Growing your own mushrooms can at first seem a bit daunting.
But it doesn’t have to be!
This article will serve as a rough starting point, giving a broad overview rather than specific instructions. We’ll be releasing some more specific guides over the coming weeks.
It’s easy to grow mushrooms at home, and you can do it.
There are however a few things to consider before taking your first step into the world of mycology.
Let’s break it down…
Types Of Mushroom
Speaking in broad terms, we can split the species of mushrooms we’re interested in into two types; those that feed on wood (lignicolous fungi), and those that feed on digested materials like manure or compost (coprophilous fungi).
Some examples include..
- Oyster Mushrooms
- Lion’s Mane
- King Oyster (Eryngii)
- Maitake (Hen of the Woods
- Chicken of the Woods
- Pioppino (Black Poplar)
- Agaricus Bisporus (Button/Portabello)
- Psilocybe Cubensis
- Psilocybe Semilanceata
What They Grow On
Lignicolous fungi feed on the lignin found in wood. Most gourmet lignicolous fungi will thrive on hardwoods. For the home grower this can take the form of dowel-inoculated logs, hardwood sawdust, woodchips, or hardwood fuel pellets.
Wood-loving fungi are generally quite forgiving species to grow. They tend to be quite aggressive and fend off contaminants well – Oyster mushrooms are a perfect example of this and make an ideal starter species.
For beginners an ideal substrate for Oyster mushrooms is chopped straw. It is cheap, easily sourced, and can be easily pasteurised with the low-tech (and low cost!) Cold Lime Pasteurisation technique. This entails soaking your straw, chopped into pieces no longer than 4″, in a container of Hydrated Lime and water for around 24 hours.
The straw is then drained and mixed with your colonised grain spawn. The spawned straw mixture is packed tightly into either polythene tubing to form ‘logs’, or into lidded buckets with holes.
Blue Oysters on Straw Log
Shiitake on Hardwood Log
For the patient cultivator with some outdoor space to spare, hardwood logs are an economical and low-maintenance option.
Fresh-cut hardwood logs are drilled, and the holes plugged with colonised wooden dowels, and capped with wax.
The logs are then left to colonise for 6-12 months before soaking in water to encourage fruiting. It’s a much longer wait than other methods but once established, a log can produce flush after flush for 5 years or more!
Supplemented Sawdust / ‘Masters Mix’
One of the best commercially proven substrates for wood-lovers is know as the ‘Masters Mix’. This supplemented sawdust substrate mix comprises a 50:50 blend by weight of Hardwood Fuel Pellets and Soy Hulls.
Another common variation is to supplement hardwood sawdust with wheat bran.
This sort of supplemented sawdust substrate gives fast colonisation and high yields, but must be sterilised to eliminate competing fungi and bacteria which would otherwise thrive in the nutritious nitrogen-rich substrate.
Coprophilous fungi feed on vegetative matter which has been digested. Commonly this takes the form of spores being consumed by herbivores, which then germinate in the animal’s fertile dung. These species are not necessarily strictly tied to dung-based substrates however. For the home grower, there are a range of substrate options including brown rice flour, straw, compost, coco coir, and some growers have even fruited straight from packets of Uncle Ben’s rice!
A classic technique that uses brown rice flour (BRF) and vermiculite in wide mouth 1/2 pint jars. The vermiculite is hydrated, and then BRF is mixed in. The mixture is spooned into wide mouth jars, and topped with a layer of dry vermiculite to act as a barrier. Then the lid is secured, and the jars can be steam sterilised for 60-75 minutes. The huge advantage of this method is that you don’t need a pressure cooker or autoclave – you can steam sterilise on your stovetop.
The sterilised jars are left to cool, and then inoculated with either a spore syringe or liquid culture.
Coir, Vermiculite, Gypsum (CVG)
For beginners an ideal substrate for growing coprophilous mushrooms in bulk is CVG.
A compressed brick of coco coir – coconut fibres – is easily hydrated and pasteurised in a lidded bucket or cooler with boiling water. This is mixed with Vermiculite and a pinch of Gypsum and then mixed with spawn in a monotub or other fruiting vessel.
If you don’t fancy starting off with spawn and substrates, you could always start with a grow kit. The appeal of this method is of course that all the hard work making the spawn and sterilising the substrate has already been done. You just cut a hole in the block and mist with water periodically.
It’s as close to instant-gratification as this hobby can provide. So if you fancy skipping ahead to the fruiting stage, this can be a great way to do that.
Like all lifeforms, fungi have a set of needs that must be met in order to thrive (and produce mushrooms). The tricky part is meeting all the particular conditions of the particular species you’re trying to grow.
These conditions are:
Some species are quite forgiving, with quite wide parameters, whereas some species need all of their needs met precisely before they’ll fruit.
Oyster mushrooms fall on the forgiving end of the scale, and will give you good visual feedback on which of their needs are not being met adequately. For instance, leggy stems and small caps indicate that there’s too much CO2, so you should up the Fresh Air Exchange (FAE). If the edges of the caps are looking dark, crispy, or splitting, the humidity is too low. Lack of colour in Blue, Golden, or Pink Oysters could indicate a lack of light.
Oysters are fantastic because they’ll still produce delicious (if odd-looking) mushrooms even if their fruiting conditions are not perfect!
What You'll Need
What you’ll need to get started depends a lot on how you plan on growing your mushrooms. Broadly speaking, you’ll need:
- Spawn (or the supplies to make your own)
- Bulk substrate (e.g. straw, HWFP, sawdust, coco coir)
- A way of keeping up humidity (e.g. fruiting chamber, tent, or bag)
- Lab equipment for inoculation, or for working with liquid cultures or agar
- 70% Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA). There’s no way around it – if you’re growing mushrooms you need to keep yourself, your workspace, and your tools sanitised, and IPA is the perfect thing for the job.
If you’re keen to jump straight in, your best bet might be to buy some grain spawn that’s already colonised and get straight to spawning to bulk. We sell Grain Spawn Kits which have everything you need to produce your own fresh, high-quality spawn.
For the sterile lab work that this entails, you could start with a Still Air Box (SAB) which can greatly reduce your contamination rate. A Still Air Box in its most basic form is a box – usually a plastic storage box – with arm holes cut into it. This allows you to do your work in an environment isolated from the air currents in the room, which carry bacteria and mould spores. You can be as creative or as simple as you like with a SAB – my first one was made out of a banana crate and clingfilm!
A scalpel is a staple of all sorts of lab work, especially once you start working with agar.
An alcohol lamp is also a very useful tool for flame sterilising your needles and scalpels, which again will vastly improve your odds of avoiding contamination.
There are many different angles you can come at growing your own mushrooms. Before you begin you should have an idea of:
- What species you’d like to grow
- What its needs are
- How you plan on meeting those needs
- Are you going to make your own spawn, or buy colonised spawn?
- What substrate will you grow on?
- Where are you going to fruit the colonised substrate?
- What are you going to cook with them? (It’s almost easy to forget that it’s all about growing something tasty!)
Our Culture Library contains useful information about each gourmet and medicinal culture we stock, including cultivation parameters, preferred temperatures and humidity, preferred substrates and agar media, and more!