Basic Cultivation

A few things should be very clear before you start. Proper knowledge of the basics may save you some frustration later on.

The life cycle of the mushroom

When you start with the cultivation of mushrooms at home, it is important to know about the lifecycle of the mushroom.To successfully cultivate your own mushrooms at home, it is necessary to have an insight into the lifecycle of the mushroom.

To most people the mushroom exists of a stem and a cap. What these people do not realize, is that there's an entire network of so-called mycelium beneath the mushroom. Mycelium is a tight network of cells under the ground. This mycelium underground is actually the plant of which the mushrooms are the fruits.

During its life course the mycelium has only one goal: The existing of the species. The mycelium does so by growing mushrooms. These mushrooms produce spores and drop these when they reach adulthood.

The lifecycle: Lifecycle of a mushroom

In general for the cultivator this means to:

The needed materials

For the cultivation of mushrooms at home you will need some specific materials and supplies. In general these materials and supplies are cheap and easy to come by. The cultivation of mushrooms isn't very difficult. It doesn't require a lot of knowledge or materials to grow your own mushrooms. The supplies you will need are not expensive and are generally fairly easy to come by. The following list of items serves to give you an impression of the standard supplies needed for growing mushrooms. Sometimes certain procedures might require other tools and/or supplies.

Most of these items can easily be acquired online. A pressure cooker, for instance, can be found second hand at low prices on auction sites such as Ebay.
Online stores such as Azarius (EU) and Spores 101 (US) offer a wide range of growing supplies, spores and even ready-to-grow mushroom kits.

Basics of sterile working

The first thing you have to learn when cultivating mushrooms at home is that you have to work sterile. You just have to work extremely clean. The spores, the mycelium and the mushrooms themselves are very vulnerable to contamination. Contamination will generally have dramatic consequences for the development of the mycelium and eventually for the mushroom itself. During the cultivation process it's important to pay close attention to sterility to avoid these contaminations, and always work as clean as possible. The 5 most common sources for contaminations are:

  1. The cultivator  
    Clean hands
  2. The surroundings
  3. The instruments
  4. Spores or the mushroom's mycelium
  5. The substrate

1. The cultivator You yourself are a big source of bacteria. Your skin, hair, breath and clothes are all risky. So make sure you are clean when you get down to business. Take a shower and wash your hands and arms thoroughly with a disinfecting soap. Wear gloves, a mouth mask and clean clothes when you're going to work.

2. The surroundings It is of utmost importance to have clean surroundings. There is an incredible amount of bacteria in the air and they are all capable of ruining your work. Clean your working space thoroughly with a disinfectant. It is best to choose the smallest space possible. For example a closet is very good. Also a bathroom or a kitchen. Be sure not to have a draft in your working space, so close all the doors and windows. If necessary close cracks with tape. After cleaning the room, be sure to leave for about 5 minutes, so the disinfectant can do its job. Warning: The space should be thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant. But be careful. Large quantities of disinfectants in the air can be bad for your health! So pay attention to the amount you use. If you can't find a good, clean spot in your house or you just want better results, you might consider constructing or purchasing a glovebox. Or even better, a laminar flowhood:

- glove box A semi-sterile closed space. Relatively cheap. Sterile surroundings

- Laminar flowhood A sterile space using a HEPA-filter. For the cultivator who does not want to compromise. 

3. The instruments Obviously all instruments should be sterilized before being used. Especially the instrument which will come in contact with the substrate or agar media should be impeccably clean. Heat these with a lighter or a gas-burner till they start to glow red and let them completely cool off. Always keep in mind that if you touch something it is no longer sterile. You will have to re-sterilize it. Some instruments can also be sterilized in a pressure cooker. Warning: disinfectants are inflammable! Be extremely careful when you use fire to sterilize in a disinfected space. 

4. Spores or the mushroom mycelium You can take all the precautions in the world to work sterile, but if the thing that will serve as inoculant isn't sterile, all your work will have been in vain. The spores or the mycelium are the basis. Especially at this stage then, sterility is of utmost importance.

5. The substrate The last source of contamination is also the biggest source. The substrate. The substrate which will serve as feeding ground for the mycelium and the mushrooms, such as rye, vermiculite, rice flour and straw contain millions of bacteria. Therefore the substrate should always be sterilized in a pressure cooker. Sometimes the pasteurization of the substrate is also enough.

