Mushroom Cultivation in Unused Farm Structures

Final Report for FNE10-700

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,010.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Noah Radliff
Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm
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Project Information


The project I proposed was intended to help expand local small farm diversification using existing equipment, allowing the farmer to grow marketable mushrooms in an unused/off season structure promoting better farm viability. Though the wooden structure was destroyed in a storm, the study was quickly moved to an unused garage with a cement floor. Since the structure had insulated walls it provided good climate control for mushroom growth, it was discovered. The cost of investment for supplies was:

$300 for spawn
$120 for 22 clear plastic totes
$100 for propane hook ups, tank and refills, did use in the beginning to warm the garage but turned out not needed after 2 weeks
$240 for propane heater
$110 for a circulating cooling fan only used for 2 weeks. Garage floor supplied the cooling.


It is important to completely heat, pasteurize and then cool clean straw in a protected place for success in culturing the mycelium inoculum. The Italian Oyster Mushrooms produced 3 harvests but finally succumbed to beetle damage. In the end, 37 pounds of saleable mushrooms were produce and sold. Growing on a larger scale than this is recommended for continuous production and finding good, inexpensive climate control would promote success.


Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm was established in 2009 and is a small operation growing Mushrooms, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries and has been an active member of a community based Farmer’s Market. With the limited space at Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm there is a need to use existing space and materials in different ways.

With the farm expanding, and space for production being a factor, there is a need to use existing spaces and materials in different ways. A currently unused wooden framed greenhouse was to provide the perfect location for mushroom cultivation of Italian Oyster Mushrooms (Pluerotus pulmonarius). Only small climate control equipment modifications would be needed to use the wooden framed greenhouse. We established this fact in our previous SARE grant, FNE09-669 "Mushroom Cultivation utilizing off Season Vegetable Growth Chamber"

Project Objectives:

Reusable substrate totes were used to contain the substrate, reducing waste. The spent hay is biodegradable reducing farm waste material. To pasteurize the straw substrate it was boiled and then placed into the totes. The totes were placed in the unused wooden framed greenhouse to regulate the climate. The wooden framed greenhouse and tote tests deal with existing structures and keeping environmental impact and expenditures to a minimum.

The control was to have been the traditional cardboard boxes placed in an unsterilized, non-controlled climate that will permit mushroom growth without the protection of the wooden framed greenhouse. All substrate will be replicated with the same amount of sterilized straw substrate and grain spawn as each of the shelves in the wooden framed greenhouse. Each substrate holding structure would hold the same amount of substrate that each of the wooden framed greenhouse shelves will hold.

The temperature, humidity, rate of growth, size of growth, and competing organisms (molds, other fungus species, parasites, loss of mushroom crops, and yield) were to be measured. Two logs will be kept for each growth location. The logs will measure temperature, humidity, mushroom pinning, cluster size, accumulating molds, diseases, macro organisms, abnormalities, insect pests, and the loss of mushroom crop. A grid system will be used for recording the information. After the mushrooms have depleted the nutrients in the substrate structures the spent substrate straw will be used as compost aiding in vegetable/fruit growth. The mushroom project uses structures that are available to the farm and will utilize straw that was produced by School Hill Farm, if available, keeping money within the county. The project was done to help Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm further diversify and expand its operation. Mr. Radliff is currently seeking a way to extend the farm’s produce operation into off-season markets to help increase revenue and viability. The mushrooms produced will also help offset the mushroom and vegetable/fruit operation expenses. The used mushroom substrate will be composted and used in the vegetable/fruit production process.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • David Cox
  • Rebecca Hargrave


Materials and methods:

It was intended that the project revolve around unused farm structures, in my case a wooden framed green house, but due to the weather the farm structure had been destroyed. The project was then moved to an area of the farm garage.

The method of creating the substrate was done at a large level. A 55 gallon metal drum was use to pasteurize the oat straw in order for inoculation. The 55 gallon metal drum was suspended by 6 cinder blocks formed to what looks like an out door BBQ grill. The drum was filled 2/3rds of the way with water and fire was made under it to heat the water to 140-180 degrees. Around half a bale was shaken up and placed in the drum at a time and was left to heat from 45 minutes to an hour depending on how hot the water was at that time. The hotter the water the less time was needed.

