Growing mushrooms at home might appear a little tricky when you’re starting out.
And granted, sometimes it can be. But it can also be super easy., if you take it one step at a time.
Prettymuch nothing describes the process of cultivating various mushrooms better than a diagram we love from Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, by Paul Stamets.
Stamets is a mycologist for over 20 years (and has even discovered four new mushroom species!).
And the diagram above from his book is the bee’s knees (or the mushroom’s spores?) for explaining the different ways of cultivating gourmet mushrooms.
In essence, the first stage of the process is similar for all varieties: you must either obtain or propagate a ‘pure culture’ of your desired mushroom variety.
So first up, you have to obtain a sample of the fungi you wish to propagate. This sample can be in the form of:
- a spore print
- some mycelium growing on an agar plate or
- a tiny piece of mushroom
Spore prints can be purchased or collected directly from fresh mushrooms.
Mycelium growing on agar plates can be purchased from a variety of mushroom cultivation suppliers world-wide (or sourced via online forums or communities).
A tiny piece of mushroom is the other option – you can take a sample from just about any freshly sourced or store bought mushroom.
The next step is to start propagating your pure culture so that it grows to the point there it’s plentiful enough for you to inoculate a bag/bucket/log/garden bed of growing medium with it.
Typically, pure cultures are grown on an agar medium (malt extract agar or MEA for short) which is sterilised with a pressure cooker and poured into a petri dish.
Once it is cooled and set firm, your mushroom or culture sample is carefully added and then left to grow over the agar (the malt in said agar provides easy food for the mycelium).
This takes from a few days to a few weeks depending on the vigour of the particular variety you are growing.
Of course, all this needs to be done in as sterile environment as possible, so that only the fungi that you’re adding (and no other weird moulds) multiplies and thrives on that sterile agar.
Most people getting into mushroom cultivation start by creating a DIY still air box that reduces contamination, if you’re prepared to invest a little more money you can get yourself a basic laminar flow hood (check ebay for AU options, there’s heaps).
It’s also important that you keep the environment very clean while you’re propagating.
The easiest way to do this is by wearing gloves, clean clothes, and spraying the whole area and all your tools with a mixture of 70 percent alcohol (methylated spirits) and 30 percent water.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at how easy it is to make a still air box to improve your success and reduce the rates of contamination on your agar plates … bleurgh.
Once your mycelium has almost completely covered your agar plate it’ll be time to move onto the next step – Part 3 – making grain spawn. And from there, it’s on to the fruiting stage!
We run weekend intensive Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation for folks wanting hands-on knowledge. Just by the way.
All our mushroom articles, ebooks and resources are here.