How to Grow Mushrooms and Preserve Them
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My mushroom growing experience started many years ago when I learned how at the work college I attended. The Natural Resources Crew at Warren Wilson College had a Shiitake and Oyster mushroom project that allowed theme to make use of limbs left over from the forestry operations on the hundreds of acres of forest owned by the college.
We would sell them on campus to students, faculty, staff, and sometimes a few restaurants.
Naturally when Matt and I started clearing our overgrown property and thinning the woods we decided that it made sense to grow some mushrooms to eat on and maybe sell a few logs and mushrooms for added income while working on building the house.
We did about 250 logs and some of them are still fruiting after 8 years. One reason they are still going is that we used some pretty dense and large logs.
There may be a mushroom you like even if you don’t like the ones in the store.
Even those that don’t necessarily like mushrooms from the store may find they enjoy some of those that are grown at home. The range of flavor in the word of fungi is amazing. This makes them an excellent choice for those on a vegetarian diet that are looking for meat substitutes that actually offer a flavorful experience.
Buy a good drill if you are going to grow mushrooms regularly!
If you don’t already have a good drill then you better get one ASAP. A drill that plugs into standard power is the way to go. Cordless drills will wear out fast if you start doing a lot of logs.
After burning up a few $20 drills years ago, my wonderful in-laws gifted us a Bosch Hammer Drill and it was a game changer. You can rip through some logs with that drill.
It has never felt like it lacked in power and we have done hundreds of logs with it. You can get away with less of a drill than that and still get a quality product.
How to Grow Mushrooms and Preserve Them
Bosch Corded Drill
There are so many nutritional and medicinal benefits to mushrooms that they would be impossible to list all of them in this article. I encourage you to research and read up on specific mushrooms you want to grow or read up and see which ones address your health concerns the most.
Drilling out holes to inoculate logs with sawdust spawn.
Sawdust spawn is great stuff. The high level of surface area creates a perfect environment for spawn growth. To use sawdust spawn you drill out holes in logs to a depth of one inch using a 7/16 drill bit. Fill your inoculator with spawn and insert in hole. The spawn is ideally a little recessed to facilitate good coverage when you seal with wax
Close up of drilled out holes ready to be inoculated.
Chestnut Oak logs with Shiitake fruiting. Amazingly these logs fruited after only 6 months. The wood is somewhat unique because although the logs are small they are very dense because these trees were stunted and grew very slowly.
The density of this wood also explains why they still have some good flushes after 9 years. This photo was taken about 7 months after inoculation. This was a big surprise. Logs can take up to a year.
I only recommend inoculated wood dowels for those that only want to do a few logs and have no one to split a bag of sawdust spawn with.
Dowels take longer to colonize the log and fruit. They are easy for beginners because you can use a rubber mallet or hammer to put them in the holes you have drilled. This means you don’t have to purchase a special inoculation tool or do the work of dipping the tool into and out of the spawn bag for every hole.
Sawdust spawn is more economical and fruits faster. Wood dowels require a 3/8 wood bit instead of the 7/16 you use for sawdust spawn. This is typical drill bit sizing but it is smart to check and make sure when buying spawn so you have what you need when it arrives.
Buying Or Making An Inoculation Tool
While inoculation tools may seem expensive for what they are, they save you a lot in spawn costs. If you plan on inoculating logs regularly in the future then it is best to just go ahead and get one. There is also the option of making your own.
My husband got frustrated because the first ones we bought were pricey and did not stand the test of time. He got a piece of copper pipe of the right diameter and cut it to length and used a carriage bolt. Sure it is not spring loaded and you have to use a hammer to hit it but in some ways, it is much easier on the hand then the plunger and spring standard inoculators that you buy.
The homemade one also holds about 4 holes worth of spawn so if you have a deep container you can jam it in and inoculate said number of holes without having to constantly be dipping in the spawn bag. I think this inoculator cost less than $3.
Here is a link to one type of inoculation tool you can just buy if you would rather do that. They have come down in price to $30 from the $50 we had to pay years ago from another maker.
Buy within your region if possible
I encourage you to buy spawn from a reputable producer within your region. While I have bought spawn from the West Coast at times and had good success, spawn is alive and the less time in shipping the better. Some producers of spawn go to great lengths to ensure that spawn is packed in insulated containers.
If you have concerns then you can always ask for better packaging services for an appropriate fee. If you are buying withing a 2-3 day shipping area or paying for priority mail then you should be fine no matter what.
We purchased our spawn from Mushroom Mountain.
I ordered it late in the evening on a Wednesday and we got it Friday at a cost of just under $200 for 12 bags of sawdust spawn with shipping. We are only a few hours away from them so your shipping costs may be slightly higher but not too much.
