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Can You Grow Hydroponic Mushrooms? A Step-by-Step Guide

Can You Grow Hydroponic Mushrooms? A Step-by-Step Guide

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Mushrooms are popular as a garnish in dishes or as a vegan substitute for meat. They are a high-value crop which can be expensive to buy per gram. In fact, hydroponic mushrooms production is in high demand for both medicinal and recreational use. With the right tools and knowledge, you can learn how to grow your own mushrooms at home!

You might find mushrooms growing on houseplant containers, but did you know that mushrooms are not actually plants? Mushrooms are fungi and they can be cultivated indoors in the spirit of hydroponics, so to speak. They don’t have roots to suspend over water like standard hydroponic crops, but you can still grow them on soilless hydroponic media.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of growing hydroponic mushrooms using common household items and other materials that can easily be ordered online. We’ll also talk about the different types of mushrooms in the kitchen, their health benefits, and their use as psychedelic drugs. Read on!

What Are Mushrooms?

Mushrooms are usually mistaken for plants because they can randomly sprout from the ground, but they are actually a member of the Fungus kingdom. Mushrooms feed on organic material such as soil, wood, or animal dung all of which they break down into useful compost that are healthy for your plants. 

The life cycle of these fungi starts with mushroom spores (or “mushroom seeds”, if you will). First, the microscopic spores are dispersed by the wind, then they eventually settle on soil and other ideal food sources. When two compatible spores meet, they grow into Mycelium.

Mycelium is a thread-like structure from which mushrooms sprout (imagine plant roots shooting out buds in a similar fashion). Mycelium is the most important requirement in growing mushrooms. In fact, the mushrooms we see with caps and stalks are simply the “fruit” or the reproductive organ of the Mycelium. 

Can You Really Grow Mushrooms Hydroponically?

Many people get confused whether it’s possible to grow mushrooms in hydroponic systems. The short answer to this question is no. Because mushrooms don’t have roots, you can’t grow them in the same way that you would typically suspend hydroponic crops (such as strawberries and tomatoes) in nutrient-rich water.

The long answer is yes, you can instead use a growing medium that’s been soaked in water to grow mushrooms! Remember, hydroponics doesn’t exclusively mean immersing crops in water. It can also mean growing food without the need for soil; in a limited space; with faster yields. Mushroom cultivation happens to check all these boxes!

Because we value transparency, I will note an important fact that I didn’t see mentioned in other articles talking about “hydroponic mushrooms”: The procedure we will discuss here is the common way of growing mushrooms in an urban setting. In this context, “hydroponic” just refers to the use of soilless grow media, but it is not in itself a different method of growing mushrooms.

So What Would a Mushroom Hydroponics System Look Like?

If you’re already a hydroponic gardener, you’ll need to adjust your knowledge of hydroponics to grow mushrooms. While typical hydroponic systems require parts such as water tanks and pipes, expensive grow lights, an air stone attachment, an air pump, and a nutrient-enriched water solution, mushrooms will have completely different needs. 

You might have encountered some websites claiming that it’s feasible to grow mushrooms in standard hydroponic systems, but forcing fungi to grow in a setup that’s designed for plants will create more problems than it will solve.

Commercial and home mushroom growers generally agree that using soilless substrate in bags or jars is the most effective method which has already shown great results for a long time. Basically, you’ll inject the Mycelium into the tightly-packed substrate and wait for the mushrooms to sprout

Here is an excellent video that shows the process:

How To Quickly Grow Mushrooms from a Mushroom Kit

Some types of mushroom that are commonly used in the kitchen are Oyster Mushrooms, Shiitake, and Lion’s Mane. Purchasing a grow kit on Amazon is one of the easiest ways you can quickly enjoy these popular varieties.

A mushroom grow kit contains a square-shape block approximately 12 inches long and wide. This block is made with compacted sawdust – a straw-like material that is already inoculated with mushroom spores.

You can use a mushroom kit in 5 quick steps: 

  1. First, soak the block in clean and non-chlorinated water. For best results, make sure the block is completely saturated by letting it sit for a few hours in cold water. 
  2. Then, store the block in a dark place and keep the room temperature between 60-75°F (16-24°C). 
  3. Within 3 to 5 days, the first harvest of mushrooms should be ready. You may choose to immediately cook them fresh, or save them for later use as dried mushrooms.
  4. After harvesting, allow the block to rest for 1 week before soaking it again and repeating the process. Eventually, the Mycelium will slowly deplete the nutrients in the block and lead to lower yields of mushrooms.
  5. After about three rounds of harvesting, you will notice a significant decline from the originally huge quantity of mushrooms. At this point, you can throw the used block into your compost bin and buy a new kit to start again.

