When it comes to growing your own food, few people consider mushrooms as a crop that can be easily grown at home. Many assume you require years of experience, damp and dark growing spaces and fancy hi-tech equipment.
The reality is that growing your own mushrooms is much easier than you may have been led to believe, and it is a gratifying experience that could leave you hooked on a new world of homegrown crops.
There are thousands of species of mushrooms and many gourmet mushroom species you can grow at home with little equipment or experience. For mushroom growing newbies, it is often recommended that you start with a mushroom growing kit, as you will be supplied with all of the necessary equipment and supplies required to grow your own mushrooms from start to finish. Beyond growing kits, you can either produce or purchase mushroom spawn and grow mushrooms using buckets, in bags, on logs or even outdoors.
When it comes to growing mushrooms, there are many different approaches to cultivation, some depend on the species of mushroom you are growing, and others depend on your growing space and lifestyle.
Why Grow Your Own Mushrooms?
Growing your own mushrooms is a surefire way to try some of the best mushrooms you can get your hands on. A key challenge for many commercial mushroom growers and retail outlets is the speed at which they can deliver freshly harvested mushrooms to market and the shelf-life of the product once they do – not to mention the impact of transporting the mushrooms.
The consequence is that the mushrooms you find in the supermarkets are unlikely to be of the highest quality and the range of shrooms sold is limited due to the shelf life or impracticalities of growing certain gourmet mushrooms at scale.
As home growers, we can grow beautifully delicious mushrooms and put them to use at their peak quality (substrate to table, if you will) with the added bonus of deciding how our mushrooms will be grown.
Access to new types of mushrooms
We’re also able to grow species of mushrooms that are virtually impossible to find in supermarkets, as we’re not constrained to the complexities of producing mushrooms at scale or the issues of shelf life these types of organisations have. The pink oyster mushroom is a great example of this when it comes to large retailers.
Whilst some supermarkets may occasionally feature these in a mixed bundle offer (and at a premium price), pink oysters are known for their relatively short shelf life compared to other mushrooms and as such, are hard to find. Despite this, they are a sought-after product for their unique appearance and deep umami flavour. Growing your own pink oyster mushrooms is easy, surprisingly fast and will leave you with fresh and tasty shrooms to enjoy!
Growing mushrooms at home can also be very affordable compared to purchasing from a supermarket. For commonly cultivated mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, you can get the job done with a growing bag, straw mix and mushroom spawn.
Where Can You Grow Mushrooms?
Mushrooms can be grown in a variety of locations but depending on where you live and the species of mushrooms you are looking to grow, you may need to weigh up the pros and cons of your intended growing space.
When growing mushrooms – or really any crop – it is wise to consider the native environment from which the species came. Obviously, growing species of mushrooms that are naturally found in tropical climates are perhaps not best suited for the British outdoors and growing indoors may be a more viable option.
Many mushrooms also require an abundance of fresh air and high humidity without direct sunlight, so placement is equally important.
The method of growing will also influence your decision. If you wish to grow a species that thrives on hardwood logs, you’re better off doing this in an outdoor setting but if you’re growing in bags or buckets, you can often find a suitable indoor placement with ease.
Growing Mushrooms Indoors
When growing mushrooms at home, growing indoors is usually the preferred option. For starters, growing indoors usually allows for improved temperature control and a consistent growing environment in terms of humidity and sunlight.
It is recommended to use some form of growing environment when growing indoors, this could be anything from a plastic-lined cardboard box up to a plastic fruiting chamber or indoor tent. A growing environment can help to maintain humidity and optimise air exchange.
Check out some more of our guides for growing mushrooms indoors:
- Growing mushrooms indoors with growing bags
- Growing mushrooms in buckets
- Growing mushrooms in coffee grounds
Growing Mushrooms Outdoors
Growing mushrooms outdoors can be a cheaper (and somewhat easier to maintain) way to grow mushrooms at home. It requires no need for specialised equipment and can be achieved using similar materials you may already have if you grow other produce at home.
The most common way to grow mushrooms outdoors is to use a growing log. Hardwood growing logs are nutrient-dense energy sources for mushrooms and can sustain your mushrooms for significant periods of time.
