How to grow  mushrooms

Growing Oyster Mushroom can be an involved process. So, this is just an overview. More detailed posts on the whole process will follow soon.  Oyster mushrooms are the easiest of all mushrooms to grow, so we'll focus on them.

There is a learning curve involved with mushroom growing.  However, the post-shift climate will be the perfect environment for them to thrive in.

Knowing how to grow mushrooms should be useful during the first couple of years when your vegetables may not produce significant yields. This is especially true for those who may not be in the direct vicinity of volcanoes but still find their presence making for much gloomier skies than other parts of the world.

Before we go any further let's look at what a mushroom is all about.

Life Cycle of a Mushroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mushroom releases millions of spores instead of seeds to propagate itself.

 

Once the  mushroom spores are given a humid environment to grow in, they transform into cotton thread structures called mycelium.

 

This is what the growth cycle of a mushroom looks like  ------->

 

 

The mycelium is the equivalent to a plants roots. It spreads out digesting what it can (mainly fibre), and then fruits mushrooms when the conditions are right.

 

 

"Primordia" is the bunching up of mycelium that goes on to form mushrooms.

 

 

The primordia turns from little pins into mushrooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cloning Mushrooms

A  mushroom is actually made out of the same cells that form its mycelium.

If a small piece of mushroom or mycelium is cut and placed in a humid environment it will sprout more mycelium and produce mushrooms. This is the equivalent of cutting a stem from a plant and growing a second plant from it.

Cloning mushrooms will form the bulk of the work involved with growing mushrooms. Before buying mushroom culture from a vendor, we'll practice cloning on store bought mushrooms. (More on this in later posts)

 

How mushroom "seedlings" (i.e. spawn) are started

This is the "seedling stage" of mushroom growing. What you get from this stage is called spawn. Mycelium is initially grown in grain from a culture syringe you would buy.  The grain can be anything that at least has the bran on it. Any grain with its hull is fine as well. Mushrooms eat fibre, so polished rice will not work. Seeds from wild grass and plants is something you will be able to harvest in the aftertime. But before the shift,  wild bird seed is a cheaper alternative than grass seed or any other grain. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruiting the mushrooms

The grain spawn can eventually be added to straw (not hay), or any other brown plant material like yard debris (brown leaves) or lawn clippings that have been dried to a straw-like color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative # 2

Instead of grain spawn, wooden dowels with mycelium spawn can also be purchased

(or made). They are meant to be drilled into logs and fruited. Conifer wood cannot be used.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What mushrooms can I grow?

Growing mushrooms can be a year round operation in the aftertime

There are warm weather and cool weather mushrooms. Warm weather ones prefer 20 - 30 oC (70 - 86 oF) to fruit. Cool weather ones prefer 10-20 oC (50 - 70 oF) to fruit.

In the vegetative state, when the mycelium is spreading through the grain jars, logs, or straw baskets, it prefers room temperature.

The two species I am working with at the moment are:

 

Pink Oyster (Pleurotus djamor): Warm weather (click for growing requirements)         

& Blue Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus var. columbinus): Cool weather (click for growing requirements)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS:

i)There is a website dedicated to growing mushrooms that I rely on.

www.shroomery.org

Should you choose to grow mushrooms, you will find that website & its forum tremendously helpful.

ii)I am not an expert mushroom grower. I have only started on this endeavour for the last 3 months or so. So keep in mind that I'm still a novice.

iii)The following link does a good job of demonstrating how to grow mushrooms . I highly recommend it.

oyster mushroom journal for beginner

iv)There are two types of mushrooms.

1)Mushrooms that break down brown plant materials (like oyster mushrooms) &

2)Mushrooms that need dung. Portobello/white button mushrooms fall under the second category.

The two types are grown in different ways.

 

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Mushrooms provide a good source of food for when it is dark and hard to grow anything else.  This in fact may be one of the most important home grown foods in hard times.  Wonder how much protein mushrooms can provide over meat or potatoes?  Must be good nutrition growing these from scratch.  This is great info thanks!

Before I get deeper into oyster mushroom growing there are two very important things to discuss.

1) Allergies: Oyster mushrooms produce heavy amounts of spores. So you must not grow them indoors; and most certainly not in your bedroom or anywhere else you plan to be around for a long time. If you already have respiratory problems, this may not be suitable for you.