9 Steps in Growing Hydroponic Mushrooms From Scratch

You can cultivate other varieties of mushrooms that aren’t available in ready-to-grow novelty kits. To grow mushrooms from scratch, there are 2 set-ups you can choose from. We’ll go back and forth between the two set-ups throughout this guide, so make sure you are looking at the correct label as you follow the steps.

Here’s an overview of the materials you will need:

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

  • Mushroom spores in a syringe
  • Mason jar or glass container (about 240 mL)
  • Vermiculite
  • Brown rice flour
  • Mixing bowl
  • Spoon
  • Pressure cooker
  • Plastic bucket
  • Plastic sheet

[Set-up #2: Growing mushrooms in a grow bag]

  • Mushroom spores or liquid Mycelium culture
  • Petri dish containing Agar
  • Parafilm tape
  • Grow bag made of polypropylene plastic (containing pre-sterilized substrate)
  • Plastic bag sealer

[Needed for both set-ups]:

  • Water (Tap water is okay, but bottled mineral water is preferable.)
  • Pocket lighter (or alcohol lamp)
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Two plastic boxes of the same size
  • Submersible water heater
  • Blanket
  • Access to a clean environment
  • Optional accessories are: HEPA filter, gloves, hair net, face mask

Step 1 Preparing a clean environment for fungi to grow

Fungi will first need to consume a lot of organic material before they can “bloom” into mushrooms. The nutrient-rich substrate that you will provide for your Mycelium also happens to be the right place for bacteria and molds to thrive in.

To kill off any organisms that can compete with your Mycelium, you will have to keep a thoroughly sterile environment throughout the whole growing process. Make it a habit to wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water. Before each session, disinfect tools and work surfaces with isopropyl alcohol.

Wear only clean clothes when working. Put on gloves, face mask, and a hair net to avoid contaminating your Mycelium at every stage of its growth. If you can afford one, install a HEPA filter. It will provide a constant air exchange to expel contaminants and blow sterile air into your working area.

Step 2 Growing the Mycelium

Mushroom Mycelium being grown in a petri dish.

Essentially, there are 3 ways that you can grow mushrooms from scratch. You can start with:

  1. spores in a syringe ordered online,
  2. spores harvested from fresh mushrooms,
  3. liquid Mycelium culture from a culture bank.

[For both set-ups]:

For superior quality mushroom spores, you can order online from Sporeworks, The Hawks Eye, or The Shroomery. You will receive a spore syringe with a needle. The plastic syringe will contain about 10-22cc of mushroom spores suspended in water, exhibiting a slightly purple tinge. 

For both set-ups, you can directly inject the syringe into your grow bag or your mason jar once you reach Step 6 of this guide.

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

You can purchase liquid Mycelium culture from a culture bank. It will be stored in a flask, so make sure to put the flask inside a properly-labeled paper bag in the refrigerator. Take it out only when you are ready to use it.

If you have fresh mushrooms purchased from the grocery store, you can also harvest their spores to grow new mushrooms. Don’t use old, dry mushrooms for this step. As you can see from the chart above, the “head” of the mushroom is called the Cap. Right below the cap is the Gill which holds the spores. Cut up the mushroom in pieces where the gill is.

Growing Mycelium in a Petri Dish:

Place the pieces of mushroom or the liquid Mycelium culture on a petri dish containing Agar. You will have to order this Agar plate from Amazon because preparing your own can be a complicated task. Seal the plate with a Parafilm tape on top.

Keep your petri dish in a clean, cool room. Temperatures between 68-80°F with a humidity level of 90% are the best conditions for the Mycelium to expand. After 4-8 weeks, you will see the Mycelium appear as a white, thread-like, and cottony substance on the plate. 

Step 3 Choosing a growing medium

Since fungi cannot synthesize their food like plants do, your Mycelium will depend on a growing medium (or what we call as substrate) made of organic materials. It should be rich in sugar, starch, fats, proteins, lignins, and nitrogen which are all essential for mushroom growth.

Here are some popular substrate options for mushrooms:

  • Vermiculite is a dark brown, naturally-occurring mineral that acts like a sponge to absorb nutrients which the Mycelium will feed on. Vermiculite is commonly combined with brown rice flour (BRF) and water to make a compact block. BRF is just brown rice that’s been ground into powder. It can be replaced with almond flour.
  • Others have had success mixing vermiculite with equal parts of perlite.
  • You can mash together some wood pellets and soak them in water, then add sterilized grains or soybean hulls later on.
  • You can go for a mixture of corn, peat moss, and sand.
  • Another option is a blend of oak hardwood sawdust and organic wheat bran.
  • Other materials you can use include: rye, millet, hay, wheatstraw, wood shavings, and coco coir. Even coffee grounds are ideal for growing Oyster mushrooms. 

