Friday, October 16, 2015

Mushroom Cultivation Basics

Last night I did a mushroom cultivation presentation.  It was for the "Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire" group up in Colebrook.  I wanted to share the info presented here for anyone interested.  As I told the group, I'm not an expert.  But, I have studied mushrooms for some time now and I think what I put together is a good starting point.  References with links at the bottom.

Mushroom Life Cycle

Spore > Spore Germination > Hyphae (spore growth) >  Mycelium (2 types (+ / -) of Hyphae compatible with each other bind and grow into the Mycelium network) >  Fruitbody Development (pinheads) > Mushroom Growth and Spore release

Types of mushroom fungus 

Saprophytes - eats dead material (this is the major cultivation group)
Symbiont/mycorrhizal - symbiotic relationship, usually with tree roots and soil microbes (truffle and chanterelle are a prime examples)
Parasitic - eating up a living host (the chaga fungus)

Outdoor Production

Log Inoculation: 

  • Fresh logs 3-8" diameter 3-4 ft long.  
  • Ideal tree harvest is early spring before the leaves start growing (extra sugars from the roots will start filling the log).  Logs from dormant trees will need an 8-24 hour soak to re-hydrate -- live trees will be fully hydrated to begin with, unless they sat around for some weeks)
  • Cut tree to size within 6 weeks
  • Inoculate logs within 3 weeks after cutting to size with plug (2 types of plug, dowels or loose spawn)
  • Cover plug wound with wax (cheese, bees, soy)
  • Tag the log to keep track of date/strain
  • Stacked logs
  • Log cabin stack or slanted up towards a beam/cable
  • Covering with burlap can help retain moisture but increase contamination risk.
  • Submerge the logs in water for 8 hours if the log gets too dry (every 2-3 week).  45-60% humidity is ideal.
  • Water with a sprinkler or hose during the driest months to keep moisture content up.
  • Allow the Bark to dry between soakings.  The bark staying moist will help break it down and increase disease risk.
  • Letting the logs get too dry is the #1 cause of failure.
  • Once you start getting mushrooms you can begin force fruiting.  Once the flush is over, allow the mycelium to store up more energy for 6-8 weeks and then give a 8-12 hour soak (simulating spring).  This should begin a fruiting cycle for a new harvest as long as temps are good for that strain.
Some strains:
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Brat Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Phoenix Oyster (Pleurotus pulmonaris) *can grow on conifers
Maitake/Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa)
Black Poplar (Agrocybe aegerita) *grows on poplar
Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) **Ganoderma lucidum will not grow this far north - tsugae will grow on eastern hemlock.
Conifer Coral (Hericium abietis) *Grows on pine
Nameko (Pholiota nameko) *Lay directly on the ground *fall only fruiter -popular in Japan in soups, supposed to have great taste and texture
Elm Oyster (Hypsizgus ulmarius)

1/3 buried log / stump

Only use aggressive strains, less watering is needed due to ground absorption

Some strains:
Maitake (Grifola frondosa)
Cauliflower (Sparassis crispa) *can grow on conifers
Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) **Ganoderma lucidum will not grow this far north - tsugae will grow on eastern hemlock.
Nameko (Pholiota nameko) *Lay directly on the ground *fall only fruiter -popular in Japan in soups, supposed to have great taste and texture
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Elm Oyster (Hypsizgus ulmarius)
Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) *Hardwood
Conifer Coral (Hericium abietis) *Grows on pine
Wood Ear (Auricularia auricula)

Fully buried log bed

Let the log incubate for 3-4 months before bury.  Halfway bury the log and cover with 2" or so of mulch for water retention.

Some strains:
Nameko (Pholiota nameko) *Lay directly on the ground *fall only fruiter -popular in Japan in soups, supposed to have great taste and texture
Black Poplar (Agrocybe aegerita) *grows on poplar
Brick Top
Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) **Ganoderma lucidum will not grow this far north - tsugae will grow on eastern hemlock.
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Wood Ear (Auricularia auricula)

Wood Chip / Compost Cultivation 

Share the log frame layered bed idea - cardboard as the first layer.

