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Guide to Mushroom Grow Kits

Guide to Grow Kits
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In the world of psilocybin mushroom cultivation, nothing causes more internet arguments in shroom growing forums than mushroom grow kits. But as we’ll flesh out in this article, mushroom grow kits are advantageous to starting from scratch in several ways. Maybe you’re busy and looking for a quick way to get your hands on some well-sourced mushrooms with minimal effort. Or, you may have the bandwidth for a more intricate grow, but feel inundated from the enormous amount of information out there, not knowing where to start or whom to believe.

Mushroom grow kits are a simple and beginner-friendly way to get rolling. Just by following easy instructions, you end up with a sizeable harvest no later than three weeks after the kit arrives on your doorstep. Growing mushrooms at home from kits can also be a fun, low-cost hobby. For some people, they’re a good springboard to more involved and larger-scale mycological escapades in the future. 

What is a Mushroom Grow Kit?

Mushroom grow kits come in several flavors, but basically, they are an all-in-one package. They provide you with all the major materials you need to start growing your own mushrooms. 

Generally, grow kits include a container, bag, or jar that contains some type of substrate. The substrate is the organic matter medium that supplies water and nutrients to the fungus. This allows it to expand its white, thread-like mycelial networks. These in turn will give rise to the fruiting bodies (our beloved shrooms).

The Two Types of Substrates in Grow Kits

Broadly, mushroom grow kits may contain either living mycelium substrate (that is, the substrate is fully colonized by the mycelium) or sterile substrate, which contains no mycelium. The former expedites the grow process considerably. These kits let you bypass the contamination-prone inoculation and incubation steps of a full DIY grow. All you have to do is subject the colonized substrate to conditions that encourage fruiting. The three major factors here are the correct temperature, humidity, and lighting. The grow bag included in the kit encloses the grow container and maintains the proper humidity for fruiting.

The grow kits that don’t contain living mycelium substrate instead come with pre-loaded substrate that is already sterilized. In addition, these kits supply all the major grow equipment you will need, such as substrate jars, a fruiting chamber, grow bags, etc. Having a sterilized substrate allows you to skip the pesky sterilization step that you’d have to follow if you started from scratch. Sterilization would typically involve a pressure cooker and several hours.

These grow kits also save you the hassle of separately collecting all the materials you would need if you did a total DIY grow. However, you will still have to inoculate the substrate yourself with these kits. To that end, the kit may include a spore syringe. Alternatively, it will have to be purchased separately from a reputable spore supplier. This part of the process is notoriously susceptible to contamination. Therefore, extra vigilance is required with the use of sterile techniques.

The legal landscape of psilocybin is changing slowly with recent city-wide decriminalization efforts. However, psilocybin and its prodrug, psilocin, still maintain an outdated Schedule I status in the United States. Internationally, only a handful of places have made psilocybin mushroom cultivation legal. These include the British Virgin Islands, Brazil, Samoa, Jamaica, and the Netherlands. In Austria, one can legally cultivate psilocybin mushrooms, but harvesting them for use as a drug is a criminal offense.

The US considers growing psilocybin mushrooms to be manufacturing a controlled substance. Doing so can result in harsh criminal penalties, even for personal use. The one exception is the state of New Mexico. Here, a 2005 court ruling declared that personal psilocybin mushroom cultivation is legal, provided one doesn’t dry the mushrooms after harvesting them (this surely makes heroic doses tricky, to say the least). In cities which have decriminalized psilocybin—so far, Ann Arbor, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Denver—law enforcement considers personal psilocybin mushroom possession/cultivation to be low on their list of priorities.

Shipping a Mushroom Grow Kit

When it comes to mushroom grow kits, those that include pre-inoculated substrate (with 100% mycelium) contain psilocybin/psilocin. Therefore, they are illegal in most countries, including the US. Some suppliers of grow kits won’t ship to countries where they are illegal, and others will ship it discreetly. When these grow kits ship despite their illegality, many people report receiving them without problems. However, there is still the possibility that customs officials will seize internationally shipped grow kits. The grow kits that do not contain living psilocybin mycelium are perfectly legal in the US. If these kits come with psilocybin mushroom spores, the spores are legal for microscopy or research purposes (i.e., without the intent to cultivate). This is true in all states except for Idaho, Georgia, and (sadly) California.