People can adopt an allergy to this. It usually takes a couple of months to show up--producing flu-like syptoms (without the runny nose). Once you get this allergy then you will have to stop growing oyster mushrooms all together. Here is a report on people showing these allergy symptoms from a mushroom factory: Link: oyster mushroom indoor health risk

So when growing oyster mushrooms, grow them outdoors. This will ensure you dont have the spore load circulating inside your house. Grow them in a makeshift tent, in the open, garage, or anywhere outside the house.

Also, to minimize the amount of spores released, pick them when they're young (will discuss this later).

(I myself dont have any outdoor space. So, I too need to come up with a way to minimize contact with their spores).

2) Pressure Cooker: A pressure cooker is essential for this hobby. When we first prepare the mushroom "spawn" ( i.e. mushroom seedlings), the grain or wood dowels used for this purpose, need to be sterilized. If mushroom culture is started in unsterilized jars of grain, you will have a whole host of other germs and contaminants in the jar. (Think rotten food). Unfortunately boiling water does not kill all the contaminants.

The only way to sterilize spawn jars is to use the pressure cooker. Under pressure, pressure cookers will reach temperatures of 121 C (250 F), which is sufficient to kill all germs that would impede the growth of the mushroom.

There are three stages to growing mushrooms at home. Here is stage 1.

Stage 1: Plating (agar substitute).

In gardening terms, this is the equivalent to sprouting seeds. The end result of this stage is getting a mushroom culture growing in a small container. Usually this stage is done using a substance called agar. But we'll substitute that with any grain of your choice (as long it has its bran and/or hull still intact).

The container in the picture is only 1 inch deep and 5 inches wide.

 Later, you will transfer this culture to several jars of grain to make mushroom spawn.

Required items for this stage:

i)Pressure Cooker,

ii)Candle

iii)Scalpel (or the blade from a utility knife),

iv)Small tupperware,

v)Aluminum foil

vi)Grain

vii)Disinfectant sprays & wipes (highly recommended) , and

viii)Transparent storage tote (aka Still Air Box)

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What is a Still Air Box (SAB):

When we work with mushrooms, we want to give it as clean an environment as possible. Our hands, the air, and our breath all act to distribute germs around. A still air box attempts to provide us with a work area  where the air is essentially still. It prevents our breath from directly hitting the mushroom or drafts carrying germs over to the mushroom culture being worked on.

All it is, is a transparent storage tote with two holes for your arms to get through. You would be doing "mushroom work" inside the tote. When not in use, the holes are kept shut. Get one that is atleast 40 + quarts/litres.

I dont have power tools to drill holes through. So I just taped a sheet of plastic on top and cut two holes through.

Here's one at work

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Step 1: Grain Preparation

-Soak your grain in water overnight. I'm using grass seed(most  easily accessible in the aftertime) & wild bird seed (cheapest option before the shift) for this demonstration.

- Cook the grain in water for 15 minutes on a high heat setting.

- Rinse and let it sit in the colander for 30 minutes.

- Crush the grain in a mortar and pestle. (No need to exert yourself here)

- Apply a thin layer of the grain in the tupperware

Important -- When in the container, the grain should not be water logged; but just hydrated and moist. Mushrooms dont colonize substrates that are waterlogged. If you tilt the container and see water seeping over, put the grains back in the colander to let sit. (But not for too long that the grains become dry)

-Shut the tupperware. Cover it in aluminum foil. Cover the utility knife blade/scalpel in foil as well.

-Place the contents in a pressure cooker and sterilize.

-Once you're done, let the pressure cooker sit over night to cool. Or you can rush the process and remove the contents to free the pressure cooker for another batch. Do not remove the blade from inside the foil.

(Repeatedly rushing the cooling process during the winter may cause glass jars to crack prematurely)

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How to use a Pressure Cooker to sterilize?

Cover contents in foil.

Place a rack in the pressure cooker (should come with the pressure cooker) & place the contents on top.

The contents should not block any of the pressure relief nozzles on the lid.

Pour water so that it is just touching the bottom of the contents.

 The water level needs to be atleast 3-4 inches deep as well. This is so that the cooker doesnt run dry.

The water level must be below 2 inches of the containers' opening. Else, water may splash into your jars/tupperware and mess up the water content.

 Close the Pressure Cooker, turn the heat on high & take the weight piece off the cooker.

Let the steam vent through for a couple of minutes and place the weight/rocker back on.

Wait for the rocker to rock or the weight to lift, and turn the heat on a setting so that the rocker is just barely rocking. On my pressure cooker this is  close to the lowest setting.

Sterilize for 90 min.

