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“The Mushroom Cultivator” Book Review

The Mushroom Cultivator book is a 400 page book that I found to be invaluable in more ways than one. It’s primarily written for mushroom growing and it covers 25 species. It covers every method used by commercial growers. Any of it can be scaled down for home growing as well. But two very important aspects of this book for any gardeners is the chapter on composting and the appendix listing a huge number of compost materials you can add and their properties such as NPK and more. Other important info in the books is about bacteria, molds and of course fungi and how they work.

  • Mushroom culture and life cycle
  • Sterile techniques and agar culture
  • Grain culture
  • Mushroom growing room
  • Compost preparation
  • Non-composted substrates
  • Spawning and spawn running in bulk substrates
  • The casing Layerl
  • Strategies for mushroom formation (pinhead initiation)
  • Sustaining the mushroom crop
  • Growing parameters for 25 various mushroom species
  • A trouble shooting guide
  • The contaminants of mushroom culture how to identify and control
  • The pest of mushroom culture
  • Mushroom genetics

There are 8 appendixes, but I will list the one I thought was so important to everyone and it was, VI Analysis of Basic Materials used in Substrate Preparation (composting).

Mushroom culture is a petri dish, test tube or some other glass container which holds the root, hair like strands of mushroom mycelium. I will be overly simplistic in this review. The life cycle is something like this, spores which land and begin to form the root hair like structures. When a male and female mycelium meet, they transfer genetic material. The male and female spores can be from the same mushroom or different ones. The mycelium really begins to grow at that point and forms a knot which forms a pinhead, which forms something like a small ball or bullet shaped thing called primordia. Then the stem and fruit body or cap form. The spores are in the ridges under the cap and finally get released and blown around by the wind.

The book has really nice microscopic images. Some look like electron microscope images. If you have ever kicked or stomped a mushroom, you have seen a small dust cloud come out of it, this was the spores. Each mushroom has both male and female spores. Into the world of mushrooms we have poison mushrooms, psychotropic mushrooms (semi or mildly poison) and edible mushrooms. Some of these edible mushrooms have quite a high protein content. Some as high as 35%. That means for 100 grams of mushroom, 35 grams is pure protein. One of these is called chicken of the woods. In nature these mushrooms of various kinds can cross. This means a good mushroom might cross with a poison one and become somewhat poisonous. For this reason, in many cases, a very sterile environment will be needed in working with mycelium cultures. The spores are the seeds but growers don’t keep spores, they keep mycelium cultures. These cultures can be kept for years in test tubes if kept properly.

Each time you grow a new crop you go back to the original culture to start fresh, which gives a consistent product. They again work with very sterile environments to transfer culture into something that it can multiply in. They use various kinds of grain or grass type seeds for colonization. They use wood plugs for varieties that grow in logs. If done properly, the jars of colonized seeds can be shaken apart and then scattered over the substrate where again it will grow and then fruit.

A substrate is basically perfectly prepared mushroom soil. Except that with mushrooms pasteurized non-composted straw can be used. Or wood chips, saw dust and logs can be used. Pasteurization can be performed by par-boiling or steaming of the substrate. When composting substrate the composting process creates temperatures high enough to kill most anything that would be bad for the mushrooms.

Mushroom growing rooms are simply box like rooms insulated well, such as R19 walls and floor and R30 ceiling/roof. And I always thought mushrooms were grown in caves. Also the same rooms can be used for composting the substrate prior to growing the mushrooms. Basically these rooms are very tightly sealed and sterile. Ventilation is highly controlled with blowers and fans and intake air is drawn through HEPA filters. HEPA filters keep out outside spores and bacteria. Humidity is tightly controlled as well as temperature. I’d suggest looking into Arduino or Phidgets controllers for such things.

Can mushrooms be grown at home in smaller cheaper containment? Yes you can grown in closets, tubs with lids, jars, aquariums, etc. You still have to go to similar extremes especially with sterilizations, filtering, lighting, temp and moisture control. One thing they do to control sterility is with 10% bleach/water solutions. This is sprayed in the air as well as used to wash everything. And there are yet other extremes the book talks about such as special boxes that your hands only enter for certain transfer work and breeze entryways.

