Make Money With a Marvelous Mushroom Farm

You can set up your own mushroom farm for $100 or less. Here's how.

| September/October 1979

How do you like your mushrooms served? Perhaps mixed in with a green salad and vegetables? Or how about pan-fried, then sprinkled over a favorite hot dish? If you're like me, the mere mention of the delicious one-legged edibles—prepared in just about any way imaginable—starts your taste buds to cravin' a fungi feast!

Unfortunately, such a meal used to put a serious dent in my budget. Then I encountered Dr. Ralph H. Kurtzman, Jr.—biochemist and plant pathologist with the Department of Agriculture's Western Regional Laboratory—and his amazing mushroom farm. This scientist's operation is especially impressive because—although there are lots of big businesses that spend thousands of dollars to get those tasty little fungi on your kitchen table—Ralph grows 'em in his urban Berkeley, California back yard with a setup that cost him less than $100!

You see, Dr. Kurtzman's entire venture—including both his "mushroom house" and his growing medium—is based on the use of recycled materials. And the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) that Kurtzman cultivates doesn't even require a messy manure compost: Plain ol' rice or wheat straw provides all the nutrients that this particular species needs.

A Mushroom Mansion

Admittedly, mushrooms demand a special environment, and an outdoor climate will not support most varieties for more than a few weeks each year. The hardy oyster type is an exception, however, that can generally be found on the forest floor from May to October. And with a suitable enclosure, you can extend even this long growing season to a full 12 months!

Caves, abandoned mines, or root cellars often have the desired temperature and humidity for mushroom cultivation (although such places may require additional ventilation). Unfortunately, these ideal mushroom "dens" just aren't available to most folks. To overcome this scarcity, a variety of man-made structures are used for mushroom propagation, and—though Ralph put his together from scratch—you can easily adapt the following concepts to most ready-made sheds.

As they grow, mushrooms give off carbon dioxide, a gas which—in an enclosed space—can cause the fungi to become enlongated, stringy, and tasteless. Therefore, to assure adequate ventilation, our plant pathologist set his structure up on a raised foundation of railroad ties and installed a stovepipe that circulates air from the foundation to the ceiling.

5/14/2015 7:16:23 AM

On page two, the article recommends a swamp cooler to add humidity and cool the building, then adds-"For a beefed-up version, simply trickle hosed water into an old automobile radiator, then blow air through the fins with a fan". Blowing air thru a radiator will not increase humidity, as the water does not come in contact with the air.

9/6/2009 2:46:54 AM

Just wondering - I can't see myself finding a supplier of spores here in Australia, how does one collect spore. I found this article searching for "mushroom propagation," close but not quite what I was looking for. But it's one of the best and most instructive articles of its kind, thank you for making it available!

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