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There are over 14,000 species of mushrooms on Earth, ranging from poisonous death caps to delicious morels to mushrooms of the psychedelic variety. I’m sure you’ve seem them growing from soil, cow paddies, rotten wood, and just about everywhere else, and maybe thought, “How hard could it be to grow edible mushrooms at home?” The answer: It depends. Even if you’re a decent home-gardener, mushrooms present unique challenges.

Creating the environment a mushroom needs at home can be tricky, especially if you’re going for an edible and delicious variety, not just whatever comes up from a tree stump. But it’s not impossible if you know what you’re doing; here’s how to get started growing your own pizza topping and stir-fry ingredient.

Before you jump in, do some research

There are tons of books and websites about mushroom cultivation, and it makes sense to read up before you dive in. I like Aubrey Burns’ The Edible Mushroom Cultivation Bible, a three-volume set covering everything you could ever want to know about the subject. For online research, you can start at the North American Mycological Association’s resource list. 

The easiest way to grow your own mushrooms: Buy a kit.

You might want to start out with a mushroom-growing kit. These come with everything you need to grow your first mushroom crop, as well as detailed instructions. It can feel a little like cheating for a DIY-type person, but a kit will help you familiarlize yourself with the process in a hands on, non-frustrating way. There’s no need to start with an expensive kit, though. You can pick up a first-timer mushroom farm for less than 20 bucks.

Choose an easy-to-grow variety of mushroom for your first shot

You gotta walk before you run. Like houseplants, some kinds of mushrooms are hardy and easy to grow, where others are next to impossible. Some good choices for edible, learning-the-ropes mushrooms include:

  • Oyster mushrooms
  • White Button mushrooms
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Lion’s mane
  • Morel mushrooms

How to grow your own mushrooms

Different varieties of mushrooms have different needs, so the specifics vary widely, but in general, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A space to grow them: You don’t need much room to grow a small crop of ‘shrooms, but it generally needs to be a dark space where you can control the temperature and moisture somewhat. A closet will work, or a corner of the basement. You could even grow them under the sink, and some varieties can be cultivated outdoors.
  • A planting tray: For a modest, first-time mushroom crop, you’ll need a tray that’s at least six inches deep, and around 14” by 16”. It can be wood, plastic, or metal, so something like a cat litter box would work.
  • Mushroom spawn: These spores are the equivalent of seeds for mushrooms. You can buy them online or at garden stores. You can’t buy every kind of mushroom spawn online, though. Some kinds of mushrooms are more tightly controlled, so to speak.
  • Substrate: This is the material in which your mushrooms will grow. Some varieties grow in wood chips, some in grains. Some grow best in a mixture of manure and compost, which requires a level of personal commitment.
  • A heating element: Depending on the variety of mushroom, you may need a heating pad of some kind to regulate the temperature in the growing area.
  • A plastic covering: Some kinds of mushrooms grow best if you tent plastic over them, creating a mini-greenhouse.
  • A pressure cooker: More advanced mushroom cultivation might require a pressure cooker for sterilization.

The mushroom growing process

Once you’ve got all the tools you need, and you’ve read up on the specific of the kind of mushrooms you want to grow, it’s time to get started. In a general sense, that means:

  • Sterilize: Depending on the process you’re following and the mushroom you’re growing, you may need to use your pressure cooker to sterilize components of your grow.
  • Fill: Put your substrate-of-choice in your container.
  • Spread: Cover the substrate with your spawn.
  • Heat and water: Keep your future mushrooms warm with your heating element and moist by spraying it down. Exactly how warm and how wet depends on what kind you’re growing. You could tent it with plastic bags to create a miniature greenhouse here.
  • Wait: After a few days, you should see mycelium, the equivalent of a root-system for mushrooms, on the top of your substrate. This means they’ve colonized. When the surface is white with mycelium, it’s time to move the mushrooms to a cooler place.
  • Cool: Many types of mushrooms grow best in cool, dark places, although some do better with occasional light. Keep them moist, usually spraying them couple times a day, and in a few weeks (depending on the kind of mushroom), you can start to cultivate your now fully grown mushrooms.
  • Cook: Check out Lifehacker’s wealth of mushroom-related content for preparation tips, recipes, and more.

A word of warning

Do not eat mushroom you find in nature unless you are an absolute expert on which ones are edible. Many varieties of mushrooms are deadly, and they often look like benign mushrooms, so stick to the supermarket and the ones you know are safe because you grew ‘em yourself.

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