You might not know how to grow oyster mushrooms—or that growing your own is even possible!—but it’s actually quite simple. Better still, with good initial preparation, you can end up with several years’ worth of harvests. Including shades of blue, pink, and even bright gold, fungi in the Pleurotus genus are colorful, prolific, and they’ll grow in everything from gallon buckets filled with straw to newly cut logs, mulch, or sawdust. So, whether you want to be a casual mushroom grower or think you might want to try organic mushroom farming someday, starting with oyster mushrooms makes good sense.
Why grow oyster mushrooms
If you’re curious to try mushroom cultivation, there are many great reasons to start with oyster mushrooms. Perfect for beginners, they’re among the easiest of the different edible mushrooms to grow. What’s more, they’re delicious and—packed with protein and essential nutrients—they’re good for you, too. Oysters are low in cholesterol and fat and they contain respectable amounts of vitamin B1, B2, B12, and D, as well as folates and niacin.
According to a 2022 Journal of Life Sciences article, many oyster mushroom varieties also have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. As a result, the researchers noted, “The consumption of oyster mushrooms may enhance the immune power of our body against diseases due to free radicals.”
Some different types of oyster mushrooms include:
- Blue oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus var. columbinus)—A relative of the pearl oyster, blue oysters range in color from pale blue to bluish-gray. Best cultivated on hardwood logs.
- Golden oyster mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus)—Also known as the yellow oyster, goldens grow well in straw and on sawdust.
- King oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii)—You might hear this tasty oyster variety called the “king trumpet mushroom.” It grows best on hardwoods.
- Pearl oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus)—Featuring a strong anise scent, pearl oysters will grow on many different substrates like straw, coffee grounds, cardboard, and more.
- Phoenix oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius)—Like pearl oysters, phoenix oysters produce prolifically on many different growing media.
- Pink oyster mushroom (Pleurotus djamor)—Bright pink and slightly more perishable than other oysters, these do well on hardwood sawdust.
Now that you know more about the reasons for cultivating them, it’s time to learn exactly how to grow oyster mushrooms.
The ideal location for growing oyster mushrooms
To first step to learning how to grow oyster mushrooms? Understanding what they need in order to thrive. In part, this depends on the mushroom variety you choose to grow. (For instance, golden oysters will fruit—that is, they’ll put out mushrooms—in temperatures between 75 and 90 degrees F (24 to 32 degrees C). King oysters, by contrast, produce in cooler climate conditions, preferring temperatures of around 60 degrees F (15 degrees C).)
Whether you decide to grow your mushrooms indoors or outside, they’ll need moisture, fresh air, and some periods of bright light. For best results, locate your mushrooms in a spot which can afford indirect light—not direct sunlight—and fairly high humidity.
What to grow oyster mushrooms on
The living organisms which produce the mushrooms we eat are called mycelia. Made up of tiny, connected fibers, a mushroom mycelium network needs a food source in order to grow and, eventually, to yield mushrooms. In the wild, these food sources are often dead or dying trees and fallen logs.
Provided you have access to some of the types of hardwoods that oyster mushrooms prefer, you can replicate these conditions yourself by inoculating large tree branches, logs, or even shredded or mulched wood with the appropriate oyster mushroom spawn. In time, the mycelium will spread throughout the food source and begin to fruit.
Generally, most oyster mushrooms will perform well on box elder, aspen, and maple hardwoods. Golden oysters also thrive on oak, elm, beech, and poplar, and pearl oysters like poplar and oak.
Don’t have access to tree limbs or logs? Not to worry. There are many oyster mushroom types—think king, phoenix, and pink oysters—that’ll grow on oat or wheat straw, compost, and other non-wood materials.
Where to get oyster mushroom spawn
The kind of mushroom spawn you’ll pick depends in part on the type of oyster mushrooms you want to grow and what you’ve decided about how to grow oyster mushrooms for yourself. Want to produce oysters on hardwood limbs? In that case, you’ll probably want to purchase spawn plugs designed to be inserted into drilled holes. Would you rather grow a bed of mushrooms on compost or mulch? If so, you might choose loose grain spawn which can be broken up and distributed with your hands.
No matter the different type of oyster spawn you decide on, you’ll want to purchase it from a reputable source. To produce mushroom spawn, commercial mushroom operations carefully transfer spores from each mushroom strain they intend to propagate. Using sterilized equipment and “clean rooms,” they grow out mycelia on specially prepared substrates such as pasteurized, spent grains, hardwood sawdust, and paper pellets, among others.
How to grow oyster mushrooms on logs – step by step
Whether you have a tree to remove or large branches to trim, both circumstances can provide good mushroom-growing materials. Every inch or so of wood diameter equates to about one year of mushroom harvest. That means, if you have a fresh, green log that’s, say, eight inches in diameter, you could expect as many as eight years’ worth of mushroom crops. However, the larger the diameter (and length) of the log or limb you choose, the longer it will take for your mushroom spawn to colonize it. Still, once the mushroom mycelium moves in? You should have flush after flush of fresh mushrooms.
The plug method and the totem method are two of the most common ways to grow mushrooms on wood. The wood you use:
- should be live, green, and allowed to rest for a couple of weeks before inoculation
- shouldn’t make prolonged contact with the ground (If it does, molds and fungi in the soil can infiltrate the wood before you’re able to inoculate it with your mushroom spawn.)
