Like many rural homesteaders, I have become interested in growing mushrooms at home. Mushrooms can be used for consumption at your own dinner table, for medicinal purposes, or grown commercially to sell to local restaurants or at farmer’s markets. Growing and harvesting your own mushrooms takes some effort, but the rewards are well worth it.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. See full disclosure.
Learning From An Expert
Although many people like to go on forays through the woods to harvest wild mushrooms, doing so can be both risky (due to the extreme toxicity of some mushrooms) and disappointing (if you can’t find the mushrooms you’re seeking). As the old saying goes, “All mushrooms are edible, but some only once,” and that’s a great reason to safely grow your own mushrooms under the guidance of a mycologist or “mushroom expert.”
To that end, I recently attended a day-long, hands-on event hosted by a local mycology friend to learn how to inoculate logs to grow my own mushrooms. The event was great fun, but I definitely learned that there is a lot to learn when it comes to mushrooms!
First, you have to decide what types of mushrooms you want to grow. There are a wide variety of mushrooms suitable for eating while others have strictly medicinal uses.
Second, if you decide to inoculate logs to grown your mushrooms, you need to know which mushrooms grow best in what types of wood.
Finally, you need to learn the best methods for inoculating, storing, and harvesting your mushrooms.
During the course of our “mushroom seminar,” we worked with three types of mushrooms and two different wood types from recently- harvested trees. I want to share with you what I learned so you can put it to use for yourself.
I hope you’ll consider this a reference guide for growing and harvesting your very own mushrooms at home.
What Tools Do I Need?
* Electrical Cord and Power Strip
* Safety Glasses
* Small Electric Crockpot
* Cheese Wax (Beeswax can be substituted)
* Wax Daubers
* Fresh Cut Logs
* 5 Pound Bag of Sawdust Mushroom Spawn (Substrate) or a Bag of Mushroom Spore Plugs
* Rubber Mallet if using Plugs.
At the end of this article I will provide some references for purchasing sawdust spawn or plugs and the assortment of tools you will need.
Where Do I Start?
Begin by selecting the kind of mushrooms you want to cultivate and harvest. This will determine the kind of logs you will need. Mushrooms will not cultivate in just any type of wood. Our day-long seminar focused on mushrooms compatible with oak and elm.
The chart below provides a cross-reference for popular mushroom species and the types of wood in which they will thrive. We’ll cover more about the selection of inoculation logs further in this article.
Next, order your Mushroom Spawn or Plugs. Personally, I recommend the Mushroom Sawdust Spawn Bags, especially for a beginner. The plunger-type tool that inoculates logs with sawdust spawn is easy to use. Mushroom Plugs, however, have to be driven into small holes in the logs with a rubber mallet. It can be challenging to get the plugs into the holes at the right depth.
Once you have received your Spawn or Plugs, keep them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. You can store them for a couple of months if necessary, but it’s always best to order them around the time you plan to inoculate. The fresher the spores when you inoculate, the better the chance you’ll enjoy a successful mushroom harvest.
He also had Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) sawdust spawn, but, unfortunately, we ran out of time so did not inoculate any logs for oyster mushrooms, much to my wife’s disappointment because oyster mushrooms are delicious!
I’ll admit it was a time-consuming and tedious process to inoculate all the logs the instructor brought. We had around 100 fresh cut logs to inoculate. We got through 90 logs over the course of about six hours before everyone had to leave.
Type of Wood
As noted previously, the type of logs you will need depends on the types of mushrooms you wish to cultivate. Thankfully most mushrooms can thrive in a number of different types of wood, however, you do have some choices. The chart I provided above is a great reference for deciding what type of wood you’ll need.
Age of the Wood
Any logs you use should be recently cut from healthy trees with all of the bark intact. Ideally these fresh and recently- fallen trees should be allowed to “rest” for at least 2-3 weeks before inoculation.
As a general rule, you should not use logs that are over six months old since they are more likely to have fungi living in them.
Logs should be cut, at minimum, 3 – 4 feet long. They should also be 4 – 8 inches in diameter. Logs this size will give you roughly 50 inoculation holes for your mushroom spawn or plugs.
You can also inoculate the stumps of trees to cultivate your own mushrooms. Make sure that the stump is fresh cut much the same as the logs you will use from that tree.
Drilling the Holes in Your Logs
We recommend using an Angle Grinder with a Spore Bit Attachment to drill the holes in your logs. Use an 8.5 mm spore drill bit for plug spawn inoculation. Use a 12mm bit if you will be inoculating with sawdust spawn. These bits are specially designed to drill to the proper depth to inoculate your logs correctly.
During our event we used the 12mm bit on the angle grinder pictured above. This made for a fast drilling process, but be sure to wear protective eye wear! These bits rotate at a high speed and shoot wood chips everywhere! Safety glasses are a must.
I will add here that you can also try using a corded drill with a 5/16″ drill bit, but this will make for a slow drilling process. It’s highly likely your drill bit will get hung up in the log, Repeatedly. An angle grinder with a spore bit attachment is really the best tool for the job.
As previously mentioned, you can easily drill around 50 or so holes per log. You’ll want to work down the length of the log drilling holes as illustrated below.
Continuously roll the log until all sides of the log are drilled. The 5-6″ space between the closer-set holes gives the mushrooms room to expand across the log as they grow.
Types of Wax
Wax is commonly used to seal the holes and the log ends after inoculation. You can see the yellowish wax on the logs in the image below.
Food-grade wax is highly recommended, and cheese wax works well. Beeswax can also be substituted if that is more readily available.