Initially, take the cooker off the stove and check the water level every 30-40 minutes. Resume the countdown to 90 min, after the cooker has become pressurized again.

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Step 2: Cloning

(Some of the pictures may show work being done in open air. They are only for demonstration purposes. All work done with mushrooms must be done inside a still air box)

When starting off, we'll practice cloning a store bought mushroom. Buy any mushroom  (link: http://www.mushrooms.ca/about/varieties.aspx) you can. Make sure they look fresh.

(After doing this step once, you can repeat the process with a culture syringe from a vendor).  

 

-Close all windows and turn the air conditioning off. This is to slim the chances of letting air borne contaminants from landing on your work. Hygiene and Sanitation are extremely important.

-Wash hands from elbows down thoroughly.

-Wipe the inside of the storage tote/ still air box & under the lid with warm soapy water. This will get contaminants to stick on the inside instead of falling over your work

-Close the tote and let sit for 20 minutes

Spray your work area with a disinfectant spray (recommended for beginners)

-Wipe down your tupperware and surrounding work space with disinfectant wipes. (Once you master these routines, you will be able to get away without doing them. Until then, it is best to minimize early failures)

-Place your clean grain filled tupperware, foil covered blade and mushroom on a clean piece of foil or disinfectant wipe inside the storage tote.

-Light a candle outside the still air box. Dont bring it in the box.

-Change into a new t-shirt & wash hands from elbows down for at least 30 seconds again.

               

                      The rest of the work happens inside the still air box

-Loosen the lids to the tupperware, so that you can open and close them quickly.

-Tear open the mushroom to reveal clean tissue. Dont touch the inside.

-Holding the desired mushroom piece in one hand, unwrap the blade from the foil.

-Place the cutting edge of the blade in the candle fire for 5 seconds.

-Cool the blade's edge by pressing it on the grain inside the tupperware. Close the tupperware.

-Cut a clean wedge from the inside of the mushroom about the size of 1 grain of rice, and place it in the tupperware. One container could hold 3 wedges.

-After some days, the tupperware will look something like the picture on the left.If you look closely, you will see 5 distinct sectors. (5 wedges were place in this container)

-Once you see growth like this, transfer 1 cm2 wedges to a couple of sterilized "grain-layered" tupperware again. This time place 1 wedge per container. The wedges must be taken from the outer circumference of the mycelium & must be done before the mycelium envelopes the entire container. Label your containers.

- After some days, this picture below is what you will get:

If you cloned the culture from a store bought mushroom, dont bother fruiting it. Mushroom farms/factories stretch their mycelium culture by cloning it over and over, until the mycelium culture hits "old age". Only once the mycelium hits old age do they attempt to fruit the mushrooms. They do this to get the most bang for their buck. A store bought mushroom will form mycelium but the culture is not virile when it comes to fruiting  into mushrooms.

If you cloned the culture from a vendor's syringe, your mycelium culture can now be used to make mushroom spawn . (This is the next stage)

Questions

Q-Why did we transfer the mushroom culture twice?

A-Initially despite our attempts, there would have been hidden contaminants along with the mushroom tissue. When you transfer wedges from the outer perimeter of the mycelium, you are picking mycelium that will likely have outrun other contaminants. Placing the new wedge into the second container will give us a culture that has a lower rate of contaminants.

 

Q-What If I want to skip this step and start with a culture syringe from a vendor?

A-Once you get past this stage for the first time (or wish to directly start from a vendor's culture syringe), the steps would be similar.

Instead of cutting mushroom tissue, you'd squirt 1ml of liquid culture (from the vendor's syringe). And instead of flame sterilizing the blade, you flame the tip of the needle (making sure not to bring the flame near the plastic of the needle):

When buying a culture syringe from a vendor, make sure to do your research on them. It is a bad idea to buy from a company that has no reputation. Check the internet for reviews. Getting clean syringes from a reputable company will make things much easier for you.

Q-What is mushroom spawn?

A-Spawn is the culture of mushroom mycelium that is grown on grains. Grains are nutritious and easily  broken into and mixed in the final substrate that the Mushroom will be fruited from.

 

Q-I'm having issues with my Pressure Cooker

A-I used to have a 5 quart pressure cooker, and had a hard time with it. When I seriously got into mushroom growing, sterilizing contents in a small pressure cooker would take too long. So, I bought an 8 quart (7.6 litre) pressure cooker. Try looking through thrift stores, if money is tight. I got a Presto Brand for $60.00.

