About Growing Mushrooms

Many of us are crazy about mushrooms. We love hunting for them in the damp forests during spring and fall, cooking them, tincturing them or just admiring their mysterious beauty. People have cultivated mushrooms for thousands of years. Around a century ago, American seed catalogs offered mushroom spawn bricks for 30¢ each, right there between the melons and the mustard.

We’re excited to collaborate with North Spore Mushrooms to offer the following selections for you to get started on your own fungus garden. These products are all Maine-grown without pesticides and on natural substrates. Most can be refrigerated until you are ready to start growing. Detailed instructions will be sent with your order, or can be downloaded as PDFs (See: growing mushrooms from plugs, growing mushrooms in beds, growing mushrooms on sawdust). We also have a comprehensive FAQ section below that will get you off to a good start.

Getting Started

First decide if you want plugs or sawdust spawn for your mushroom-growing adventure. Kits are a good choice for beginners.

Plug Spawn are small wooden dowels colonized by mushroom mycelium.

Sawdust Spawn is hardwood sawdust colonized by mushroom mycelium, and comes in a 5½ lb loaf. Depending on variety, it can be crumbled into outdoor beds or used for larger-scale log inoculation projects.

Plug Kit contains 100 plugs, wax, dauber, 5⁄16" drill bit, instructions. Everything but the log, drill and hammer to get you started.

Countertop Kits Simply slice open the bag, and keep in a humid environment, like beside the sink. Mushrooms should start to produce “pins” within 2 weeks and will grow quickly. Each kit contains a 4½-lb inoculated sawdust block that could produce up to 3 lbs of mushrooms over 2–4 months. Instructions included. The easiest way to get into growing mushrooms. Makes a great gift.

Growing Mushrooms

Log Method Drill holes in logs, insert plug spawn or sawdust spawn, then seal with wax. See mushroom tools, available at OGS. Be sure to choose an appropriate tree species for the mushroom (see variety descriptions.) We offer these options for log inoculation:

  • Plug Spawn 50 plugs will inoculate a single 4' long, 4" diameter log. Drill 1516" holes (or 8.5mm with angle-grinder adapter) into your log, hammer in the plugs and seal the holes with wax. Plugs are an excellent choice for beginners. Plugs come in bags of 100 or 500.
  • Sawdust Spawn Each bag contains 5½ lbs of hardwood sawdust colonized by mushroom mycelium, enough for about 25 logs. Drill 7/16" or 12mm holes in your logs, pack the sawdust using an inoculation tool and seal with wax. Good for commercial mushroom growers.

Outdoor Bed Method Some varieties can be grown in non-sterile outdoor beds of fresh wood chips, sawdust, straw or other organic matter. Plant them under orchard trees or in your garden paths! Layer Sawdust Spawn with your growing medium, and keep beds watered. One 5½-lb bag of sawdust spawn will inoculate a 4x4' bed. Once established, a well-maintained bed can produce for many seasons.

Growing Methods
Mushroom type Log method Bed method
Almond Agaricus   X
Hen of the Woods X  
Lion’s Mane X  
Chicken of the Woods X  
Shiitake X  
Nameko X X
Golden Oyster X X
Blue Oyster X X
Italian Oyster X X
Wine Cap   X

Frequently Asked Questions

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Can I get my order now or do I have to wait until April?
We ship spawn in April, during our regular trees and plants shipping season. The spawn supply is produced over the winter and is ready in the spring. Inoculating logs in spring optimizes success, especially for beginners and here in the cold North. We recommend you cut your log while it is still dormant and inoculate in the spring.
What kinds of trees can I cut for growing mushrooms?

Oak and Maple are preferred; they are very dense and offer a lot of nutrition for a longer sustained fruiting period. Poplar also works well with Oyster mushrooms. You can try a wide range of tree species including beech and birch, but you may get varying yields. Generally, poplar and other soft hardwoods will colonize faster and produce mushrooms sooner but don’t yield as much overall, or produce for as many years. Regardless of species, cut only living, disease-free wood.

There are different strains of mushrooms, and the suggestions for types of logs are based on North Spore’s particular strains.

type preferred possible
Chicken large oak (oak only)
Shiitake oak, maple alder, ash, beech, hickory
Reishi oak maple, plum
Oyster oak, maple, poplar alder, beech, birch
Lion's Mane oak, maple, poplar beech, birch
What size should the logs be?

Any size logs will work. You can use branches or saplings, if that is what you have available. Small-diameter wood will colonize faster, but will not produce for as many seasons as a larger log.

