A private mushroom farm is a great idea, whether you want to grow lots of delicious food in a very easy way, earn income, or even run it as a community food project.
You don’t need access to land or any crop farming experience in order to jump in and build and run your own mini mushroom farm!
Why Grow Mushrooms?
Homegrown, freshly harvested mushrooms are far superior to those which have been sitting in the store for a few days. These tasty fungi are usually grown in huge factory-type farms and then they have to travel a long way to get to the store. So forget about those - soon you will be able to enjoy your own far fresher produce!
Mushrooms are a wonderful crop to grow and creating and maintaining a low-tech mushroom farming is pretty straightforward. For example, with a total of 12 hours of work in a 107 square feet area, the end result will be about 22 pounds of delicious mushrooms on a regular weekly cycle!
You can also grow on a smaller or larger scale of course, depending on how much space you have available.
There are different kinds of mushrooms to choose from. Some, such as shiitake or oyster mushrooms, can sell for a high price. Many types of mushrooms grow in the wild and you can grow a lot of these at home, with the exception of morels which only occur in nature.
There are actually more than 14,000 different varieties of mushrooms in the world, ranging from the deadly poisonous to the rarest and most delicious!
Which Variety is Easiest to Grow?
Once you have got the hang of growing these tasty fungi, you will find the whole process relatively simple and want to experiment with different kinds of mushrooms.
Oyster mushrooms are especially simple to grow and it takes less than a month to grow a whole crop. If you are a total newbie, we would recommend growing oyster mushrooms first.
Once you have perfected that, you might want to stay with this varietal or experiment with others.
Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Low-Tech Mushroom Farm
The first thing you need to do is find an area which you can use. You actually need three different spaces because there are three main stages in the mushroom growing cycle, which are:
- Stage 1: Mixing and Inoculation
The mushroom spawn and substrate ingredients are combined and bagged.
- Stage 2: Incubation
The grow bags are left somewhere warm and dark so the mushrooms can start to grow.
- Stage 3: Fruiting
The bags are exposed to fresh air, a little light and humidity, to encourage the mushrooms to ‘fruit’. After that, they can be picked!
The first two stages can be done somewhere between 68 and 75 degrees F. You need a workbench, compost tumbler and shelves.
Stage three is a little more complicated but you can set up a growing tent or fruiting room for well under $1000. The exact cost depends on whether you are using premium, standard or used equipment, and what you already have available.
It also depends how many mushrooms you want to grow at once. Say you have everything all ready, you can easily grow 110 pounds of mushrooms a week in a 320 square feet area.
This is a lot of work though, so if you’re only planning to grow for yourself rather than selling your produce, you might prefer to use a smaller scale.
You will need access to water and electricity, as well as a basic ducting installation to bring air in and out of the growing room. If you don’t have such a space, have a look around, because you might be able to get a low-cost or even free space. A garage, basement, shipping container or even a barn would work.
Tips for the Mixing and Inoculation Room
There are many different ways of designing your mini mushroom farm depending on how much you have to spend and how much space you have. Your mixing and inoculation room can just be shelving, a workbench and compost tumbler in a room which is easy to clean down.
The shelving works well for smaller mushroom grow bags, like the ones you’d use for oyster or shiitake mushroom growing, or you might prefer to use hanging rails if growing larger quantities of oyster mushrooms or another type.
An insulated space is a good idea because the temperature needs to be kept between 68 and 75 degrees F to grow the mushrooms successfully, and this will save heating or cooling costs depending on your local climate.
What to Use for a Fruiting Room
There are different ways to create a fruiting room. You can use a hydroponics tent, a shipping container, a walk-in refrigerator unit or even make your own wooden frame with plastic sheeting.
The one you choose depends on your budget and space available. Take a look online for some different fruiting room ideas.
Ready to Start Growing?
So let’s say you’ve set up the mini mushroom farm spaces and can’t wait to get started! There are various ways to grow mushrooms but the ‘low-tech’ way is the way we are using here.
Low-tech means you don’t have to invest in costly huge equipment typically used on commercial mushroom farms.
Low-tech mushroom farming also means aggressive strains, quick growing and higher spawn rates than what commercial mushroom farms would use. Oyster mushrooms are the easiest and most reliable kind to start with, and they can produce high yields.
This is a summary of what you will be doing:
- Clean your work surface and mixing container
- Weigh out all your materials
- Mix everything thoroughly, breaking up large lumps as you go
- Fill your grow bags then seal them up
- Incubate for 2-3 weeks in a warm space
- Cut holes and arrange the bags in fall-like conditions (fresh, humid, circulating air)
- In 1-2 weeks you can harvest your mushrooms!
This is an example of the materials you will need if you want to grow oyster mushrooms and you are using coffee grounds as your mushroom growing medium:
- 6 pounds fresh coffee grounds
- 1 1/2 pounds sterilized straw
- 10 ounces oyster mushroom spawn (purchased from a reputable dealer or grown on Sterilized Rye Grains)
Portobello, shiitake, cremini, lion’s mane, chestnut, maitake, white button, and enoki mushrooms can all be grown indoors but each kind has its own growing requirements.
Shiitakes, for example, will grow on wood sawdust while white button mushrooms prefer composted manure. As detailed above, oyster mushrooms do best with coffee grounds and straw, although they can also be grown in old logs (since in nature they grow in dead trees).
To harvest the mushrooms, you will cut them low down on the stalk with a sharp knife. Pulling them up might damage any surrounding mushrooms which are still growing. They are ready to be harvested when you see the cap has opened and separated away from the stalk.
Where Can You Sell Homegrown Mushrooms
You will want to include your delicious, freshly harvested mushrooms in a lot of recipes (examples include mushroom omelet or quiche, mushroom stir fry, marinated mushrooms and stuffed mushrooms).
However, once you have got the hang of mushroom farming and are producing a lot of mushrooms, you will have plenty left over. Freshly grown mushrooms are best eaten with a couple of days of harvesting.
Your family and friends are sure to offer to take some off your hands! In addition, you might like to consider selling them. Here are some ideas of where you can sell them:
- The best restaurants in your area. A good chef will recognize the high quality and superior flavor of fresh mushrooms and will pay good prices for them. They might even be happy to list you as a local supplier on the menu, which is of course great advertising for you!
- A local farmers’ market. Increasingly, shoppers prefer to buy high quality produce from small suppliers rather than what is available in the grocery stores. If you show up with tasty, freshly harvested mushrooms, they are going to sell out fast!
- Local whole food or health food stores. Local mushrooms do very well in such stores, and people who want to buy local will go here especially for fresh produce from local, small-scale suppliers.
- A veg box CSA scheme. Do you have one of these near you? Being able to add mushrooms to a locally grown crop vegetable box will make it all the more attractive to potential buyers, and because you can grow mushrooms year round, you can be a regular contributor.
Now you can see why more and more people are choosing to create low-tech mini mushroom farms and grow their own delicious mushrooms to enjoy, share or sell.
Low-tech mushroom farming on a small scale is an enjoyable and worthwhile project and the results will definitely be delicious. It isn’t difficult and doesn’t cost much to set up such an operation.
Why not take the next step and start to plan yours!