Growing mushrooms is surprisingly easy once you get the basics right.
And to be honest, I was surprised after getting my first crop so soon
after planting, because not only did I get an excellent crop, it also
meant that for very little outlay I had a steady supply of good
mushrooms that gave me an enormous amount of pleasure growing.
So what are the basics in mushroom growing? Well you
really need the following in a nutshell:
1) An area for growing that can be temperature controlled or fairly
static with regards to temperature
2) A container that will include your growing material of straw and
3) Good, viable mushroom spore
Where to Grow your Mushrooms
Of course we all know that wild mushrooms grow outside. However, when
you are growing mushrooms for pleasure or profit you will need to find
a dedicated spot for them that will mimick the same growing conditions
that the wild mushrooms enjoy.
mushrooms best results are gained in a dark, cool, draught-free
environment. A shed or cellar is the perfect location, but if you don't
have these try growing them under the stairs, under the house, or in
the bottom of a cupboard.
Mushrooms are one of the few plants that don't need light to grow. In
fact until the mushrooms are ready to push through the soil, any light
would hamper its proper development.
Of course there is an optimal
growing temperature for mushrooms and that is between 55-65
. However, even if your cellar or room has temperatures
above or below
these ideal temperatures your mushrooms will still grow for you as long
as the heat is not at freezing levels or extremely hot.
Once the mushrooms start to pop through the soil they will need some
ventilation in their growing areas. We grow our mushrooms in a room
under the house and one end backing into the ground. There is a door
with a grill area that allows air in and out of the area. This is
enough air for this size room. However, the bigger your growing area,
the more ventilation you will need to install
Just make sure that you
get ventilation into your rooms rather than drafts or blasts of cold
Remember you want your rooms to remain at that optimal temperature of
between 55-65 degrees F
What is Mushroom Spawn?
Mushroom spawn is what botanists call mycelium
The spawn is the true
mushroom plant and spreads throughout the manure or growing material in
which it may be grown. Under ideal conditions these white, delicate
mold like threads spread rapidly and in time the fruit which
is of course, the mushroom emerges.
Once the mushroom grows it produces many spores which, in layman's
terms, are the seeds of the plant. However, we have never been able to
produce spawn artificially from mushroom spores. So how to we get
spawn? By propagation, by division. We take the mushroom plant, or
spawn, break it up into pieces, and plant these pieces separately in a
prepared bed of mature and other materials, and under conditions
favorable for their growth produce mushrooms.
But if we can't produce mushrooms from spore and the spawn in the beds
that have borne the mushrooms has died out, how do we get the spawn for
Mushroom spawn is harvested when it is at its most vigorous condition;
just before it starts producing mushrooms. The spawn is then dried and
kept for future use.
Good mushroom spawn should smell like mushrooms and the cobweb-like
mold should be bluish white and the threads themselves should be a
clear white. If the threads are yellow it means that the mycelium has
started to grow and then died off.
Compost and Manure for Growing Mushrooms
The type of growing medium you choose for your mushrooms will be
determined by what types of mushrooms you want to grow. I grow the
brown button mushrooms and like using horse manure and straw as a
compost medium as a result. However, if you are growing Shiitake or
Enoke mushrooms they like growing in a bran/sawdust mix.
The best compost for
growing Button or Shaggy Mane mushrooms
is from horse
manure mixed with straw. I prefer house manure, although donkey manure
comes a close second. Some people have had success using chicken
manure, I have never tried. But avoid pig, or cow manure for mushroom
growing as they tend to introduce the very bugs and beasties you really
don't want to have in your mushroom boxes.
Although having said that, I
do know of someone who has had success using cow manure. However, it is
used dried, chopped up fine, and then mixed with horse manure. The
correct ratio is using 2 four-gallon drums
of horse manure
1 straw bale.
The very best manure is that from strong, healthy, hard-worked,
well-kept animals that are liberally fed with hard food, as timothy hay
and grain, and bedded with straw. And the manure should not only be
fresh but it will be better still if it includes some of the straw
bedding that has been trampled down in the stables. Remove the manure
from the stables on a daily basis and start piling it up for when you
will use it.
