Mushroom cultivation is a complex skill that requires a lot of practice and patience to master. It is a journey that involves a lot of trial and error, with each step having the potential to make or break your harvest.
However, with simple techniques and basic supplies, you can embark on your own mushroom-growing adventure. Nevertheless, it is not a task to be taken lightly. A single mistake can jeopardize your entire yield. Therefore, it is essential to be well-informed about the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.
In this article, we will discuss the most common mistakes made by novice mushroom growers and provide tips on how to steer clear of them. However, be warned that mushroom cultivation is not for the faint-hearted and requires a strong will and determination.
1. Trying to do everything
One of the most common mistakes that beginners make in mushroom growing is attempting to do everything themselves all at once. Growing mushrooms can be both interesting and exciting, leading many aspiring growers to jump into the process and start cultivating mushrooms from scratch using spores.
However, this approach necessitates sterile conditions, specialized equipment, and extensive knowledge that may be unnecessary for your needs. Furthermore, attempting to do everything yourself raises the likelihood of failure since each phase requires several steps and attention to detail.
If you're interested in growing mushrooms as a hobby, we recommend starting with a mushroom grow kit. Once you've gained some experience, you can try the next step by purchasing spawn and making your fruiting blocks.
If you intend to start a mushroom business and sell mushrooms, we recommend beginning with ready-to-fruit substrate blocks instead of trying to learn the entire process all at once.
This approach will enable you to focus on establishing your growing conditions, identifying what works for you, and selling your mushrooms.
After you've mastered this aspect of the process, you can progress to buying spawn, preparing and inoculating substrate, and making your fruiting blocks.
2. Lack of Knowledge
There’s a lot of information and some excellent books available on mushroom growing, but the amount of information can be overwhelming with lots of complicated procedures and terminology.
Knowing how fungi reproduce and grow will help you understand what’s happening during the different phases of the mushroom growing process and increase your chances of success.
Other knowledge that’s vital for success is information on the species you have chosen to grow, including:
What type of substrate do they need to thrive
Their ideal growing conditions
When and how to harvest them
Contamination is a significant obstacle faced by mushroom growers, and taking steps to avoid it is crucial to successful mushroom cultivation.
The moist, nutrient-rich environment that you establish for growing mushrooms is equally suitable for other organisms such as bacteria and mold.
Unfortunately, these harmful contaminants frequently grow more quickly than mushroom mycelium, and substrate contamination is only one type of contamination that you must avoid.
In each stage of the mushroom growing process, various forms of contamination can arise. Recognizing the signs of contamination can aid in the early detection and prevention of its spread.
How Do I Know If My Mycelium Is Contaminated?
To determine whether mycelium is contaminated, observe its appearance. Healthy mycelium should be white, and during incubation, you should observe fine, white threads of mycelium extending through the substrate.
However, if you notice the presence of green, orange, gray, brown, black, or pink spots or slimy patches, the substrate is contaminated. Depending on contaminated the mycelium is, it’s best to consider getting rid of it and starting over.
How To Avoid Contamination
Contamination is one of the biggest challenges faced by mushroom growers. Even experienced growers sometimes lose crops due to contamination. Here are some of the things you can do to help prevent contamination:
- Wash your hands regularly Always clean work surfaces and tools before you begin
- Use clean substrate materials Pasteurize or sterilize the substrate correctly
- Buy good quality spawn
- Use a laminar flow hood or glove box during inoculation to reduce airborne contaminants
- Ensure there’s enough air exchange inside the substrate Provide the correct growing conditions.
4. Sterilization Errors
Sterilization of nutrient-rich or supplemented substrates is crucial for preventing competitor organisms from thriving. Pasturization is not sufficient for these substrates, so sterilization is necessary to give the mycelium an advantage.
However, beginners often make mistakes when sterilizing their substrates. Insufficient temperature is one common error, as temperatures below 250°F (121°C) won't kill off all bacteria and fungal spores. To reach the required temperature, pressure cookers or autoclaves are typically used.
The duration of sterilization also depends on the size of the bags or jars and ranges from 1 to 4 hours at 250°F (121°C). Rushing the sterilization process or using contaminated inoculation conditions can also cause problems.
It's recommended to use a laminar flow hood during inoculation to prevent contamination.
