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WHAT ARE MUSHROOMS?
If you’re interested in growing your own mushrooms at home, a grow kit is a great place to start. However, before choosing one, it is important to understand what it is you’re trying to cultivate. This is because the more you know, the more you grow!
So, what exactly are these mysterious mushrooms? Well, mushrooms are only the tip of the fungal iceberg. This is because when we refer to a mushroom, what we’re actually talking about is the final phase in the life cycle of a fungus.
The fleshy, spore-producing mushrooms, or ‘fruiting bodies’, usually occur for just a few days. While mushrooms sprout above ground or on their chosen food source, hidden away from sight is the fungal, mycelial mass that produces and feeds them. The majority of the fungal life cycle takes place hidden underground.
As a cultivator of mushrooms, it is critical to understand this life cycle. What we really aim to cultivate and nurture is fungal mycelium. If you can learn to do that effectively, then rest assured you will grow plenty of mushrooms.
So what exactly can our fungal friends do for us? Well, edible gourmet mushrooms provide a nutrient dense, low-calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. This makes them incredibly healthy, as well as fun to grow! You may have heard of species such as Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus), Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris), Reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi), Shiitake(Lentinula edodes) and Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus). These are all species that can be readily grown at home.
As well as being incredibly good to eat, lots of research is currently being done on the cognitive benefits mushrooms can have on us humans. Lion’s mane in particular is said to improve cognition, and increase the release of nerve growth factor, a protein that promotes the nerve cell processes. Other species, such as the famous Psilocybe cubensis or ‘magic mushroom’ are currently being researched as a novel treatment for depression and numerous other mental health afflictions. The US has even seen a recent surge in the number of magic mushroom growing kits available for sale. Sadly, growing these mushrooms in the UK is prohibited, but you can still readily purchase Psilocybe cubensis magic mushroom spores for microscopy research. Another fantastic way to spend an evening!
In short, mushrooms have real potential to improve our bodies, mind and spirit. It is no wonder then that they are experiencing a renaissance of interest and research in the 21st century. Need you any more convincing to start growing your own mushrooms? Didn’t think so!
The future may just be fungi.
MUSHROOM GROWING KITS
The idea of cultivating homegrown mushrooms puts off a lot of people. It is actually not that difficult to do, particularly if you start with a grow kit. This makes the process both fun and super easy. A great introduction to a wonderful, new (and hopefully lifelong!) hobby.
There are many different types of mushroom grow kit, which can make choosing one tricky.
The most basic is a ‘spray and grow’ type kit. This is essentially a bag of pre-colonised substrate, usually wood or straw, with the mycelium grown to full maturity and ready to fruit. This means that 90% of the hard work has been done for you. Once you receive the kit, all you will need to do is follow some basic instructions. They’re called ‘spray and grow’ kits because you simply spray them with water to start the fruiting process, as well as give them some light. Their primary appeal is that are very easy to use and offer a high chance of success. So, if you’re looking for something that requires minimal effort, they might be an option. The caveat to that is that you won’t learn a great deal about the process of cultivating mycelium, which as we mentioned before, is the most critical part of mushroom growing.
CHOOSING THE BEST MUSHROOM GROWING KIT
In our humble opinion, a better option for the complete novice is to purchase an ‘all-in-one’ style of mushroom grow kit. These are mushroom bags filled with pre-sterilised substrate, with a mixture of grain and either a wood or coir-based substrate being most common. In recent years these have become incredibly popular, as they’re both affordable and offer larger yields than most other kits on the market.
With these bags, you will need to inoculate them yourself with a spore or liquid culture of your choosing. Now, this is a bit more work and requires a lot more patience than a basic spray and grow kit, but it will teach you some invaluable lessons in mycology. Firstly, you will need to practice sterile techniques when inoculating the bags. If there’s one word of advice we can give you, it’s that you can never be too sterile! Seriously. The sooner you learn good sterile practice the better, as it will save you countless hours further down the line, when you inevitably get bitten by the mushroom bug. Which you will, make no mistake about it. The second lesson you’ll learn is to be patient. Cultivating mycelium, especially from spores, takes time. But do you know what they say about patience? It’s always rewarded. You will also learn more about conditions for colonisation and fruiting, as well as techniques for fruiting the mushrooms once it’s ready. A real winner in our books.
ADVANCED OPTIONS FOR THE SERIOUS GROWER
The next step up from an all-in-one style grow bag would be to purchase your sterile grain and substrate separately. This is a popular choice for those with a few grows under their belts, but perhaps aren’t willing or have the time to prepare their own substrates. Sterile grain and substrate are often sold together as a monotub kit. For those that don’t know, monotubs are one of the most popular ways to produce bulk quantities of mushrooms at home. Monotubs can be used to grow a wide variety of mushrooms; most commonly dung-loving exotic mushrooms, but also reishi and king oysters. To run a monotub, the grain bag is first colonised fully with mycelium. This is then mixed with a manure or coco coir-based substrate and spawned to a clear plastic tub, usually with filter holes for fresh air exchange. A good monotub should be ‘set and forget’. Meaning once the grain and substrate have been spawned, very little needs doing on your part until the harvest. Perfect for the busy grower who wants maximum yield for minimal effort.
GROWING ON THE SMALL SCALE
Large monotubs can be somewhat cumbersome and take up space. For those who want a smaller scall grow, tucked away, Dutch style ‘grow box’ kits are also popular. Most are based on the classic PF Tek, which is a mixture of brown rice flour and vermiculite. This substrate provides the ‘food’ the mushroom mycelium needs to grow. Whilst searching for grow box kit, you may even come across magic mushroom growing kits! Whilst interesting, we advise against choosing one of these, as growing magic mushrooms is prohibited in the USA.
HOW TO GROW MUSHROOMS
Now that you’ve chosen your grow kit, how do you grow your mushrooms at home? This largely depends on the style of kit you’re using, but most follow the same basic principles. First, you inject the sterile substrate with your gourmet spore or culture syringe. The substrate will colonise over a period of several weeks, but be patient! It can sometimes take longer. Once fully colonised, you will want to place the substrate into fruiting conditions. High humidity and lots of fresh air are the name of the game here. Very soon you will start to see your first mushrooms. Remember, patience will be rewarded. Growing mushrooms is not always easy, but those with perseverance will succeed in this wonderful hobby.