Lion's mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus) are unlike anything else in the mushroom world, with their incredible cascading, icicle-like shape. In the wild, it can almost look like coral escaped the ocean and latched onto a tree. Beyond its unusual appearance lies a delectable treat, with a sweet, meaty crab-like flavor.
Growing lion's mane mushrooms at home has become more popular in recent years, with improved strains popping up all time, and for a good reason. Not only do they taste lovely, but they have valuable medicinal properties, too. Right now, they are being studied for their ability to prevent dementia and relieve anxiety. There's also evidence they can help protect your heart and manage diabetes.
While they might be a bit challenging for mushroom newbies, they're not the most difficult mushroom to grow, and you can have your own batch thriving in a few weeks.
Lion's mane can be grown in sawdust or on hardwood logs. One batch will reliably produce at least three harvests. You can get spawn made for growing lion's mane mushrooms in logs or in a substrate online if you can't find it locally. Ready to get started?
Growing Lion's Mane Mushrooms on Logs
Growing lion's mane mushrooms on logs is a surefire way to have a steady, reliable harvest for years.
Choosing a Log
Lion's mane only grows on hardwoods. The best varieties are oak, maple, and birch. Maple is the preferred wood, but they aren't picky. Lion's Mane is one of the few mushrooms that will grow on black walnut.
Tulip, poplar, and willow are also suitable for short-term production. Long term, choose elm, oak chestnut or black walnut.
The age of the wood is also important. They won’t grow in wood that is too green, or wood has been invaded by other fungi.
Freshly felled trees or branches from a recent trimming work best. Winter trimming is ideal because that's when the tree has a high level of sugars, which benefits the mushrooms.
The logs should be about 12 inches in diameter. It's best if they are a uniform length as well. I find that 3-foot log is easiest to manage. Remember, part of maintaining your logs is moving them around when they are wet, and a damp log can be heavy.
Dry the Logs
Place your logs on a pallet or other raised surface to dry out for 1-3 months. You want them to contain only about 40% moisture.
Don’t store your logs with your firewood. They can pick up diseases and insects.
Once your logs have dried out, you are ready to inoculate them. This can be done at any time of year but spring is best.
Now is the time to purchase the amount of spawn you need for the number of logs you have seasoned. For example, 100 plugs can inoculate 10 logs.
Tools For Inoculation
You will need several items to complete your inoculation process. You probably have several of these already.
Assuming you are going to inoculate 10 logs, you'll need:
- One pound of sealing wax. You can use cheese grade wax or wax made for mushrooms, but don't use regular candle wax because it's not sterile.
- A hammer or rubber hammer mallet.
- Small paintbrush or turkey baster.
- Cordless drill with a 5/16-inch bit that has a stop collar.
- A double boiler.
- A candy thermometer.
Inoculating Your Logs
- Drill each log with rows of holes. Personally, I'm not good at drilling holes in a straight line, so I use a chalk line. By measuring everything out, I can get the maximum use out of each log.
- Melt your wax in a double boiler. Use a candy thermometer to ensure the temperature stays below 212°F. Too hot and it will kill the spawn.
- Drill holes one and one-fourth inches deep and 8-inches apart and in rows 4-inches apart. Alternate the starting point of your holes from the top of the log.
- After you have drilled the holes in one log, start placing plugs. It is best to complete one log at a time so that no contamination gets in the holes.
- Use a mallet or hammer to gently tap the spawn plugs into the holes. The plug should be flush with the wood surface.
- Use the paintbrush or baster to place wax over the plug and the hole.
- Soak your log for 12-24 hours, but no longer.
Caring For Your Logs
When you are done inoculating, your logs are ready to be stacked in a shady, moist location. You can stack them crib style, or you can lean them against a wood pole at 45° angle.
If you are having trouble maintaining moisture levels for your growing lion's mane mushrooms, try partially burying the logs vertically.