How to Choose a Mushroom Grow Kit

A ready-to-go grow kit that contains living mycelium is a good choice if you want to dip your toes into the world of mushroom growing. These grow kits allow you to quickly reap a nice harvest. Additionally, they require minimal time or effort. Overall, this is the best option if you are a complete beginner, barring potential legal issues associated with 100% mycelium kits. Suppliers generally offer a wide variety of Psilocybe cubensis strains for these types of kits. Each of these strains varies in its psilocybin and psilocin content (and therefore, in its effects). This is true even among different harvests of the same strain. 

As mentioned earlier, a grow kit that doesn’t contain living mycelium requires growing from spores. This can be a good option for those that have the time, and want to more thoroughly understand the mushroom grow cycle. Besides learning more, you are also rewarded with a bigger yield. In addition, since you’re starting from spores, you have more choices with what you want to grow. You can choose from over 40 P. cubensis strains or even work with a species other than P. cubensis, like the small but highly potent Panaeolus cyanescens. In general, the P. cubensis Golden Teacher, Cambodian, and B+ strains are highly recommended for beginners. 

How Easy are Mushroom Grow Kits to Manage?

When it comes to mushroom cultivation, mushroom grow kits are the easiest operation to manage by far. For grow kits with colonized substrate, only simple actions are necessary on a daily basis to keep them growing optimally. After hydrating the substrate, you’ll have to spray water against the inside of the grow bag to keep humidity levels above 95%. You will also have to ventilate the grow bag daily to allow fresh air exchange. Other than that, as long as the temperature is in the 70s (Fahrenheit) and the grow kit has some indirect sunlight, there isn’t much else to it until harvest.

Contamination is less of a problem since the mycelium has already overtaken the substrate, but it is still a concern. Basic sanitary measures should be taken into account, like wearing gloves or washing your hands/arms before handling the grow container. A face mask can also be useful, in order to avoid breathing on the grow kit. 

Grow kits that don’t come with pre-inoculated substrate are more time-consuming and labor-intensive. After carefully inoculating the substrate with a spore syringe, you have to incubate the substrate for several weeks in the dark. These steps require highly sanitary conditions since microorganisms can easily outcompete the mycelium when it hasn’t yet established itself in the substrate. Overall, these grow kits at their most complicated are an abridged, all-in-one version of a DIY grow, such as the PF Tek method.

Necessary Grow Kit Supplies

Living Mycelium Grow Kit Supplies

Mushroom grow kits with fully colonized substrate (100% mycelium) typically ship internationally from the Netherlands. For examples of these kits, check out Magic Mushrooms Shop and Wholecelium. These kits generally include:

  • Grow container (with lid). The plastic grow container holds the pre-inoculated substrate. Typically, this is a grain substrate, such as rye berries, that has been sterilized prior to inoculation.
  • Grow or filter bag. The grow bag encloses the grow container and locks in the optimal humidity for fruiting body growth. Usually, these come with a simple air filter and paper clips to close the bag.
  • Alcohol wipes and gloves. These are included for keeping sterile when handling the grow container.
  • Instructions. A step-by-step manual, often with pictures (also available online from the grow kit supplier).

The only other crucial supplies that aren’t included are spray bottles and clean tap water, which keep humidity levels high throughout the fruiting process. Grow kit suppliers often sell other optional items that can be helpful, including heating mats and hygrometers. Heating mats go under the grow container, ensuring the mushrooms stay within an optimal temperature range (73–80ºF). These are most useful for people growing in colder climates. Hygrometers can be handy to keep track of humidity levels (which should be above 95% at all times). In general, though, if you see water droplets and condensation on the inside of the grow bag, you can be sure you’re above 90% humidity.

Mycelium-Free Grow Kit Supplies

Grow kits that don’t contain living mycelium substrate are often domestically sold. For examples of these kits, check out Midwest Grow Kits and Shroom Supply. At its most basic, these may come with:

  • Sterilized substrate. This is usually rye or brown rice flour that is pre-loaded in jars or spawn bags with injection ports. 
  • A grow chamber or bag. This where the incubation and fruiting phases occur after the inoculation step.
  • Compost. This “bulk substrate” supplies nutrition to the mycelium once it’s combined with the grain spawn, aka the substrate, after it has been colonized. Compost may be included in grow kits that feature large grow bags, which are used as fruiting chambers (viz. Shroom Supply kits, above).
  • Perlite. This is a volcanic glass that absorbs water and helps to maintain humidity when added to the bottom of the grow chamber. This is included in some grow kits that contain substrate jars (viz. Midwest Grow Kits, based on “cake” methods).
  • A psilocybin mushroom spore syringe. The syringe contains spores mixed with sterilized distilled water. A spore syringe usually holds about 10 cc of this slurry, or enough to inoculate approximately 10 half-pint jars of substrate. Syringes are either included or sold separately.
  • Latex gloves and alcohol swabs. For sterile technique during the inoculation step.
  • Instructions. Step-by-step manual with pictures, also available online from supplier.

