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Mushroom Cultivation at Home

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Mar 31, 2020

As of March 28th, 2020, over 204 million Americans were living under stay-at-home orders due to the ongoing evolution of the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world. While grocery store shelves across the country are still well-stocked (except for the periodic toilet paper shortage), many homeowners have personal resiliency in mind. Even if we only have a small front or back yard, many of us are aiming to grow some portion of our food this year. 

As the colder winter temperatures are finally starting to give way to the warmer months of spring, producing a part of your food supply has never seemed like a better idea. Mushroom cultivation is extremely easy to do, and it is a great way to get inexpensive yet delectable organic food for your kitchen. 

If social distancing and stay-at-home orders are beginning to drive you stir crazy, this guide explains the how-to of mushroom cultivation. It then goes on to expound on some of the benefits that come with growing your mushrooms.

How Gardens Help

During World War II, the possibility of food shortages became a national concern. As a result, over 20 million "Victory Gardens" were planted in households across the country. These backyards and front yard tiny garden plots eventually contributed over 40 percent of all the vegetables consumed in the country during the years of the war and played an important role in staving off any food shortage crisis.

Growing part of the food supply at home is not only practical, but it can also help connect people's homes and yards to their local ecosystems. Permaculture design principles and permaculture zones help to maximize the amount of food that can be sustainably grown. They can also increase the ecological resiliency of your home, increase soil fertility, and reduce erosion and stormwater runoff. Home scale mushroom cultivation not only increases your food security during these uncertain times but can also offer several critical ecological services to your yard.


Health Benefits of Mushrooms

In terms of nutritional and health benefits, mushrooms are essential sources of protein and fiber. Reducing our meat consumption contributes to a lower personal carbon footprint, and home-grown mushrooms can be substituted for meat in many standard recipes.  

Mushrooms are an essential source of several B vitamins. This vital vitamin complex plays a significant role in maintaining proper digestion, optimum brain function, maintaining good eyesight, increasing energy levels, growing red blood cells, and promoting overall cellular health. Selenium is abundant in almost all species of mushrooms. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that supports the immune system. 

Ecological Benefits of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are not only nutritionally healthy and delicious, but they also offer several critical ecological services. Most people associate mushrooms with the fruiting body, which is what we eat. The most important part of any fungi, however, is the vast network of mycelium, which is the vegetative part of a fungus. Mycelium is the white, "stringy" material that you often find in healthy forest soils. Paul Stamets, the author of the landmark book on fungi "Mycelium Running," talks at length on this subject. He says that one cubic inch of healthy soil might contain over 8 miles of mycelium, which acts as a network of living cells that connects soil ecosystems.

Mycelium networks also increase soil fertility, can help purify water, and can even break down dangerous contaminants such as heavy metals. Fungi are an essential part of any ecosystem. They act as decomposers and recyclers, breaking down organic matter and woody substances so that other plants and soil life can receive the nutrients they need to live. 

For homeowners that plant fruit and nut trees, mycelium networks can also play an essential role as a natural fertilizer. Certain types of fungi, known as mycorrhizae, can drastically increase the ability of plants and trees to access phosphorus and nitrogen, two of the essential nutrients for healthy plant growth. These fungi create a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the roots of trees and other plants, allowing the root system to access nutrients from farther away. During times of drought or in infertile soils, mycorrhizal networks can help your plants and fruit trees access nutrients and water from much farther afield.

Growing mushrooms in your backyard require only a small amount of "above-ground" space. The underground networks of mycelium and mycorrhizae, however, will offer enormous benefits to your entire yard.  

How to Collect Mushroom Spores for Cultivation 

After the underground mycelium network and the above-ground fruiting body (what we eat with edible mushrooms species), the third part of the mushroom is the spores. Spores are the tiny reproductive cells that essentially act as the seeds for fungi to reproduce. Most mushrooms species produce millions of spores on each fruiting body to increase the possibilities for reproduction. Generally, spores found on the underside part of the fruiting body. If you go into the woods and pick a mushroom that looks young, you can place it upright on top of a white piece of paper. After 24 hours or so, the fungus will release the millions of spores, making a unique "spore print" that can be incredibly artistic.

