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Mushroom Farming 101

Mushrooms are an excellent home-grown food for preppers: they can also be grown indoors, seasons and weather conditions do not have bearing on your production, and they are nutritious.

They’re a wonderful addition to your home-cooked meals, and mushroom growing can be a hobby or business. There is much to recommend mushroom farming for the average prepper or homesteader. Read on to  learn more!

Mushroom Basics

Mushrooms are fungi, a group of eukaryotic organisms. While mushrooms are considered plants, their characteristics say otherwise: they have no roots or leaves and therefore do not produce food of their own. They do however live by feeding off other plants and animals. Mushrooms have special cells that digest almost anything.

Do I need Seeds?

No. Mushrooms are grown from what is known as spawn. You can pick up spawn from any nursery or agro dealer. You can also buy it online from sites like Amazon.

If you are not ready to start your project, worry not, as spawn can be stored in the refrigerator for almost a month at a temperature of 37F (2C) to 41F (5C).

What type of mushrooms should I grow?

The main types of mushrooms to choose from are:

  • Oyster mushrooms- (Plertotus ostrestus) – grown on straw.
  • White Button Mushroom- (Agricus Bisporus) – grown on composted manure and straw.
  • Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) – grown on wood and sawdust.

The techniques of growing Oyster and White Button mushroom are the same, typically in plastic bags and kept indoors. Shiitake mushrooms require logs and are grown outside.

Availability of the growing medium e.g. straw, wood or compost manure is another important factor that should be taken into consideration.  In this article, we’ll focus on Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms.

 

 

oyster mushroom

Photo above: oyster mushrooms

 

white button mushrooms

Photo above: white button mushrooms

 

shiitake mushrooms

Photo above: shiitake mushrooms

Where Should I Grow my Mushrooms?

Oyster and White Button mushrooms need to be grown in places where elements like light, humidity and temperature can be controlled. A room in your house, your garage or your basement may all good places to do it.

Shiitake mushrooms, on the other hand, are grown by inserting spawn into logs and are kept outdoors under a shade. Any trees that have been cut into smaller pieces, like those normally used as fire wood and for fencing will do.

How to Grow Oyster and White Button Mushrooms

One of the main ingredients used to grow mushrooms are a substrate, or medium. A good source for straw is wheat straw or rye, with an average cost for of about $10-12 from your local garden or feed supplier. The ease at which mushroom cells break down straw makes it an excellent medium.

It takes time and practice to be able to grow your own mushrooms. With experience you will be able to tweak your growing methods and skills and adapt them to your needs and specific environment.

Let’s talk about the steps for growing indoor mushrooms.

Pasteurize your Straw

Straw is essentially dried stalks of grain left over after the main crop has been harvested.

Do not be alarmed by the fancy looking word “pasteurize!” You should have come across this word on your fresh milk carton. Pasteurizing is essentially the reduction of the amount of organisms that would otherwise compete with your mushrooms for substrate and by pasteurizing the straw we will aid faster growth.

Pasteurizing straw requires you to have the following tools:

  • Lawn mower
  • 55 Gallon Drum
  • Large laundry bag or basket
  • Thermometer

The process is quite simple, by simply heat water to 160F and soaking your straw in it for an hour all the unwanted bacteria should die. Ensure that you do not exceed this time limit, as you will kill the good bacterial that your mushroom needs to grow.

  1. Cut the straw into small pieces about 2- 3 inches in length taking great care of those precious fingers as you use the lawn mower blade to cut the straw. Holding the straw with a hedge cutter will ensure your hands are kept safe. Take extra care not to get the hedge cutter to close to the blades.
  2. Make sure that have steady heat source underneath your drum and test that the water is between 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can dry logs or coal for this.
  3. Test your ability to keep the temperature stable  while carrying out the pasteurizing process.
  4. Put your straw into a laundry basket and keep it submerged for an hour. Use your thermometer to make sure the temperature stays constant.
  5. Remove the straw from the basket and lay on a cool clean surface. Ensure that the straw has cooled to less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit before you decide to add spawn to it. Using the straw while still too hot will kill the mycelium required for your mushroom to grown. Below is a link of the process below:

The Inoculation Process

Inoculation is another fancy word that mushroom growers like to throw around. It is simply the mixing of your pasteurized straw with the spawn. For this step, you will need:

  1. Food grade plastic bags,
  2. 8 inch Carpenter’s nail

Pack the straw in with the spawn in adding generous amounts evenly as you fill you plastic bag. Ensure you compress it well but not too tight.