Additional Recommendations

These grow kits do not usually include vermiculite, but I highly recommend that you purchase it separately. This is particularly true for grow kits based around cake methods, like the PF Tek. When applied as a thin layer on top of the substrate jar, vermiculite acts as a barrier to prevent contamination during the incubation step. After the substrate is colonized, the resulting cake can be hydrated and rolled in vermiculite to lock in moisture and boost final yields. 

Lastly, to ensure a contamination-free grow, it’s a good idea to purchase some other sterile-working items separately. This includes simple materials for a still air box (for sterile inoculating), a face mask, a lighter (for flame-sterilizing the syringe needle), and a cheap, disposable Tyvek suit.

How Much Do Mushroom Grow Kits Cost?

The simple, living mycelium grow kits typically cost between $40–60, not including shipping. More potent or exotic species/strains tend to run a bit higher. Some suppliers sell discounted bulk sets (containing anywhere from 3–5 kits) that are cheaper on a per unit basis. Generally, these kits will produce a final yield of about an ounce of dried mushrooms, +/- 10 grams.

The grow kits that don’t contain live mycelium typically cost about the same as mycelium-based grow kits, at least when considering the ones with the most basic features. Bigger kits (e.g. with larger grow chambers and more substrate jars/spawn) typically run $100 or more and, naturally, end up with bigger yields. Some of the more pricey grow kits also include lots of accessory items that can be useful, but are not strictly necessary. This may include hygrometers, digital thermometers, aquarium heaters, air pumps, grow lights, and more.

How Long Does it Take to Harvest Mushrooms From a Grow Kit?

Ready-to-go, living mycelium grow kits will be ready for harvest in as little as 2–3 weeks. On the other hand, grow kits requiring inoculation and incubation can take as long as 5–6 weeks until they’re ready for harvest. 

For cultivation from spores, the inoculation step takes the shortest amount of time (approximately a few hours). The next step, incubation, will take about 2–4 weeks until the substrate is fully colonized, depending on the temperature (70–80ºF is best). Once fruiting begins, it may take 7–10 days to see the first tiny mushrooms, aka “pins.” However, some people have reported online that pinning can take as long as three weeks. Slower times generally result from colder temperatures and suboptimal humidity. 

Once the pins form, the mushrooms will roughly double size with each passing day. They will be ready to harvest when the veils open, or before the spores begin to fall from the gills. Multiple flushes (harvests) are possible after “cold shocking” the mycelium. For living mycelium grow kits, this may involve soaking the grow container in cold water for 12 hours, then re-following the instructions from step 1. Overall, up to 3–4 flushes are possible, but the first flush is usually the largest.

Is a Mushroom Grow Kit Right For You?

Mushroom grow kits are a great idea for their ease of use and overall simplicity. Many beginner growers who don’t wish to manage their own grow from scratch enjoy that there are fewer steps involved, and quicker times until harvest. 

However, there are some potential downsides to consider with grow kits. Many mushroom growers argue that starting from scratch will be less expensive than grow kits in the long run, since buying materials in bulk tends to be cheaper. This may not be a problem if you just want to have a small amount for a special occasion. But grow kits offer less control over the overall growth process. You’re relying on the company selling the grow kit to use proper sterile technique. For living mycelium grow kits, you also have fewer choices when it comes to strains and species to grow. If contamination does arise, you have to throw out this type of grow kit. In contrast, with a PF Tek, you can troubleshoot problems more easily without forfeiting the entire grow. 

While seeing it through to a final harvest from spores can be highly rewarding, the efficiency and convenience of mushroom grow kits are certainly unmatched.

Contributing RS Author: Dylan Beard

Dylan is a freelance science writer and editor based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. After finishing his physics degree and dabbling in neuroscience research at UC Santa Barbara in 2017, he returned to his first love—writing. As a long-term fan of the human brain, he loves exploring the latest research on psychedelics, nootropics, psychology, consciousness, meditation, and more. When he’s not writing, you can probably find him on hiking trails around Oregon and Washington or listening to podcasts. Feel free to follow him on Insta @dylancb88.

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