Tease out the straw from the bales into thick layers of straw and wet
it with non-chlorinated water. Cover the straw up with some hessian
bags and leave for 3 days to soak and start breaking down.
After day 3
remove the sacks and spread the straw to just a few inches thick before
adding a layer of manure. Just a word of warning. Make sure that the
horse that you have sourced your manure from has been brought up in
organic conditions. If not, any medication or deworming done could
affect the manure and in turn your mushroom production.
Continue layering with the straw and the manure until you have run out
You will now need to rot your compost down before you can plant the
mushroom spore. And to do that you need to leave your mixed manure and
straw for about 5 days untouched. Cover your heap up and leave. On the
6th day turn the heap
thoroughly making sure that the outside of the compost
is now on the
inside. Keep turning it in this way for another 5 days for at
least 3 to 4 more time in order for the compost to break down and watch
for the temperature of the compost heap to start to drop.
You may need to add a little water to the mixture. However,
it must not be saturated and certainly not showing any moisture if you
squeeze some of it out. Remember too much water and you will cool down
the heat of your compost heap and too much and your compost will sour.
What you do need to watch out for is your compost heap getting so hot
that it starts to burn. When hot manure is turned and placed in a loose
heap, the pile will heat up tremendously. Sometimes there is so much
heat that you will have to turn it again within 24 hours to prevent
your heap from burning, which you absolutely don't want. However, with
every turning you will be losing ammonia, which is good food for your
mushrooms so you really don't want to disturb the manure if you can
possibly help it. If you do need to bring down the temperature without
losing too much ammonia, then make holes in the compost all over with a
crow bar or something similar.
If you plant out your boxes when the compost is too hot, the insides of
the beds will dry up and waste the nutrients that would have existed
for the mushroom spawn. As a result when the mushrooms do finally
emerge the crop will only be a small one and the cropping period will
If you find that your compost has cooled down quicker than you were
able to get around to use it, then you can open it up and mix it up
with a load of fresh manure and start again so that you get that
If you are growing mushrooms in horse manure this process will take
only 2 - 3 weeks before you have the right compost conditions to start
growing mushrooms. But if you are using chicken manure, it
can take up
to 4 weeks before the compost is ready for growing mushrooms
So how do you know when your compost is ready? When the compost is no
longer hotting up when it is turned. It should also no longer smell
rank. Your compost ready for planting into your boxes should also not
be wet. Test it by taking a handful and squeeze it. It should hold its
shape and there should be no drips coming from the clump. If it
crumbles it is too dry. If there are drips it is too wet.
should measure between 85-90 degrees F
for it to be ready to be
spawned. You can spawn the beds at temperatures between 65-100
degrees F. and they will still provide a good crop of mushrooms, but
the sweet spot is between 85-90 degrees F.
Sterilizing your Mushroom Compost Growing Medium
If you are growing mushrooms for profit or pleasure sterlizing the
compost before planting your spawn is very important. This is because
mushrooms are readily attacked by a number of bugs, worms and molds.
Therefore by heating the compost up to 200 degrees F
least an hour will kill off any bugs or mold spores
likely attack your produce. It also kills off any rogue mushroom or
toadstool spawn that may be present.
If you are growing mushrooms on a large scale, it is not always
practicle to do this, without very expensive equipment. For the smaller
mushroom grower one could do this in one's own ovens, but for a larger
scale a different method can be used. This is done by
compost to heat up to 170 degrees F. before allowing it to cool down to
the 75-85 degrees F. needed for planting.
When is the Right Season for Growing Mushrooms?
Well, there isn't one. You can grow mushrooms all through the year as
long as provide the right growing conditions. However, because we live
in the northern hemisphere where we get some snow during the winter
months we start preparing our manure in July
The boxes themselves
are made up in August
and we usually have a steady
supply of mushrooms from October through to May
After that we find that the mushrooms become infested with fly maggots
and so we then place the mushroom compost on to our vegetable garden
and start again. We get a steady supply by planting only 2 beds at a
time, and then plant another 2 a month later. We do this, planting the
boxes every month up to March. In this way we have a successive crop
rather than having a flush and then nothing for the remainder of the
Each bed produces a crop for 7 - 9 weeks
March when the heat
brings the flies, and along with them the dreaded maggots. You will
find that if you leave your mushrooms growing for longer than 9 weeks,
despite the compost being pretty much depleted you will still get
mushrooms popping up weeks later, but the main flush is really over
after 9 weeks, and so not worth keeping them going beyond that.
