Growing Mushrooms at Home

You can easily grow mushrooms at home and enjoy their rich flavors and nutritious benefits in everyday recipes.
By Biz Reynolds
March 26, 2010
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These budding caps will mature into a harvestable crop of oyster mushrooms.
PHOTO: BIZ REYNOLDS
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Fresh tomatoes, healthy green beans, sweet potatoes — these are all good edibles that make “growing your own” a positive and nutritious experience. But what about fresh, homegrown mushrooms? Shiitakes, oysters — even morels?

Believe it or not, with a few purchased tools, some freshly cut logs and a little patience, you can easily grow fresh mushrooms at home, either to sell for a profit, or to enjoy them yourself.

The easiest way to grow mushrooms at home is to order “spawn” from a reputable online company. Spawn is a big loaf of moistened sawdust knitted together with mycelium — the vegetative tissue of the fungus, similar to the root system of a perennial plant.

In March 2009, our son Robbie ordered his first mushroom spawn from Field and Forest Products, a great company in Wisconsin with a knowledgeable staff and lots of spawn choices suited for various climates and conditions. Robbie chose to grow a variety of shiitakes called Native Harvest, and Grey Dove oyster mushrooms. He ordered about $150 worth of supplies — two 51/2 pound packages of spawn; a special tool for thumping the spawn into small holes drilled into fresh oak logs; cheese wax to seal the holes to prevent moisture, stray mold or fungal spores from invading; and an educational book with all the information needed to successfully propagate, harvest and sell homegrown mushrooms.

Shortly after Robbie’s order arrived in early April, our weather turned sunny and cool, and temperatures climbed to the 60s — perfect for getting out a chainsaw and cutting a big pile of oak and maple logs. (Most mushroom supply companies sell logs, too.) There are a variety of ways to grow mushrooms, but log cultivation imitates nature most closely. It is also low-cost (albeit physically demanding). The logs used must be live and healthy, and it’s best to cut the nursery (spawning) logs in spring before the leaves emerge. The instructions suggest cutting 3- to 8-inch-diameter logs about 3 feet long. After they are cut, the logs should be inoculated with the spawn right away, before they start to dry out or become contaminated with competing organisms.

Soon after we cut the logs, we set up a lab on our picnic table with an old two-burner hot plate, a Folgers’s coffee-can “kettle” with my expensive candy thermometer clipped to the side (half-submerged in melting wax), and a nearby pile of waiting logs. Robbie carefully sealed the spawn in with hot wax, after having punched it into small holes drilled in diamond-patterned rows, just as the instructions specified. The purpose of daubing wax over each spawn-filled hole is to protect it from moisture loss and bacteria infiltration.

Finally, loading the logs into the bed of the farm truck, Robbie hauled them out back and soaked them with the garden hose. He stacked them in neat rows in the corral, which is shaded by our 100-year-old barn and protected from wind and sun — two of mushroom growers’ worst enemies because the logs must remain damp. A grower can purchase optional “fruiting blankets” to cover and protect inoculated logs from the elements and to increase the humidity that sprouting mushrooms love.

According to all the information we’ve read, mushroom farming is an unpredictable business. There are so many weather-related variables — temperature, humidity, rainfall, sun, shade, etc. The book from Field and Forest Products says to incubate logs in a shady spot for six to 18 months to allow the spawn to colonize the logs fully.

The first weeks of July were exciting ones, as we were able to see the first buds of the early oyster variety bubble up and quickly spread into perfect layers of pale gray, finely gilled, picture-perfect mushrooms. At the end of August, Robbie brought in a little brown lunch sack of fresh, immaculate oyster mushrooms! He fried some in butter and made an Asian omelet, adding cashews, onions and soy sauce. It was beautiful and delicious. After that, small flushes of oyster mushrooms continued to surprise us. Now we have several freezer bags of clean, neatly sliced mushrooms stacked in our freezer for later use.

We are patiently waiting for the excitement of watching the shiitake logs sprout for the first time, and to see the oysters produce yet again.

Each 40-inch log should produce 2 to 4 pounds of mushrooms in about 12 “flushes” (crops) over the few seasons it bears. Each flush will average a quarter to a third of a pound before becoming, as the book says, “fully spent.”


Have you grown culinary mushrooms? If so, tell us about your successes, failures and favorite varieties in the comments section below.

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Post a comment below.

 

ro.cavalheiro.121
7/14/2013 8:42:58 AM

Juthika
6/4/2012 4:45:34 PM
I am very impressed with the article,How to grow mushrooms at home.Desperately want to try it at home, not very sure if i will be succeed,as i live in the hottest place of india,but still i am sure i will give it a try.Thanks,jyotika in rajasthan.

