Mushroom farms today are highly technical operations.

The Life Of A Mushroom

 

It all starts in a laboratory

The life of a cultivated mushroom requires sterile conditions, so the entire growing process begins in a laboratory. The spores, or natural seeds of the mushroom, are so tiny that a person cannot handle them. Instead, lab personnel inoculate sterile cereal grains with the spores and incubate them until they develop into a viable product. These grains become “spawn,” which can then be sown like seed.

At the farm, the grower carefully prepares the basic growing medium for mushroom production, which is called substrate – a key ingredient in mushroom production. Two types of starting material are generally used for mushroom substrate: synthetic compost consisting of wheat or rye straw, hay, crushed corn cobs, cottonseed meal, cocoa shells and gypsum, or manure-based compost made from stable bedding from horse stables or poultry litter.
Preparation process

This process converts plant and animal products into a mixture of decayed organic matter that is necessary for growing mushrooms. The process is technical and scientific but mushroom substrate prepared on the farm has only one use – to grow mushrooms. Just as soil is the growing medium for field crop production, substrate is the growing mix for mushroom production

For all crops, including mushrooms, the right ingredients must be blended to create a quality product. Without this special substrate, mushrooms will not grow. 

 

Inside the mushroom house

Once the substrate has been prepared outside, an indoor pasteurization cycle follows, which kills any pests that are present in the substrate. From there, the growing process moves inside a structure called a growing house.

In the growing house, the pasteurized substrate is placed in stacked, wooden trays or beds, and the spawn is mixed in and a top layer (usually of peat moss) is applied. From this point, it takes about three weeks to produce the first mushrooms for harvest. Throughout the growing period, temperature and humidity are carefully controlled.
 
Mushrooms mature at varying times, so picking by hand is continuous for two to three weeks.
The tray or bed is then completely emptied and the entire growing area is pasteurized with steam before a new crop is started.
Learn More

Learn more about how mushrooms grow with a tour of Phillips Mushroom Farm and a visit with Jim Angelucci, a long-time mushroom farmer in Chester County.