Grow mushrooms the EZ way.

How to Grow Mushrooms from Spores.

Introduction

So you’ve decided you want to try your hand at growing mushrooms but you’re unsure exactly what to do with the “Spore” products that various growers are selling online. To complicate things further there are several different products such as “Spore Prints”, “Spore Syringes”, “Liquid Cultures”, “Grain Spawn” which are sold to get you started and you are not sure what you require or how to use them. I’ve decided in this post I will clear this up for you and outline options for using the spores.  I remember when I first started growing mushrooms this all seemed very complicated but once you learn the different terminology and processes it becomes worlds of fun.

In short, to grow mushrooms from spores you must first germinate the spores in a sterile environment with a growth medium that the mushroom mycelia can breakdown and absorb as nutrients. Next, this mycelia will then expand moving along the mushroom life cycle until it fruits, producing mushrooms. To do this successfully competing molds and bacteria must be removed from the environment allowing the mycelia to dominate the growing spaces.

The process can be briefly broken down into the following steps:

  • Preparation – Mix the mushroom substrate then sterilize or pasteurize before use.
  • Inoculation – Spores are introduced into an appropriate growth medium created in the preparation stage that the mushroom mycelia can breakdown and absorb.
  • Incubation – Mycelium which has developed from the spores begins absorbing nutrients from its surroundings, growing at an exponential rate and completely overtaking the substrate.
  • Fruiting – The mycelium is moved into fruiting conditions wherein the mushrooms grow out from the myceliated substrate.

What Are Spores?

The term spore comes from the ancient Greek word (σπορά spora) which essentially means seed. So, in basic terms spores are just the seeds of the mushroom world, however, they differ because spores are unicellular whereas seeds contain a developing embryo that is multicellular. 

Essentially Spores contain all the organic materials to grow into a mushroom. Spores are released by mushrooms from different membranes depending on the strain (Gills, Pores, Teeth, etc).

What is a Spore Syringe?

A Spore syringe is a commonly used medium for delivering spores into a nutritious substrate through the use of a Syringe injection. Spores are collected and mixed with water then drawn up into a syringe in sterile conditions (hopefully).

What is a Spore Print?

A Spore print is the collection of spores that are deposited directly from a mushroom onto a surface such as tin foil. This is usually created by placing a mature mushroom head on a surface medium and waiting for the mushroom to deposit spores. Often spore prints come in different shapes, sizes, and colors and are used to help identify different strains. A spore print can be taken to create a spore syringe.

What is Liquid Culture Syringe?

You might come across Liquid Culture syringes instead of Spore syringes. Liquid cultures are more common amongst gourmet strains, this is done to replicate specific genetics that farmers wish to keep over different harvests; such as fast colonization and large fruiting bodies.

A Liquid Culture syringe contains small pieces of mycelium tissue that can be used to inoculate substrate directly. Often, because germination is not required, Liquid Culture will be faster at colonizing the substrate.

What is Grain Spawn?

Grain spawn is myceliated grains (grains overtaken by mycelium) which have already fully colonized. At this stage the mycelium already has an immune system and is in a healthy state. This can be used to spawn straight to bulk substrates skipping the incubation period in the process described above.

Growing Mushrooms from Spores (Guide).

In this section, I am going to describe how to use your spore syringe, including 3 techniques and their advantages/disadvantages. 

Not all of these techniques described below require a pressure cooker (link to my recommendations page) however I would recommend getting one if you are serious about growing mushrooms as they will greatly reduce your contamination. Alongside this, it opens up the ability for growers to learn different techniques and discover the techniques for growing that best suit their situations.

Spores to PF Tek (Beginners).

This is a good beginner’s cultivation method that can be used to grow mushrooms from spores. PF Tek was pioneered by Robert McPherson and few people are aware it can be used to grow edible mushrooms too. 

There are tons of guides on how to do this online so I am only going to briefly describe the process. 

Advantages

  • Easy to follow.
  • Low contamination rate.
  • Uses widely used materials.
  • Can be steam-sterilized.

Disadvantages

  • Low yield.
  • Slower production rate.

