Learning how to grow mushrooms is a fun and rewarding experience. This article shows you an easy way to grow your own mushrooms at home. The substrate we'll be using is straw, which is inexpensive and easily available.
Straw makes a good substrate because it is both nutritious and easy to break down. Cereal straws such as wheat or rye are best. I buy mine in large bales for under $10 at my local garden and feed store.
You can cultivate many different types of mushrooms on straw such as enokitake, the garden giant, certain Agaricus species, and oysters. Growing oyster mushrooms is often easiest for the beginner, and I'd recommend this if you're just starting out.
Let's learn how to grow mushrooms!
Louis Pasteur stated this, although I don't think he was referring to mushroom growing specifically. Yet his namesake process of pasteurization is important to know when learning how to grow mushrooms.
Pasteurization is simply the process by which amounts of microscopic competitors in a substrate are reduced. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Milk is often pasteurized, and straw can be too.
Why do we want to pasteurize our straw before growing oyster mushrooms? It gives mycelium a chance to take over a substrate quicker by reducing the amount of harmful competitor organisms.
Mycelium is the vegetative growth of the fungus. If you give it what it needs, it will produce lots of delicious mushrooms for you!
The steps below include low-tech instructions on how to pasteurize straw using a steam bath. To learn different methods see the pasteurize straw page.
Another thing you'll need to be familiar with before we begin is the concept of mushroom spawn. Mushroom spawn is simply any substance that has been inoculated with mycelium.
You can purchase mushroom spawn over the Internet or from a local cultivator. It often comes in the form of sawdust, but you may see wood chip or grain spawn as well. See the mushroom spawn page for a more in-depth article.
We'll use the spawn to inoculate the pasteurized straw. Mycelium will grow through the straw, and hopefully produce mushrooms.
All set? Understand the basic concepts of pasteurization and spawn? Then let's learn how to grow mushrooms on straw!
We'll break the process into three main sections: pasteurization, inoculation, and waiting (the hardest part!)
Pasteurization occurs between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures will result in you killing good bacteria and allowing the bad to bloom. With a water bath, you pasteurize by soaking the straw in 160-degree water for an hour.
Don't skip the first step! Mycelium will colonize smaller pieces of straw much faster and easier.
Note that the wet straw will be very hot and very heavy. Depending on the amount you use, lifting it out of the barrel may be a two-person job. You may want to tie your bag to a long branch so it's easier to lift out of the water.
Be sure to allow the straw time to drain and cool! If it's too hot it could kill your mycelium, and your first attempt at learning how to grow mushrooms will fail right out of the gate.
If this sounds too labor-intensive you can do this process on a much smaller scale using a pot and a burner on your stove. See the pasteurization page for more details.
The step is one of the easiest parts of growing oyster mushrooms. Now we're going to mix the spawn in with the pasteurized straw. Before you do this, make sure your straw has drained and is cool enough to use (below 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
When your straw is ready, follow these simple steps:
According to Paul Stamets in his excellent book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, you can make between 20 and 40 bags weighing 6 to 8 pounds each from approximately 8 pounds of grain spawn.
I've found this to be pretty accurate. Use these numbers when roughly trying to figure out how many bags you'll make from how much spawn and straw you have.
The waiting stage consists mainly of monitoring your straw bags. Knowing what to look for is another important aspect of learning how to grow mushrooms.
It may seem like a lot of stops when you're first learning how to grow mushrooms but after a few times you'll have your technique down pat.
At that point you may want to refine and learn new things. I'd recommend both Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Paul Stamets for more information on how to grow mushrooms.
Just a few things to keep in mind:
I sincerely hope this article has helped you learn how to grow mushrooms on straw. This is an interesting activity that almost anyone can do.
The method outlined here is pretty low-tech. There are many other ways to grow your own mushrooms, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
So keep reading, keep trying, and most of all: have fun!