Identifying contaminations

A contamination is an impurity in the air, the soil, and/or the water which can cause (serious) harm to the germinating spores, the growing mycelium and eventually the mushrooms themselves. A contamination can occur naturally or by the hands of humans. Actually anything unwanted in your substrate and mycelium can be considered as a contamination.

Contamination Contamination 2

When a contamination takes the lead this can have enormous consequences for the growing mycelium and the forming of mushrooms. Therefore when discovered, the contaminated jars, agar cultures etc. should immediately be removed from the other non-contaminated ones. Contaminations can spread very quickly and are sometimes hard to get rid of. A contamination is something no cultivator wants and always desperately tries to avoid. However, even the best cultivator can encounter a contaminated batch or a contaminated mushroom culture.

Most contaminations are pretty easy to identify. The mycelium of mushrooms has a completely white color. If you see any other color in the mycelium, you can consider this, in most cases, as a contamination. A lot of contaminations can also be discovered by their strange penetrating smell. There are 2 exceptions. The colors blue and yellow do not always indicate contamination:

1. Blue. When the mycelium has been bruised, it turns bluish. This is no contamination and has no consequences for the quality of the mycelium.

2. Yellow. When mycelium gets older it can start to form small yellow dots, sometimes this even becomes a yellowish slimy substance. This mostly happens with fully colonized jars/bags which have been in the incubation room for too long. This yellow transforming is a natural resistance of the mycelium and acts as an extra shield against bacteria and other contaminations. It is important that this mycelium is immediately placed into the fruiting conditions.

The ideal growing conditions

You can divide the growing process into 3 periods. Here below are described the ideal circumstances for the Psilocybe cubensis. Some circumstances are a little bit different for other species.

Incubation period: This is the period when you have inoculated your substrate with spores and placed them in a warm and dark place so they can germinate and grow to healthy mycelium.

Incubation

Pinhead formation: The period when you place the mycelium for the first time in a place with (indirect) sunlight and a lower temperature. The mycelium will start to form mushrooms. The mushrooms in their smallest state are called pinheads.

Pinheads

Cropping: When the first pinheads have shown up it's time for cropping, growing up to adulthood. A lot of fresh air and a somewhat lower humidity is preferred.

Cubensis

Of course we understand that not everybody has the equipment to fully reach these perfect conditions. But as said before, they are 'ideal'. Psilocybe Cubensis in particular is easy to grow and it tolerates a lot when it comes to ideal growing circumstances.

Pressure Cooker Sterilizing


Warning: Before you use your pressure cooker always read and follow the provided safety instructions. Improper usage of a pressure cooker may result in dangerous situations!

A sterile technique is of utmost importance in mushroom home cultivation. A pressure cooker is a necessity within this process. A pressure cooker is needed to sterilize your substrates and casing material. Also some supplies like scalpels can be sterilized in a pressure cooker.

Pressure cooker

When it comes to sterility there is only one rule:
Or it is sterile or it is non-sterile, there is no in-between. If you have any doubts about the sterility consider it to be non-sterile.

For a correct sterilization the pressure within the cooker must be at 15 psi for a certain period. This means it will be about 121 °C within the cooker. No organism will stay alive during such a temperature. The duration of sterilization time depends a lot on the ingredients of the substrate and the volume of it. The specific sterilization time of specific substrates are mentioned in the techniques section.

In a lot of books and other publications there is referred to an autoclave when it comes to sterilization. An autoclave is actually nothing more then just a very expensive pressure cooker. Autoclaves are mostly used in hospitals and professional laboratories and cost thousands of euros. A pressure cooker does the same trick and is already available from 30-40 euro.

It's best to use special filterbags, filterboxes and/or glass jars to sterilize your substrate in. If you decide to use something else always check that it can stand the high pressure and temperatures of a pressure cooker.

Filterbag Filterbox Glass jar

The filterbags and filterboxes are specially made for mushroom cultivation and widely sold on the internet. They can be pressure cooked and contain a special filter which supplies the needed fresh air.

filter

Filterbags need to be closed with a good-quality impulse sealer.

