Growing Mushrooms at Home

by frankbeswick

Anyone with a bit of spare space can produce a regular supply of edible mushrooms.

While commercial mushroom farms can be quite large, mushrooms can be grown on a smaller scale. Indeed, in some places there are mushroom co-operatives,in which individuals grow their crop in sheds and sell to the co-operative. There is also a variety of mushrooms that can be grown by small scale growers, and they are grown in differing ways,using differing techniques.

Image courtesy of yees. It shows fried egg and shiitake mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms

Some years ago I worked for a few months in a school for special needs children, tutoring them in basic horticulture. I knew that whatever we did these children would struggle in their future lives, as the world is a harsh place. So my strategy was to enable them to improve their lives by growing their own food. As you know by know, I am passionate for food self-reliance and I hate people going hungry.So alongside basic gardening skills, I  taught the lads oyster mushroom production. This is something that they could do on a window ledge at home. I say lads, because sadly few girls would volunteer for the course, despite my efforts to persuade them.

You can see oyster mushrooms growing wild in the picture below. There are several types,all of which grow on wood. One,golden oyster, is an Indian variety and is considered a gourmet mushroom in demand in restaurants. I have never grown this variety, though I have grown two varieties of oyster fungus. 

The technique is simple and can be used by young children. You buy in the oyster spawn from a mushroom spawn producer. This is in the form of grain spawn, grains inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. You stuff it into a toilet role.Now here is a tip. Apparently oyster mushrooms have a taste for tea [they must be British!] so before you insert the grain spawn soak the toilet role in tea. Then keep it in a moderately warm place, ensuring that the roll is kept moist. You can do this with a spray gun. Use a mist of water rather than a jet. Golden oyster needs more heat than other varieties do,as it is a native of India, a hot country. 

This basic technique can be applied on a much larger scale with a variety of materials. I have grown oyster in a plastic bag stuffed with straw and obtained results. 

You will begin to see a flufffy network developing. This is the mycelium, the network of threads that constitute the body of the fungus, of which the visible fungus is the fruit. Soon you will see little black or grey spots developing on the surface, and they will grow into mushrooms.  

Now here is an important tip. Oyster mushroom does not keep for very long when picked, so eat it soon after picking. I think it excellent as an ingredient of stews, pies and meat dishes in general. But while this is a limitation of oyster it has advantages to the grower.It is easy to grow, and it can grow on paper  [as long as there are no fungicides in it] straw and wood, as long as it has not been dried out. It  also has the ability to completely digest hydrocarbons, as Paul Stametz, the mushroom expert, found out when he applied it to a heap of oil-polluted soil. The mushroom digested all the hydrocarbons, and when he tested the mushrooms he found that no trace of the hydrocarbons remained in their flesh. The mushroom had eaten the lot.  

Another point for smallholders is that when the mushroom substrate is exhausted the remnants can be used as chicken fodder, for the chickens will peck happily at it. As it is not kitchen waste it is not subject to the ban on feeding chickens kitchen waste that is in force in the UK. 


Oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms


This is a Japanese mushroom that has a good taste and keeps well. It cannot be grown on paper as oyster mushroom can. Instead it thrives on wood only. There are two methods of cultivation: sawdust spawn and dowel spawn. The dowel method can  be used for oyster as well.

Sawdust spawn is easy to use, for it comes in blocks of  sawdust that you innoculate with the spawn. The saw dust must be moistened first, allowing the water to soak through, but it should not be so wet that the sawdust blocks begin to crumble. The blocks are placed in plastic bags to protect them from infection by unwanted spores. However, there should be access to air, as mushrooms are air breathers,so ensure that there is some ventilation. 

Dowel spawn is used on logs, and I have used this technique on several occasions. You take logs, ideally not long felled, and drill holes into them. I found that the dowels are about 8 millimetres, so I needed to get a drill that could take a drill bit large enough. The hole should be drilled to the depth of the dowel. Then it is advisable to cover the holes with wax,which you have heated up to melt it. The first time I tried I made the mistake of keeping the logs outdoors, and while I know not whether it was those avian pirates, wood pigeons, or slugs, I found the holes uncovered and empty. So since then I have kept my mushroom production indoors. 

Fungi are basically lazy and sometimes have to be shocked into fruiting. I found this out once when growing beech oyster fungus.I had a stack of paper, which produced mycelium, but no mushrooms grew. In despair I gave up and put the paper  on the bonfire. It did not all burn,  but a few days later it began to sprout. Shiitake can be similar. In Japan growers sometimes beat the inoculated logs with sticks, so I am told, to shock them into fruiting, but an alternative is that before the  fruiting bodies appear, keep the logs in ice cold water for maybe half an hour. The mushroom thinks that it is under threat and so decides to fruit.

