How to Grow Edible Mushrooms in Your Backyard

Edible Mushrooms At Home

Growing mushrooms is quite a different ball game than growing other vegetable plants, the fact that mushrooms are fungus, and not green plants, has a lot to do with it. Mushrooms don't contain chlorophyll, so they don't prepare their own food but depend on other plant material like wood, hay, straw and bark for their nutrition. Growing edible mushrooms at home can be challenging if you do everything from the start, but you don't have to. There are mushroom starter kits available in the market that will allow you to grow mushrooms indoors with ease. With some experience you can actually start growing mushrooms on logs and sawdust on your own.

This article will give detailed instructions on how to grow mushrooms at home using three mediums - the mushroom kit, hardwood logs and sawdust. The easiest of the three and the most recommended for beginners is of course the mushroom kit.

Some basics on growing mushrooms

If you are going to become a mushroom gardener it is best to equip yourself with a few terminologies that will be used in the world of mushroom growers.

1. Mycelium or mycelia - Mushrooms as we know them are actually the fruiting bodies of the actual fungi called mycelium. They develop in thread like colonies underground and develop fruiting structures, called mushrooms, above. "Mycelia spawn" needs to be inoculated or introduced into a growing medium to start the mushroom life cycle.

2. Substrate - This is the growing medium, you can think of it as the food for mushroom fungi. The usual substrates used are hardwood logs, finely crushed wood chips, sawdust, sterilized compost, straw, hay and bark. You would have seen a lot of backyard mushrooms growing freely on such mediums.

3. Spawn - This the sterilized fungi mycelia that needs to be introduced on the substrate. You will need to purchase spawn from some mushroom growing companies if you plan on growing mushrooms on your own substrate.

That's about all the terms you really need to be familiar with. Now we can get started with the actual task of growing mushrooms. There are three basic ways on how to grow mushrooms at home,

  1. Using a mushroom kit purchased from an online store or local retailers.
  2. On hardwood logs using mushroom spawn purchased from outside
  3. On wood chips and sawdust using mushroom spawn

Let's discuss each on of them in detail.

Mushroom Kits


Cultivating in mushroom kits

This is the simplest and definitely the most convenient way to grow edible mushrooms at home. All you need to do is order the mushroom kit from some online store (for example mushbox.com) and follow the instructions on watering and maintaining humidity.

Mushroom kits are basically substrate with pre-inoculated spawn. All you need to do is water it regularly, may be once or twice a day as per instructions and keep it in a nice humid location. If you take care not to dry it off, you will have a flush of mushrooms within two weeks (some varieties take longer). Each kit will produce close to three or four flushes of mushroom.

Keep these pointers in mind while dealing with mushroom kits

  1. Buttons, Portabella, Enoki, Morels and Shiitake mushrooms are popular varieties that are available in growing kits. Be specific about the variety you would like to grow. You can buy standard or giant size in some of the varieties.
  2. Before ordering the mushroom kit, check up on the amount of yield estimated per kit and the number of days it will take to start yielding. Some varieties take up to 10 - 15 weeks while some start fruiting within 2 weeks.
  3. When the mushroom kit arrives, check up to ensure there are no strange growths or moulds on the substrate. If you find anything out of place just ask for a replacement.
  4. Follow the instructions, available with the kit, to the word. You will mostly need to be careful about watering. Humidity plays a critical role in the growth of mushrooms.
  5. The appearance of small white pinheads on top of the substrate signals the start of fruiting. You should be even more careful about maintaining the humidity of the substrate during this time.
  6. If there is no fruiting within the set period of time, you might want to do something drastic like place the kit in the refrigerator to force the fruiting process. Check up with the vendor if there is no yield after the said period of time elapses.

Some mushroom kits will produce close to 5 pounds of yield within a period of a few weeks. Most kits are good for three or four flushes of harvest after which you would need to dispose them off. You can leave them in the garden or in your compost pile and you might be rewarded with a bonus flush. Kits are pretty popular to grow morel mushrooms at home, just do a google search on "morel mushroom kits" to get a listing of online portals selling them.

Growing mushrooms on logs

Logs as substrate for mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms do well on substrates like hardwood logs. Cottonwood, beech, birch, oaks, willows or other non-aromatic wood can be used for this purpose. Avoid the use of redwood, eucalyptus or cedar as they contain chemicals that inhibit mycelium growth. You can purchase a nice length of hardwood from any of the furniture making outlets or carpentry shops.

If you are planning on buying spawn you can contact western biologicals, Canada (604-856-3339) or mushroompeople, Summertown TN (931-964-2200). Check out this webpage attra.org for more references and contacts.

The process of growing mushrooms on logs can be summarized as below

  1. Purchase some mushroom spawn from an online store. The spawn will come in the form of dowels and they are quite cheap. A package containing 100 dowels will cost you close to $12.
  2. Drill some holes into the hardwood logs which run a few inches deep.
  3. Place the mushroom spawn dowels into these holes and cap the hole with some wax.
  4. Water the log amply and keep it in a humid location.

This is all that you would need to do and then you wait for a few months or an year depending on the variety you are growing. You will need to keep the log moist during this period, dry conditions will cause the mycelium to die off.

If you provide suitable conditions, the mycelium will infiltrate the hardwood in scores. If you are wondering how to grow shiitake mushrooms indoors, all you need is a cellar or a basement to store your logs in a moist condition. It will colonize in a thread like structure by eating into the wood. Within a few months when the mycelia has infiltrated most of the substrate, it will begin fruiting. Small pinheads will begin to appear on top of the wood. You should keep the wood wet and moist during this time to help the growth.

The pinheads usually develop into full mushrooms within a couple of days or a week. You are now ready to start harvesting. Your patience will pay off greatly as this log will produce fruit for close to two to four years given the right conditions.

If you buy fresh hardwood you will not need to sterilize it but if the wood has been soiled it may be contaminated by other fungi which will compete with mycelia for growth, so the wood may require to be sterilized before being used as a substrate.

Continue reading part 2 for more on info on how to grow your own mushrooms - Growing Edible Mushrooms Part 2