Starting your own mushroom farm is not nearly as difficult as it might first seem, but it does require a little planning and investment. The good news is that mushrooms are very hardy and do not need meticulous care to grow. But do you get started in the world of mushroom growing?
After a healthy amount of research into what you plan to grow, you will need to set aside space for your mushroom farm. It will need to be out of direct sunlight, though some indirect sunlight can make your life easier. Once you have your space, you’re going to need mushroom spawn and a substrate to grow it in. The specifics of the rest will vary depending on your mushroom of choice, but the basic principles are the same, so let’s go over those basic principles.
Your Grow Room
Unlike plants, mushrooms do not require sunlight in order to grow. They do not process light into energy, which is why mushrooms are often found in dark places. That being said, they do use light as an indicator for when it suitable for fruiting, so don’t expect to be able to set your farm up in a completely lightless room and come back to it weeks down the line to harvest your bounty.
For a beginner farm, the ideal place would be a room that gets natural sunlight but with the right amount of space or geometry that your farm can be out of direct sunlight. This will let you take advantage of the natural day/night cycle. If this is not possible, however, your best bet would be a completely dark space where you can install appropriate lights and set them on a timer.
Spawn and Substrate
Spawn is needed to create a fungi culture and, while mushrooms are very resilient, different species do grow better in certain substrates. Things like straw, sawdust, and regular old soil are commonplace. For some mushrooms that grow specifically on trees, you might opt for a piece of cut log, though you will have to take steps to keep it hydrated. It should be noted that using a log as a substrate isn’t really considered an efficient method, however. As for the method, the best option varies from species to species. For example, people growing oyster mushrooms tend to opt for an upright plastic bag filled with substrate design, whereas people who are growing regular button mushrooms will often opt for a more conventional flatbed farm design.
As for your spawn, your best bet is to buy ready-to-inoculate spawn and go from there. You can produce your own, of course, and this would save you some costs in the long run, but there are initial costs involved that make it less ideal for someone starting out with their first mushroom farm. Especially if you don’t intend to sell your mushrooms.
Preparing Your Substrate
Regardless of whether you are using a flatbed or plastic bag design for your mushroom farm, your substrate still needs preparation. If you are using straw, you will want to boil the straw in water and leave it to cool down before packing it. If you are using sawdust, it will need supplementing so that your mushrooms have sufficient nutrients to feed on.
The important thing to note here is that you want to avoid contaminants, which is why you boil your straw before using it, and why your lab area—if you decide to produce your own spawn, has to be immaculately clean. Your grow room should also be very clean, but it doesn’t have to be to the level of cleanliness that would be required for a lab.
There’s no special method for arranging a flatbed mushroom farm, but for the bag method, you should pack in two or three inches of your substrate and then sprinkle some spawn across the top, then add another two or three inches, sprinkle more spawn, and repeat until your bag is full.
Finally, close the bag at the top and poke holes in the side.
Your Grow Room
The size and layout of your grow room will largely be determined by how much you intend to grow at one time. For a beginner farm, we would advise starting small and refining your technique until you have things working the way you want them.
Another reason you might want to start small for your first time is that you need to carefully manage the climate in your growing room. The temperature, humidity, and light are all important to mushroom growth, and the larger the growing room, the more difficult these factors are to control. As for the precise condition that you will need to maintain, that can vary between species. For the most part, there are overlaps in things like humidity and temperature, but the ideal conditions for one species of mushroom may not be ideal for another.
Assuming you are opting for the bag farm design, your most efficient layout would involve setting your bags out on racks or shelving. This provides you with the easiest layout to check on your mushrooms, as well as the optimal use of your space. As you expand, you can put shelving or racking against other walls. And, if the room is large enough, you can have racking down the middle, also.
Knowing what to do is great, but knowing why you are doing it can go a long way to mastering anything. If you encounter a problem, you can more intuitively find a solution when you know what the underlying mechanics of the situation are. To that end, here is a crash course in the growing process of your average mushroom.
When fungus spawn grows into mycelium, it spreads through its substrate until it reaches an acceptable fruiting state. There are a few factors that contribute to mycelium deciding to fruit. One of those factors is space; if the mycelium has filled all of the available substrates, it will look to fruit so that it can send its spores into new areas where there is more growing room. This is where the bags come in; by restricting the boundaries of the substrate and ensuring there is plenty of spawn in each bag, the mycelium will quickly fill the available space and want to fruit.
