I’ve always felt that there’s a certain enigma to mushrooms. Historically, psychoactive mushrooms have been used ritually by various cultures and they’ve earned a unique symbology because of that. Equally, other non-hallucinogenic mushrooms are revered for their powerful medicinal qualities, especially in Chinese medicine. And add to this their inherent danger – some are deadly, often near-identical in appearance to other edible varieties – and you have (I think, at least) a rather mysterious mix.
They also happen to be tasty too, which is good news for us. There’s likely a whole array of mushrooms that you’re missing out on, ones that just aren’t available at supermarkets: wine caps, oysters, shitakes, morels…you could be sampling all of them. I don’t hold any particularly bad feelings for the white-cap supermarket-bought mushrooms…but a little more variety can never be a bad thing.
Even if you eventually want to start creating your own set up – coupling good home-made growing media with spawn – kits can be a good place to start. With many of them, such as the first one on our list of top picks, all you need to do is open the box, add a little moisture, and sit back and wait for the magic (mind the pun) to happen.
In terms of growing indoors, all of these kits will prefer that type of environment. You can (ideally) control temperature and moisture levels and they’ll also be out of the way of pests, strong sunlight, and heavy wind. You could theoretically put the boxes outside but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Best Mushroom Kits: Our Picks for 2016
A quick note about reviews of mushroom kits on other sites: whenever I see reviews online I do sometimes feel a bit sorry for the companies that make them. Because there are so many variables with mushroom growing it’s just as easy to end up with no mushrooms as it is to get a lovely flush ready for cropping. If, on Amazon or elsewhere, you find that over half of the reviews report good results then I think the product itself is a good one and most certainly worth a try.
What should you expect in a kit?
Your kit will be made up of three basic parts: the growing box, a growing medium (often sterilized manure or coffee grounds) and an inoculated substrate, usually something like peat, coir or sawdust.
The one exception to box kits are inoculated logs – which are particularly good for growing shitake mushrooms (they grow on trees and logs in the wild and are usually mass-produced using sawdust).
What’s the difference between spawn and spores?
Spawn is a substrate (some kind of medium like peat) that has been “inoculated” with mycelium – the initial thread-like growth of mushroom spores. Spores themselves are the microscopic “seeds” that are released from gills on the underside of the mushroom cap, with some varieties releasing millions and millions of them. Because the mycelium is already living in a preprepared mixture, mushroom growth happens much more quickly. Another reason that many people avoid using spores directly is because of an initial incubation period that is required.
1 . Back to Roots Mushroom Farm (United States)
One of the simplest, fastest-growing and most inexpensive kits out there. This grows oyster mushrooms and is great as a starter kit.
Instructions are concise and results are good. All you need to do is tear off the front, slice open the bag covering the “grow brick” and let it soak in water for eight hours. After this you just pop it in a suitable location (shady and cool) and wait for 10 – 14 days, misting occasionally to keep the medium moist. That’s all there is to it. You can then flip it over and start a second crop (though you should expect a slightly smaller harvest).
Everything’s organic and recycled and the company itself has a nice little backstory (it was a college start-up). A good choice for beginners or as a gift.
2. Fungi Perfecti Shitake Log Kit (United States)
Shitake mushrooms are ridiculously expensive. They’re also very good for you (they’re associated with longevity in Asia). They’ll quite happily grow on a properly-inoculated hardwood log, yielding a dozen or so mushrooms every two to three weeks once fruiting starts (over about a period of four months). It’s not really a log, but rather a “patch” – a compressed mixture of sawdust and woodchips that has been enriched with fertilizer. It’s already inoculated with mycelium
The instructions are very detailed and you’ll be up and growing in no time, though it is a tad more hassle to set up than the one above. The log requires both a “rest period” of forty days from the day it was made (you have to check the label and leave it in the box if this period of time hasn’t passed) and either an initial soaking period or regular misting inside a humidity tent (provided). It is important that you read the instructions and provide ideal shitake growing conditions (they need indirect light, for instance).
One of the interesting things I noted about this kit is that it falls into the category I mentioned right at the start – it’s something that a lot of people have mixed results with. Some are proclaiming bountiful harvests and others haven’t had a single mushroom. Like I said though, I think the specific conditions that this mushroom requires not being met are a far more likely cause of the disparate opinions. If you like shitake mushrooms (and you should…because they’re lovely) then I can’t urge you enough to give this one a go.
3. Button Mushroom Kit (United States)
You might wonder as to the value of growing button mushrooms – surely if you’re going to the effort it’s worth cultivating something a little more interesting, not to mention less readily available. Well, there are a few reasons why you might want to consider them. For one, they’re very easy to grow. With this kit you’ll get a new harvest every two weeks until the compost becomes depleted of nutrients (you’ll be good for about 3 months). The second point is that they’re very easy to store. Pop your harvest in a brown paper bag, stick them in the fridge and they’ll be good for at least a week or two.
