Can you imagine oyster mushrooms frying in a cast-iron skillet with some garlic butter and green onions? Sounds delicious right?
Oyster mushrooms are a sought-after delicacy in many regions of the world, but did you know you can grow them at home? Yes, that’s right, you can grow gourmet oyster mushrooms, at a fraction of the price of buying them in the supermarket.
In this post, we’ll unpack everything you need to know about starting an oyster mushroom farm.
- 1 Preparation
- 2 Preparing the Terrain
- 3 The Inoculation
- 4 Incubating the Spawn
- 5 Fruiting Your Oyster Mushrooms
- 6 Harvesting Your Mushrooms and Preparing the Next Crop
- 7 Wrapping Up
The first steps in growing your oyster mushrooms involve the preparation of your grow site and procuring all the materials you’ll need to produce mushrooms at home.
Which Oyster Mushroom Strain Do You want to Grow?
There are plenty of different sub-types of oyster mushrooms suitable for growing and eating. Here are some of our favorites.
- The Blue Oyster Mushroom – Common throughout the northern hemisphere, this species is one of the fastest colonizing oysters. This mushroom prefers colder climates between 45-65 F.
- Pearl Oyster Mushroom – Also known as the “common,” “grey,” or “winter” oyster mushroom, this variety is the type you’ll find at your local supermarket. These mushrooms also prefer colder temperatures in the northern hemisphere.
- Golden Oyster Mushroom – Also known as the “yellow” oyster mushroom, this variety has bright colors, with an appearance that’s easy to confuse with the Chanterelle mushroom, another favorite eating mushroom. The yellow oyster prefers warmer climates between 64-86F.
- Phoenix Oyster Mushroom – Otherwise known as the “summer,” or “Italian” oyster mushroom, this variety grows in warmer climates, featuring a white, tan, or brownish coloring.
- The King Oyster Mushroom – Otherwise known as the “Eryngii” mushroom, this variety has a firm texture. However, they are challenging to cultivate and not suitable for beginner mushroom growers.
- Pink Oyster Mushroom – This fast-growing variety starts fruiting in 3 to 4-weeks, with pretty pink colors. These mushrooms enjoy climates between 64-86F.
What Kind of Substrate Is Best for Growing Oyster Mushrooms?
The substrate is the growing medium for the mycelium. The mycelium provides the mushroom’s roots, and it’s critical to the successful cultivation of mushrooms. Straw is the most used substrate for growing mushrooms, but you can use a variety of substrates, depending on what you have available.
Cardboard, sawdust pellets, coffee grounds, and other agriculture waste byproducts all make suitable growing mediums for your oyster mushrooms.
Choose whatever substrate is easier for you to find. We recommend wood pellets because they come sterilized, and all you need to do is add water to get a reliable growing substrate for your mushrooms.
Order Your Growing Supplies
After sourcing your substrate, it’s time to gather the other supplies you need to start your oyster mushroom farm.
The critical supplies you need include the following.
- Oyster mushroom spawn (between 3-oz to 2-lbs)
- Your growing substrate
- Growing bags or containers (we prefer plastic sealable containers)
Some retailers sell ready-made kits for growing oysters, including everything you need to start your oyster mushroom farm. You can grow oyster mushrooms in grow bags, containers, buckets, and even in Ziploc bags.
Preparing the Terrain
Preparing your growing substrate is the most critical phase of the setup, and if you get it wrong, you’ll have to start again. The idea behind setting up your growing medium is to provide the mushrooms with everything they need to grow while keeping out other microorganisms that compete for the same nutrition.
Let’s unpack how to prepare and use each type of substrate.
- Cardboard and Straw – As the most commonly used substrate, straw is cheap and features all the necessary nutrients to grow your mushrooms. Pasteurize the straw by soaking it in hot water (149 to 176F) for around 2-hours.
- Sawdust – Sawdust pellets come pasteurized from the supplier, meaning there is no risk of contamination. Add an equal weight of water to your sawdust pellets and leave them to absorb the water for 1-hour. Break up the pellets after hydrating.
- Coffee Grounds – If you’re a coffee freak, then you can use your leftover grounds for a substrate. Use fresh grounds produced in the last 24-hours (the espresso machine pasteurizes it for you). Using older grounds results in other species of mold growing in the substrate.
Inoculation describes the process where you add your oyster mushroom spawn to your substrate. Before you start working with the substrate, wash your hands and don a pair of clean kitchen gloves or single-use surgical gloves.
- Wipe down all surfaces with a mild bleach solution to kill any other germs or microorganisms lurking on your countertops.
- Ensure that your growing substrate has the right moisture and that it’s not too dry or too wet. Ideally, you’re going for around 55% saturation rate for substrates like coffee grounds and sawdust pellets, with a higher 75% saturation rate for straw.
- The squeeze test offers you the best option for checking on the hydration levels of your substrate. You’ll know you have the right level of saturation if you can ball the material in your fist, and a few drops of water come out. If there’s too much water, the substrate oversaturates, and vice versa.
- For the next step, mix your chosen substrate with your oyster mushroom spawn using a sterilized container, such as a bucket. After mixing, add the medium to your chosen growing container, and then seal the lid.
- If you’re using a plastic container, you’ll have to ensure you drill breathing holes into the sides and lid of the container to allow for airflow over the substrate.