Preparing your Boxes for
Once your compost is ready place the compost into wooden
boxes that are
between 6 and 8 inches deep.
You need good
your boxes so make sure that the last box is at least 6 inches off the
floor of the building and if you are stacking the boxes that there is
at least 2 feet between the bottom of the 2nd box and the top of the
last box. This allows you a good space to work with the mushrooms when
harvesting them, as well as emptying the soil out when you want to
start again with another batch.
Once you place your compost into the boxes make sure that it is not too
compacted although you don't want large air pockets, either. You want
the compost to be springy. You don't want the compost to be just a wet,
soggy mess. Do not fill to the top of the box as you will
need to leave a few inches so that you can then add the spawn and more
sterilized compost on top of that for cover.
Now taking a thermometer place it into the soil and leave it there for
Take your mushroom spawn and cut it up into inch x inch pieces. If it
is fresh there will be a white, fluffy layer on
the top and it should have a mushroom smell. Avoid any mushroom spawn
that is black or dark green in color.
Now place the spawn pieces into an inch of peat moss, medium loam soil
or more of your compost. Plant them into holes 8 inches apart. Others
like to crumble the spawn into the soil and then cover it with an inch
of loam soil. If the mycelium looks really good, then you can plant the
pieces 10 inches apart. If your compost is in the 70s with regards to
temperatures, then it is better to bury the pieces of spawn a little
deeper into the soil to get the benefit of the maximum of warmth.
Better results are also obtained when the soil is inert as it
spawn to spread rather than to grow up. Inert soil can be created by
heating it up or taking bare ground and burning paper on the top of
Add a little lime to the soil as this will further help with
growing mushrooms successfully.
Sometimes, you will find that there is a lot of moisture that collects
on the roof of the place where you are growing your mushrooms which
happens to then drip down on to your beds. This is something you really
don't want and so if you do find this happening, you can place a layer
of straw on top of your beds which will then absorb the moisture and
Casing and Mycelium
The mycelia grows from the spawn once it is
active in white, furry threads that can be seen under the soil if you
move it. However, fruiting of your mushrooms doesn't seem to happen
until casing takes place. This is when you place a layer of unsterlized
soil on top of your mycelia threads that then encourages your mushrooms
to start popping up. If you find that your mushrooms start coming
through without casing taking place, then there is no need to do it. In
fact if you did place soil on top of the little pin heads appearing,
which is the start of your mushrooms you will damage them.
correct way for casing to take place is to place 1 1/2 - 2 inches of
loam or clay loam soil that is free from compost or rotted down
Sandy soils don't work, so make sure that it
is loam that you
choose. If you don't add at least a couple of inches as a casing your
mushrooms will come up quite weakly and won't crop for long.
Casing is done about 10 - 14 days after you have planted
It should definitely be down before the
start to appear. If you do the casing as soon as you spawn the beds you
will run the risk of heating up the compost mix too much, which will
then kill the spawn and you will not get any mushrooms. Casing too
late, and you will damage the mycelia and again, spoil the crop.
Make sure that your soil is moist, but not wet. Then firm it down just
so that you are making sure that there will be good contact and no air
I add a layer of straw over the casing at this stage to make sure that
the moisture is kept in. However, just before the pin heads appear, the
straw is removed. This mulch is then sprayed lightly every few days so
that the water moistens the straw but the water never reaches the soil.
Optimal Cellar Temperatures
The ideal room temperature is
fairly constant at 55 - 57 degrees F.