The next factor is the environmental conditions. Naturally, mushrooms want to sprout in the open. If they sprouted underground, their spores would never leave the area that the mycelium is already growing in. And, as we’ve established, the mycelium will likely have filled this area by the time it is ready to fruit. So, no fruiting underground. The mycelium uses things like the amount of carbon dioxide, the temperature, and, yes, the light levels to determine when it has reached the surface of its substrate. Any mycelium exposed to open air when it is ready to fruit will produce fruiting bodies—your mushrooms.
How Hard Is It To Grow Mushrooms at Home?
Growing mushrooms at home is not hard at all; it is the scale of your operation that will make things difficult. Growing a few mushrooms here and there for occasional personal use is relatively easy and can even be done naturally in a shaded part of your garden. That being said, if you’re reading this post, we’re going to assume you’re planning something a little grander in scale.
Your first problem is space. You are going to need an area that can be climate controlled and cut off from outside light sources, which typically means an inside room rather than a garden shed. A basement is also a good spot; however, any room will do. If controlling things like the humidity of your grow room is too tall an order, you might consider enclosing your growing space in a grow tent, which can be bought in a variety of sizes from small cabinet-sized to industrial building-sized.
After that, things get a little simpler. Most of the work of growing mushrooms is done in the preparation. Once everything is ready, there is not much to do until the mushrooms are ready to harvest. In fact, with a little planning and some technology, you can make your mushroom farm almost completely hands-off during the growing period. That being said, the preparation that goes into each new batch of mushrooms should not be underestimated. Even with a largely automated growing process, there is still a good amount of work to do.
How Profitable Is Mushroom Farming?
As you might expect, the choice of mushroom you choose to grow will greatly affect how profitable your mushroom-growing venture is. Common mushrooms like what you can easily buy in your local grocery store are grown in huge quantities in industrial-sized farms and, as a result, can be sold for far less than you will be able to sell yours for.
The trick here is gourmet mushrooms and local restaurants. Unless you have millions in startup capital, you are not going to be able to produce any type of mushroom in large enough quantities to be putting your product on supermarket shelves. But local restaurants—especially highly rated ones—are always on the lookout for fresh sources for their ingredients. If you can find a sufficient number of interested restaurants in your area to feed a healthy demand for your product, you should be able to make your mushroom venture profitable.
How Small Can I Go And Still Make Money?
It doesn’t take an economic master to know that the more product you can produce, the more money you can make. Of course, it is a little more complicated than that, but that will do for now. Mushrooms are, unfortunately, not the best when it comes to farming. They need plenty of space, and they can be quite irregular in how large they grow. So, how, then, do you go small while still making money from your venture?
The only way to achieve this is to focus on the more profitable mushrooms and mushrooms that grow larger. For example, Lions Mane mushrooms is a popular gourmet mushroom that can grow quite large, giving you a lot of weight for your yield. Another popular gourmet mushroom is Shiitake, which is also very easy to grow.
To give you an idea of the prices, Lion’s Mane mushroom goes for around $10 per pound, and Shiitake can go for around $13 per pound. Compare this to your average white button mushroom, which goes for less than $2 per pound.
How Big Can I Go Without Having to Hire Anyone?
There is no single answer to this question that would apply to every grower, so rather than try, we’ll cover what you need to factor in when making this kind of decision.
Firstly, you should have a good idea of how much time your mushroom growing takes before you ever considering hiring other people. If you are planning to expand your operation and you are already at the limits of what you can reasonably do yourself, then you have likely reached the maximum size you can go without hiring. Of course, there are maybe tools and strategies that can lessen your workload, so it is always worth doing plenty of research before throwing money at a problem.
When weighing up these kinds of decisions, don’t neglect your own wellbeing. Sure, you could put eighteen hours a day into your mushroom farm, theoretically. But that doesn’t mean you should.
What Type Of Mushrooms Should I Start Growing First?
We would recommend growing Shiitake mushrooms first, as they are an excellent combination of easy to grow and well-priced, making them ideal for beginners. You will be able to hone your mushroom-growing skills but still produce a profitable product at the same time.
Oyster mushrooms are another popular mushroom for getting started. Button mushrooms are, of course, very popular, but they are also very common and, as such, not worth the effort for small growers.
What Mushrooms Are The Easiest To Grow And Sell?
As mentioned above, the best combination of easy to grow and popular is Shiitake mushrooms. It should be noted that “easy to sell” is a relative term. If there is no one in your local area who is interested in Shiitake mushrooms, they suddenly become much harder to sell.