It is important that you research the type of substrate that is ideal for the variety of mushroom that you wish to grow. For example, mushrooms that naturally grow on logs will prefer an oak-based substrate. Animal manure is full of contaminants, so make sure you use a separate room to cultivate manure-loving mushrooms.

[Set-up #2: Growing mushrooms in a grow bag]

You can skip Steps 3 to 5 by purchasing a pre-sterilized substrate in a poly bag from Amazon. Here are some products we recommend:

Step 4 Preparing your substrate

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

A common substrate used for edible mushroom varieties is a mixture of vermiculite and brown rice flour. The exact ratio you’ll need to fill a 240 mL mason jar is: 140 mL of vermiculite, 40 mL of BRF, and a little water.

Here’s how to prepare the growing medium:

  • Put 140 mL of vermiculite in a mixing bowl, and slowly pour water on top while stirring with a spoon. Keep the bowl tilted to one side while doing this. You will know that the vermiculite is fully saturated once water starts leaking from the side.
  • Next, add the BRF to the mixture. Stir it well to make sure that the components are uniformly soaked. At this point, your substrate is now ready.
  • Then, fill the mason jar with the substrate, leaving 1 inch of space at the top. Don’t compact the substrate downward; You want a loose and airy medium for your Mycelium. Wipe the outside of the jar clean, especially around the lid.
  • Finally, fill up the rest of the jar with bone-dry vermiculite. This layer will serve as a buffer in case contaminants make their way into the jar. Cover the mason jar with 2 layers of aluminum foil tightly pressed around the sides. Add one more layer of foil loosely placed on top.

Step 5 Sterilizing your substrate

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

You will need a pressure cooker to sterilize your substrate. Pour a bit of water in the pressure cooker up to 1 inch high. Next, put in the mason jar you’ve prepared. You can use a metal bowl to slightly elevate the jar so that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the glass.

Run the pressure cooker on a medium flame for 15 minutes until it slowly reaches a pressure of 15 psi. Sudden high temperatures can crack the glass jar. Once you see steam escaping from the vent, turn the heat down to a minimum. After 45 minutes, turn off the flames. 

The best way to let the whole setup cool down is to leave it in place overnight (or for at least 5 hours). If you don’t have a pressure cooker at home, you can use a lidded pot and steam the mason jar for 1.5 hours instead.

Step 6 Inoculating your substrate

Each grow bag will slowly turn white as the Mycelium colonizes the substrate.

Inoculation is the process of introducing the mushroom spores or the Mycelium to the substrate to initiate their development. Think of it as introducing seeds to their garden beds. “Cake” is a term that mushroom growers like to use for a substrate that has been soaked with water, sterilized, and inoculated.

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

Once the pressure cooker is cold to the touch, take out the mason jar. Prepare the spore syringe you purchased online and give it a shake to unclump the spores. Take the cover off the syringe, then sterilize the needle in direct flame using a lighter or an alcohol lamp. Let it cool for a few seconds.

Next, remove the first layer of aluminum foil from the mason jar. Inject the syringe about 1 inch deep into the jar. Repeat this 3 times so that you have 4 equally-spaced injection holes. Once the substrate is inoculated, you can put back the layer of foil you removed. Don’t forget to label the jar with the mushroom variety and the date of inoculation.

[Set-up #2: Growing mushrooms in a grow bag]

If you purchased a pre-sterilized substrate in a vacuum-sealed poly bag, you can directly inject the bag with the spore syringe. Or, you can cut the bag open and throw in some sections of the Mycelium from the petri dish you’ve prepared in Step 2. You will need a commercial plastic bag sealer to close the bag again.

Once the substrate bag (also called grow bag or spawn bag) has been sealed, toss the bag around or gently mash the contents with your fingers. This will break up the substrate in pieces so the Mycelium can expand more easily.

Step 7 Incubating your inoculated substrate 

Once you’ve inoculated your substrate (whether in a mason jar or in a grow bag), you can store it in a sterile incubation room ideally with temperatures between 70°-86°F. You can make use of small grow tents. You can also isolate them in a rack that’s covered with plastic sheets.

DIY Incubator Box:

If you want a cleaner environment that triggers the growth of mushrooms faster, you can build a simple incubator box using two plastic boxes and a submersible water heater. 

Attach the heater at the bottom of the first box. Fill up the box ⅔ with water, and set the thermostat so that the heater shuts off when the temperature is at 80°F. Then, use some bricks to elevate the second plastic box on top of the first box. Refill the water when necessary.

