The below is an old description of my early amateur beginnings years ago in growing mushrooms. I have since taken the hobby much more seriously. I have read several books on mushroom cultivation and devoted countless hours of study to this wacky hobby. I also purchased professional equipment (flow hood, autoclave, impulse sealer, mycobags, etc) and started a small side business out of this hobby. If you are interested in purchasing any of my mushroom products, please see what active listings I have on eBay.
Click the button below to see my current auctions and check out the feedback left by others! Thanks!! If you don't see anything listed, send me an email and I'll let you know what is growing. I also take requests.
I currently grow Lion's Mane (shown above), Shiitake (shown at the top of this page), Elm, Oyster, and King Oyster.
I'm leaving the old story below just to remind myself of how I got started...
I also decided to visit a large local commercial mushroom farm to see how the professionals do it. It was a fascinating and educational experience:
I have now created and fruited countless mushroom blocks. I continue to experiment and expand with multiple species...
My adventures with mushrooms began when I decided to create a potato bed in my garden, but instead of growing them underground, I wanted to try growing them on top of a layer of cardboard (weed block) with lots of compost and straw (no soil) on top of them. Supposedly this is a great way to grow potatoes maximizing size, and making harvest incredibly easy. Interestingly enough, this potato bed turned out to be a virtual mushroom factory - hundreds of mushrooms popping up almost every morning. This got me thinking - I should be growing edible mushrooms!
So off I went to research what it would take, and what species I should grow. I wanted to grow something that was not just edible, but nutritious, maybe slightly "exotic", but not too difficult to grow. After looking around, it seemed that Shiitake was the best choice. Although maybe several years ago it might have been considered "exotic" it's pretty common today. Shiitake is well known for its excellent taste, it can be used in many recipes, I can put it on pizzas, and there's even a youtube video demonstrating how to turn it into delicious crispy "bacon".
Shiitake mushrooms have been used in medicine for hundreds if not thousands of years and supposedly have many health benefits - they may regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and boost the immune system. They supposedly have anti-fungal, anti-tumor, and antiviral effects. Shiitake is an excellent source of protein, and adapts well as a meat substitute in recipes. The antiviral effects are believed to be caused by Shiitake's ability to produce interferon. Researchers have reported that consumption of Shiitake mushrooms lowers blood cholesterol levels by as much as 45 percent. The most dramatic results occurred when high-cholesterol foods were eaten simultaneously with Shiitake . In two human studies, cholesterol dropped 6 to 15 percent when the amount of Shiitake consumed was nine grams per day or approximately 10 dried medium-sized mushrooms. Shiitake contains all eight essential amino acids in better proportions than soy beans, meat, milk, or eggs as well as a good blend of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, B12, C, D and Niacin. Shiitake supposedly also produces a fat-absorbing compound which may aid in weight reduction. Shiitake may even have a valuable role to play in cancer treatment. See the Shiitake Mushroom Center's list of studies performed on Shiitake for more information.
So I ordered a Shiitake mushroom block. It arrived in just a couple of days, in a sealed plastic bag. I knew that I wanted to propagate it, so I had been doing some research while I waited for the block to arrive. One option was to let the mushrooms grow, then take a spore print, and propagate from the print. But then I would not have the pure (selected) strain I started with, and I would also have to wait longer. The other option would be to create my own cultures directly from the block via tissue samples. I figured I had nothing to lose by trying, and the backup plan would be to take a spore print if I was not successful with the direct cloning.
I made a sanitized "glove box" (cheap clear plastic box from walmart with arm holes drilled into the sides):
Note that this is not really the best method, it's much better to use a flow hood.
I purchased a commercial, sealed, sterile shiitake block then I prepared baby food jars with a solution I created consisting of boiled potato water (for nutrients) and corn syrup (food) with a foam ear plug sticking though the drilled lid (3/8") which doubles as a self healing injection site and gas exchange port:
I wrapped all of the jars in tin foil (to keep the foam plug from being saturated with water) then pressure cooked all of the jars at 15 PSI for 30 minutes (finally opened up that pressure cooker that was gifted to me years ago):
During the winter heating season, I'll be able to use the woodstove to run the pressure cooker for free - since this hobby requires massive sterilizing, that might help. If I was going to expand the operation, I could weld together a box, put a couple (for safety) pressure relief valves in a sealable lid, creating my own really big pressure cooker.