Some Strains:
Wine Cap - King Stropharia (hardwood chips)
Blewit (hardwood leaves/manure compost)
King Oyster (hardwood chips)
Lepiota (hardwood sawdust/lawn clippings)
Almond Portabella (aged manure and sawdust)
Wood Ear (Auricularia auricula)

Indoor Production


  • Wide-mouth canning jars (1/2 pint for example)
  • Vermiculite (sawdust for wood mushrooms)
  • Grain flower (brown rice and rye are common)
  • Water
  • Mixing bowls
  • Paper towels
  • Alcohol & cotton balls
  • 1/8" nail
  • Hammer
  • Masking tape
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Pressure cooker or canning pot
  • Spore or liquid culture syringe
  • Bleach solution (1 bleach to 9 parts water for eqipment, 1/2 cup to 1 gallon for wiping surfaces)
  • Lighter

Grain cakes (PF Tek)

  • 2 part vermiculite or sawdust, 1 grain flour, 1 part water.  Substrate will vary depending on strain of mushroom.
  • Hammer 4 holes in each lid, wipe interior of each jar with alcohol.
  • Mix substrate. 6 cups vermiculite/sawdust, 3 cups water, 3 cups grain flour would fill about 12 pint jars.
  • Fill each jar, leave about 1/2 to 3/4 inch gap at the top.  Fill the remaining gap with vermiculite.  *Don't pack it all down tight.
  • Screw the lids down and place masking tape over the holes. 
  • Cover each jar with aluminum foil.  Steam the jars in a pressure cooker or canning pot.  Follow pressure cooker directions - about 45 minutes at 15 psi.  In a canning pot cook for 90 minutes.
  • Allow the jars to fully cool before inoculation.  If you have a glovebox or flow hood inoculate with the use of those to keep contamination risk minimized.  Mist your work area with bleach solution and clean up with paper towels.  Flame sterilize the needle, then wipe with alcohol swab.  Pull back the tape and inject 1/4 cc of liquid into each hole of each jar, cover the hole after injection.
  • Incubate the jars in a warm dark place.  For most species 75-85 degrees.  Grows will start typically 3-5 days, some species can take longer than a week. Full colonization will usually take 2-3 weeks.  If you have any growth that is not white dispose of the jar.  Never open the jar indoors, you can spread the contamination.
  • Once the jars are colonated (mycelium growth covering the entire cake) they will be ready to soak.  Open the jar and fill it with water and allow it to soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.  This will give it maximum water for it's next phase.
  • Place the cakes inside your fruiting chamber.  The simplest fruiting chamber would be a bag or jar to contain humidity.  Aquarium style made with glass or plastic bins with a humidifier would be a good step above with airflow and 2 inches of perlite on the bottom.  If you really want larger productions consider shelving surrounded by plastic to keep moisture in or a dedicated room.  Humidity needs to be kept above 90%.  If you have no humidifier set up, mist and fan the substrate/perlite once per day.  Ideal temperatures will vary depending on strain.  They will need some light to trigger growth, typically 12 hour light on 12 off is used.  Indirect sunlight works just fine.  Mushrooms will produce vitamin D while exposed to light. *don't put the cakes directly on the perlite, put it on the jar lid or foil.
  • After they stop growing any mushrooms for a few days you can force another flush.  Rise the cake under cool tap water and rub off any debris.  After this submerge the cakes for 12-24 hours.  Some people will roll the cakes in vermiculite after the dunk.  After they are soaked, put them back in the fruiting chamber.  2-3 flushes is common, getting less production each time.    

The PF Tek method is great for starting, a lot of people have most of the materials sitting around. The next reasonable step up would be using mushroom bags (mycobags) to increase production.  If you are serious about getting started and moving up to medium scale indoor production I highly recommend reading a book or two. "The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms" by Stephen Russell is a great starting point.  For outdoor log production, if you purchase spawn plugs the learning curve is much lower.  You should be fine reading a few articles online.

Websites with good info and/or supplies
Mother-Earth-News (PF-Tek method)
Mushroom-People (Outdoor Log Cultivation)
Mushroom-Company (Monitoring log moisture content)
Mushroom-Mountain (Instructions and supplies)
Aloha-culture-bank (No heat Hydrated Lime substrate sterilization!)
Agrisk (Page 4 has a growing medium to mushroom strain list) (list of tree type to mushroom spawn and supplies) (mushroom plugs and guides) (Mushroom plugs and guides)
Everything-Mushrooms (Mushroom supplies and guides)

Search around, there are many more suppliers.  Make sure you are getting appropriate strains for your climate.

Online PDF books
"Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms" by Paul Stamets
"The Mushroom Cultivator" by Paul Stamets and J.S. Chilton