Your growing plot should be in a shady area with adequate air circulation. A mature evergreen plot is good or, lacking that, build a three-sided shelter. Pieces of 80% shade cloth are ideal for this.
Lion's mane are not a quick-growing crop on logs. They typically make a small first flush 6 months after log inoculation, but it may take up to 2 years for them to really thrive. Your logs will bear fruit for up to 6 years.
You can check the ends of the logs for a white fuzz which tells you the mycelium has grown throughout the log and everything is growing like it should.
Growing Lion's Mane Mushrooms in Sawdust
Lion's mane can also be grown in bags using sawdust or wood fuel pellets as a substrate. This is often referred to as a fruiting block. Bags are typically grown indoors.
This method is quicker and more predictable, but it's more expensive than the log method.
Lion's mane prefers temperatures between 65-75° to fruit, and they take about 3 weeks to mature this way.
Make a Sawdust Block
Make your sawdust block by combining:
- Five cups of sawdust.
- One cup wheat bran to add nutrients.
- Six cups of warm water.
- 1 cup of molasses.
Keep adding water until the mixture clumps, and a little water drips out if you squeeze it.
Once this is done:
- Place the mixture in a grow bag. Fold and seal according to instructions.
- Sterilize them in a pressure canner. Place a canning rack or lids to cover the bottom of the canner and weight the bag down with a plate or bowl. You need to sterilize for 2.5 hours to make sure you kill any bacteria.
Inoculating Your Sawdust Blocks
Before starting, make sure your hands and work area are clean to avoid contamination.
- Add the spawn to your sawdust block and mix well. You need about a pound of spawn for 5 pounds of mix.
- Place the bag in a dark, warm area to grow. It will take a few weeks for mycelium to spread throughout the bag. It is natural for the block to start turning brown.
- Puncture the plastic bag in several places to create 1/4-inch holes. Make lots of holes to create smaller fruits, or use fewer holes to encourage larger fruits.
- Place the block in your growing area, which should have indirect light and some air movement.
Caring For Your Sawdust Blocks
Now that your colony is established it will start making pins, which should begin to form within a week or two.
Check your blocks once a week. Look for any molds, other funguses or dry spots. Lion's mane does best in a humid environment, so make sure to keep it moist.
Problems and Solutions for Growing Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Logs and blocks may develop molds. If they do, move them around so they get better air circulation. If they get too infested, toss them out.
The opposite problem of mold – growing lion's mane mushrooms on logs and blocks can dry out. Try moving logs to a better location or give them a good soak.
If you find that your blocks are drying out too quickly, you can put them in a bucket or empty aquarium to help retain water. You can also mist them with water from a spray bottle.
Harvesting and Storing
Once your lion's mane has formed, you'll need to harvest them before they turn pink or brown. Look for the point when clear teeth have formed, usually 4-7 days after pins start popping up.
Cut the ball close to the base taking care not to damage the spine.
Refrigerate them right after harvest in a ventilated container. They will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Lion's mane can be used as a substitute for seafood in almost any recipe. Try chopping it up and making mushroom “crab” cakes, or slice it and fry it in butter.
If you can't eat them fresh, store lion's mane mushrooms by drying them out. Slice about 1/4-inch thick and place them in a well-ventilated area until they have dried.
What to do with Spent Blocks
If you are using sawdust blocks, you can add them to your compost pile when they are spent. In fact, they may rejuvenate in the compost and produce another flush or two of mushrooms.
Adding the mycelium compost to the garden is great for your vegetables. The mycelium forms a symbiotic network and pulls nutrients from the soil to make them more available for the vegetables.
Paul Stamets wrote a great book about how mycelium enriches and helps the forest soil and improves ecosystems and sustainability.
Whether you are growing them for your own dinner plate or selling them at the farmer's market – you can get $20 per pound – growing lion's mane mushrooms is a totally worthwhile adventure. Tell us how you like to cook them in the comments below.