This is often a preferred method for growing shiitake mushrooms as it mimics the natural environment for the mushroom and can produce fresh shiitake mushrooms for years to come. Growing on logs does require more patience, however, as the inoculation period can take 12 months depending on the species of mushroom and the size of the log.
Another popular way to grow mushrooms outdoors is using a mushroom bed. Mushroom beds are a low-tech method of producing sizable batches of mushrooms in spaces that are often unsuitable for other crops. A mushroom bed consists of a patch of substrate mix, mixed with mushroom spawn and topped with a layer of mulch.
Whilst growing mushrooms outdoors certainly has its pros, it is worth noting that not all species of mushrooms will be suitable for outdoor growing – depending on where you live. Another consideration is the greater risk of contamination if using a method like a mushroom bed. When growing indoors, we have much greater control over the growing process and take careful steps to ensure that contamination is kept to a minimum, which cannot be achieved in an outdoor setting.
When growing mushrooms outdoors, we recommend opting for a species of mushroom that can either thrive on a growing log or is resistant to competing organisms – such as oyster mushrooms or wine caps.
What Equipment Do I Need to Grow Mushrooms?
To get started growing mushrooms at home, you actually require very little in the way of equipment. If it is your first time growing mushrooms, we recommend you opt for a mushroom growing kit, which will include everything you need to get started (beyond household basics).
As you start to experiment or scale your home growing, there are some pieces of equipment you may wish to invest in.
Mushroom Growing Bags (Recommended)
As with most things, getting the basics right is a strong first step. If you’re looking to grow mushrooms in bags or even just something to incubate your substrate in, starting with a high-grade mushroom growing bag is highly recommended.
Pressure Cooker (Optional for most species)
A pressure cooker is a useful piece of equipment to have if you have a requirement to sterilise your substrate or spawn medium. For most new or hobbyist growers, we don’t typically recommend investing in a pressure cooker unless you plan to grow some types of mushrooms.
If you’re looking to try your hand at a species that requires a little more care in the preparation, such as Lion’s Mane, or are looking to experiment with supplemented substrate mixes, you may wish to consider purchasing a PC.
Laminar Flow Hood (Recommended for advanced/commercial growers)
A laminar flood is a high-tech piece of equipment used by advanced hobbyists or commercial growers. It is an enclosed cabinet that prevents contamination in your working environment using HEPA air filters ensuring your mushroom spawn will successfully develop.
How to Grow Mushrooms for Beginners
Using a Mushroom Growing Kit
For beginners, the best place to start learning about mushroom growing is, to begin with a DIY kit that provides all of the supplies needed to get started, with step-by-step instructions specific to the type of mushrooms you are growing.
See our range of mushroom kits for some great starter options. We also offer a gift kit if you’re looking to purchase it as a gift – the spawn is delivered separately via voucher so that you can get fresh spawn when you’re ready to grow.
How to Grow Mushrooms: The Fundamental Steps
The process behind growing mushrooms will vary depending on the species you are growing and the environment in which you plan to grow them, but there are some fundamental steps that apply to almost all forms of mushroom cultivation.
1. Using Mushroom Spawn
When growing mushrooms, the first step is to start with spores or spawn. We’ll run through using spores later in this guide but is first important to understand what mushroom spawn actually is.
In a nutshell, mushroom spawn is an organic medium that already has mushroom mycelium growing on it. It allows growers to bypass the long and tedious process of collecting, germinating and maintaining spores, which can require a lot of time, money and equipment.
Common forms of mushroom spawn include grain spawn, where the sterilised grain has been inoculated with mycelium, or wooden dowels, which can be used for growing mushrooms on logs.
When using mushroom spawn, you will need to find a suitable mushroom substrate to inoculate, whether it be something like straw, sawdust, or coffee grounds.
2. Selecting A Substrate
A mushroom substrate is a medium on which you grow your mushrooms. It is the source of nutrients and structure for your mushroom mycelium to grow and expand, allowing the lifecycle of your fungus to complete and produce beautiful mushroom bodies.
There are many types of mushroom substrates to choose from, but it is best to research the type of mushroom you are trying to grow to find the best-suited medium and/or supplements.