It is also possible to collect wild spores for cultivating mushrooms at home. However, you must know how to identify mushrooms species. Some species may look like an edible species, though they could be mildly toxic or even fatal if consumed by humans. If you already know how to identify wild, edible mushrooms such as morels, you can do the following. Pick a ripe mushroom, cut off the stem with a disinfected knife, place the mushroom head on a clean sheet of paper and cover it with a glass. After 24 hours, you should have millions of mushrooms spores that can be "seeded" into a growing medium for the mycelium to emerge.

mushrooms on tree

What Are the Common Mushroom Species? 

Most people who grow mushrooms at home prefer to purchase mushroom growing kits. These kits come with inoculated mushroom spawn, which is a substance that has visible mycelium growth already started. There are dozens of companies that specialize in collecting spawn in a sterile environment and creating mushroom spawn that is ready for homeowners to grow. For example, Shiitake mushroom spawn often comes as small wooden dowels that are inoculated with white strands of mycelium. These inoculated wooden dowels are then inserted into logs that homeowners can "harvest" from local forests. Over several months, the mycelium in the dowels will "colonize" the logs, and eventually, fruiting shiitake spores will emerge.

Commonly Grown Mushrooms Chart

Some of the most common edible mushroom species that are grown by homeowners (and whose spawn is sold by mushroom growing companies) are listed above.

Oyster Mushrooms at Home

What Is the Easiest Mushroom Species to Grow? 

For beginners, oyster mushrooms are widely considered to be the easiest species to grow. This type of mushroom fruits relatively quickly (between 3 and 6 months depending on growing conditions), and can be grown successfully in a dark room in your basement. Oyster mushrooms also can be grown in several different types of easy-to-source substrates, including corn cobs, straw, sawdust, cardboard, coffee grounds. 

Mushroom in Garden

You can also grow your mushrooms outside. Different species prefer different types of substrates - soil mixed with straw and woody debris are common. The benefit of cultivating outside, versus on logs, is that you can harvest them within a single growing season.  

How Long Does It Take to Cultivate Mushrooms at Home? 

The time needed to cultivate mushrooms at home will largely depend on the type of species and how you grow them. Some mushroom kits will be able to produce fruits in as little as 10 to 20 days, especially if you purchase mushroom spawn with large amounts of mycelium. For homeowners who self-collect mushroom spores from delectable species such as truffles might take over ten years before fruits emerge. Another commonly grown mushroom species, Shiitake mushrooms, take anywhere between 6 to 12 months for fruits to develop.

What Materials Do I Need to Cultivate Mushrooms at Home? 

To grow mushrooms at home, homeowners need:

  1. Mushroom spawn (best if purchased from a mushroom growing company if you are a beginner)
  2. A disinfected substrate (usually by boiling and drying in a clean atmosphere)
  3. A small space to grow the mushrooms 

For species like shiitake, certain species of logs are the best substrate and will need to be grown outside in a relatively shady, moist area of your yard. Other species, such as Lion's Mane mushrooms grow best with hardwood sawdust or wheat bran and can be grown inside.

Mushrooms Growing in Bag

Once you have all your materials, put the substrate in a large, clean plastic bag, and combine the substrate and the spawn. Then, hang the bags in a dark room. Small holes should be punched in the plastic bags, and after several months, fruiting heads should emerge.

Muhrooms in Basket

When and How Do You Harvest Mushrooms? 

The fruiting heads of mushrooms are ready to harvest when they appear from your growing substrate. For most species of mushrooms, you can look at the "veil" underneath the mushroom head. If it has broken and released its spores, the mushroom needs to be harvested immediately. Usually, it is best to harvest the mushroom right before the veil breaks so that the mushroom will store fresh for a more extended period.

Mushrooms and Pasta

How Can Mushrooms Be Stored or Preserved? 

You can easily keep your mushrooms fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week. One of the best advantages of growing your mushrooms at home is that you can preserve them in many ways. If you are lucky enough to have a large "flush" (harvest) of mushrooms, you can pickle, can, freeze, or dehydrate them. 

Dehydrating mushrooms is easy with a small, electric dehydrator. Once dried, you can keep them in airtight glass jars, and they will be ready to add to your favorite sauces, pasta, soups, and other recipes.

For more detailed guidance on storing mushrooms (and any other vegetable or fruit you can think of), we recommend the classic book, Putting Food By.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T05:48:32+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.