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Growing Mushrooms in Containers – A Full Guide

Introduction: Growing mushrooms in containers is a task that any gardener interested in growing their food should attempt. Mushrooms are a healthy addition to any diet, as they are low in calories and fat, high in fiber, and have high amounts of potassium and selenium. Mushrooms are best grown indoors where the temperature and light conditions can be readily managed.

A step by step guide to growing mushrooms in containers

The main keys to growing mushrooms in containers are establishing the perfect growing conditions and making mushroom spawn, which is the material used to propagate mushrooms.

Here, the types of mushrooms easily grown in containers can be given below;

Oyster and button mushrooms can be easily grown in containers.

Oyster – Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sp.) belonging to Class Basidiomycetes and Family Agaricaceae. Oyster mushroom is also known as ‘dhingri’ in India and grows naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs. It can also grow on decaying organic matter. The Oyster mushrooms fruit bodies are distinctly shell or spatula-shaped with different shades of white, cream, yellow, grey,  pink or light brown depending upon the species.

Oyster mushrooms are probably the easiest kind of mushrooms to grow in containers. Though they are accustomed naturally to growing in wood, you can raise these oyster mushrooms in a variety of other growing media, such as straw or sawdust. The easiest method to begin is with a kit. If you want to experiment on your own, then oysters give you a greater chance of success than other mushroom types. Varieties of oyster mushrooms are from pin-sized to trumpet-sized, so check with your kit or spore supplier to see which kinds are obtainable and recommended for your climate.

Button – Button Mushroom (Agaricus spp.) is the popular mushroom variety grown and consumed the world over. In India, Button Mushroom production earlier was limited to the winter season. But with technology development, these are formed almost throughout the year in small, medium and large farms, by adopting different levels of technology. The species being grown in most farms in the white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) belonging to Basidiomycetes class and Agaricaceae family.

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Button Mushrooms.
Button Mushrooms.

Button Mushrooms are highly proteinaceous and are used as food. The white button mushroom is sold as fresh mushroom or is canned and made into soups, sauces, and other food items.  Protein in Button mushrooms have 60-70 % digestibility and contains all the essential amino acids. Also, it has medicinal properties. Also, a high amount of retene is present in the button mushroom and which is supposed to have an antagonistic effect on some forms of tumors.

Easy planting and growing instructions for mushrooms

Follow these easy planting and growing mushroom instructions and get started growing your mushrooms.

  • Mushrooms can be a great approach to diversify the types of crops that you grow at home or on your small scale farm.
  • People have been growing mushrooms in small indoor spaces for hundreds of years.
  • Mushrooms are versatile and can be grown in all kinds of different environments and small areas.
  • Mushrooms give a high protein and low-calorie diet and can thus be recommended to heart patients. They contain all the essential amino-acid required by an adult. Tryptophan and lysine are present in mushrooms in high concentrations as compared to cystein and methionine.
  • Mushrooms are to be an excellent source of riboflavin and nicotinic acid; a good source of pantothenic acid and ascorbic acid. The carbohydrate and fat contents of edible mushrooms are low. The absence of starch in mushrooms makes an ideal food for diabetic patients and for persons who want to shed excess fat.
  • Mushrooms both add flavor to bland staple foods and valuable food in their own right. That means they are often considered to provide a fair substitute for meat, with at least a comparable nutritional value to several vegetables. The consumption of mushrooms can create a valuable addition to the often unbalanced diets of people in developing countries.
  • Fresh mushrooms have a high water content that is around 90 percent. So drying them is an efficient approach to both prolonge their shelf-life and preserves their flavor and nutrients.
  • And Mushrooms are fungi, not plants. The only visible part of the mushroom is its fruit and the rest of the mushroom is microscopic. A Mushroom has the same amount of cells when it is microscopic and after it has become a visible mushroom. The reason for this is, unlike animals, which make more cells to grow bigger, the mushroom expands its cells with water. They produce as fast as water can be absorbed into the cells. There are so many mushroom varieties that identification is impossible for the casual gardener, but mushroom identification isn’t really necessary.

How do mushrooms grow?

Mushrooms produce from spores, not seeds that are so tiny you can’t see individual spores with the naked eye. Because the spores don’t have chlorophyll to begin germinating (as seeds do), they rely on substances such as sawdust, grain, straw, wood chips, or liquid for nourishment. A blend of the spores and these nutrients are known as spawn. Spawn performs a bit like the starter needed to create sourdough bread.

The spawn supports the development of mushrooms tiny, white, threadlike roots called mycelium. The mycelium will grow first, before anything that resembles a mushroom pushes through the growing medium.

The spawn itself can grow mushrooms, but you’ll get a lot better mushroom harvest when the spawn is applied to a substrate or growing medium. By depending on the Mushroom type, the substrate can be straw, logs, wood chips, cardboard, or compost with a blend of materials that are straw, corncobs, cotton and cocoa seed hulls, gypsum, and nitrogen supplements.

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Container size for mushroom growing

Any container that is 8 to 12 inches deep will work fine for growing mushrooms. Choose a container size that will fit into the selected growing location. Since the mushrooms are grown in the dark, location choice is crucial.

Stages of the Mushroom growing cycle

Main stages of the Mushroom growing cycle can be discussed below;

There are 3 main stages to the Mushroom growing process, each requiring a different space;

Mushrooms are a kind of fungus that grows by feeding off of decaying tree bark or other materials. Unlike plants, mushrooms do not have chlorophyll and do not require sunlight to grow. Whether mushrooms grow in containers or the wild, they have certain light, water, heat and growing-medium requirements to thrive and produce their fruit.

