4 Ways to Grow Mushrooms

Build a mushroom bed suited to your urban farm and the species of mushroom you wish to grow with these guidelines.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: ep_jhu/Flickr

Mushrooms can make a great addition to your urban farm’s arsenal, and they’ve been grown in cities for centuries—in the 1800s, Parisian biointensive farmers grew meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris) in underground caves. Growing mushrooms makes sense for small areas because their growing environments highly versatile. Mushrooms make themselves comfy alongside veggies, in unused basements, or in specifically designated mushroom beds placed on on front porches, balconies, rooftops or forest floors.

If growing mushrooms is on your garden bucket list, here are three styles of mushroom beds that you can build yourself and adapt to your situation. Let’s face it, space is limited and mushrooms will often grow where nothing else will.

1. Outdoor Mushroom Beds

Pick the location for an outdoor mushroom bed carefully based on the mushroom species you wish to grow. Think about shade and sunlight, and make sure you have access to the required growing medium, aka substrate: fresh wood chips, manure, compost, etc. Once you have the logistics figured out, the fun can begin, and in some cases, last for years.

Build the Bed

What’s fun about outdoor beds is that the combinations and styles are entirely up to you. You can simply build raised beds with standard lumber, as you might for a vegetable raised bed, or you can use logs inoculated with other mushroom species as your framing lumber, which is not only fun but economical space-wise. Consider, for example, of making a log-cabin-style bed frame out of logs inoculated with reishi mushrooms and filling that bed with compost to grow almond portobellos. The reishi logs require soil contact to fruit, and the almond portobellos only grow in compost—think of it as intercropping mushrooms.

No matter what design you go with, regard your spawn purveyor’s recommendations for depth, which is generally more shallow than veggie beds, and keep the width of each bed under 4 feet for easier harvesting. Also, take seriously the recommendations for spawn run temperatures, time of year and substrate, or you’ll be wasting your initial investment on spawn.

Mushrooms to Grow

In the bed:

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  • Wine Cap
  • Blewit
  • Inky Cap
  • Almond Agaricus

On the logs:

  • Reishi
  • Shiitake

Additional Considerations

Make sure you have reliable access to the required growing medium for the mushroom species you want to grow. If it calls for manure, ask yourself how easy it will be to find. (That being said, locating a farmer who will let you clean out a horse stall in exchange for the manure probably won’t be the hardest thing in the world.) Also, if you choose to build with inoculated logs, make sure they are fully colonized before constructing the bed as to avoid any competitive fungi that might come from your soil.

2. Rafts

Arrange logs side-by-side under a tree or near a fence for growing mushrooms in shady places.
Chiot’s Run/Flickr

A raft is a good choice if you have a small, shady area against a fence or under some trees where nothing else is fit to grow. It’s another form of log cultivation in which logs are laid side-by-side, forming a “raft.”

Build the Bed

Start by inoculating your logs with the chosen substrate—this may take several months. Once the logs start to show signs of white mycelium on the ends, you can begin raft construction. Select your growing site, and lay the inoculated logs shoulder to shoulder in a small bed. Once in place, bury the logs with fresh wood chips or straw, and wait for flushes. As an alternative, you can follow the same process but bury the logs slightly underground in trenches. Remember, each mushroom variety has its own growing requirements that you should read carefully and understand before construction.

Mushrooms to Grow

  • Nameko
  • Reishi
  • Pioppino
  • Maitake
  • Brick Top

Additional Considerations

Make sure the soil where you place your raft isn’t contaminated—the same rules apply to urban mushroom beds that apply to urban vegetables. Mushrooms tend to hyper-accumulate heavy metals, so if soil is high in lead or other heavy metals, lay down plastic and then fresh soil before laying the logs.

3. Grown in the Garden

Spread wine cap straphoria spawn in your no-till garden.
Plant Chicago/Flickr

If you’re a fan of no-till gardening or have a few crops you always mulch (garlic, tomatoes, peppers, etc.), then adding mushrooms to the mix is almost a no-brainer. In fact, fungi and plants have a very ancient and important relationships. In many cases, plants rely on fungi to grow, and adding mushroom to gardens has even been shown to increase yields among certain vegetables. The small upfront cost and workload of growing mushrooms can actually boost the quality of everything else: The soil will love it, the worms will love it, the other veggies will love it, and you will get mushrooms—symbiosis at its finest.

Build the Bed

Luckily, if you plan to grow your mushrooms with your veggies, the chances are that you’ve already made the bed! If not, this raised-bed tutorial will help. Mulch is all that is pretty much all you need to grow these mushrooms, so mulch the crops you’d like to, then add the mushroom spawn in the spring overtop of the mulch. Harvest will soon follow.

Mushrooms to Grow

  • Wine Cap Stropharia

Additional Considerations

Be sure you can identify the mushroom you wish to grow. This is not that difficult, especially if a thousand of the same mushrooms pop up that look similar to what you’re trying to grow, but always double check. Take a spore print and make sure you know what you’re dealing with.

4. Indoor Mushroom Beds

Before growing mushrooms indoors, understand the growing requirements of the species.

Indoor mushroom cultivation is decidedly the most involved type of mushroom production, but it can also be the most consistent and financially rewarding if conditions are met and maintained well.

Build the Bed

Construct your bed to the size of your space. It can be constructed out of wood, trays or another available. For indoor production, consider each species of mushroom individually—the growing requirements of portobello, say, are not exactly the same as nameko, which may desire a cold shock to fruit. These variances in mushroom species will play into the design of your indoor bed, so it’s advised you pick your mushroom before you make your fruiting room.

Mushrooms to Grow

  • Portobello
  • Button and Crimini ( the same variety harvested at different stages of maturity)
  • Nameko
  • Parasol
  • Wine Cap Stropharia

Additional Considerations

Indoor cultivation takes some preparation and education. You must consider the temperature, gas exchange, casing soil, substrate, surface area and light requirements of each species of mushroom before building your beds. That being said, once a bed is established it can be very, ahem, fruitful.

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