Growing gourmet mushrooms is easier when you practice a process that works. This article provides insight through commercial mushroom productionWhen I am considering the overall process of growing mushrooms, I like to think of the 7 stages of cultivation as laid out by Tradd Cotter is his book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation. There are many different methods of growing gourmet mushrooms and these steps apply to all of them. You can visit our other blogs to learn about growing shiitakes on logs, oyster's on toilet paper, or wine caps on wood chips. Here I will describe the overall thought process behind any method of growing gourmet mushrooms.
- Media preparation
- Full Inhabitation
Growing Gourmet Mushrooms: Media preparation
It is critical when looking to grow mushrooms that the media is prepared properly. The first step to cultivating any mushrooms is to grow the mycelium of the fungus. To do this the substrate either needs to be treated to kill off other organisms that are present in the substrate or a material that is high in cellulose and/or lignin needs to be used fresh after dying. This is why logs and wood chips can be used straight off the tree. Since they have a high amount of lignin and cellulose it is not easy for most micro-organisms to consume them. By using them fresh and placing sterile mycelium of the mushrooms we want to grow into the log it is easy to get those mushrooms established before anything else gets in. Many other substrates like straw, sawdust, supplemented sawdust, compost need to be treated in some fashion to create the proper conditions for mushrooms to grow.
Growing Gourmet Mushrooms: Inoculation
Inoculation is the step when spawn or mycelium is added into the treated substrate. Spawn is simply the term used by mushroom growers instead of seed. They are different things because the lifecycle of a mushroom is different than a plant but they effectively do the same thing. The spawn is some sort of material with mycelium grown in and around it. Place the spawn into the treated substrate and the mycelium will leap off and start growing through the substrate. The process of inoculation can happen in a range of environments depending on what is being inoculated. For things like logs and straw and wood chips it can simply happen outside with no shoes no shirts required. If inoculating high nutrient material like agar, grain, or supplemented sawdust it is critical to do this in some sort of lab, which has clean airflow.
Growing Gourmet Mushrooms: Spawn Run
Spawn run is the step I love the most. Simply sit back and let the mycelium work its magic. It is amazing to watch mycelium grow throughout the substrate. Many times you can see an extremely strong growing edge that is exploring the freshly prepared substrate with a texture array of mycelial filaments. Spawn run is a time of rapid growth for the mycelium. As fast as possible the mycelium continues to grow and grow inhabiting as much of the fresh substrate as possible. It will grow continuously until it runs out of food or runs into a competitor. Spawn run is complete when all the substrate has been inhabited.
Growing gourmet Mushrooms: Full Inhabitation
Full colonization marks a change in the mycelial growth pattern. Rather than expansion the mycelium shifts its focus towards utilizing the available resources and getting ready to produce a fruiting body. The mycelium starts to consume the food available to it in the substrate it now lives in and on and around. The mycelium exudes metabolites into the food source and sucks up sugars and carbon back into its body to create new cells and boosted food supplies. After full inhabitation the substrate is ready to fruit mushrooms!
Growing Gourmet mushrooms: Pinning
For me, this is one of the most exciting stages of mushroom production, right next to harvesting and cooking. The transformation that occurs when the mycelium starts creating a mushroom is mysterious and beautiful. Little baby mushrooms start emerging where humidity and oxygen levels are high and there is an increase in light. In the wild this would look like the mycelium growing in a log, a dark and high co2 environment and then fruiting out into an oxygen rich, lighter area outside the log. A major factor to fruiting is spore dispersal and this makes sense to most effectively spread spores the mushroom should be in a place that the spores can easily travel out from. Anyways pinning can be initiated when growing in plastic bags by cutting holes in the bag or if growing in logs pinning will begin underneath the bark and then mushrooms will emerge!
Growing Gourmet Mushrooms: Fruiting
During Fruiting there are 4 key factors to control to ensure high quality fruiting bodies. When growing a couple mushrooms inside on a grow kit or growing outside on logs these are not as crucial to control but just be aware of them and use them for trouble shooting. When growing commercially controlling and balancing these four parameters a constant listening and adjustment process. The four factors are lighting, humidity, temperature, and CO2 levels. Ideally lighting is enough that you can comfortably read but no direct sunlight that will dry the mushrooms out. Humidity around 85% and temperature anywhere from 50-75 depending on the species (some grow well outside that range). Co2 levels should not exceed 800-1000 ppm. Oysters are the most sensitive to high co2 levels with shiitake, lions mane, and many other gourmet mushrooms doing just fine at high co2 levels of 1000 ppm. It is important to keep on trying and not be discouraged in gourmet mushroom growing. Failure always comes in the form of bacteria and other fungi but eventually you are bound to be successful!