Spawning is basically sowing seed. This is where you scatter the grain kernels that had been used to start the spawn. Or putting the plugs back in the logs after the spawn has colonized the plugs. Some mushrooms need total darkness, some need certain amounts of light at varying stages. Some need or grow better with a casing layer on top of the substrate just after the substrate is colonized. This is a thin layer of more clay/loam soil. Other mushrooms don’t need this casing layer at all.

Some of those log mushrooms take up to 19 months to fruit. Others fruit after only months. If you follow certain procedures pest, bacteria, and mold are kept to a minimum because there is no place for them to grow. The mycelium is taking up all the room. A final note about the appendix. I was looking through it and I decided to look for “Johnson Grass” as a compost additive. It’s a member of the sugar cane family and is a sweet grass that grows like a weed in many areas. It’s very invasive and therefore easy to come buy. This grass grows to about 5 feet tall. I thought, “I bet it’s not in there”.

For Johnson Grass—

Dry Matter per ct. 90.1, Protein per ct. 6.5, Fat per ct. 2.1, Fiber per ct. 30.4 N-Free extract per ct. 43.7 Total Minerals per ct. 7.4, and PNK Phosphorus per ct. 0.26 Nitrogen 1.04 Potassium 1.22
That was under “Dry Roughages of Fibrous Materials” They have a second section on “Concentrates” which includes something such as meal, flower, seeds, feed, byproducts, and you name it. And one last interesting note, they calculate yield in pounds of mushrooms per square foot. They get yields of 1 to 6.5 lbs per ft2. Overall a great book well worth the $30 new for it.


Fungi.com is a great site, I think maybe it’s by the same author of this book, Paul Stamets. And I was looking for some awesome posters in his shop but didn’t see them. Though there are many great book titles there to go along with The Mushroom Cultivator.

About Larry Gray

Profile photo of Larry Gray
I'm a middle aged man from the (Arkansas) River Valley area of Arkansas. I grew up on a 200 acre poultry and cattle farm. I have almost 2 years of college towards a computer science degree. My careers so far have been restaurant management 5 years, office work with some computer tech work 6 years and trucking 10 years. I've also had some work in nuclear rad work tool room and part time security. I was in the US Army Reserve for 8 years. And like Jack I've been to Honduras, was there for two weeks once. On the side I have been doing and studying computer work, tech and programming my whole life. I was into caving quit heavily from 1990 to 1993. I explored around 150 caves in northern Arkansas area. I did some rock climbing at the time also, which is part of caving actually. I've been more into fishing than hunting. And my trucking career has given me little time for hunting. I'm currently training new truckers at http://www.willisshawexpress.com Willis Shaw Express the first interstate refrigerated/frozen food haulers. I'm not married yet, never have been and have no kids. I currently camp out on a good friend of mine's land in a 22' camper I own. I have no land yet and I'm currently working to pay off around $25K debt. Some of my prepping is on hold til that is done. Until then I can learn more and prepare for prepping. blog.larrydgray.net

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3 comments

  1. Profile photo of Steve Baze

    What an incredibly interesting article this is. I have long gathered wild shrooms and pondered growing my own. I will be looking into the resources you provided and many suggestions. I eat a lot of mushrooms and have for many years. What I don’t understand is why all the focus on what seems to be extreme measures that you point out of hyper cleanliness and such ? When shrooms of all types grow very well outdoors with no such attention? Perhaps I will find out as I will likely go down this rabbit hole adventure. Good on Ya !

  2. Well, if there was a 1% chance of you growing poison mushrooms by accident would you grow and eat them and sell them to your community? Would you feed them to your family?. Its simply a matter of reducing the odds to such a low percentage that is extremely unlikely you will contaminate a food strain of mushroom with a poison strain. The other reasons might be in commercial production, you want a consistent product that is what you advertise it to be.

  3. Also its easy to ruin a batch with foreign fungus and bacteria. Do you want to grow a batch to have to trow half of it away? Or more?

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