As more people switch to plant-based diets, the demand for mushrooms is growing. These little fungi are a great source of many nutrients and offer a satisfying, meat-like umami flavor. Turns out, they're a strategic crop for seasoned farmers and newbies alike.
Setting up a mushroom farm takes a little time and planning but is easier than you think. With a bit of elbow grease, you could be harvesting your own mushrooms in just a few short months.
Do you dream of running your own stall at the local farmer's market, or do you just want to grow enough mushrooms to share with family and friends? The cost and time investment needed to get a mushroom farm off the ground will vary based on the number of mushrooms you want to grow.
Once you decide to do more than cultivate a few containers in your living room, you could spend as little as $1,000 or as much as $15,000, so make sure you know what your goals are from the beginning to avoid future disappointment.
Growing mushrooms requires three distinct environments. Choose a location that can be cordoned off into separate "rooms" or several spaces near enough to each other that you can easily transport your grow bags.
Any space that can be climate controlled and has easy access to electricity and water can work.
Unlike other forms of agriculture, you won't need soil to grow your mushrooms. Some mediums, like straw or sawdust, will need to be pasteurized by heating them to a high temperature to kill off competing organisms.
Coffee grounds are another popular choice, as they are pasteurized by the brewing process and readily available from local coffee shops that would otherwise throw them away. Research your options and choose the one that best suits your needs and access.
Your inoculation space needs to be sterile, so make sure you choose items that can be easily cleaned. Stainless steel tables and plastic totes are good options for the low-tech farmer using purchased grain spawn.
If you want to create your own cultures, you'll need to get ahold of professional lab-grade equipment later on, but a clean space is all you need to get started.
After your growing medium is inoculated, you'll need to let it incubate in a warm, dark place. The space only needs to be big enough to house the number of mushrooms you want to grow on your shelves or hang bars.
Climate control is essential, and experts recommend using a humidifier, small space heater, or fogger to achieve the best environment. Most mushrooms like a temperature between 65-75 F and humidity of approximately 85%, but make sure to follow the directions specific to the species of mushroom you're growing.
Mushrooms emerge in the fall, and the purpose of the fruiting room is to trick them into thinking cold weather is on the horizon. The fruiting room needs to be slightly cooler and less humid than the incubation room. It also requires low light and good ventilation to avoid mold forming on your baby mushrooms.
Once you have your space set up, the fun can really begin. Start by selecting which mushrooms you will grow. Each variety has upsides and downsides and particular needs. Oysters and shitakes are easy to grow and desirable to chefs and home cooks alike. But if you want to be a bit more adventurous, there are thousands of species that vary in difficulty.
If you plan to grow more than one type, try to select ones with similar growing conditions so you don't have to set up separate spaces for each one.
With your set-up complete, it's time to start growing. Growing mushrooms requires patience and care. Be prepared to check in on your mushrooms daily to ensure the temperature and humidity are just right. After 2 to 3 weeks in the inoculation room, you'll still have to wait another week or two before you see the first caps start to emerge.
The good news is that unlike the torturous wait when growing tomatoes or cucumbers, your time from inoculation to harvest is less than two months! This makes the whole process quite exciting and lets you celebrate several harvests each year.
So, now that you have boatloads of mushrooms, what do you do with them? Mushrooms have a limited shelf life, so it's good to have buyers and sales channels (or a lot of eager friends) in place before you start your farm.
Fine dining restaurants are always eager to source locally grown produce, especially if you work with them beforehand and find out what kinds of mushrooms they want. Depending on your area, the farmer's market might be harder to get into, so make sure you request a booth long before you'll actually need it.