Still, they are, generally speaking, a very popular mushroom in gourmet food and are among the easiest of mushrooms to grow.
Where Should I Try And Sell My Mushrooms?
Short of inquiring if your neighbors would be interested in some doorstep mushroom sales or setting up an enormous and expensive operation to mass-grow mushrooms and sell to big supermarket chains, your best bet for selling your mushrooms is gourmet restaurants. The chefs that work in these restaurants pride themselves on creating the best meals, and as most people know, fresh produce always tastes better.
This is where mushroom growers of all sizes can shine. It is very difficult to grow mushrooms on a large scale and have them delivered completely fresh, but for a small grower, it is very possible. Visit your local restaurants and talk to the chef. Be sure to do your research first regarding the market value of your product, and be prepared for requests for other mushrooms if you impress the chef. Your prospective customers will likely want to establish a regular supply of their desired mushrooms, so be very clear about what you can produce before you go in.
How Long Will They Last If I Don’t Sell Them Straight Away?
From the point of picking, your mushrooms will start to decompose. Their purpose in the fungi lifecycle is to spread mushroom spores so that the fungus can spread, and so they are kept fed with nutrients by the mycelium until that job is done. Once the spores have been released, however, the mushrooms start to decompose, so it is important to be aware of the stage in the lifecycle that your mushrooms are currently at.
Once that decomposition process starts, you can keep your mushroom for around ten days in a fridge.
It is worth noting, as we mentioned above, the types of chefs you are likely selling your mushrooms to will specifically be looking for fresh mushrooms, so you should avoid growing too much excess just for it to sit in a drawer in your fridge for the next week.
Is It Easier To Grow Medicinal Mushrooms Or Culinary Mushrooms?
Though it is not a universal truth that applies to all medicinal and culinary mushrooms, it is generally true that culinary mushrooms are easier to grow than medicinal ones. Some of the most popular medicinal mushrooms are Yarsagumba and Chaga. The former is a mushroom formed from parasitic fungi that sprout out of a caterpillar’s mouth and only grow in the Himalayan region at high altitude. Which, needless to say, makes it a little unlikely as a home grower fungus.
Chaga, on the other hand, grows on tree trunks in what is called a “conk” and takes on a bark-like exterior that is so tough that it has to be hacked off with an axe! A slow process and not one that would be easy to emulate in a short enough timespan for your average mushroom grower.
Of course, not all medicinal mushrooms are this difficult, but most culinary options aren’t either.
Can I Grow Both Types In The Same Place?
It is important to establish what is meant by “space” in this question. If you are looking to grow different types of mushrooms in your growing room, the answer is yes; you can absolutely grow multiple types of mushrooms in the same place. You will need to do a little research into the humidity and temperature requirements, of course, and some mushroom strains will make better neighbors than others. As long as you choose mushrooms that are capable of fruiting in the same conditions as their neighbor, there shouldn’t be a problem.
If, on the other hand, you are considering growing two different types of mushrooms in the same container and substrate, you technically can do this, but you shouldn’t. The mycelium in your substrate will spread out to fill as much of the available substrate as possible, and it will draw nutrients from all over that substrate. If you have different types of mycelium in one bag, they will both be fighting for the same nutrients, which will likely result in smaller mushrooms in the long run.
Should I Set Up A Mushroom Drying System In My Farm?
One way to help preserve mushrooms for a little longer is to dry them out. Mushrooms carry a high water content, and removing that water content can extend the shelf-life of stored mushrooms once they’ve been picked. Of course, there is always a trade-off. In this case, it is that rehydrated mushrooms never quite taste as good as the original item.
As for whether you should set up a drying station, it largely depends on how you intend to run your business. A mushroom drying system could cover a large area (depending on the specific system), and space is usually at a premium for growers who are just starting out. Not to mention, if you are selling your mushrooms directly to chefs who want them fresh, you may never actually get to use your drying system.
Mushroom farming is a great way to earn money if you live in the right area for it, or the right areas are within reach. It is also somewhat unusual in that there is no real incentive to expand your mushroom-growing capabilities due to the nature of the food. Your buyers are likely to want their mushrooms fresh, which is hard to achieve with a largescale operation, and impossible to achieve with mushrooms that have been stored.
Still, there is always scope for improvement and expansion. And, because of the modular way in which a mushroom farm can be built, it is not difficult to grow your farm without having to reorganize things or move to another property.