 

If you're Pressure Cooker isnt rocking the weight, and steam is escaping, then pressure isnt building inside the Cooker. You can try tightening the nuts around the nozzles. However, chances are the sealing ring has hardened and shrunk from use over the years. Adjusting it may or may not help. But most probably you will have to get a new sealing ring. If buying a new Pressure cooker, it's a good idea to get some extra sealing rings (for the aftertime).

good luck.

Stage 2: Grain Spawn

In gardening terms, this stage is the equivalent of growing seedlings. At the end of this stage, you will have mushroom spawn ready to be "transplanted" into its final stage.

Required items:

i) Pressure Cooker

ii) glass jars (or mason jars)

iii) Aluminum foil

iv) Polyfill (Polyester fibre found in pillows and stuffed toys, duvets,etc)

Step 1: Lid Preparation

The jars used, need a way for the spawn to "breathe" while preventing contaminants from getting in.

-Punch/drill a hole through the lid

- Pull some polyfill from a pillow. Twist it and stuff it through the hole.

- Trim excess polyfill. You can also use a lighter to mat it down.

 Polyester is synthetic; so it won't get eaten by contaminants or the mycelium. Cotton cant be used, since it's organic and will get broken down by contaminants. After using a lid 5 times, replace the polyfill.One pillow will last you several years. After one use itself, you may see rust showing up around the hole. You may want to invest in plastic lids for canning jars, if interested in growing mushrooms in the long term.

Step 2: Grain Preparation (bit different from the previous stage)

-Soak grain for 6 - 24 hours.

-Drain grain and let sit for 30 min in colander. (It is important that once the grain is in the jars, 

that you not see water pool in the

bottom of the jars)

-Fill jars. Leave a third to a fifth of it empty.(Grain will expand in the cooker)

-Loosen the lid ever so slightly. One-eighth of a turn is enough. Cover the top of the lids with foil. This is to prevent condensation from getting back on to the polyfill. You can reuse the foil used for this purpose.

-Sterilize jars as outlined in the previous stage. This is where the size of your pressure cooker and the jars you use matters. A big/medium size pressure cooker (8 +quarts) lets you get through this stage quicker. A small one (5 quarts) may get the job done but is time consuming.

Make sure the jars dont touch the side of the pressure cooker, with the help of spoons or jar lids.

Stage 3: Transferring mycelium

- The next day, once the jars have cooled down, 

transfer 1 sq cm wedges from your container in the previous stage to your grain jars.

- This needs to be done in a still air box along with proper sanitation techniques outlined in the previous stage.

 

Over the next week or two, the entire jar will be enveloped in mycelium.

The jars I use are 1 pint (0.5 litre) jars. 20 of these will produce enough spawn to be transplanted into a laundry basket for the final

stage. I used two containers from the previous stage to get 20 wedges.

* If you didnt prepare for this stage while the mycelium was growing in the container from the previous stage, you can toss the container in the fridge to stall its growth (along with any possible contaminants)

Stage 3: Spawn Run

This is the stage where the mycelium grows out, after which mushrooms are produced.

The mushroom spawn is mixed with a bulk substrate (straw, yard debris, wood or dried lawn clippings).

Required Items:

i) Laundry basket

ii) Garbage bag

iii) Storage tote

iv) Garden Shears

v) Straw

 

Step 1: Bulk Substrate Preparation

- Cut Straw into 3-5 inch pieces using a pair of garden shears. (This doesnt have to be precise)

- Let the straw sit in a water filled tote. Weigh it down to make sure all the straw is under water. Drain after a couple of hours

- Next we pasteurize the straw. To do this, pour boiling water in the tote filled with straw. Shut the tote, and let sit for 2 hours. Make sure that the steam doesn't escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Drain. And let the straw cool and drain. Wait 6 - 8 hours. The straw should be cool to the touch, but slightly moist as well. If you grab and squeeze some straw, you should not see water dripping out.

Step 2: Breaking the Spawn

Before using your spawn, you will want to break it apart. To do so, strike the spawn jars from the previous stage against a tire or a carpeted surface. This will break the mycelium into pieces, and make it easier for you to mix the spawn with the substrate. For anything that doesnt break apart, just use a clean spoon to do the job. Here's a video illustrating this:

 

Step3: Mixing Spawn and substrate

The ratio used here will be 1 part mushroom spawn to 3 parts straw. I had about 9 Liters ( or quarts) of spawn. So I used 27 - 30 "liters" of straw.  (1 litre = 60 cubic inches). If you use higher ratios of the bulk substrates, that leaves room for contaminants to get a foothold in the substrate.

