Cooking with shiitake mushrooms is one of the surefire ways to add umami to your food. If you’re curious about where shiitake mushrooms come from and how they grow, the best way to learn is to grow your own mushrooms at home. Learn how to get started with a mushroom kit.
After the first rains of every winter season, we discover new visitors popping up. They appeared from nowhere, overnight, sneaking in unannounced, hiding in a patch of grass or hiding on bark.
Mushrooms have had a mystical reputation throughout history. They’ve been associated with witchcraft and black magic.
While most grocery stores sell mushrooms, you might know very little about where they come from.
If you don’t live in the woods with oak, maple, and beech trees ready to inoculate, you might think you can’t easily grow mushrooms in your backyard.
Luckily, there’s a cottage industry of mushroom kit sellers who provide a convenient and mess-free way to grow mushrooms in your living room.
In this article, I’ll share my experience with growing shiitake mushrooms from kits and recipes that you can follow when you’re ready to cook your mushrooms.
NOTE: Even though this article focuses on growing shiitake mushrooms, it extends to other types of mushrooms, especially oyster mushrooms, which are easier to grow than shiitakes because oyster mushrooms are less picky about the substrate (they can grow on the cardboard tube in a toilet paper roll!).
Why grow shiitake mushrooms
I enjoy growing mushrooms because they’re mysterious. The chocolate-colored nubs sticking out of an awkward block of white whiskery sawdust (the moldy white stuff is mycelium) piques my curiosity.
I enjoy watering the mushrooms every day and make sure they grow in a warm, clean, humid environment.
It’s exciting to see the mushrooms double in size from morning to afternoon and double again before the evening is over. Can you imagine taking care of a plant or animal and watching it double or triple in size within such a short period of time?
Growing mushrooms is a fun project for adults and kids. I find adults love the idea of spraying mushrooms and seeing them grow as much as kids do.
NOTE: I love growing all kinds of mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are another common variety that you can grow at home.
Why grow mushrooms from a kit
As I mentioned, if you live in the woods or have access to live trees that you can drill into and inoculate with mushroom spawn, you’ve got the conditions to grow mushrooms in the wild.
As a town/city dweller, I rely on mushroom kits from eCommerce stores. The sellers have done a lot of the hard work to sterilize the substrate (usually oak sawdust or wood chips) and suffuse the substrate with fungus spores.
By the time the kit arrives, I get to do the fun part of soaking and spraying the kit, waiting for the mushroom blooms to arrive.
2 types of mushroom kits
- The most common type of kit for shiitake mushrooms is a ready-to grow mushroom kit where you only need to spray it with water and wait a few days. This is the type of kit I recommend.
- A less common type of “kit” is called mushroom spawn. It can go by different names but it’s essentially a less mature version of the ready-to-grow kit. Wood pellets or sawdust are inoculated with fungus spores. The idea is you can use these inoculated substrate to populate more substrate, whether that’s a live tree, freshly cut log, or sterilized substrate.
I typically buy option #1, the ready-to-grow mushroom kit.
However, if you’re looking to start a mushroom farm or grow a large quantity of mushrooms by preparing your own substrate, then option #2 is better.
Are mushroom kits worth it?
While they can be pricey, yes, I think kits are worth it. I recommend a mushroom kit if it’s your first time growing mushrooms at home.
The kit helps you understand the process of preparing the fungus body and taking care of the mushrooms as they bloom and the fruit matures.
If you decide you love the process and want to learn about inoculating substrate, which can be messy and challenging, you can buy spawn pellets or another kit to create a huge colony of mushrooms.
The best substrate for shiitake mushrooms
A lot of readers stop by this article because they’re looking for ways to grow shiitake mushrooms in coffee grounds.
While it’s true that you can grow shiitake mushrooms in many different substrates, including coffee grounds, brown rice, agar, popcorn, wood pellets, sawdust, wood chips, and rye grain, shiitake mushrooms are pickier than other fungi.
They grow best in a sterile wood-based environment, such as live oak or maple trees. That’s why the best time to inoculate a log is as soon as possible after you cut the branch off the tree.
While we have grown shiitake mushrooms in coffee grounds, it wasn’t successful. We had 1 puny mushroom, and soon after, some competing mold grew, which heralded the end of our project.
How to grow shiitake mushrooms in coffee grounds
If you insist on growing shiitake mushrooms in coffee grounds, here is how Alex did it.