Next, poke holes into you plastic bag. The holes are where the mushroom will grow out.

The Growth Process

Hang your bags in a cool dark room. Ensure that that the temperature is constantly between 65 to 75 F.

It is very important not to disturb the bags during the growth process and to monitor the bags to ensure that they remain moist. If you observe your bags are getting dry use a spray bottle to moisten them through the small holes you made using the nail.

After two weeks, the spawn should have taken over the straw and by the 8th week, you should have some mushrooms to pick.

A Word of Caution

Ensure that your bag does dry out. This will kill your spawn. Too much moisture could also cause mold to form.

If you notice color spots in your bag in the form of blue and red colors then that means contamination and it should be thrown away immediately.

Mixing hydrated cow manure at a ratio of 3:1 with your spawn will allow for optimum results.

Seasons

Since Oyster and White Button mushrooms are grown indoors, the outside weather conditions do not really matter. It has been found, though, that you can grow different species easier in different times of the year.

The table below is a general guide of the optimum times to grow particular species

SPRING EARLY  SUMMER SUMMER & FALL WINTER
Oyster Shiitake Chanterelles Shaggy mane
Morel Elm Button Enokitake
Turkey Tails Garden Giant Maitake
Reishi Pioppino

Yield

A 10lb. bag of straw and spawn should net you 1.5-2lb of fresh mushrooms.

While plastic bags are the commonly used vessel in the growing of mushrooms, one should bear in mind that other vessels can be used like buckets, washing baskets as well as glass jars.

Growing Mushrooms from Logs

First, use the right type of logs. If you want to use logs to grow your mushrooms, some type of wood like pine, cedar and fir should be avoided as they have inherent fungicide that will interfere with your mushroom growth. You will grow Shiitake Mushroom using this method.

Tips on Gathering Logs

 

Advertise in local papers for logs, farmers and other people that would have excess trees or wood. Some will respond and be willing to deliver. Contact tree service companies. They should have tons of free logs they are willing to give away after a job.

When gathering logs, ensure you know who’s land you are gathering from, as they may have been left behind for ecological purposes. Hauling logs away without permission could have legal ramifications across different states.

Also be careful while picking up logs as they may be home to a snake or two.

Select healthy logs that are about 3 or 7 inches in diameter and about 40 to 50 inches long. Caution should be taken in handling, as the bark should not be damaged. Your logs should have a bark of moderate thickness. Scrubbing your logs with a brush is also a method that will get rid of unwanted dirt on the log but again, ensure that no damage is done to the log itself.

The best species of logs to use for growing mushrooms are:

  • Oak
  • Hornbeam
  • Sweet gum
  • Hard maple
  • Iron wood

 

A general rule to remember is that the harder the wood, the longer the life span. Softer logs will have shorter harvest times and life span. Before inoculating, ensure that the logs are moist. If they are dry, soak them in clean water for 2 days and then ensure that the bark is dry before inoculation.

Use a power drill to drill holes into the logs. You will want to drill to about an inch deep with a 5/6 drill bit. The space between the holes should be about 6 inches apart and in a grid pattern. After drilling holes, ensure that you add spawn into the holes immediately. Pack your sawdust spawn into the holes with gentle pressure, and fill the completely.

Coat all your holes with melted hot cheese wax using a brush. Make sure the wax is not too hot preventing your spawn from burning. Your logs should be carefully stacked in a greenhouse, open shed or under the shade provided by trees. You may also want to cover these logs with shade cloth to keep animals away. Sprinkle water over your logs while you stack them to ensure you have good moisture content.