Basic Steps:

  • Mix the substrate at a ratio of 2 parts vermiculite, 1 part brown rice flour, 1 part of water.
  • Fill your jars (wide mouth half-pint jars) up to 10-15mm from the rim of the jar. 
  • Fill the remaining space with vermiculite.
  • Place foil over the top of your jars.
  • Sterilize/boil jars.
  • Inoculate jars with Spore Syringe.
  • Wait.
  • Place Jars into fruiting conditions.

A full guide which uses PF-Tek can be found here.

Spores Print/Syringe to Agar  (Advanced).

Agar is a jelly-like substance that solidifies at room temperature. It is mixed together with the nutritious substrate and sterilized to create a solid food source that the mycelium can thrive on in its earliest stages. Growers will use Agar to germinate their spores and test for contamination, often if contamination is found the mycelium will be isolated then transferred to another piece of Agar until the contaminate is removed. Normally, to do this a Still Air Box or Laminar flow hood is required to reduce the chance of airborne contamination getting onto the Agar (as they will also thrive and compete on Agar). 

Advantages

  • Use less of your spores.
  • Results in clean Mycelium cultures for use.
  • Learning Agar opens up techniques such as cloning.

Disadvantages

  • More labor-intensive.
  • There is a learning curve.
  • Easier to contaminate.
  • Requires a pressure cooker.

How to use Spore Syringe on Agar (using non pour Agar).

To perform spore syringe to agar  it is as simple as releasing a few drops of sporulated liquid onto the Agar.

Requirements:

  • Still Air Box.
  • Agar Mix.
  • Spore Syringe

Instructions:

  1. Place items into Still Air Box – make sure to wipe each down with alcohol.
  2. Shake spore syringe.
  3. Flame sterilize the needle until it glows red.
  4. Remove lids from the agar then drip sporulated liquid onto agar.
  5. Place Agar somewhere safe and wait.

How to use Spore Syringe on Agar (using pour Agar).

If you are wondering how to grow mushrooms from spore print this is the method you will need to follow. For spore prints, you can use an inoculation loop or sterile Q-tip to spread the spores onto the Agar and wait for germination. Alternatively, you can use the spore print to make a Spore Syringe.

Requirements:

  • Still Air Box
  • Agar
  • Spore print
  • Inoculation loop or similar

Instructions:

  1. Place items into Still Air Box – make sure to wipe each down with alcohol.
  2. Sterilize inoculation loop.
  3. Open spore print.
  4. Rub inoculation loop through spores.
  5. Rub inoculation loop onto Agar.
  6. Place Agar somewhere safe and wait.

What Next?

Once you have a fully colonized agar piece you can transfer it into a grain jar to expand the mycelium and move forward with the grow. I have a post here on how to prepare rye grain spawn for use.

Spores to Grain (Advanced).

Using your spore syringe with the grain is a simple concept, possibly as simple as PF-tek. However, the chance for contamination with grain is greatly increased. Unless your spore syringe is made under perfect sterile conditions using it on grains is not the best method. 

Advantages

  • None.

Disadvantages

  • High chance of contamination.

If you decide to do Spore to Grain (which I don’t recommend) you need to:

  1. Prepare your grains.
  2. Load them into jars.
  3. Sterilize grains.
  4. Inoculate grains inside in a “still air box”.
  5. Spawn grain to the bulk substrate.

If you want to use grain spawn and do a bulk grow it is recommended to go from spores to agar as discussed in the previous section. Growers do this to ensure that the risk of contamination from the spawning culture is lowered as the mycelium will have fought off all contaminants in the Agar medium. Coupled with a still air box (which will prevent airborne contaminant from landing on the grain) this method can yield great results.

How to Obtain Spores?

There are two options for obtaining spores, they are:

  • Buy them online from a reputable source – You can find sources on Reddit, through google, and even the dark web.
  • Take a spore print from a mushroom – you can go foraging for your mushrooms if you know how to identify them OR you could buy store mushrooms and make a spore print if you know how to.

Conclusion.

Hopefully, this has cleared up a few things, and you understand the options for growing mushrooms from spores. My advice is to start with a spore syringe to PF-Tek until you can consistently avoid contamination while producing your mushrooms.

Next, move onto agar and grain work, it may be a little bit more difficult but it is very rewarding. Once you have mastered Agar work you will be able to seriously improve your process for growing mushrooms and remove your dependency on spore and culture producers.

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