The industry for growing fungi at home has literally mushroomed in recent years. Self-contained mushroom grower kits, available from a variety of online sites have removed all the mystery and guesswork . Simple and easy to use, these kits are a great way to spawn an interest in growing delicious mushrooms.

Like any crop, growing mushrooms at home takes some time and care. Gardeners know that throwing seeds out into their yard isn’t the best way to grow vegetables and the same holds true for mushroom growers. So, let’s start with a quick review of growing ‘shrooms indoors.

The Mushroom Life Cycle

Mycelium

Unlike most plants, mushrooms reproduce by spores. These microscopic cells are fascinating and a glance through a microscope will show you that these simple spores come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. As the spores germinate, they produce thread-like filaments called hyphae. There are many variations on this theme in the fungus world, but here is a simple version of the life cycle of the classic white button mushroom.

As the hyphae mature, they grow and connect with other hyphae. Mushroom hyphae are not considered male and female, more like positive and negative. If two strands are compatible – meaning a positive pairing with a negative – they'll transfer their genetic information to the other strand. Once the hyphae are joined, they'll continue to grow until they form a new structure called the mycelium. Mycelia act as a sort of root system for the fungus in that it absorbs nutrients and in turn produces fruiting bodies. mushrooms. Scoop up some forest or soil duff and the moldy looking strands in the soil is often this mycelium. Eventually, the mycelium produces the beginning stage of a mushroom, called the primordia. As the primordia grows and matures it forms the mushroom fruiting body that is ready for harvest!

In the wild, mushrooms may require different substrates to grow on such as manure, wood, soil, duff, or other organic material on which to grow. Sometimes the substrate, or the material our edible organism grows on, is the key in identifying the type of mushroom because some grow on only one type of substrate. Home growing kits usually feature compost or small logs as substrates.

Home Grown

Harvesting wild mushrooms is a great way to get outside in the spring or fall and find some delicious edible fungi. But for those who would rather farm, than search for mushrooms, nowadays there are a number of mushroom growing kits available for the home grower. Many are fairly easy to use, others take a little more time and care. Like homebrewing beer, one can purchase a ready-to-use kit or purchase spawn and substrates to be inoculated, separately. Those wishing to create their own mushroom culture will need more materials and a sterile work environment with temperature and humidity controls. This last option is similar to the homebrewer growing their own grains and harvesting their own hops and yeast to produce a batch of beer.

Space requirements are minimal. Most mushroom kits are either in a box or small logs. These can easily fit on a counter top or table.

Here are several different species of mushrooms that indoor growers might find easy and fun to grow.

Oysters

Mushrooms growing from a log topped in freer paint

Oyster mushrooms are named for their similarities both in size and shape to the aquatic creature. These mushrooms grow on wood substrate and have a sweet flavor. They can be grown indoors or outside depending upon the temperature. These mushrooms present in a variety of colors including: black, gray, pearl, pink white, or yellow.

Oyster mushroom kits come in either a box or log include hardwood logs which have been inoculated with spores. A metal tag on the log or box label will give the date of inoculation. Keep in mind that it usually takes about 16 weeks from the date of inoculation to fruiting.

For indoor use, growers need a warm location, between 65 and 70°F, that has indirect sunlight and is out of reach of children and pets. Too much sunlight may dry out the substrate, so read the packaging instructions to select optimal growing conditions.

Shiitake

Shiitake mushrooms have a meatier flavor and are great in stir fry dishes. Shiitake kits include foot-long hardwood logs that have been inoculated. Sealing wax covers the inoculation holes and protects the spores from insects or desiccation.

For shiitake and oyster mushrooms, growers soak the logs in unchlorinated water for 24 hours, then mist is occasionally to keep it moist. Within a few weeks, there could be mushrooms to harvest. The logs may be laid down horizontally or stood upright as they may be only 12” in length. As long as the spores stay viable, growers could expect to harvest some mushrooms every couple of months for several years.

Maitake

Maitake mushrooms, also called Hen of the Woods or Ram’s Head, is a delicate, earthy, and great-tasting mushroom that requires a bit more care than the shiitake. When a kit arrives, it must be started within 10 days. This mushroom’s spawn doesn’t do well with freezing. The mushrooms are grown in a bag containing hardwood sawdust; once the mushrooms begin to grow the bag is opened and the substrate needs to be watered several times a day. After the initial harvest of mushrooms, the growing medium needs to go out into a garden bed where it may fruit after six months. In the wild, maitake prefer moist locations, growing on or at the base of oak trees, so recreating that type of environment is best. Some home growers inoculate oak logs by drilling inch-deep holes and placing maitake spawn directly into the log.

Portabella Mushrooms

Large, thick, and tasty, portabella mushrooms are grown for the size, texture, and option for vegetarians. Often grilled, these mushrooms make a great alternative to barbequed meats and can be prepared like a hamburger.

Portabellas kits contain inoculated pasteurized compost in a box. To grow the mushrooms, literally just add water and mist daily. Most kits should be started soon after delivery to insure the viability of the spores. Otherwise, refrigerate the box until use.

Care should be given to portabellas like other mushroom kits: keep away from kids and pets, grow in indirect light, and constant temperatures between 63 and 68°F. Though portabella may grow to be 5-6 inches in diameter, they can be harvested when the mushroom is smaller. These smaller versions are called criminal or baby bellas. Total harvest is around four pounds, after which time the soil nutrients are well spent and can be composted.

Other Varieties for Home Growing

Enoki Mushrooms

Kits for enoki, lion’s mane (also called hedgehog), white button mushrooms, and reishi mushrooms are also available for home growers. Reishi reportedly have been grown for their medicinal qualities. All the kits come with instructions and reviews or comments to share with other growers.

Similar to gardening, growing mushrooms at home is a great way to get kids involved. They can easily be responsible for keeping the mediums clean and moist and then help with the harvest.