This is the
temperature we aim
for in our cellar. However, there are other areas where mushrooms are
grown and so you have to look at these structures too and people have
had success in growing mushroom in temperatures ranging from 20 degrees
F. to 65 degrees F. If you have a room that has a
temperature you can compensate by placing a layer of straw on top of
your boxes to try and maintain the heat a much as possible.
you have very high temperatures in your growing area, the mushrooms
will not grow well at all. As far as I am concerned, 65 degrees F. is
far too hot. What happens in hotr temperatures is that the mushrooms
will be forced to emerge early, resulting in weak fruit, with thin
flesh and long stems that soon exhausts the compost.
In a room
temperature of 55 degrees F. it may be up to 7 weeks after spawning
before the mushrooms start to emerge. If the temperature is 5 degrees
lower than this it will take another couple of days before the pin
heads start to emerge. However, when they do they are strong, firm,
short stemmed fruits that are a little furry on the top and a little
clammy to the touch. Beds at this temperature will produce for at least
If you find that the room temperature is too cold, you can heat the
area up by placing piles of fresh horse manure on the floor area. Heat
can be retained by turning these piles over periodically and replacing
with new piles from time to time, once the core temperatures of the
piles begin to drop.
If you find that the temperatures of the beds
themselves have fallen below 57 degrees F. and the atmospheric
temperature is under 45 degrees F. then covering the beds with a thick
layer of straw at this stage to keep the beds warm.
Moisture can be retained too by misting the floors and walls of the
Growing Mushrooms and Watering
The ideal situation is that you should never have to water your beds
from start to finish. The only time you should have dryness would be in
the loam casing layer. However, we all know that ideal situations don't
always exist, and so there will probably be times when you will have to
water your crop. This is especially true if your rooms are artificially
heated. However this should be done very carefully.
Once you have planted your spawn and covered them up, you can water
lightly if you want to, but this is the last time that you should be
watering for 4 weeks. Water should never be given to your mushrooms in
the first 4 weeks as
there is enough moisture in the provided compost. If you end up
over-watering your mushrooms they will die. They like moist or damp
conditions, but not sodden ones. If at any time you need to water, the
water should be non-chlorinated water that is at luke-warm
temperatures; 80-90 degrees F. is good, but never higher
What I do, once I have covered up the spawn is to take a sprayer and
lightly spray the soil. In this way, I am not watering, in the true
sense, but rather just misting the soil so that there is now water in
the soil that will help to start off the spawn.
If you are growing mushrooms in temperatures above 60 degrees
F. then you should
start watering lightly after the 4 week period. If your temperature is
below this, then you should delay watering for another 2-4 weeks. Here
again, I use the term "watering" losely, as really you want to be
spraying or misting, rather than watering.
you find that your soil is drying out too quickly then you can solve
this problem by spraying and then placing a damp Hessian sack over the
top of the
boxes while you are waiting for the fruits to start showing.
If you find that the soil is drying out while your mushrooms are
appearing, watering doesn't harm them at this stage but just make sure
that it is just a sprinkling. Don't water more than necessary and
certainly don't allow water to pool any where. The water should be
soft, and clean.
Death to your mushrooms will come swiftly if you allow
the soil to dry
, so make sure that this never happens. Overwatering
has the same
After planting the mushroom
spawn if all conditions are met, you should start to see
white pin heads starting to emerge. This is the beginning of your
mushroom crop. However, it really does depend on the conditions of your
compost, room temperature, etc. and it can even take more than 10 weeks
to appear. After 7-10 days of growth the
mushrooms are ready to be
During the growing period you will have to pick over your beds looking
for any "fogging
" in mushrooms. These are
mushrooms that have gone
soft. You also need to remove old mushroom stems, or spongy material
attached to these. Fill up any holes caused by their removal and place
a small amount of sifted loam over the area recently worked on. Don't
bury the new pin heads and don't firm down any soil at this stage as
you are likely to do more harm than good. As any injury at this stage
to the pinheads will result in more "fogging".
If you find that some of your mushrooms have been affected by black
spot, you can again treat them by sifting a layer of loam soil over the
beds. This seems to prevent a complete outbreak and often protects the
mushrooms that haven't appeared as yet, although it will do nothing for
the mushrooms that have already been affected.