Stage 1 – Mixing & Inoculation – where the substrate ingredients and mushroom spawn are mixed and bagged (more on this process in a minute)

Stage 2 – Incubation – where the grow bags are left in a warm dark space for the spawn to produce throughout the bag

Stage 3 – Fruiting – where the colonized bag is exposed to fresh air, humidity and a little light which will cause the mushrooms to ‘fruit’.

Location for mushroom growing in containers

Mushrooms prefer mainly dark, cool, moist, and humid growing environments. When growing mushrooms at home, a basement is often ideal, but a spot under the sink can be all you need.

Select a location for Mushrooms that will be dark at least 90 percent of the time and where the temperature can be controlled. An unused room or unused closet are ideal locations for mushroom growing. And small containers of mushrooms can be grown in the unused kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

Test the proposed location by checking the temperature range. Most mushrooms grow best in the temperature range between 55 and 60ºF, away from drying, direct heat and drafts. Enoki mushrooms can prefer cooler temperatures, about 45ºF. Many basements are too warm in the summer to grow mushrooms in containers, so you might want to consider growing mushrooms as a winter project.

Mushrooms can tolerate some light, but the spot you choose must stay relatively dark or in low light. Some type of mushrooms grow outdoors in the prepared ground, a process that takes much longer that means 6 months to 3 years than in controlled environments inside.

Light availability for growing mushrooms in containers

Since mushrooms do not contain chlorophyll they do not need light or photosynthesis to grow. While the environment wants to be as dark as possible for mushrooms to spawn, some light does not harm their growth. Mushrooms do want a dim light to form fruit bodies, but only requires a few hours a day for successful fruiting. When growing Mushrooms in indoors, indirect sunlight or a florescent lamp can suffice. Wild Mushrooms often grow in shady, wooded areas where they get filtered light.

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Water and humidity for growing Mushrooms

Mushrooms want moisture to produce their fruit; however, they have no skin, so moisture is easily lost. For this reason, mushrooms require an environment that has high humidity to avoid water loss. Mushrooms breathe and exchange gases with the atmosphere; therefore it is possible to “drown” mushrooms. When growing mushrooms indoors the soil wants to be moist, not wet. Wild mushrooms growing outdoors disappear during dry weather and could reappear when moisture levels and humidity improve.

Growing medium for mushrooms

Some types of Mushrooms may grow on trees, decomposing leaves, dung, mulch, soil or compost, feeding off the dead or decaying matter in those substances. Commercially grown mushroom types are often grown in a combination of manure and straw. The growing medium for wild mushrooms could not be easily visible, such as dead vegetation under the ground. Many wild mushrooms, such as morels (Morchella) are found at the base of trees and among dead leaves on the forest floor. 

Process of growing mushrooms in containers

Each variety of mushroom type has its preferred growing medium. Shiitake mushrooms produce best in sawdust or a piece of an old log. Oyster mushroom prefers to grow in straw and button mushrooms like well-rotted manure. The growing medium has to be able to hold moisture without staying soggy and select the right growing medium for the variety of mushrooms you wish to grow.

After selecting all the components, it’s time to fill the container with the selected growing medium, water it thoroughly and heat it to 70ºF. Place the filled container in a room that will be consistently above 70 degrees for 2 days, or place the container on a heating pad overnight. The growing medium will require to be kept at 70 degrees for the first 3 weeks after planting mushrooms.

Mushrooms do not have seeds, but rather are grown from spores and the spores are minuscule and look like dust particles to the naked eye, so spawn plugs, which contain spores, are what you will be planting. Put the spawn plugs into the surface of the material. Keep everything warm, and you must start to see fungus filaments spreading from the spawn plugs into your growing material and they look like fine strands of cotton. It takes about 3 weeks to obtain this point of germination.

After germination, bring the temperature down to around 55ºF. Add a little potting soil around the spawn plugs, and maintain everything moist and in the dark. Put a layer of plastic wrap over the container to help keep the moisture in, but don’t seal it up tightly, the growing mushrooms need air.

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The work is over, all that’s required now is occasional spritzing of water from a spray bottle and a little fresh air, and the mushrooms will grow nicely on their own. Mushrooms will be ready to harvest in 8 to 10 weeks.

If you are growing mushrooms in containers, there are a couple of options for materials that you can use to assist in planting.

You can buy mushroom kits already packed with a growing medium that is inoculated with mushroom spawn. Buying a kit is a good method to begin your knowledge of mushroom growing. If you start without a kit, the type of mushroom you select to grow determines the substrate you grow the mushrooms on. It is very important to research each mushroom’s needs.

Fill trays with compost

Use 14×16-inch trays about 6 inches deep that resemble seed flats and fill the trays with the mushroom compost material and inoculate with spawn.

Use a heating pad

Use a heating pad to raise the soil temperature to around 70ºF for about three weeks or until you see the mycelium and the tiny, threadlike roots. At this point, drop the temperature to 55 to 60ºF. Cover the spawn with an inch or of potting soil.

Keep soil moist

Keep the soil moist by spritzing it with water and covering it with a damp cloth, making sure that you maintain spritzing the cloth as it dries.

Harvest mushrooms

Mushrooms should appear within three to four weeks. Harvest them when the caps open and the stalk can be cut by using a sharp knife from the stem. Avoid pulling up the mushroom type, or you risk damage to surrounding fungi that are still developing. Harvesting every day should result in a continuous crop for about 6 months.

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