A mushroom is the edible fruiting part of a mycelial colony. Edible mushrooms belong to a wide variety of botanical orders and families that have been a source of food and medicine for human beings since pre-history. The earliest records of culinary mushroom cultivation date back to 600 CE in China where Wood Ear mushrooms (Auricularia auricula) were first successfully inoculated in wooden logs. Many historians believe medicinal mushrooms to have been cultivated even earlier on sacks of grain during the Egyptian dynasties.
Modern mushroom cultivation is usually done through the inoculation of a substrate (wood chips, logs, sawdust, grain hulls, etc.) though a form of pre-inoculated mushroom spawn. Mushroom spawn is typically available in two forms: garden spawn and dowels.
Garden spawn kits are pre-packaged blocks, usually sawdust, that have been inoculated with the desired species and variety of mushroom. Most garden spawn will be white and fiberous, a sign that the mycelium is well established and ready to fruit. Often these block of mycelium can be encouraged to fruits straight away in your home allowing you to enjoy an initial flush of mushrooms before planting them outdoors. Garden spawn are the best option for planting in piles of fresh substrate like wood chips or straw.
Dowel spawn kits are pre-packaged bags on wooden dowels that have been inoculated with with the desired species and variety of mushroom. Most dowel spawn kits will appear white and splotchy, similar to mold, a sign that the dowel spawn is ready to be planted. Dowel spawn can be used the same way garden spawn is if the species of mushroom can grow in a loose substrate like wood chips or straw, but works best when inserted into freshly cut wooden logs or stumps. Dowel spawn kits are the only option to grow some species of mushrooms that will not fruit on loose substrates.
Unlike fruiting trees and bushes, mushrooms do not require above ground pollination or pollinators to fruit and reproduce.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
Mushrooms are hardy to USDA zones 2-10, unless otherwise noted . This rating tells you the minimum winter temperature the plants typically survive when properly hardened off. On our web site you will find a USDA Hardiness Maps which provides information on the average minimum winter temperature in your location, by zip code.
Where to Plant Your Mushrooms
Nearly all varieties of mushrooms are shade loving. Due to the moisture needs of most types of cultivated mushrooms full shade is essential to keeping the mycelium moist and happy. Some kinds of mushrooms, like King Stropharia and Boletus, are tolerant of some sunlight provided that it doesn't dehydrate their growing medium, while others like Nameko will only reliably fruit in wet full shade conditions.
The type of substrate used to grow your mushrooms is more important than the soil quality the mushroom beds are installed on. Some species, like Oyster, are very widely adapted and grow on many kinds of substrate, but others like Lion's Mane have a very small number of acceptable kinds of wood they will fruit on. Be careful to make sure when you inoculate your mushroom spawn that you are doing so with fresh recently processed growing medium. Older wood, straw, etc. may already be inoculated with local wild forms of fungus that will actively compete and may even kill your desired spawn.
Growing Mushrooms in Containers
Container growing is especially good for mushrooms due to the ease of controlling the environmental factors that go in producing healthy frequent flushes of high quality fruit. As usual with mushrooms the keys are using a preferred growing medium for the kind of mushroom you want to cultivate and making sure your mycelium get the kind of consistent moisture it needs to grow and thrive.
Watering Your Mushrooms
This is the most important and often the most difficult part of successfully growing plants. There are many factors, including the humidity, temperature, soil type, wind, and amount of direct sun that affect how much and how often water should be applied.
While mushrooms love water, and need it daily, the way water is applied to mushrooms is as important as how much and how often it is given. For best results we suggest daily spraying, or misting with a spray bottle if you are container gardening, to keep the substrate moist without over watering it. Like most plants, mushrooms need air to breath and over watering can delay or even kill your colony just as quickly as allowing things to dry out altogether.
In rainy climates, like the Pacific Northwest, outdoor mushroom cultivation is easier and requires less supplemental watering through most of the year, but your mushroom patch will still need daily watering through the summertime dry season to remain viable and productive. In drier areas permanent irrigation will be required and can be achieved through the use of drip irrigation sprayers. Drip irrigation, especially in a shaded area, is a cost effective and long lasting solution for plants that need frequent water support.