-Poke some drainage holes through the bottom of the laundry basket.

-Place an inch of straw on the bottom of the laundry basket, and then cover with mushroom spawn.  Make sure, that none of the spawn is placed near the edge of the laundry basket. Repeat this process over. Finish off with a layer of straw on the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Cover the basket up with a garbage bag. This is to maintain the high humidity. But too much water can cause bacterial contamination.

-Poke holes on the side of the garbage bage, to let some air flow through.

Notes:

- Mycelium can produce a yellowish liquid that helps it digest food and fight against bacteria. This liquid can pool inside the garbage bag. Drain it every other day.

 -Alternatively, you can also try growing mushrooms in plastic bags.

-Using plastic bags is a good method. Because youre not putting all youre eggs in one basket. After mixing the spawn and substrate, tie it up so that the substrate is tightly packed inside the bag. Poke a couple of pinholes, and wait for the substrate to reach 100 % colonization.

The crumbled up spawn you see is that of pink oyster. Unfortunately after pasteurizing the straw, I did not let it cool and drain properly. So the basket was filled with straw that was too wet. On top of this I did not drain the liquid that the mycelium secretes.

At first (from the smell of it) everything was going well, but then it got contaminated with bacteria. I could smell the straw fermenting. So I had to dump the whole basket.

At the moment I have a similar basket of blue oysters colonizing. But because of this earlier setback I may not be able to provide an update next week.

From Self Nutrition Data:

 [Oyster Mushrooms are] low in Sodium, and very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Protein, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper."

I guess theyre more nutritious than I originally thought.

SongStar101 said:

Mushrooms provide a good source of food for when it is dark and hard to grow anything else.  This in fact may be one of the most important home grown foods in hard times.  Wonder how much protein mushrooms can provide over meat or potatoes?  Must be good nutrition growing these from scratch.  This is great info thanks!

Stage 4 - Fruiting

-Wait for the substrate to reach 100 % colonization

-Then, wait two days, and carefully cut holes through the plastic layer. (trying not to cut through the mycelium)

-Put the substrate in a moist environment with ambient light.

 If growing them outside, place them under a shade.

In order for oyster mushrooms to fruit, you need:

i) some fresh air

ii) a moist environment

iii) the right temperature for the specific type of mushroom

(To meet all these conditions, I placed my grow near a window)

Blue oyster mushrooms like to fruit between 50F to 70F (10 to 20 C) degrees.

Pink Oysters like to fruit between 70 to 85 F (20 to 30 C)degrees.

For information on other oyster mushrooms click here

Here's my setup.

The substrate bag, placed in a tray with a piece of transparent  (or white) plastic laid on top of it. I had two substrate bags.

Mist the inside with a spray bottle & pour just a little water on the bottom of the tray to humidify the inside of the setup.

You will need to do this twice a day. (If your grow is outside in a bucket, carefully hose it & make sure there are drainage holes.)

And here is what follows:

First mushroom "pins" start to appear:

Then they grow into baby mushrooms:

Then you get these:

If you have outdoor space, then I highly recommend this link on how to grow these mushrooms outdoors. LINK

Please keep in mind oysters are not meant to be fruited indoors because of allergy issues they can create. This was just a test run on a small scale

However the laundry basket that had these blue oysters got contaminated. The mushroom spawn to straw ratio used in these plastic bags was one to one. In the laundry basket I used one part spawn to 3 parts straw.

After reading up, it seems that the likely reason was that the mushroom spawn itself got contaminated. (I had taken some shortcuts not detailed in this post)

I'm going to start the "laundry basket" method from scratch all over again. Hopefully with a better eye on my hygiene/ sanitation techniques, I can produce consistent results that can be duplicated. (Until then, this is it for now)...

cheers

This is an excellent discussion Casey, thanks for teaching us how to grow mushrooms.

Great discussion!

Since there will be a lot of fallen trees after the PS, I think it's best to use them for growing mushrooms. When you inoculate on the hard wood (like oak, beech, hornbeam...) you can harvest them for up to 7 years. The only con is that it will take 1-2 years to start fruiting. That can be solved if the part is inoculated on soft wood - under favorable conditions, that will give mushrooms  in around 3 months.

Below are photos from our little experiment almost two years old. All is on hard wood ad it started to fruit now, besides few shitakes during the summer. We are planning to inoculate more next month to have more varieties available.

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