Home Science: Basic Tips To Cultivating Mushrooms at Home

Connecting with nature on a personal level helps you gain a better understanding of the way of the world. Additionally, spending time outdoors serves multiple benefits for your mental health. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service explains how spending time outdoors may decrease feelings of depression and/or increase the psychological recovery process. 

Hiking, camping, and spending a day at the lake with family are great ways to spend time in nature. But there are other ways to connect with your surroundings that don’t require physical activity. 

There’s no better way to reconnect with nature than by not being afraid to get your hands dirty. Of course, gardening is always an option, but that’s not the only way to bring the joys of nature closer to home. Another way to connect with nature is by forming an interest in mycology. 

For your convenience, we have broken this blog into categories:

What is Mycology?

Mycology is the study of fungi, and mycologists spend time analyzing the evolution of fungi. However, mycology isn’t only for professionals. It’s a practice that can be done by those interested in growing and harvesting mushrooms of their own. 

The Mushroom Cultivation Process 

Mushroom/fungi cultivation is the process of creating a controlled and protected environment(s) ideal for growing fungi. Mushroom cultivation requires a few more steps than classical gardening, so it’s something that should be done by those willing to put in the extra hours for better results. 

In total, there are eight steps to the mushroom cultivation process. Let’s take a closer look at how to forage fungi. 

Step One: Strain Selection

You must first choose what types of fungi to grow before you prepare, for each mushroom has its own cultivation process. Choosing a fungi species ahead of time will help you further plan what type of compost to make, how long the fruiting process will take, and the overall size of the mushroom. 

The American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) reports the existence of nearly 7,600 species of fungi and more than 32,000 genetic strains within that collection. Of course, we can’t list and describe them all, but we will address the best mushrooms for beginner cultivators later on.   

Step Two: Start Phase One of Composting

The composting (or substrate) process is the preparation of the food source for the pre-selected fungi. This can be a multi-step process depending on the type of mushroom you choose to cultivate.

Phase one consists of obtaining the substrate materials needed for composting. Examples of compostable materials include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Coffee grounds (fresh or used);
  • Logs;
  • Sawdust;
  • Straw;
  • Wood chips;
  • Wooden stumps. 

You can move to phase two of the composting process once you’ve acquired enough compostable materials for spawning and incubation. The exact amount needed will vary based on how much you wish to cultivate. 

Step Three: Complete Composting 

There are different composting methods for the various substrate materials. For instance, straw is composted using a bucket, cold water, and a cinder block. Whereas coffee grounds require hot pasteurization to begin the composition process. 

How you approach finishing your compost mix will vary based on the substrate item you choose to use. Be sure to conduct further research on the preparation process for each mushroom substrate type. Doing so can make all the difference in your overall mushroom cultivation success. 

Step Four: Spawning

Mushroom spawn is “the living fungal culture, called mycelium, grown onto a substrate.” Essentially, these are the mushroom starts used in the inoculation step. There are three main spawn types:

  • Grain spawn;
  • Plug spawn;
  • Sawdust spawn.

Typically, spawns are sold at trusted local retailers like co-ops, garden centres, and farmer’s markets. It’s crucial to always ensure you purchase a cultivation kit from well-reputable retailers. 

Step Five: Inoculation

Inoculation is the process of transferring the spawn to the substrate you previously constructed and set aside. The type of substrate material you’re using will determine how you transfer the spawn. For instance, you’ll need to drill holes into a log, cut wedges into a wooden stump, or blend the spawn with a substrate mixture. 

Where the inoculation process takes place and how long it lasts varies based on the fungi you’re attempting to cultivate. It depends on the nutrient levels in the type of substrate you’re using, as well. 

Step Six: Incubation

Mushroom incubation starts when the mycelium leaps off the original substrate onto a new one to finish the cultivation process. This step helps the spawn coexist with the new substrate.

Each spawn will then expand on the new substrate until it meets another spawn from a different fall-off point. From there, each spawn will continue to merge until the food made by the available compost is entirely covered, known as full colonization. Once full colonization has finished, the fruiting process can begin. 

Step Seven: Fruiting

Over time, your substrate starts producing fruits, or the start of an actual mushroom. This step is rather tedious, for it requires your frequent observation to help determine what the fruits need to continue to flourish — much similar to a standard indoor plant. 

There are a few factors to consider to help the fruiting process, regardless of the substrate used to grow them. For instance, you must consider the temperature, humidity, lighting, and oxygen levels in the room in which the cultivation process is taking place. 

Step Eight: Harvesting

It’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labour and harvest the matured mushrooms. Knowing when to harvest will yet again vary based on the type of mushroom you’ve grown. Be mindful of the fact that most mushrooms have a rather short harvesting window. This is why it’s beneficial to plan to harvest every day until you’re certain there are no fungi left. 

