Grow your own mushrooms

Being a child of two science teachers, my first experience of growing mushrooms was peering into a glass aquarium to watch their rapid daily growth. My brother and I were entranced and couldn’t wait for the days when we were allowed to harvest them.

I’ve grown a few simple kits since this time but my next goal is to have a go at inoculating both some logs and some sawdust substrate myself. This is a more economical way of growing your own mushrooms and once you have your own logs, you can harvest mushrooms for many years.

I’ve just ordered 200 inoculated dowel plugs to make shiitake logs so I’m going to be very busy with my drill soon when they arrive.

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What are edible mushrooms?

A mushroom is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of certain fungus with a distinctive cap, still and gills.

Why grow mushrooms?

  • It’s fun and you will get fresh organic produce.
  • You can eat your favourite unusual varieties without purchasing them in small plastic containers that are often imported from overseas.
  • You can avoid waste by only picking what you need when you need it.
  • It’s a wonderful educational project with the kids.
  • It can be a great project for some people with restricted mobility because the kits can be placed at table height.

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image: Steph Choi

What is the life cycle of mushrooms?

  1. Mushroom releases millions of tiny spores.
  2. The spores meet compatible spores, germinate and grow thread-like structures called hyphae.
  3. Hyphae fuse together to form mycelium.
  4. A hyphae knot forms that develops into a pinhead and then into a new mushroom.

How can I grow mushrooms?

Mushroom cultivation can be as complicated as growing cultures on agar plates, or as simple as buying a mushroom kit. It’s a good idea to start with a kit to gain some basic understanding of how mushrooms grow.

Some of your options include:

  • Growing them from a kit
  • Making your own sawdust substrate and inoculating it yourself
  • Growing your mushrooms in coffee waste
  • Buying a mushroom log
  • Inoculating your own mushroom log
  • If you are really keen you can even do a course and culture your own mushrooms.

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What varieties should I grow?

For a beginner, the best mushrooms to start with are white buttons or oysters and then shiitakes. Once you build your knowledge and skills have a go at procinis, protobellos and other more unusual varieties.

When can I grow mushrooms?

Mushrooms can be grown all year around if provided with the correct growing conditions. They need a moderate temperatures (around 20 to 25 degrees celcius), humidity, and ventilation. Total darkness is not required and a cupboard, garage, bathroom or laundry can all be good places for growing mushrooms.

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Grow from a kit

This might consist of a box that you spread with peat-like material then water, or a sawdust log that you will need to soak in water for 12-24 hours. For the sawdust log it’s best to have something you can create into a growing box or terrarium to keep the humidity levels consistent.

Make your own substrate and inoculate it yourself

You can make your own supplemented sawdust substrate for your mushrooms to grow in out of materials such as eucalyptus sawdust, brown rice flour, oat chaff, bran, and vermiculite. It’s important to prepare the substrate properly by pasteurizing, sterilizing or lime-washing it. This will kill off any other existing fungus or nasties to ensure what you are growing is safe.

Growing your mushrooms in coffee waste

Rich in key nutrients, coffee waste provides an ideal growing substrate for growing your mushrooms. It comes pre-pastuerised by the brewing process so you just need to mix in your mushroom spawn.

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image: Distant Hill Gardens (Flickr)

Buy a mushroom log

Inoculated logs are great value as they last several years although they are not readily available and it is more satisfying to make the log yourself.

Inoculate your own mushroom log

This involves finding a freshly cut tree log that other fungus haven’t yet colonized. Ideally it needs to be around 100-150 millimetres in length, and you will need to drill around twenty 8.5 millimetre holes. You can purchase your mushroom spawn as dowel plugs or grain spawn and once you have inserted these into the holes you will need to seal the holes and any other open surface with beeswax or cheesewax. Give your logs a whack to stimulate the mycelium and place them in a location with good air-flow with some shade. Ensure you keep your log out of contact with the ground and if possible keep your logs moist. Your first flush of mushrooms should occur within 6 months to a year and your log should keep producing for 7 to 10 years.

If you are really keen – do a course and culture your own mushrooms

Mushroom growing courses are usually expensive so unless you are really keen this is probably not the option for you. If you are lucky there might be someone in your local community garden group who is knowledgeable and happy to do a workshop on one of the specific skills such as making a log.

Always ask if you are unsure

If you are not sure about any matter that arises when growing your mushrooms don’t hesitate to ask the supplier. This is particularly important if your mushrooms don’t look like you expected. Safety is important in mushroom cultivation.

I’ve started off with a shiitake and an oyster mushroom kit to get back into the mushroom growing groove and am now pretty excited about making my first shiitake logs when my dowel plugs arrive. I’ll let you know how I go.

All other images: Anna Gregory

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