The most common mushroom substrates include:
- Straw or hay
- Sawdust or Hardwood Fuel Pellets (HWFP)
- Coffee Grounds
- Soy Hulls
Should I use substrate supplements?
As you become more familiar and comfortable with growing your own mushrooms, it can be good to explore the use of supplements with your substrate. Supplemented mixes such as Master’s Mix, can help some types of mushrooms produce much higher yields at a faster rate than they would on an unsupplemented substrate mix.
Supplements add additional nutrition to your substrate, allowing some mushrooms to grow more successfully.
It is recommended that you take the proper precautions and research your choices before using supplements, however, as they can also increase the risk of contamination in some cases – even after sterilisation.
3. Preparing Your Mushroom Substrate
We have a detailed guide on how to prepare your mushroom substrate, but the topline points to be aware of when working with substrates is the requirement to remove or reduce potential sources of contamination and to ensure you achieve optimal levels of moisture.
There are two ways to approach this; pasteurisation and sterilisation.
Pasteurisation is the process of reducing the amounts of microscopic contaminants, allowing our mycelium to take over and colonise the substrate mix without competition. The main difference between sterilisation and pasteurisation is that the latter allows certain bacteria or organisms to survive, though at levels that will not prevent the mycelium from colonising the medium.
There are several methods to pasteurise your substrate, but the most common technique for beginners or low-tech hobbyists is heat pasteurisation using boiling water. Growing your mushrooms in bags is a preferred low-tech method as you can simply use a kettle to submerge your substrate mix and seal for quick and easy pasteurisation. A similar technique is to use a large pot of boiling water to directly submerge your substrate.
There are many different types of pasteurisation but the main methods include:
- Cold Pasteurisation/Hydrated Lime Pasteurisation
- Heat Pasteurisation
- Anaerobic Pasteurisation
Sterilisation is a method which is usually used when producing spawn but is also used with some forms of substrate. It seeks to destroy all pathogens within the substrate to remove potential competing organisms from the equation. For most mushroom species – particularly oyster mushrooms – sterilisation is not required and a form of pasteurisation is suitable.
Most commonly, it is advised to sterilise a substrate using a pressure cooker or autoclave if you are using a supplemented mix and a very slow-growing species. See our mushroom growing guide hub for links to specific guides with recommended temperatures, pressure & cooking times.
Atmospheric Sterilisation (“Super Pasteurisation”)
Autoclaves can be an expensive investment for some mushroom growers and similar results can be achieved by heating the substrate mix to high temperatures (approx 100c) for extended periods of time (12-18 hours). This alternative approach is referred to as ‘atmospheric sterilisation’, and can be commonly achieved by using drum barrels and an external heating source – such as a base drum heater or a propane burner.
Once your substrate has been prepared, you will need to inoculate your substrate with your choice of spawn. If you are growing mushrooms using a mix, like straw, sawdust or coffee grounds, we recommend using grain spawn as you can easily break it apart and distribute it throughout the mix.
If you’re using logs to grow your mushrooms, you will need to use pre-inoculated mushroom dowels. See our guide on how to grow mushrooms using logs for detailed instructions on how to inoculate a growing log.
The incubation phase of the growing process is where your spawn will colonise your substrate mix in preparation for mushroom fruiting. The time it takes for your mushrooms to complete incubation depends largely on the species of mushrooms you are dealing with, but also on the environment in which you store them.
Be sure to check the recommended growing conditions when purchasing a mushroom growing kit or mushroom spawn, as this can vary quite significantly from species to species.
Once your mushrooms have fully colonised your mushroom substrate, it’s time to optimise the growing environment to encourage the fruiting of mushroom bodies.
Often, this will include maintaining a sufficient level of humidity in the substrate and growing environment. If you’re growing mushrooms in a bag, you should use a water bottle to mist the bag and surrounding area a few times per day.
If you’re growing on logs, you’ll need to consider watering the logs depending on your climate and weather conditions.
If your mushrooms are taking longer than expected to fruit and the mycelium has fully colonised and you have ruled out contamination, you can try shocking your substrate. This is commonly a technique used when growing mushrooms on logs and involves submerging the substrate in cold water to create a sudden change in temperature and moisture.
