Growing Your Own Mushrooms

If you like the idea of growing your own food and enjoy eating mushrooms, then it’s time to start thinking about cultivating fungi. 

Just like the first time you planted a tomato, pruned an apple tree, or divided a hosta, there are things to know about growing mushrooms at home. With a gardener’s attention, a little patience, and these tips, you can have delicious mushrooms right in your backyard or kitchen. So, let’s demystify the types of mushrooms we’re selling this year and discuss briefly how to take care of them. 

Indoor kits
White oyster mushrooms, white fungi growing from a plastic bag kitThese are a block of mycelium, often living in sawdust or wood pulp, that is stored in a sealed plastic bag. If you think of the mushrooms that we eat as fruit, mycelium is the roots, stem, and leaves of the fungus. The kits come in different varieties of mushrooms, like shiitake or oyster, but there are general rules for taking care of the kits. 

It’s best to think of the indoor kits like an annual edible plant because they produce quickly, but only for one season. 

  • Choose a spot you see often because indoor mushroom kits need regular care.
  • Keep at 65–70°F, though the specific temperature will vary by variety, and in indirect sunlight.
  • Leave your kit in its chosen spot until the block is completely white. At that point, the fungi have completely colonized it. (They could even be ready when you buy them.) 
  • Cut several slits in the bag: This is where mushrooms will fruit out of the main block. There are many different methods for this step, so see the specific instructions included with your kit or look online. 
  • 1 to 3 times a day, pour, sprinkle, or mist your block with non-chlorinated, non-distilled water. (Let tap water sit for 12-24 hours and it’s fine to use.) Mycelium like it moist, but not soaked. 
  • A few weeks after cutting the bag and starting to water, mushrooms should start sprouting!

Outdoor logs
Shiitake mushrooms growing on a logThese are actual logs that have been injected, or inoculated, all over with small amounts of mycelium. Logs are much denser than sawdust, so the colonization step will take much longer, somewhere between 6 and 18 months depending on the variety. However, you will get mushrooms over a much longer period of time as the mycelium slowly decomposes the wood.

Depending on the size of your log, it could give you anywhere from two to five years of mushrooms! Here’s what to do:

  • Keep logs outdoors in full shade, preferably in uncovered places so they can be rained and snowed on.
  • Store logs upright on the ground or horizontally near — but not on — the ground, such as on a pallet. 
  • Try to keep logs consistently moist. 1” of rain per week is recommended, otherwise you will need to water them
  • Be patient. Wait for the first fruiting of mushrooms towards the end of the colonization period.
  • Continue to keep the logs moist and enjoy your mushroom harvests!

Wine caps
Wine cap mushrooms, dark red-capped mushrooms growing in wood chipsWine caps are their own unique thing. They’re sold in blocks, sealed in bags like the indoor kits, but you grow them outside in wood or straw mulch. Wine caps are great for adding food production to mulched walking paths in your vegetable garden or really in any shady area where you can have wood chips or straw. If you start a wine cap bed in spring, you will most likely get mushrooms that same fall, with even bigger harvests the following summer. 

  • Wine caps like soft hardwoods (box elder, cottonwood, willow, soft maple, magnolia) the best, but other hardwoods will work, too
  • Crumble up the wine cap mycelium block. This material is called “spawn.” 
  • Layer the spawn with wood mulch or straw. Use 3–5 inches total with wood mulch, or 5–10 inches total with straw mulch, since it dries out faster.
  • For example, 1 inch of wood mulch, spawn, 1 inch of wood mulch, spawn, 3 inches of wood mulch.
  • The top layer of wood or straw should be thicker than the lower ones to protect the mycelium from drying out.
  • Shallow beds work in shadier locations, while deeper beds are needed for sunnier (drier) areas.
  • Keep your wine cap bed moist, with about 1” of water per week.
  • Wine cap beds can be maintained indefinitely if you continue “feeding” them with more mulch in future years as you notice your production declining. 

There’s lots of options when it comes to growing your own mushrooms. Hopefully this helps you figure out what kind of mushrooms are right for your garden!