How To Grow Your Own Mushrooms
At one time, fungi were classed as plants, presumably because they grew in the same places as plants, and their structure above and below ground looked similar.
Fungi’s mycelium, made of threadlike hyphae, looked like roots and the mushroom above looked like a plant’s fruit.
But fungi don’t contain chlorophyll as plants do, and fungi can’t form cellulose, the substance that plants used to strengthen their cell walls.
Fungi produce the polysaccharide glycogen as a storage compound, whereas plants from glucose and carbohydrates to store energy. So fungi are not plants.
Like insects and crustaceans, the cell walls of fungi contain chitin. Like animals, they feed on organic nutrients.
Fungi can also excrete enzymes to extract and absorb nutrients from the soil, resembling the digestive system of humans and animals more closely than plants.
But fungi are not animals–they form their kingdom within the spectrum of all living beings.
The most common form of the symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant’s roots.
Mushrooms Growing In Yard
Mushrooms are one of the healthiest foods around. They are high in protein and fiber, packed with vitamins and minerals, and with little or no fat. Many species are easy to grow in the garden, on a balcony or patio, or even indoors.
Mushrooms are increasingly popular. Where once supermarket shelves held only button mushrooms, today you can buy lots of delicious species and shapes.
Pearl oyster mushrooms were the first to be available, followed by shiitake, king oyster mushrooms, and exotic varieties like golden oyster, pink oyster, and beech.
It is worth growing them yourself if you want to have really fresh mushrooms, as they last only a few days or a week after harvesting.
This is true of species like lion’s mane, sheathed woodtuft, and nameko, which cannot really be stored at all and should be prepared and consumed within a few days of being picked.
A Fine Addition To Your Vegetable Garden
Mushrooms grow in the dark shade where plants like lettuce, tomatoes, or strawberries don’t thrive. If you fancy growing mushrooms, spots behind the garden shed, beneath hedges, or beside the compost heap are ideal.
Mushrooms that grow on logs will be happy in shady parts of your garden, among large leaf hostas, ferns, and other shrubs, and can be harvested several times a year.
Cold frames are ideal for cultivating mushrooms in summer and autumn, as they have been cleared and are no longer needed for your young vegetable plants.
Thankfully, purchasing mushroom spawn is not a problem nowadays, as there are plenty of suppliers of spawn, pre-inoculated growing media or substrates, and growing kits, which are an easy introduction to smooth cultivation.
Which Mushrooms Are Best For Growing At Home?
As with the plants in your garden, there are mushroom varieties that are uncomplicated and thrive almost anywhere, forgiving of minor mistakes or carelessness.
Shiitake and pearl oyster mushrooms are like this and so are ideal for beginners.
Generally, only saprophytes are easy to grow, since they feed on dead organic matter.
Growing fungi that form a mycorrhiza only in symbiosis with specific plants or wood requires considerable effort, with no guarantee of success.
Although research has been conducted into the commercial cultivation of ceps and truffles, for example, there are still no marketable processes.
Species that grow through their growing medium quickly to form fruiting bodies are ideal for beginners.
Those classed as primary decomposers are straightforward, as they grow directly on fresh straw and wood without the need to ferment or compost the growing medium or substrate.
Ideal mushrooms for beginners include oyster mushrooms, especially the pearl oyster and the closely related pink oyster, golden oyster, Indian oyster, and pale oyster species. e king oyster mushroom is higher maintenance.
Primary decomposers like shiitake sheathed woodtuft and wine cap, which grow easily on straw bales, are suitable for an initial foray into mushroom growing.
Once you have some experience with these species, you can try your hand at some more demanding varieties, like beech mushrooms and jelly ear.
Mushrooms That Are Harder To Grow
Of the edible mushrooms, the button mushroom is especially difficult to cultivate, as it requires extremely precise temperature control to get the mycelium to grow through the substrate.
Crucially, it needs a ‘casing soil’ to keep the substrate moist, which must not dry out, but neither should it be too wet.
If you want to try your hand at growing button mushrooms, it’s best to use pre-spawned substrate or growing kits, though peat-free ones are hard to find.
Since button mushrooms are readily available all year round at a reasonable price, you should carefully consider whether they are worth the effort.
The poplar mushroom and lion’s mane require plenty of care over a long cultivation time, as reishi.
What You Need: Tools And Equipment
You don’t need any special tools to grow edible mushrooms. You’ll already have what you need around your house or garden.
With a little handiwork, you can also build mushroom-growing sheds and polytunnels.
Let’s Get Started
Before buying or ordering mushroom spawn or a ready-made growing kit, have all the tools and equipment to hand.
This way, you’ll be able to make a start right away with the mushroom spawn, whether as grain spawn, plug spawn, or mycelium patches.
If grown at home, mushrooms thrive best in ready-made growing mediums (substrates).
For this, you’ll need the following items:
- Containers Pots and plastic bags.
- A large bucket or tub For mixing the mushroom spawn and substrate ready for decanting into the growing containers.
- Latex gloves Wearing these ensures that the mushroom spawn can’t be contaminated by germs on your hands or mixed with different spores. If you’re growing several types of mushrooms, always wear disposable latex gloves.
- Knife and pruning shears For cutting and slitting bags and harvesting mushrooms.
- Mini greenhouse or mushroom growing bags Warmth-loving species grow better in a mini greenhouse (typically designed for the cultivation of young plants) or in mushroom bags.