The company that supplies these boxes, WindowBox, sell a variety of products for urban gardeners and their customer service is second to none. You’ll have to apply the typical advice – shade or darkness, temperature range within 50°F – 80°F, and regular misting. All in all, though, a good product. The one downside is the price – at $40 you do wonder if it’s worth it for button mushrooms. My recommendation would be to use this as a starter kit and consider DIYing it if you enjoy the process.
4. Pink Oyster Kit by Mushroom Box (United Kingdom)
This product by Mushroom Box, a company based in Herefordshire, has a lot to recommend it. For one, it’s cheap, especially when you compare it to some of the other products available. For two (I’ m not entirely sure that’s a real phrase..) the pink oyster mushrooms are fast-growing and you should have a fairly speedy harvest once you’ve gotten going.
The kit requires the same kind of work that’s typical to the others on this list: you’ll have to soak it for a period and then keep it somewhere dark for a period of a few weeks. I must say that they have designed the box itself rather well in consideration of the need for regular misting. The bag of growing medium sits inside the plastic lined interior and mushrooms grow out from either side. It’s very easy to find a cool spot and forget about it.
5. Nutley’s Oyster Mushroom Kit (United Kingdom)
You can’t really do better than the type of kits that Nutley’s sell. They’re prepared and sent out on a Thursday so as to make sure that you get it at the optimal time for growing. They’re ready to grow almost out of the box and only misting is required. The yellow oysters both look and taste fantastic.
One cautionary point: ebcause this is a very “fresh” product, it won’t keep for long – so if you’re keeping it as a potential gift then order closer to the time. Great little family company, great product and well-priced too!
It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss psilocybin grow kits but if you are eager to cultivate them I would recommend buying the spores individually rather than in a kit. I must confess that I haven’t tried doing it myself (or growing from spawn) but they seem to me to be overpriced for what is essentially a pot of growing medium. Starting from spores can be trickier than spawn so it’s worth researching the best media in which to grow and ideal conditions (an obvious thing to say, I know).
Some More Advice…
Though your kit will come with instructions (most of the time) it won’t hurt to have a little extra knowledge regarding growing conditions and general care. Apart from the fact that you haven’t prepared your own growing media and inoculated it with spawn, using a grow kit is essentially no different from starting from scratch. Obviously follow any instructions that you receive, and let them take precedence over the tips below, but if you find yourself at a bit of a loose end then bear the following little snippets of advice in mind…
Tips about general care
- Ideal growing conditions tend to be cool, dark and humid. If you think about mushrooms in the wild they invariably (not always, I know) tend to shelter in the deep shade of an overhanging tree. A cellar, garage or cool kitchen cupboard is ideal. Around 50°F/10°C is generally ideal (if you’re unsure of temperature then consider buying a thermometer). Certain varieties do have slightly different needs so research each one before picking a spot.
- If the mixture looks like it might be starting to dry out, mist it lightly. You can mist according to a regular schedule (once weekly for instance) if you prefer.
- Avoid direct light completely. Shade or darkness is preferable. Sunlight will dry out and overheat the media too much to allow for growth.
- An indoor spot, away from pests, is preferable.
- If possible you want a well-ventilated area without heavy air currents (so not next to an open window, for instance). The growing mushrooms need air circulation but not movement.
- A lack of growth is usually caused by either dryness or overly high/low temperatures. If you’re not seeing any little heads poking through after leaving them for the prescribed time then it will likely be an issue with one (or both) of these factors. Either adjust the temperature to be more within the range mentioned above or, if you have been misting and the temperature is right, then consider adding some plastic sheeting over your container to help raise humidity. Make sure to remove it a few times a day to allow air to circulate.
- If you’ve tried several times to grow without success and your growing conditions are good, then you may have a problem with the kit itself. In this case try a different variety and/or brand. It may just be that the little fellas don’t like some unidentifiable factor in your growing environment.
- Mould growth on the surface of the soil or over the box can be overcome by improving air circulation. If you see a whitish “fuzz” start to appear anywhere then don’t worry – this is perfectly normal.
Storage and harvesting considerations
The best way to tell when your mushrooms are ready for harvest is by looking at the stem, if it’s separated from the cap (see the picture) then it’s ready. Oyster mushrooms will be flat, not cap-shaped when they’re ready to eat.
- With storage you’ve got two options. If you’re planning on eating them fairly soon after harvesting then pop them in a paper bag without washing first. They’ll jeep for up to a week in the fridge. Alternatively you can dehydrate them (this works well for shitakes) and keep them indefinitely.
What are Your Thoughts?
So there you have it – our picks of some of the best mushroom grow kits on the market and a little advice for getting the most out of them. I’d love to hear what your experiences are, whether with a kit we’ve recommended or one from another supplier. Drop me an email and let me know!
Image Credit: Mushrooms by Mary Shattock