For the east coast, they seem to have the best prices and the spawn looked good on arrival. No old spawn like I have gotten in the past when buying from start ups.
Mushrooms that tolerate colder temperatures have spawn that keeps longer in the refrigerator than some like the Pink or King Oyster that fruits at high temperatures.
Fungi Perfecti is an excellent choice for West Coast preppers or anyone that is unsure of where to go for spawn. Field and Forest is a midwest producer of spawn that is proven and has been around a long time. They have some odd varieties like Shiitake that can fruit on cherry logs.
For this method, you will need a saw. On our place we use a chainsaw but you could probably use a reciprocating saw if you had to but it would take a lot longer and probably not be practical for very large logs. Cut out wedges and leave 6-12 inches between the next wedge. There is no set rule but you do want a space.
Take out wedge and place sawdust spawn in the opening. Put the wedge back in and secure with a nail and hammer or you could use a screw and screwdriver. Pack spawn in around the wedge and seal with wax. A lot of people do not seal with wax using this method but we have come to the conclusion that it is worth using a bit of wax to protect your spawn.
A single propane burner stove eye is good for heating up wax no matter where you are at.
It is well worth it to buy your wax in bulk so you don’t run out. We buy 10 lb bags of soy wax which is commonly used for candle making. At a few bucks per lb it is a bargain. You can . You can get smaller bags but soy wax is pretty useful so having some left over can be a good thing.
The totem method is fast but requires some lifting which can be tiresome. We normally stack our totems 2-3 high and sandwich spawn in between each one. A few nails are used to attach them to one another.
We choose to seal where the spawn is with wax to keep the insects out of it. This was something we started to do after losing some spawn due to some insect drilling and digging a lot of the spawn out of some Black Poplar totems we did.
Using the totem method, you can get a lot of mass inoculated in a short period of time.
Totems take up a lot of spawn but if you are buying in bulk it is still a cheap way to grow some food on logs that might otherwise be waste. Some limbs can make good firewood but there are some types of tree like Poplar that make very marginal firewood so they might be best used for mushroom propagation.
My husband Matthew putting in some nails to make sure the totems stay together for many years.
Totems should have dirt mounded around the base to help maintain moisture levels for optimum fruiting.
Totems inoculated with Shiitake and placed under the drip edge of the new barn. This is a good way to utilize all that water that comes off the roof and get these totems fruiting fast.
Garden Bed Mushrooms
Some mushrooms will grow on beds of woodchips and lawn clippings or in the understory of your garden. Breaking down your lawn waste and turning it into food sounds pretty good. If you use a lot of heavy fertilizers or chemicals in your yard then these types of mushrooms may not be the best idea for you to grow. King Stropharia is an excellent mushroom for beginning growers to start with.
Some gorgeous King Stropharia grown by Mushroom Mountain.
The Art Of Log Placement
To maintain a better moisture level it is advisable to pack dirt around a few inches of the base of totems. Logs can be leaned on a man-made framework or against trees or other objects. Those in apartments that have some logs on a balcony or similar can lean logs and soak the ends in a small tub or bucket of water to hasten fruiting.
If you have the space, you can partially bury the ends of logs. Log cabin style arrangements like what we did next to a new access road are easy to harvest off of and space-efficient. You can make them a layer or two taller than we did if desired but you don’t want it so high that it is difficult to pick mushrooms that fruit on the sides facing the center.
Also, make sure to leave enough room around your log cabin formation to allow for walking around and picking on all sides.
Log cabin style stacking of newly inoculated logs. You can put a few in the center of the top rack carefully and still have room to pick mushrooms and not have them growing into each other.
Types of Mushroom
There are a lot of mushrooms that can be grown at home. The important thing is to get spawn from mushrooms that will fruit in your climate if you are growing them outside. You can definitely grow mushrooms in a greenhouse or indoors if you have the resources.
This allows for growing some hot fruiting mushrooms in cool climates. I am in the South but we are at 3000 ft elevation so growing mushrooms that fruit best at 75 degrees and up is not something that is going to give us a good crop most of the time. We just don’t have the consistently hot temps required for the spawn to grow and flourish.
A heavily fruiting Shiitake log from years ago. Inoculating mushroom logs is something that will keep on giving back to you for quite some time
This is our mainstay mushroom to grow. It is a fantastic meat substitute and has anti-carcinogenic properties. In Japan, there are communities that have high numbers of people living to be over 100 and the main thing that stood out when researchers checked into this was that the residents were consuming large quantities of Shiitakes over their lifetime.
Shiitakes vary in size. The amount of moisture you have in the log and the strain you are growing have a big influence on the appearance of the mushrooms you are growing. Generally speaking mushrooms are ready to pick when the veil under the gills is fully extended.
