mushroom food) and spawn (mushroom mycelium)- beyond that, patience and space for the mushrooms to grow. Of course, knowing a few more things will make the process easier.
Mushroom Cultures (living mycelium)
The variety of mushrooms you can grow is limited by what mushroom cultures (or spores) are available to you or the person preparing your mushroom spawn. If you do not have your own spores or cultures, you can purchase them online. Once you have chosen the mushroom variety you want to grow, it's time to order—there are many reputable mushroom suppliers online. Mushroom cultures usually come in the form of mycelium in a petri dish or syringe. High-quality mushroom cultures can be found in our online store.
Mushroom spawn is a term for a starting culture of mycelium from which you will produce mushrooms. The most common types of mushroom spawn are grain spawn, sawdust spawn, and plug spawn. Anything with mycelium on it can be called spawn if it is used to transfer mycelium to a new food source. With the proper skills, it's possible to make your own spawn using small quantities of existing cultures. Otherwise spawn can be purchased online.
Mushroom substrate is the food or growing medium from which you grow mushrooms. The most important part of substrate preparation is maintaining cleanliness. Fungi are easily killed by contamination. Fresh-cut disease-free hardwood logs or sterilized hardwood sawdust mixed with various supplements (cottonseed hull, soybean hull, wheat bran, etc.) are the preferred growing medium for most mushroom varieties. Coco coir and manure based substrates are also commonly utilized for certain species of fungi. Prepared mushroom substrates can be purchased in our online store.
Inoculation is just a fancy term for sticking your spawn into the substrate- similar to planting seeds. Log inoculation involves drilling holes into hardwood logs and filling them with plug spawn or sawdust spawn, while sawdust substrate is often spawned by introducing the mycelium in the form of grain spawn. Make sure to utilize fresh spawn for the most success.
Incubation (spawn run)
This is the part of the growing cycle between inoculation and fruiting--after you've mixed your spawn into your substrate, wait for it to colonize the entire thing before you initiate fruiting conditions. You will observe mycelium growing through the substrate. Mushroom mycelium does not require sunlight or soil to grow, but it thrives under certain conditions. If there is too much carbon dioxide, the mycelium may struggle. If it is too dry, the mycelium will dry out and die. Depending on the mushroom species and substrate, incubation can take up to three to four weeks or longer.
This is the most exciting part of mushroom growing. colonization is complete, fruiting can begin. This process is usually triggered by cooler temperatures and fresh air. The mushrooms begin growing as tiny mushrooms called "buttons" or "pins" from which they will become big and strong!
After a week or two, those small pins will grow into mature fruiting bodies that are ready to be eaten! You finally have your own mushrooms. You are now officially a mushroom grower.
Where can I grow mushrooms?
Mushrooms can be grown almost anywhere, and it's up to you to decide what the best place is. The perfect conditions for growing most mushrooms are a temperature between 55-75 degrees Farenheight and high humidity. In an indoor environment, this can be achieved by purchasing a small humidifier and setting it to run near your growing space. Some varieties such as oysters will fruit without supplemental humidity, but other varieties such as shiitake and lion's mane do best when humidity is increased.
Growing mushrooms indoors
Oyster mushrooms are the easiest to grow, but most mushroom species can be grown indoors on a growing medium like sawdust. The sawdust is usually placed in a bag, sometimes sold "ready-to-fruit" as a mushroom growing kit where the mushrooms can be grown in places such as the countertop or windowsill. If you are growing indoors, the air should be well circulated because mushrooms release carbon dioxide as they grow- ventilation is required. It is also not a good idea to grow many mushrooms in your living space because mushroom spores can be irritating to some people.
Growing mushrooms in the garden
Many types of mushrooms thrive outside on hardwood logs. You want to look for a shady spot that is protected from rain and wind. When growing mushrooms outdoors on logs, the logs need protection from direct sunlight and drying winds. The logs should also stay moist, but not soaked with water. Logs can produce up to three years or more.
Some mushrooms also grow well in mulch. Wine cap for instance can be grown in straw mulch or chips. Wine caps are delicious mushrooms to grow in your vegetable garden.
For some, hobby-level mushroom cultivation will not be enough to satisfy their curiosity. For these people; growing mushrooms at a commercial level may be the answer, but what does the future look like for these prospective farmers?
Growing mushrooms on a farm
Many small scale farms are located in residential/urban settings. Urban mushroom production, although it may seem difficult, has some advantages over other forms of large-scale mushroom production. The most important advantage is that urban farms are located in close proximity to the majority of their target market. This means they do not have to worry about shipping costs or long storage times while their product travels from the farm to the consumer's table.
Indoor mushroom production has been around for over a hundred years beginning in the early 1900s with what we commonly call white button mushrooms today. White button mushrooms are by far the most popular culinary mushroom in North America, but there are many other types of cultivated fungi available on the market. Exotic, gourmet mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, and lion's mane are gaining in popularity among chefs. When it comes to indoor commercial mushroom production, there is a lot of room for innovation. This is a technology-driven industry and the future looks bright for entrepreneurs in the space.
Outdoor mushroom farming has been around for centuries, but recent innovations have made it more accessible than ever. Mushrooms like shiitakes grow on the logs of hardwood trees, and they require a lot of space to produce well. There is an abundance of unused hardwood forests across North America so entrepreneurs who want to start mushroom farming don't have to look very far for a suitable growing area. The benefits of growing shiitakes include low startup costs and a potentially high return on investment. Many companies are developing new technologies to allow entrepreneurs to grow mushrooms outside on logs more efficiently, which will open up even more opportunities in the future.
The above photos are from the backyard of a condominium where this small structure is producing up to 50lbs per week during the winter months in Alabama.
Mushrooms are fascinating organisms, and growing mushrooms at home is a rewarding hobby that can provide a continuous crop of fresh food. When you're just starting out, don't be afraid to ask questions! There are many forums online where mushroom growers will help beginners get started. Many growers love to teach beginners how to grow mushrooms.
The fundamentals of growing mushrooms are simple, but there is a lot of room for growth and innovation in the industry. There are always new growing technologies being developed, which makes growing mushrooms super exciting. Be up to date on recent innovations and never stop learning.