At a recent Mother Earth News fair, among the expected organic gardening presentation topics included chicken keeping, soap making, and several classes on cultivating mushrooms.
That’s not completely surprising if you’ve been hanging out on Instagram any length of time — growing mushrooms at home is not only a hugely popular homestead and gardening activity, it’s picturesque as well. If you’re interested and want to get growing, there’s good news for you — it’s fairly easy when you understand the basics. Let’s get started!
Why Grow Mushrooms?
Aside from the cool factor, there are plenty of other reasons to grow your own:
• Save money. Ever checked out the price of oyster mushrooms at your grocery store? Eek. And you typically can’t find varieties like pink or yellow oyster mushrooms, either.
• Boost your health. Mushrooms are fat-free, low in calories, and cholesterol-free. They’re also packed with copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins, as well as antioxidants.
• Geek out with your kids. Who are we kidding here? You don’t need children to be fascinated by growing mushrooms, but it is an admittedly cool activity to do with the littles.
First, you need to understand mushroom lingo, because it’s not like other plant or food lingo you are familiar with.
• Spores: While other plants grow from seeds, mushrooms grow from spores — tiny, tiny spores that you cannot see with the naked eye.
• Spawn: This is a blend of spores and other nutrients including sawdust, grain, wooden plugs, straw, wood chips. Spores don’t contain chlorophyll to germinate like seeds do, so these other substances provide that nourishment to get them going. If you’re a baker, spawn is kind of like the starter for sourdough bread.
• Substrate: Every plant needs a growing medium, and because mushrooms don’t grow in soil, their growing medium (substrate) includes logs, straw, cardboard, or wood chips. Each type of mushroom typically prefers a specific substrate.
• Mycelium: Mycelium is tiny, white, threadlike roots that appear first before you see anything that looks remotely like a mushroom.
How to Grow Mushrooms
Some of the most popular mushrooms to grow at home include crimini, shiitake, oyster, button, portobello, and enoki — and each has its own specific growing needs. One of the easiest ways to get started is to buy a kit online from a reputable dealer — you’ll get substrate that’s inoculated with mushroom spawn, along with complete directions for growing and harvesting.
However, if you want to start from scratch on your own, you may want to consider starting with button mushrooms. You’ll still need to order spawn, but the process is pretty easy. Button mushrooms need plenty of organic nitrogen to grow, and once you get them going, you can harvest mushrooms for up to 6 months.
- Mushroom spawn
- A wooden or plastic tray measuring about 14” x 16” and 6” deep
- Manure (horse or cow is ideal)
- Water bottle with spray or mist
- Heating pad with temperature control dial
- Potting soil
- Choose a well-ventilated area to begin indoors — manure tends to have a very distinctive odor that may not go over well with your household’s inhabitants.
- Fill the tray with an equal mix of compost and manure, leaving about 1” of space below the top of the tray.
- Spread the spawn on top of the compost in an even layer and mist thoroughly with water.
- Place the tray on a heating pad and set the control for 70 degrees. Monitor soil temperature with a thermometer and adjust accordingly. Temps higher than 70 can easily kill spores before they have a chance to grow.
- Move the tray and heating pad to a dark room and spray thoroughly with water twice a day.
- After 3-4 weeks, you’ll see mycelium forming. Once you the mycelium has completely covered the soil, lower the heating pad temperature to 50 degrees. Be patient – it can take several more weeks to form this colony.
- Cover mycelium with 1” of potting soil — water daily and drape with a damp cloth.
- Your first mushrooms should appear about one month after spreading the potting soil. Continue to mist the soil.
- Harvest the mushrooms when they are fully grown and the caps open, using a sharp knife to slice through the stem.