- Ball sprinkler and/or spray can For wetting the substrate.
Growing In The Garden
The following items are also required for growing mushrooms in the garden:
- Wheelbarrow For transporting straw bales and logs.
- Saw A pruning saw with a long blade or a power saw is needed to saw logs for inoculating with grain spawn.
- Strong adhesive tape Gaer or duct tape helps to cover mushroom spawn in cracks and protect against moisture.
- Staple gun and staples For attaching mycelium patches, schedules, and labels.
- Plastic sheets or tarpaulin Straw bales should be covered for long periods of rain.
- A sturdy plastic sheet should be sufficient.
- Labels: Attach labels to the bales or logs so that you know which mushroom species is growing where after inoculation. The labels will also help you classify any foreign or cultivated mushrooms after the long colonization.
- Spade, garden fork, and rake For setting up a mushroom bed.
- Watering can or shower hose for watering
- Rain barrel For soaking logs.
- In practice – The growing medium or substrate
The Growing Medium Or Substrate
All mushrooms suitable for home cultivation grow as primary or secondary decomposers and thrive on wood, straw, wood chippings, bark humus, compost, or special growing mediums. Any base in which an organism, like a fungus, grows is technically known as a substrate.
Growing mushrooms on logs are easy, and with most mushrooms, you can also achieve a relatively high yield this way. Since logs match the mushrooms’ natural habitat, they’re easier to care for than growing them on bales of straw, for instance.
Once in your garden, the logs can be harvested for several years.
Suitable Tree Species: Logs from deciduous trees with relatively hard wood, such as beech, oak, hornbeam, maple, alder, ash, and chestnut, are the most suitable for growing edible mushrooms.
Mushrooms can also be grown on so woods like birch and poplar, but the wood is broken down faster, so the harvesting period is shorter.
Wood And Bark Quality
The logs should be around 1m (3’) long and approximately 25–35cm (10–14”) in diameter. Shiitake grow better on thinner logs (10–15cm (4–6”) in diameter).
Logs from trees that have been felled while dormant in winter are ideal. They contain less water and the sapwood beneath their bark contains more sugars to promote mycelium growth.
The bark should be intact and undamaged, as this protects the wood and thus the mycelium from drying out and prevents harmful fungi and pests from finding their way into the log.
Freshly cut logs have to be stored for four weeks in order to break down the antibodies in the wood that inhibit mushroom growth. This is true of hardwoods like oak and chestnut, which contain lots of tannins.
However, it’s important to make sure that the wood isn’t stored away for too long. At the point at which it is inoculated, it should not have been stored for over four months.
Where To Buy
Finding suitable logs for growing mushrooms is far from easy, especially as they are heavy, bulky, and tricky to transport.
Try approaching a local forestry office or parks department, farmers, horticulturists, or landscapers, as they may prove an excellent source of logs. You’ll need a trailer or van to transport them.
Straw bales are perfect for quickly harvesting a large number of mushrooms in summer, all from a small space in your garden.
Since a bale isn’t as firm or as hard as wood, the mushroom mycelium grows through it faster. Straw bales are lighter than logs, too–especially when dry–and easy to handle.
The Straw Quality
Straw consists of the dead, dry stalks of cereal crops, which belong to the family of grasses. For mushroom growing, it shouldn’t come from fields that are conventionally cultivated.
Unlike straw from organic farming, the conventionally grown straw will have been treated with fungicides (fungal poisons), which protect the grains from diseases but would also hinder or even prevent the growth of cultivated mushrooms.
Straw from every type of cereal crop (e.g. rye, wheat, or barley) is suitable for growing mushrooms, the sole exception being oat straw. Hay–i.e. freshly dried grass–is unsuitable, as it goes moldy.
After harvesting and threshing, straw is pressed into bales in the fields, unless it is chopped up and processed into mulch.
Large round or square bales weigh several hundred kilograms and are too unwieldy for growing mushrooms. Instead, look for small, compact bales that are easy to carry.
Not All Straws Are Same Quality
The straw should be fresh and dry. Old, damp, or stale-smelling bales are not suitable. Bales compacted at high pressure contain more material, thus enabling greater yields.
There’s an easy trick to determine whether straw is fresh and suitable for mushroom growing: the stalks must be pale and golden or light brown and must not simply break or crumble when you bend them or run your finger over them. e bales should also contain as few weeds as possible, as these go moldy more easily.
Where To Buy Straw
Straw bales can be bought directly from stables, animal feed stores, or some garden centers, or ordered online. Make sure that the straw is organic and that no hay is mixed in.
Straw pellets are made from shredded straw that has been compacted into small bars under high pressure.
It’s normally used as bedding for horses and donkeys, as it’s less dusty and can absorb much more moisture than normal straw.
Because of their high density, straw pellets give a higher yield than a comparable quantity of loose straw. The pellets have to swell up in the water and be opened up in a fermentation process.
Mix the pellets with water and leave until they ferment–this will take about seven days. As this gives off quite a smell, it’s best done outside. e pellets can then be mixed with grain spawn, almost like potting soil, and decanted into containers or bags.
Where To Buy Straw Pellets
Straw pellets are available from sellers of mushroom spawn and accessories, but you can get them more cheaply from feed manufacturers and horse owners or stables.