- Get the spores ready: You’ll need a mushroom kit that comes with spores unless you know how to cultivate spores from a mushroom cap (this is hard if you’re not a mycologist—and I’m guessing you’re not if you’re reading this article).
- Get your substrate ready: Collect your coffee grounds.
- Sterilize the substrate: Alex used an Instant Pot to sterilize the coffee grounds. When I asked him how he did it, he said he followed canning instructions online about sterilization. I find this article from the University of Utah helpful because it contains multiple methods of sterilization, including using a pressure cooker and a microwave.
- Add the spawn to the substrate: Mix it thoroughly in a sealable plastic bag. Avoid touching the substrate. Sealing the plastic bag and shaking it is a good way to mix it.
- Spray the substrate: Leave the plastic bag open. Spray the mushrooms at least twice a day.
- Bring it to your office to grow: Creep out your coworkers by bringing the mushrooms to work and spraying them throughout the day.
NOTE: If you’d like a deeper dive into how to grow mushrooms from coffee grounds, leave a comment. I’m thinking of writing an article about growing oyster mushrooms from coffee grounds and might take the plunge if there’s enough interest.
How long the mushrooms take to grow from the kit
After soaking the kit in water (and depending on whether you have to shock the fungus in the fridge), the first nubs begin to appear around a week later. They show up sooner if you spray the mycelium more frequently.
Once the nubs appear, they continue to grow until the mushrooms mature. The bigger the mushrooms get, the faster they grow.
TIP: If I want the mushrooms to grow faster, I spray them with water more frequently (up to 5 times a day).
What is the best mushroom growing kit?
The best mushroom kits are the kits that will grow mushrooms. Calling them “kits” implies they’re inanimate.
In reality, these blocks of fungus are living organisms that can die in transit because they get overheated, dehydrated, or too cold.
Therefore, the best kit is one that will actually fruit.
You don’t want to spray and pray for 2 weeks only to find your fungus was dead on arrival.
Look for trustworthy signs that the company knows what they’re doing.
- You can see dozens of images and commentary of reviewers who share photos of their homegrown mushrooms on social media or the eCommerce website. The more photos, the better (it’s harder to fake a lot of reviews).
- The seller provides a guarantee that you’ll get a refund or a new kit if you don’t get mushrooms.
- The product has a large number of positive reviews.
Mushroom kits recommendations
- Mushroom logs: I love this log kit because it’s beautifully made to look like a real log. You also don’t need to shock this kit. Just soak and spray. The mushrooms appear after a few days. The mushrooms are very fragrant. They look and taste more like Chinese and Japanese shiitake mushrooms.
- Mushroom kit: This lumpy kit delivers high-quality shiitake mushrooms.
- Mushroom spawn: We used this spawn to inoculate coffee grounds, which didn’t work well. We ended up using the spawn like a ready-to-grow mushroom kit. It look 2-3 weeks to grow the mycelium to the same point as what the ready-to-grow kit looked like when it arrived. Because this spawn is pricey ($70), I would recommend this more affordable product.
TIP: If there is a fungi vendor at your local farmers market, they often sell mushroom kits too.
How long do mushroom growing kits last?
When following the instructions correctly, I’ve usually been able to get at least 1 flush of mushrooms. 2 flush of mushrooms is most common.
By the second flush, the mushrooms have significantly diminished in quality.
Sometimes, I will end up with a third flush of mushrooms from 1 kit. But those mushrooms from the third flush are usually tiny and deformed. The first flush is definitely the best looking and highest quality.
Tips for success
- Put the mushrooms in a central location: We mist the mushrooms several times a day. Putting them somewhere visible helps you remember to mist them and keep them healthy.
- Keep them cool: Mushrooms don’t like to be overheated or in direct sunlight.
- More water = faster growth: They seem to grow faster with more water. When we forget to mist them for a few hours, they get sadder and don’t grow as fast.
- Use a hairdresser spray bottle: The tiny spray bottles that come with the kits are hard to use. Now that I regularly grow mushrooms, I use this hairdresser spray bottle, which holds more water with an easy-to-pull trigger.
How to store the harvested mushrooms
When the mushrooms look like they’re beginning to dry out, shrivel up, or they are cracking at the caps, it’s time to harvest them.
I pull the mushroom by the foot off the block or log. I put the mushrooms in a sealed container or a resealable plastic bag and store them in the fridge.
TIP: I try to use my harvested mushrooms within 7 days. I don’t want them to dry out and get ruined.
Recipes with shiitake mushrooms
READ NEXT: Growing Our Creepy Mushrooms