Keeping your logs hydrated is the main upkeep task that a mushroom farmer has for the 9 months month long growing phase. There are two methods to keep your logs moist. You can use a sprinkler to wet the logs for about 3 hours twice a week, or soak them in water for about 10-12 hours once every two weeks.

Remember that keeping your logs moist is critical, as dry logs account for most failed attempts. Assessing the moisture content of your logs is essential and it should be maintained at 50-60%. Ensure that you allow bark to dry between your moisturizing processes.

Keeping the logs off the ground and dirt will also help you achieve better results.  Use bricks or unwanted logs as the base of your stack. You should expect to harvest in fall or early spring of the following year.

One can force fruits before the fall by soaking the logs in cool water for 24 hours. You should then have mature mushroom 7 days after.

By arranging your logs into several different stacks, preferably 6 tiers high, you can have an all-year harvest. Soaking each stack for 24 hours every 6-8 weeks will allow you to have continual harvest all year round.

You can see how to grow mushroom from logs in the video below.

Yield

Expect an average sized log to produce ¼ lb. of mushrooms per fruiting and 3/4lb. over its full lifetime.

Mushroom Growing Kits

A simpler method of growing mushrooms is using pre mixed mushroom kits. These contain bags of spawn already inoculated with straw. They require minimal effort. Mushroom growth kits can be bought online or at your nearest agro store.

There are generally  two kinds of grow kits. Mushrooms that normally arrive as a block are typically Shiitake mushrooms, as it would have been inoculated the same way you would manually inoculate a log. Here are a few tips to get you fresh mushrooms in a few weeks using a kit:

  • Unwrap the mushroom block and freeze for two days. This simulates fall conditions when temperatures drop. This process is similar to forced fruiting discussed in the “growing from logs” section.
  • Open the plastic and place the kit in a dish with water using a weight to keep it submerged.
  • Remove the kit from the water after 24 hours and place on a tray.
  • Cover the kit with the humidity tent provided with the kit and poke holes in it.
  • Moisten the kit with water from a spray bottle a few times a day.
  • For the block to continue producing fruit, after harvesting remove the humidity tent for two weeks and repeat the above process.

 

Ensure that your kit is out of direct sunlight. You should be ready to harvest your first mushrooms in just a little over 7 days.

Now, growing kits have their advantages:

Time

Since the mushrooms are already inoculated, it requires less time to make ready for growing. All you really need to do is place and moisten it. The time it takes to grow is often shorter, as you should have mushrooms within 4 to 5 weeks time.

Variety

You will probably be able to enjoy more variety from mushroom kits than you would from trying to find specific spawn from your local agro store.

Price

Since spawn is normally for advanced growers and mushroom farmers it is generally expensive considering the fact that growth kits are already inoculated.

Longevity

Grow kits will produce mushrooms every few weeks for a couple of months. This gives a nice steady supply of mushrooms.

Mushroom Growing Mistakes

For anyone attempting to grow mushrooms for the first time you are bound to make some mistakes. Try to look out for some of the following common mistakes made by novice growers.

Not maintaining the right moisture level.

Keeping your mushrooms either too wet or dry is one of the biggest mistakes. Attention should be paid that the growing mushrooms are kept moist, but not soaking wet. Piercing a hole on the bottom of the container will solve the problem of excess water retention.

Using inferior spawn.

Bad or poor quality spawn will lead to failure or severely reduced yield. Ensure that the spawn is bought from a credible source. See the link provided earlier in the article.

Curiosity.

Stop touching it! Poking, peeking and generally tampering with your vessel while trying to check for changes could easily spoil the mushrooms.

Dirty Grow Area

Ensure that the environment in which you grow your mushrooms is clean. Poor and unsanitary conditions will lead to foreign organisms invading your project and this will spell certain doom for your nascent crop.

 

Final Word

Projects like mushroom growing make for a rewarding and healthy source of food, viable income, and a fun hobby. We would love to hear how your mushroom growing adventure goes, and if you have any tips or suggestions please leave them in the comments below! That will certainly be helpful to our community! Thanks for reading!

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