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How can I Successfully Grow Mushrooms?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mushrooms come in a wide range of flavors, shapes, and colors. While many mushrooms can be purchased at a market, it is fun to grow them at home, and it can also be relatively easy, depending on which growing technique you can use. Mushroom cultivation systems can range from large and complex growing rooms to a small log or isolation chamber designed to yield just enough mushrooms for home use. A number of supply houses for mushroom growing tools can be found using your favorite search engine.

The easiest way to grow mushrooms at home is to purchase an inoculated log. A mushroom log is made from a hardwood impregnated with mycelium, the body of the fungus, called “spawn” by mushroom growers because it literally spawns mushrooms. The log is shipped to the consumer, who soaks it in cold water for 24 hours before putting it in a dark, moist place at room temperature. Within a week, mushrooms are ready to harvest, and the log can be reused multiple times as long as the mycelium is not damaged. A mushroom log can be an excellent option for a small household or to educate children about mushrooms in the classroom, and is generally considered to be a no-fail method of growing mushrooms.

If you want to grow a more unusual mushroom, you may want to consider using cake and a mushroom box. Cake is a highly nutritious and balanced substrate specifically designed for growing mushrooms. You can order the cake and spawn to inoculate it with, and then grow mushrooms inside a damp, room temperature chamber which can be quite small: many mushroom boxes fit in a closet with ease. Commercial mushroom boxes are available from many supply houses, or you can build one yourself; make sure to include a source of humidity, and you may want to consider making one from clear material so that you can watch the mushrooms grow.

To cultivate mushrooms on a large scale, you will want to start from scratch by making your own substrate. Large cakes are available, but can be expensive: you can make a cheap and usable substrate out of straw or sawdust. Shred the material evenly and then soak it so that it will be moist. Next, sterilize it: many mushroom growers combine these two steps and simply “cook” the substrate in hot water to sterilize and moisturize it. The moist substrate is mixed with spawn which you can order or grow yourself, and then tightly packed and wrapped in clear plastic to form giant mushroom logs. Poke holes in the plastic and keep it in in a warm, fairly dry place until the mycelium becomes clearly visible as a white mass under the plastic. Next, stimulate the mushrooms to grow by raising the humidity, lowering the temperature slightly, and watering the logs to simulate rain. Within one week, mushrooms will sprout through the holes in the plastic, ready to eat.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon68476 — On Mar 02, 2010

Bonkers, you can absolutely grow mushrooms in non sterile conditions - many people do - but you have to be prepared to accept the possibility of failure. It's a little like the difference between outdoor gardens and hydroponics.

I've heard of people growing shiitake outdoors in logs (with plug spawn, i.e. dowels colonized with mycelium - you drill a hole in the log, insert dowel, seal with wax, and wait - generally at least a year), never in sawdust. Oysters have been grown outdoors in sawdust, however.

For non sterile growing it's best to use low-nutrient substrates. Nutrients will increase the likelihood of competitors taking over, and I don't know of any tests that have shown them to be useful in growing wood-rotting mushrooms such as oysters and shiitake. See, however, my note about morels at the bottom of this comment.

Purchase sawdust spawn (pre-inoculated sawdust) online. You'll save yourself a massive headache over trying to start from spores, and, frankly, the cost is not that much compared to the cost of the cheapest method of starting from spores that is known to produce success in "captivity."

To get the most for your money, start by taking some of your sawdust, boiling it, and placing it in a bag with your purchased spawn; you'll get a crop of mushrooms out of that, and when the fruiting stops, you've got a big bag of sawdust spawn to inoculate your paths with. This gives you the chance to seed your paths repeatedly without buying more spawn, in case it doesn't "take" the first time.

Plus, since these conditions are pretty much ideal, if the bag doesn't fruit you'll know not to waste any more money on that strain - it's not suited to your climate or chosen substrate.

If you grow both oysters and shiitake, start the shiitake well away from the oysters - oysters seem to be much hardier and colonize things much faster, and you don't want spores from your oysters to take over everything while your shiitake are still trying to get established.

I suspect that once the shiitake are established the oysters won't be as likely to outcompete them, but I don't know for sure.

Morels are very tricky. They have successfully been grown in "captivity" but a number of factors affect their growth, including temperature and the nitrogen content of the soil. Morel cultivation is still a somewhat experimental field. Some have reported success growing morels in the garden in locations with cold winters; a few people have gotten them to fruit indoors with nitrogen supplements and an overwintering step in the freezer.

As much as I love mushrooms, my freezer space is limited enough as it is, thank you very much!

By anon56616 — On Dec 16, 2009

Growing mushrooms is easy when you use a grow kit. Most grow kits will give you about 450 grams of mushrooms. Only add water and wait for two weeks.

By bonkers — On Jun 01, 2007

As far as growing mushrooms....

I know that sterile environment are ideal for home propagation, and all that; However, most mushrooms are not grown in laboratory conditions, but rather in a natural, anything but sterile state. Can't they be propagated by a process as simple as placing some mushroom caps, or making a "mushroom milkshake" and pouring it over an appropriate medium? (Such as a mound of partially decomposed wood chips, or even a prepared substrate?)

Also, to that effect, can the partially decomposed wood chips just be placed in the oven and baked at a low temperature overnight to "pastuerize" it, then rehydrated as a growing medium? Would some coffee grounds, straw, horse/cow manure be beneficial to the medium? -Or dependent on the strain of mushroom? (Can we add the manure after the "cooking" process? -Yuck!)

In particular, I'm trying to grow some shitakes. I have lots of hardwood chips in paths for hundreds of yards on my woods. The paths are well shaded, and there are numerous springs, a stream, and marshy areas, so that the area almost always remain moist. There are also numerous fallen dead trees that I believe would be perfect hosts if I can get a proper colony into them.

Most of the shitakes, and other mushrooms I can readily get sre from local "high end" markets. Mostly Green grocers, Asian markets, etc. I have a hard time getting spore prints from these mushrooms. I don't know if it's because they are not fully ripened (opened) or if rough handling has knocked off most spores, or...? Any suggestions? I know I can buy spore prints & syringes, but I thought there could be a more natural and economical way to approach this.

Also, any advice on Morels? I know they're a different breed altogether. Spore prints? -Or only from affected soil, as in Truffles?

Any help or suggestions would be most appreciated.

Can't wait to make that wild mushroom ravioli!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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