An alternative to using dowel is to cut a wedge out of the log and place the shiitake spawn inside . You can hollow out the wedge a bit to make room for the spawn. The benefit of this method is that it keeps the slugs out. but It is not commonly used these days.  

Shiitake is often credited with having anti-cancer properties, though it is no substitute for medical treatment. It is used in dishes in the same way as field  mushrooms are and tastes good. It has a good, firm flesh that does not break down in the pan.In this respect it differs from the oft-foraged shaggy inkcap, whose flesh melts when it goes into the stew pot, But this is a good point with a mushroom for stewing, as its  flavour permeates the stew. 




Similar mushrooms

The methods used for shiitake can be used with other mushrooms. There are several others. One is Hericum erinaceus,which is commonly known as Lion's Mane mushroom.The method can also be used with maitake,Grifola frondosa, another tree-growing fungus for which health claims are made,though I have not the expertise to evaluate them. Another species that might use the dowel technique, if you can get hold of anyone who produces the spawn, is chicken of the woods, Laetiporus sulfureus. This mushroom has the quality of tasting like chicken and being similar to chicken in its texture, so it is a good option for vegetarians. But it only grows on living wood and is responsible for heart rot in trees, so if you want to grow it you would have to infect your own trees, which most people do not want to do. So this fungus is rarely cultivated and is mainly foraged.

Mushrooms are a wonderful and nutritious ingredient of a varied diet. We can all grow a few at home if we have the space. The more of us who take responsibility for growing our own food the better. 

Updated: 02/08/2017, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 01/30/2022

A meat pie, maybe of red meat such as beef or venison is ideal. Oyster can go well with game [wild boar, hare, pheasant, partridge, grouse.] Mushrooms of many kinds go well with chicken.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/29/2022

In re-visiting this lovely article on home-growing mushrooms, I remembered a question that I meant to ask the first time around. What kind of pie would oyster mushrooms serve as ingredients in?

frankbeswick on 02/23/2021

It would need to be a greenhouse containing trees.

frankbeswick on 02/23/2021

No one has ever tried to grow white truffles in a greenhouse, to the best of my knowledge. You would need the right temperature and soil.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/22/2021

Is it possible that the white truffle could grow in a really supportive conservatory or greenhouse? (The main character in The Concert by Ismail Kadare manages a beautiful lemon tree within her apartment, against all odds. So I wonder if life can follow art in this case, of somewhere out there there's a way for white truffles to figure among gardening accomplishments on the other side of the pond.)

frankbeswick on 09/01/2017

Derdriu, I need to amend what I said about truffles. Attempts to grow them in England have had very limited success. But in the South West there are people who forage for them, but where I live in North West England there is no chance of any truffles growing.

There are experiments in planting trees whose roots are innoculated with truffle spores, but success has been limited and no one knows why.

Truffles are mainly an imported delicacy.

frankbeswick on 09/01/2017

The truffle only grows in a narrow band along the south coast,but only the black truffle grows; despite many efforts, the white truffle has never grown in England. The limited area in which truffles grow means that truffle growing is not as popular north of the channel as it is south of it.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/01/2017

frankbeswick, Have truffle-hunting and truffles ever been as popular north of the English Channel as they are south?

frankbeswick on 02/11/2017

Cauliflower mushroom,Sparassis crispa. This is edible and is being increasingly cultivated in Korea and other Asian countries. It contains anti--tumour chemicals, like several other mushrooms. I have never been fortunate enough to find one. The trouble is that foragers in my area are victims of the council's clean up of hedgerows, which has destroyed some of the stuff we could forage. There is little to forage round here anymore, but I have my allotment for vegetables, so not to worry.

Some time ago I foraged shaggy inkcaps Coprinus comatus in a clump of trees. The ideal way with these is to take the cap and put it into a stew, where it melts beautifully. The stem contains some stuff that does not melt. Put that on the compost heap.

dustytoes on 02/11/2017

Frank, I have read (probably in my foraging for mushrooms book) about the mushroom that causes problems if you drink alcohol. I can't trust books to keep me safe, but if I'd had a trusted relative or friend who took me out and told me all the secrets of mushroom picking, then I could see myself spending lots of time searching out edibles.
I will eat edible flowers... those are quite a bit easier to identify... and fruit, like you Veronica. Many mushrooms also grow and wilt too fast to easily find them at peak picking time, whenever that might be. If I ever find my mushroom photos I may do an article just to share the pictures. I found some interesting ones in the New Hampshire woods. One I believe is called the "cauliflower" and it looks like a big round wavy thing.

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