Mushroom Cultivation Notes on Substrate Treatment, Inoculation & Incubation

Mushroom Cultivation Notes on Substrate Treatment, Inoculation & Incubation

Our mushroom cultivation notes will help you understand the process of growing mushrooms much more effectively. Learn more in this article

These mushroom cultivation notes are starting with the second stage of mushroom cultivation, which is substrate treatment. The material that we're growing mushrooms on needs to be treated in some way for it to be suitable for the mycelium to take hold. If you take the substrate and add the mycelium without treating it, other microorganisms are going to grow and that can negatively impact mushroom production. 

The method of treatment all depends on the amount of nutrients available in the substrate. For instance, if you have a lot of nutrients in a substrate, you're going to have to use a more aggressive treatment method. If the nutrients are pretty locked up like in logs, then you don't really have to do anything. So just giving the mycelium a headstart in the logs and cutting the logs fresh is enough to give the mycelium an edge and get established before any other fungal competitors take over. 

However, logs take a long time to incubate. It usually takes at least six months to a year, depending on the size of the log. However, with higher nutrient substrates like straw or sawdust, mycelium can take over in 10 or 14 days, but you do have to treat it a little more aggressively. 

Mushroom cultivation notes on inoculation

The next step of our mushroom cultivation notes is inoculation, which is the introduction of mycelium into the substrate. We begin with a clean substrate that's ready to grow mushrooms. We're introducing the mycelium of the mushroom we want to grow into the substrate. Know that the only similarity between “spawn” and “spore” is that they both start with “SP” and that's it. Spores are a completely different life stage then spawn. Spawn is mycelium. That's a really common mistake I see. You can use the words “spawn” and “mycelium” interchangeably. 

One key point here is a difference between clean and sterile. You don't need a sterile environment when using wood, wood chips, or straw. You can do these inoculations outside, in an ambient environment. You don't need a lab or to be extremely sterile in these situations. It's nice to wash your hands with soap and have a fairly clean table, but it's not imperative to be sterile. However, having a sterile environment is more applicable when you start using steam because you're using such a high-nutrient material that unwanted things in the air can very easily start growing on that. With steam, you're really wiping the slate clean. Nothing is really alive in there, so it's easy for things to get established quickly, whereas with the straw or wood there are still a lot of defenses up so it's not as easy for microorganisms to get in. 

Mushroom cultivation notes on incubation

After we've introduced the mycelium, we're going into incubation. This is the point where you sit back, relax, and let the mycelium grow out. This stage is how I got super excited about mushroom cultivation. If you are doing a large amount of incubation, it generates a lot of heat, so you're going to need some sort of cooling. If you just have a good insulated building, you tend to not need heat even in the winter. The mycelium generates enough heat that it can kind of hold its own.

A big consideration for incubation on mushroom farms is how long are we going to let our substrates sit in the incubation. For instance, shiitake, being the most cultivated specialty mushroom, actually takes the most amount of time to cultivate. Shiitakes are usually in incubation for six to 10 weeks, whereas almost all of the other specialty mushrooms, except maitake and maybe reishi, are all growing in about 14 days in incubation. So it's a very, very quick turnover for mushrooms like oysters, chestnuts, nameko, lion’s mane, and pioppino.

Some people will buy shiitake blocks because they're such a space hog then grow their own oysters or lion’s mane blocks themselves.

Once incubation is complete, the bags can be directly moved into the fruiting room. They can be placed in cold storage until you're ready to fruit them, so you could build up a surplus of these blocks and then put him in a walk-in cooler and leave them there for three or four weeks until you need them in the fruity room. After about four weeks, the blocks will start fruiting on their own, so it's good to keep the blocks in cold storage for no more than a month max.

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This next article continues our mushroom cultivation notes on the other stages of mushroom cultivation. 

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