6. Harvesting & Ongoing Care
Knowing when to harvest your mushrooms will ultimately depend on the species of mushroom that you are growing. For many types of mushrooms, you will want to look to harvest as it first begins to release spores – before the fruiting bodies mature and become firm or “woody” in texture.
When harvesting your mushrooms, it is generally advised to gently pull and twist the mushroom body from the substrate. This helps to prevent removing the substrate itself and allows for future flushes to grow. You do not want the stem to remain in the substrate as this can lead to rot and then contamination.
How many flushes can I expect?
As with any specifics, this depends on the mushroom species in question, as well as other factors like the substrate type and size of the colonised substrate. One thing to note is that maintaining optimal conditions for your substrate – with humidity & temperature – will help to maximise the number of harvests you can expect.
What to do with your spent substrate
Once your substrate has been depleted of its energy and nutrients, it will stop producing fruiting bodies.
One thing we recommend to all of our growers is to compost your substrate mix once depleted. The additional supply of nutrients found in the compost mix could lead to an additional harvest!
Is making your own mushroom spawn worth it?
In honesty, the answer to this question really depends on your aspirations within mushroom cultivation, and the project you are working on but for most people – especially beginners – it isn’t something we recommend.
Producing your own mushroom spawn requires a more advanced skillset within the mushroom cultivation realm and some expensive specialised equipment, which makes it unfeasible for most growers – at both a hobbyist and commercial level.
In most cases, the necessary equipment alone for even a modest set-up can set you back a few thousand pounds.
Producing your own mushroom spawn requires:
- A truly sterile working environment
- Air filtration and contamination control equipment, such as a Laminar Flow Hood
- Significant time to learn and become efficient with
- A substantial amount of additional time to complete the necessary steps
The majority of growers source their mushroom spawn from a reputable supplier as the cons quickly outweigh the pros when producing your own spawn.
At Urban Farm-It, we stock and produce some of the highest quality mushroom spawn available on the market in partnership with Mycelia. And whilst we sell to many hobbyists and commercial growers alike, we always aim to be transparent within our guides. If you wish to know the basic steps behind producing your own spawn, read on!
Producing your own mushroom spawn
To make your own mushroom spawn, you will need to first collect spores for which to develop your mushroom mycelium. The most common method for sourcing mushroom spores is by taking a spore print of an existing mushroom you possess.
What is a Spore Print?
A spore print is a technique of collecting mushroom spores by taking a mature mushroom and placing the gills – or spore deposits – against a paper medium, like white paper, and allowing it to release visible spores, often in the print form of the mushroom’s shape.
Spore prints are commonly used for mushroom identification but are a great way to collect spores for cultivation.
How to take a spore sprint
To take a spore sprint, take your mature fruiting body and remove the mushroom stem. Now place the mushroom cap gill side down on a piece of white paper. Place a glass cup over the mushroom to prevent it from drying out and allow it to sit for 2-4 hours, or until a visible print has been left behind.
Types of Mushrooms we recommend trying to grow
There are many types of mushrooms out there and so many are worth trying but there are a handful of favourites amongst new and experienced growers alike.
Oyster mushrooms are perhaps the most common gourmet mushroom grown by beginners and by experienced growers.
Their popularity in recent years has resulted in an influx of people looking to grow their own. Not only are these mushrooms absolutely delicious and a perfect meat substitute, but they are also easy to grow at home, without experience.
If you’re looking for a species to try you first grow with, look no further! Check out our mushroom growing kits for a no-nonsense kick start into oyster mushroom cultivation. Also, be sure to check out our grower’s guide to oyster mushrooms for more information.
Shiitake mushrooms are another favourite amongst gourmet growers. Their deep earthy & umami flavour makes them a fantastic addition to any dish. Native to East Asia, Shiitake are a staple in many cuisines and are commonly found in ramen noodle dishes.
Flavour aside, shiitakes are also considered a medicinal mushroom with compounds, vitamins and minerals found to help lower cholesterol, and improve health and immune response.
Shiitake mushrooms are fairly difficult to find in UK supermarkets and are most commonly sold as a dried product in Asian food markets.
You can grow shiitake mushrooms in a number of ways but the most common approaches include growing on a log or growing on a fruiting block.