Feeding your Mushrooms
There are many growers who don't feed
their mushrooms at all, but I have found that I get a better crop with
just one application of liquid fertilizer if it is applied properly.
If you want to feed your crop you can use a fairly strong
manure liquid as a fertilizer made from fresh horse droppings steeped
in water, but don't spray on it on your mushrooms as they will
You can apply it to the beds using a watering can with a long spout.
This will feed your mushrooms during their growing time. But only apply
once, and sparingly.
2 bushels of horse manure into a 45 gallon drum. Fill the drum up with
water, stir well and allow the dung to steep overnight. The following
day drain off the liquid and to this add 1 lb saltpeter. Now use the
liquid by diluting 1 bucket of the manure water with 1 bucket of warm
water. Saltpeter is an excellent fertilizer for mushrooms.
You can use saltpeter in 2 ways:
Either as a fertilizer used in the casings. This used dry and is mixed
directly into the casing loam at rate of 2 ounces saltpeter to 1 bushel
Diluted with water at a rate of 2
ounces of saltpeter to 8 gallons
of water. Sprinkle over the beds.
salt can also be used as an insecticide as well as a fertilizer. It can
be either broadcasted onto the beds - always on the bare parts - never
touching the mushrooms. Leave it for a day or two and then water into
the soil. This helps destroy the anguillulae.
If you are using
salt as a fertlizer you must dissolve 4 ounces of salt into 10 gallons
of water and use this to sprinkle over the beds.
When to Harvest Mushrooms
Mushrooms can be harvested when they are just new and plump, for the
commercial market, of for home use when they have passed this stage
when the cap is flattened out as they are more flavorsome. When you are
harvesting new mushrooms make sure that you do so just before the frill
breaks away from the stem.
Of course you could leave your mushrooms to mature a little longer if
you want a stronger taste and to actually open up rather than
harvesting them as babies. It is just a matter of taste and what your
When you want to harvest them it is better to pull them out by the
roots, rather than
cutting them. This is done by taking hold of the mushroom, pushing down
slightly and giving it a sharp, but gentle twist. They generally come
out with no trouble. Place the mushrooms stem side down into the
baskets to keep them clean and free of grit.
If you find that in trying to harvest one mushroom you would end up
pulling up several that are attached to the same rootstock, then it
would be better to cut these off, rather than twisting them.
Advantages of Pulling rather than Cutting Mushrooms
You can expect about 1 - 2 pounds
mushrooms per square foot of compost, depending at what stage
they are harvested.
- It benefits the bed. Cutting mushrooms can often cause the
stems to decay. They turn soggy and end up destroying the little
pinheads surrounding the cut stems, as well as every thread of mycelium
attached to it. It is important therefore to scoop out the cut stems
where you have been forced to cut, and then replace the empty areas
with more soil.
- Pulled mushrooms always keep fresher for longer.
- As mushrooms are sold by weight, the added stems adds to
Insects and Diseases when Growing Mushrooms
Like growing any crop there will always be insects or diseases lurking
that will need to be dealt with. And mushrooms have their fair share,
- Manure Flies
- Black Spot
- Fogging Off
This is the fly larvae that
comes from the Diptera fly that appears in April and continues up to
the warm summer months. Maggots are unavoidable and the only solution
is to stop growing mushrooms during the summer months. If left you will
see the burrows left behind by the maggots, as well as the infested
mushrooms where the maggots can be found in the caps and the stems. By
August, September the maggots are on the decrease and during the month
of October, they stop completely.
A solution of salt, saltpeter, or ammonia sprinkled over the surface of
the bed does not do any good as an insecticide against these maggots.
The only solution is to stop production until the maggots have gone and
then start again.
2) Manure Flies:
These are little flies
that appear in large numbers in the spring and summer. They will appear
anywhere where you find manure. Although you can set up some fly traps,
again it is better to suspend production during the summer.
These mushroom pests seem to
gravitate to areas where you have had the crop growing in wooden boxes,
or where straw has been used to cover the soil. Slugs will attack the
pinheads as they are just emerging, to the adult mushrooms. They are
also rather fond of eating pieces out of the gills.
