Growing Mushrooms
Photo by Thomas Kirchen
Steve is a big booster of state agricultural colleges . “Through North Carolina State University A&T, I got the grant that helped me install the containers.”

WHERE TO GROW:  You need to decide whether you want to grow outdoors or in. Outdoors is an inexpensive way to go but gives only seasonal fruiting (when temperatures are in the upper 50s to mid-60s); however, once inoculated, the logs will produce for a decade. A unit such as Steve’s small growing chamber will produce consistent year-round fruiting.

FOR GROWING OUT: If growing mushrooms outdoors, you need some land—a backyard, logs (oak is best for shitakes, for oysters, poplar). The logs must have their bark on, should be about 3 to 8 inches in diameter and 4- to 5-feet long. Next comes a chainsaw or drill to use for inoculating the logs with spawn and wax to seal the holes. And if you don’t have natural shade, use shade cloth.

INDOOR NEEDSYou need a structure like Steve’s unit, and a way to control humidity and temperature. Indoors you can grow oyster mushrooms in pasteurized wheat straw. Shitakes still need logs. “Oysters are easy,” he said, “shitakes a little trickier.” He grows them on blocks of sterilized sawdust.

To learn more about growing mushrooms, Steve suggests  consulting your local extension service experts, visiting Dr. Isikhuemhen’s site and others on the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University website and checking out his:

Growing Mushrooms
Shitakes growing on a log outdoors. Although Steve grows most of his mushrooms in shipping containers, he cultivates some outdoors.

Build a “Smallroom” Growing Chamber

Here’s how Steve built his 3′ x 3 ‘ x 6’ growing chamber for about $250. It’s meant to go indoors and will consistently yield 10 to 20 pounds of mushrooms per week. He says that anyone can make the unit.

MATERIALS:  “I bought cheap plastic 3′ x 6′ shelving at Lowe’s and sheets of polycarbonate paneling, then screwed the paneling to the sides of the shelves.” He used the shelving for shelves inside the unit and for the roof and made a door from the polycarbonate. 

“I bought an ultrasonic humidifier for $30 to put inside the unit and on top of it installed a HEPA filter, fan and small electric heater to filter, warm and circulate air inside the chamber.”

WASHING BIN: For those growing oyster mushrooms, he also devised a washing bin to pasteurize the straw and kill competing fungi before inoculating the straw with the spores. At a scrap yard he found an old stainless bin (“stainless is best but a food-grade 55-gallon drum also works”), then installed a heating element and pipes from an old dishwasher to circulate water at the same temperature throughout the bin.  “I like to pasteurize at 120 degrees for 6 hours.”

COMPOST: When the straw is pasteurized, it goes into black plastic bags. Holes are cut in the plastic and the spores inserted. After the oyster mushrooms are harvested, Steve said the straw makes great compost and added, “Use it in the garden or put it into worm beds. It will increase the earthworm population or can be used for chicken feed.  While I use straw, cornstalks, pampas grass, even kudzu will work.” 

MORE INFO:To learn more about these  projects, visit  the North Carolina Mushroom Growers Association at or contact Steve at  For $50 you can order plans for the growing chamber and an information packet that includes sources for  buying spawn. 

This article was originally published in THE NEW PIONEER #167 2013 magazine. Print and Digital Subscriptions are available here.

Related Stories: Growing Mushrooms With Steve Rice

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