Place the inoculated mason jar or grow bag inside your DIY incubator. Cover the top of the box with a blanket to trap heat and to provide a dark environment. Since mushrooms are not plants, they don’t need light for photosynthesis. Instead, mushrooms will only need very modest amounts of light at the late stages of their growth.

Check on the Mycelium’s progress every few days. It will take 2-4 weeks for the Mycelium to fully colonize the substrate. You will know that the Mycelium has devoured its food source when the substrate displays a fuzzy white color.

Step 8 Preparing your mushrooms for fruiting 

After about 4 weeks, full colonization will be complete! Here’s how to get your mushrooms ready for pinning:

[Set-up #1: Growing mushrooms in a mason jar]

Take the mason jar out of the DIY incubator. Store it in regular room temperature with minimal access to light. Indirect sunlight or a low-wattage lamp for 4-6 hours a day should be enough.

DIY Fruiting Chamber:

Once you see small mushrooms pinning out in the next 7-14 days, take the inoculated vermiculite cakes out of the jar and transfer into a fruiting chamber. The chamber can be as simple as a plastic bucket with a wet paper towel at the bottom.

Cover your fruiting chamber with a plastic sheet. Briefly take off this sheet once a day and fan out the air. Within 2-5 days, you will see mushrooms sprouting and increasing in size. Once the caps begin to open, you can finally harvest the mushrooms!

If you don’t want to make a DIY fruiting chamber, simply remove the aluminum foil or the lid from your mason jar to allow the mushrooms to pop out.

[Set-up #2: Growing mushrooms in a grow bag]

To allow the Mycelium to fruit, all you have to do is slice open the sides of the grow bag. Mushrooms will sense the humidity and oxygen outside the bag and they’ll pop right out. In their natural habitat, mushrooms poke out from the cracks of tree trunks when they detect ideal oxygen levels. 

If you want, you can slap the grow bag to simulate the falling of tree branches where mushrooms grow in the wild. This will trick the Mycelium into producing mushrooms faster, thinking that its life cycle is coming to an end.

Step 9 Harvesting your mushrooms

Harvesting mushrooms is surprisingly easy. If you gently twist them at the base, they will easily come off the cake. After harvesting all mushrooms, another batch will grow in one week. This will continue until the cake is fully depleted of its nutrients.

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of our growing guide. You can now enjoy your harvest of fresh mushrooms.

Types of Mushrooms in the Kitchen

Edible mushrooms are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, heat is needed to break down the cell walls of mushrooms. To enjoy their nutrients, you’ll need to cook them first.

Mushrooms are known for a variety of delicious recipes. You can use them to garnish salads, soups, risottos, and sandwiches. You can also sauté or roast them. There is a large number of edible mushrooms, and here are some famous varieties you can grow:

  • Lion’s mane is a type of mushroom that’s famous for its taste being similar to crab meat. Besides adding intense flavor to dishes, this variety is reported to enhance the growth of neurons in the brain.
  • Maitake mushroom has an earthy, peppery flavor. It is rich in vitamins B and C, and antioxidants.
  • White button mushrooms (also called Portobello) have a mild flavor and make up 90% of mushrooms sold in the American market. It is a rich source of vitamin D, and it strengthens the circulatory, respiratory, and immune systems. One study successfully cultivated white button mushrooms hydroponically using sucrose-based and dextrin-based solutions.

Other Types: Magic Mushrooms and Psychedelics

Other than the edible varieties, some mushrooms are highly sought-after for their psychedelic effects. When used in moderation as recreational drugs, mushrooms can pacify a person’s mood and help in treating depression as quantified by clinical trials

It is important to note that the purchase, use, and distribution of psychedelic mushrooms are not legal in all states, so make sure you look up current laws before involving yourself in any form of a psychedelic experience.

Psilocybin mushrooms, “magic mushrooms,” or “shrooms” are very popular for their euphoric, hallucinogenic effects. They contain the chemical psilocybin that is found in species such as Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe semilanceata.

Participants in a 12-month study from 2017 reported that using psilocybin among other LSDs resulted in an increase of positive experiences and overall quality of life. Two separate studies both published in 2016 showed that psilocybin significantly reduced anxiety and depression for cancer patients. 

Despite their health benefits, there are still many species of mushrooms that are dangerous for consumption. For example, Amanita muscaria is poisonous and extremely harmful for the central nervous system.

We should clarify that “hydroponic shrooms”, along with “hydroponic weed” are buzzwords that have been thrown around in recent years by unscrupulous dealers to jack up the prices of the psychedelic drugs that they sell. In reality, mushrooms can’t be grown in typical hydroponic systems!

Let's grow together!