5. Inoculation Problems
The process of adding mushroom spawn to your prepared substrate, known as inoculation, is another important step in the mushroom growing process.
However, many mistakes can be made during this step, including inoculating the substrate before it's cooled down enough. It's important to allow enough time for the substrate to cool down after hot water pasteurization or sterilization, as adding mushroom spawn to hot substrate can kill the mycelium.
Unclean procedures or environments can also lead to contamination during inoculation, so it's essential to maintain cleanliness by ensuring your hands, tools, and workstation are clean.
Additionally, it's recommended to inoculate sterilized substrate in front of a laminar flow hood to minimize airborne contaminants. Another mistake that can be made is using an incorrect amount of spawn. Adding too little spawn slows down colonization and increases the risk of contamination, while too much spawn can cause overheating and kill the mycelium.
Researching the recommended spawn rates for your substrate and mushroom type can help you avoid this mistake.
6. Substrate Issues
To produce a bountiful crop of mushrooms, fungi require a substrate that provides the necessary nutrients and an ideal environment. Achieving the optimal balance of nutrients, moisture, and air exchange in a mushroom substrate requires practice, but avoiding common mistakes is a good starting point. Here are some common substrate issues to avoid:
A dense substrate with fine particles can become compacted in the center of large blocks or bags, preventing fresh air exchange necessary for mycelium growth.
During colonization, a substrate requires fresh air exposure, but too much may cause it to dry out. Mushroom grow bags have breathable filter patches, but holes must be created in jars, buckets, or monotubs for fresh air exchange.
Supplements, such as oat or wheat bran, can provide additional nutrients for the mycelium to grow faster, but too much supplementation increases the risk of contamination. It is recommended to supplement at a ratio of 5-10% dry weight.
Getting the correct amount of moisture in the substrate takes practice. If the substrate is too dry, mycelium growth may be slow or nonexistent, while an overly wet substrate promotes mold and bacteria growth that prevents colonization.
Why Is My Mycelium Growing So Slowly?
If you notice slow mycelium growth, it's likely due to substrates that either have insufficient air exchange or incorrect moisture content.
But, even with optimal substrates, other factors can affect mycelial growth.
Mycelium growth is slower at lower temperatures, and if you use less spawn during substrate inoculation, it will take longer for the mycelium to colonize the substrate.
7. Wrong Growing Conditions / Environment / Climate
Mushroom species have varying incubation, pinning, and fruiting conditions, making it vital to check each species' requirements for optimal growth rates.
During fruiting, the right combination of humidity, light, temperature, and fresh air are crucial for healthy mushroom growth. Here are some growing condition pitfalls to avoid:
High CO2 levels – Insufficient airflow results in too much CO2, causing small-capped and thin-stemmed mushrooms. Use CO2 monitors and fans to regulate airflow.
Inaccurate moisture levels – Inadequate humidity will dry out mushrooms, while too much humidity fosters contamination. Misting twice daily and using humidity tents can help in maintaining optimal humidity levels.
Improper lighting – Insufficient lighting results in pale-colored and long thin stems, while too much light dries mushrooms. Use indirect natural light, or artificial light for indoor spaces, to provide 12 hours a day of 6500-9000K white or blue light.
Inappropriate temperature – Various species require specific temperature ranges, and extreme climates may necessitate a fruiting chamber with temperature regulation for year-round production.
8. Incorrect harvesting
To maximize your yield of delicious fresh mushrooms, it's important to avoid harvesting them too early or too late.
Picking mushrooms too early leads to smaller mushrooms and lower yields, while harvesting them too late can cause the mushrooms to dry out, lose quality and release spores everywhere, resulting in a shorter shelf life.
Finding the sweet spot for harvesting can be challenging, but a good rule of thumb is to harvest when the edges of the caps are still slightly curled under.
The ideal point of harvest varies depending on the mushroom species and is typically learned through experience, often by harvesting too late a few times.
The Bottom Line
Growing mushrooms can be a highly fulfilling endeavor, and while initial attempts may be unsuccessful, it is crucial not to lose hope. Often, inadequate knowledge is the root cause of failure.
However, the good news is that growing mushrooms can be achieved with a low-tech approach, without having to invest in expensive equipment, and one doesn't need to be an expert to get started.
By acquiring some basic knowledge and consistently practicing, one can master the art of cultivating delectable, fresh gourmet mushrooms in no time.