Although you will find 2 lots of
mites around mushrooms, neither of them seem to damage the crop in any
way. There is the white mite which is a little smaller than the red
spider mite, and then there is a yellow mite that is as large as the
red spider mite.
Both rats and mice will cause a
lot of damage to your crop if they get the chance. The remedy is to
make your rooms as mouse-proof as possible and set traps down on the
floors wherever possible.
Because of the warm, moist conditions toads can sometimes be found
amongst the compost. Some mushroom growers don't see toads as pests as
they certainly help keep the fly population down. However, there are
others who get rid of them as soon as they arrive as they can do a lot
of damage to the crop where they destroy a lot of the pinheads when
they burrow themselves into the soil.
The conditions within a damp
cellar, with moist compost in wooden boxes and straw is the ideal
habitat for woodlice. Unfortunately, they eat little chunks out of the
pinheads and small button mushrooms and these bitten areas only get
bigger as the mushrooms grow. The only way to get rid of the woodlice
is to trap them and then kill them.
To do this, take a half-boiled potato, boiled in plain water without
salt, and then cover the potato with either some straw or some dry
moss. This forms a mini-habitat for the woodlice and they can be found
eating the potato if you lift the moss or straw. Drop these caught
woodlice in water with some kerosene in it.
1) Black Spot:
This is a disease that
disfigures the mushrooms, where dark brown spots, streaks or freckles
form on top of the mushroom caps, and they become more prominent as the
mushroom gets bigger.
Black spot is caused by eel worms (anguillulae) where these minute
creatures enter the mushrooms when the latter are in their tiniest pin
form and before they emerge from the ground. If you find one mushroom
in a clump with black spot, you will usualy find that every mushroom in
the clump has it. However, there are others growing from the same spawn
that come up an inch or two away from the spotted, infected ones, and
they can be completely clean.
In general, black spot occurs in mushroom beds that are not new, but
appears in those boxes that have been bearing for some while. Between
October and March, we have very little black spot. However, as soon as
spring comes around, this disease becomes a problem and continues into
May before production is closed for the summer months.
The way to prevent black spot is to make sure that every bit of the old
stumps are removed when harvesting takes place. All fogged off
mushrooms have to be removed as soon as they are found, and keep the
holes filled with fresh loam, and when the beds have been bearing
for 2 weeks, sprinkle it over with a solution of salt. On the
next day, topdress with a half inch of finely sifted fresh loam; firm
down with the back of your hand, just so that you don't do any damage
to the growing mushrooms.
2) Fogging Off:
At times you will find clumps of mushrooms will go soft and turn brown,
and became shrivelled. A common reason for fogging off is when
mushrooms are cut rather than twisted during harvesting and the stumps
are left in the ground. In a few days these stumps develop a white
fluffy substance which seems to kill of every thread of mycelium
leading to it, along with all the mushrooms conntected.
Insects that do damage to the mycelium threads can also cause fogging
This is the worst of all
mushrooms diseases. Flock is caused by other fungi which infest the
gills and frills of the mushrooms, and leave them with a hard, flocky
mass, and sometimes distort the shapes of the cap.
Flock can appear spasmodically, and doesn't seem to spread in clumps
like black spot.
The only way to get rid of flock is to remove and destroy every clump
of mushrooms that are affected. Keeping the growing areas clean, and
giving the rooms a good cleaning after the growing season and preparing
for the new season, is important.
Cleaning your Mushrooms
Mushrooms should never be washed. They will absorb the water like a
sponge and spoil. Instead the soil should be cleaned off with a soft
brush. If you are not able to clean them this way, you can peel the
mushrooms before you cook them.
Cleaning the Boxes for the Next Mushroom Growing Season
After the growing season you need to clean not only the boxes but also
the room; floor and walls and all shelving in preparation for the next
growing season. Scrub and clean the wood in hot water and a mild bleach
solution. Whitewash the walls to make sure that you have a clean area
to grow in again. Paint the shelving with kerosense is also advisable.
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