Gourmet mushrooms, such as oyster and shiitake, are one of the best cash crops for small growers. Although they are traditionally grown on logs outdoors, and still are in many areas, now both can be grown indoors in bags, using straw or sawdust instead of logs. Here are a few answers to new grower’s questions about this productive growing method:
1. Why grow gourmet mushrooms? Two good reasons. First, by growing indoors, the temperature, humidity and light can be controlled to give the mushrooms exactly what they need, when they need it. This means much larger harvests, and more profits than from log-grown mushrooms. Second, by controlling the growing conditions, up to six crops per year can be produced in the same space, for more income and steady cash flow.
2. Can I grow mushrooms in my area? Because you can grow both oyster and shiitake mushrooms indoors, the outside climate doesn’t affect them. If you have a suitable space, such as a shed, garage, barn, greenhouse or even a basement or spare room that is not being used, you can grow gourmet mushrooms.
3. What are the best mushrooms to grow? Because both oyster and shiitake mushrooms are proven sellers in the marketplace and consumers know and love them, new growers should stick to those two. There are other exotic mushrooms that can be grown, often for medicinal use, but they require more skill to grow and knowledge of the markets to find buyers.
4. How are gourmet mushrooms propagated? Mushrooms are a member of the fungi family, which includes yeasts used to make beer and wind, and molds used to make penicillin and flavor cheese. Rather than producing seeds like many plants, mushrooms produce spores. The spores are collected and grown on rye grain until the grain is “colonized” or taken over by the growing mushroom plant. Called “spawn,” the colonized grain is used to inoculate a “substrate,” typically wheat straw or hardwood sawdust. Once the substrate is inoculated, the growing mushroom spreads, and produces fruit, which we call mushrooms. It’s an amazing process to see!
5. Can I make money as a part-time mushroom grower? Because it’s possible to produce a large quantity of mushrooms in a small space, this is a perfect “cash crop” for anyone who does not have the land for a conventional crop such as flowers or herbs. Once the inoculated mushroom substrate is packed in the plastic grow bags, it takes just a few minutes a day to check your crop. Around half of the small gourmet mushroom growers have a day job, grow other crops in addition to mushrooms, or are retired and don’t want to work full time.
6. Can I grow oyster or shiitake mushrooms in compost? Yes you could, but there can be problems and low yields. That’s why most small commercial growers now only grow indoors in a sterilized substrate, such as straw or sawdust, so there is no contamination from other wild mushroom spores. Of course, when the mushrooms have almost finished their fruiting and the straw or sawdust is added to a compost pile, there will be more “flushes” of mushrooms to pick, but by then the yield is very low.
7. When are mushrooms harvested? Both oyster and shiitake mushrooms are commercially grown indoors, where the temperature and humidity can be carefully controlled to encourage rapid growth in the “fruiting” room. The mushrooms appear in “flushes,” and the first flush is the largest. That’s the time for the first harvest. There can be several more flushes, but the quantity of harvestable mushrooms is much smaller, so many growers just harvest the first flush.
8. Where can gourmet mushrooms be sold? Both oyster and shiitake mushrooms are best when fresh-picked, so most are sold to local customers. After the mushrooms are harvested, they are delivered to local chefs, food co-ops, grocery stores and directly to consumers at the farmer’s market. Because gourmet mushrooms do not ship well, most are sold fresh to local buyers. This is great for small mushroom growers, as they don’t have to compete with big out-of-state suppliers.
9. What value-added products can be made from gourmet mushrooms? A few of the most popular products include mushroom jerky for vegetarians, pickled mushrooms, mushroom seasonings, dehydrated mushrooms and mushroom growing kits.
10. Do gourmet mushrooms have special nutritional value? Studies have shown that both oyster and shiitake mushrooms pack a strong nutritional and even medicinal punch. For example, antioxidant properties that protect cells in the body, high levels of zinc, potassium, calcium, vitamin C, niacin, and vitamins B1 and B2. Scientific studies have found the shiitake mushroom can provide antiviral, cholesterol-lowering and cardiovascular support, in addition to boosting the immune system in a way that may have cancer-preventing properties.
11. How much money can a gourmet mushroom business make? Because the crop cycle is short – six weeks to harvest is typical – growers can make a good and steady income in a small space. Using an indoor bag system,most growers are producing 25 pounds per square foot of growing area every year. Let’s do the math: You have a small backyard shed – only 12’ by 12’ – that can be used to grow mushrooms. That’s 144 square feet, which could yield 3600 pounds of oyster or shiitake mushrooms in a year. You sell half of your crop at the current retail price of $12 per pound and half at the wholesale price of $6 per pound. Your total income is just over $32,000. Now that’s a productive shed!
12. How much does it cost to start a gourmet mushroom business? Since growing mushrooms does not require a lot of expensive equipment, especially if you start small, the startup costs can be quite affordable, as low as a few hundred dollars. For example, the new LED fluorescent lights are just right for a fruiting room, and their cost has dropped by 80% in the last few years. Plus, the operating costs for LED lights is tiny, so even your electric bill can be affordable.
When gourmet mushrooms are grown indoors, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities, as growers can be located in a city or in a small town or rural area. Since the growing is done indoors, the weather outside is not an issue, so you can get started anytime. To discover more about starting your own small-space mushroom “farm,” read Growing Gourmet Mushrooms For Profit.