Ohio Valley Mushrooms
“How to Grow Medicinal and Gourmet Mushrooms at Home”
Chapter 1.) Mycology Experimentation
It’s much different than the typical produce farmer with plant knowledge. These organisms are not plants or animals, they are fungi. Cultivating fungi cultures involve sterile environments to build collections of mycelium agar plates, liquid cultures, and grain spawn. Over the last several years I’ve been completely enthralled with learning everything I can about foraging, cultivating, and cloning mushrooms. This includes learning trees and understanding where mushrooms tie in with the forest. I tend to focus on what grows about my area in the northern panhandle of West Virginia.
I’m a self taught mushroom enthusiast from a small town of Wheeling, West Virginia. I live in the perfect zone to forage mushrooms in hardwood forests at local national parks in my area. It’s very often I walk nature trails with my wife and son to find what’s decomposing the trees knocked down in thunderstorms. My favorite outdoor activity is locating wild mushrooms and cloning them onto agar dishes. My home is on the border of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. It is called the Ohio Valley. My small business was originally located in the historic town of East Wheeling. This area is booming with small businesses and shops at Center Market which is loaded with thrift stores and family owned restaurants of all kinds. We even have a farmers collective called the Public Market of downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. I plan to begin selling to the market spring 2021 while introducing their potential with the head chef. I only grow about ten pounds a week with frustration and tight income. I finally built the super sterilizer to get my production up to 25 blocks a week. So I will finally be able to outgrow the basement over the next few years.
In 2016 I purchased a one way ticket to the state of Oregon for a farming program. Before this adventure I had never left home and I hopped on an Amtrak train to the West Coast. It’s always been a dream to take a solo train ride across the United States. I paid $40.00 for a WWOOFusa membership and that gave me access to thousands of farmers and access to a vast email list for an entire year. I immediately began planning and introducing myself to farmers on the internet promoting my skill sets. It didn’t take long before I made arrangements to farm-jump to new locations until I felt at home somewhere out there. I spent a lot of time in Salem, Brooks, and Sublimity, Oregon as I stayed at three farms over that whole year.
This is the point in my life where everything completely changed and I became determined to learn the basics of large and small scale agriculture and cottage farms. I stayed in a poplar tree forest for 9 weeks at a farm called Minto Island Growers, I was their very first WWOOFusa member. I stepped into the woods to notice my first lions mane mushroom growing from a birch tree in the connected park. I was completely amazed and took some pictures to celebrate. It inspired me to do some research and that’s how I was introduced to the “smart” mushroom. I’ve had a strong interest in mycelium connections ever since. I knew right then that this mushroom journey would rewire my brain to become obsessed and forever curious with the fungi kingdom. I remember being less interested in other farmer’s projects. Like doing weaves on tomatoes plants and planting starts, I wanted to feel more alive and connected to my farming style. It took a few years of research but I finally built my first decent positive pressure lab set up to date. At first I kept growing green molds and I was living with my parents in a very old house. I wondered why I couldn’t have success and realized how important it is to create a clean environment. Spores are floating around at every surface. All it takes is one spore to touch your sterilized substrate and it becomes it’s new home to colonize. There are places in the world like Syria who grow mushrooms for meat substitutes on straw and boiling water due to expensive meat prices. Boiling straw in a large steel barrel over a fire while adding in purchased grain spawn seems to be the easiest and cheapest solution to having successful low tech grows, but I prefer starting from scratch. In about four to eight weeks these people have delicious gourmet mushrooms growing from burlap sacks or plastic bags to feed their families and friends endless nutritious food.
I had no idea there was so much that went into farming mushrooms. It is really important to create a positive pressure lab and be as sterile as possible when creating cultures and grain spawn. The other options involve a still air glove box or a prefilter over the blower fan of your flow cabinet. Any airborne contaminants can ruin several hours of hard work forcing you to start all over. You must move forward, this happens to everyone at some point. The biggest part of this practice is a laminar flow hood and repetition.
