Depending on the type, you might be in for a weekly surprise of fresh, homegrown fungi – it's like a little magical forest popping up in your backyard or in your Shrooly!
The Mushroom Life Cycle
Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals; they are part of the fungi kingdom. Unlike plants, mushrooms do not photosynthesize, and unlike animals, they do not directly ingest their food. Instead, mushrooms absorb nutrients from their environment through a network of thread-like structures called mycelium.
The mushroom life cycle has four key stages:
Spores: Mushrooms reproduce by releasing spores. Spores are microscopic reproductive units that can be dispersed by wind, water, or animals.
Germination: When a spore lands in a favorable environment, it germinates and grows into a thread-like structure called a hypha.
Mycelium: Multiple hyphae grow together to form a mycelium. The mycelium is the vegetative part of the mushroom and is responsible for absorbing nutrients from the environment.
- Fruiting Body: Under the right conditions, the mycelium will produce a fruiting body, which is the mushroom that we see sticking out from the soil. The fruiting body produces and releases spores, which then completes the life cycle.
The mushroom life cycle is essential for the recycling of nutrients in the ecosystem. Mushrooms decompose dead organic matter and release nutrients back into the soil, which can then be used by plants and animals.
Now that you have solid knowledge about the mushroom life cycle, let's dive into the magical fascinating world of mushroom cultivation.
Just like plants, mushroom cultivation requires a special ingredient – the propagating material, known as grain spawn. This material is usually produced in a laboratory, because maintaining a sterile environment is crucial for success.
Now, if you're up for a challenge, you can totally try to grow mushroom mycelium at home by following these steps: sterilize the medium for agar plates in a pressure cooker or autoclave, then pour the sterilized medium into petri dishes within a laminar flow hood, sterilize the grain, and finally, inoculate the grain with the mycelium. There are plenty of online tutorials to help you out during this process.
But, let's be real, sometimes it's smarter to leave this part to the pros and simply buy pre-made mushroom spawns.
With the purchased spawn, you can relatively easily cultivate various mushrooms at home. There are numerous techniques, of which we’ll introduce you to the two most popular ones. The first one is faster, while option no. 2 is slower, but can provide you with fresh mushrooms for several years.
Method 1: Cultivation using pasteurized straw
The faster technique involves pasteurizing straw and is most commonly used for oyster mushroom species. First, you will need to soak the straw in boiling water (which will have two important outcomes: for one, the dry straw will become adequately moist; and two, due to the high temperature, the mold spores on the straw will be destroyed, thus eliminating one of the major competitors of the mushrooms, which could jeopardize the success of the cultivation process).
After the water cools down, pour it off the straw, and let it drain. Then, place the damp straw into a clean plastic bag, and layer it with oyster mushroom spawn. Afterward, seal the bag and measure out a 10x10 to 15x15 centimeter grid on the surface of the bag. Using a pin, make holes at the corners of the squares to ensure gas exchange for the growing mycelium.
During the colonization period, place the bag in a location with a direct sunlight-free temperature of 18-25°C. Depending on the ratio of mushroom spawn to pasteurized straw and the temperature of the room used for colonization, within 10-20 days, the mycelium will colonize the entire substrate. When mycelium is visible all over the bag, you can prepare for the fruiting phase.
For fruiting, make several 2x2 to 3x3 centimeter cuts on the bag and place it in a place where fresh air is provided but avoid direct sunlight. This could be your balcony, for instance. Depending on temperature and mushroom species, after 7-14 days, fully developed fruiting bodies can be harvested from your mushroom growing bag.
Method 2: Cultivation using hardwood
The slower method involves inoculating fresh, 10-15 cm diameter hardwood (oak, beech) logs with mushroom mycelium using mycelium-inoculated wooden dowels.
For this method, drill vertical and horizontal holes on the surface of the log, spaced about 10-15 centimeters apart. Then fill these holes with mycelium-inoculated wooden dowels, and seal the holes with wax to prevent the plugs from drying out. Place the inoculated logs in a shaded area and ensure they don't dry out, especially during dry weather (occasional watering of the logs is recommended).
In about six months to a year after inoculation - given favorable conditions - you can expect a beautiful mushroom harvest. The greatest advantage of this method is that the logs inoculated this way can produce fresh mushrooms multiple times a year for up to 3-4 years. This method works with various types of wood-rotting mushroom species (oyster mushroom, shiitake, pioppino, lion's mane, ganoderma etc.). However, make sure to always consider the climatic conditions of the cultivation site and the specific requirements of the mushroom species you intend to grow.