If you are going to get days of bad weather or excessive moisture then I advise picking early on. You can cook with waterlogged Shiitakes but they have to be used immediately and are poor for drying out for long term storage.
Woods To Use: Tulip poplar and other softer woods.
There are so many types of Oyster mushrooms out there. There is a good chance that you have seen a strain or two of these growing wild and not thought much about it. We grow Blue Oysters normally but have some White Oyster we tried out this year.
The flavor of Oyster mushrooms can vary a lot depending on the variety. The Blue Oyster is excellent in white sauces and more delicate dishes.
The main disadvantage of Oyster mushrooms is that they are very delicate. When they are ready to pick, you need to make sure to be on top of it. Either start the drying process or consume within a day or two at most.
This makes the Oyster a hard mushroom for those that want to sell fresh to restaurants and markets. When you go to the grocery store if there are oyster mushrooms in the produce department they are often yellowed and in poor condition and $15 a lb on top of that.
You may live close enough to some restaurants or artisan markets that are willing to buy a flush of mushrooms on a whim and in that case, you can market them but for most of us, the Oyster mushroom is going to be something for household consumption and sharing with friends and neighbors.
Works best on larger rounds of 10 inches or more in diameter. This is a new mushroom for us. We tried once years ago and it didn’t take but we have a strain that is more suitable and are hopeful. It is not supposed to be particularly difficult to grow.
Those that enjoy the taste of seafood should consider growing Lion’s Mane. It is known for making an excellent substitute for crab or lobster. I used to love to eat seafood but I am very careful now due to all the pollution and potential for radioactive fall out finding its way into what I am eating. Women of childbearing age especially need to be very careful how much seafood they consume.
While Reishi mushrooms are not something you are going to put in your stir fry they are a medicinal mushroom that more and more people are trying to grow. They are not always the easiest mushroom to grow and require warmer temperatures to fruit.
Partially burying logs and incubating undercover is one method that is sometimes used in climates that are marginal. For most people, growing Reishi indoors is the option that is open to them. If you are not in a mild climatic zone then do not attempt to grow this mushroom outside.
These are sometimes called Paddy Straw or Nameko mushrooms. If you eat a lot of Asian foods then there is a good chance that at some point you have eaten a few of these. They are sold canned in the ethnic section of many major grocery stores.
Some types of mushrooms may come in many different strains. For example, you might want a Shiitake strain that fruits under cold conditions and some that are wide range or you may need a heat resistant warm fruiting strain. It’s wonderful that there are so many options within a species.
The Pink Oyster is a particularly beautiful mushroom but you have to grow it under very hot conditions so we have never tried it. It looks like a piece of coral from the sea. It might be a fun choice for kids to grow inside.
You can buy a block of spawn and fruit it inside with ease. I mention it here just because it was a fun one that I saw when ordering spawn. I have a small house so no growing inside for me.
How many logs?
This is a hard one to answer. How many mushrooms you want for your own needs should be the first consideration as well as how much space you have to dedicate to propagation. Some logs produce faster or more mushrooms than others.
The bigger the log the more you will get over time. I have heard all kinds of different theories to calculate what volume of mushrooms you can expect and I do not think at this point it is something that you can calculate with any major accuracy.
I will say that you get a lot of mushrooms and it is totally worth it. If anything I think estimates are a little low in any literature you read.
Mushrooms need shade during the warmer months when direct sunlight can cause very high surface temperatures. Shade helps them retain moisture as well. In the fall all the leaves fall from the trees here but that in turn covers the logs and helps them slumber through the dead of winter.
Those that live where there are a lot of evergreens will have a lot of good shady spots.
Very intense direct sunlight will definitely inhibit spawn growth and lead to spawn death in severe cases.
So how long until they fruit?
Everyone wants to get mushrooms as soon as possible. While there are some things you can do that can help your logs fruit faster, some of it is up to nature. Plenty of suppliers say that Shiitakes can take a year to fruit but I have seen some of our logs fruit in under 6 months.
Keeping logs wet or moist definitely helps. Temperatures also matter but you should remember that logs on the ground that have some leaf litter or a tarp thrown over them are going to stay at a warmer temperature so you can use this to increase spawn propagation throughout your logs in the winter.
Just make sure to check-in and see how they are doing and make sure to take off coverings so they get moisture during rains. Shade cloth is a good alternative to a trap because it lets moisture thorough while helping with warmth.
All mushrooms I have talked about taking on average 6 months-2 years to fruit with the majority being in the year time range.
Your logs may start to give you a few mushrooms early on with an increase in production happening as the host wood becomes more colonized with spawn.
