This new year you may be interested in adding new crops to your garden adventures. Mushrooms are interesting to grow and can bring a plentiful harvest right in your home. The multiple stages of growth for some varieties can require precise conditions. There are also ways to establish a mushroom crop with much less effort. Understanding a bit about the growth stages of mushrooms can help explain the requirements.
Mycelium is a system of cells that resemble a root system. The mycelium absorbs nutrients to promote mushroom growth (fruiting) and reproduction. Small bumps begin to form on the mycelium which denotes the start of fruit. These bumps are known as pinheads and will continue to grow into full-sized mushrooms and develop spores for reproduction. Reproduction happens when spores, found on the underside of the mushroom caps, fall to the ground and mix with other spores. A new network of mycelium begins to grow and start the growth cycle over again.
Growing mushrooms at home requires a proper location. Most mushrooms require temperatures to be around 60 F and shade. Growers also need a suitable substrate, which is any material mycelium can inhabit. Most mushrooms will not grow in regular garden soil. Some species grow well on a substrate of coffee grounds, straw or saw dust. Other species require hardwood logs such as oak. The substrate must be inoculated, which is when the spores of the mushroom are introduced to the growing medium. It is recommended that inoculation take place under sterile conditions to avoid introducing other fungi and bacteria to the growing space.
Next, the inoculated substrate needs to be placed in a warm, dark location for a few weeks to months depending on the species and the type of substrate used. This is called the incubation period when the mycelium becomes established. At the end of this time, there will likely be a white mat of mycelium covering the substrate. The mycelium should be kept moist throughout the day by misting. You will begin to notice pinheads developing.
When the mushrooms have reached full size, they can be harvested by twisting the caps to remove them from the substrate. This should be done gently to avoid damaging the growing medium. New mushrooms will continue to develop until all of the energy stored in the substrate has been exhausted.
This is a general overview of mushroom farming. If you are a beginning grower consider purchasing an indoor grow kit for your first attempt. Inoculation and incubation steps have already been completed in these kits so you’re all set to watch for the fruiting phase. This method can give you experience with the growth cycle and preferred conditions of mushrooms before you attempt to inoculate a substrate on your own.
There are thousands of identified species of edible mushrooms and many more that are yet to be described. For home growers the most popular are Agaricus bisporus which includes button, crimini and portobello mushrooms. Home-grown mushrooms can bring a wonderful flavor to your meals and intrigue to your garden.
Cynthia Domenghini is an instructor and coordinator for K-State’s horticultural therapy online certificate program.