Ken Alston
2/4/2012 4:38:12 PM
Try this new way to grow mushrooms at home. Simple kit gets you fresh organic mushrooms in about 2 weeks. Mushrooms grow on spent coffee grounds. Simple to use kit. I did it successfully - you can too! http://growing-mushrooms-at-home.com/

Helen Gray
2/2/2012 8:18:20 PM
Found this article on the google search, How to Grow Mushrooms at Home. Like the 2nd person to comment, Brandy, I am also in Colorado, but on the other side of the mountains, in Denver. It's dry here too. I am interested in using my basement space, as Brandy was. Barbara asked the same question, about growing in a basement, although hers is damp. Would someone please weigh in on this? Thanks. Helen in Denver

Heidi Opalka
6/6/2010 7:48:21 PM
I had great success with wine capped Stropharia, I bought the spawn 4 years ago in spring, in the fall I had lots of mushrooms. Since then I transplanted shovels full of sawdust with mycelium to different places. Last weekend I harvested almost 2lbs under my blueberries. I have winecaps from May till Oct., of and on. I tried morels- no success. I inoculated logs 2 years ago with shitake and oysters, we ate the first shitake 2 weeks ago, enough for a meal, not more.

Biz Reynolds
4/26/2010 9:55:23 PM
Questions about morels--they are illusive, undependable, tricky, wonderful fungi! They mystify everyone who tries to hunt or grow them. I have heard that pouring the rinse water out on the ground in a suitable mushroom-growing area sometimes works--supposedly the morel "seeds" have washed off into that pot of buggy water and might grow where they are poured. We tried that one year and indeed had two morels grow in that spot the next spring.

Biz Reynolds
4/26/2010 9:50:24 PM
When our oyster mushrooms first fruited, they had a lot of miniscule worm-type things crawling around in them so we wrote to the company where we obtained the spawn, and got a reply that they were maggots of some sort. The company wrote, " Hi,This is a common problem with Oysters that fruit before frost.They are probably picnic beetle larvae. I would harvest the crop. Discard what you can't stomach and watch the logs for the next flush. As soon as pins (small mushrooms) appear cover the logs with clear plastic or some other physical barrier. If this happens after a hard frost, this should not be necessary." Hope this helps. I would dechlorinate the water you soaked your logs in. The chlorine is added to help kill any mold or fungus, etc. that is in the drinking water.

Anne P.
4/24/2010 2:29:43 PM
My husband and I attented a Shitake mushroom seminar in the Spring of 2008. We took freshly cut oak logs. We were able to inoculate two logs, and were told to let them set for about 16 months, prior to forcing a bloom, by soaking the logs. The logs have produced a handful of shitake shrooms on their own. My concern is that the shrooms had some type of very small insect in them. Does anyone know what to do to prevent that in the future, as we are nearly ready to try to force a bloom by soaking the logs. Also, has anyone used fresh city tap water for soaking. If so, does it need to sit for a few days to eliminate/reduce the chlorine? Thanks!

Barbara Burg
4/10/2010 12:13:20 PM
I am wondering if a dampish basement can be used to grow mushrooms? I know the mushroom farms use dark, damp buildings and manure/straw bedding. Can this be done at home?

Anne_22
4/9/2010 12:05:38 PM
I have native morels growing in my small woods, which includes several old dead apple trees. I should say "had". I found the morels near the apple trees for several years. When I picked them, I always left at least half to reproduce. However, the last few years they have disappeared. Since their disappearance coincided with an invasion of garlic mustard, which I have tried but failed to eradicate, I suspect that the mustard sent harmful chemicals into the soil, and killed the morels. Anybody else have this experience?

Belinda Brewster_2
4/9/2010 9:58:30 AM
Every year my husband and I go morel picking and for several years I have tried taking small pieces of the morels and hanging them in trees, putting them in dirt, sticking them small crevices of downed trees on our property, etc. but I have never gotten a crop on my property yet. We have some indigenous morels on the property, but I wanted MORE! Has anyone had success with trying to start their own crop of wild morels? Any ideas?

Brandy Lance
3/31/2010 9:29:36 AM
I'd like to grow mushrooms for our own personal use. We live in a townhome and have a small shaded patio. However, we live in the high desert of Colorado. While I'd love to have a wonderful set up like Robbie, I need something smaller and more practical for our set up. I have seen kits in the gardening magazines but don't know much about how they work. Has anyone used one of those and if so, how many mushrooms did you get out of it, was it a one season thing, where did you purchase it and how much space did it take? Peter, did you use one of these types of kits? Thanks in advance for any help you can lend me. Brandy Western Colorado

peter christoph_2
3/31/2010 7:08:28 AM
Last year my wife decided to purchase a kit to grow mushrooms at home, but without using the logs to spawn the mushrooms. Had we a strong boy (like Robbie in the article) at home perhaps we would have taken that route and chainsawed up a few logs! We hatched our mushrooms on top of the refrigerator instead. It was certainly a fun project for our daughter to experiment with. We enjoyed our (much smaller) harvest of mushrooms along with the satisfaction of growing them ourselves. Really enjoyed reading the article! Peter Christoph South Lancaster, MA








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