Anyone with a garden knows how great it is to grow your own, as there’s nothing like the freshness of picking vegetables and a few minutes later cooking with them. Well, you can do that with mushrooms too. Fresh mushrooms are a great source of protein and add flavor and texture to any dish.
I’ve always enjoyed eating mushrooms, particularly the gourmet varieties such as Oyster and Shiitake. But, they’re not cheap to buy in the supermarket, and that’s when I discovered how I could grow my own in the garage.
Like most people, my garage was full but not with a car, just lots of junk. So after a bit of research, I took the plunge and decided to turn it into a mushroom farm. The principle of a farm is relatively simple, but getting the hang of it and growing consistently high-quality gourmet mushrooms takes a little time to master. Once you’ve got the knack of it, there is no stopping.
The demand for locally sourced produce means that when the word gets out people will begin asking for your mushrooms, and you can sell your excess production to earn a bit of money on the side.
Here are some of the things I learned about starting up a mushroom farm that could take away some of the pain when you try it.
Depending on how much space you have has a direct impact on the quantity of mushrooms you can produce. There are three stages to the cultivation of mushrooms, so consider how you are going to divide up your garage to accommodate each of the areas.
- Mixing & Inoculation: This is the area where you prepare the growing medium and where, if necessary, it’s purified before the mushroom spawn is added to the mix and then bagged.
- Incubation: A warm, dark space where the spawn is allowed to grow in the bag for a few days. This area needs to be kept at 68-75 F. (20-24 C.) for best results.
- Fruiting: Once a mushroom colony has established itself in a bag, it can then be exposed to fresh air, humidity, and light so the mushrooms can ‘fruit.’
If you are good at managing the space, you’ve got a garage of about 30 m2, which should be able to produce around 50 kg. (or 110 lbs.) of mushrooms a week. More than most families would eat in a week for sure, but also an excellent quantity to start small-scale production and to see if you have a ready market for your product.
Growing mushrooms takes a lot of labor, as producing just 22 pounds (10 kg.) could take at least ten hours of hard graft every week.
Once you’ve worked out your garage space, then it’s all a question of getting a good design so each of the three steps of growing can be as efficient as possible.
Mixing & Inoculation – The area where you are going to mix the substrate and the mushroom spawn needs enough space for a mixing vessel and a workbench. It should be somewhere that can be cleaned easily, as you don’t want to risk cross-contamination between the mushroom spawns. If you intend to produce large quantities of mushrooms, you’ll need somewhere to inoculate the growing medium to make sure it is inert and does not carry any unwanted fungus spores that would inhibit mushroom production.
Outside contaminants can also be a serious problem, so making sure you have a dust and dirt-free environment when preparing your grow bags is essential. Ensure there are no big gaps around your garage door. If there is, it’s wise to put in a small air pump system so the air pressure inside the garage is slightly higher than outside which will stop unwanted spores entering your mushroom preparation area.
Incubation – To incubate your mushroom spawn, you will need a darkened sealed area that can be kept at a constant temperature. It will require some heating and/or cooling, depending upon the outside temperature.
To get the mushroom spawn to incubate, you need a continuous 68-75 F. (20-24 C.). If you work with small bags for Shiitake and smaller-scale Oyster mushroom production, then shelving is all that is required. If you use bigger column bags for Oyster production, then you will need some hanging rails.
Fruiting – As you’re starting production in your garage, there are a couple of options for creating a fruiting area. You can build yourself a wooden frame and use plastic sheeting to create the right environment for the mushrooms to fruit. This will need some DIY skills and a little time. However, you could go the way of purchasing a hydroponics tent, which will do the job just as well and can be bought from many home improvement retailers.
The decision on what type of fruiting area you build will have a lot to do with the amount of space you have to play with and your budget.
All my mushroom growing friends agree that it’s best to start as low tech as possible, and if your production takes off, you can expand with more gadgets and capacity.
In large scale production, the substrate, which is more often straw or sawdust, has to be heated to sterilize the material to kill off competing organisms. For a low-tech start, you can use coffee grounds, which have already been pasteurized in the brewing process, or sawdust wood pellets, which again have been purified due to the heat of the manufacturing process. You can go down the route of using straw, but it has to be soaked in a cold water bath with a high pH value to kill off contaminants. The first two options are certainly less messy for the beginner.
I recommend experimenting with small batch production when you start to make sure you’re not getting any contaminants into the growing cycle. Oyster mushrooms are the best option when starting, as they reliably grow and have a high yield using low-tech methods.
Make sure all your working surfaces are clean, as well as your mixing container. For initial small-scale production, the mixer does not have to be very big. Like any recipe, weigh out all the materials before mixing, as getting the right balance is crucial. Mix all the materials thoroughly. For a first grow, I would suggest a mix of approximately 7 lbs. (3 kg.) of fresh coffee grounds, 1.3 lbs. (0.6 kg.) of pasteurized straw, and .7 lbs (0.3 kg.) of Oyster mushroom spawn. When mixing, make sure the clumps of coffee grounds are broken up. Put this mixture into three or four grow bags and seal.
The grow bags need to be kept in your incubation area, in the dark and with a constant temperature of 68-75 F. (20-24 C.). They need to be allowed up to three weeks to incubate properly. During this period, the spawn should grow so what’s inside the bags appears almost white. Cut a few holes in the bags and place them in your fruiting area. They will need light and fresh, clean humid air. After about a week in the fruiting area, your mushrooms are ready to pick and eat.
Once your mushrooms are in the fruiting area, you’ll begin to see tiny mushroom pins appear, and then every day they will double in size. By the end of a week or so, your mushrooms will be ready to harvest. A quick twist and they are off the stem and ready to be cleaned, then eaten or sold.
If you are looking to earn money from your mushroom growing, then one of the best options is to sell directly to a good restaurant. Great chefs will always recognize fresh, high-quality produce and are happy to pay for them. Alternatively, you could use a local farmers market as a way of reaching customers. A local health food store would most likely appreciate the freshness and localness of your product too.
Prices for Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms vary from country to country. Research the current prices in your area or with whom you will be selling to. If you are offering local fresh mushrooms, you have a premium product, so consider pricing higher than imports.
If this short explanation has whet your appetite for gourmet mushrooms, why not give it a go.