Mushrooms are fascinating organisms that deserve the attention of more farmers and gardeners. Growing mushrooms is a good idea for multiple reasons, and can be done in a few different ways — though it also poses some challenges.
Why grow mushrooms?
One reason a farmer might consider mushrooms is that growing them can be quite a fun, educational activity. Plus, even growing mushrooms just for yourself can provide you with a delicious and nutritious product that’s much fresher than what you could buy at the supermarket.
Another, more utilitarian, reason for growing mushrooms is waste reduction. Mushrooms are grown on organic material, and can be grown on agricultural “leftovers” such as straw, corn cobs, grass, potato leaves, soybean hulls, peanut shells, sawdust, cotton waste, coffee pulp, tree leaves, branches, and logs – which may have otherwise gone to waste. Mushrooms enrich the organic material in which they are grown, leaving a valuable byproduct which can be used as a fertilizer to boost the yield, nutritional quality, and health of subsequent crops.
Some growers may feel they already have too much going on to add one more crop. But mushrooms can be grown during the coldest months of the year, to supplement revenues when not much else is going on. Plus, with the proper setup and planning, mushrooms could be incorporated into any growing season. Conducting market research before beginning any new crop is a good idea, but in general, growing mushrooms is a great way to diversify a farming operation and add value.
How to get started with growing mushrooms
Some types of mushrooms grow well on composted materials, while others grow well on straw or woody materials. For newbie mushroom growers, the latter are an easier place to begin.
When I interned at a small organic vegetable farm, I learned how to make “mushroom logs” for Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms.
We used freshly cut logs, because old, decomposing logs may already contain wild fungi and other organisms that can kill or outcompete cultivated mushrooms.
Different types of mushrooms, such as Pearl Oyster mushrooms versus Phoenix Oyster mushrooms, “prefer” different types of wood, such as maple versus spruce; more information about the appropriate tree species for mushroom cultivation can be found online.
We used a battery-powered drill to make holes about 6 inches apart, in rows about 2 inches apart. When you buy spawn plugs online, the product description should specify what drill bit size you need, to make sure the plugs fit snugly and are flush with the surface of the log when they are pounded in with a mallet (which is what we did next.)
Then, we melted wax (unscented wax candles also work) in a metal bucket over a small propane burner, and used large paintbrushes to seal each plug with the melted wax — this helps prevent drying and contamination. When we had done this with many logs, we stacked them in a tic-tac-toe structure under the shade of a large tree.
How this works
The spawn plugs are composed of a substrate, such as sawdust, which has been inoculated with mycelium, because growing mushrooms from already existing mycelium is more reliable than growing mushrooms from spores. The fungal mycelium will colonize the logs, and grow and expand within the wood. When a period of time (which depends on the conditions) has passed, the fleshy fruiting bodies of the mushrooms (the edible pieces) emerge from the logs.
There are several other methods available for growing mushrooms, too – such as raised beds in the shade, or incorporating mushrooms into a main garden. Commercial growers usually grow their mushrooms indoors, where they’re able to control the environment.
Some of the challenges involved in growing mushrooms are maintaining the proper temperature, humidity, and airflow; and avoiding contamination from unwanted organisms that can kill or compete with the mushrooms. Another common mistake is choosing the wrong substrate or growing medium. Poor quality spawn or spawn that is too old may also cause problems. But with quality materials and the right conditions – as well as commitment, care, and a great deal of patience – mushroom growing can be a very rewarding and entertaining operation.
“Grow Mushrooms: Learning How to Troubleshoot.” Mushroom Appreciation. Web. Accessed 27 August 2017 at mushroom-appreciation.com.
Gush, Rick. “Mushroom Farming.” Hobby Farms. 18 February 2009. Accessed 27 August 2017 at hobbyfarms.com.
McCoy, Peter. “6 Reasons More Farms Should Grow Mushrooms.” Civil Eats. 7 July 2017. Web. Accessed 27 August 2017 at civileats.com.
“Nutrition Benefits.” Fresh Mushrooms: Nature’s Hidden Treasure. Web. Accessed 27 August 2017 at mushroominfo.com.
Poppe, J. “Use of Agricultural Waste Materials in the Cultivation of Mushrooms.” Science and Cultivation of Edible Fungi, Volume I. 2000. Web. Accessed 27 August 2017 at books.google.com.