Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They’re fungi, which are a kingdom all their own. Since this is the case, it might be wise for a prospective mushroom cultivator to learn more about the mushroom growth cycle. Doing a deep dive into the stages of the mushroom growth process is an excellent way to know more about how mushrooms work and can help you in your cultivation process. In addition, we’ll go over how you can grow mushrooms at home. However, before discussing either of those things, we must define some terms. Read on below to find out more.
A Few Definitions
Before we begin any examination of the process, we have to understand mushroom cultivating terminology. Knowing common terms helps us gain a map of the territory before we embark.
- Mycelium is the body of the mushroom. It’s the mushroom body that you don’t see as it’s below the ground. Its mass is far bigger than most people would suspect.
- Hyphae are individual fibers that take in food for the mushroom.
- Spores are the reproductive unit of the mushroom that spreads for propagation. A spore contains everything it needs to create a new mushroom. Once a spore settles, it spreads its hyphae filaments to start the growth process.
- The cap, stem, and gills are part of the mushroom’s fruiting body. The cap houses the spores of the mushroom. This can consist of ridges/false gills, pores, or teeth.
- There are spore-producing cells called asci and basidia.
The Stages of Mushroom Growth in the Wild
Now that we’ve got a rundown of different mushroom terms, we can start looking at some of the phases mushrooms experience during the growth process. There are four stages to know:
- The spore production stage
- The germination stage
- The hyphae stage
- The mature mycelium stage
The Spore Phase
When the asci break open, you can expect the mushroom to release its spores. Mushrooms with gills have basidia located on the underside of the cap. They drop to the ground when gills mature. They may also release into the air before settling and creating their hyphae. This helps them create their mycelium, which is where our next stage begins.
The developing mycelium absorbs nutrients while breaking down the organic matter that it consumes. During this stage, mycelium can grow to become gigantic. Mycelium can expand to encompass a small patch of grass or acres of land. Because it can expand so far, it naturally comes across various predators and competitors. Eventually, the mycelial body grows to a point where it encounters other mushrooms.
The Fruiting Process
Eventually, the sexual reproductive process forms the fruiting body of the mushrooms—the cap, stem, and gills—on a miniature scale. Over time the fruiting body grows into a fully-fledged mushroom, and the process starts all over again. In this process, a hyphal knot forms, the first point where the pinhead begins to sprout. As the hyphal knot grows, a baby mushroom called a “pinhead” forms. Eventually, the pinhead grows to a full-fledged mushroom, and you can start the process again.
So, what does this mean for people trying to grow mushrooms on a farm or on their own using mycology products like mushroom cultivation kits? Read on to find out.
The Stages of Mushroom Growth at Home
The mushroom cultivation process at home is very different from the process it goes through in the wild. To the best of your ability, you should recreate the conditions mushrooms experience to achieve the best results.
Mushroom Cultivation Kits
Luckily, mushroom cultivation doesn’t have to be impossible since you can get most of your substrate and other supplies prepackaged. Your mushroom cultivation kit has everything you need to start the cultivation process. Kits contain substrate, jars, or grow bags you can put the substrate—which is your growing medium—in. Some include syringes for colonization, and a few come with chambers that allow you to hold the substrate effectively.
Add Spores to Substrate
In the wild, the substrate is the soil that the mycelium grows in. Luckily for you, substrates come in all types. You can use coffee beans, actual soil, fertilizer—the list goes on. Ensure your substrate and mushrooms are sterile and in a warm, damp area with roughly 12 hours of light. If you’d like, you can place an LED light on top of it that turns on and off at designated intervals.
Incubate for Some Time
After you spread your spores throughout the substrate—or inject them, if you have a bag—it’s time to incubate them. You want to maintain a relatively mild humidity, and the area you put the substrate in should be a steady 70–75 degrees.
Keep in mind that higher temperatures can kill spores. Therefore, maintaining the temperature satisfactory for their growth is essential throughout the various stages of the mushroom cultivation growth process.
Lower the Temperature
After a while, the mycelium will appear on top of the soil. Lower the temperature to 55–60 degrees when you see this occur. Next, cover the mycelium with an additional casing layer of the substrate. This effectively reproduces the process of mycelial growth since mycelium grows primarily underground. After you’ve done this, you should see small mushrooms start sprouting.
It should take about three to four weeks for your mushrooms to grow before they’re ready for harvest, which is when caps fully open and separate from the stems. Harvest them by slicing through the stem. Don’t pull them from the soil, though: it could damage the mushrooms in the process. This is the same process you would use if you’re foraging in the wild, effectively mimicking the conditions of the natural world.
The mushroom growth process is fascinating, whether at home or in the wild. Learning more about this incredible life cycle can significantly enrich your growing experience. Use these facts and pointers as you begin your next cultivation project. If you need help with supplies, we offer products for all your growing needs here at Midwest Organics. Shop Midwest Organics today!