So, your substrate has been properly prepared and now you are ready to watch the magic of fungi do its best work!
Colonization or Incubation
During this period, the substrate should be stored in a dark space (bright light inhibits colonization and UV light kills mycelium) for 2-5 weeks while the spawn colonizes the substrate with. White patches of spread from the spawn as the mycelium consumes the nutrients in the substrate, eventually turning the entire mass of substrate white. Mycelium is usually white, so any other color indicates that the substrate is contaminated and must be discarded. The temperature for this state should be between 60° -75° F depending on the needs of the species that you're growing. At Circular Farm, we keep our incubation room around 74° F.
Once the substrate has been fully colonized, the mycelium will have formed a thick mat and for most species the substrate will be fully white. Fun fact, pink oyster mushrooms have pink mycelium! At this point the mycelium is ready to produce mushrooms, a process most growers call fruiting. To initiate growing, move the substrate to an area with humidity over 90% and temperature at 55°F to 80° F.
When the mushrooms first appear, they are called pins. Over the next few days, the pins grow larger and develop a stem. The top of the pin separates from the stem, and becomes a mushroom cap. The cap gradually opens, becoming a cup and finally a flat. When the cap starts to invert and the edges become wavy, the gills under the cap are mature and ready to dispel spores.
Each flush of mushrooms lasts 3-5 days, after which mushroom growth is dormant for a few days. Harvesting can continue for several weeks or even months if the conditions are ideal. Once all mushroom growth has stopped, the growing medium cannot be reused because all of its nutrients have become food for the mushrooms. It can be composted, and the cycle begins once more.
Mushrooms can be picked at the cap, cup, or flat stage. Harvesting mushrooms is labor intensive, as each must be stabilized around the stalk with one hand while the stalk is gently twisted off of the base. This is done to prevent the mycelium that is still developing mushrooms from being disturbed. Once harvested, mushrooms are used immediately, refrigerated, packaged for distribution, or dried for future use. The mushrooms can also be pickled for longer shelf life.