Harvesting mushrooms on time is important if you wish to consume them in any way, for like most other foods, waiting too long could cause them to spoil. Consuming spoiled fungi should be avoided. Immediately contact a medical professional if you believe you’ve consumed a rotten mushroom to see what they advise from there. 

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cultivation

Understanding the difference between indoor and outdoor cultivation is important, regardless of the path you aim to take. Yes, the indoor cultivation process has notable differences in comparison to outdoor steps. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t specific points to be mindful of for each location on its own. 

Just because multiple people wish to participate in outdoor cultivation, doesn’t mean they have the same outdoor environment to cultivate in. Residents in coastal locations like Esquimalt might be suited for different cultivations than those in more inland areas like Chilliwack. Let’s dive further into the difference between indoor and outdoor mushroom cultivation. 

Indoor Mushroom Cultivation

It’s obvious that by cultivating indoors you have limited (to no) access to natural resources found outdoors that mushrooms need to thrive. Luckily, there are fungi indoor grow kits, substrates, and compost trays available for those wanting to garden, even during the fall and winter months

Remember to store the substrate away from pets and children. If able, set it up in a dark corner of the cupboard or well-organized garage. You’ll be good to go as long as your setup meets the spawn and substrate’s specific requirements mentioned above. 

It is always a good idea to check with your local municipal government for rules and regulations on mushroom farming in your area — especially if you plan to do it on a large scale. For instance, there may be different stipulations for residents, or those who plan to live in Surrey as opposed to Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge. The BC Ministry of Agriculture has guidelines on mushroom farming for compost production, equipment use, farm buildings, and more.

Outdoor Mushroom Cultivation

Building a mushroom cultivation station outdoors is ideal as long as you’re in the desired conditions. If the climate is right, but you lack the space, then you may consider using a raised garden bed, taking over a wooden log, or using basically any damp and shady place in your yard for your setup. 

Be sure to thoroughly research your outdoor surroundings before dedicating a space to a mushroom garden. If you use a log as a substrate, then the type of log can impact how quickly and how many mushrooms are produced. While oaks and hard maples found in areas like Oak Bay provide more nutrition to spawns, the logs of pine, cedar, and douglas fir trees commonly found in Campbell River are ideal for producing mushrooms more quickly.

Best Species for Beginner Mushroom Cultivators 

As briefly mentioned earlier, there are over 7,000 species of mushrooms. It would be cool to cultivate them all, however, it’s a goal that isn’t realistic for beginners. Thankfully there are a few species of mushrooms popular in Western North America that are perfect for beginner cultivators. 

  • Baby Bella: Baby Bella mushrooms are in the same family as white button mushrooms, but have a more developed taste. They’re also known as large white buttons or small portabella mushrooms. 
  • Button: Button mushrooms are the small, white mushrooms often seen in grocery stores, for they’re great to cook with. 
  • Cremini: A cremini mushroom is a less mature version of the Baby Bella, giving it a less developed taste. 
  • Lion’s mane: Lion’s manes mushrooms are large, white mushrooms with a fluffy mane that resembles that of a lion. 
  • Oyster: Oyster mushrooms are given their name because they closely resemble the look of an oyster. 
  • Shiitake: Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, earthy taste and are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. 

Even the condensed list above can be overwhelming for beginners. Don’t feel obligated to plant them all just because they’re labelled as the best for starters. Instead, plant one or two you know you’ll use the most, whether it be for culinary purposes or to resell. 

What To Do With Your Harvest

What you do with your harvest is entirely up to you. Experiment with different meals, but only if the fruit from your harvest is edible. Here are a few recipes to consider:

  • Stuffed mushrooms;
  • Cream of mushroom soup;
  • Stir fry;
  • Philly cheesesteaks sandwich;
  • Chicken marsala.

Cooking isn’t the only thing to do with your harvest, you can dehydrate them to save for later use, too. Don’t worry if mushrooms aren’t your favourite, you could always sell your harvest at a local farmer’s market for additional income. 

General Resources for Mushroom Cultivation 

It can be intimidating starting something new, especially when it’s something that requires as much attention as mushroom cultivation. While it may be hard, don’t give up your new hobby if things aren’t going according to plan. Instead, take a look at a few resources great for beginners. 

  • South Vancouver Island Mycological Club (SVIMS): SVIMS is a club established in the early 1990’s just for those with an interest in mycology and has been around ever since. This club hosts regular meetings with guest speakers discussing their shared love for mushrooms. 
  • The Mycological Society of America (MSA): The MSA is a group of mycologists and others with a personal interest in mycology who can join only if they’re sent an invitation to apply.
  • International Mycology Association (IMA): IMA is a worldwide organization where mycologists and those with a like-minded interest can connect and share information about fungi and the mycology community. 

Reconnecting with nature through mycology helps you to connect with yourself, improving your mental health. In a way, we rely on our mushroom spawn just as much as they rely on us!

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