- The inoculation process is where many people make mistakes. If you contaminate the substrate, you may have mold start to grow on your substrate and mushrooms. This mold can be life-threatening to people that have penicillin allergies if they eat the mushrooms after harvest.
Follow these instructions for the perfect inoculation.
- Clean and sterilize your workstation and all your equipment
- Weight out all your substrate and other materials before mixing into your container
- Break up all compressed substrate, such as pellets and coffee grounds as you work
- Pack your grow bags or containers and seal them for protection from mold spores
Our favorite substrate mix and the weights we use are the following.
- Fresh coffee grounds – 7lbs
- Pasteurized straw – 1.5-lbs
- Oyster mushroom spawn – 2-lbs
Incubating the Spawn
After preparing your terrain, it’s time to start the incubation process. Incubation is where the magic of oyster mushroom farming begins. In this phase, the spawn you introduce to the substrate works its way around the container, colonizing it.
It’s easy to create the ideal growing conditions in your home. Place your oyster mushroom farm in any room of your home, out of direct sunlight. The perfect room temperature for growing your oyster mushrooms is between 68F to 75F.
We don’t like putting mushrooms in cupboards because it limits airflow. It’s better to put them in a room and draw the curtains. Reducing the light in the room helps to reduce the early “pinning” of the mushroom heads.
The spawn will grow readily in the container, eating the nutrition it finds in the substrate. You’ll notice a white growth, like a spiderweb, starting to colonize the substrate. When the substrate is entirely white, it’s time to start the fruiting process.
Some of the common problems during Incubation include the following.
- Watch out for green or blue mold developing in the container
- The mold will ruin your crop, and you’ll have to start again with a clean inoculation
Fruiting Your Oyster Mushrooms
After preparing the terrain, inoculating your substrate, and setting your container out for colonization, prepare for the final phase. Fruiting is where you start to see the results of your hard work.
When mushrooms start fruiting in the wild, it’s a stress response from the mycelium that occurs due to changes in the environment. Fruiting is the mycelium’s last survival response, allowing the mushrooms to spread spores in the local area, allowing the mycelium to propagate in a new growing site.
You’ll need to replicate this same starvation and survival response in your mushroom container. When the mycelium covers your substrate with it’s a white, spiderweb-like network, it’s time to start the fruiting process.
You’ll need the following conditions for optimal fruiting of your oyster mushrooms.
Open the curtains in the room and increase the light coming into your container. However, avoid leaving the container in direct sunlight.
Direct sun will damage the mycelium and ruin your crop. Mushrooms don’t gain any energy from sunlight like other plants. Therefore, a simple change in the lighting effect is all you need to jumpstart the fruiting process.
You’ll find oyster mushrooms growing out of stumps or logs in the forest. The mushrooms have access to plenty of fresh air, and that’s what makes them thrive. Pull back the lid from your growing container, leaving a quarter of the top exposed to fresh air.
This change is enough to signal the mycelium to start fruiting. You only need to open the container for a few hours each day to create this effect.
Humidity and Temperature
Use a spray bottle with clean water to moisturize your substrate each day, simulating rain or humid conditions where mushrooms like to thrive.
Most oyster mushroom varieties grow readily in most in-home temperatures. King oyster mushrooms will exhibit some sensitivity to climate conditions, which is why we recommend this variety for advanced mushroom growers.
After around 7-days from initiating the fruiting process, you’ll start to see the mushroom “pins” developing. Over the next week, the mushrooms will continue to double in size each day. Keep spraying them as they fruit to maintain the humidity in the container.
Issues Facing Gardeners During the Fruiting Phase
Some of the more problems facing mushroom gardeners are the following.
- Drying of the substrate or the mushrooms, resulting in a brown or yellow appearance, spray more to minimize this effect
- Long, thin stems on your mushrooms indicate higher CO2 levels in your container, add more holes to increase airflow or open the lid of the container for 15 to 30-minutes each day
Harvesting Your Mushrooms and Preparing the Next Crop
As your oyster mushrooms develop, you’ll start to see the edges of the mushroom flatten and turn upwards. Harvest the mushrooms as soon as you start noticing the curling effect. Mushrooms that flatten and curl upwards become tough and lose flavor.
As the mushrooms curl up, they start to release spores, restarting the lifecycle. Therefore, it’s critical to harvest them before this stage.
Tips for Harvesting Your Oyster Mushrooms
- Harvest your oyster mushrooms as the caps start to flatten
- Twist the mushrooms off the substrate, or use a sharp pair of scissors
- Store your mushrooms in an air-tight container in the fridge
The Second Flush
After harvesting your first batch of oyster mushrooms, you can raise a second crop for a second flush. There will be plenty of mycelium leftover for the second round of fruiting. All you need to do is saturate the substrate for a second round.
You should notice the second round of pinning starting after a week or two after saturation and daily spraying. After the second crop finishes, we recommend taking the substrate and throwing it on top of the soil on your flowerbeds. Using this strategy, you could get a third, outdoor round of oyster mushrooms.
By now, you should have a good idea on how to start growing oyster mushrooms at home. This guide is useful for growing oyster mushrooms. However, the strategy is also suitable for growing all types of species of mushrooms.
Follow the step-by-step process in this guide to produce a crop of tasty oyster mushrooms. Growing mushrooms is easy, and they don’t require much attention. A few minutes a day is all you need to maintain your oyster mushroom farm.
The most challenging part of the process is the inoculation. If you get that right, you’re sure to increase your success rate with your mushroom garden.