I know how to take a wild mushroom from the forest and clone it onto an agar petri dish and run for several generations. I can take a jar of mycelium grain spawn and turn it into ten more jars. I can drop a culture from the dish onto a sterilized block of master’s mix “hardwood sawdust/soy hulls” and grow mushrooms from scratch. I can drop the colonized agar into sterilized rye berries and the culture will eat them and in a week or two the jar will be completely white with mycelium. This can be transferred over to a sterilized five pound sawdust block. Two or three weeks go by and those blocks become completely white and are moved into a fruiting chamber. Some strains will cause some discoloration or yellow metabolites that build up, but this is completely normal. In a week or so from that time you will be harvesting a huge flush of mushrooms. This is followed by another and another until the block is exhausted. If growing indoors, I suggest making a compost pile for your blocks in some outdoor area and check back now and then. You’ll be surprised to find some decent mushrooms growing on them when the weather is right. Especially after a nice thunderstorm.
I'm inspired by the following mushroom cultivators; Philip Ross, Tony Shields, Brian Callow, Paul Staments, William Padilla Brown, and Eric Myers. There are more but I follow this material the most. Most mushroom cultivators start out of home garages, clean basements, and backyards until they make their way into warehouses or small lab shacks with shadehouses on the owner's property.
Over the last few years I’ve purchased the tools and equipment necessary to start a small scale farm for family and friends seasonally. Working full time as a Corrections Officer and now an office worker at a delivery company. I have a family and small child at home who is my life! I work by myself in my hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia, and wanted to bring something new to the food desert. The only mushrooms I can ever find in the grocery store were shiitake, white button, and portobello. I honestly dislike these mushrooms to be honest. I enjoy growing Lions Mane and Oyster varieties the most. They are incredible meat substitutes and rich in nutrients. I build my grain spawn collection through agar and liquid cultures. I then transfer them to sterilized hardwood sawdust/soy hulls. There is not one mushroom farm within six hours of where I live., supplemented hardwood sawdust in outdoor spring green houses and indoor grow room set ups. I will collect coffee grounds that I will pick up from local coffee shops and restaurants, along with spent grains from local breweries. My idea is to grow food with recycled materials. Now I will discuss the importance of bringing mycelium cultivation to the town of Wheeling, West Virginia.
Mycelium (the web of life) : One cell wall thick and every cubic inch of soil contains enough fungal organisms and cells to stretch more than eight miles. Each animal/human footprint impacts more than 30 miles of mycelium. Mushrooms recycle plant debris filter microbes, and sediments from run off, and restore soil. In the end life sustaining soil is created from debris like dead wood and leaves. Mycelium nourishes plants, mushroom bodies nourish animals and worms, insects, bacteria, and other parasitic fungi. It is important to have a local mushroom farmer to dedicate their time to mushroom cultivation to bring tasty food to a local farmers market. Fungi out number plants six to one according to Paul Stamets. Ten percent of those are what we call mushrooms.
Everyday I come home from work and step into my makeshift mycology laboratory with the goal of having more to show than the previous year. I have created inoculated straw patches in my backyard along with straw logs, and 4 to 5 lb sawdust blocks. There are a number of ways to successfully create these mushrooms without a high risk of contamination or issue.
Mushrooms require a lot of attention at the first few stages. The most important part of indoor cultivation is controlling oxygen, humidity, and CO2. So I recommend having a fruiting chamber wit a filtered intake and exhaust blower fan system along with a DIY tote humidifier which can pump out more than enough moisture for a long period of time. Different strains require slightly different care, but the ones I'll be growing will be similar. Fresh air exchange and constant humidity. The most important part of creating mycelium culture is a sterile environment. A clean room or laboratory setting is recommended for true success. This is where the finances become more difficult for me to reach. The average cultivator who wants to produce volume is expected to at least have a positive pressure room with a laminar flow hood. A flow hood can range anywhere between $750.00 to several thousands of dollars each piece added. My build plan would range near $750.00. I have the knowledge for expansion, but plan to start with 40 lbs a week and build from there once I collect my equipment. I believe my idea will connect the community and serve as a way to educate people about fungi and health benefits of mushrooms. I believe I can collect the funds in two years for this to expand to 60-80lbs and so on.
