Setting Up a Mushroom Lab

Setting Up a Mushroom Lab

Mushroom cultivation can be done at home with relatively little space and equipment. With a few basic tools and some knowledge, you can set up a lab and start growing mushrooms in no time. In this blog post, we will go over the basic steps to setting up a lab for cultivating and growing mushrooms at home.

Choose a location

The first step to setting up a mushroom lab is to choose a location. Ideally, you want a space that is isolated from the rest of your house and has low foot traffic, windows and doors to minimize opportunities for contamination. This means keeping your pets and kids out of your lab space! They’re wonderful, but they are also a walking ball of contamination. Pick a place that is clutter-free and easy to clean. Smooth and hard surfaces are preferred over carpet or porous surfaces, which can trap dust and potential contaminant spores. Smooth and hard surfaces will also make sanitization much easier; you can spray and wipe with the decontamination solution of your choosing, but generally a soapy water solution works best at removing contaminants from your lab space. Also, pick a place that is free from drafts and temperature fluctuations. A spare bedroom, office or garage can work well.

Sterile work bench

One of the most important pieces of equipment in a mushroom lab is a still air box or laminar flow hood, which you will use to create a sterile work area for working with spore prints, agar, liquid culture, and sterilized grain. A still air box is the simpler of the two, and can be constructed out of a plastic storage container with arm holes cut into the sides. An alternative to this is the collapsible Bella Bora Still Air Box, which has self-sealing arm holes to further restrict air mixing between the outside environment and your sterile work area. A laminar flow hood is more complex, but can be made using a high-grade HEPA filter and an industrial fan. Just take note that the laminar flow hood requires a heavy-duty enclosure to funnel air, and is usually made out of wood. Therefore, it will permanently take up a large section of your mushroom lab in real estate.

Disinfecting solution

All of those claims of killing by disinfecting solutions mainly apply to bacteria and require long contact times. The biggest type of contaminant for mushroom cultivation is contamination from other fungi or mold species, which means killing their spores. Common disinfecting solutions on the market are not formulated for killing these mold spores, and the ones that are marketed for killing spores are very harsh (high percentage bleach solutions) and still require long contact times. The more efficient strategy is to trap and remove potential contaminants with a soapy vinegar water solution. 


The next thing you will need is a small refrigerator to put all of your spore prints, liquid cultures, agar plates, and grain spawn that you want to keep for long-term storage. As you dive deeper into the mushroom cultivation hobby, you will naturally build up a library of cool mushroom strains and genetics. You might not be growing all of the strains in your library simultaneously, but might revisit at some point in the future. Therefore, a 4oC refrigerator will ensure these libraries have the longest shelf-life possible. Also, don’t store these samples in your main kitchen fridge! Watch out for cross-contamination!

Equipment to make your own liquid culture

Once you have your lab set up, you can start making your own liquid culture. You will need a set of jars to store your liquid culture in, and that you can safely sterilize. Mason jars with modified lids are a popular solution for liquid culture. You will want a magnetic stirrer and a magnetic stir bar to easily break up your mycelium (they tend to grow as a dense ball, which makes aspirating with a syringe difficult). You would also want to install a self-sealing injection port to easily withdraw liquid culture from the jar without having to open the lid and risking contamination. You can buy a set of these self-sealing injection ports, and install them as needed. Alternatively, you can work in your Bella Bora Still Air Box and dispense the liquid culture with a serological pipet. This is a much faster method, and is best suited for loading many liquid culture syringes at a time. The large pore size of serological pipette and pressurized pipetting can also help break up the mycelium ball growing in your liquid culture. Lastly, you will need syringes and a small gauge needle (I recommend 18 to 20g) to load your mycelium liquid culture into.

Equipment to make your own agar plates

The next thing you would want to make is agar plates. You can use either malt-based such as malt extract agar (MEA plates), or potato-based potato dextrose agar (PDA plates). You will need sterilized petri dishes, and a jar to make your agar solution. You will need mittens or a pair of thick gloves to pick up your agar solution while it's hot and pour into petri dishes. You will also need a pressure cooker to sterilize your liquid culture prior to inoculation. You can use Parafilm to seal your agar plates and prevent your agar from becoming dehydrated overtime.

Miscellaneous tools

You will need a few other basic tools for mushroom cultivation. These include a scalpel or other sharp knife for cutting mushrooms and agar chunks. A spray bottle and cleaning solution to regularly wipe down your equipment and sterile work environment.

Grain bags

To make your own grain bags, you will need mushroom grow bags, a heat impulse sealer, grain spawn and bulk substrate. Some supplements you might want to have on hand are coffee grounds, gypsum, and hydrated lime. These can be added at 5% of total weight to your grain spawn and bulk substrate to improve yields and quality of your mushroom fruits.

Fruiting chamber or Martha tent

Once you have your mycelium and colonized grain bags, you will need a place to fruit your mushrooms. A fruiting chamber is a container that is designed to provide the right conditions for fruiting. A simple fruiting chamber can be made out of a plastic storage container with holes drilled into the sides for ventilation. You can mist and fan the fruiting chamber regularly to increase humidity and fresh air, respectively. More advanced fruiting chambers such as the Martha tent which sports multiple shelves to place more colonized bags for fruiting. A Martha tent is a type of fruiting chamber that is designed to be more efficient than a simple container. It is essentially a small greenhouse that is made out of PVC pipes and plastic sheeting. It provides better air circulation and humidity control than a simple container, and is ideal for growing larger quantities of mushrooms. For the Martha tent, you will need to install sensors and regulators that control humidity, temperature, and fresh air flow. You might also want to add in light controls on a natural 12 hour day and night cycle. 

In conclusion, setting up a mushroom lab at home can take some planning, but once set up, it will make your mushroom cultivation that much more streamlined. With a still air box or laminar flow hood, liquid culture, basic tools, a fruiting chamber, and a Martha tent, you can start growing your own mushrooms in no time. Just be sure to keep your lab clean and free from contaminants, and you will be well on your way to a successful mushroom cultivation hobby.

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