The moment every mushroom grower anxiously awaits is the day of harvest. After all the tender love and care placed into providing a good home for your mycelium, the time has finally arrived to reap the rewards of your hard work and patience. Before your very eyes you watch small pins form and start growing into large fleshy mushrooms and you have a feeling the time has come to harvest. While it's easy to have a feeling, it's another to know exactly when and how to best harvest your mushrooms. It’s not very complicated by any means, but following the right procedure can ensure you’ll maximise your efforts and reap the most from your growth.
When is the Optimal Time for Harvest?
Mycelium starts its journey into a mushroom fruiting body by forming small undeveloped mushrooms known as “pins” on the surface of your casing layer. The act of “pinning” starts when your mycelium has consumed its food source and has adequate conditions for the growth of mushrooms. Once you start seeing pins developing on the surface of your casing layer you know you will have ready to harvest mushrooms within 3-8 days depending on the strain and growing conditions. Unlike plants, mushrooms grow rapidly once they’ve started to pin so make sure to check them daily in your expected time-frame of harvest because being one day too late is less than optimal.
As pins develop you will start to see the familiar mushroom form that you’ve been waiting for. You will see a white stem with a small brown helmet-like cap. If left unharvested this small brown cap flattens out and turns into the generic umbrella mushroom shape everyone knows. Where the cap was once attached to the stem you will see a ring known as “the veil” that was previously covering the gills of the mushroom cap. The best time to harvest your mushrooms is actually right before your cap disconnects from the veil and exposes its gills. In other words, harvest while your mushroom still has a helmet-like cap and before it begins flattening out. At optimal harvest time you may notice the veil starts becoming thinner and disconnecting itself from portions of the caps margin. Once your mushroom gills are exposed it begins releasing spores and triggers your mycelium to stop producing more mushrooms. Harvesting before it releases spores will promote the growth of more mushrooms and larger subsequent flushes. Because of this it is always better to harvest a little too early than a little too late. Mushrooms at this stage are also typically denser, more aesthetic, and less fragile for drying and storing. If you harvest a bit too late, or your mushrooms turned into sporulated umbrellas, don’t worry they’re still perfectly fine!
Best Harvesting Practices
Harvesting mushrooms isn’t exactly like harvesting a tomato, but its also not rocket science. To begin you will want to remember all the sterile practices you may have learned during the process of inoculation and cultivation. Properly wash your hands and arms with soap and warm water and put on a fresh shirt. Make sure there isn’t fruit flies or other insects hanging around your general environment either. Since the mycelium is already colonised you don’t need to be as tedious with your sterile practice as you do during inoculation but its best to take some precautions to maximise the life span your mycelium and quantity of future harvests.
Contrary to what you might think you will not be using a sharp knife or scissors for your harvest but actually plucking them by hand directly from the substrate. Cutting the stems leaves unharvested mushroom tissues which will rot and attract contaminants that can compromise undeveloped mushrooms. So with clean hands grab the mushroom at its base and pluck it from the mycelium using a gentle twisting motion. Avoid damaging nearby undeveloped mushrooms or tearing out parts of the mycelium. After harvesting clean your mushrooms by removing any growth medium from their surface and base. Come back in the next day or two for any mushrooms that were not at their optimal stage for harvest. Store your mushrooms temporarily in the refrigerator or dry them for long term storage.
Home Grown Mushrooms Summary
-Harvest mushrooms before the veil (tissue covering the gills attached to the stem) separates from the margin of the cap.
-Once the gills are exposed spores are released and your mycelium will be triggered to produce less mushrooms. Avoid this!
-Harvest your mushrooms with clean dry hands or sterile gloves by plucking them from the substrate using a twisting motion.
-Avoid tearing out mycelium or damaging nearby undeveloped mushrooms when harvesting.
-Do not leave unharvested mushroom tissue as this can attract contamination and may impact undeveloped mushrooms.
-Refrigerate for short term storage or dehydrate for long term storage.