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Having Fun with Fungus: A Guide to Growing Mushrooms
Having Fun with Fungus: A Guide to Growing Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a fantastic way to take a dish from good to great. Adding them is a surefire method to achieve umami flavors — that hard-to-define, meaty richness that makes a soup special or a sauce stunning. Plus, mushrooms are packed with nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and zinc while being very low in calories and fat. However, mushrooms at your local market may not always be at their freshest, and gourmet varieties can be quite expensive. To solve these problems, some mushroom lovers grow their own at home.

01

Start with high-quality mushrooms

There are many mushroom types that are fun to grow. ahirao_photo / Getty Images

If you want to grow your own mushrooms, it's best to start with high-quality samples. Many poisonous and edible mushrooms look very much alike, so only experts should consider foraging for samples. For a beginner, purchasing a mushroom cultivation kit is a good idea. Oyster mushrooms are tasty and one of the easiest types to grow, so many beginners start with those.

02

Create a spore imprint

Little girl looking parasol mushrooms Dragan Smiljkovic / Getty Images

If you're sure the mushrooms you have are safe, you can gather spores for cultivation by creating a spore imprint. The spores are very small. Many thousands can be harvested from just one gill of a mature mushroom. To collect them, cut off the stem and place the cap, gills down, on a clean surface like an index card or sheet of paper. Put a drop or two of water on top of the cap to help loosen the spores. Next, cover it with a cup or glass and leave it for around 24 hours. The spores should drop onto your paper, leaving behind a clear print.

03

Prepare a planter

Commercial mushroom growers have large planters. Videologia / Getty Images

There are several different substrates and planter types that mushroom growers can use. The type that you use will depend on what type of mushroom you are growing. Easy-to-cultivate varieties, such as oyster mushrooms, can be grown in all kinds of planters, including straw, sawdust, or even cardboard. Other varieties like shiitake might prefer an old oak log. One planter that works well for a lot of types is a clean glass jar filled with vermiculite and brown rice flour.

04

Cultivating spores

A harvest like this starts with tiny spores. valentinrussanov / Getty Images

After you have a clean spore print, you can harvest the spores from it by following a few simple steps. Start by wiping down your workspace with an antimicrobial cleaner. Next, add a few ounces of water to a glass jar, then microwave it for 2-3 minutes to sterilize it. When it's done, cover it and let it cool. Make sure to keep it covered, either with foil or a sterile jar lid. Once cool, gently scrape the spores from your spore print into the sterile water in your jar.

05

Germinate mushroom spores

Mushrooms like these prefer moist, dark conditions. ClarkandCompany / Getty Images

Use a sterile syringe to inoculate your growing substrate with the spores. First, make sure your planters, such as glass jars, are clean and sterile. Put your substrate in the jars and moisten it. Then draw up about 1-2 milliliters of the water containing the spores with the syringe. Use the syringe to evenly distribute the water onto the substrate.

06

Location, location, location

Mushrooms thrive when growing in the right location. Supersmario / Getty Images

Once you've got your mushroom spores in your planters, it's important to put them in the right location in order to encourage them to fully colonize the substrate. The best location varies based on mushroom type, but most mushrooms prefer a well-ventilated environment with indirect light kept between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some mushrooms prefer total darkness during the early stage. Almost all mushrooms like it nice and humid, around 85-90% if possible.

07

Keep your growing mushrooms at the right temperature

Keep the temperature regulated to encourage fruiting. hopsalka / Getty Images

Under the right conditions, the tiny mushrooms, called pins, form larger, edible bodies known as the mushroom fruits. Keeping the mushrooms at the right temperature encourages fruiting. The ideal temperature depends on the mushroom type and may vary between the cultivation phase and the fruiting phase. In general, however, mushrooms prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures over 80 can kill the mycelium, so keep that in mind when choosing your growing spot.

08

Keep mushrooms happy in moist soil

Moist soil makes mushrooms feel right at home. SvetlanaKlaise / Getty Images

Mushrooms need soil that is moist, not wet, to grow their best. They need water in order to produce fruiting bodies, but since they lack thick skins, they easily lose water. Mushrooms can exchange gases with the environment through their skin, so keeping the growing space humid also helps. Too much water, however, will drown your mushrooms.

09

When to harvest your mushrooms

Mushroom harvest time. Vaivirga / Getty Images

If you chose a growing kit, the kit should come with some instructions about when the mushrooms will be ready for harvest. Otherwise, take a look at the largest mushroom in your planter. When the edge of the cap begins to point slightly up instead of slightly down, or when the cap becomes slightly more flat at the edges, it's time to harvest. If you notice them dropping new spores, it's definitely time to gather them. Cut or twist to remove the mature mushrooms.

10

Types of mushrooms

There are many mushroom varieties. vuk8691 / Getty Images

There are so many different kinds of mushrooms to experiment with growing at home, including:

  • Oyster: Pearl and king varieties are great for beginners.
  • Enoki: These long, thin mushrooms are frequently found in Asian cuisine and fun to grow in bottles.
  • Chanterelle: These sought-after golden mushrooms are meaty, chewy delicacies.

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