Mushrooms are an endlessly fascinating organism on planet earth. Defined as the fruiting body of fungus, it is most often found above ground in soil or upon its food source. To say that people are passionate about this branch of fungi feels like an understatement – folks go wild for certain delicious varieties. For every person that turns their nose up at mushrooms in a meal, there’s someone else, closely guarding the secret location of a morel patch or finding a way to cook them into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
So why are mushrooms so cool? There are many angles at which to approach this question. To start with, some mushrooms are extremely poisonous and can kill you. It seems to be the case that anything dangerous in the forest takes on a certain mystique. Adding to the mystery of mushrooms is the fact that people have been foraging for them for thousands of years – this adds to certain cultural understandings of mushrooms as precious and revered. Some types of mushrooms contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin, which when ingested, can cause a person to hallucinate. Scientists are even conducting research on the ways in which psilocybin might affect individuals’ mental health. A type of mushroom, mycelium, connects the root systems of trees, allowing them to communicate like a high-speed internet connection. Some types of mushrooms may have anti-cancer properties. The more you learn, the more interesting the kingdom of fungi becomes.
With such a mysterious organism, is it really possible to start mushroom farming? Yep, it is. Though, it’s not as simple as throwing some dill seeds in a raised bed. It’ll take some planning and close attention. Mushroom farming, or Fungiculture, is a profitable sector of the agricultural business and depending on your goals, it’s something you can do at home or on a farm. A pound of log-grown shiitake mushrooms can sell for $10 – $18, depending on the demand in your area. While there are a plethora of books to read on the subject and you can spend days watching youtube videos full of helpful tips and tricks, below is an introduction to the process:
Outdoor logs can be a great way to begin mushroom farming, especially if you’re hoping to grow the shiitake variety. In the United States, this practice is still fairly new but particularly successful in the midwest regions. You want to use a log from an oak tree ideally, but sugar maple and beech logs can work as substitutes. Logs should be cut during the dormant season – between December and March. Keep any cut logs in a sheltered area so they don’t dry out. Keep them close to the ground, and use a tarp or snow cover to keep moisture in.
You’ll want to do research on what type of spawn and strain to use, as this can be a fundamental aspect of whether or not your mushroom farm is a success. There are certain strains that are more beginner-friendly than others, but your selection should also depend on what you’re excited about growing and where you live. You can order spawn plugs from a variety of places online or at a local nursery.
After you’ve found the perfect spawn and strain for your mushroom farm, moisture is probably the most important factor when it comes to actually growing mushrooms. You want the moisture content of your log to be around 45%. If it hasn’t rained in over 2 weeks, you’ll need to water the log(s) yourself. You can soak a log for 2-5 hours to re-hydrate it and keep it thriving for another month. Less water-efficient but also effective is to use a sprinkler on the logs for 4-8 hours, bringing the moisture content back up.
To inoculate your log, drill 1-inch deep holes in rows 6 inches apart. Use a hammer to push the spawn plug into the hole until the plug is flush with the log’s surface. Once you’ve filled the holes, you can cover the log in a light layer of wax to protect the log from unwanted spores and bacteria and then place the log in a shady area.
This process takes patience. For example, logs inoculated in April will fruit over a year later, around June.
If you’re craving a more regulated and nuanced approach than log-growing is able to provide, you might consider indoor trays as a technique for mushroom farming. With indoor trays, you have greater control over light, temperature, and moisture. Your crop will be better protected from pests and other contaminating elements. This allows for a more consistent production cycle. However, it is also a considerably more amount of work and might deter beginning mushroom farmers. There are plenty of accessible resources available to learn more about growing crops indoors.
Mushroom farming is an intensive technique – but the bounty can absolutely be worth the trouble! As with any new farming or gardening endeavors, it’s important to have a realistic understanding of the necessary time and resources. Farming mushrooms should be fun, so start small and grow from there.
Most often, problems arise from either too much moisture or not enough. Soak up as much knowledge as you can from experienced growers online and in your community, and then go for it. There’s really only one way to succeed – and that’s to give it a try.
Have you had success with mushroom farming before? What techniques did you use and what did you learn along the way?