Mushroom Propagation at Home

You don’t need a dedicated sterile climate-controlled room to propagate mushrooms at home – they’ve been growing themselves in decidedly un-sterile conditions outdoors since the beginning of time, so you can do it too. Just like sourdough cultures and counter-top yogurt, mycelium is easy to keep alive indefinitely by transferring it to new food sources.

Adventitious Mycelium is adventitious

You can’t see this too well here, but I must have left this Grey Dove oyster kit in its dark incubation area for too long because the mycelium tried to make a break for it. Looking for light and air, it grew a tower of material all the way up to the air patch in the top of the bag (twice, as I accidentally broke a column off its shaky moorings to the plastic bag once.) The corally stuff to the left is the remnants of the dash to freedom – the chunk at the top right is the part that actually attached to the air flow.

From Mushrooms

This is that chunk – see its structure? It wasn’t spongy either, as this suggests – it was wood-solid. Cooooool!

From Mushrooms

Here’s a closer look at that adventitious mycelium, branching off in search of light, air and more nutrients. This chunk of mycelium is actively growing, so it is a perfect candidate to transfer to a new food source a la yogurt starter. If you have an active mushroom bed that hasn’t exhibited this particular behavior, you can use any bit of fully colonized wood chip; if you have a mushroom you picked with a sort of “root cluster” coming off its base, cut off this “stem butt” with the growing area at the base still attached and it will be perfect for this sort of thing. The mycelial chunk at the base is definitely actively growing – it just grew a fruit, after all!

This is the Quick and Easy Corrugated Cardboard spawn method.  Corrugated cardboard is great because it holds moisture and provides shade to the developing spawn, but the corrugations also ensure an air supply and growing space that can’t get cut off by water gluing the layers shut.

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Cut a piece of clean corrugated cardboard to a workable size – no tape or glue – then soak it in water until you can peel one of the plies off.

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Layer your actively growing mycelium pieces onto the corrugated portion of the cardboard part. Break them into smaller chunks if necessary – you want the cardboard to lie relatively flat when you close it back up, while still getting maximum surface contact with the pieces.

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Close up the layers and stack them in some sort of suitable humidity retainer. This is one of those closeable plastic container dealies that isn’t airtight; I could also have used a plastic bag closed 90% of the way if I put it someplace dark where it wouldn’t collect heat, or a cardboard box buried halfway out in the garden, etc etc. The beauty of this technique is that it works with whatever you’ve got on hand and acclimates the mycelium to your local conditions – making it stronger than lab-grown mycelium straight out of a shipping container. 

I closed this container and put it on a shady countertop, opening it daily to spritz with water and letting any excess water drain out before I put it back.

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One week later you can see a beautiful mycelial ring spreading outwards from a coral piece’s contact point with the top ply.

From Mushrooms

And the whole ply visible. This is great growth – a few more days and I can use this to inoculate any substrate where a layer of spawn is best suited – a lasagna-style box of woodchips or straw suitable for basement growth of fresh mushrooms in winter; layered inside refrigerator-cookie-dough slices of logs otherwise too heavy or unsuited for shiitake cultivation;  wood chip beds outside; or, rolled up or cut into strips, potentially even more tp rolls or mason jars full of pasteurized grain. I just got a pack of hard foam air filter disks optimized for the mouth of narrow mason jars, so I might go with some grain spawn next (as this year’s straw crop is not quite ready.)


5 thoughts on “Mushroom Propagation at Home

  1. sowbug says:

    Love this post. Can you talk more about the next steps – finding a place for the mushroom to grow into fruiting structures? I’m a total mushroom novice, but want to explore whether I can make something happen in the shade of our backyard.

    • I don’t think so – if you had a fresh mushroom, you could leave it gills-down on media and let it release its spores – spores will grow, but they’re much fussier than using already-growing material. I would expect dried mushrooms have been picked before spores would form, and they won’t mature further after soaking.

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