I will now list the supplies and general idea of steps needed to do this work with success.
There are a few ways to grow with success.
There is not a lot of room for mistakes, and contamination is common. Therefore it's important to stick with the formula of successful runs.
Make mycelium liquid culture/agar dishes(clones,tissue)
Create bulk Grain Spawn
Colonize and Incubate
There are some fine details to consider in the process of growing this beautiful food and medicine. I will now give instructions on the steps!
Experienced mushroom foragers and cultivators will usually work with agar made from the tissue of any mushroom strain collected, or create liquid culture syringes in front of a laminar flow hood. Less experienced cultivators will use premade syringes, mycelium on agar, grain to grain,or premade grain spawn inside of a still air glove box. Some simply use a storage tote with arm holes cut inside and wiped down with rubbing alcohol, sprayed down with disinfectant spray. Anything that will create a clean area to work. Person must decontaminate themselves as well. (Hygiene)
Step 1 Making Grain Spawn
Grain spawn can be anything from rye berries, sorghum, millet, combination of things, even popcorn. This will be used as the mycelium starter to make and form into bulk grains or mix with a sterilized/pasteurized substrate for mushroom fruiting. You can buy this pre colonized mushroom “seed” from me and other vendors as well. I plan to sell the colonized fruiting blocks to anyone who wants to grow their own block. Each block typically fruits twice. It is very important to pressure sterilize the grain before inoculation to prevent competitors from taking over. Big time mushroom farmers use a “super sterilizer” which is made from a 55 gallon steel barrel with electric work and heating element for steaming. Prototypes can be built for around 1,500.00 for parts and build. Preconstructed can range $1,300.00 to $3,000.00 depending on size of the unit. It seems to be one of the essential parts of growing in volume. Your average 24 quart pressure cooker can only do around 2 5lb sawdust bags at 15 PSI for 2 ½ hours, but this super sterilizer can do 40 or 50 bags in 24 hours. Here are the instructions for successful run for grains.
1.) Rinse the grains to clean dirt or debris.
Soak in water for 12-24 hours, add a cup of coffee to increase yields.
Bring to a boil then simmer on gas/electric burner for 15-20 minutes. Try to avoid getting the grains too soft, stick to this time frame for the boil. Drain water and grains onto a screen. This may take several hours. The grains should be moist on the inside and almost dry on the outside.
Now it's time to fill mason jars with a quarter inch hole cut into the center top of the lid. Pull poly stuffing (cotton balls) through holes or micropore tape works just as well in my experience. This is used as a gas exchange port so that the jars can breathe during pressure sterilizing and colonizing the mycelium in the incubator. The mason jars should be washed with soap and water and wiped with rubbing alcohol before filling half way with grains. Quart sized jars work the best from my experience.
Before placing into the pressure sterilizer, cover tops of jars with aluminum foil to prevent too much water from entering through the gas exchange ports. This is important to prevent waterlogged jars.
Fill the bottom of the sterilizer with an inch and a half of water and secure the lid. Let the internal temperature rise to 15 PSI and let it run it's cycle for 90 minutes. No more, and no less. This will kill 100% of competitors.
Super Sterilizer holds up to 60 5lb blocks and runs for 22 hours.
Let cool for several hours, or overnight inside the cooker. Releasing the pressure suddenly and speeding up the process can pull in contaminates floating around the room. So be careful.
Now after the grain spawn is cooled down, you can place jars in front of the laminar flow hood or inside a clean and disinfected still air box for inoculation.
Everything needs to be extremely clean so wipe down all surfaces with rubbing alcohol, take a shower and change into clean clothes, do all you can to wipe down every single item and surface in workplace.
There's a way to measure out dry grains and add 38% water to it for a good absorption and moisture levels inside autoclave unicorn bags.