Using a food-grade wax ensures a higher level of success in cultivation and also prevents the mycellium from being contaminated. The wax also seals in moisture to provide the optimal growing conditions inside the inoculated logs.
Wax sealant should be applied, of course, to the inoculation holes. It should also be used wherever the bark is damaged or missing. And, finally, it should be applied to the cut ends of the log.
If you decide not to seal the log ends, be sure to wet the logs occasionally to ensure your mushroom spores receive enough moisture. You’ll need to be especially diligent about this if you live in a dry climate.
Deciding Which Mushrooms to Grow
The three types of mushrooms that are easiest to grow at home are Oyster, White Button, and Shiitake. Choosing a type of mushroom to grow is a matter of taste. You should grow the type or types you most want to eat or use for medicinal purposes.
The method for growing each mushroom is similar, but the ideal growing substrate differs. Oyster mushrooms, for example, grow best in straw or coffee grounds while shiitakes are partial to hardwood sawdust. These different substrates reflect the different nutritional needs of each species of mushroom.
In this article I’ll be focusing on the types of mushroom spawn we had at the workshop that I worked with personally:
- Lion’s Mane
Purchasing Mushroom Spawn
Mushroom spawn is sawdust permeated with mushroom mycelia which is, essentially, the root structure of the fungus. It is used much like plant seedlings to facilitate growth.
You can purchase high-quality mushroom spawn from several online retailers, some gardening supply stores, and some specialty organic living stores. One resource we like is North Spore (not an affiliate link).
Be sure to buy spawn rather than spores. Spores are more like the seeds of plants while spawn is more similar to seedlings. Growing mushrooms from spores takes more time and practice and is better suited to a seasoned mushroom grower. Cultivating mushrooms from spawn will typically provide a beginner with better results.
You will see in the photo above that the Mushroom mycelium is starting to colonize. Many times the colonization will turn white which is normal and a good sign.
Don’t try to create these bags unless you have some experience or knowledge in packaging mushroom spawn. The mushroom substrate needs to be sterilized and allowed to permeate the sawdust. For beginners its much easier to purchase the bags and inoculate the logs.
Inoculating The Logs
If using bagged mushroom spawn, you will start by cutting the spawn in half with a long-blade knife such as a cake knife. Simply remove the spawn from the bag, place on a level surface safe for cutting, and cut it in half through the middle of the block from side to side. Place the cut halves in a large bowl or plastic container.
If inoculating your logs with Mushroom spawn you will need a Thumb Plunge Inoculation Tool as shown in the photo below. These tools can be purchased online or through any mushroom supply outlet.
The plunge tool is simple to use. Just hold the handle and push the open end of the tool into the cut spawn. This will fill the plunger tube with the mushroom spawn. You may need to push the tool into the spawn a couple of times to get the cylinder completely full.
Once the cylinder is full, you simply insert it into one of the pre-drilled holes in your log and push the brass plunger down. This releases the mushroom spawn, and your log is now inoculated.
Once you’ve used the plunger, you’ll want to gently tamp down the mushroom spawn with your bare finger. This will level the spawn in the hole and allow the wax to create a secure cap seal to protect the mushroom spawn.
Sealing The Logs
Once you have completed inoculating every hole in the log with mushroom spawn, you will need to seal all those holes. While it can certainly be time-consuming to coat all of those little holes in each log, this is a very important part of the process. Effective sealing keeps the mushroom spawn protected and contaminant-free while it incubates.
As previously mentioned, cheese wax is the most common wax used to prevent contamination in the production of mushrooms. It is a food-grade wax, so it is safe for human consumption, and it seals the spawn holes effectively. Cheese wax is also pliable enough for the mushrooms to push out of the way as they grow and expand.
For the sealing process, you will need the cheese wax, a crock pot, and wax daubers. If you don’t have any wax daubers, you can use small paintbrushes instead.
A little wax will go a long way, too. A pound of cheese wax will easily seal many logs.
To prepare for sealing your inoculated logs, place the wax in the crock pot. Use the high heat setting until the wax liquifies. Then set the temperature to low to keep it melted while you work.
As you can see in the photo below, our instructor used a small twig to hang the daubers in the melted wax.
To seal the logs, simply dip the daubers in the melted wax, then brush them over the inoculated holes in the log to seal them. CAUTION: the wax is hot and can cause severe burns!
Once you have covered all the inoculation holes, you will also want to apply wax wherever the bark on the log is damaged or missing. Then you should cover the cut ends of the logs with a thin layer of wax to seal in moisture for the mushroom spawn. Once all the wax is applied, you simply need to let it sit to cool and harden.
Storing The Sealed Logs
Sealed logs should be stored outdoors in a shady area. Place them atop pallets, cinder blocks, or other logs to keep them off the ground and provide adequate surrounding airflow.
Avoid storing your inoculated logs in direct contact with the soil. This can lead to contamination of your mushrooms and ruin your hard work and investment.
To save space, inoculated logs can be stacked in a crisscross pattern or on piles commonly called “ricks.” Stacking can help conserve moisture as well as space.
To further retain moisture, you can cover your inoculated logs with burlap or shade cloth. Never use plastic to cover your logs. Plastic can encourage mold and mildew growth which will contaminate your mushrooms.
Wait For Your Harvest
If you inoculate your logs in early spring, you should have an abundant cultivation of fresh mushrooms sometime in September or early October.
I’m currently waiting on my harvest. I’ll share the results of my mushroom spawn inoculation efforts in the fall.
Between now and then, however, we’ll be sharing a post about the health benefits of mushrooms along with some delicious recipes. Stay tuned!