After the allotted time had passed and water temp was monitored by a thermometer. The oat straw was removed and placed in a storage tote to cool and drain extra water. While the water was still hot more water was added to bring the water level back up because of hay absorption and boiling off. After the straw had cooled it was separated into clear plastic totes. The straw and mushroom spawn/inoculant witch was of Italian Oyster Mushrooms (Pluerotus pulmonarius) was spread into layers until the totes were full.

It was 1 bale (100 lbs prepared) per 4 totes to 4lbs of inoculant. This was over inoculating the hay because of my fears in the propagation process. The 4lbs. of inoculant should have gone for 200 lbs of prepared straw.

2 areas had been selected for the mushroom propagation. The first was the control. This was outside in the woods of my property. The control was the tried and true cardboard box method. Cardboard boxes were used because after they were done they would be left outside to decompose. The second was the clear tote method that I had used in a prior grant experiment that were to be grown in the unused farm structure. Both the cardboard and the totes mirrored each other 100 lbs of prepared strew to 4lbs of innoculant, 4 cardboard boxes and 4 totes.

The cardboard boxes were placed outside in the woods and after a week they were destroyed. Heavy rainfall and vermin had torn the cardboard open and one box looked like it was used as a nest. No mushrooms grew.

The unused farm structure was the farm garage that was just gathering clutter. The floor was concrete and the walls were well insulated. There was no need for climate control equipment which is a money saver. The totes were placed in the farm garage to grow. 14 days had passed and the totes showed a good amount of white mycelium in the substrate. The top of the tote had some competing fungus called green mold, and what looked to be lipstick mold. Both of these had run there course with in another 2 weeks and were over taken by the oysters mycelium. It had taken 57 days from boiling to see mushrooms beginning to pin or push through the holes in the totes.
These Italian Oyster Mushrooms were very prolific and produce 3 times. The first run was 12 lbs. This was because not all the totes were at full production. The average mushroom cap size was 5 inches across. The mushroom caps all grew from a central location on the tote that were a series of hole drilled throughout. I had notice that when the mushrooms were cut away from the tote that they ha separated from each other so it was one stem one cap. These separations made the sales of the mushroom easier because I could custom create the size to order. I found it to be easier to sell then its cousin the Grey Oyster Dove Mushroom that grows from a single location and a cluster that has to be sold as a whole.

The investment into this endeavor was:

$300 for spawn
$120 for 22 clear plastic totes
$100 for propane hook ups, tank and refills, did use in the beginning to warm the garage but turned out not needed after 2 weeks
$240 for propane heater
$110 for a circulating cooling fan only used for 2 weeks. Garage floor supplied the cooling.


Research results and discussion:

The first run sales totaled 77 dollars. 11 lbs of mushrooms were sold for 7 dollars a pound and were bought up quickly. The one remaining pound was used for demonstrations where I went into restaurants and cooked up simple mushroom dishes using the Italian Oyster Mushrooms as a substitute for the generic button mushroom.

The second run of mushroom totaled 18 lbs. I had noticed that the previously fruited totes had a variety of mushroom sizes 1 inch to 8 inches across. The harvest method was the same as before just more of it. 10 lbs of the mushrooms had been sold to The American in Sharon Springs NY. Because of the competing button mushroom I had to sell the Italian Oyster Mushrooms at 5 dollars a pound totaled 50 dollars. I had also sold 3 lbs more in Sharon Spring for 7 dollars a pound right up the road totaling 21 dollars. The remaining 3 pounds were used for demonstration at the Schoharie County Sunshine Fair. At the fair I cooked the mushrooms and handed out samples while promoting mushroom growing methods and the grant research and handing out paper work on how they could grow there own mushrooms.

The third run of mushrooms I had noticed that there were holes being made in the mushroom caps some to the point that they were unsalable there were 8 lbs for the last run 3 pounds of that was unsalable. While watching this run grow I had found the culprit that was eating the mushrooms. It was a beetle of sorts so I brought it down to David Cox who works at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. He had had identified the beetle as a mushroom beetle. There was no more activity from this beetle after the third run because the straw had been spent and was used for mulch. The third run was sold to a gentleman that had been at the fair. The remaining 5lbs. were sold for 35 dollars.

A second set of experiments were made with the same methods as before. This was for a fall run. Over 600 lbs of prepared hay, 300 lbs for totes 300 lbs for cardboard boxes, and 24 lbs of spawn/inoculant were used. The experiment was a total failure not a single tote or card board box became inoculated.