Now that you've made your grain spawn, it's now time for inoculation. Experienced mushroom cultivators usually work with agar dishes, but you can use liquid culture with much success. Which you can expand into more liquid culture if you desire. One goal is to collect cultures and store them for further use. They can be multiplied several times.
I will explain both methods of starting with liquid culture. This will happen right after the grain spawn instructions.
Gather your flame sterilizer, rubbing alcohol, latex gloves, tyvek suit (optional) and face mask, spore syringes with fresh or autoclave needles, and the grain spawn filled jars. Wipe all areas clean and dispose of any old paper towels or working materials.
Once again, clean your work area and be sure everything is sterilized. I can not stress enough how important this is. Wipe everything; gloves, syringes, surfaces with rubbing alcohol until you are sure you've wiped everything clean inside the still air box or in front of the laminar flow cabinet. Try not breathing heavy or talking a lot during the next step.
Now take your wiped down syringe, take off the protecting cap and screw the needle onto the syringe. Wipe the needle with an alcohol pad then place the tip of the needle inside the flame sterilizer until the silver needle is glowing red. Wait a few seconds and then wipe with an alcohol pad once again. Be careful not to melt the plastic of the syringe. Your syringe should be sterile enough to place into the gas exchange port, take off the lid briefly in front of the flow hood, or wipe clean and push through a self healing injection port. Wipe tops of jars first before injecting.
You should inject about 1or 2 CC of liquid culture per quart size jar. Too much can cause excess condensation.
Do this as many times as necessary per jar.
You can now place it in the incubation chamber/room.
Working with Agar
This method is more advanced. It's much harder to do this inside a still air box, it's much advised to have a laminar flow hood for this line of work.
Agar Recipe. There are many recipes but I'll share the most common.
For 1000 ML of distilled water you'll need to mix;
*20 grams of Agar Agar
*20 grams of Barley Malt Extract
*2 grams of Nutritional Yeast
1000 ml will be enough to pour 35 standard petri dish plates.
750 ml agar mix for 25 100mm x 15mm plates.
Mix dry ingredients in distilled water into almost boiling water. Don't use cold due to mixing difficulty. Use an old whiskey bottle with a quarter inch hole with a cotton ball pulled through and covered by aluminum foil. Pressure cook at 15 PSI for 45 minutes. Both liquids need to cool simultaneously, placed at an angle same level as surrounding water.
After sterilization, cool to handle it but warm enough to remain a liquid state. Let sit an hour or two. Prepare the working area and begin running your flow hood at least an hour prior to scrubbing the air. Wash self and all working areas. Working with agar requires a high level of cleanliness. Contaminated landing on a dish will most likely sprout and ruin the project. Take steps to reduce failures.
Pour plates in front of the flow hood.
3 or 4 even stacks, pour with a rhythm bottom to top of stack.
Keep the lid open as little as possible.
Once poured, flame sterilizes the scalpel and wipe down with rubbing alcohol. Cool scalpel on the agar in front of the flow hood. Now you should use another clean scalpel to cut into the center of the mushroom for culture.
Immediately close the lid after placing onto the dish.
Use parafilm folded and around sides after placing mushroom tissue in three spots. Place into the incubation room.
(The pictures show a laminar flow hood, mycelium on agar, and a pressure sterilizer which are all necessary for cultivation success.)
Laminar flow hood/Cabinet
MEA, PDA, etc. (Agar)
Lab tools (Scalpel)
intake/return fans and vents
A sterile environment is very important in growing edible mushrooms. There are developed cultivation methods created by the big league mycologists and now adopted by small scale growers. Growing mushrooms can be very expensive if taken to the next level, but through my research I've found it can be done effectively on a budget. The clean room is the key to success.
Incubation is important and the space must stay around 80 degrees F.