Anyway after pressure cooking I let the jars sit for a couple of hours to cool, then I added some ice to the bottom of the pressure cooker to further cool down the jars to the 80-90 degrees F range. I added the still sealed shiitake block to the glove box, along with the jars of potato dextrose water, and two scalpels. I disinfected everything with Lysol and flame sterilized the knives with my propane torch:
Wearing disinfected gloves, I cut into the sealed mushroom block inside the glove box, and transferred mycelium to the liquid culture jars using the foam ear plug self healing ports. I stored the jars on top of a warm piece of home theater equipment, in a dark cardboard box:
I haven't been very consistent, incubation temperatures have ranged anywhere from 75-90F but mostly around 80. Within just 2 days I could see lots of mycelial growth in my liquid cultures. These are mostly whitish clouds, but there are also some white stringy strands:
I've read that it's best to use a magnetic stirrer - I'll have to build one, should not be hard, I already have all of the required parts (for some reason I have an awful lot of magnets and fans around my house, haha).
I asked a woodworker friend to ask his "mill guy" for some oak sawdust. He came though, and I now have a large enough supply for quite a big start:
The sawdust has to be supplemented - things proven to work include brown rice flour:
wild bird seed, rye grain (might be cheapest option - probably at local feed store), wheat bran (have some wheat bran flakes cereal I can try):
coffee grinds (can supposedly get these free from starbucks and probably other places that sell coffee), etc. Perhaps even the same leaf compost I use on my gardens would work - but that stuff is so riddled with contaminants (other spores) that it's probably not a good idea. Some people also add a little bit of gypsum, and/or sugar (more things to test).
So anyway, all you do is add the sawdust (2/3), supplement (1/3), and water (same volume as supplement) to either bags or jars. Jars are easy to get but relatively expensive, size limited, and restrictive (harder to mix).
Once you have your jar/bag sealed, you need to once again pressure cook to sterilize. You inoculate by poking a sterile syringe containing sterile liquid culture into your container (which should have already had a self healing injection point created before you sterilized it). You let the mycelium grow for 1-4 months until it completely populates the "log". Then you reduce the temperature, open the bag, shock it (cold water, refrigeration, banging, etc) and let it sit, mushrooms should form in 7-10 days, harvest all at once, let dry for 7 days, shock it again by dunking overnight in ice water, and you'll get another flush, repeat until it stops producing (up to 5 flushes).
There are dozens of things that need to be tested (supplements, ratios, humidity levels, species of hardwood, size or mix of sizes of sawdust, compression level on substrate material, starting moisture content of substrate, temperatures, shapes of synthetic logs, shock techniques, etc). Many of the factors are different depending on the stage of growth - ideal temps and humidity are different during mycelial growth, during the "pinning" phase (where the mushrooms first begin to form), during the shocking process, and during actual fruiting (when full size mushrooms grow). One expert has also told me there is often a trade off between quality and quantity - lower temps may take longer to produce a flush for example, and the mushrooms may be smaller, but the mushroom quality is higher. This is yet another thing that would have to be verified using double blind taste tests, preferably using people with discriminating taste buds.
My first block:
They are kept in an oversized bag with the top folded over to keep the humidity levels up, and opened up to fan in fresh air and mist with water a few times a day.
The big one is over 5 inches across. I harvested 9 days after opening the spawn bag. You are supposed to harvest while the edges of the cap are still slightly in-rolled, so I probably could have harvested 1-2 days earlier. These were very tasty mixed in with my Korean fried rice (rice, ground beef, diced scrambled eggs & carrots, mushrooms). I also tried making the shiitake bacon, but it was a little too salty - gotta cut down the soy sauce (dilute w/ water maybe) to about a drop or less per mushroom slice. I've had them in omelets, on pizza, plan to try frying them soon.
Recently I've been growing lots of Oyster and Elm mushrooms too.