A Mycological Adventure

Jan 04, 2024

It might be an understatement to say that I’m a Plant Nerd. Between working in the industry, having a small greenhouse at home, and more plant babies than any sane person should have; plants take up a large portion of my time. A few months ago, I came across a Netflix documentary called Fantastic Fungi. I was enthralled at the process of mycology, and I decided to give mushroom cultivation a try. After much deliberation, I decided to try the 5-gallon bucket method.

My First Rodeo

Since I’ve always been a person who isn’t afraid to fail, I jumped right in! I watched several YouTube videos and read some good literature on the subject to get my bearings. I discovered that the oyster types of mushrooms were a good choice for beginners, so I narrowed my research to different methods of inoculation and proper substrates for growing. I decided on a finely ground hardwood as my substrate as many types of mushrooms can be grown well in it. Many people that I talked to had nothing but good things about the company called North Spore, so I visited the website and got some grain spawn ordered. I ordered blue oysters and Lions Mane. I was told that Lions Mane were more difficult to grow, but I never turn away from a horticultural challenge! After it arrived, it was time to start.

Getting Started

I disinfected my working area, buckets, and totes with 70% isopropyl alcohol. I wanted to do a lime pasteurization to my media, as many sources pointed to this method. Mixing a heaping 1/3rd of a cup of hydrated lime to 5 gallons of hot water (wear a mask and stir vigorously to incorporate) I made my bath for my substrate. I filled some large produce bags with my substrate, and submerged them into the totes for 24 hours, and put the lids on the totes. After the bath, I hung them up to drain for 24 hours. Using the woven produce bags was a good idea as I could measure beforehand how much media was to be used for each bucket, as well as making it easy to hang the bags for properly draining the substrate.

Time to Inoculate

After the media had drained, it was time to inoculate the substrate. After disinfecting the totes, I poured the substrate in, and added the grain spawn. I went with a rate of 3lbs of spawn per 5-gallon bucket. As I was turning the substrate to incorporate the spawn into it, I was amazed at the fragrance of the mixture. Very earthy and energizing. After I got the spawn well incorporated into the substrate, I started prepping my buckets. Using a ½’’ drill bit, I made a series of holes in the sides of the buckets, alternating the holes in a diamond pattern about 6’’ apart. I also drilled some drainage holes on the bottom. After disinfecting the buckets, I added the inoculated substrate. Pressing the substrate firmly, but not excessively, to fill within an inch of the top of the bucket. After giving the buckets a light watering to settle the media, I placed the tops on the bucket and set them up in my growing area to let the mycelium start to do its work. I’ve been led to believe that pinning and fruiting can occur within as little as 3-4 weeks in the conditions that I have them in.

The Growing Process

My growing area for the mushrooms is usually in the low 70’s, so I’m confident that they will be happy there. It gets filtered light with no direct sun, which was strange as I was always under the impression that mushrooms wanted to grow in the dark. While the area has comfortable humidity, I will be misting the holes in the buckets periodically to maintain a higher humidity for the new mushroom “pins”. I’ve been opening the bucket lids once a week to give a thorough watering and have been amazed at how quickly the mycelium has spread on the oysters. I’m less than impressed with the Lions Manes, but I knew they were slower to colonize than the oysters starting out.

The Fruiting Stage

After about 3 weeks, I started seeing “pins” at the holes in the buckets. I took my weekend off, and when I came back on my “Monday”, I saw small clusters of mushrooms forming! I couldn’t believe how quickly they formed! After the pins formed, I had my first harvest 6 days later! After carefully removing the mature clusters from the outside of the bucket, I washed them and took them to Chef Daniel to try in a new recipe. I took a cluster home to cook myself, since I LOVE fresh ‘shrooms. A week later, there was a second flush starting to pin, and the process starts again. The second flush was as good as the first, and they were just as delicious! I’m hoping for a third flush to occur before the mycelium becomes spent and no longer fruiting consistently. The spent media will be put into our compost pile, adding amazing mycelium to facilitate quicker decomposition of the organic matter.

In Closing

Thank you for going on this adventure with me! It’s been fun learning more about growing something so different than I’m used to, and I hope you had fun with me! After much more research and growing, friends of mine asked me to teach them how to grow their own mushrooms. So, I did, and everyone said that I should teach what I’ve learned in a class at Colonial, so I’m going to!

Thanks for your thyme! - Trav

Written By "Trav the Tree Guy" Travis Morcha