When you use filterboxes close the lid, before sterilizing, only for 75% and cover it with a double layer of tinfoil. The lids of these filterboxes close so hermetically that the boxes will deform when they are closed for 100% during sterilization. When the filterboxes come out of the cooker close the filterboxes immediately.

You can also use standard glass jars. When using glass jars it's wise to build in a filter yourself. Tyvek material is very well suited for this purpose. Punch a whole in the lid, place the filter disk under the lid and screw it tight. Also the filter wool used for aquaria can be used very well. Make sure the wool is very tight within the whole of the lid. Finally cover the jars with a double layer of tinfoil.

Hole in lid Jar

Jar

Before you put the pressure cooker on the gas:
- Inspect the articles, supplies, jars and bags which you are going to sterilize. Check that they are clean and in a good, working condition. 
- Wrap all the articles and supplies in a double layer of tinfoil. 
- Cover the jars and boxes with a double layer of tinfoil. 
- Jars with no holes in the lids and/or no filter whatsoever may never be closed for 100% airtight. The up building pressure during sterilization is in that case not able to escape, which might lead to dangerous situations. 
- Keep an eye on the pressure cooker during sterilization. - And again: read and follow the safety instructions that come with the pressure cooker.

When the cooker is closed and put on the stove it will start to build up steam. When the cooker has reached 15 psi, the right temperature has been reached and you can turn down the gas. Be aware that when you have to sterilize something for a certain period count down starts from this moment, not from the moment you have put the pressure cooker on the gas.

Some pressure cookers have a pressure meter and sometimes even a temperature meter. This will make it easy to reach the right pressure.

Pressure meter

Not all pressure cookers are this highly equipped. With most cookers the correct pressure has been build up when there is continuously flowing out steam from the vent pipe.

Always take care that the articles, supplies, jars, boxes and/or filter bags are not directly on the bottom of the cooker, so place a rack on the bottom. Remember to fill the cooker with plentiful water so it will not dry out.

Pasteurization

Pasteurization is a little bit a different technique and is mostly used by the more experienced cultivators.

Pasteurization can be used for straw and straw/manure based substrates and for the preparation of casing material.

Within any untreated material there are a lot of (micro-)organisms. A part of these organisms is able and will try to destroy your hard work. But on the other hand there are also a lot of organisms which stimulate the growth of mycelium and eventually the mushrooms very well. To make it easy we can just divide them into the good and the bad ones.

When you pasteurize material it means that you heat this material at a temperature of 60-70 °C for a certain period. This temperature will kill all the bad organisms, while most of the good ones stay alive.

Pasteurization is for a lot of people a difficult method to do correctly. When it's not done properly the amount of potential contaminations is very high and there is a big possibility all your hard work will be for nothing.

Harvest and storage

The veil underneath the cap of the mushroom indicates when the mushrooms can be harvested. When this veil breaks open, it is time to harvest. If you wait too long, the cap will open and release its spores. The substrate and the mushroom itself will become covered in black/purple spores. Although this does not affect the potency of the mushrooms, it is best avoided. Harvesting in stages is an option, but beware of contamination. Always wash your hands thoroughly before harvesting mushrooms. Or even better, wear sterile rubber gloves.

Mature mushrooms can be harvested by grabbing the mushroom by the base, and performing a twisting, counterclockwise motion. Pulling the mushroom straight out of the mycelium with too much force can damage the mycelium.

After harvesting, you can use a small brush to gently brush off any vermiculite or substrate left on the mushroom. However, do not wash the mushrooms. 

Drying and storing

Fresh mushrooms can be stored in the refrigerator, but only for 3-10 days (depending on the specie and moisture content). For long term storage, drying them is a better option. 

Mushrooms contain about 90% water, so drying them is not only an excellent method for storage, it also decreases their size, thus making transport easier. To dry mushrooms, all you need is air circulation and a warm spot. An effective method for drying mushrooms is by placing them on kitchen paper and directing a fan at the mushrooms to provide a constant airflow. At a temperature of 25-30c the mushrooms should be cracker dry in a few days.

Storing dried mushrooms

There are several ways to store dried mushrooms. Most important in order for the shrooms to maintain potency, is to store them airtight and in a dark spot.