That Sounds Like Fungus! A how-to guide for growing your own mushrooms

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

Full article appears in the summer 2013 edition of Extension Matters magazine.

By Brad Cochran, Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources,

No matter how you slice or dice them, mushrooms can be a healthy and delicious addition to your dinner menu. Whether you are a fan of button mushrooms on your pizza, oyster and shiitake in your stir-fry, or portabellas stuffed with different cheeses, they all come with their own health benefits to go along with their amazing flavor. What most people don’t realize is how easy these fungi can be to grow either inside the comfort of your own home or as part of your landscape.

Mushroom cultivation has increased leaps and bounds since the 1960s. In 1965, total worldwide mushroom production was at 350,000 metric tons (Royse, 2003). This number increased to 6.2 million metric tons in 1997, a nearly 18-fold increase in total production (Royse, 2003). These production totals have continued to increase in the years since 1997. Of the mushroom species mentioned above, the button mushroom (Agaricus spp.) is the most commonly produced worldwide, followed by the oyster (Pleurotus spp.) and then the shiitake (Lentinula edodes).

Two of the easier mushrooms to produce in West Virginia, or the Appalachian region in general, are oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on a variety of substrates, including coffee grounds, straw, shredded paper or logs. Of these different substrates, growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds is the easiest and least time consuming of the methods. The only materials you need are a five-gallon bucket with four to six holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, about half of that bucket filled with used coffee grounds, and oyster mushroom sawdust spawn. Once you have enough coffee grounds, mix the sawdust spawn and grounds together with your hands. After this is completed, cover the bucket with a clear plastic bag, punching some airflow holes into it. You will also want to spray the coffee grounds with water once a day to keep them moist. In six to eight weeks, you will be enjoying oyster mushrooms in your dinner dishes!

Producing shiitake mushrooms is a more intensive process at the beginning, but involves very little time and labor when it comes to production and harvesting. The modern method of shiitake mushroom inoculation has been used since the early 1940s and involves drilling a hole into a log and introducing the laboratory produced spawn via these holes. During the winter months, begin finding and cutting the logs for inoculation. Species to consider are white and red oak, sugar maple (cut before January), ironwood or gum. Oak is the best; oak logs have enough bark thickness to hold in moisture but not so much thickness that you cannot drill into the logs for inoculation. Next, find a location that has approximately 70 percent shade throughout the summer months.

Now that you have found your site and logs, you are ready to inoculate. Shiitake spawn comes in three forms: sawdust, dowel and thimble. If you choose dowel spawn, use a 5/16” drill bit to drill into the log about one inch deep and six inches apart. Using a rubber mallet, drive the dowels into the log and seal with beeswax or a soy-based wax, like cheese wax. If you use sawdust or thimble spawn you will want to use a 7/16” drill bit and again drill about one inch deep and four to six inches apart. The sawdust spawn will need sealed with the wax again, but the thimble spawn does not need to be sealed. Once your log has been inoculated, lean the log against a tree or fence for one summer. Then you will begin to see the mycelium on the top part of the log to tell you that the log is ready to fruit. Once this happens, submerge the log under water for about 12 hours then place the log back in its growing location. Harvesting will occur in about seven days. Then you can enjoy your delicious shiitake mushrooms. These harvests will occur during the summer months every six to eight weeks for three to four years.

For a demonstration of the inoculation process, watch our video:

The best thing about growing your own cultivated mushrooms is that you know exactly what you are getting when you make your harvests. There is no questioning whether the mushroom is poisonous or safe to eat. Cultivated mushrooms are also a great way to get your family involved in the production process. If you are growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds, let the kids be responsible for watering the bucket. If you are inoculating logs, let the kids put the spawn in the logs before the adults put the hot wax in the holes. Kids love to watch the mushrooms grow when they can monitor the change in the buckets every day. It becomes a research project outside of school hours.

Mushroom production in West Virginia is currently showing a four million pound gap between mushrooms demanded and mushrooms produced (Hartz, 2012). This suggests a huge need for added mushroom production in the state and shows market potential for someone interested in commercial production. However, mushroom production just for your household alone can be a fun new project and a way to utilize shady areas of your property that don’t allow for other crops to thrive. Cultivated mushrooms are a very hands-off production crop that can make for a delicious addition to any meal.