To harvest, you will need a knife. There are special mushroom knives out there for gathering but a simple pocket knife will do. Cut as close to the log as you can without cutting into the wood itself. You can gently shake off some reside and debris before putting in your harvest container.
Baskets are commonly used. A basket with some extra vents is best for quality, especially if mushrooms need to stay in the picking container for very long. The sooner you refrigerate or start the drying process the better.
Brown paper lunch bags or grocery bags work well for keeping mushrooms like Shiitakes. They will keep for weeks like this if they go into your fridge in good condition.
Big Flushes Can Happen
There are times when if you have quite a few logs you may find yourself with 10 lbs or more at once. These are your flushes that make it possible to put back a lot of dried mushrooms all at once.
Selling To Restaurants Or Online
A lot of restaurants want a somewhat regular source of mushrooms but others like the opportunity to have a special. You can also dry mushrooms and sell them through mail order or work it out with local shops to sell them for you.
Tailgate markets are excellent ways to sell mushrooms. The downside is that sometimes you get a flush when the market date is a ways off. In this case you can dry them out and sell that way. It helps to have other products to sell alongside your mushrooms.
Shiitakes dry very well. To dry remove the stems and place caps on a screen with a fan. You can dry them in a sunny room with fans if they are turned occasionally. A oven with a cracked door can be used if you have screens or mesh that are sized so caps cannot fall through as they dehydrate.
Regardless of the method used for drying I always finish them off in a gas oven with a cracked door. Moisture is a big deal when it comes to mushroom preservation. I dried some when we first started out at our place and did not do this or use a moisture absorber and they got moldy in a zip loc.
It was a real shame but things like that happen sometimes when you are learning. If you do it the way I do it now this won’t be an issue for you.
Drying Delicate Mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms can be dried. They do turn a more yellow color when dried but that doesn’t effect anything.
Some mushrooms are not really for drying. Shaggy Manes for example are best harvested and eaten the same day. There is nothing wrong with having a few mushrooms like this for your table but for long term drying and storage you need to stick with ones that can be found dried.
I have never canned just mushrooms however I have included them in pasta sauces I have canned. Drying is much more space efficient and less every intensive. At the same time if you like pickled mushrooms then by all means can them up.
For instructions on how to safely can mushrooms please visit The National Center For Home Food Preservation. They are a fantastic resource for looking up specifics on how to safely can a variety of foods.
The Hard To Grow Elusive Morel
Over the years a lot of people have mentioned just loving Morels or “May Fries” as they are called around where I live. I have never attempted to grow them because they are very difficult to get started and it takes a few years before you know if they are going to work out or not.
If you want to try growing them there are some things you can do to increase your chance of success. If you manage to get them growing well, they are worth a lot of money wet or dry.
Growing morels requires giving up a space for a few years without any promise of it paying off. You cannot allow the area to be dug up by pets or trampled on a lot.
- Burn brush on the spot you want to inoculate. Morels are often found at sites where buildings have burned.
- Inoculate close to apple trees. For some reason these mushrooms enjoy fruiting in apple orchards.
There is so much you can do with mushrooms both fresh and dried. Here are a few recipes to keep in mind.
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Beef Stroganoff
- Steak and Mushrooms
- Stir Fry
- Breaded and Deep Fried
- Grilled Shiitakes Instead Of Meat For Sandwiches
- Shiitake and Egg Drop Soup
Dried mushrooms hydrate rather quickly. I often just put them in my recipe with enough water to reconstitute them. You can soak them before hand if you like.
A lot of people actually like the rich and robust flavor that some mushrooms offer when dried compared to fresh. Shiitakes are definitely one the mushrooms that concentrates their flavor when dried.
Suggested Reading List For New & Experienced Mushroom Growers
– Paul Stamets
This book is a classic and one that I consider an essential reference for anyone interested in growing mushrooms. Paul’s decades of experience are captured in this volume. You can now get this book in Kindle format as well which could be quite handy for searching.
This book is one that I like to have a hard copy of though just in case ebooks are not accessible.
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation: Simple to Advanced and Experimental Techniques for Indoor and Outdoor Cultivation
This is a very comprehensive book that has a lot of experimental ideas for growing mushrooms that can be applied to a diverse range of growing environments.
For those that have an interest in figuring out a better method of growing morels, this is an excellent volume available in Kindle and Paper format. Tradd Cotter is also a founder of Mushroom Mountain, which is where we get our spawn currently.
List Of Trusted Mushroom Spawn & Growing Equipment Suppliers
Picture of our first major Shiitake growing site taken many years ago.
Do you have any edible and medicinal mushroom growing tips or any questions? Please comment below! Has anyone out there been successful in cultivating morels or truffles?
Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.
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