How to grow mushrooms at home
Mushrooms offer unique flavor and texture to a variety of dishes. Whether they are enjoyed fresh, steamed, grilled, or sautéed with a little bit of garlic, mushrooms are a kitchen staple that the majority of us can agree on. With such a vast selection of edible mushrooms available to us, there are almost endless opportunities to explore new dishes and flavor combinations. The major downside to these delectable little fungus staples is that mushrooms can be incredibly expensive to buy, especially if you’d like to branch out from the usual 20+ different names for portabella mushrooms that are typically the only types offered at grocery stores.
Certainly, we’ve all seen the gorgeous white and brown mushrooms popping up on our properties on cooler mornings, but we’ve all also likely been warned about the dangers of picking wild mushrooms. The truth is that unless you are truly an expert about all things mushroom, it is never advisable to pick any mushrooms you find growing on your property, as they can make you incredibly ill or just outright kill you. (Perhaps the only exception to this rule would be the unmistakable oyster, lion's mane, and morel mushrooms. There is only one other thing that could be mistaken for an oyster mushroom and it is the shelf fungus. Shelf fungus isn’t exactly toxic, but it will likely break your teeth before you are even able to ingest it because it is as hard as a rock. Most non-gourmet fungi aren't poisonous, just inedible or otherwise unpalatable.)
But getting started with mushroom cultivation is pretty easy. You can become a mushroom grower in just a couple of weeks and if you were to ever scale it into a business it would take very little time and earn you income in just 6 weeks.
There are myriad species of mushrooms that can be grown, but for this post, we will walk you through the process of growing Oyster Mushrooms as they’re pretty easy to grow and quite tasty. But don’t worry if you’re interested in another strain of mushrooms, the process is pretty similar for all, with a little tweaking.
Step one: Get your spawn and substrate
You’ll need spawn to start the culture. No, not the comic book character (although interestingly enough, oysters can digest plastic action figures). You can produce your own spawn using a sterile culture, or you can buy ready-to-inoculate spawn, which is carried by suppliers. Producing your own can be cheaper in the long run, but the start-up costs can be high and the learning curve steep, so chances are buying the ready-to-inoculate spawn is the way to go for you.
You’ll also need to buy the substrate. Many growers use all sorts of bio-organic materials such as coffee grounds, straw, wood chips or even popcorn kernels. It really depends on the species and cultivar but for Oyster mushrooms, Straw is generally the preferred method. You want straw that can be chopped up into little pieces.
Step two: Prepare the substrate
First, chop the straw into short pieces for easier colonization. Next, wet the straw. Now it’s time to heat the straw in boiling water. Continue boiling for half an hour and then remove the straw and drain it. Next, spread out the straw on a clean surface and let it cool down.
Step three: Pack the plastic bags
Now it’s time to pack plastic bags with the straw and spawn. Pack two or three inches of straw into the plastic bag and then lightly sprinkle the spawn on top. Repeat this until you’ve almost filled the bag, close the top and poke holes in the bag. Straw is non-nutritive and the spawn should be fully colonized by now, so there's no need for a sterile work environment.
Step four: Incubation
Now it’s time for incubation. Keep the growing area at around 78 degrees F. Place the bags on a shelving unit and remember to stop any threats of natural light from getting into the room. Cover windows and cracks and use a red “darkroom” light when you need to check on your bags. Light isn't the biggest trigger for fruiting, but it's still a trigger, so controlling it gives you a larger harvest. When you start to notice tiny pinhead mushrooms near the air holes in your bag, then you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Step five: Fruiting
For your fruiting room, you need a high level of humidity. The temperature will need to be 65 to 70 degrees F. Unlike the incubation room, you’ll actually need simulated or natural light—12 hours a day is the standard, but you can get by with 4. Climate is a much bigger fruit trigger than light since mushrooms are more cloely related to animals than they are plants. To "shock" your mycelium, which will force it into fruiting, move the bags to a cool place for a day, such as a basement or other cool place, and then move them back to the fruiting room. Next, cut away the bag, which allows mushroom growth to take place.
Step six: Harvest
Just before your mushroom caps are fully uncurled, that’s when it’s time to harvest. To do so, twist the stem off as near to the growing block as you are able to. You’ve now harvested your mushrooms. If they feel squishy, they're over-ripe and the quality will take a sharp dive. They should feel firm, but with a little give.