The price of the mushrooms were set by the surrounding area that they were sold in. There was a lot of competition from the local large food chain selling oyster mushrooms as well. The two counties, Montgomery and Schoharie, are some of the poorest in New york state. A clear issue I had was with the consumer more interested in quantity (bang for the buck) not quality. I had tried to sell at other farmers markets in counties with a higher median income, like in Schenectady and Saratoga, but the farmer market manager told me that the markets were already full of vendors.

Research conclusions:

What we had set out to accomplish was to find out if we were able to grow mushrooms in an unused farm structure. We were able to grow mushrooms. The crop was a solid crop and we sold the crop. There was little loss.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm set up an interactive booth at the Schoharie County Sunshine Fair. The Schoharie County Sunshine Fair had change there admittion prices in 2010 and the flow of attendees in the Hall of Agriculture where I was handing out information saw less traffic then anticipated. The people that were interested in the information took information and asked questions. The Soggy Bottom Mushroom Team handing out the free samples of fried mushrooms that Soggy Bottom Mushroom Farm grew this helped bring people to the presenter’s area. I was there for two 3 hour events promoting the SARE organization and the growing methods for mushrooms. I also handed out "How To" instructions so interested people could grow there own copying my SARE experiment.

January 2011 I was asked to attend and speak at the NOFA (organic growers conference) convention in Satatoga Springs to promote My mushroom findings and the NESARE organization. Violet Stone the New York State SARE contact was there as well to explain the "Ins and Outs" of SARE. I was told that I was not to talk about the information I had obtained about the mushroom experiments. I still did any way. I promoted that hard work pays of when it comes to the SARE Organization and the more information (positive and negative) obtained through the experiments would make for a better end report.

While attending SUNY COBLESKILL in the spring of 2011 I had presented the SARE project to the Vegetable Production Class and Professor Crosby. This was a 45 min session explaining the basic facts of mushrooms. Once the cultivation facts were explained I went in to depth on how mushroom growth can be manipulated and focused on the experimental information I had obtained from my own personal experiments. I also touched the viability portion of adding a specialty product to a farms inventory.

The is one more future Outreach event in progress. It is in the Spring Semester at SUNY COBLESKILL for the Plant Propagation Class and Professor Cash. The presentation will be the propagation side of Mushrooms and the SARE experiment. I will be teaching about the mycilium growth and how to have positive results that result in strong mushroom growth.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The potential contributions unfortunately can not be directed to the amount of mushrooms grown (as in yield) because of the loss of the control crop due to animal and weather destruction. I can only point the potential contributions to the unused farm structure and yield from the experimental portion of the mushroom yield. First I can tell you that using an unused farm structure (in this case with a concrete floor)requires no climate controlling equipment when growing mushrooms in late spring, summer, and early fall. Winter is a harder season to grow mushrooms in. Growing mushrooms in a controlled area gives the grower almost total control of the climate and the ability to make climatic changes that will continue positive mushroom growth. A great example was Hurricane Irene and washing the control way. I had no control over the the mushrooms that were being grown out side in the control area.

Future Recommendations

1. Heat the water first, up to temperature. Make sure that the water is at or around 160 degrees F. Make sure that the Straw is in the heated water for 1 hour.

2. Larger containers for more volume because of the availability to heat the water. Used 275 gallon drum because it can hold three bales of straw.

3. Longer period to cool and dedicated area for it to cool with little outside air flow. The straw must sit for 24 hours before you can inoculate. Warm hay can promote competing molds to overtake the inoculant.

4. A better method to turn the hay. Heat, smoke and steam from the boiling process made turning the hay difficult. Boiling over caused a concern at times.

5. Change the size and shape of the vessel or container the mushrooms grow out of. Create more surface are of the containers because the mushroom grow out of surfaces not in the straw.

6. I would recommend using fresher straw and clean straw. Discard any straw the has large clumps of mold/mildew. Transferring mold/mildew is a very easy thing to do. When growing mushrooms is a one ore two man operation its easier for someone to jump from on boiled straw right to the boiled straw bringing competing organisms with them.

7. From this experiment I would strongly recommend that growing mushrooms should be done at a large scale. Smaller scale growing mushrooms has more opportunity to fail. Small scale needs more attention to the next round of inoculation which means more of an opportunity to transmit competing organisms.

8. A larger mushroom operation would result in climate controlled equipment. The grower needs to have almost total control of the climate to help insure that the inoculation and hay will have a some what equal growth rate.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.