You don’t want the logs to be so large or heavy that they are difficult to use. For drilling methods, a 4-6" diameter with a 3-4' length is ideal. For the totem method, they can be up to a foot (or more!) in diameter, and 12-18" high.

When do I cut the logs?

The best time to cut is before the trees have budded out and the bark is still holding fast to the trunk. Fully leafed-out trees can also be cut for logs, if you’ve missed the dormant-tree window.

Then, wait at least a week before inoculating, but get it done within a month—long enough to allow the cells in the log to die but not long enough for the log to dry out, or for other competitor fungi to become established.

Do not cut logs in the period between bud swell and leaf-out.

Do not use logs cut last year.

What if I buy spawn and can’t get around to inoculating in the spring?
Store the spawn in the fridge and do it during the summer. Just be sure that you harvest your fresh log within a few weeks of inoculation. Avoid cutting logs during leaf-out. Dormant trees and fully leafed-out trees make the best logs.
What kind of yield can I expect?
Around two pounds per log per year is pretty typical, but this can vary quite a bit depending on the weather conditions, log size, wood type, whether or not you force fruiting, and other factors.
How long will it take from inoculation to harvest?
Mushrooms need cool wet weather to fruit, and growth slows in the heat of summer. With spring inoculation, it’s possible you may get your first flush of mushrooms in autumn, but more likely it will take a full year until you see your first fruiting.
How often should I water my log?
Logs stored in shady outdoor locations close to the ground generally retain enough moisture to colonize fully without watering. During especially dry periods, watering may be necessary but most of the time no supplemental watering is needed. Don’t let the log dry out but neither should you overwater it. It’s okay to water the log to force it to fruit, but most growers wait until the log fruits once naturally before starting to force fruit.
What tools do I need?
  • For plug spawn, you’ll need a drill with a 5/16" (8.5mm) bit to make holes in the log, a hammer to drive the plugs into the holes, and wax to seal the holes.
  • For sawdust spawn, use a drill with a 7/16" (12mm) drill bit, and an inoculation tool to pack the sawdust into the holes. You can insert sawdust by hand, but an inoculation tool greatly speeds up the process and packs the sawdust more densely.
  • If you are inoculating many logs, instead of using a drill, you can put an adapter that takes a drill bit onto your angle grinder to help the work go more quickly and easily.
  • Seal the holes with hot wax (cheese wax, food-grade paraffin wax, beeswax) to prevent both dehydration and contamination with other, unwanted fungal species. Do not skip this step!
  • The totem method requires no special tools aside from a saw to cut the log. Wine Cap mushroom also needs no tools.
How long can I store mushroom spawn?
Plug and sawdust spawn will store for six months to a year in a refrigerator. Do not refrigerate Almond Agaricus.
How many plugs do I need for one log?
100 plugs will do 3-4 logs; the drill pattern does not need to be perfect.
How many years will a log produce mushrooms?
Two to four years, on average; varies by type of wood, size of log, whether or not it’s forced, rainy/dry balance, etc.
How do I choose plugs vs. sawdust?

Plugs are very resilient but are slower to colonize. Plugs require only a drill and hammer for tools, and are economical for smaller projects. Sawdust colonizes drilled logs about 30% faster than plugs. They’re good for larger projects, but an inoculation tool is recommended, along with other tools.

The totem method, using sawdust, is good for urban settings or other locations without access to a forested or shady area. No special tools are needed.

Can Wine Cap be grown using drill or totem methods?
No, the Wine Cap only grows on substrate that is already broken apart, like sawdust. It’s best in garden path areas or other places where beds of sawdust, wood chips or straw can be maintained.
It’s okay for the log to freeze over winter?
Yes, logs are fine outdoors in winter. A blanket of snow helps protect the logs from drying out.
Is it okay to inoculate one log with multiple types?
No, use only one species of mushroom per log. Multiple species will compete with each other and produce poor results.
Will Hemlock work for the Reishi?
No, not for the strain of Reishi that we are offering.
Are cultivated mushrooms the same size as their wild counterparts?
What kind of pests can I expect on my mushrooms?
Sometimes mammals like deer or squirrels may take a nibble or two out of mushrooms but generally they don’t devastate a crop. Occasionally you may find some insect damage. Just cut out that part; the rest of the mushroom will be fine.

Additional Resources:

We recommend the book The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms: Simple and Advanced Techniques for Growing Shiitake, Oyster, Lion’s Mane, and Maitake Mushrooms at Home.

The Cornell extension website hosts a lot of information on cultivating mushrooms, including short instructional videos. Click here to see online courses and videos on mushroom growing from the Cornell Small Farms Program.