From Spores to Harvest: Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Mushrooms in Your Garden (2024)

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One of the only downsides I could see to installing my beautiful new raised beds was that I was going to lose valuable in-ground growing space in my garden. While I can plant more intensively in the raised beds, my actual growing space was cut in half when I went from about 200 square feet of growing space to 96 square feet (plus the arches for more vertical space).

I knew I wanted to utilize this space, but it is extremely shady at most points in the day and I didn’t want to plant a crop that would require tons of weeding or maintenance throughout the season since I’d need to bend down to access it. I stumbled across the idea of growing mushrooms in wood chips while trying to solve two problems - one, making the most of my growing space, and the other being my desire to farm mushrooms without the strenuous labor of inoculating heavy logs.

While log inoculation is by far the most well known method of mushroom growing, the set up process (drilling holes, hammering spawn into the holes and covering individually with wax) combined with the maintenance required (stacking and restacking as the seasons change, keeping them damp) made the whole process seem impossible with my arthritis. There are many ways to grow mushrooms in your backyard, but with my chronic pain, it was important to find a method that would be simple and not taxing on my joints. I also didn’t want to have to buy any special tools or spend a lot of money upfront on this experiment. A bag of sawdust spawn is one of the cheapest things you can buy in the mushroom growing industry, and I saw an opportunity to make the most of my garden space by inoculating my mushroom spawn in wood chips.

Growing mushrooms in wood chips is so easy, I thought it would be too good to be true - and while the final results remain to be seen, so far I’m confident the process should work. The basic idea is that you are inoculating wood chips so that mushrooms can multiply, grow and fruit in a semi-controlled manner. But what do all these terms mean?

Mushroom spawn

Mushroom spawn is a material that has been inoculated with mushroom spores or mycelium. The spores are kind of like the seeds of the mushroom and when you give those spores something to live on like sawdust it can be used to inoculate a larger substrate like wood chips. Spawn can be made from a variety of materials, including grains like rye or wheat, or sawdust.

Mushroom substrate

Mushroom substrate is the material that mushrooms grow on. The substrate can be made from a variety of materials, including straw, sawdust, wood chips, and coffee grounds. The substrate provides the nutrients that the mushrooms need to grow and can be inoculated with spawn or mushroom spores to start the growing process. The choice of substrate depends on the type of mushroom being grown and the resources available.

Mushroom inoculation

Mushroom inoculation refers to the process of introducing mushroom spawn into a substrate, which is the material that the mushrooms will grow on. The inoculation process can be done using spore syringes, liquid cultures, or spawn.

What are the benefits of growing mushrooms at home?

When you grow your own mushrooms, you’re unlocking a whole host of benefits to yourself and the land. Mushrooms are low in calories and fat, and high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are a great source of antioxidants and may help boost the immune system. Growing mushrooms can be an eco-friendly way to produce food. They require relatively little space, water, and energy compared to other crops. Additionally, they can be grown on a variety of substrates, including waste materials such as sawdust and coffee grounds, which can help reduce waste.

If you’re looking to become more self-sufficient, the mushroom industry can provide economic opportunities for small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs. The demand for mushrooms is increasing worldwide, and they can be grown year-round, providing a steady source of income.

Some mushroom species are even capable of breaking down toxic substances in the soil, making them useful for remediation of contaminated land.

Growing mushrooms can be a fun and educational hobby. It can provide a hands-on learning experience about the science of fungi and how food is produced.

What wood chips to use for mushroom growing

Most mushrooms require hardwood in order to thrive, but a lot of the time you will not know the exact composition of trees that your wood chips are made from unless you pay a premium. Because of this, if you’re not sure what kind of wood you have, your safest bet is to try growing Wine Cap mushrooms, as they are the most forgiving. One note: Pine wood chips have a high content of lignin, which is a tough, woody material that is difficult for some types of mushrooms to break down and use as a food source. Additionally, pine wood chips can have a high pH level, which can be too alkaline for some types of mushrooms to grow in. Try not to use more than 50% pine wood chips, and if you are using pine, you may want to adjust the pH level of the pine wood chips by adding lime or other amendments to help create a more favorable environment for mushroom growth.

Where to find wood chips

Try calling around to your local tree companies and see if they’d be willing to drop off a load of chips the next time they are in the area. There is also a service that will do this for you called ChipDrop - I haven’t used them personally, but it puts you in a directory so the next time a company is in your area they will make a delivery for free. If you want to pay for wood chips to ensure a certain type or quality, check with local landscaping companies and make sure you get untreated wood chips - not mulch.

Preparing the Garden Bed for Mushroom growing

Choose a location for your mushroom bed that gets partial shade. Around trees is ideal. They can tolerate some sun, but you’ll want to keep the bed consistently damp and this can be more difficult in sunny areas. Clear the area down to bare soil and add a layer of wood chips about one inch deep. Sprinkle your sawdust spawn on top of this in a thin layer. Repeat a second layer of wood chips about two inches deep this time. Continue building up your layers until you run out of wood chips - I did three layers under each two by eight foot bed using a 5.5lb bag of sawdust spawn per bed.

Maintaining your mushroom bed

It’s important that you keep your mushroom bed damp, especially in the first few weeks. Wood chips hold moisture well, so you won’t need to water every day. To check if your beds need watering, stick a finger into the wood chips about one inch down. If it feels dry, water the bed. The beds should need about one inch of water per week. During this initial phase, you can also cover the bed with a tarp or plastic sheeting as well. Over time as the bed establishes you should only need to water during dry spells.

If you plant your mushrooms in the spring, you should see your first harvest in 2-3 months. If you plant in the fall, mushrooms won’t fruit until the following spring. The other benefit of growing mushrooms in wood chips this way is that they will fruit for about three years before you will need to refresh the bed with a new layer of wood chips and sawdust spawn. This truly is a low maintenance, high value crop that everyone should add to their garden!

Harvesting mushrooms from your garden

The most exciting part of growing your own mushrooms is of course harvesting and eating them. But you’ll want to move quickly, as mushrooms go through all their phases of growth rapidly and can go bad before you have a chance to pick them! After a couple of months have passed, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your bed, especially after rainfall or temperature fluctuations. You can pick them when they are young in the button form, or wait another day or two for the cap to open. In the following seasons after you have planted your bed, the mushrooms may fruit any time between May and October.

If you have more mushrooms than you can enjoy at one time, they are easy to dehydrate for later use - or share your bounty with friends who may not have ever had the opportunity to enjoy fresh mushrooms straight from the garden!

Foraging for Wine Cap mushrooms

Lastly, I wanted to touch on foraging for mushrooms. This is something that is often best left to experts - as there are many dangerous lookalikes for most varieties. However, if you’re feeling brave, Wine Caps are an excellent choice for your first foraging adventure. In fact, you may have some growing all on their own in your garden right now! Look for a burgundy to buff cap color, jagged ring on the underside of the cap, lavender to gray gills and thick, stringy mycelium at the base. The best way to confirm you have a wine cap is by checking the spore print which should be dark grey/purpleish/brown/black. Lookalikes may have white or reddish spore prints. As always, use at least three separate reputable resources to confirm identification and at least three unique characteristics and consume at your own risk.

Ready to grow your own mushrooms in your garden? Tap here to shop my favorite sawdust spawn kits!

From Spores to Harvest: Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Mushrooms in Your Garden (2024)


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