See our detailed guide on how to grow shiitake mushrooms for more information.
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms are perhaps one of the most alien-looking edible mushrooms out there. The name stems from the striking appearance of the fungus, with a pom pom-like shaggy mane as opposed to a cap and stem. Lion’s mane is also unusual compared to other commonly grown mushrooms as they do not have gills per se – they release spores through their long white “teeth”.
Whilst their appearance is certainly unique, the real magic of Lion’s Mane is the medicinal benefits associated with consuming it – they’re also delicious.
Many of the medicinal benefits of Lion’s Mane are still being researched but studies suggest that the mushroom may protect against dementia, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve nerve health.
Currently, in the UK, the only way to purchase Lion’s Mane is from specialist mushroom farms or to grow your own. Growing your own Lion’s Mane is surprisingly easy with the right know-how and due diligence – check out our guide to growing lion’s mane mushrooms for a step-by-step guide.
Wine Cap Mushrooms
Wine cap mushrooms are a perfect choice for those looking to grow mushrooms outdoors. They’re arguably one of the easiest mushrooms to grow, as they require little preparation and equipment. Check out our guide to growing mushrooms outdoors to learn more about growing species like wine cap mushrooms.
How Mushrooms Grow: The Lifecycle of Mushrooms
Understanding the lifecycle of mushrooms can help you become a better mushroom grower, as you’ll have a better understanding of the various stages fungi go through before becoming the mushrooms we enjoy. Whilst you only need to know the basics to get started, we encourage all members of our community to advance their knowledge to become better urban farmers.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies and reproductive powerhouses of fungi. They can be thought of as the final stage in the lifecycle before the cycle repeats itself through the spreading of spores released from the mushroom.
Releasing of Spores
When a mushroom reaches maturity, it releases microscopic spores in vast numbers – usually from the gills or pores – which spread through the air before settling on the ground or a substrate medium.
Inoculation & Spore Germination
Once the spores have spread and settled, the lifecycle will only continue if the conditions in which the spores have landed are favourable for spore germination.
When spores germinate, it is essentially the beginnings of a mushroom mycelium network.
What is mushroom mycelium?
Mushroom mycelium is essentially a network of threads – often white and wool-like – made up of something called “hyphae”. Mycelium is often described as being like roots for their fractal-like structure, and sometimes due to them being found within the soil. Mycelium can be thought of as the integral nervous system of the fungi – the mushrooms are really just the “fruits” of the fungus.
As the mycelium develops, it will break down the organic materials it encounters and derives its nutrition from them. In the right environments, mycelium can develop at an exponential rate, producing a sizable network to continue the lifecycle.
Throughout the mycelial expansion, the fungi will surely encounter foreign bodies, predators and competitor organisms, which are combatted against using various enzymes and protective compounds. In the wild, the mycelium is often not visible as it resides deep within the substrate or even underground but is a fascinating thing to witness when growing your own mushrooms!
Once the mycelium has sufficiently expanded, the next stage in the lifecycle is known as “hyphal knotting”. In short, this is really where the mycelium begins to “bundle” together, creating a more complete coating as opposed to individual threads, in preparation for fruiting mushrooms
As the fungus prepares to produce the fruiting bodies, it starts releasing a range of enzymes to promote the growth of pins. The primordia stage is commonly classified as the stage at which fruiting bodies become visible to the naked eye and begin “pinning” small mushroom caps.
Fruiting Body Selection
In the wild, there can be thousands of primordia developed in the formation stage, though not all are viable candidates for maturity. At this stage, the fungus will focus its energy and resources on developing the most promising fruiting bodies for maturity and reproduction.
Fruiting Body Maturity & Spore Release
As the final stage in the lifecycle is approaching, the fungus will provide all of the required resources to allow its chosen fruiting bodies to reach full maturity and sexual reproductivity to release spores and restart the lifecycle.
Are there courses to learn about Mushroom Cultivation?
Yes! We offer an in-person course here in Kent, United Kingdom which walks you through the steps required to grow and forage your own mushrooms. We recognise that it is not possible for all of our members to get to us physically, but we also create a range of detailed growing guides on a regular basis which can be found at our resource hub.