Learning how to grow mushrooms can be seem like a difficult and daunting task for the novice. The reality is it can be as challenging as you want it to be. In this post we discuss some of the most popular mushroom growing techniques, from easiest to the most advanced.
The Ingredients for Life
Before discussing in more detail the various techniques, lets briefly touch on what conditions and requirements are for growing mushrooms at home.
In order to grow mushrooms, we need to provide the growing mycelium with a highly nutritious substrate (i.e. its food). The mycelium is the part of the fungus that produces our beloved mushrooms, so we need to look after it well and keep it happy. The food source we choose will depend on the mushroom species we want to cultivate, but the most common substrates are grains, coffee, manure, straw or hardwood sawdust.
In addition to supplying the mycelium with food, we also need to simulate the optimal conditions of its natural habitat. During the colonisation phase, where the mycelium expands rapidly to devour its substrate, we need to incubate at a relatively warm temperature, somewhere between 21-26°C. Once fully colonised, we need to introduce fresh air and plenty of humidity to induce the formation of mushroom pins and subsequent fruiting. Some ambient (low level) light is also required for the final stage of the mushroom life cycle.
The challenge when growing mushrooms is that we must fulfil all these requirements, without introducing unwanted bacterial or fungal contaminants into the mix that will ruin our grow. In order to do this, we must practise sterile technique. More on that in a future post!
With that in mind, lets talk cultivation techniques (Teks):
1. Start With a Grow Kit
This is an obvious starting point if you’re looking to bring your first crop of ‘shrooms into the world. A grow kit takes all the hard work out of the process, leaving you with just the fun stuff to do – cultivating the actual mushrooms.
With a grow kit, the hardest and most crucial (but also the least fun) part, sterilisation of a substrate, has already been done for you. A grow kit comes as a nicely packaged, pre-sterilised substrate that is ready for inoculation.
There are many different styles of grow kit, but most of them are based on the famous PF-Tek growing method, which uses a sterilised brown rice flour (BRF) and vermiculate based substrate. This pre-sterilised substrate is packed inside a plastic or glass container, which has a filter port to allow free gas exchange. Mushroom mycelium is a living organism, so it needs to breathe. The filter port allows for gas exchange, but without letting contaminants getting inside and ruining your grow.
Most good grow kits will also come with self healing injection ports. These are rubber plugs that you can pierce with the needle of a spore /culture syringe needle during the inoculation procedure. The great benefit of self healing injection ports is that they self close after injecting, so no faffing around with tape!
To grow mushrooms, all you need to do it inoculate this substrate under sterile conditions (again an emphasis on sterility) with a spore or liquid culture of your choosing. Leave this kit to colonise with mushroom mycelium. Once it is ready you can introduce it to fruiting conditions and finally harvest your mushrooms. To understand this process fully you can refer to our guides here.
From inoculation of the kit to the first harvest, you can expect to wait around 6 – 8 weeks.
2. DIY PF-Tek
Perhaps by now you’re feeling adventurous and want to try making your own grow kits.
The PF-Tek is one of our favourite methods. For sure, there are other techniques out there such as the Monotub Tek (more on that later) that produce much greater yields. However, if it’s your first time growing from scratch, we highly recommend trying the PF-Tek. The reason for this is its pure simplicity, using tools and materials that are cheap and easy to acquire. Ultimately this translates to a higher success rate if you’re a beginner.
You can find numerous recipes online, but I will link you here to a great post that gives the step by step process along with images. If you prefer to watch a video, you have to watch this one (its a two part series). This is the original instructional video we used to grow our very first crop of mushrooms, so we’re confident you’ll have success!