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Mushroom Cultivation

Growing culinary mushrooms is intriguing and pleasurable, and there are many different mushroom species that are readily grown at home, in the garden, and commercially. I teach mushroom cultivation workshops to help would-be fungus growers to master basic skills, select appropriate growing materials, and assess what sort of culinary mushroom culture project they can commit to. Below is a photographic series that demonstrates one of the easiest mushroom cultivation techniques: growing oyster mushrooms on straw. Cultivating oyster mushrooms on straw is an easy method that can produce oyster mushrooms within days.

Cultivating Oyster Mushrooms

This oyster mushroom spawn will be used to grow mycelium on a combination of coastal hay and bamboo. The spawn is colonized by mycelium and is made of brown rice and vermiculite.
A combination of coastal hay and bamboo was pasteurized in a hot water bath for 1.5 hours to make a substrate. Oyster mushroom mycelium will be added to this mixture so that mushroms can be fruited from it in a few weeks
Straining out the hot water. Oyster mushroom spawn will be added once the substrate cools.
Spreading the substrate out on a flat surface will make it easier to mix in spawn.
A half pint jar of oyster mushroom spawn is cut and split apart to inoculate the hay.
Substrate and spawn is mixed together by hand to create an even distribution of spawn chunks in the hay and bamboo mix.
Once the spawn is mixed into the substrate, it is gathered to be stuffed into a bag to incubate.
The substrate is now packed into a plastic bag with adequate air exchange so that it can incubate. The mycelium in the oyster mushroom spawn will grow out onto the hay until it is colonized by thick, healthy mycelium that can produce mushrooms.
Adding a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide will help keep contaminants out. Peroxide kills bacteria and spores, but it will not harm the mycelium. Oyster mushrooms use peroxidases to digest nutrients, and so it is resistant to peroxide and will not be harmed by a small amount of it diluted in water.
Tying the bag at the top completes the process. The bag will be stored in a cool, clean place to colonize.
After incubating in the bag for 10 days, the bag is opened, watering is increased, and the temperature is lowered. These changes signal to the mycelium that it is time to grow mushrooms. The primordia (baby mushrooms) pictured here grew within 24 hours of placing the bag under fruiting conditions.
12 days after inoculation with mushroom spawn, the bag is bursting with mature oyster mushrooms to be harvested and eaten!
A sprig of oyster mushrooms, 10 days after inoculation. Spore prints of these will be made in order to generate more oyster mushroom spawn.

Cultivation Hints

Growing mushrooms is a tricky but fascinating undertaking. There are many good books on the subject of gourmet and medicinal mushroom cultivation, but in the end a cultivator's success or failure is rooted in experience.

Mushroom cultivation is essentially the practice of helping mycelium grow and thrive enough to produce mushrooms. Mycelium is a network of filamentous strands of fungus that grows through its habitat and, from time to time, produces mushrooms when the conditions are just right. Mycelium is the true body of mushroom-producing organisms.

Mushroom cultivators introduce spores or mycelium to a suitable growing medium (like straw or woodchips), and allow the fungus to colonize this substrate. Next, the cultivator initiates mushroom fruiting by increasing moisture, air circulation, light, and decreasing the ambient temperature. Basically, the mushroom grower must give the mycelium what it needs to grow and eventually produce fruiting bodies: nutrition, water, light, cool oxygen, and an inviting habitat.