When you think about growing your own food, mushrooms might not be the first thing to pop into your mind. But they should. After all, these small, earthy vegetables are a staple in many cuisines worldwide from French classics to spicy Asian dishes and are loaded with health benefits. Even better, it’s relatively easy to learn how to grow mushrooms, so you can have a year-round supply of these delicious vegetables.
Unlike other veggies — such as tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers — mushrooms don’t need sunlight exposure. Instead, they thrive in dark, humid, and cool places, making them a perfect crop to grow during the colder months. That’s because while mushrooms are classified as vegetables, they’re technically fungi.
If you’re new to gardening or have already mastered the basics of growing herbs and want to venture into new territories, this article might give you the little push you need into the mushroom world. Below, we’ll explore the basics of growing mushrooms, the best species to get you started, and the optimal conditions to create your very own successful mushroom farm.
Before You Begin: Mushrooms Basics
In practical terms, mushrooms have more in common with sourdough starter than zucchini. Unlike aromatic herbs, fruits, and vegetables, these umbrella-shaped veggies do not originate from seeds but spores.
Mushroom spores are so tiny they’re virtually impossible to see with the naked eye. These microscopic organisms then go through an inoculation process, where they’re added to some type of nourishing substrate. (More on that later.) This is how you get mushroom spawn.
Pro Tip: To make things easier, consider spores as seeds while spawns are the equivalent of sprouts or seedlings.
When given the right growing conditions, mushroom spawn supports the formation of white, threadlike bodies called mycelium. The mushroom mycelium then grows into tiny mushrooms that push through the soil, are collected, and end up in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.
The most popular and easier types of mushrooms to grow at home include:
- Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
- Button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus)
- Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
Fun fact: White, cremini, and portobello are the same mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) at different maturation states — white-colored when young, brown when mature, and brown with large, open caps when fully matured.
How To Grow Mushrooms
While the growing process may sound complicated, mushrooms don’t need a lot to start producing bountiful yields, especially when grown indoors. In fact, unlike other species, these veggies take a lot longer to grow and develop outdoors — from six months up to three years!
If you don’t want to wait that long or you’re a beginner in the gardening world and have no experience growing mushrooms, starting with a grow kit can be a great idea.
The Back to the Roots Mushroom Growing Kit Family Bundle is a fantastic option to introduce mushroom cultivation to everyone in your family. These nifty, sustainable, and fuss-free kits don’t take up much space and come with everything you need to start growing your own edible mushrooms right away. They also come with a free downloadable curriculum for kids to learn about the science behind fungi and a 100% Guaranteed to Grow promise.
Sunlight and Warmth
Unlike most plants, mushrooms do not contain chlorophyll — meaning they don’t need sunlight to grow — and thrive in cool, humid, and dark areas. The basement, an unused closet, or the cabinet under your sink are all great spots to grow mushrooms. Make sure that during the first phases of growth, they are left undisturbed for most of the time and have limited exposure to light, heat, and drafts.
Pro tip: If you keep your mushroom grower under your sink, avoid storing any harsh chemicals or cleaning products with them. If you previously had such products stored in the cabinet, make sure to give it a proper cleaning to eliminate any residues that may have stayed behind to avoid contaminating your beloved mushrooms.
Another thing to consider is the temperature of your growing spot of choice. Most species of mushrooms grow best between 55° and 60°F, so it’s a good idea to use a thermometer to assess if the area meets these criteria.
If you’re starting with mushroom spawn, you might need a slightly higher temperature to kick-start them. Warming up your mushroom grower using a heating mat up to 70°F should do the trick.
When learning how to grow mushrooms, be aware that the growing medium is one of the most critical elements. Once you’ve picked what variety of mushroom you want to grow, you must select the appropriate growing medium to support an abundant harvest when the time comes.
Instead of soil, mushrooms thrive best in other substances like coffee grounds, hardwood sawdust, woodchips, and straw.
If you’re a beginner mushroom cultivator, oyster mushrooms are a fantastic choice, as they are one of the easiest and most prolific species to grow. Sprinkle your spawns on top of a few handfuls of straw or coffee grounds, and you’ll be creating an environment where they’ll be happy!
If white button mushrooms are your thing, placing them on a generous layer of composted manure will provide the perfect nourishment for this classic variety. On the other hand, if you love cooking Asian dishes and want to establish a prolific shiitake mini-farm, get yourself some hardwood sawdust to encourage healthy mushroom growth.
Containers for Growing Mushrooms
While mass mushroom producers use large plastic bags to grow their fungi, there are more eco-friendly ways for you to grow your own since you’re doing it on a small scale.
Mushrooms grow really well in containers, so the first thing you should check is how much space you have in that cool, dark, and damp corner we spoke of earlier.
If you’re planning to place them under the sink, then a smaller container is the only option. But if you have a basement with the perfect conditions to grow mushrooms, you may want to plant your baby veggies on a raised garden bed — like the Back to the Roots Fabric Raised Bed. It’s made from durable, breathable felt that prevents rot and provides the perfect aeration for your plants. (It’s also super easy to assemble — just unfold, fill, and grow.)
The main thing to keep in mind when learning how to grow mushrooms is that your container should be at least six inches deep to allow the fungi to grow their mycelium freely.
Again, a mushroom growing kit is a great way to save time, as it provides you with the appropriate growing medium, mushroom spawn, and the container to grow them, so you don’t have to worry about these DIY details.
Watering Your Growing Mushrooms
To support healthy spawning and optimal mushroom growth, keep your baby mushrooms moist — but not wet — at all times.
Once you’ve gotten your container of choice, added the growing medium, sprinkled the mushroom spawn on top of it, and provided an environment of 70°F, your baby mushrooms should be happy. Give them three weeks to get rooted, lower the temperatures to 55°-60°F, and cover them with an inch of potting soil.
Damp an old cloth with water and place it on top of your mushroom grower, spraying it as it dries. Check the soil regularly and spritz it with water when it becomes dry to the touch.
Three to four weeks after covering your spawns with soil, you should see tiny mushrooms start to appear. This phase is called fruiting.
Mushrooms are ready to be picked when their caps are fully open and become detached from the stem. When collecting your mushrooms, avoid pulling them as you may risk damaging the surrounding fungi, which are still developing. Instead, use a sharp knife to cut the stalk.
At some point, you might have to add fresh spawn to support a continuous crop, but as long as you keep them in their optimal conditions and continue harvesting the mushrooms as they appear, this should not be a problem.
Bear in mind that mushrooms only keep a couple of days in the fridge after being collected, so make sure you use them in your favorite recipes as soon as possible. Try this delicious mushroom and gruyere quiche for a new combination of flavors.
Grow Your Own Mushrooms and Boost Your Gardening Confidence
While mushrooms might not be the most obvious choice when you think about starting a veggie garden, they are among the best crops to grow during the cold winter months. There’s a bit of a learning curve as they are so different from other veggies (they are fungi, after all), but they are quite easy to grow once you’ve learned the basics.
When you decide to buy all the elements to start your mushroom garden, or if you end up going for a convenient growing kit, feel free to reference this guide for a refresher course. These tips will help you provide the best environment for your baby mushrooms so they start producing a rewarding supply of delicious, nutritious, earthy, and versatile crops.