Growing mushrooms can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Not only are mushrooms delicious, they’re low in calories and very healthy. Portobello and crimini mushrooms contain trace elements necessary for a healthy diet. In addition to the dietary benefits, organic mushrooms contain conjugated linolenic acid (CLA), a compound which is thought to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer. However, fresh mushrooms can be expensive, so more and more health-conscious individuals are growing their own mushrooms at home.
Many people don’t realize that crimini and portobello mushrooms are both the same species. Whether you get small, fresh little crimini or big burger-sized portobello is only a matter of time. Fortunately, that means that it’s easy to grow either one at home using the same methods.
It’s important to understand the life cycle of the mushroom before you start growing. Mushrooms start out as spores which germinate and grow root-like mycelia. This mycelia grows throughout the soil, or substrate, in a process called colonization. Once fully colonized, the substrate is ready to produce mushrooms in a process called fruiting. Conditions for colonization and fruiting are both different, and the temperature and humidity need to be adjusted for each part of the process.
Most people who grow mushrooms at home choose to skip the process of germinating spores altogether and buy pre-made spawn. Spawn is usually a jar or bag of grains that have been exposed to mushroom spores in a warm, sterile environment. The spores germinate and the mycelia colonizes the grain, making it appear white or tan and fuzzy. The home mushroom grower then introduces the spawn to their prepared, pasteurized substrate and the mycelia continues to grow and colonize. The process is analogous to buying seedlings at a nursery.
For quality organic mushrooms it’s important to choose the proper substrate. Although most mushrooms will grow on straw alone, crimini and portobello mushrooms prefer a mixture of straw and a natural fertilizer. Aged manure is sometimes used, but worm castings are popular, effective, and have no scent. Mushroom growing kits will often include substrate. If you aren’t using a kit, plastic bags or bins make excellent containers for your mushrooms.
After pasteurizing and mixing the spawn into the substrate, it’s important to seal the container and put it somewhere warm and dark. Temperatures can affect the outcome greatly, and for the best results use a thermometer and incubate the substrate at between 70 – 77F. Over the course of days or weeks, depending on the ratio of spawn to substrate used, the mycelia will colonize the substrate and turn it into a firm, solid block.
When colonization is complete it’s time to introduce your substrate to fresh air, high humidity, and cooler temperatures. These changes will stimulate the colonized substrate to begin fruiting. It’s important to keep the conditions stable, with humidity between 65 – 80% and the temperature between 60 – 65F in order to grow mature mushrooms. If the conditions vary too much the fruiting process will end prematurely.
Once your substrate is fruiting all that’s left to do is wait and pick your fresh, organic mushrooms at whatever size you prefer. Typically crimini mushrooms are picked before the cap starts to open at the “button” stage and portobello mushrooms are allowed to mature fully.
Although it can seem daunting at first, growing your own organic mushrooms is easy with a little practice. Mushroom growing is a fun hobby, and it’s a simple way to save money and help your health at the same time.