There are a number of different ways to grow mushrooms, depending on the types you want to grow and the volume in which you want to produce them. You should also be aware that not all mushroom varieties can be cultivated, as scientists are still learning about how to replicate the conditions they need to thrive. In addition, some mushrooms such as lobster mushrooms are successfully cultivated commercially, but not as easily produced at home.
The easiest way to grow mushrooms is to let someone else do the work for you, and to buy a mushroom log or growing kit. These kits are made from mushroom-friendly substrates which are inoculated with “spawn,” fragmented mycelium which will spread, ultimately producing the fruiting bodies which we know of as mushrooms. Shiitakes take especially well to growing on logs, while substrates for mushroom kits can also be made from straw, wood chips, and other materials.
Typically, to use a mushroom kit, you soak the kit in water and then keep it in a cool, moist place. Once a kit gets going, it can produce a lot of mushrooms, and it will keep producing year after year if you store it in friendly conditions. Many people use plastic aquariums or bags to wrap their mushroom kits, ensuring that they stay moist to promote healthy growing conditions.
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can purchase “cake,” a commercially prepared substrate which is designed to grow mushrooms. The cake can be inoculated with a spawn of your choice; many companies sell an assortment of spawns for mushrooms, ranging from oysters to portabellos. To grow mushrooms on cake, you will need a moist, cool environment; an aquarium is a good choice, and you can also purchase commercial mushroom growing boxes.
To go large, you will need to mix up your own substrate to grow mushrooms. Straw and shredded wood chips are popular choices; you will need to research the growing conditions of the individual species to find out what would be best. Moisten the substrate and then blend in some spawn before packing it into large plastic bags, and poking a number of holes into the bags. Within weeks, you will see the mycelium spreading under the plastic, and mushrooms will start to pop out of the holes.
Some mushroom species appear to be ill-suited to captive growing, and they are harvested in the wild only. Others, like lobster mushrooms, require especially controlled conditions, because they are actually parasites which colonize fungi, and you need to be able to grow the fungus and encourage the parasite. Lobster mushrooms happen to be among those which are produced commercially, and a kit for growing them may someday be released.