This happens after the grain is sterilized in the pressure cooker for 90 minutes at 15 PSI. It is then put into an incubation room. This process takes around two weeks for the mycelium to fully take the grain over depending on strain, jar, or autoclavable poly bag. Mushroom farmers can take the existing mycelium, repeat the grain spawn process and make new generations of spawn. The first jars are called the “Master Spawn” jar or bag. Use this for expansion to second, third, and fourth generation spawn. Now they are ready to be placed inside another food source. Most mushroom growers either use the masters mix (50 percent soy hulls, 50 percent hardwood sawdust), bran supplemented sawdust, or even wheat straw. The only difference is the sawdust needs to be sterilized inside autoclavable poly bags with gas exchange ports. Straw and coffee are the only pasteurized substrates. Of course there are other ways, this is the most common way which will be discussed on the upcoming page.
Sterilized means that every micro organism and competitor is completely destroyed, and pasteurization allows beneficial organisms to remain in the food source. Mostly oyster mushrooms are most common with straw and will be the easiest and most marketable mushrooms to grow.
55 Gallon Steel Drum/Wire net
Propane burner/Propane Tank
Shelter/mycelium Mixing station
The most common substrate for oyster mushrooms is straw. Straw is simple to work with and pasteurizing only takes about 90 minutes. After the straw cools, the grain spawn can be mixed with the straw on a clean surface and made into straw logs or outside beds. The outside straw beds actually don't require pasteurization. Just place down a layer of cardboard to prevent weed growth and layer colonized grain spawn with the unpasteurized wheat straw.
Only water about once a week and cover with a sheet of poly with holes in it so that the substrate can breathe. In about four to six weeks the mycelium will have made its way through the bed and begun fruiting.
Growing on Sawdust
Growing on five pound sawdust bags supplemented with oat or wheat bran is very common behind the “master's mix”. Either use hardwood sawdust or pellets. If using hardwood pellets (very common) the recipe is:
*For every 5 cups hardwood pellets
*1.4 Liter Water
*1 ¼ Cups Wheat Bran
This recipe will make a one 5 pound block.
First you want to get a plastic tote and first add the pellets and the bran, then add the water last. Get autoclavable gas exchange poly bags and place on a scale and weigh the mix to five pounds inside the bag. Press down the sawdust and wipe off excess from the sides and slip in a tyvek filter to help keep clean. Fold down the sides and load the pressure sterilizer. Depending on the size of the sterilizer is how many bags that can be done at once. Fill with an inch or two of water and place something on top to hold flaps down and prevent clogging the relief valve. Place on the stove and raise the temperature to 15 PSI. This process takes 2.5 hours and pay attention that it does not run out of water. Leave overnight. Now they will be 100% clean. Either placed in sanitized tote or directly in front of the laminar flow hood. Now you can add your grain spawn to the blocks. Use an impulse sealer to effectively seal poly bags and place them into the incubation room for a few weeks until the mycelium has fully worked its way through the substrate. Once colonized, you can place into the fruiting chamber, slit a hole in the front middle of the block and watch the primordia begin to form!
Mushroom Fruiting Chamber
The Mushroom fruiting chamber is based on three main controlled components. Oxygen, Carbon monoxide, and Humidity. Different varieties of strains require more or less of these. For instance, Oyster mushrooms require a lot more oxygen than Carbon monoxide build up. Oysters exposed to lots of fresh air flow will grow with large caps and small delicate stems. When exposed with too much CO2 they will grow long stems and small caps which most markets do not prefer. Growing oyster mushrooms outside are easy, but growing other varieties on supplemented sawdust blocks need a controlled environment. Hobbyists can get away with a small fruiting chamber with a hygrometer reading humidity and temperatures ranging between 55 to 75 degrees F with good airflow. More advanced growers will create a controlled setting with humidity control and fans on set timers to have the perfect environment for these organisms. This is the final step to having top shelf mushrooms. There are many detailed steps to getting to this stage but with the right equipment this is a very tangible idea. All there is left to do is slit and hole in the sawdust block and set your controlled environment's settings. This room needs to have intake and return vents with filters for fresh air flow into the room with 90% humidity. Other than that it can be a fairly simple and inexpensive set up. Now in a few weeks delicate beautiful mushroom varieties will be fruiting.
This next section will be about cooking larger amounts of substrate and grains in an atmospheric steamer for 12 to 22 hours, depending on the weight and selection.