Plug Method Preparation
- Choose a long branch that’s three to eight inches in diameter. Cut it into three- to four-foot-long mushroom logs.
- Drill a line of one-inch-deep holes down the length of each mushroom log. Space each hole four to six inches apart.
- Turn the log a few inches and drill a similar line that’s offset by a couple of inches from the first line.
- Repeat these steps until the log is covered with pre-drilled holes. Ideally, these should create a diamond pattern.
Totem Method Basics
- Choose a log that’s five to 10 inches in diameter. Cut it into two-foot-long sections. (These are your individual mushroom totems.)
- Now, cut each totem in half, keeping the halves together.
Step 1: Prepare the growing medium
Remember, green hardwood sections should be stored off the ground and allowed to rest for a couple of weeks before you begin cutting totems or drilling holes to add mushroom spawn. You also should water your wood pieces regularly, so they’ll remain relatively moist. Until inoculation time, you should also keep them in a shady location or beneath a tarp.
For drilled mushroom logs, ordering mushroom spawn plugs or a full mushroom spawn plug kit is your best bet. (You’ll simply insert these mycelium-rich dowel segments into your pre-drilled holes.) If you want to try the totem method instead, order loose mushroom spawn. (Although less convenient, you can also use this loose spawn type to fill the holes in drilled mushroom logs.)
Because it has a limited shelf life, time the receipt of your spawn so that it arrives around the time you’re ready to drill or cut your hardwood. (Waiting too long after receiving your live spawn to complete the inoculation process can diminish your success.)
Step 2: Adding the oyster mushroom spawn
Drilled Mushroom Log Inoculation
- Follow hole-drilling instructions from “Plug Method Preparation” section.
- Push spawn plugs into each hole with your fingers or lightly tap in with a small mallet. (If you have loose mushroom spawn, use an inoculation tool to pack as much of the loose spawn as possible into each hole.)
- After insertion, paint over the tops of the holes with a thin coat of melted cheese wax or beeswax. (This protects the colonizing mycelium and keeps competing fungi out.)
- Follow log-cutting instructions from “Totem Method Basics” section.
- Stand the bottom half of totem log upright inside an opaque, plastic trash bag.
- Pack an inch-thick layer loose spawn onto the top portion of this section of log.
- Press the other half of the cut totem onto the top of this spawn-covered section. (You are essentially going to be “sandwiching” mushroom spawn between the two halves of the totem.)
- Pull up the trash bag so that it covers the remainder of the totem and then loosely close.
Step 3: Maintaining your logs and spawn
Besides understanding the basics on how to grow oyster mushrooms, you also need to know how to maintain your logs. After inoculating your mushroom logs or totems, continue to store them up off the ground in a cool, shady place. Water drilled mushroom logs every week and be patient. It can take six months to a year or more before the mycelium fully colonizes these.
As for totems, you need not water these unless they appear to have dried out inside their plastic bag enclosures. Totems can become fully colonized in as little as four months.
How to grow oyster mushrooms using alternative methods
Wondering how to grow oyster mushrooms if you don’t have the perfect hardwood? You can try one of the pre-boxed mushroom kits if you’re only looking for a few quick harvests; however, many oysters can grow on oat or wheat straw.
- Pasteurize chopped straw in hot water (180 degrees F/82 degrees C) for one hour. (This prevents competition from other fungi, green mold, etc.)
- Spread straw on drying racks or clean window screens to drain for 24 hours. Meanwhile, choose and prepare a mushroom-growing bucket or pot by drilling a series of three-eighths-inch holes about every six inches around its middle. Wash the container thoroughly with hot, soapy water.
- For every five pounds of damp straw, you’ll want to mix in about half a pound of mushroom spawn. (Make sure your hands are very clean before breaking up the spawn to combine with the straw.) Pack this spawn-inoculated straw very tightly into your container and cover the top with clear plastic wrap.
- Place the finished pot in indirect light—keeping away from direct sunlight—and use a spray bottle to periodically mist the pot’s holes. Depending on the oyster variety grown, your container may begin producing mushrooms in just a few weeks.
Harvesting oyster mushrooms
Once you’ve figured out how to grow oyster mushrooms, you’ll also need to know about harvesting them. Look closely and you’ll see a cluster of mushroom pins beginning to emerge. These are tiny mushroom stems topped with tiny caps.
They’ll grow larger over the next couple of days. Using a clean, sharp knife, gently cut through the stems to remove the clusters without disturbing the living mycelium below.
Go have fungi!
You may not have realized that it’s possible to actively cultivate oyster mycelium—let alone know exactly how to grow oyster mushrooms for yourself. But now you’ve learned that mushroom growing is surprisingly rewarding and easy. Here’s another article on our site about growing wine cap mushrooms.
Including the drilled-log and totem methods—and beyond—you now understand there are nearly as many different growing methods as there are oyster mushroom varieties. Depending on your tastes and growing conditions, you can decide how and when to introduce your mushroom spawn. After the mycelium has colonized your growing medium, you’ll enjoy periodic mushroom harvests for many months—and often years—to come.
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