In landfills studied by researchers, paper makes up the largest item by weight and volume. Most of this is from virgin lumber, trees that have taken sometimes hundreds of years to grow cut down just to be used for a day for print media. Not having trash service out in rural Dade City, we are acutely aware of how much paper in the form of junk mail is sent to us, the far majority of it unsolicited. That and all the unnecessary packaging, like huge cardboard boxes, adds up quick.

I've been reading about growing mushrooms and decided to channel this energy and clean out some of the recycling bins we had piling up. Oyster mushrooms are known for their vigor and adaptability, growing on nearly anything that has cellulose. A perfect match!

Day 1

I inoculated five quart jars of bird seed with a Phoenix Oyster syringe obtained from Spore Works. They are awesome by the way. They gave me an extra syringe of Pleurotus ostreatus for free when I thanked them for supporting I saved a little of the culture just in case something went wrong. Four days later there was visible growth of mycelium in the grain jars.

Day 15

Jars are 100% colonized. I shook the jars at 30% colonization, but I think I waited too long to shake again. I actually tried shaking against a duct tape roll like I read some people do but ended up shattering a jar so I lost some spawn! I did a grain to grain transfer to inoculate 3 more bird seed jars, but had to use a spoon to dish out the inoculated grain because I waited too long to shake the jar again and the colonized spawn was nearly rock solid.

Day 25

I got back from being out of town and the jars are more than ready. I cut up cardboard into about 2'x1' sheets and cut small holes every 4 or so inches to ease colonization. I tore up paper junk mail by hand. Pasteurized the cardboard and paper in a rubbermaid bin with hot water for an hour or so. Drained the bin and let it cool. Put the cardboard in a laundry basket and layered with spawn. I used a similar method to but had to use a spoon again to dish out the spawn because it was so firm. I put the paper in a milk crate layered with spawn. I wrapped it up in a big plastic bag to keep humidity high and cut some holes for air exchange during incubation.

Day 27

I can see some visible growth on the cardboard through the condensation on the plastic. Yey!

Day 31

Colonization is coming along. I tipped the bins on their side today in the bathtub to drain some excess moisture. This could have been avoided if I squeezed out the paper and cardboard substrate a little better and made more holes in it. Also, I just read that colonization times can be decreased by fluffing the substrate up with some straw or vermiculite.

Cardboard laundry basket

Side view of laundry basket

A peak through at the paper

Day 37

I checked and all of a sudden they were pinning! So I removed the plastic and stuck them outside on the porch.

Day 39

Awesome first flush, about ready to pick. They grow really fast once they get going.

Day 40

Harvested probably a 1/2 pound and cooked it up with some spaghetti mmmmm.

Day 43

Harvested another 1/2 pound (weighed it this time) and then dunked both the basket and the bin to re-hydrate the substrate. They were looking really dried out.

Day 50

After a good rain they pinned and I harvested them again, a little over a pound.

Day 55 and beyond

They continued to fruit for 3 more times, nearly every time it rained. Here's a toad patrolling for gnats:


I harvested about 5 pounds total, not bad for just a first try with a laundry bin of cardboard and a crate of paper. Some improvements I will do next time:

  • Find a good shady spot that will soak in the humidity while staying out of the sun.
  • Use more paper as the size went down a lot when it was soaked. It ended up drying out more than the cardboard since it didn't have much mass.
  • Cut more holes in the paper and especially the cardboard. Will allow for better drainage and the mycelium to colonize quicker.
  • Use sawdust for spawn, as grains are great for colonizing quick but encourage contamination. The grain was eventually taken over by Trichoderma green mold, which is usually beneficial when in the soil but not in mushroom substrate.

I'm going to do a workshop on mushroom cultivation soon so join our mailing list or Facebook group to stay updated.